November 22

Jeff rejoined me and Valerie at Watauga Lake, south of one of our favorite trail towns, Damascus. He slack packed us a couple of small sections and then Valerie left for Thanksgiving a couple of days later. Jeff and I had a lovely stay at Conney’s Greasy Creek Friendly hostel on the 21st. Conney likes to paint the bottom of thru-hikers feet and stamp their prints on the checkerboard floor in her kitchen. She says, but only the ones who will finish the trail. That means mostly all southbound prints decorate the floor, since we are near the end of our journey when we get to her place (close to Erwin, TN). Jeff of course successfully completed the trail as a nobo, and would be one of the only northbounder prints if he succumbed to the inking.  She asked if we’d like to leave our mark on the same square together, or separate. I laughingly said to Jeff, “I don’t know, same square? That’s a long commitment! We’ll be here together forever!”

From Conney’s house we had a lovely hike through leaf barren hills. Our biggest climb of the day was up Unaka Mountain. The peak was covered in the most magical pine forest. These pine woods are common on the southern high peaks. Even on the windiest day, when you enter one, it is still and peaceful. All of the boughs and needles block out most of the light. The forest floor has no undergrowth, only fallen needles, which make for a spongy walking path.

From the top we started to look for cell signal. We had decided a couple hours earlier that instead of camping out that night (as we’d planned, with another 8mi walk in the a.m.), we’d see if the closest hostel could pick us up from a road crossing. So we’d spend the night at the hostel and leave early the next morning for Thanksgiving at the Beach. Jeff seamed really excited about this idea, actually, I couldn’t really figure out why he was so excited, even jumpy.

From the peak (and after successfully placing our call to book the shuttle) we descended down many switchbacks. It was so windy, my cap blew off and nearly hit Jeff. The sky was really moody. Dark clouds swirled and trekked across the sky, threatening a terrible rainstorm. I was pretty anxious to move fast and not get dumped on. We came to a grassy clearing and I stood awestruck on our first open view South — of the dramatic Tennessee mountains, somewhere in the distance were the Great Smoky Mountains.

I turn around to find Jeff had dropped his pack several yards behind me and came running over. “Look what I found! Some water!” He is constantly trying to get me to drink more water. I didn’t really want to drop packs and hang out up there, because the storm seemed to be on its way. But, it was a really awesome view. He leaned into my ear and whispered, “will you marry me?” I said “Of course!” And all of a sudden he was on one knee and busted out this giant rock to put on my finger.

So, we’re getting hitched sometime in October. Outdoor wedding with pig meat.

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