May 9th, Erwin, Tennessee
It's hard to believe I have been hiking the AT for 5 weeks now and have logged over 300 miles. Still have a lot of miles to go, but I feel good about my chances of making it to Katahdin. So many have already left the trail from the thousands that started. I remember that first shelter, Hawk Mountain, on April 1st, had 60 or 70 people in and around it. Last night at 'No Business Knob' Shelter there were about a dozen hikers doing a thru-hike and another 3 or 4 section hikers. So here I am at the Super 8 Motel in Erwin, Tn. Let me catch you up on the week since Hot Springs.
I only took a half-day off at HS, coming in the morning of one day and leaving the next morning. Mostly, the day was full of food. I had breakfast at the Smokie Mountain Diner, famous for its hiker special breakfast - I forget the name of the menu item, but it was about 2,000 calories and you could order a double. I saw three singles get ordered and only one was finished. As for me, I got a ham and cheese omlet - and finished every bite, plus three coffees and an orange juice. I am craving orange juice....must need Vitamin C. After that, I checked into the Alpine Motel (a real dump, but all I needed) for the night. I collected my mail drop of supplies, bought an extra pair of socks, unloaded at the motel. By that time it was time for lunch - a banana split at a local ice cream parlor - soooooo good. A shower and laundry and it was time to eat again - a burger and a beer at the Harvest Moon pub overlooking a tributary of the French Broad River ( a delayed harvest trout stream ). Back to collect my clothes, make a stop at the library for the use of their computer, and it was back to the Harvest Moon for dinner and another couple of beers. It seemed all the hikers in town were there as we put about six tables together and all sat around introducing ourselves and swapping stories. The next morning was a quick stop back at the Smokie Mtn Diner for another omlet and back to the motel to check out. I put on my pack and headed for the trailhead right on schedule at 8:00 AM.
Here is where we all learn that going down into town always means a big climb up out of town. The trailhead was back on the edge of town along the main channel of the French Broad River and up the side of the mountain, switchback after switchback, past Lover's Leap (several actually) with great views of the river, valley, and disappering town below. There was a side trail to an old Fire Lookout Tower, but I was too tired to bother and pressed on. I did a good 11 miles that day and made it to Spring Mountain Shelter for the night.
The next day was a short one of only 8.5 miles to the Little Laurel Shelter. The 11 miles of mostly climbing the day before had taken a lot of energy out of me and it was good to take it easy. Besides, there was a report of Trail Magic taking place just a couple of miles further at Jones Meadow. I knew most of the faster hikers would go straight for the meadow and party on into the night. Not being much for late night partying anymore, I elected to hit the Trail Magic the next morning for brunch. It was quite a spread put on by the Greenville Tenn Hiking Club. Members had hike some or all of the AT and several were on trail mainenance teams. They just wanted to stay close to the trail and hikers and to help them out with lots of food. I ate a lot for brunch (4 pancakes, 3 strips of bacon, a skillet full of eggs, two oranges, 3 cups of coffee, some strawberries and a piece of banana nut bread) and settled down to wait for lunch to start. I chatted with the club members about their support of the trail and their own experiences. The grill got going at noon and I downed a cheeseburger, a hot dog, a coke and another orange before I finally hit the trail again.
After such a slow start I only did another 8 miles more, passing Jerry Cabin Shelter in order to camp along a gravel road on the trail by myself. Along the way I passed the 300 mile marker
The next day was easier hiking, even in the rain, as the trail followed the ridgeline for several miles before heading downhill - but in between were lots of PUDS (pointless ups and downs). I stayed at Hogback Shelter at mile 315. Somewhere in there was another milestone - the equivalent of the 3rd Mt Everest in elevation climbing since Springer Mountain.
More ups and downs from Hogback and a confusing set of directions passing powerlines and springs that I thought were at one mile mark only to find another set of powerlines and springs further on. The trail seemed to go on long past when I thought I would be at the next shelter. It finally appeared in the distance about the time I was running out of energy for one more climb. That night was spent at Bald Mountain Shelter - mile 325.
The rain comes and goes now, sometimes at night, soaking gear for a wet start, and sometimes during the day for wet, muddy, and slippery hiking. It sure is difficult to keep shoes and socks dry - at some point it's impossible to avoid - so I don't. The next morning of couse I have to put on the wet socks and shoes and start hiking again. It's part of hiking in the clouds on the AT. And, even if it's not really raining, the clouds soak the trees with so much dew that any little breeze brings drops of 'tree-rain' down.
I reconnected with some of my original group of trail friends - Ultimatum, Tantrum, and Slingblade. Slingblade's friend Creeper had stepped off the trail to attend a job interview. So, U-T-S and I hiked together for a while. Tantrum set a brisk pace and I kept up during the flats and downs, but fell behind during the climbs. For a change I didn't worry about it at all. I just arrived at the shelter 15 minutes later than they did. See, the mental adjustment seems to be working. I called it a day at the No Business Knob Shelter at mile 335, while U-T-S pushed on for a few more miles to get closer to Erwin.
This morning I woke after the first night of no rain in several nights. The gear wasn't soaked for a change. All I had was 5 miles of mostly downhill hiking to get to Erwin. The first hour went by smoothly before the sprinkles started. My pack cover was still on, so I hiked on. Then it started to rain harder and harder. By the time I stopped to put on my rainsuit it was too late - I was soaked to the skin. I took off my shirt and put on the rain jacket anyway and sloshed for the next 3 or 4 miles, hiking through misty glasses and slippery mud puddles on the trail. At one point there was so much water coming down the trail that I stepped first one side and then the other all the way up the hill, never really stepping in the river of water that was the trail.
Erwin it is for the night. Tomorrow morning it's breakfast, the rest of the laundry, and a shuttle back to the trail to begin another week of hiking. Next stop? Damascus - and TRAIL DAYS: the annual AT hiking festival at the friendliest trail town on the AT. It's a week of partying for some. For others it's a welcome rest stop. I will be somewhere in between I think.
So. I am doing better I think - feeling stronger physically as well as in a better mental position regarding my hiking pace and condition. All is well - and I am still loving the life of an AT Thru Hiker.
More as phone batteries and signal strength permit in the days ahead.
Six Six on the AT!