Day One: It’s 9:00 a.m. and time for pictures and farewells. We boarded Ike (our big yellow bus) for the trip to the Flatwood trailhead, which leads to the Academy Trail and then onto the Iron Mountain Trail. I was grateful for the fact that we did not have two feet of snow on the ground. About halfway to the IMT, one of the students decided to make a detour, but we quickly got back on track. The weather was really warm and a nice change from the bitter cold of our last three expeditions. After setting up my camp, I went down to bathe in the creek, and as night came on, I looked out on a spectacular star-filled sky.
Day Two: I awoke to a stunning sunrise splashed with red. On the way to our next campsite at Mile Marker One, I stopped down in a small gap to refill my water and rest, before attempting to summit the K.A.H. This camp overlooks Doe Valley, TN with Boone, NC off in the distance, and I have a fantastic view off a cliff. We were told we could sleep outside under the stars if we chose.
Day Three: Waking up to an eight mile hike is not the best feeling, but I was glad to finally get moving. Two hours of hiking brought me to Double Springs Shelter on the Appalachian Trail. After lunch break, Mr. Mike appointed me as the leader of the second group of hikers as we moved toward Camp Onion. A controlled burn along the trail caused an inconvenient delay, but Mr. Mike allowed us a swim break at Scott-Booher Pond. The swim felt amazing after eight miles of hot, sweaty hiking. The final hike to Camp Onion was like running the fire and smoke gauntlet. Once at camp, with my site all set up, I went to gather wood and water while Myles gathered onions. I looked forward to the wonderful night of sleep under the stars that awaited me.
Day Four: At 7:00 a.m. I was getting ready to leave with a beautiful sky overhead. Just as he had yesterday, Mr. Mike split the group for the hike to Abingdon Gap. The hike took us past a few AT hikers and we stopped at the Holiday Inn Shelter, a historic original AT shelter, which is no longer used. We made it to Abingdon Gap in a scant two hours. Upon arrival, as I was setting up camp, Ms. Ava and Patrick cleared out the water source. After a tasty meal I went to sleep again under an incredible starry sky.
Day Five: Another beautiful sunrise. As I began hiking to our next camp, I realized that it was nowhere near as hot as the day before. Instead of stopping at our schedule camp spot, AT Saddle Camp, we passed it and continued for three more miles to a new camp, which we dubbed “Camp Hope.” The seven-plus mile hike took only three hours total and we set a new record for reaching the AT Saddle Camp in two hours. After getting water, dealing with a bear threat, the wind, and our fire, I settled in for what I realized was my last night on “The Hill.”
Day Six: I woke up later than usual, but still had plenty of time after packing up and putting out the fire for reading. Mr. Dan and Ms. Ava left early to prepare a surprise for us in Damascus. Oddly, just as we walked off the AT in Damascus, it began to rain after six days of perfect weather on the trail. Even though this was our last expedition together as the class of FMA-X, I’m sure it will not by my last time on “The Hill” with a pack on my back.