Day 55 – Back in Nashville

So all good things come to an end.

It’s been 55 days since I started walking at Springer Mountain Georgia.  I ended up in Damascus Virginia 466 miles later. Of the 55 days since I started this adventure, I spent 40 days and nights in true wilderness.  I took zero mile days in Hot Springs and Erwin, three days in Elk Park, and five days in Nashville, plus four days in Damascus at Trail Days. It was hard to leave the friends I’ve made and my ambitions of continuing on behind on the trail, but I’m at peace with the decision.  Some day I’ll go back and finish, maybe later this year, maybe next year, maybe five years from now.  It’ll happen on its own time.

Practical Lessons / Observations

I saw no bears but hallucinated plenty of them.

Nothing makes me feel more alive than night hiking in a thunder storm.

Rain and wet socks are really not that bad as long as the temperature stays above 45 degrees F.

If you hike 10+ miles a day, you can Snickers bars all day and still be in great shape and feel like a million bucks — I lost 9 pounds.

Bigger ahas.

The trail will give you exactly what you need when you need it.  Maybe 5 minutes after I remarked that it would be great to have a trekking pole for the descent into Nantahala, one appeared.  I saw and heard countless examples of this axiom.

Life is beautiful but it is also difficult.  The beauty makes it worth the difficulty.  The two days of relentless rain and cold in the Smokies were redeemed by the most beautiful rays of sunshine on Day 3.

There is nothing to be afraid of — for instance, solo camping was incredibly freaky at night, but in the morning when the sun came out I realized it was all in my head.

God is most powerfully present when he is most apparently absent.

Angels are alive. From Sweet Spot’s (Candy Henderson) much needed shuttles to spirit-lifting trail magic along the way, the generosity I experienced on the trail was incredible.

Big Thanks

Thanks to the Mudbutt Crew for making the last month of the trip so fun.  Shout outs to Firefox, Hambone, Sunshine Ninja, Baby Scrooge, W, Water Boy, Jabbs, Red Bull, Rollin, Strider, Sweet Spot, Yodel, Yukon, Love Machine, Sheep, Slopes, Slayer, Desperado, Micro, Eastwood, Byline, Lady Forward, Daffy, Tom, Firestarter and Bushwacker, Animal, Alyson, Brad G, the Chandlers, the Rosses, and everyone else I met along the way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 51 Closing in on Damascus VA

Day 51, Mile 456.

To close the loop on the beginning of the adventure to Nashville: Sweet Spot picked me up in Hampton TN (near Johnson City), we drove to North Georgia to pick up my car. On the way we passed through a number of trail towns and saw familiar sights and old friends.

Upon arriving at Amicalola State Park my car battery was dead (expected due to call from the ranger to home — apparently my lights came on during a storm). Worse the car was flooded (cause unknown) with an inch or two of water only on the driver side floorboards. As if the car decided to roll down the windows and roll them back up again? Anyways, we mopped up the water with our pack towels and jumped the car. The car started thankfully and other than some weird electrical issues (spontaneously engaging hazard lights for four hours provided the comedy for the four hour journey) and constantly sloshing water on Slopes feet in the back seat it made it home. However something is wrong with the battery because it won’t hold a charge. If you leave it turned off it goes dead.
Needless to say car is in the shop. And I left my car at home for this next leg of the journey.

Settling back in to life on the trail. On Monday I drove a rental car up from Nashville with Slopes, Sheep, and Love Machine. I dropped them off and then returned the rental. After trying to hitch for a few minutes the sky opened up and I sheepishly secured a shuttle in a town car. He dropped me off where I left off at approximately 9pm. Rain had stopped and it felt good to be back on the trail. Night hiked up and over Pond Mountain through a violent and voracious thunderstorm….everything got wet and some stuff is still drying two days later! Trail welcoming me back I guess.

Tuesday morning hiked down to Watauga Lake and enjoyed some Gatorades and a Coke that were left as trail magic. Did about 15 miles and wound up at Iron Mountain shelter. Rain started about 9pm and I called it a night.

Today I hiked about 15 miles and also dashed to Shady Valley TN for a small resupply + burger. Burger was just ok.
Hitched back with a 2011 thru hiker headed for Trail Days.

Which brings me to Damascus, 10 miles north and the site of Trail Days which begins on Friday officially. It’s the biggest event on the trail and full of workshops, free food, gear vendors. It’s supposed to be awesome.

After Damascus I may try to get a ride back to Nashville and wrap up this journey – we will see. A part of me would like to continue on but I feel like I need to get home and move on to the next chapter. Really want to spend some time in Seattle this summer.

Hope everyone is well!

Day 46? Driving back to the trail

Spent the weekend in Nashville. Went to Lindsey’s wedding, had a cookout to celebrate Erin’s birthday, got a hair cut showered and shaved, caught up with friends.

Headed back to the trail for at least a few more weeks. Will have to download everyone on the crazy adventure to get my car back. Happy to be headed back out. Enjoy the before and after pictures. The beard is gone for a while!

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Day 38 – Erwin to Elk Park

This entry covers the section from Erwin TN to Elk Park NC.

Sitting by the side of the road waiting for a ride.

Left Erwin five days ago after taking a zero day. Walked with Firefox and Sunshine and we made it to the first shelter out of Erwin, which was tucked into a nice grove of rhododendron and spruce.

The next day we hiked 13 miles over Unaka Mountain. I saw an owl and a nest of baby phoedes (sp?). The climb up Unaka was strenuous, but the summit was an expansive spruce forest and really cool. Clouds started rolling in and I remarked to Firestarter and Bishwhacker that I sure hoped it wasn’t going to rain. Soon thereafter the sky opened up and there was a thunderstorm. I huddled in a spruce grove and waited for the worst to pass. Cheese Wiz and Firefox came running down the trail and chilled with me for a minute to avoid the nickel sized hail. We made a run for it and my shoes were immediately drenched. We weren’t far off from the next shelter and about an hour later we were dry and listening to Firestarter play the uke and cooking dinner and filling our bellies and all was good.

The next morning we had our sights set on food from Greasy Creek Hostel. On the way we encountered some trail magic and drank Cokes. We made it to Greasy Creek around 2pm and I ate a Cheesburger and a pint of Cherry Garcia. The hostel owner Connie was a hoot – she was an excellent cook, friendly as could be, and a great host. Apparently she has an unfriendly mentally ill neighbor that constantly tries to sabotage her operations. She showed us signs that he had made great pains to post on the trail that read things like: “Attn hikers. Greasy Creek Hostel is closed due to sickness” and “Hostel closed due to death in family… Please respect us during this time of profound grief. No calls or visits please.” The food was great and well worth the trek… We avoided the crazy neighbor.

Leaving Greasy Creek around 3pm I wondered how I would make it to the top of Roan Mtn by nightfall. My shin started to hurt about 10 miles in so that only made matters worse. I finally made it to the base of Roan around 7pm at Hughes Gap and some nameless carless road.

The sunset hike up Roan was beautiful. The hillI began with broad switchbacks and a gently graded trail. I popped in Bon Iver and Jack Johnson in Concert on the iPod and jammed up the hill. The sun was setting beautifully through the spruce trees as the climb got steeper. As I was nearing the top of the bald I turned on my headlamp, which promptly stopped working (dead batteries). When my batteries get low, I’m still able to flash the headlamp on and off, so essentially I was hiking to a strobe light for the last 30 minutes of the journey. The bald didn’t have expansive views and I couldn’t see much anyways, but I sat in the unusually warm spring night, resting in the grass and enjoyed another moment of the clarity and serenity that comes when everything is just right, even when it isn’t, headlamp out of commission and all. I stumbled for the last few minutes to camp and was grateful to hear familiar voices, yogi some new batteries, and tent in the spruce forest near the summit of Roan (probably the highest elevation I will camp at on the trail at 6200 feet).

The next day we hiked for 14 miles in a hurry to close in on Elk Park, where we planned to stay with Sunshine’s family. We hit trail magic twice, both near the base of Roan – a class of middle schoolers from Bristol and a local couple. The hike was beautiful and climbed several balds with incredible views. I flushed a grouse for the first time. I ate lunch at a shelter and was soon joined by the band of hikers that had been at Roan the night before. We wrote a community postcard to the middle school science class that had provided trail magic and shared in the plunder.

We hiked on to Overmountain Shelter, a converted red barn with incredible views, and hung out there for several hours. We got motivated around 5pm and started off, despite the foreboding looming clouds. The rain started as we descended Little Hump and we could see lightning miles off in the distance. We decided to keep going as the weather looked more promising above Big Hump. So we started up the Bald, rain spitting horizontally into our ears wondering how stupid we had been for deciding to continue but stupefied also by the beauty of the clear skies to our left battling with the storm to our right. And then the storm literally vanished and we had a breathtaking hike off of Big Hump, spotted some white tailed deer near the summit, and walked for an hour or so longer descending Big Hump, off the bald, through the forest and camped near a cow pasture called Doll Flats. It was just the Elk Park Crew (Sunshine, Firefox, Hambone, and myself) and we had a fire and listened to music and stayed up too late – it was a nice end to one of the best days on the trail so far.

The following morning we rolled into Elk Park which has been an adventure in and of itself.

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Day 33 – Erwin TN

I heard a joke today that rings pretty true…. What’s the difference between an AT thru hiker and a bum? The thru hiker wears Gore Tex. This is mostly accurate from our outside appearance after five days in the woods.

I’m at Mile 340. I’ve been really pushing it to see how many miles I could crank out in a day. I did a 21 miler, then another 20 miler in a crazy storm and the stickiest mud you can imagine, followed by a 16.5 mile day to get into town. I think I found my limit and will probably be doing more like 12-16 every day.

I’m still feeling strong but my body is definitely feeling it…. Something different every day… My right knee or shin, the blisters on the top of my feet. Point is I need to reduce the mileage a bit. Just to be clear lest I get worried calls from home, my aches and pains are minor…. Ie my shin starts hurting after walking ten miles.

So I am sitting on a bench outside Azteca Mexican restaurant in Erwin TN enjoying my day off. I spent the night at Uncle Johnny’s Hostel last night and did a work for stay today. Basically I get to tent for free plus $20 for cleaning the cabins and emptying the trash. The bigger motivation for me was just to have something productive to do during the day while I took it easy.

This church group put on a trail magic event for lunch near the hostel which was awesome. I continue to have much gratitude for all the generosity I’m stumbling upon on the trail.

The thing about being up here is you’re totally independent. For instance, I toshuttle ironing shuttle into town today from the hostel to a little deli. I missed the pick up from the deli. They were headed to the post office next. So I walked 2 miles to the post office. What do you know – they were still there. I hopped on and avoided a 6 mile walk back to the hostel. There’s no helplessness out here – everything is walking distance over a long enough time period.

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Day 29 – Leaving Hot Springs

Day 29, approximately Mile 285

Hard to believe its been almost a month out here. I’m writing from Spring Mountain Shelter which is about 11 miles north of Hot Springs NC.

I spent a zero day in Hot springs which was much needed. I got into town on Sunday night after another day of rain. I was coming off of Bluff Mountain (about 5200 feet I think) and started to lose feeling in my fingers. Thought to myself when is this rain and cold going to end? I had packed up a soaking muddy tent that morning, wet shoes, 18 mile day, just need to power on to Hot Springs. I stood in a cave spring for about 20 minutes just watching the rain and the trees.

But just when you think things can’t get any worse they seem to turn around… And the rain is always worse in retrospect than it is at the time anyways. But regardless, as I started coming off the mountain and the elevation dropped it got about 10 degrees warmer and I started feeling good, the sun poked through the clouds, I got another wave of energy. I am running down the mountain and making great time. I stopped at the last shelter before Hot Springs and wolfed down some tortillas and tropical trail mix and raced into town.

I got into Hot Springs around 7 and passed up a bunk at the first hostel, grabbed some food at the diner and saw a bunch of my trail friends. Subsequently learned that all the hostels were booked up and spent an hour still in wet shoes desperately looking for a bed. Ultimately splurged on a room at the Iron Horse Inn, a cool converted historic building with charming but small rooms. It was nice though to have a room to myself and a big cushy bed with hotel like linens, in contrast to all the other places I’ve stayed.

The second day in Hot Springs I stayed at Elmer’s Sunnyside Inn which has been serving through hikers since the ’40s. The Inn is a beautiful 1840s Victorian run by a liberal foodie named Elmer. I had a cool room to myself (until I invited Baby Scrooge to sleep on the floor) and read probably 1/3 of Walden, which really got my wheels turning. Elmer’s was delightfully devoid of technology and was awesomely serene. I dried out my tent in the back which I had washed in the shower at the Iron. We ate a communal gourmet vegetarian dinner – I already knew most of the hikers there which was cool – Scrooge, Slayer, Desperado, Union Jill, True North, Chatterbox, Funnybone, Poco – to give you a flavor for trail names.

Today I resupplied and slack packed for the better part of the day. Firefox’s family was in town and they drove our packs to the fire tower 9 miles north on the trail. So basically I got to walk without my pack for the better part of the day which was awesome. And Firefox’s family was really cool and kind of made me miss my family and friends back home. Firefox’s dad through hiked in the 70’s and grew up in Hot Springs so made an excellent guide for this section of the trail.

Anyways, here I am happily reconnected with the Internet, back on the trail. Will be in Erwin TN in five days and then back in Nash around May 10. Oh, and apparently the lights came on on my car during a thunderstorm last week so my battery is dead. Getting AAA to Amicalola State Park and getting back to Nashville will be an adventure in itself, but alas can wait for another day.

Cb

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Day 25 Out of the Smokies

Day 25 is winding down – I holed up at a tentsite near Standing Bear Farm Hostel in Hartford, TN. I’m tenting by myself for the first time, which is a little scary but I think will be good for me. I’ve got my knife right next to me which is presently serving as a bit of a safety blanket. Couldn’t do another night in the hostel.

Today is 4/20 and the Hiker Bash is in full effect at the hostel. Just in case you keep more respectable company than myself and are unawares, April 20 is an annual celebration for marijuana smokers every where. So the crowd at the hostel is mostly stoned, almost certainly including the proprietors and probably Biscuit the miniature Rotweiler and especially the cat.

But back to the trail. The last time I checked in I was in Fontana Dam, NC at the southern edge of the Smokies. Alyson and Brad met up with me at the shelter there. At the moment I was sitting on the beach playing Hot Coo (sp? — a game that involves passing a hot coal around a circle… Like hot potato but with coals) and had just witnessed Water Boy, Eastwood, and Shakespeare drunkenly Skinny polar bear into Fontana Lake. When they wandered up I believe Shakespeare was still dancing to Eye of the Tiger in his underpants. Needless to say, it wouldn’t appear that this promised to be the beginning of a spiritual journey for any of the parties involved. I have a video of this I am unbelievably tempted to post but will probably not… If I do it is not suitable for work.

Alright, the Smokies. Day 1 was a big uphill climb out of Fontana. I felt really strong and was surprised by how well Alyson and Brad did considering the 3000 or so foot elevation gain. We got to Mollies Ridge shelter around 6 and ate a delicious dinner that Brad hauled in …. Steak, potatoes, bratwurst, awesome! It was an unbelievably windy night with tents and rainflys flapping noisily.

Day 2 we hiked over some really nice balds and unfortunately Alyson strained her ankle and spent the next day and a half slowly and steadily conquering the remaining miles.

Day 3 we got to Clingmans Dome, the highest point on the AT. Alyson drove Sweet Spot and I into Cherokee (21 miles east) and said our goodbyes. I resupplied on cigarettes and hitched back to Clingmans. I thought I was going to have all the way back after the first discouraging mile but ultimately I got picked up by the Riggs, two 70 something brothers who were helicopter pilots from Sevierville, TN. They gave me their Big Mac meal which I devoured and dropped me at Newfound Gap, the mid point on the road to Gatlinburg that intersects the AT. I hitched up to Clingmans with a nice couple from Wisconsin. Four miles and made it to Mt Collins shelter which was beautiful and nestled in a spruce forest. I found an awesome tent site in the pine needles and stayed dry despite some showers that drenched others’ tents.

Ok, the next two days it rained. The sky opened up, I walked in the rain at least 50% of the time. By rain day 2 everything in my possession was essentially drenched, I had given up trying to hopscotch around the puddles, hallucinating and slightly hypothermic, the fog swallowed every beautiful ridge line view into an abyss, I had never been happier or sadder, more alive and dead, positive or glum all at once. I realized that life is difficult but it is also beautiful, the beauty makes it worth the difficulty.

By the end of day 2 I am literally staggering over what had become of the AT, now the Appalachian River, putting one foot in front of the other, cursing God for having forsaken me (apparently I am melodramatic when wet?). But at the same time there was no past or future as if part of my brain had shut off and I was happily trodding through the rain. Cold night in shelter with everything wet except my sleeping bag and down jacket. Everyone was exhausted and crashed at about 830.
I plugged a roof leak over my head with duct tape.

The next day was all about getting out of the Smokies to eliminate the funk, get dry etc. The sun came out, life was beautiful, I didn’t even really care about getting back to civilization I was so grateful to be out of the fog. We made a brief detour to the Mt Cammerer lookout tower and then hiked for another 10 miles to Standing Bear Farm Hostel.

I took a day off today which is probably good. I’m halfway to Damascus, VA which was my goal before coming back to Nash. I have 19 miles to cover the remaining 220 miles which shouldn’t be too bad.

Miss everyone and hope I didn’t worry too many of you for being disconnected for a few days – my footprints don’t move if my phone battery is dead, Mom 🙂

Cb

Day 12 Siler Bald, NC

Camping at Siler Bald Shelter, Mile 114 from Springer. It’s crazy to me that I’ve hiked over 100 miles since I started.

The AT is easy. You’re like a space monkey, you get into this routine. No stress, just pack up your stuff and walk, eat, walk, chill at campfire, relax, eat, sleep, push a button get a treat. People are friendly, scenery is spectacular, life is beautiful.

The AT is hard. You hike up and over every mountain in your path. Your legs and knees are constantly tight. You’re away from home, a little homesick, you feel alone sometimes even in a crowd of people. The food is what you make of it. You hike whether or not you feel like it, through the rain, wet blistered feet. You stink. People snore.

Anyways, I’m taking the good with the bad and still having fun and staying positive.

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