I slept in a bit and was out by seven in the morning. The night before with everyone I ended up staying awake a little longer than I usually do. It’s quite comical that around nine at night now I’m nearly useless unless I’ve read plenty of rest from the day before. Getting up and doing this everyday takes huge chunk out of your stamina. Packing up quietly and ninjaly leaving I headed down to Hughes gap. The trail easy and smooth left me in a great mood, those small bits of trail that are smooth and flat are treasured more than you could know. It’s agent small haven away from the roots, rocks, steps, and foot deep trenches that we hike through.
From Hughes Gap I would start my four some odd mile incline of about two thousand feet of elevation gain. The only refuge would be about two thirds of the way up, but that was an hour ahead of me. The long steady incline, smooth and free of people allowed me to continue that feeling from before. No hikers up and about, I had the world to myself. Mile after mile underfoot I came to my first group of hikers, four young men coming down the trail from thier weekend out. They would be the first of many I would come across this day. Up up up I went, stopping only to pee, I climbed the trail, passing hikers that were just waking and getting out on the trail.
The blissful climb came to an end as I reached the first peak on the ridge line. The smooth trail became a myriad of rocks and rock scrambles. The arid rocky trail, exposed to the elements, made it slow going for the next bit. Each foot had to be carefully placed to not slip or twist. Thankfully this wasn’t long and I found myself at Ash Gap. The lush saddle had a wonderfully green landscape of ferns and trees. The harsh winds did not blow through here at the same rate as on the ridgeline. It came to no surprise that this was a favored place to camp for thru hikers and the weekender. Just a mile and half to the top and my day was almost over.
Crushing out the hard terrain I climbed to the top of Roan Mountain. Every so often passing the same couple all the way up to the top. We would rubber and over the next mile or so till I left them behind close to the top. Reaching the 6200 some foot summit I took off down an unmarked trail. To my surprise I found that there used to be an hotel up here in the 1800s and it was a huge resort for the time. Now it was a flat bald and the perfect spot to lay down and break. To my surprise the same couple arrived there soon after me.
Chatting with them again, they invited me to join them for the rhododendron gardens. They had learned that this was the largest natural rhododendron garden in the world and wanted to check it out. Why not I thought,the world is a book, if you dont travel you only read one page. Talking and walking with them I heard all about the weekend, their home, why they loved this area. Lost in conversation we found ourselves at a spectacular view of the mountains overlooking the gardens, it was a shame they weren’t in bloom.
Parting ways after our time at the gardens I ran into another thru hiker named Huckleberry and we pondered the trail a bit before receiving some much needed trail magic. Full of snacks we headed down Roan Mountain, down the rocky, stripped trail. Taking care to not slip or fall, we moved at a decent pace,that was until we heard there was more that rail magic at the next gap. Full of vigor and joy we picked up speed chatting and excited that rails see what lay ahead. Booyah it was cold sodas and water. It couldn’t have gotten any better as we sat ate our snacks and drank our full of good stuff.
We had one more big climb or so before we were most of our way to the next shelter. Climbing up the bald filled with flowing grass, we passed all sorts of people out enjoying the weather. This place, beautiful, magnificent had a huge draw from the locals in the area. We climbed steadily to the top, only stopping once for a photo of the previous mountain. Upon the top we found a majestic view, miles and miles of open mountain ranges, as far as the eye could see. We had just four more miles to go and both decided this was the place to rest and relax.
Sitting there, champions of mountains, titans of the trail, hard-core hikers, we basked in the sun, sweet breeze and beautiful countryside. It wasn’t long before we were flocked upon by day hikers with tons of questions. Answering and enjoying the conversation, we took pictures and laughed with everyone. It was nice to see people for a change. If this had been a week day we may have only seen one or two people pass by instead of the droves of families. Out here the is only one way to tell what day it is and that’s when the trail comes and live on the weekend.
Moments had and refreshed we trekked out up and over the next few balds. The landscape changing to a beautiful grove then to the forrest again. Mile after mile we hurried to the shelter. I just wanted to get there and rest, the long miles with rocks had worn me down a bit. Sometimes it is best to let the terrain decide how far you go instead of your head. Coming to a clearing we found a blue blaze that lead us to Over Mountain Shelter or as other know it the big red barn. If the day couldn’t have gotten better I would have been fine but it did. There was plenty of places to tent and a free spot right in the middle looking out into the valley below. Setting up my tent I took a few pictures before going to bad after dinner. What after day, filled with smiles, miles, viewx, and stories, there truly is no better way to end after day than like that.