Wow, today was a great example of how town days are not always relaxing days. The morning was awesome. The First Baptist Church of Franklin does a free all you can eat pancake breakfast. They came with shuttles at 7:10am to all the hiker hostels in town and picked us up. We walked in to the church to pancakes, bacon, OJ, and coffee. Awesome spread for thru-hikers! All over the walls they had posters hanging from all the different years. They hang them up and everyone signs the current year. They had them going back for the last 10 years. We enjoyed the breakfast, and then the pastor came out and gave a short sermon. It was fine. Not too pushy or intense. Just a nice spiritual message, and then one of the ladies came by and took all of our pictures individually at our tables. There was note paper, envelopes, and pens in the center of our tables, and the lady told us to write a letter to our loved ones and they would send it off for us. She would also print out photos and include that in the letter. Was a really nice touch and will be a nice surprise to my parents when it arrives.
Then the day got busy. The shitty thing about where we chose to stay is that we have to walk down a big hill and back up a big hill to get there from the Main Street. And although it is very quaint and pretty town, everything is on a hill. So to walk from the hostel to the supermarket was quite a trek for a day off. After shopping, I had to carry 10 days of food back up the hills to the hostel, and then head out to the opposite side of town to the post office to pick up a couple of packages. And yes, you guessed it. More hills.
When I first got to Georgia, I decided to do what we call a “bounce box” where we mail ahead a few items that we want or need every couple of weeks, but don’t want to carry everyday. Save the weight. So I mailed out a few items like a big bottle of vitamins, a knife that I wasn’t sure if I would need or not, some toenail clippers, and a couple other personal effects. I mailed them in a big padded envelope to Franklin, where I knew I’d be in about 2 weeks. So I had to go pick up that envelope, and also get my new hiking shoes from REI since the current pair had started to peel of at the sides of the sole. Got the shoes no problem, but when he brought out the bounce box, the envelope had been ripped open on the back and taped up again. And when I opened it, almost everything was gone. Not sure if it just got ripped somehow and things fell out, or if someone went in there and stole most of it. Nothing of major value in there, but still disappointing. I made a report with the post office, and they said they would call if any of the items turned up. I’m not too optimistic. Well, so much for that bounce box idea. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it all the way along the trail anyways, because it’s a bit of a pain to have to get to the post office each time. So, that keeps things simpler.
Also while I was at the post office, I shipped some food ahead. The next stop is Fontana Dam, barely a town apparently with very few places to resupply. What does exist there is very expensive from what people say, so the word was to buy food for 10 days at the supermarket and ship 5 days of food on ahead to be picked up in Fontana Dam. Most of the hostels or cabins along the trail allow us to mail stuff ahead to them, and we can pick the package up when we arrive there to stay. So no need to go to the post office in Fontana Dam, which I was advised to avoid anyways. Apparently the lady who works there is totally unreliable and strange.
After the post office, I walked back up the hill to the center of town and suddenly realized that although I had collected my new shoes, I had totally forgotten to bring and ship. my old pair back to REI so that I could get a refund on them. So had to walk back to the hostel to get them and then back to town again. Luckily one of the outfitters let me use their computer to do the UPS thing online and print out a label, and they would ship it for me. Thank god I didn’t have to make the long trek back to the post office.
Finally got back to the hostel, and was starting to pack up my stuff for the next morning when Taylor walked by. As I mentioned earlier, Taylor is a massage therapist by trade and we had discussed setting up a massage for my aching muscles at few different times although never gotten around to it. She said she finally had some time and although I had a few more things to do, it sounded awesome after my busy day of walking and running errands. I dropped what I was doing and she worked for about an hour on my shoulders/traps and calves. Was a fantastic massage and really helped to loosen up my tight muscles. Walking everyday in the mountains with a 30-40 pound pack on my back does take its toll, so this was awesome! Taylor sounds like she still plans to stay a while working at the hostel, but the owner is quite a strange guy who doesn’t treat his employees that well and many of us advised her to move on and continue the hike instead. Not sure what she will do or if we will see her again up the trail.
We were a bit upset with the owner earlier in the day. 4 of us had stayed in a private room the first night, but then Ian’s Mom was in town to see him so Ian and Becker left for her hotel. DOM D and I asked if we needed to move out of the private room and into the bunk room downstairs. They assured us that we could stay and they would just add 2 other people as they showed up. So we left all our stuff in our room and headed out for our errands. But when we got back, he had changed his mind and put 4 new people in our room and moved all our stuff downstairs to the bunk room. Our stuff ended up getting all mixed up and it was a big hassle to figure it all out when we came back. It wasn’t appreciated.
I am heading to bed pretty early after the long day. Back on the trail early tomorrow morning. We found a number for a driver who will run us out to the trailhead. Seems like a lot of retired people do jobs like this to help out the hikers. He is picking us up at our 7:30am.
Our man Jim picked us up at 7:30am as scheduled. He drove us to a convenience store first to get some coffee and a little breakfast, although he had brought apples and bananas for us to eat as well. Very nice guy who had nothing nice to say about our hostel owner. He had us laughing with all the crap he was talking about this guy. He dropped us off at the trailhead and we got ready to hike. I think I was anxious about getting back on the trail because although I’d already hit the bathroom before we left, I immediately had to grab my trowel and dive into the bushes 2 minutes in to the hike. Came out 5 pounds lighter and finally started my hike. It was definitely a long day of uphills. We had 3 mountains to climb and each one was fairly gradual but went on forever. I stopped for lunch around 1 at the top of one of the mountains, and enjoyed my cheese, pepperoni, mayo, and spinach wraps. I saw a guy a few days back hiking with a bag of spinach and stole his idea. We don’t get any fresh vegetables or fruits out here and that seemed like a good way to get some vitamins. Light weight and compressible. Towards the end of the hike, at the final peak, we crossed a dirt road and a guy was up there with more trail magic. Snacks and juice that tasted awesome.
Got into camp around 3pm and most of the tent sites were already taken. I had to settle for a not so level site to squeeze my tent into. Cooked up a nice dinner of instant mashed potatoes and BBQ flavored tuna. A guy cooking next to me offered me a packet of hot sauce to add to it that made it taste awesome. Hope I can find more of those next time I head to a supermarket.
Oh yea, and I did pass the blind guy while hiking today. I met him yesterday at the hostel and he is hiking with his wife. He is totally blind and she is helping to guide him along. Unbelievable. I can’t imagine. His wife is a saint for all the patience she must have to help him along. What a huge challenge. Huge props to him for attempting this. I did read about another blind guy who completed this trail a few years back with only his dog to help him. He estimated that he fell down over 1000 times. Guys like this really put things into perspective for the rest of us. Yea, it is a grind and challenging sometimes, but we have our full eyesight and health. We really have nothing to complain about and no reason to give up. What an inspiration.
Rain was forecast all day yesterday, but never came. Until last night. I got into my tent around 8pm, and about 10 minutes later it came down. Hard. The biggest rain I have experience yet on this trail. Was loud and intense, but I am happy to report that I stayed bone dry in my tent. Some water did run underneath it, making the footprint and bottom of my tent muddy and wet this morning, but inside I stayed totally dry which makes me very happy.
The body felt slow today and so my pace wasn’t too fast. Funny how the body goes like that. You can never really predict when or why you feel so energetic some days and dragging others. But I pushed through and did my 11 miles.
Had a funny experience as I got close to the camp today. The water source was nicely placed right on the trail, just a bit uphill from the shelter. I’ve had it sometimes where the water is down below the camp and then you have to walk uphill with tons of extra water in your pack, so I was stoked that this was was a short downhill walk after collecting the water. One less chore to do when you arrive in camp as well. So I filled up all my 5 liters at the source and headed to camp. I hike with only 2 liters of water, but I have another empty liter bottle and a 2 liter bladder that I fill up for camp. A guy in Hawaii who previously thru hiked this trail advised me to have this extra storage. The water can be a bit far from camp sometimes, so it’s best if you just go once and get a bunch of water to last you through dinner, overnight, for breakfast in the morning, and for the next day’s hike. Anyway, I get into camp with my water and am about to start doing the chlorine drops to purify it, when I think I see something swimming in my 2 liter bladder. It is made of clear plastic so I can see into it. I take a closer look and sure enough there is a little amphibious salamander swimming around in there. No way to get him out without dumping the whole thing, so I had to hike back up to the water source and free him there, then refill the bladder, this time with no swimmers. The water source had a piece of PVC pipe sticking out where we could fill up, and he must have been sucked through just as I was filling up. What are the chances? Was cool to watch him for a while tho. Felt like a kid with a new pet fish in one of those plastic bags.
Becker and Ian caught up to me today. We had parted ways in town when Old Man and I took off early. Old Man was behind me and met up with them on the trail at some point. They only hiked a few short miles that day, so I thought I would be ahead of all of them for a while. But today Old Man’s shoe fell apart and so he had to go back into town to buy new shoes, and Ian and Becker hiked a 17 or 18 mile day to get here. The terrain has been rough with a lot fo uphills and downhills, so they must be exhausted. So far North Carolina terrain has been more difficult that Georgia. Good to have those 2 guys back in the fold. They are both really funny guys and always have everyone laughing around the fire each evening. Becker keeps warning everyone to watch out for the Wiener Bears. He said they went camping once with his 4 year old nephew and wanted to make sure he stayed in the camp at night and didn’t go wandering off. So they made up a story about Wiener Bears, subterranean nocturnal bears who will jump out of the ground at night and bite off your wiener. This has frightened me enough to start using a pee bottle at night.
Quite a day today. I looked on my trail app last night and saw it coming. A huge 2500 foot drop over the first 6 miles to a place called NOC (Nantahala Outdoor Center), and then a huge climb back up for about 3500 feet over 7 miles. So at least I was mentally prepared for what was to come. I heard from some other hikers that slack packing was available for the uphill part, which I got pretty excited about. Slack packing is where someone takes your backpack in their car and drives it ahead several miles and you get to hike all day with just a day pack with snacks and water. I haven’t slack packed yet on this hike, but I will certainly take the opportunity if it is offered. The purists cry and say you haven’t really hiked the whole trail if you didn’t carry your pack the entire way, but hey, hike your own hike. Would be nice to save the body some days. Some people out here have already done it and they raved about it. Anyway, I headed down for the first 6 miles in the morning and got to NOC. It was really an amazing place. Right on the trail so you have to pass through it, it is an outdoor center that offers whitewater rafting, zip lining, etc. There was a big gear outfitter there, a general store, and a restaurant. I went in and got a huge “lunch” at 10:30, although they were still serving breakfast at that time. Massive plate of home fries with meat and veggies and 2 eggs on top, a biscuit, a fruit bowl, and some OJ. I got to relax there for a good 1.5 hours and get a good break in. I asked about the slack pack from there to the camp 7 miles ahead, but it turns out that there is no road near tonight’s camp. The slack packing was to a further campsite, 13.5 miles further on. Since I had already walked 6 miles, there was no way in hell I was going to do the extra 13.5 and make it 19.5 mile day. Forget that. So I just had to suck it up and carry my pack up the big climb. I later heard that someone called and tried to arrange it, but the lady to does it (for a fee) was out of town this weekend so it wasn’t happening anyway.
With all that food in my stomach and some hip hop in my headphones, I jammed up the first half of the climb. But the energy wore off eventually and about half way I could feel myself slowing down. It was steep in some places, but mostly just a long, gradual uphill that just never quit. Took me 4 hours to get to the shelter, and I was really feeling it when I got here. The tent sites were all pretty much filled up when I arrived, so I had to squeeze my tent in next to another hikers’ on a semi-flat spot. Usually I start hiking so early that I’m one of the first to arrive and have my pick of the best tent sites, but after today’s long break I was a bit later than usual. Chilled out and talked with a hiker I have seen a few times before and took a rest. Felt a lot better after about 30 minutes talking with him. He said our recovery time is getting faster as we get into better shape. We are camped down right near the stream, so the sound of flowing water will put me to sleep tonight. Last night I thought someone was shining a light at my tent or something, but when I looked out it was about the brightest full moon I have ever seen. Tonight just as I was climbing into my tent, a very orange full moon started rising above the mountain.
There are 3 different ways to hike this trail. NoBo (north bound like myself- from Georgia up to Maine). SoBo (south bound from Maine down to Georgia, leaving much later in the year). And what is called a flip flop hike, where you start later in the year at around the mid way point, hike north to Maine, and then return to the middle and hike south to Georgia. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, but one advantage to doing the SoBo or flip flop are that you don’t have to worry about hitting the cold of Maine in late September or early October. Also, the state park where you finish the hike, on top of Mt. Katadin, closes on October 15. So if you are moving slowly, you can eliminate that deadline by getting Maine done earlier. Anyway, I was talking to a girl in the shelter tonight as I was eating my dinner. She started talking about the flip flop option if any of us are worried that we are moving too slowly, or if we should get sick or injured (knock on wood). It suddenly occurred to me that I have to get off the trail in early August to head up to Maine for the fundraiser that Friends of Thai Daughters puts on every year up there. The owners of the organization are 2 women from Maine, and every August they bring some of the girls from Thailand over to Maine and have this big fundraiser. This is a long ways off and I certainly haven’t decided anything yet, but I did start to consider the idea of flip flopping in early August after the fundraiser. Since I am up there already, rather than coming all the way back south to continue where I left off, maybe it will make sense to just start hiking south at that point. That will be 4.5 months in to my hike. No idea where I will be then, but say I’m in New York. I could just bus or fly up to Maine, join the fundraiser, and then hike south back to NY to complete the trail. I don’t know. Food for thought. The only big downside that I see is that I wouldn’t finish the hike on top of Mt. Katadin, which is a pretty iconic place to finish it. People always take pictures standing on top of that sign up there, celebrating a successful thru hike. That’s always what I have imagined for myself, but who knows. We will see.
Wow, 3 weeks out here already. It’s going fast. Today on the trail I finally met “Big Island,” the guy from Hawaii. I’ve been hearing about him for a week or more now, but never ran into him. As I was leaving camp this morning, he was packing up his tent. He looked like the description I’d heard, so I asked him where he was from. Turns out he is from Kea’au, south of Hilo on the Big Island. His name is Mark, a local Japanese guy. He grew up in Laupahoehoe, then moved to Hilo, and finally down to Kea’au. He watched “A Walk in the Woods” 2 years ago and decided he wanted to do the trail when he retired. He just retired a few months ago from the water department in HIlo and here he is. Very impressive. Super nice guy. We played leapfrog all day on the trail and are camping in the same place tonight, so we have had several chances to talk story. Awesome to have someone from home out here. He showed up at camp with a picture of a snake he saw just a half a mile or so back on the side of the trail. That’s the first snake siting I’ve heard of so far. I was thinking they were still hiding out because of the cold, but I guess they are around.
Long and challenging day today on the trail. 12 miles and some more serious uphill climbs. It kicked my butt pretty hard. North Carolina has been a beast so far. But the day was broken up nicely by some Easter Sunday trail magic in a parking lot before the huge climb up. A couple there were making sandwiches for everyone, with chips, soda, and Easter candy. Not a religious group this time. They said that 4 years ago or so they were out for a drive/walk and saw a thru hiker filtering water out of a muddy puddle. They felt bad and invited him for a sandwich and some water in their car. Since then, they have decided to do the same thing for thru hikers a couple times a year. Very nice people and a needed energy and morale boost.
Today is day 4 out here since my last town stop. My mileage is picking up a bit. This section I’ve done 11, 11, 13, and 12. Tomorrow I will head into Fontana Village, near Fontana Dam. It will be a “short” 8.7 mile day. We have had some nice sunny weather the last couple of days which has been wonderful. It’s been a lot warmer too which everyone has been happy about after the couple of cold spells we’ve hiked through. The warmer weather has definitely made everyone more fragrant though, so a nice hot shower and some laundry are definitely in order. Not sure where I will stay in Fontana. It’s just a small village. There are a some cabins to stay in with a restaurant and you can fit up to 4 people in them. They cost $80, so not bad if shared by 4 people. My problem is that I’m not hiking in a group anymore. I’m ahead of the guys that I was hiking with before, so now just hiking alone as usual and hanging out with whoever is at the camp each night as we all cook and eat dinner together around the fire. It’s easier this way rather than having to try to arrange plans between 4 different people. Richard unfortunately had his shoe fall apart the first day out of Franklin, so he had to go back in and get new ones. Our group has split up. So if I stay in the cabins, I will need to find other people to share with. I have been asking people I am camping with, but so far they either already have things booked with their group, or they are not sure about their plans yet and are noncommittal. The other option for where to stay is a shelter near the trail, called the Fontana Hilton. It’s a much fancier shelter with hot showers. No laundry though, which I desperately need to do and I’m just not that excited about staying in another hiker shelter on a day off. Well, we will see what happens tomorrow.
Up early and on the trail by 7am this morning. This was supposed to be a “Nero” (near zero) day, but I ended up walking about 10 miles. Thought there was a road sooner, but I needed to get all the way to the Fontana Hilton to get a shuttle. Long week of hiking and I was feeling ready for a day off. Got to my destination around 12:30 or so and had made plans with some other hikers to share a motel at the lodge nearby. I was either going to share a room with an Australian guy, or we were going to sleep on the floor of other people’s rooms to save money. The day before, however, my friend back in Hawaii, Ira Johnson, had messaged me on Facebook saying that his parents live near Knoxville, Tennessee and they were offering to host me on one of my zero days for a couple of nights while I’m in the area. I replied saying that I would be at Fontana Dam the next day, and Gatlinburg a few days after that. But it was the middle of the night in Hawaii when I sent it, and I turned my phone off to save battery after that. I checked my phone again when I arrived at Fontana Dam, and there was a message from Ira saying that his parents were on their way!!! Wow. Ok, so I canceled my plans with the other hikers and hung out at the little park area by the dam until they arrived at 3:15pm. What an unexpected but awesome twist to my day! This is why I never make too many future plans in life. You never know the twists and turns that life may take, and unexpected things like this pop up all the time. Just gotta flow where the river takes you sometimes.
Ira’s parents, Gwen and Dennis, are the kindest and warmest people. I really have been enjoying my time talking with them. After they picked me up, we drove along a road that’s called the Dragon’s Tail. It’s really famous with motorcycle riders. Something like 315 curves over 11 miles. We stopped at a restaurant for lunch that had a “tree of shame,” where parts from crashed motorcycles were displayed. Lots of people die on that road. After walking so slowly on the trail, it does feel strange to be in a car, driving through mountains. So smooth and effortless to pass through miles and miles of mountains that we struggle through daily with our heavy packs. Got to see some really beautiful countryside in North Carolina and Tennessee once we crossed over the state line. We passed through Knoxville and I got to see the campus of University of Tennessee as we drove by. Beautiful huge campus. Even got a glimpse of the football stadium, Payton Manning’s old house. So many green fields, old barns and houses, colorful plants and trees. The countryside in the south is amazing. They live about 2.5 hours from the trail, so I got to see a lot.
Their house is a really beautiful red brick place with a big yard. Any town stop is always great- a bed, hot showers, laundry, food, etc. But being in someone’s home, having my own room and own bed, a home cooked meal, this is a whole other level. The warmth and hospitality these people have shown me is fantastic. Gwen made an awesome dinner of shrimp, salad, rolls, vegetables, rice, and some really rich and creamy local ice cream for dessert. I went to bed a very happy man and slept a full 8 hours without waking up once. I sleep fairly well in my tent, but wake up multiple times a night, so this was very restoring. Thank you, Ira, for setting this up. I am grateful. Ira will be joining me for a week or so on the trail around June 1, and his parents will drive him up to wherever I am on the trail, so I will get to see them again in the near future.
Oh, one more thing. Just before bed last night I got a phone call. It was a lady named Gita from the West Hawaii Today newspaper, the local paper in Kona on the Big Island. I had contacted all the newspapers and news stations in Hawaii a while back to see if I could get some coverage for my hike. Didn’t hear back from any of them and it’s been 2-3 months. I had given up hope. But Gita called last night and said that she wants to run this story and will push her managers to get it out there. She said she is not sure if they will want to run it now, or wait until further into my hike but she will keep in touch and let me know. She interviewed me for about 30 minutes, so I’m hopeful. She said that she had actually emailed me a week before, but I just didn’t see the email. I check only once a week and there is so much junk mail that comes through, so it lost it in the shuffle. Luckily she called when I was off the trail and had my phone on, which is quite rare. Anyway, I’m excited that she called, and hopefully this will turn into something. Most of the donations so far have been from Facebook friends, and I have been wanting to get to that next level where other people who I don’t know hear about it and donate. This hopefully could be a step in that direction. We will see.