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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Day 11 Sapphire Inn Franklin NC

Writing this from the Sapphire Inn in Franklin NC, a trail town about 10 miles from the AT.

Last night we had a crazy rain storm around 9pm as we were just drifting off to sleep in Carter Gap Shelter. The rain was beating down on the tin roof so loud I wondered if I would be able to sleep. We all mobilized and grabbed our packs to secure them on the dry inside wall of the shelter. The rain continued for several hours, but I managed to drift off to sleep.

I was awoken in the middle of the night by two hikers entering the shelter who apparently had been night hiking and were caught in the storm. I was surprised to see in the morning that it was Shakespeare and Uncle Grant, who I hadn’t seen for a few days.

Last night I decided that I was sick of my food (quinoa and Vienna sausages are a bad combo) and wanted to haul ass into Franklin to resupply… So we hiked 12 miles through the rain and fog and ultimately sun over rain filled creeks, scary granite escarpments, and Mt Albert, down through flat hollows and green tunnels to Franklin.

josh and I yogied our way into these guys camp and dried our socks over their fire.

For much of the morning the fog was so think that otherwise expansive vistas were replaced by an abyss of fog. (see picture).

Josh and I hauled ass with Rollin and Strider in the afternoon to Rock Gap where we were picked up by Ron Haven who owns most of Franklin it seems and has about about 17 jobs and is running for county commissioner.

Anyways heading back for the trail tomorrow after a AYCE church breakfast.

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Day 10 – Standing Indian Mt. NC

Sitting in a green tunnel near the summit of Standing Indian Mt. Elevation is 5498, highest point so far I think on the AT.

Crossed into North Carolina yesterday. Eleven or twelve mile day into Muskrat Creek Shelter. Lots of big uphill climbs…. Dubya said “don’t tell me we have to climb that one. Did he even have to ask? The AT seems to march over every mountain in its path.

Still having fun and feeling strong. Check out the pic from the ridge last night.

Oh yeah and I have a trail name…. Its Weatherman. I predict the weather better than the geniuses sitting at their desks with their hearts in a box. Starting to go a little native… Day 10 holy smokies here we come.

Will be in Franklin NC on Friday or Saturday.

 

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Day 8

In Hiawassee Georgia. Hiked from Tray Mountain to Dicks Creek Gap about 11 miles. Got an early start about 8 although everyone else had already left camp it seemed – everyone else racing to Hiawassee with the promise of good food and showers.

Chilling out at the Blueberry Patch Hostel about 3 miles from the trail. Got a lift from a trail shuttled named Mike to the hostel who was a colorful character. Let’s just say he asked me for weed and he had turkey feathers hanging from his dashboard.

The hostel is awesome. There are about 10 other hikers some of which I know and some I’m meeting for the first time. Took a shower, got my laundry done, avoided a torrential downpour. The simple things are incredible! Much gratitude.

 

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