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Soaring to heights of mediocrity!

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As my previous two blogs have noted, 2017 has been a year during which I've done much better than average (well, at least FOR ME) in terms of daily mileage. Either my use of trail runners, OR my walking up & down stairs during the winter, has allowed me to very noticeably increase the number of miles I can walk in a day. Having concluded that I am no longer restricted to ten miles a day, I decided to plan for a fifteen-mile hike. As always, you can scoff at this low-ball plan, but this was daring for me.

I had some trepidation when I checked the weather forecast for the area, for the first day of my hike -- there was a 90% chance of rain, with a prediction of thunderstorms. Indeed, when I arrived at Mountain Harbour for a shuttle, it was pouring. Nevertheless, I had only a small number of days I could get away, so the fact that I had to ignore the fact that I might get soaked.
Due to this fear, I made two decisions for staying dry -- taking my GoreTex{R} jacket on this part of the trip, and using a silk shirt (instead of my normal, thin cotton) over my merino wool undershirt. Neither worked all that well -- the jacket got wet under the protection, meaning it was heavier than a poncho, and the silk shirt just didn't work for me as a hiking shirt.
Plain & simple, it stunk.
MH quickly got to my starting point of U.S. Highway 321 (Watauga Lake), from which I planned to do a (fairly) easy hike either to Kincora Hostel or (if the rain becomes intolerable) to Laurel Fork Shelter. Although there was some rain, it never became that bad, and I made Kincora well before dark. I should mention that the Laurel Forks Shelter is one of the most beat-up & vandalized I've seen, as Bob Peoples notes that weekenders trash the place constantly. Passing this by and going on to Kincora is the proverbial 'from the outhouse to the penthouse.'
So much has been said about Bob Peoples and the Kincora, that I won't add much beyond the fact that, even after 21 years, he still loves to welcome hikers to his place, and that his $5 donation to stay is BY FAR the best bargain you'll find.

The next day was my planned 16 mile hike to Mountaineer Falls Shelter. As I left Kincora at 7:30am, after the morning rain had stopped, I had confidence about going farther than normal for me. I knew that the first part would be a bit rough, as The Trail has some ups & downs. But I figured (1) I could maintain 1.2 miles an hour for thirteen hours, thus arriving by 8:30pm; and (2) even if I couldn't, I would stay at Vango & Abby Memorial Hostel.
Although I felt good about doing the first six miles in six hours, my arrival at the Laurel Forks Bridge at 5pm caused quite a letdown. My mile map showed I still had 4.8 miles to go -- meaning I was well behind my schedule. Worse, any idea of stopping at Vango had to be abandoned when I saw no indication of how to get there. My guidebook noted a "blue-blazed trail" from that crossing to the hostel, but I saw nothing like that -- and I wasn't about to waste an hour trying to find something I wasn't certain even existed! It might be nice if someone could actually photograph what one should expect to see when going from Laurel Fork River to Vango.
Anyway, I just trudged along, figuring to camp out before I got to Mountaineer. I feared this would lead to delay after delay, meaning I might have to actually add a day to my hiking -- and I DIDN'T want to re-arrange car rental, Sunday morning worship, shuttles, etc. I wasn't sure WHAT I could do.
At 7pm I heard a car drive close to me -- and my map showed no roads other than Walnut Mountain Road in the area. If what I heard was correct, then I was just 1.6 miles from Mountaineer -- well within my ability to get there by 8:30. But this left me confused, as I didn't think my speed had picked up such that I had done 3.2 miles in two hours. Could I have "heard" that car because I wanted to? Could it have been something that only SOUNDED like a car -- thunder, airplane? My confusion ended when I saw Walnut Mountain Road in front of me -- apparently, I had simply mis-written the mileage on my map.
I got to Mountaineer Falls Shelter well before dark, VERY tired, and enjoyed a good night's rest.

My hike (mostly downhill) back to Mountain Harbour
went sufficiently fast that I decided to take my shuttle to Carver's Gap that afternoon. MH was able to get me a shuttle in (literally) minutes, so I was at Carver by mid-afternoon. Refreshed from good food, good speed, and a good shower; I decided to hike at least to Stan Murray Shelter, and maybe even to Overmountain. I knew that the latter was highly recommended, and the former was highly UNrecommended, but I also knew that daylight would be my deciding factor. Thus, when I got to Murray by 6pm, I chose to have a quick dinner and then head on. I knew it was downhill to Overmountain, and my energy factor was such that I could to the 2.5 miles in two hours, thus arriving by 8:30pm. To my utter amazement, I arrived at the Overmountain Trail ONE HOUR LATER. This was so much beyond any other speed I've attained that I was (at first) confused about where I was -- only after seeing a sign with the word "Shelter" on it did I actually believe what I had done.
As another side, going by Stan Murray and on to Overmountain is another 'from the outhouse to the penthouse.'
There were other people already at the shelter, so I just made friendly with them, sharing tricks of the hiking trade. I mentioned that one could start a fire even in pouring rain, simply by carrying dryer lint rolled in petroleum jelly. I slept okay despite the cold at this shelter, and awoke to my planned cup of hot coffee. Thus, imagine my chagrin when I found (1) the surface I use to light my matches, didn't do so, and (2) I had left my fire striker (Swedish Light My Fire, to be exact) back at Mountain Harbour. I hate to Yogi, but I had to ask the other hikers for a light. After my coffee, it was an easy hike back to Mountain Harbour. These miles ended without one insect bite, one fall, and only a five-minute forgetting of my walking stick.

My miles are now well within Tennessee, so it's getting increasingly difficult to make progress by getting away for a mere six days total (including the time for driving) from Philadelphia to a starting point. I may be able to get in one more hike to the south this year, and perhaps a few miles in the Whites. But at least my extra speed is not a fluke nor an illusion.