Day 17: Zero Day 3 – Fontana Dam

Day #17

Cable Gap Shelter –> Fontana Dam Lodge

5.5 miles

164.7 Total AT miles

What up! I’m sitting on the floor of the Fontana Lodge bringing the blog up-to-date. The nearly full moon just set over the surrounding mountains that the lodge is cut into. Breakfast beckons once these words are typed.

Today we push into and through the Smokey Mountains. This section is our biggest challenge to date. My pack is enormous with over 20lbs of food. I need enough for 6-8 days to see me through the 109 mile section to Hot Springs, North Carolina.

I’m way heavier on food than everybody else and am carrying nearly twice as much as some. My plan is slow and steady to Clingmans Dome eating as much food as my stomach will hold. After a sunrise on the highest point in the AT, over half my food should be eaten.  I’ll pick up the pace as my bag lightens and hustle off the high Ridgeline to Hot Springs, NC.

On the outside deck, the contents of everyones pack erupted onto the wooden planks as we prepared our food and supplies. Mr. Kool-Aid lost over 10lbs from his pack. Canuck lost a bunch as well with a few pounds subtracted from a switch to his hammock. I sent my e-reader home 😦 Not only am I not carrying a paper journal, but now I lost my book as well. Sacrifices! Their just isn’t time for reading with everything else going on. Oh, Mom, expect another package with an e-reader!

Yesterday’s rain stopped in the night and we woke to a foggy, cool morning. A fast 5.5 miles put us on the shuttle to the Fontana Lodge where we picked up our packages, some wine and beer, and then hit the showers. I showered twice soaking for nearly an hour in total. I’ll take another before leaving.

See ya’ll on the flip side of the Smokies!

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The Cable gap shelter in the morning after a rain. So much water.
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The shelter as everyone packs up for the push into town.
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Hiking on through the fog in a kilt, the AT is the only acceptable place ,outside of Scotland, to wear a kilt.
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Hiking through he fog.
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Almost creepy if it wasn’t so beautiful.
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Canuck walking down a stretch of trail. Grass often lines the road.
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Just a cool rock along the trail.
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Fontana Dam. It is huge! Not what I expected.
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A flower almost ready to bloom.
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Instructions along the trail.
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The AT crosses through this parking lot full of blooming redbud trees.
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The shuttle to the lodge. There is a phone line that connects directly with the shuttle!
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The walk up to the lodge was tiring!
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Celebrations!
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Our trail family is back together!
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Canuck got his hammock! He’s so happy to have his baby back! Sorry for such a terrible photo…
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Shakedown time!
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Canuck cut his toothbrush in half to save as much weight as possible.
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Mr. Kool-Aid’s lunch. Sardines with cheese crackers wrapped in a tortilla.
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Look at all that food!
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Shaking down some packs! Mr. Kool-Aid lost more than 10lbs of gear.

 

 

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Day 16: Another Day in the Woods

Day #16

Sassafras Gap Shelter –>Cable Gap Shelter

15.2 miles

159.2 Total AT miles

Sometimes, I’m just not sure what to say. We wake in the morning and we eat. We pack camp and we eat some more. We hike. We snack while we hike. We eat lunch on top of mountains and filter water flowing right out of the earth to drink. We eat more. Some of us drink coffee. Lots of coffee with enough to share.

We eat first dinner then we set up camp. We sit around fires or huddle beneath overhangs of shelters to stay out of the rain. We eat second dinner and we hang our food in trees to be safe from bears but more often mice. We goof around and share stories. We retrieve our bear bags to eat a third dinner; only sometimes, you know, when the pain in the belly outweighs that of the legs. We sleep. We sleep a lot. Sometimes 12 hours or more.

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Campsite atop Cheoah Bald just past the shelter. We planned to camp here but it was late and getting cold. A good decision.
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Descending into Stecoah Gap.
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Canuck preparing ramen noodles for lunch.
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Everyone is resting before tackling Jacobs Ladder.
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Mr. Kool-Aid letting the blood flow from his legs.
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A garbage can!!!! Never in my life have I been so excited to see one of these.
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The trail family fueling up before the climb. Cling mans Dome, the highest point of the AT is visible to the left.

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Empty, leafless forests
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Owl checking the distance to the next water and shelter.
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Prayer flags in a shelter.
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Dude who’s name I forgot trying to sweep out the shelter. His efforts are in vain as the wind blows the dust right back in.
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Rattle snake on trail! I didn’t see it though 😦
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Canuck, Owl, and I hiking fast to avoid the rain.
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Lots of up and down today.

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Dude, where’s the trail? It gets pretty rough at times. A highway overall though…
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Cool Dad putting on the rain pants as the rain begins to fall.
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A broken tree with the white blaze.
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Down and down we go.
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Owl hiking on through the rain.
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GGGRrraaaaa!!!!!
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Faster Owl! It’s raining!
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Decorating a journal.
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The floor in front of the shelter. Dinner time!

Day 15: Gassy Giveaway

Day #15

Wesser Bald Shelter –> Sassafras Gap Shelter

12.6 miles

144 Total AT miles

Mr. Kool-Aid and Canuck wake at 6:30am to walk to the tower for sunrise. I wake but decide to stay in bed. I’m still sick with a cough I’ve had since a trip to NYC with mi Grande Tio and Tia.

Rachel and Lorne stop down asking if we would like some apricots and prunes. Apparently, they give Lorne some god awful gas and he’s not allowed to have anymore. I guess that’s one way to hot-box a tent…

We pack up and head down the mountain to the NOC, the Nantahala Outdoor Center. They are located on the river and offer whitewater rafting and kayaking. For the thru-hikers, they have food. Hot food and real. We split a bbq bacon, onion, and something pizza. SOO good.

The pizza fuels us up the mountain to the Sassafrass Gap Shelter. The place is super crowded. A day hiker told me I was the hundredth that she saw. That was at 3pm! Looks like we are coming up to the next bubble…

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Cool Dad and Mr. Kool-Aid taking over breakfast.
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“Do you guys want some apricots? He can’t eat anymore. They give him the WORST kind of gas.”
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More mountain views.
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The AT can be as much climbing as hiking. If Ida know, I’d ‘a brought my climbing shoes!
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The NOC.
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Bridge across the river at the NOC.
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Packs stacked outside the restaurant while we go in a and eat.
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Photo Bomb!
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Cool Dad exploring the hiker bin in the Outfitters.
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Trail magic?!
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Someone’s TarpTent Double Rainbow outisde the shelter.
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Full shelter tonight!

Day 14: Majesty of the Mountains

Day #14

Siler Bald Shelter –> Wesser Bald Shelter

17.4 miles

131.4 Total AT miles

I’m standing on the rickety platform of the the Wesser Bald observation tower 4,627 feet above the sea. The western sky is ablaze in the light of the sun slowly slipping below a mountain range of purple, blue, and green. The full moon fills the eastern sky rising through a rainbow haze of reflected light. Mr. Kool-Aid stands in front of me tears streaming from his eyes. I extend a hand for a shake. He pulls me in for a hug.

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People always ask us why. Why would we do something so seemingly crazy? For moments like these. Moments of ecstasy and euphoria that break through all barriers. The climbing and physical challenges strip us bare leaving raw our emotions for moments like these.

After the sun is sufficiently set to satisfy our senses, we descend the tower and walk the mile to camp in the light of the moon. We arrive, tired and hungry, to the shelter where our friends await. We sleep inside, my second time on the trail. It seemed clean and little used. Not like some of the shelters our here.

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A cold morning at the Siler Bald Shelter.
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Hoar frost on the trail.
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Canuck hiking along the semi-frozen trail. It was only bad in places, ice.
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Trail magic ahead?!!

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Trail Magic! Manderins, bananas, all kinds of pastries, cakes, and cookies, a cooler with drinks. Thanks!
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Wayah Bald stone tower.
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And the view from atop the tower.
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Hello shadow!

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Mr. Kool-Aid had a branch pierce his leg when he was a kid. This is the scar. Wicked.
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Obstacles on the trail.
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Filling a sawyer squeeze bladder from a rhododendron leaf in the stream.

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Cold Spring Shelter.
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Mr. Kool-Aid stretching. Important stuff out here.
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Inside of the shelter where the trail register is kept.
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A view on the climb.
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Mr. Kool-Aid made the mistake of sitting down. Now he has to get up! Good luck buddy.
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Powerlines running down the mountain.
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Cool Dad and Canuck were here! The summit was too cold (we planned to camp here) so they pressed on to the shelter.
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The view from atop the Wesser Bald Observation tower at sunset.
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Mr. Kool-Aid and I took our time on the climbs timing our arrival for the sunset.
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The sun setting in the west. The full moon rising in the east. What a scene.
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Mr. Kool-Aid was brought to tears. It was that beautiful.
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The full moon over the landscape.
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Me atop the tower with the full moon. Thanks for the photo Mr. Kool-Aid.
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Mr. Kool-Aid white-knuckling it down the rickety stairs.
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You are beautiful! A sticker on a leg of the tower.
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Cool Dad filter water at the Wesser Bald Shelter
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Don’t you Quit!

 

Day 13: Mail-Drops and Hitched Rides

Day #13

Franklin, North Carolina –> Siler Bald Shelter

4.2 miles

114 Total AT miles

We wake to an all-you-can-eat breakfast and gorge till our stomachs can hold no more. The breakfast is much the same as in the last hotel. Perfect! I eat plate after plate of Sausage, eggs, grits, biscuits with sausage grave, and blueberry waffles. A taste of heaven.

We figure out our food situation and mail ourselves enough food to get through the Smokey Mountains. In a few days, we’ll be in Fontana Dam where food is expensive. It is a very small place with no grocery stores, only a general store and a lodge. I mail myself two medium-sized flat-rate boxes overflowing with 20+lbs of food. We must carry enough for 6-8 days.

The woman who rode us to the post office waited. We found her 20mins later still in the parking lot to shuttle us further up the road. She could not take us the entire way due to a family obligation though she would have been glad to. The people of the south are super friendly.

A truck stops within a few minutes and rides us to the trail head. We take our time walking the four miles to the shelter. I sleep inside this one, my first time on the trail. I don’t think I will again; too noisy.

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Breakfast at the hotel’s AYCE buffet. Breakfast of champions! I ate so many plates of food.
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They even had cereal!
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Packs exploded in our room. Takes a while to get everything cleaned up so we can head out for the day.
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Mr. Kool-Aid, Canuck, and myself, Kodak, hitching a ride to the post office.
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Canuck and Mr. Kool-Aid mailing their food to Fontana Dam.
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My boxes of food. 20+lbs.
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Canucks hammock was sent to the wrong city. They are going to forward it on to Fontana Dam.
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Oh Yeah!!! What up Mr. Kool-Aid.
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The woman who drove us to the post office waited for us and dropped us closer to the trail.
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It did not take long before a truck drove us the rest of the way. Thanks dude. Sorry that I forgot your name.
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A butterfly at the trail head.
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Trail magic that was only trash when we found it.
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It snowed in the night. We are feeling grateful to have spent the night indoors.
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We have a fire at the Siler Bald Shelter. It was another cold night.
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Mr. Kool-Aid started calling me “Princess Leia.” Thank God it didn’t stick…
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Food safely hung from mice. The bottles prevent mice from climbing down the line to chew a hole through your bag.
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A fire in the light of the full moon and the afterglow of the sun. What a beautiful night.

 

Day 12: Zero Day #2

Day #12

Franklin, North Carolina

Zero Day

109.8 Total AT miles

We wake in the grass alongside the highway to the sound of a car entering the parking lot: day hikers. Some of our group rallies and begins breaking camp. Not me. I stay in the warmth of my sleeping bag for as long as I can. I turn over, unzip my tent, and brew a cup of coffee. I’m carrying a GSI Java Drip and a pound of coffee. Everyone has their vice, right?!

Hitch-hiking is SO easy right now and it is not long before we have a ride to the front door of our hotel. Cool Dad booked us a night from somewhere on the trail. So crazy that we have cell service out there.

We are too early to check-in but the woman hooks us up. She lets us eat breakfast! We walk into the dining room to find the rest of our trail family finishing their feast. They pushed hard through the night for some sleep in a bed.

Towns are cool. They’re are a lot of work though. After breakfast it’s time for chores. I shower and get my dirty clothes together. Savage does laundry. We go shopping for our next stretch of food plus a mail drop to Fontana Dam. I mail myself 20lbs of food in two medium-sized flat rate boxes. The food barely fits and my boxes are “lookin a little wonky,” as one of the shuttle drivers would say.

Canucks hammock didn’t arrive. The post office sent it to the wrong town, Charlottesville. He’ll have to wait until Fontana Dam. Bummer dude. That tent your carrying is heavy and I know how much miss sleeping above the ground.

We walk to Walmart for more supplies. I need bear cord and alcohol for my stove. My bear line just wasn’t long enough. 550 paracord will work for now. I’ll replace it when I find some climbing accessory cord.

The pizza place’s shuttle, the cook driving the bosses car, picks us up at Walmart and drops us off with the rest of the family for a huge pizza dinner. Afterword, we head back to the hotel.

The hotel gets little crazy. People are piercing blisters with needles while others whittle away at packs that have exploded across the room. Dice are tossed on beds and  bills change hands. What a day. What a night.

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It is so nice making coffee in the vestibule of my tent all cozy in my sleeping bag. What a good start to the day.
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Mr. Kool-Aid packing up while Cool Dad and Savage attempt to hitch into town.
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Savage hoping for a ride.
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Stop! Hey! Over here!
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Mr. Kool-Aid and Canuck in the back of a pickuptruck hitching back to the trailhead.
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Cool Dad taking a photo for me inside the cab of the tuck. Thanks for the ride dude!
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There was space inside, they just wanted to be cool. It is pretty fun.
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Shaggy, Moonboots, Bambi, and Savage at the AYCE breakfast of the hotel. We just walked in to see these guys already sitting there. They pushed hard through the night.
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My foot after a few days in the woods.
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Not too grimy…
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Mr. Kool-Aid threading a blister on his foot. Keeping the thread in for the night allows the blister to drain.
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Canuck, Cool-Dad, and me walk to walmart for supplies.
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Bradford pears in flower along the highway on our walk to Walmart.
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Minor barrier: a barbed wire fence stands in our way of stove fuel and bear cord.
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Walmart! I haven’t seen one of you in like, two weeks!
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Group dinner in the pizza bar. Can’t remember the name, but they shuttle hikers from anywhere in town. Smart move cause we eat a LOT of food.
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A lamp on the bar of the pizza place in Franklin.
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Shaggy with the pizza man.
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Beer goes great after a long days hike.
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Hitching back to the hotel with this amazing family. The others jumper in the shuttle.

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Bambi piercing a blister on his big toe. Look at all that blister juice!
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Cool Dad and Mr. Kool-Aid shooting dice on the bed for dollars.
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Mr. Kool-Aid hooked me up with this bag of candy. Thanks dude!
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Savage asleep with a death grip on her glasses.