5/1 Max Patch Camping area

May 1, 2013 at 1:06 pm

Today was the first day of the Appalachian Trail for me.  I’ve been waiting for the trail to feel real, and expecting to fully realize what we’re doing at Neel’s Gap, or Fontana Dam, or after the Smokies, or perhaps at Damascus, VA.  I didn’t expect Max Patch, which for all I knew was another routine blip on our map, to be a remarkable awakening, but it turned out to be the most incredible experience of our trip to date.  We had a slow morning; we hiked a quick few miles out of the woods, under a highway, into the woods, and finally to a hostel for some morning coffee.  Standing Bear was a little hole-in-the-woods that offered a unique hiker store and a lot of good conversation.  Unfortunately, we got sucked into the hostel vortex for an hour and a half while we drank coffee and caught up with more of the people we had lost during the rainstorm.
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Finally we got started in the late morning from the hostel and hiked the remaining 14 miles of our day straight up, gaining over 5000 feet and a lot of sore muscles.  We kept our heads down and struggled through the day’s climbs, desperately approaching Max Patch at sunset.  When we left the ridge and started up the famous bald, it looked like we were climbing off the edge of the earth.  It was a quick climb up but the wind fought us for every step, howling over the grassy top strongly enough to hold us up when we leaned against it.  When we were finished climbing there was no where left to go.  The winds ripped at our light clothes and froze us while we looked around at the 360 degree views.  On one side of us there was all of the Smoky Mountains, rising up like blue giants, and on the other side Virginia stretched out in front, beckoning us.  It felt like being reborn on top of the world, and I felt for the first time like we were really undertaking the Appalachian Trail.
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