Dedicated to Mara's travel and hiking adventure journals as well as her words of wisdom and suggested resources for hikers and travelers.
April - Spring is Here!
Day 16 - Wayah Bald (tent) - 10.1 miles - 116.8 total
Pain, Pain, Pain, Pain. Pain, Pain, Pain, Pain.
After a slow start from the Franklin Motel, where I was somewhat dismayed about the news I saw on CNN about Yugoslavia, we headed for the nearby Normandie Restaurant for breakfast. There, for just $2.50, I had three humongous pancakes and two eggs. The proprietors were kind enough to let us put our packs in the "back" dining rooms while we ate. After that we were tempted to just call a taxi to bring us to the trailhead, but we decided to try hitching for ten minutes. Given that there were three of us, and that we were all big people, it did not seem too promising unless someone with a truck stopped. Just as we were about to give up, a woman with a medium sized 4-door car pulled up. It seemed very unlikely that the three of us would fit in the car. Somehow, we got the two guys with three packs in the back seat and I got the front passenger seat, where I had the pleasure of holding onto a box with two tiny, fuzzy little yellow chicks. Janet, our driver, was giving them to her sons to raise. Once big enough, they would live at her parentís farm with other chickens. I do not ever really expect to have a more unusual hitch than that, but I will not turn one down if it comes my way. (ed. note. - wait till she gets to Erwin :))
Janet dropped us off at the northbound trailhead and we were soon scurrying across the road back to where we had been picked up. We want to make sure we do not miss any of the white blazed trail. So far, we are all purists. Then, as we set off, Candleman and LJ (Steve and John) go on ahead, as it becomes apparent that I am unable to move at my usual pace. I had not taken any Ibuprofen and was curious to see if my ankles got better on their own with hiking, or only if I used the "Vitamin I." By 11:00, I was in considerable pain and took some Ibuprofen. Within an hour, it had kicked in and I was making some good time along the trail.
Siler Bald came up but the trail passed near the bottom. Because my ankles were not up to snuff and the weather (and views) was iffy, I passed on going to the top. (There will be more balds along the way.) These balds are unlike anything in the White Mountains, but are similar to the high pasturelands in the Alps, large, open grassy areas on the top and/or side of a mountain.
Surprisingly, I caught up with Candleman and LJ while they were taking a break. After that, however, things went downhill for me. Well, my left ankle continued to feel better, but my right ankle started giving me all sorts of grief. I could no longer continue to walk without favoring my right foot. Then my left started hurting again. My friends were off ahead of me again, and expecting to see me at the campsite. I passed word with some passing hikers that I did not expect to make it to the campsite. They should not expect me or worry or wait for me the next day.
All through this I kept hiking, even though I probably should have stopped. Good campsites were few and far between in this section and I continued to have hope at meeting up with friends. I went through periods of extreme pain and frustration that made me cry, but then I could not see the trail so I would stop. While my ankles did hurt, the tears were probably 90% frustration and self-pity, and only 10% from pain. On the top of Wayah Bald, where there were fantastic views, I came across a mini-tent city and joined the people there. One of them, Caboose, was going for water brought me a couple of quarts and saved me from a totally dry night.
For dinner, as it was still quite warm, I did not bother cooking, but rather broke out the matzo and ate it with salami. Then we watched the sun go down one side and the moon rise over Franklin. The moon rise was quite spectacular as it rose fiery red. Getting off my feet for awhile has put me in much better spirits and I'm hopeful for a better day of hiking tomorrow.
Tonight, after falling behind the last of my trail family, I met a whole "new" group of people. These included Lost Osprey, Sunny P, Otay, Free Spirit, Caboose, and Joshua. All day I had been worried about "losing" my friends as they got ahead. It was only tonight that I realized that I still had a bunch of friends behind me. I just hadnít met them yet.
Day 17 - Wesser Bald Shelter - 11.5 miles - 128.3 total
The sunrise over Franklin was absolutely amazing. Fog had settled into the valleys and there were just a few long thin clouds where the sun rose. Up in the mountains, however, the weather was clear, beautiful and dry. All the condensation that had formed on our gear overnight dried quickly in the stiff wind. For breakfast, instead of my usual Poptarts and Nutrigrain bars, I tried cereal. I'm receiving dry milk in my maildrops but have not used anywhere near as much as I've received. In an effort to use it up, I bought some Peanut Butter Captain Crunch, which seems to have more fat than most other cereals. It still seems strange to go to the store and look at the boxes for higher calories and higher fat content when making choices.
I forgot to take my Vitamin I while eating breakfast (distracted by the beautiful sunrise, I suppose) so I took it right as I stepped onto the trail. A big mistake! It seems to take about 45 minutes to kick in, and during that time the going was very slow and I thought about turning back to the bald and waiting for some tourists who could give me a ride to town. But I gave the Ibuprofen time to kick in and was soon making good time again without having too much pain. Four and a half miles out, at Burningtown Gap, I met up with Honolulu and Bill. There I knew it was just 1.2 miles to the next shelter, my original destination for this day. It was uphill all the way, and I finally found my stride. Uphill did not seem to hurt very much and I made the 1.2 miles in just 35 minutes.
Once at the shelter, I got water, changed out of my boots, and lay down on my Thermarest. I also took the next batch of Ibuprofen. Then, while staying off my feet, I ate lunch and visited with a bunch of other hikers. An hour and a half later, I decided to hike on. Getting started is always slow and painful with my tendonitis, but once I was moving, the pain was minimal. Honolulu joined me for most of the hike, to a spring just north of Tellico Gap. There, he left me, as he was going further than this shelter and wanted to make some distance. Having run out of Ibuprofen, I bummed some off of Ulysses as he and Circuit Rider passed, and very slowly made my way for the last couple of miles. At no point today were my ankles as bad as yesterday, but they still need to heal before I can really enjoy the hiking again. I skipped the climb up a fire tower today. I also did not stop to examine various wildlife or trailside curiosities, because I knew starting would be painful.
At the shelter, I had a short but pleasant evening with yet another totally new group of thruhikers. Getting in late like last night and tonight (late = 5:00ish or later) means no down time. Just get settled, cook and eat dinner, and then write this journal entry by headlamp. As I'm writing, there's a barred owl hooting in the not so distant forest. Ulysses, Circuit Rider, Gigi (Huffin) and Puffin and their dog Kenzo are also at the shelter.
Day 18 - Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC), Wesser - 5.7 miles - 134 total
This morning, I had another successful cold breakfast after what amounted to the warmest night yet. I could not believe I was peeling clothes and did not need to draw the hood around my face for the first time. I also remembered to take my Vitamin I with breakfast, so that by the time I hit the trail, it had kicked in. For the first time in days, my ankles felt pretty good as I hiked along. I could once again enjoy my surroundings and stop to watch a bird or look at a leaf without the dread I had, knowing that starting up again would be painful.
The trail this morning followed the ridgeline over seemingly endless "bumps." Down 100', up 80', down 60', up 70', down 200', etc. Some sections here were amongst the most difficult descending we had done to date, and once again reminded me of New Hampshire. I was so glad my ankles were feeling better, because I could not imagine doing this section on sore ankles. After the "bumps" came the descent into Wesser. Here, the trail once again turned into the more gradual, well graded trail that been the norm to date.
I soon came to a point where I could see the river very far below, but it was only a tease. I was still miles away. At about this point, the Vitamin I wore off and I hiked in pain once again. I also grew concerned about my toes. I had been hiking without lacing my boots to the top in order to try to relieve pressure on my ankles. With the long descent, my toes would sometimes hit the front of the boot, a recipe for lost toenails. Thankfully, the Rufus Mountain shelter site, just .8 miles shy of the river, provided a place to finish my salami and bagels, rest my feet, and more importantly, take more Ibuprofen.
After resting awhile, I continued on my way and quickly made it to the NOC, located on the Nantahala river. The NOC is a center for outdoor recreation - canoeing, kayaking, hiking and mountain biking. The weather was great so the place was booming. There were no bunks left so I just bought some ice-cream (have you all bought stock in Ben & Jerry's yet?) and got off my feet. I quickly met a bunch of hikers coming up behind me and hung out with them. These included Walking Home, Black Sheep, Mike Lowell, Bear Snack, Gray beard, and Fleischman.
I soaked my ankles in the very cold river, got a shower, did some laundry, and eventually had some Carolina Jambalaya at Reliaís Garden, a restaurant. A bunk opened up in a room where I had already stashed my pack so I was set for the night. Things always seem to work out. At 9:20 p.m., well past my usual bed time, I set my watch ahead and started this journal entry. Fifty minutes later, it is now time to go to sleep. Good night!
Day 19 Ė NOC, Wesser - 0 miles - 134 total
A day off. A day to rest my ankles. A day where I did not put on my boots or carry my pack. How better to make the best of the situation than to rent a duck (an inflatable kayak) and run the eight miles above the NOC. For $27 they give you a wetsuit, kayak, paddle and a shuttle up to the put in point. It then takes about two hours to go the eight miles back to NOC. Just before the end are the Nantahala Falls, an imposing set of rapids that, as it turns out, looks worse than it feels. A couple with an open canoe showed me the "line" through the rapids and following their advice, I had no problems.
After that, the rest of the day was just lazy - hanging out, talking with other hikers, shopping but not buying at the local outfitters. We remembered to Ďspring aheadí and over diner at the same Relia's Garden Restaurant, we realized how much later it was now going to stay lighter.
Day 20 - Cheoah Bald (tent) - 8.1 miles - 142.1 total
Relief and renewed optimism.
With the time change, it seemed really strange to sleep in until after 7:00. No need to rush this morning, as the restaurant does not open until 8:00am. Then it was pancakes and ham for breakfast and a few errands at NOC before packing up, turning in my key and getting on the trail again.
I was a bit nervous. My ankles had not given me any troubles while in town. No boots on my feet or pack on my back. Lots of Ibuprofen though. Heading out at 10:30, it was already a hot day. We also now had seven miles of uphill hiking to do. Each time we hit pockets of shade we would take a break and drink water. We passed one potential water source, and when we reached Grassy Gap, I volunteered to go get water. I should not have bothered. The trail down was steep, almost non-existent, and the water in the stream was silty. Yuck! Upon rejoining Mike and Walking Home on the ridge, I realized that it was 1:30 and it had been five hours since my last Ibuprofen at breakfast. A couple miles further, I left my friends at a spring and continued up endless ridges to Swim Bald. There, Bagel caught up with me and we hiked the mile to Sassafras Gap shelter together. By then we had both decided to continue to the top of Cheoah Bald, a mountain with some open grassy areas on top and plenty of room to camp. There are seven of us here, including Circuit Rider and Ulysses.
At one point, we watched a helicopter go by with a huge bucket underneath. Sure enough, as we went to a lookout for sunset, we could see smoke from forest fires in the distance. Now, as I write this journal entry, a bat is flitting overhead and I can see a ring of fire looking like jewels on a far off hill. As I walked back to my tent, and even from in my tent, I am reminded that even though I am carrying everything I need on my back, this is no wilderness experience. In almost every direction I look, I can see the electric lights of civilization. All at once, they are both pretty and annoying. They are necessary and I would not want to do without them when I am home, but as I sit here writing with my headlamp, I wish they were not visible beyond their useful range.
Wildlife - to date there has been a distinct lack of earthbound wildlife along the trail, except for mice in the shelters. (No loss of food though.) Today, however, just a mile or two out of NOC I startled a five foot long black snake. It startled me, too. They are not poisonous but can bite. This time, though, I was with Mike who used to catch rattlesnakes, raise them, and sell them. He knew a thing or two about handling them, and caught the snake so Walking Home and I could have a better look at it. Later, we saw two skunks and going up Cheoah Bald, a garter snake slid past. Quite a day.
Day 21 - Cable Gap Shelter - 14 miles - 156.1 total
It was a dark and eerie morning. The fog had rolled in thick overnight and was now swirling on the mountain tops and through the gap. An apparition of a thruhiker appeared - cold, hungry, wet and tired. The apparition moved closer and suddenly it was real.
That was me this morning. I woke up at 6:00 or rather decided to get up after a fitful night. I do not think there was anything about my camp that kept me up, just the change from very comfortable bunks in town to the narrow and short Thermarest. Anyway, for the first time I had breakfast in bed - Peanut Butter Cap'n Crunch.
Then, because of the fog, everything outside was wet, so I decided to get everything packed up from inside the tent. It is awkward to do this, but definitely drier. Just before 8:00, I crawled out of the tent, and as I was about to shake most of the accumulated water off of it, it started to rain. Oh well. I was going to have to carry a wet tent one way or the other.
The entire morning was very wet and rainy. For the first 2.4 miles, I had incentive to move quickly to get off the ridge. There was thunder and lightning nearby. Then, the going was quick and easy and the rain lightened a bit. I covered the next three miles in 1.5 hours. From Stecoah Gap, though, there was a big uphill, so it took another 1.5 hours to go the remaining 2.4 miles to Brown Fork Gap shelter. It was here that I appeared as an apparition to Circuit Rider and GrayBeard, who were there getting water and taking a break.
I quickly changed into warm, dry clothes and then made a hot lunch for myself. With my pack cover on, I had neglected to leave munchies handy in my rain jacket, so I had hiked eight miles that morning without anything to eat. After Ramen noodles, hot chocolate, gorp, Kudo's and a candy bar, I was feeling much better. So at 2:45, nearly three hours after arriving, I decided to push on for six miles to the next shelter. I took it slow and easy, and took 3Ĺ hours to cover that six miles. The grand total of 14 miles is my largest total per day so far. My tendonitis seems to be totally cleared up, but I'm still taking the Vitamin I just as a precaution. Besides, after a 14 mile day, other aches and pains were likely to show up anyway.
I set my tent up outside to dry, but I'm planning on staying in the shelter. Who knows, there are so many mice in this shelter I may switch to my tent if I cannot sleep through all of their scurrying around.
Day 22 - Fontana Village - 6.9 miles - 163 total
It seems kind of a strange milestone, but as of today, we have less than 2000 miles to go to get to Katahdin (plus or minus various trail relocations). I had an easy walk this morning to Fontana, but was glad to finally see the marina. I arrived by noon, so decided to do the last 1.4 miles to the Visitors Center so as not to have to do it on the way out. That last 1.4 miles seemed the toughest of the bunch.
I was very excited to get to town and felt great while walking to the "Fontana Hilton," the local shelter that sleeps 20 and has easy access to showers and toilets. I was really looking forward to getting my maildrops and bounce box so I could resupply for my trip through the Smokies and hopefully catch up with some friends just a day ahead. Unfortunately, the "road" walk from the shelter to the Visitor Center brought back my tendonitis. Walking around town was not too painful, but the trip through Great Smokey Mountain National Park (GSMNP) is a long one. Do I take another day off and stay off my feet? Do I get back on the trail hoping that it resolves itself? Is this going to be a recurring theme every time I have to walk on pavement? Argh! Frustration sets in again, but knowing that it went away once provides some level of comfort.
I've decided to prepare for a mid morning start tomorrow, knowing that I can always stay an extra day. I had hoped to put the suspense behind me with regard to my physical capability of finishing the trail, but I guess the suspense will continue through the GSMNP. Stay tuned everyone...
Flora report: Since NOC, most days have been very warm with temps in the 70's and 80's. Just one morning of rain, but even then it warmed in the afternoon. As a result, and also because at NOC and here in Fontana we are at a lower elevation, there are many small flowers blooming along the trail. The trail, which so far has been your basic brown, is now promising a full palette of pastels. It is also promising a wide variety of pollen. I have my Benadryl handy.
Day 23 - Mollies Ridge Shelter - 10.7 miles - 173.7 total
Up early to pack and get to the buffet breakfast by 7:30. Then my 8:00 call to my sister found her out of the house earlier than expected. Oh well. Watched CNN and got depressed over the goings on in Kosovo/Belgrade/Prishtina. On the trail, we are so insulated from outside sources of information and everyone is so positive, that we forget "bad things" can happen in the world while we hike.
I finally got my bounce box packed, my two ounces of extra equipment mailed back to my sister (an extra bandana) and my journal off to The Redhead. Then, Junker gave me a ride to the dam so I could get back on the trail. My right ankle was still a bit sore after yesterday's road walk, so I was concerned about the walk over the dam and along the road back to the trail. Thankfully, my ankles gave me no problems and it felt great to be hiking again. I'm so glad I did not stay an extra day in Fontana.
It was raining on and off when I started, but it was nice and warm so I kept my jacket handy in case I got cold, but just decided to walk wet. For the most part I was drying out as fast as I was getting wet. By the time I got to the tower at Shuckstack Mountain, the rain had passed and I had a great view of Fontana Dam far below. Then I had an uneventful walk past the next shelter, where I picked up the next installment of Charles Frazierís "Cold Mountain," a book that Circuit Rider is reading and then ripping pages out for me. (I pass the pages on to Bear Snack when I'm done.) Shortly after Birch Spring Shelter, I flushed my first grouse. I had been hearing them for weeks, but this was my first glimpse of one while on the AT. Then, the rain came and with it, lots of thunder and lightning. There was no shelter but the trail was off the ridge so I just kept walking.
2.4 miles before the next shelter, I came to a trail junction. Immediately upon turning the corner, there were tiny little white flowers carpeting the forest floor. They looked so much like snow that I started singing a refrain from "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas." Unfortunately, that brought on the hail. Lots and lots of pea sized hail made it really look like Christmas. It was not a problem to hike in, at least in the beginning, but then they turned golf ball sized and really hurt. I got in the leeward side of a tree and tried to use my pack to protect me. When that wave of large hail passed, I continued, but once again took protection when big hail came - this time by pressing into a large fir tree.
Finally, I continued along the trail, which was now more of a muddy stream. The storm was still intense, but soon passed. I once again traveled on adrenaline and did the 2.4 miles in just one hour and fifteen minutes. At the shelter, I found a great group of people and a wonderful warm fire. This is also my first GSMNP shelter, complete with the bear cage. We should be safe from bears here, if only the mice will leave us alone.
There are two hikers named Sunshine on the trail. Today, they are both at this shelter. To reduce confusion, they are now calling themselves Sunshine East and Sunshine West. Sunshine East is from Pennsylvania and Sunshine West is from Colorado.
Day 24 - Derrick Knob Shelter - 11.4 miles - 185.1 total
For the last two days, I've either seen or heard Eastern (or Rufus-sided) Towhees, birds with a reddish/rust band on their sides with a call that sounds like "Drink your tea."
Mired in Molasses.
After a very unsatisfying night of non-sleep, it took awhile to get up and out this morning. Immediately I recognized that my energy level was low. I was surprised when I got to the next shelter, 2.2 miles away, in just an hour. The Warners were there handing out cookies and coffee to thruhikers, but I had just snacked and wanted to be on my way. I continued to make good time to Spence Field shelter where I saw my first deer of the trip. There I stopped for an early (10:50) lunch and more water.
I slowed down immediately after leaving Spence Field and felt like I was struggling for the rest of the day. Most of the trails had small, loose stones, and the uphills and downhills seemed steeper than usual. Little pains kept popping up - calf, knee, foot, etc. Most went away on their own, but they were annoying. It took five hours to go the 6.5 miles between shelters. Yuck! I'm in no rush but the hiking was not fun today.
The weather last night was very windy and very strong gusts. This morning the wind continued and we had a few more sprinkles of rain. Thankfully, nothing as soaking as the day before. Around noon, though the wind continued, the weather cleared and big white, fluffy clouds raced across the sky. It was great to see the sun again.
At the shelter I had time to relax, read more of "Cold Mountain" and just get off of my feet. I found another blister today, but I do not think it will be a problem. It's number two for my hike and most likely a function of long miles with wet boots. Here's hoping the weather stays dry.
Factoid - The AT through GSMNP follows the state line between North Carolina and Tennessee. I've now "entered" my third state.
Day 25 Ė Newfound Gap, Gatlinburg, TN (Bearland Lodge) - 18 miles - 203.1 total
It's all downhill from here....
This morning I woke up hoping to make it to Clingman's Dome and then to the next shelter, Mt. Collins Shelter. I got off to a quick start and was on the trail by 7:20. For once I had gotten a good nights sleep. My usual midnight bathroom run at 1:40am was notable as I left the shelter with my flashlight. There greeting me were two sets of glowing orange orbs. Two deer were grazing nearby and were not nearly as startled by a human wearing a headlamp at night as they are by any human during the day. They calmly gave me space to walk but did not move far.
After starting in the morning, I felt great. The molasses feeling of yesterday gave way to a buoyant and quick step. I made good time and quickly found myself in Buckeye Gap, where I came across Chuck, a man heading back to Clingman's Dome after injuring his knee. He was out of water so I shared some of mine and continued on. At 10:00am, I stopped to put on sunscreen. Sunshine West passed me there. Then, as I continued up the hill, a deer bounded across the path in front of me. As I approached that section of trail, the deer disappeared to my right, but on my left I noticed what was probably a red wolf release cage. (There had been a reintroduction recently.)
I caught up with the other thruhikers at the shelter just a few minutes beyond the deer encounter. From there it was a quick 4.5 miles past one more shelter to Clingman's Dome, the high point on the trail at 6,642í. Surprisingly, I got there by 1:30. I was still feeling great, so I decided to try for an 18 mile day and head for "real" food and a shower in Gatlinburg. By 6:30, just four hours after leaving the Dome, I walked into Newfound Gap with PT (Prehistoric Tony). He was following me and jokingly said that Junker was there in the lot. Well, Junker was there but just about to start the van and head for town. So, much to PTís surprise, I yelled out Junkerís name and caught him before he started for town. What timing! Again, I get to a trailhead when the optimal ride was available. Once again, no hitching required.
The ride to Gatlinburg was beautiful. The traffic in Gatlinburg was not. The hotel was cheap - a hiker rate of just $22/night for a room with two double beds. (The room rate on the back of the door said $70.) Dinner at Burger King was fast but we were still hungry. It was already 9:00, well past hiker bed time when back at the hotel, PT ordered a pizza and I downed a pint of Moose Tracks ice cream as we watched the rest of Titanic on TV. It was after midnight before we got to sleep.
Oh, two milestones passed today... Clingman's Dome is the highest point along the trail at 6,642' - hence everything being downhill from there. Also, we passed the 200 mile mark. With more double digit days becoming the norm, these multiples of 100 miles will come much more quickly.
Other wildlife sightings today... One grouse, two red squirrels and multitudes of tourists. These tourists thought we were some kind of wildlife. Taking pictures and videos of us. Oh, and another release cage right of the trail.
Day 26 - Tri-Corner Knob Shelter (tent) - 15.6 miles - 218.8 total
Junker picked us up this morning and then PT and I took him out to breakfast at a wonderful place just where you leave town to head back up to Newfound Gap. We then checked out the local outfitter where PT bought me a GSMNP bandana to add to my collection. I had been hemming and hawing because I wanted the bandana to add to my collection of map bandanas of places Iíve been but didnít want to carry it. I guess Iíll be carrying an extra bandana again for a few days.
It's hard to believe but I'm back on my original itinerary. Another long day with a late start (10:30) from Gatlinburg had me pulling into the shelter at 7:00pm. Thankfully, I still had over an hour of light left. Tent spots were few and far between here and the place was packed. I managed to squeeze my tent between Muleís and Gimblyís. PT slept on top of his tarp next to a nearby storage box. We were all right near the Portolet so with the door opening and closing all night, it wasnít going to be the quietest place to camp.
So far, I've been at shelters that had not filled up but had heard about the crowding ahead. I finally caught up with the crowd and almost went into culture shock here. I preferred the uncrowded shelters from just two nights ago. Perhaps I will pull ahead (or stay behind) as I prefer a more mellow trail experience. Maybe once out of the park where we are required to stay in/at the shelters, things will calm down again.
PT had once again kept me company on the trail or at least during breaks. I will probably see him again at Mountain Moma's [sic] tomorrow but not on the trail. He's heading for a 6:00am start. Yikes! Too early and too dark for me. I will sleep in thanks...
Oh yeah, while hiking today, I saw an area south and east of the trail that looked to be a forest fire. We could see smoke beyond a ridge but no flames visible. Perhaps this mornings rain storm (lightning?) was to blame?
Day 27 - Mountain Moma's (Davenport Gap) - 15.7 miles - 234.5 total
Up early. Both Gimbly and PT were stirring around 6:00am and I had tossed and turned all night so I welcomed the "disturbance" and excuse to get up. It was cold so I ended up starting the day hiking in all of my warmest clothes. Even though I was tenting, I was hiking by 7:20. There were no major attractions along the way so I basically just walked for seven hours without much more than a five minute break here and there.
Then it was a very tentative 1.2 mile walk along a dirt road to Mountain Moma's. A huge cheeseburger, fries, three boxes, one letter, and two chapters from "Cold Mountain" were awaiting me. The one surprise was that Mountain Moma's will not mail boxes. This means that I will have to carry about five pounds of extra food and supplies that I had intended to bounce to Hot Springs. Argh!
I did manage to give away all of my leftover food from my trip across the Smokies. I had at least two days worth of food, not to mention the yummy brownies my Mom sent (Thanks Mom). Everyone else around here thanks you too.
Hmm, just remembered... There was wreckage from an airplane crash just above Cosby Shelter - about halfway out.
Day 28 - Groundhog Creek Shelter, Deep Gap - 9.6 miles - 244.1 total
Big gradual climb up Snowbird Mountain today fueled by pancakes and tater tots at Mountain Moma's. Much of the top of the climb was along an old railroad/road bed. As we approached the summit, there was a weird humming/warbling that emanated from an FAA radar beacon on the summit. For the first half of the day, I walked with some combination of LJ, Mule, and Papa Bear. Itís really nice to be back with some of my friends from earlier in the trip. We were low enough that the flowers were blooming along the trail. I saw some huge Trilliums with white petals and a black center.
At the shelter, it was apparent that the crowds at the last shelter in the Smokies were finally glad to get away from shelter restrictions. Most are nowhere to be seen and are assumed to be camping elsewhere along the trail.
Today, I became aware of many planes and helicopters overhead - perhaps triangulating off the FAA beacon...
Also, thanks to Lydia, a woman slackpacking much of the trail, I was able to send my bounce box ahead with her. That was going to be around five pounds of dead weight in my pack.
Day 29 - Walnut Mountain Shelter - 13.1 miles - 257.2 total
I did not realize it yesterday, but I was going really slow and had to push a lot. Today, my energy was back and I made great time to Max Patch, a huge bald mountain. It was once used for grazing but is now kept clear with mowing and fire (there was evidence of fire there as we walked up.) Thankfully, the wind we had been warned about before we started up had waned and we could sit for a while to have lunch and enjoy the view.
Then it was a quick five miles to the Roaring Fork Shelter. Along the way, I stopped to admire two more varieties of Trillium - once cream and one red - both with yellow centers. These remind me of the type I see in the White Mountains. There were also many budding trees, ferns unfurling, and interesting looking ground leaves to admire. Spring is definitely here.
From Roaring Fork Shelter, it was a quick mile to Walnut Mountain Shelter, an old shelter with just room for five. With only Cassiopeia and I in it, though, it seems quite spacious.
Feelings: I've been told to write more about my feelings along the way. I guess it is just easier to write about the negative feelings (ankles, etc.) but for the most part, my spirits have been soaring. On a day like today, with a lot of energy, exuberance would describe my primary mood. I cannot believe that I've hiked for four weeks. I feel like I started yesterday. I also feel like I could hike forever. On a day like yesterday, I was still happy to be out all day, knowing that I had no rush to get anywhere.
Day 30 - Jesuit Hostel, Hot Springs, NC - 13.1 miles - 270.3 total
A wind storm kept me up for much of the night. I spent the previous evening sitting with Free Spirit and Spuds who were camping up on the ridge above the shelter. Spuds had a great fire going that threw plenty of heat without smoking us out. The wind was freshening so we kept watch for errant sparks but all was OK.
Among other topics, we had an interesting discussion about group dynamics and personal relationships along the trail. While I had fallen behind the group of hikers that I had started with, they had apparently started planning segments together. It had seemed kind of strange to me that six or seven people would want to plan to stay together so much. I guess it seemed strange to others as well.
Well, as sunset passed and dusk grew darker, some raindrops threatened and we put out the fire. Just then we heard a barred owl hooting. We also heard a bunch of other noises that at first we though was another owl but then we thought they might be coyotes.
I left to go back to the shelter, read the pages from "Cold Mountain" that I had picked up at Mountain Moma's and then tried to sleep. With the wind blowing into the shelter, I slept fitfully, sometimes cold, and unbeknownst to me in the morning, getting wet from the rain blowing into the shelter with the wind.
While getting ready to hike this morning, Spuds came down to the shelter with news that something with a dog-like muzzle had been sniffing around his tent shortly after we had said goodnight. Both foxes and wolves were unlikely culprits and coyotes had been spotted recently so we figured it must have been coyotes.
The walk up and over Bluff Mountain was a cold and wet one. It was only occasionally raining or sleeting but with the trees drawing moisture from the fog, we were getting wet from drips as much as rain.
LJ caught up with me coming down Bluff Mountain and we walked together on and off (he would lose me up hills, I would catch him during his breaks) until 2:30, when we walked into Hot Springs. Hot Springs is the first true "trail town." The trail actually goes through the center of town along the main business street. Having heard that the town was packed with hikers, we dumped our stuff at the Jesuit Hostel and then I made my way to Elmer's, Sunnybank Inn to see if there was room there. No such luck. While there, I did run into Sir Pee-a-lot (named for obvious reasons) who had also started on March 17 but had quickly gotten ahead. It was great to see him and also Badger, another hiker I had met recently. It turns out Badger plays an amazing guitar - the hidden talents of thruhikers...
I picked up my bounce box at Elmer's while I was there, a ham and cheese sandwich at a nearby convenience store/deli, and then made my way to the post office where I had two more packages and a couple of letters. Thankfully, I ran into Junker there who then drove us around town on various errands. We then stopped for lunch at the Diner where I polished off a six-ounce burger with cheese, bacon and fries - this just an hour after my deli sandwich. Gotta love the hiker appetite.
Then, it was laundry, a trip to the convenience store for soda and Ben and Jerry's, and back to the hostel to hang out, munch on ice cream and LJ's brownies which had just arrived in his maildrop. Yum!
I finally got a shower and am now staying up late to writing the journal entry. I'm glad I'm not hiking tomorrow. It's been almost two weeks since I had a day off at NOC.
There was some interesting trail news today... The forest fire that had generated the smoke I had seen in the Smokies was generated by lightning. It was a fairly small fire and was brought under control quickly. There is another forest fire raging south of the Smokies in the Nantahalas. There, over 20,000 acres have burned and a section of the AT is closed. I have to wonder where (if anywhere) the alternate AT is for those thruhikers going through that area now.
Hot Springs has trains running through it. It's 11:15pm and they are still sounding their whistles - could be a long night...
Day 31 - Jesuit Hostel, Hot Springs, NC - 0 miles - 270.3 total
Huge skillet breakfast at the Diner. Seven of us ordered it and nobody finished. It had hash browns, onions, peppers, ham, eggs, and cheese. Yum! Then I unsuccessfully tried to get a room at Elmer's. As I was leaving, I stopped to read a sign about the Balladry and was very surprised to read that Cecil Sharp was collecting ballads in the area. There is a folk house in London, where I've done some dancing, by the name of "The Cecil Sharp House." I think he was a collector and documented folk history.
Then I did my usual inventory and called my sister to organize my next couple of mail drops. At the library, I was able to read my hotmail, an activity I do not expect to do often.
I skipped a barbecue happening in town and hung out at the Alpine Court Motel where I had a chance to talk with Bristlecone, a hiker I had met briefly at Fontana Village. Then it was dinner at the diner and back to the hostel to get warm clothes. Each night at the Duckett House, there is a large fire at the riverside. Mostly, it is thruhikers drinking with some getting very drunk. There was some singing when Badger arrived and started playing guitar.
For the most part, I spent the evening talking with Possum who had decided he had enough of the trail and was heading home the next day. He had started to thruhike with the intention of going to Maine but decided that there were other things he would rather be doing. That was the third hiker I have seen leaving the trail so far. I know there are many others who gotten off the trail, but in the group I started with, all of us are still going strong and in good spirits.
Day 32 - Spring Mountain Shelter - 11 miles - 281.3 total
Slept late this morning and did not get up until 7:30. Then I had a quick shower, packed my backpack, and then had breakfast with Bearsnack at the diner. I then slowly made my way across town, shopping, buying lunch "to go," making phone calls, and saying good byes.
The trail out of town paralleled the French Broad River for a while and then quickly climbed on switchbacks that gave great views of the town. Further on, there were some beautiful purple iris-like flowers. They were only three inches high but the flower must have been a good two inches in diameter. The outer petals had bright orange towards the center. In this same area, I saw a couple of lizards scurry along the path.
We then passed an interesting area called Mill's ridge where in 1970, the forest service took over some tobacco land and converted it into grassy fields bordered with fruiting bushes as a preserve for wild turkeys and grouse. There were some remnants of the old farm there as well.
At one point, just after crossing over a highway at Tanyard Gap, Fanny Pack had worked some trail magic and left soda and cookies - Yum! There was also a "cooler" register to sign.
Moving on, we came across L'il Dipper and Irmo with M&M. There others headed for the shelter got sidetracked but I knew if I stopped, I would not leave. It was also getting a lot colder. Around 4:30, I saw some flurries and the wind picked up. I was only wearing shorts and a light fleece shirt but I figured I could make it to the shelter dressed "as is" if I just kept moving. As it turns out, I would have been more comfortable with my windbreaker but I made it to the shelter as I was.
There, I piled on the clothes and made dinner - Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes with some yummy smoked salmon from Portland, OR (thanks Maggie). Then Fleishman shared an Alden Merrill (Boston area bakery) banana bread that his parents had sent. He even melted chocolate chips to go on top. Then, into the extra chocolate, we dipped some of Woodchuck's and Pepper's oatmeal cookies once again sent in their maildrop. All in all, an amazing evening. Holly and Dooley were also there to share in the feast.
During dinner, it had flurried on and off so now we go to sleep wondering what we will wake up to.
Day 33 - Jerry Cabin Shelter - 15.3 miles - 296.6 total
Slept until 7:30 - kind of late for me. Moved slowly in the cold (but no snow) and did not get going until after 9:00. Then, the "second-day-out-of-town" syndrome hit. Perhaps because I do not eat much while hiking out of town (after usually having a large breakfast), the next day I seem to move much slower than normal. I ate a lot on the trail today so we will just have to see what tomorrow brings.
Today had one major descent to a gap with a gas station that happened to be closed. At least there were trash cans so I do not need to carry the wrapper from yesterday's salmon for the next week. (Talk about bear bait.) After that, there were a couple of notable ascents but nothing big. I skipped a visit to a fire tower and still pulled into camp after 6:00. Then there's the rush -- camp shoes on - sleeping pad out - sleeping bag out - make a trip to the water source for enough water to get me onto the trail tomorrow - make dinner - clean up dishes and myself (teeth only, the rest is a lost cause) - hang food away from mice (and occasionally from bears) - and write in journal. All of this takes until after sunset and journal writing takes longer, often requiring (as now) the use of my headlamp to see the paper.
The clouds from yesterday's flurries have finally cleared out, which promises a very cold night. Along the trail, there are now many different varieties of flowers. The trees are budding and we are slowly losing the views through the trees that we have enjoyed for the past month. It is now getting easier to understand how this can and will become the "long green tunnel" I have heard so much about.
Sharing the shelter area tonight were Woodchuck and Pepper, Holly and Dooley, Spud, Free Spirit, Duke, Bluet, and ???
Day 34 - Hogback Ridge Shelter (tent) - 14.6 miles - 310.8 total
Woke up at 7:30, once again late. Wondering if I should start setting the alarm on my watch. I did manage to get on the trail by 8:15, a big improvement over yesterday. Then it was a two-mile climb up Big Butt Mountain, one of the prettiest places along the trail so far (regardless of the name). First there was an open pasture-like area, then a beautiful overlook to the west where someone ashes had been scattered exactly (to the date) eleven years ago. Then there was a fairly level ridge walk along an old dirt road. The ground here was covered with those same tiny white flowers and the forest had little underbrush and great views to far off hills.
Near the end of the road walk was another memorial site. There was a gravestone for Millard Haire, born 1850, and died July 1, 1863. There was another, relatively new, stone honoring Millard Haire placed by the descendents of Millard Haire. Makes you wonder if a thirteen year old had offspring or if the descendents were from the same (more extended) family.
Then we had a quick descent to Flint Mountain Shelter for lunch and the descent to Devil Fork Gap. There we had to climb over our first stile. Then it was a short walk to the second road crossing of the day. Just after crossing the road, I walked through a short flat stretch of trail that was just hopping with tiny little grasshoppers. There were thousands of them and they made little popping noises as they jumped around. It was kind of like walking through popping popcorn.
I then almost immediately came across Tweety Bird and Tomcat finishing lunch. As we started up the trail, we passed a pretty stream and then an old farm. The main building was completely caved in and there were remnants of various household belongings strewn about. We passed an outer building that may have once been used for moonshine. Then we passed a small graveyard with a couple of graves.
Then along the side of the trail, we saw the last three feet or so of a Black snake. We never did see the whole thing so we do not know how big it might have been. We rounded the next shoulder and then I saw what I thought were a bunch of small mice scurrying around. They looked kind of funny though and I thought they might have been small moles. Perhaps they were shrews which also live in this neck of the woods. Anyway, they certainly looked like snake food...
Then there was a big climb over Frozen Knob. During the descent past Big Flat, we became aware of motorbike tracks in the area. That discouraged a number of people from camping there so they all ended up at this shelter.
Beorn, a trail "character" with a self-acknowledged loud snore was in the shelter when I arrived - hence my decision to tent. I'm about to go to sleep and it has already rained for a couple of minutes. I hope that will be all for the night.
Other people here are Lonesome Roads, Free Spirit, Spuds, Woodchuck and Pepper, Holly and Dooley, and Beorn.
Day 35 - Bald Mountain Shelter - 10.1 miles - 321.3 total
Once again, it rained when I tented so I got to pack a wet tent again today. Yuck! Not only is it messy and muddy, it makes for a much heavier tent.
Today's hike continued along the same barbed wire fencing we had walked past for much of yesterday's hike. So much of the fencing was so old that I assumed that the land had been taken over by the Forest Service. Today however, I passed some new fencing and "POSTED" signs. I guess at least that area bordered private land.
This morning, just a mile or two after leaving the shelter, I passed Dave's tent just as he was emerging. I said "hi" and continued around the shoulder of the hill where I startled a deer. Then, it was down to the road at Sam's Gap where I met up with Junker again. There, I just said 'hi' but kept on going. Knowing this would be a short day, I was hoping to make it to the shelter with time to dry my tent and write in my journal before dinner.
For the most part, the big climb up Big Bald was slow and easy. I stopped for lunch with Pepper and Woodchuck. There, they had a most unusual experience when they accidentally mixed lemonade with their mashed potatoes. It seems powdered lemonade and powdered milk look a good deal alike.
Then, it was a quick climb to the top of the bald and the final mile to the shelter. It was so nice finishing the day's hike before 3:00. I put up a line, dried my tent, aired out my sleeping bag and liner, wrote for a while, had dinner, and now, while it is still light, I'm finishing this entry.
Quote of the Day: "My balls still hurt." From Pepper referencing the balls of her feet.
Day 36 - Erwin, TN - 16.8 miles - 338.1 total
Hi, Kids - Bristlecone here. Mara, poor girl, is incapacitated by a tumble she took on the trail, sliding on a piece of mud, poorly and maliciously placed by some southbounder carrying a ferret. So, anyway, she cannot write, so I courageously, nobly, gentlemanly (etc., etc.) agreed to write this entry for her. And I take this task seriously. No, really. I do. So I will try faithfully to replicate her day for you. Here we go . . .
"I woke up with new meaning in my life. Waking up in a shelter next to Bristlecone is, by far, the most important event in my life."
"I hiked fast for awhile."
"Then I fell and split my elbow wide open. Bristlecone recommended leeches to bleed the evil out of my body. But he smells, so I really did not know . . . "
"Anyway, I got my elbow stitched up with 17 stitches, including the extra's I asked for. But I still do not drink."
"Now I'm at Johnny's Nolichucky Hostel, looking forward to a bright future, and hoping there are mice in The Redheads house, just to make me feel at home."
"P.S. - Bristlecone is very, very, very, very, very, very, very cool."
Well, sports fans, that's what Mara told me, mostly. And I agree with everything she said.
Hey everyone, Mara here. Bristlecone, as you can now tell, is prone to a slight bit of exaggeration. First of all, it was a maliciously placed leaf that caused my fall. Second, it was my left elbow and I'm right handed, so I can write (or at least move a pen on paper with my right hand.) There are only six stitches - the doctor refused to give me more. Bristlecone thinks that this would be a good time to start drinking, and if I could stand the taste, I might just agree with him. Instead, I will just be looking to track down a pint of Ben and Jerry's. Not sure if I should eat it or ice my elbow with it, though.
There are no mice in The Redhead's home, just two medium sized mellow dogs. They did not even bark to greet me.
Tonight, I am sleeping in a real bed. And there is no one else in the room with me. WOW!
Day 37 - Erwin, TN - 0 miles - 338.1 total
Hmm, what do you think? Should I try to find more guest writers for this journal? I would not be able to guarantee such a colorful interpretation of the day's events though...
Given that I did not hike at all today, here's a recap of yesterday's events. You will realize that some of Bristlecone's entry really was based in fact.
I did, in fact, wake up next to Bristlecone. Then I did hike fast for a while. The trail was pretty easy so I hiked the 5.6 miles to Spivy Gap in 2:15. Then I climbed out of the gap and covered the next 4.7 miles in another 2:15. There I stopped for lunch at No Business Knob Shelter (where do they come up with these names?) (ed. note - I believe it mentions in the trail Guide that some guy was up there doing something - climbing, hiking, I cannot remember - after a big blowdown? avalanche? and realized he had no business being there. Go figure.) After lunch, there was a climb on an old road and then I came to a relatively (for the day) steep descent.
Somehow, I slipped on some leaves and had a fairly gentle fall. For the most part, I was OK and found myself just sitting on the trail with both legs out in front of me. Then I realized my elbow hurt. I never did figure out what I gashed it on but there was a nasty gash nonetheless.
Having had Wilderness First Aid training, I knew what should be done but was frustrated by the hard to reach wound location and the fact that I could really only use one hand. I rinsed what I could with my water which was treated with iodine and wiped away some dirt but I knew the elbow needed "professional" attention. I was still four miles from the trailhead and there was no one else around to help with the first aid, so I used some Bacitracin, covered the wound, and made for Erwin.
I figured out pretty quickly that there was probably no major damage. I could still use my arm (and hiking pole) with just occasional twinges and stings and fairly consistent throbbing. With less than a mile to go, Bearpaw caught up with me and walked with me the rest of the way to Uncle Johnny's, the hostel at the base of the mountain in Erwin. There, I caught a shuttle and made the rounds to the post office, convenience store, and finally, the hospital.
With Novocaine, they cleaned the wound and put six stitches in my elbow. They also gave me a prescription for antibiotics. I was to return in two days for a recheck and have the stitches taken out in seven days. They even gave me appropriate scissors in case I could not get to town and had to pull the stitches while on the trail. Yikes!
The Redhead caught up with me at the hospital and shuttled me around town to pick up my prescription at CVS, my pack at Uncle Johnny's where we hung out for awhile, and then back to her place where I had the luxury of a real bed to sleep on.
Today, we ran errands (Walmart for replacement sandals) among others. Back at the Redhead's place, when attempting to clean my elbow, I noticed it was infected and went back to the hospital. There, they confirmed the infection and gave me a shot of Rosefrin (sp?), an antibiotic, in the backside (OUCH!) to help fight the infection. They also gave me a prescription for pain medication - ZZzzzz...
Day 38 - Erwin, TN - 0 miles - 338.1 total
Drove the Redhead to work today. It felt just a little strange to be driving again. Then I stopped into the Waffle House in Johnson City where who should walk in but Bristlecone and Twilight.
Then I took the van in for an oil change, drove back to Erwin, and stopped at the post office. Back at the Redhead's, I got on-line again - strange to have such "easy" access. I typed up some of my own journal pages, had lunch, and went back to the hospital.
Unfortunately, the infection is getting worse. They gave me another shot (in the other side) OUCH! More Novocaine - OUCH! - and removed a stitch to try to let the built up fluid drain. Todayís shot left me limping so here I am, barely able to walk because of an elbow injury. Go figure.
I will be trying to keep warm moist compresses on it as much as possible and go back tomorrow. It now looks like my plans to go back to Hot Springs for Trailfest are shot. Sigh.
In pain, I drove back to Johnson City to pick up The Redhead. As soon as I met her, I took some pain medicine and let her drive. Whee! I had planned on joining her while she shuttled some hikers and family members here and there but instead went back to her place to start that warm moist heat.
Day 39 - Erwin, TN - 0 miles - 338.1 total
Yet another day off with another visit to the hospital. Finally, the doctor sounded encouraging and the infection seems to be getting better but I got another shot of Rosefrin for good measure anyway. I'm to continue to apply warm moist heat for a couple of more days. Unfortunately, the doctor wants me to stick around until Thursday. Then, I can have the stitches out by the doctor that treated me originally.
Then we went to Hot Springs for a few hours to check out Trailfest, an annual festival of the trail and of trail culture. There was a small band playing in the green across from the Hot Springs Welcome Center and quite a few people walking around town compared to when I walked through town. This time, there were probably twice as many hikers and probably the same number of former hikers/hiker wannabe's/general townspeople/and other random people.
I believe a number of things conspired to keep it a small festival this year. Hot Springs is a very small town and the home of Dan Bruce (Wingfoot), who writes the Thruhikers Handbook each year. This year, the Handbook is not yet out even though many hikers are well along the way. Wingfoot, who usually accepts visitors at his house, has not been answering his door or seeing anyone recently. Various rumors fly about town, but many hikers and other trail aficionados are disappointed with him. Given that he started Trailfest, people go there to see him. This year, it was widely expected that he would not be there, so quite a few people probably decided to stay away. Also, those people who are disappointed in him may have stayed away to express their disapproval.
As we walked through town and approached the outfitter, we met up with Alice Kauzlarich (Highlander) and her husband. Then, we continued to the campground by the river where after some finagling, they finally let us in so we could go meet up with Pittsburgh and friends. Lydia who had made sure my bounce box got to Elmer's from Mountain Moma's was there so I finally got to thank her in person. Chance was also there. We hung out for a while so I had a chance to heat some water in my hiking pot and treat my elbow.
Then we stopped to talk with Baltimore Jack (barely recognizable with a practically shaved head) who was hanging out with a bunch of blue blazing hiker trash (this is not derogatory - it just indicates hikers who are not trying to thruhike but rather those hikers who take alternative trails to the "official" AT who like hanging out with thruhikers.)
After we left the campground, we walked back through town where I found it strange to see so many thruhikers I did not know. They will probably catch up with me about the time I get back on the trail so I'm sure I will get to meet some of them then.
I am kind of glad I went to Trailfest. Now I know that while fun, it is not worth making a special long distance trip in the future. If I'm in the area though, it could be fun.
Day 40 - Erwin, TN - 0 miles - 338.1 total
Very lazy dayÖ For the most part, just hung out around the house so I could keep warm moist heat on my elbow. Did some organizing of bounce boxes and mail to send home. Watched bad TV. Read the Backpacker Gear Guide. Perhaps I will do more tomorrow.
Day 41 - Erwin, TN - 0 miles - 338.1 total
Went back to the post office and had them delay my forwarding notice until after I leave town. Had lunch at the Erwin Burrito where I had a marvelous Barbecued Chicken Burrito (thanks for the recommendation, Peanut Butter). Then back at the post office (I had to go back to mail the film that I forgot to mail on the way to lunch), while trying to figure out where to go next, someone with a van offered me a ride to Uncle Johnny's (we thruhikers are easy to spot). As I crawled into the van (no back seats - just sat on the floor), I met a couple of other hikers who were also headed to the river and a huge Newfoundland dog (in a cage).
For dinner, Uncle Johnny got the grill going and for $1/burger we had a little feast. Also contributed to the barbecue were barbecued bologna (!?!) and some yummy Italian sausages, complete with sautéed onions and peppers. The Redhead came by to hang out for a while and then give me a ride back to town.
On the way back to town, I finally got a picture of a church that advertises itself with the following: "Our God is Alive, Sorry About Yours." Welcome to the bible belt everyoneÖ :-P
Day 42 - Erwin, TN - 0 miles - 338.1 total
Food, Sex, and Toilet Talk
These are the three major topics of conversation on the trail though some would argue that food, food, and food are the major topics. It is commonly held that "food is good." We walk all day planning our dinner menu, knowing that our choices are limited to those starchy and carbo-loaded meals buried in our backpacks. Once at our destination for the evening, we are always curious about what the people around us are eating. Perhaps their Lipton and Noodles will sound better than our Mac and Cheese. In reality, very few hikers have anything substantially interesting to eat. As we approach towns, however, our evening discussion focuses on the eating establishments available in town. We peruse our trail guides for clues about which restaurants offer AYCE (all you can eat) or particularly "interesting" food. Most small town (there are no large towns) restaurants along the southern portion of the trail offer "American" or "Southern" fare only. Alternative ethic foods are generally not available.
Other general discussions center around which foods have the most calories and/or fat per weight unit. We peruse supermarket shelves, shunning those items with "Lite," "Low calorie," "Diet," and "Fat free" on their labels. We know that "Nutrageous" bars have more calories per ounce than the old standard, "Snickers," and they taste great, too.
Once in town, information about various grocery stores and restaurants spreads through the thruhiker grapevine: "Get the skillet breakfast at the diner," "this supermarket has Ben and Jerry's, that one does not," "this restaurant is expensive," etc.
About sex on the trail, there is a commonly held belief that there is no sex on the trail. In general, this belief is true. There are many reasons for this but stench seems to be the primary one. Even the couples on the trail admit that they save it for in town, after a shower. As for the rest of us, well, the ratio of men to women is about four to one and given the rumor mill on the trail, relationships are very slow to develop.
I'm not sure why, but there seems to be a lot of discussion about toilet issues. Perhaps it's an offshoot of a fairly standard set of questions asked when reaching a new shelter: "Where is the privy?" "How far is it?" and usually some question about it's general condition (smelly, full, great view, etc.). It may also be an offshoot of the inevitable discussion about "gas" that comes up, especially when someone sharing the shelter is eating beans for dinner. This provides an opening for people to discuss their own (or sometimes someone else's) various gastro-intestinal problems.
Finally, because we are living at such as basic level, toilet issues while actually hiking come up. Somehow, when we need to pee, we need to pee NOW! Not in five minutes. Not when there's a convenient place to get off of the trail. But NOW! Then there's those days when you cannot find a place to pee - you're too close to roads, too close to streams, too close to other people, etc.
There was one day when I could not seem to find a place to pee. One time, after waiting until I crossed a field and waiting until I crossed a road and waiting until I was away from a stream, I finally got off trail (though not as far as I would have liked) to do my business. When I put my pack back on and continued up the trail, I walked just a few feet, rounded a curve and found some friends sitting having their lunch. Oops! Then, later that same day I was getting off trail and I found a barbed wire fence blocking my way. Argh!
Sometimes when you're walking along, you come across a pack lying by the side of the trail. You then know to studiously keep your eyes on the trail as you walk by. Looking around at the scenery may give you more of an eyeful than you bargained for (as well as invading someone else's privacy). The woods in this area are very open and have very little underbrush. Getting far enough from the trail still leaves you quite visible from the trail.
As for today, I went to the cobbler and left my boots to have them stretched a bit. One of the toes on my left foot has been hitting the front as I've come down long descents. Then, I tried lunch at a true drive in, Sonic. I had never noticed anything like it before. Hung out at Uncle Johnny's while the rain came pouring down accompanied by lots of thunder and lightning. Janet, a friend of Uncle Johnny's who lives in town, gave me a ride back to The Redhead's place (Thanks, Janet).
Quote of the day:
Fooky: Where are you headed tomorrow?
From townsfolk or day hiker to thruhiker, this would be a normal conversation. Thruhikers are usually looking for an answer that includes mileage, a shelter name, or some other landmark - as was Fooky.
Day 43 - Erwin, TN - 0 miles - 338.1 total
Another slow day in town, running errands and hanging out at Uncle Johnny's.
Day 44 - Uncle Johnny's, Erwin, TN - 0 miles - 338.1 total
Up early to take The Redhead to work. Then to Walmart to get The Redheadís pictures developed. I managed to do all of my food shopping while waiting for the pictures. Then back to town to get a bunk at Uncle Johnnyís, pick up some mail, pick up my boots, pick up my shorts at the Burrito Place (one of the worker's girlfriends sewed a split seam for me.) Went back to The Redhead's to repack my backpack, pack my bounce boxes, and prepare a box to go home (sending home tall gaiters after getting short ones).
Then, after a trip to the post office to mail all of my boxes, I went to the hospital for the last time. The doctor was pleased with the state of my elbow after he took the stitches out. The lump on my elbow is likely to stick around for a long time, but should not cause any problems.
Picked up The Redhead in Johnson City, and went back to her place to check email one last time while The Redhead changed. Then we went to Uncle Johnny's barbecue that Danny (a neighbor) put on. Lots of chicken, smoked sausage and Boston Butt (it's some cut of pork). Beans and corn casserole accompanied the dinner. Then the desserts came; strawberry shortcake served on fresh pound cake, key lime pound cake, and sandy cake.
Then an amusing evening of partying and KFC chicken smuggled out of the AYCE earlier in the day.
Day 45 - Cherry Gap Shelter - 16.4 miles - 354.5 total
It felt great to be back on the trail again. The front that has dumped buckets of rain on the area for the last four days was spitting it's last drops at us as we left Uncle Johnny's. Rockfish and I ended up walking together the entire day.
We made quick time to Curley Maple Gap Shelter, just four miles from the river. There, to my surprise, we met Sir Pee-a-lot, Trail Rage and a couple of others who were headed back down to Erwin. They had holed up in the shelter for a couple of days to wait out the rain, and had to go back in to get more food (or so they said).
We signed the journal, with me signing my new trail name, "Stitches" for the first time. Grizzly had even given me a great idea for a little "icon" to go with it - a short line crossed by six stitches. Continuing on, the weather showed obvious signs of improving. By the time we reached the Beauty Spot, another bald with great views, it was sunny, though cold and windy. As we looked around at the surrounding mountains, we came to the realization that the higher elevations of those mountains were covered with snow.
We eventually came to Unaka, which itself had an inch or so of snow on it. There the scene was beautiful as sunlight slanted through the branches of the pine forest. As we walked along, we found a USDA Forest Service marker that had been pulled up. The fine for doing so is $250, but of course there is no way to know who to blame. We made a note of its number and the fact that it was in extremely close proximity to a brand new NC Wildlife Game Lands sign.
From there it was a quick and easy walk to the shelter. The wind, unfortunately, is blowing straight into the shelter but once in our bags, that's okay. The shelter is also facing quite a spectacular moonrise. It's a full moon and we are contemplating a midnight moonlight walk to the next shelter. Given the clouds, the temperature and the fact that I probably should not push it on my first night out, I will probably pass, even though I was initially excited to hike. There will be more full moons.
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