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Appalachian Trail: view above Hampton to Riff Raff Pre Daze Camp

Wing-drying with a view.

Day twenty-six, 12 miles

Moxie and I have maxed out. 

We moved fast to take advantage of the beautiful weather and fulfill a quest. But our bodies are beat and the trail is beginning to look very much the same now as the forests have greened out. 

I make a cup of coffee and my gas runs out. Then Moxie checks her power bank and it’s down to one bar. 

We know we’ll figure out how to manage the situation, maybe cold soaking food and sharing my battery. But we also have thunderstorms on the way to contend with and placing ourselves close to shelters just in case. 

The good news is the tent is dry this morning, no one joined us last night, the birds are singing and we have a little over 50 miles left to Damascus. 

You can’t imagine how good an egg and cheese sandwich tasted this far into our quest.

It’s all downhill this morning and we talk the whole way, past an old rotted cabin – which is marked on the map as such – and to a road. 

We were told trail magic would be awaiting us here and peak into a campsite where a large tent sits and pieces of several cast iron cookware rest near hot coals in the fire-ring.

At first things it feels as if we must be in the wrong place, but soon enough, a 30-something bearded man wearing a skull and cross bones on his chest arrives. ‘Sky High’ tells us he walked the trail three times and is part of the Riff Raff Club. 

He offers us a chair, an egg and cheese sandwich, oranges, beer and a drag from a bong. I see now why he gets the name Sky High. 

When we mention our plan to walk a short day and camp at Lake Watauga, he says bears are abundant at the lake and it’s closed to camping now. 

“I apologize if my better time gets in the way of your not so good time, but you should walk to our campsite today.”

He then outlines how we’ll be fed, we can recharge electronics and we can also be driven north and slackpack right back to our tents – for a donation. 

Moxie and I take one look at each other and say, “Count us in!”

It’s amazing how well I move on a healthy meal. The bar and Knorr life is truly awful. Having been fed, I’m like a new woman skipping down trail to steep hand-built rock stairs to beautiful classic falls at Laurel Fork. 

Two local women are here telling us they never tire of them. As we leave, the trail looks like a Wile E Coyote escape straight into a rock wall. Instead, the excellent stair builders created a walkway of rock and a bit of cement to skim along the side. The women point out you can’t always get to the falls if it’s flooding. 

We walk on through lovely forest that eventually heads straight up on a decent three-mile climb. Sky High tried to dissuade us from

walking what he calls a “PUD” (Pointless Up and Down) that looks like a witch’s hat in my elevation profile. To me it feels lazy to skip a section especially after being fed, so up we go. 

Right at the start, I spy a Bleeding Heart varietal I have never seen. But from there, it’s indeed just a long uphill through forest without views. 

It begins to rain heavily so I get out my coat and march on. At the top, I grab water, then it’s right back down again with only the smallest view to the beautiful lake below, mist clinging to its surface. 

Finally at road, it’s a mile’s walk without shoulder to the camp. I think about hitching, but my legs just keep walking. I wave at every passing motorist, thanking them for moving aside. Though it is up to us to step aside when a car approaches with flashing lights and a sign reading ‘wide load.’ A small barn follows and we give it plenty of room. 

The camp is on the property of s Christian family who was looking for ways to give back to the world. Since hikers walk right past here, they offer land they’ve developed as a wedding venue for us to use. 

There’s a pavilion and canopies to sit under when it rains, and a place to serve food, plus ample camping. This is the ‘pre’ party for the actual party coming up on the weekend. Music, games, lots and lots of beer and so many people. 

How is it I never see any of these people? 

It’s loud and all I’d been warned about with the trail being maybe more Burning Man than Walden Pond. I enjoy the energy around me until it leaks into whooping and hollering into the wee hours. 

Is this what hiking’s become? Just a big loud blowout drug fest? Am I just an old lady now who prefers the song of the wood thrush to that of a pack of humans? 

Drinking begins promptly after breakfast.
Support blowup doll.

I so appreciate the spaghetti dinner and a place to stay, as well as the ride tomorrow allowing a walk in rain without a worry of where to stay the night. I felt high seeing the light in spring, the fields of flowers, the vast views. Booze won’t make it better for me. 

Perhaps I need to look for outdoor experiences less populated, like summiting a spectacular 13-er in Colorado where no one bothers to visit since it’s not one of the highest. 

As I try to sleep now, a wild party is just getting underway. It’s not my world at all and I hope they get their fill soon. For me, I hope these last days I can touch back on the things that call me to come out here and commune with nature and keep those close to my heart. 

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