Today was absolutely the hardest day I have had so far on the AT. I’ve heard legend of the difficulty of the hill climbing out of the NOC… the first four miles or so weren’t bad. I figured that people were just maybe a little too hungover. The last 1.6 miles of climbing to Swim Bald were absolutely brutal. The trail was rugged, mostly rocks on a slim overhang, and it was just relentless climbing to a bald with absolutely no view. After a very short, almost imaginary downhill, I climbed again to Cheoah Bald. I’m pretty sure Cheoah in Cherokee means “hill that makes girl cry” because I lost it climbing up to the top. At least I finally had a view, as the weather cleared up. After more enormous ups and downs and a few more tears, I finally made it to Stecoah Gap at 3:30. Mind you, it normally doesn’t take me that long to go 13.9 miles and I was just devestated. To my surprise, Hopeful was at the Gap doing Trail Magic for his birthday. Hopeful thru hiked NOBO in 2003 and 2011 and was more than happy to help me off with my pack and to fill me full of food! I nearly cried at his generosity. He had a lot of great stories and was so friendly and genuinely kind. He was truly my angel! After sitting and eating for more than an hour, I began the climb known as Jacob’s Ladder. It’s a brutal 0.6-mile, 650-foot climb to the top of a nameless mountain. After finally rolling into camp around 6 p.m., I was ready to sit down and relax. The crew at the shelter tonight wrote lots of songs, including “Burps That Taste Like Hot Dogs”, “Switchback Blues”, “Balds Without a View”, and “The Downhill is a Lie”. I was very thankful to have a wonderful night and a great fire after the worst day I’ve had on the trail yet.