Franklin to Fontana aka A O RIVERRRR!

Another week has passed on the trail, and this one was for sure the toughest so far. We headed out of Franklin, NC on Sunday and hit the trail again from Winding Stair Gap. We always start right back where we left off. Some people definitely do not, but a common saying on the trail is “hike your own hike” so we try not to pass judgment 😉 

The first day back on the trail rewarded us with incredible view of the BALDS in North Carolina. BALDS are exactly what they sound like; mountains that are bald, or without trees. So the views are fantastic. The best view was a little side trail up Siler Bald. Dropping out packs and running up there was so worth it. It was a 360 view of mountains, and Fontana Dam, our end of the week destination, far in the distance. 

This week we spent a lot of time with our pals GI JANE and MOOSHOO, the couple who have the dog, Luna. They are such great people, and we are loving their company on the trail. (Right now they are a day behind us, and we are hoping they catch up to us in Fontana so we can all hang out tonight) we hiked with them a lot of that first day, and we hiked up Wayah Bald, atop which was another incredible view aaaaaaand TRAIL MAGIC! The four of us found another group of people with a small fire, tons of Easter candy (it was Easter Sunday!!) and Bacon!! We ended up making BACON S’MORES over the fire, and it was the best choice ever. We found our other trail friend, Light Bulb, up there as well, and enjoyed the fire with our little trail family. 


We just love Light Bulb. He is the nicest man you could ever meet, and we have adopted him as our trail dad and protector. He told us if anyone gives us trouble to let him know.  And as we got to know him we found he used to be in the Army AND is a retired federal prison guard, so we feel excellent about this choice of trail protector. Parents, don’t worry about us!!  Light Bulb has two daughters around our ages, and is really proud of both of them and talks about them often. He is also from Oklahoma, so the three of us have made a little group, “team flatlands” (Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma) and feel especially proud when we kick ass on these hills!! 

Anyway, that second night we camped with Mooshoo, GI Jane, and Luna at a site just off the trail. Another trail friend, Bearded Crab, was also there, and he had gone 8 miles out of his way getting lost, so he was not having a great day. We all shared a campfire and ate dinner together and it was really great!! Here is a pic of us with MOOSHOO, GI JANE, and LUNA on top of Wayah Bald: 

The next day we did Wesser Bald and some other miles (sometimes it all runs together) and ended at Wesser Shelter. It was rainy and pretty gross all day, and it was hard to find a good campsite, as we got there late :/ we had dinner with Light Bulb and waited out the rain, and then as soon as there was a break we ran to our tents! After we were all snug inside our little tent homes I had to pee, but it had started raining again… So, I found a new use for my nalgene: 


The next morning we began a long descent into the Nantahala Outdoor Center, where we had some packages!! We did about 7.5 miles, pretty much all downhill, which is harder and more frustrating than uphill, believe it or not. Your knees and feet HATE you!! When we got to the NOC we had so many happy surprises. We got packages from Olson parents, Adrienne and Daniel (some close friends from KC that we love) and Moonbow’s best friend Laura. We barely had to resupply we got so many goodies!!!  

We also found Mooshoo and GI Jane again and had lunch (and delicious beers) with them. Mooshoo treated us to lunch, which was so nice!!  It was such a nice rest and beautiful day, and we enjoyed seeing all our friends. It was also so hard to leave such a happy place full of friends, delicious food and beer, but we knew we had to push on. The next like… Three days were completely uphill, so we just got a few miles of it out of the way and camped with Lightbulb and some guy named Ben who was too cool for a trail name, at a place called Grassy Gap. Lightbulb is also awesome because he helps us get our slow selves moving on mornings we camp together. He hollers over to our tent to make sure we are awake (as he is already leaving camp LOL) and this is super helpful to get us out of camp before like.. 11 am! 
Oh Moonbow also got a sweet new hat she had been wanting for a long time and feels so fly on the trail: 

Just call me pataguchhi. Anyway…  

The rest of the week was one long, painful uphill. It was just about 30 miles in two days and all I remember is hills, climbs, sweat, a few tears and more hills. On Wednesday we didn’t get as far as we needed and were in a bit of a bind with camping. We ended up camping on a forest service road off a gap/ road where camping was not technically allowed. We read not to camp near roads for safety reasons and when we were alone there Moonbow was really nervous. However, within half an hour an older guy (retired teacher from OHIO!), Stretch, showed up, and then Lightbulb, too! A few others rolled in later As well, so we were happy! 

Two of the people camped with us and kind of on the same schedule as us are a couple who remind us SO MUCH of a couple on the show Portlandia, Cath and Dave. We can barely remember their real names because we call them this. As a result, we ended that evening giggling in our tent, watching sketches of Dave and Cath (and then just googling Carrie Brownstein…) until the phone died. The funniest sketch is by far when Cath and Dav go to the river, and as a result we quoted it the next two days, as a way to keep our spirits up. We yelled AYE OH RIVER many times, which is their signal to one another. It has become a little trail inside joke, and spirit lifter:
Also, there was no water, but an incredibly kind local lady brought water and bananas!! She must know hikers end up there on these tough days. She also parked her car by the entrance to the forest service road to protect us all, and slept there! Seriously, the kindness of people around here is almost unbelievable!! The same lady helped Lightbulb To print his GSMNP permit by meeting him the next day and letting him print it at her home! So kind!! 

The next morning we got up at the same time as LightBulb and got an early start for a killer 14 mile day. It was by far the hardest yet. Uphills like you would not believe. No switch backs. Seemingly endless uphill. Then, steep, cruel downhills. Moonbow shed a few tears. There were many stops to rest feet, soak in water and gain the energy to keep going. Finally, FINALLY, we got into Fontana Village. We were so ready for a break. We ate a HUGE meal at the lodge. Fried green tomatoes, friend trout, fried chicken. Two desserts. AMAZING. 


We were not going to zero here Friday (today) but we saw a crappy forecast of big time storms, and our feet were NUMB so we got our room for tonight too and are relaxing HARD. This morning we had breakfast with some random hiker friends we were waiting at restaurant with (Spagetti and El Mundo) and then were joined by Lightbulb! We had a super tasty breakfast and tons Of coffee. After, we planned our week In the Smokies and organized our gear. Currently doing laundry, have resupplied, and are sitting on the porch of the general store and waiting for our clothes to be CLEAN and DRY! 

It was a great and challenging week overall. We had some great times with trail friends, new and old. We are constantly meeting new people. In some ways the trail reminds us of college, but it’s like college with hindsight we did not have then. There are different groups, and definitely some party crews, the “cool kids” who are drunk most of the time and bring box wine and edibles on the trail, sometimes instead of water.. We aren’t really bonding with those guys… Instead we are enjoying intergenerational company (like lightbulb, a guy named short bus and many other cool older retired guys, who never make us feel like young girls or any less capable than them, which is incredible),  and getting to know other people our age who are a bit more tame and into the trail for the journey, and  not for the party (like GI Jane and Mooshoo- those guys are so genuine and fantastic!) 

There are all kinds of people on the trail, and we are definitely learning who we connect with and who we don’t. Overall, this week as one incredible challenge, but so worth it. It tested our dedication to the trail, and at some points our sanity 🙂 

We head into the smokies tomorrow, and will be stopping again in about 8 days, so look for An update then!! 

–Moonbow and lightning bug   


2 thoughts on “Franklin to Fontana aka A O RIVERRRR!

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