Day 35 Had a nice day off here at the Terminello’s place. Slept in a bit- always nice not to have to crawl out of my tent into the cold, dark morning at 5am. Mr. T cooked up a nice breakfast of pancakes and eggs which was awesome. Then Christina took me to the local supermarket to get my groceries for the upcoming section. That was an interesting experience. When Christina and her father first moved out here a couple of years ago, they were just getting to know the local area, shops, etc. They drove out to this supermarket called the Food Lion not too far from their house. When they arrived, there were several police cars there and some kind of trouble had just occurred. It was then that they realized that they had crossed into a rougher part of town and started to figure out which areas they should avoid, or where they would be safer. Christina was using her GPS to get us to the nearest supermarket this morning, when she suddenly realized that it was taking us back to that same Food Lion. She pulled into another shopping area to turn around and take us somewhere else. But when she told me what she was doing, I requested that we keep going to the Food Lion. It was a Sunday morning, and It just sounded more diverse and interesting to me than whatever other supermarket that we were headed to. I was curious. So we continued on and did our shopping at the Food Lion. It was in a black section of town and I was one of 3 white people in the whole store. I’m sure we stuck out like sore thumbs. But to be honest, these are the types of places where I’m somehow the most comfortable in my life. I grew up in Hawaii as an ethnic minority in a predominantly Pacific Island/Asian culture, and I was often the only white guy in the group. Then I have traveled all around Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, and again, I’m the only white guy in many cases. It’s just what I’m used to. I know that I don’t fit in or feel totally comfortable with the other cultures or races that I’m around. But I also know that I don’t totally fit in or feel 100% comfortable surrounded by only people of my own race. Somehow I’m always most comfortable on the fringe of both. One foot on each side. The intercultural 3rd space. And to be in an all white setting sometimes bores me. Nothing different. When I was visiting family in South Dakota, I drove out to the local Walmart to do some shopping. But then it later turned out that there was a second Walmart closer to where I was staying. People told me that those are called “white Walmart” and “non-white Walmart.” I had been in non white Walmart and had seen a lot of native people shopping there. It was just by chance that my GPS took me there, but the next time I had to go to Walmart, I headed straight back to the non- white store. So to walk into this all black supermarket in North Carolina was quite interesting to me. It’s a culture that I didn’t grow up around in Hawaii. Everything about it is in many ways new and unfamiliar to me. Different styles, different accents, different culture. So I just enjoyed the change and the new. I enjoyed the people watching. It was a Sunday morning and it felt very safe and welcoming. Maybe on a Friday or Saturday night at 11pm I would avoid the area, but I enjoyed the shopping experience there. I guess I’m just strange or different in this way. A product of growing up as a haole boy in Hawaii I guess. Mr. T and Jan came home from church around lunchtime and brought a whole bunch of meats to grill on the BBQ. We cooked up steaks, hamburgers, and hot dogs and had a fantastic lunch. Just a really nice chance to catch up with all of them, reminisce about old Parker School days and people, and hear what everyone had been up to after all these years. Later Christina took me out for a drive to University of North Carolina campus. Unfortunately the bad weather that was predicted rolled in around that time and it was raining pretty hard. I did get to see some of the campus by car, including the famous old well, the campus store, and the clock tower. Such a huge campus with such beautiful architecture. It must be so overwhelming and exciting to arrive there as a freshman. I hope to be able to check it out more throughly another time on foot when the weather is better. By the time we got home, the power was out and we sat and talked using flashlights and lanterns. Great day off and such wonderful hospitality! Day 36 Surprisingly, the power was still off when we woke up this morning. The storm didn’t seem so bad where we are, but I guess it must have been worse elsewhere. The coffee machine wasn’t working with no juice in the house, so Mr. T and Jan went out and bought some coffee and breakfast from McDonalds. I packed up my things and unfortunately had to say goodbye to Mr. T and Jan. Really enjoyed my time with them both and hope to see them again sometime soon. Christina once again was a trooper with all the long driving. It is almost 4 hours each way from her dad’s house to Hot Springs where the trail is. So 15 or so hours of driving back and forth 2 times. But again, just lots of time to catch up and talk story in the car. We stopped at Cracker Barrel for lunch- my first time to eat there- and had a fantastic lunch. Then Christina dropped me off at my hostel in Hot Springs. Of course it was snowing when we got back here, but is supposed to clear up and be nice for the next few days. Thank you again for everything, Christina! What a great time. Shortly after checking in to my hostel, a former student of mine, Shizuka Krebs, from Hawaii English Language Program back in 2001 called me. She is now married and living here in North Carolina with her husband. We have been communicating and trying to figure out a place to meet ever since I crossed into this state, but her work schedule and the days I was in town did not work out. But finally she was able to make it up here to Hot Springs this evening for dinner. Was awesome to catch up with her after so many long years. It’s crazy how much time can go by so quickly. It really lifts my spirits on this hike when friends make the time and effort to come out like this, meet up, invite me to their homes, etc. The Aloha has been amazing. Great to see you again, Shizuka! Thank you for making the effort. Well, it has been an extended weekend this time to see friends and also escape the nasty weather. Time to get back to the grind tomorrow morning! Day 37 Took my time getting back on the trail this morning. I walked over to the local diner for breakfast and then went back to my room and packed up. The AT runs straight through the Main Street of Hot Springs, so no need to get a shuttle anywhere. The WiFi sucked last night at the hostel, so I stopped in front of the library on my way out to post my photos of the last week or so. Then as I was walking out of town, I saw this lady that I hadn’t seen for quite a while. I saw her a few times in the beginning of the trail but had never talked to her. But someone else told me she was from Thailand. So I said hi and started talking to her. Turns out she is from Chiang Mai and her husband and kids are with her. They are not hiking with her, but are just in support mode. They sold their house and packed everything into a big SUV and the husband and kids drive up to the next road crossing where they can meet her. She sees them every 3 or so days to spend time with them and resupply. This also allows her to carry a much lighter pack. Her family was just down the trail with the car so I got to meet all of them. She has twin 5 year olds, one boy and one girl. I interviewed them on video which I will post on Facebook. I talked to the kids for a while and the daughter told me “I am half Thai, half American, and half white.” Hahaha! Very cute kids. This lady is camping with all of us tonight at this shelter and she told me that she had been going a bit crazy raising the twins by herself. Her husband was in the Coast Guard and was gone all the time. He had 21 years of service time, so he retired and decided to support her on this hike. She had always been really active outdoors before and missed it a lot, so this is her time. Plus her husband gets to spend time and bond with the kids. She said he never could understand why she complained so much about being so tired from raising the kids. Now he is finding out. Lol! Anyway, great family. Put in 11 miles today. The next shelter option was over 20 miles. Everyone took a couple of zero days in Hot Springs to enjoy it and escape the crazy weather, so everyone is having a bit of a hard time transitioning back into trail life. 11 miles is probably a good way to ease back in. It is getting dark later now as we get further into spring, which is great. It doesn’t get dark until after 8pm now. Some hikers will use this extra daylight to get more miles in and do 20-25 miles a day. I prefer to set my mileage goal and have the extra time at camp after I get there. Hike your own hike. This morning I was looking at the “Friends of Thai Daughters” Facebook page to try to find a good photo of the girls to post, and I suddenly noticed that they had posted an article last week in a local Maine newspaper about my hike. I know they had talked about contacting the paper and trying to get something published, but I never knew it actually happened. I was very excited to see the article and I immediately shared it to my Facebook pages. The exciting thing is that there is finally an article published to help get the word out there and take that first step towards getting donations from the general public. So far most of the donations have been from my Facebook friends. Speaking of that, we just broke $12,000 yesterday. Awesome job, everyone! Day 38 Today was definitely one of the tougher days on the trail so far. First of all, it was my longest day so far, at 15.9 miles. I looked at the app last night to see the terrain and saw that there was a huge incline of 2500 feet half way through the day, so I was pumped up and prepared for that one. The good news tho was that after that monster hill, the last 6 miles looked quite easy. I did pretty well on the hill when I got to it, although it took about 2.5 hours to finish. I took a lunch break up at the top. There was 4G access up there, so my usual 30 minute lunch break turned into an hour. Then I headed off to do the “easy” part. Turned out that although there wasn’t much elevation gain, the trail got super rocky and narrow as it headed along a ridge. There were sections where I had to scramble up with my hands, and it was very steep up and down. With a big pack on, it was super challenging and slow going. I just wasn’t mentally prepared for this section and I was already physically tired from the previous 10 miles and the big hill. When I finally arrived at camp, everyone looked pretty beat and was complaining about how tough of a day this was. We just get days like this sometimes. Hopefully not too often. I was sad to hear yesterday that the military guy Jordan that I met in the first few days of the hike, the guy who was doing a charity hike to bring awareness to PTSD issues, blew out his knee the other day and is done. Another guy I knew and ran into in Hot Springs broke his foot and is done. People seem to be dropping like flies recently. It can happen in an instant. I try to be careful when I hike, but it’s always a risk. I have slid or slipped or fallen a few times and felt lucky that nothing twisted or broke. Fingers crossed. But it is always tough to see people you know and people who were doing so well out here suddenly have their dream ended like that. I was hiking around the same pace as a woman named Rebound for most of the day today. We kept passing each other whenever one of us would take a break. She already thru hiked most of the trail a couple of years ago. She got all the way to Maine somewhere and just hit a wall. She took 3 straight zero days but still couldn’t go. So instead of going back and starting where she left off, she decided that she wanted to redo the whole thing and try again to do the entire trail in one season. Hence the trail name Rebound. Pretty impressive woman if you ask me. Very driven. Day 39 Wheew. Back to back long days. 15.5 miles today. Then the water source for this shelter turns out to be 1/4 mile away, so we basically did a 16. At least we don’t have to carry our packs when we go for water. The temperature dropped again today. It was in the 30s most of the day. Maybe up to 40 at the highest. I keep thinking that these cold spells will end and the warmer weather will stay. We had days in the 70s this week where I was sweating and drinking like 4 liters of water. And then today happens. Very unpredictable weather. It’s gotta end soon tho. May will be here in 10 days or so. The nice thing today was that right at noon there was a hostel nearby as we crossed a roadway. I decided to forego my usual boring lunch and headed over there for a pizza and a corn dog. Was nice to get some non-camping food in me for a change. I had to call the Therm-a-rest company today when I got to camp. My air sleeping pad has started to delaminate on the inside and bubble up. They replace them for free when they fail like this, which is an awesome policy. I can still sleep on it, but the bubble will likely keep growing. This company doesn’t require me to send the old one back in. I just needed to send them some pictures of the problem. The other thing they made me do was to draw a big ‘X’ in the middle of the mattress and send them a picture of that too. This is so that no one else can take my old pad and use it to get themselves a free replacement as well. I only had a ballpoint pen and the guy on the phone said that was ok, but after I sent in the photo he replied and said that his boss told him that it needed to be in permanent marker. So I had to walk around the campsite and ask if anyone had a Sharpie on them. Luckily someone did, so now they are sending my new mattress to 2 towns from here with free shipping. Very impressed with their return policy and customer service. Day 40 Whistling Gap campsite (13.6 miles) Wow, it was cold last night. Got down into the 20s I think. I was in my sleeping bag with all my clothes on and was still a bit cold sometimes. Of course it didn’t help that I had opened up the little window part on the roof of my tent earlier to air it out, and had forgotten to close it. Didn’t remember that until about 3 or 4 am. All the locals we talk to say this is a very strange spring and that the cold is hanging on much longer this year. Lucky me. Well, it’s 5:30pm now and so far I’m the only one at this campsite. Not sure if others left much later and are taking their time getting here, or if they camped elsewhere. I’ve only seen a couple hikers pass by here. There was a huge group of people staying at the shelter last night. The initial bubble of hikers that I started with thinned out pretty quickly, and I grew accustomed to small groups at shelters or campsites. But suddenly the past couple of nights it has been packed again. Seems like I have fallen into step with another hiker bubble. I guess with over 4000 people starting at varying dates this spring, there are plenty of bubbles to be found. I prefer smaller groups, but I’m sure in a few days I’ll fall out of this bubble too somehow. There was a big climb of about 2000 feet up a mountain called Big Bald today. The balds are always nice, as they have no trees on top and we are rewarded with nice views and the rolling green meadows on top. Most of the hills we climb are forested so not much view at all. There were 2 ladies and a baby on top of this bald today just doing a day hike and offering some muffins as trail magic. They were even offering some hikers 420 trail magic due to today’s date. Lol! I wanted to hang out in the sun and have lunch on top of the bald, but although the temperatures had warmed up by then, the wind was really blowing across the top and it was freezing. So I headed on. The mud on the way down was really bad due to the snow melt. I nearly ate it a couple of times. Met a guy this morning on the trail. He told me he had started hiking from the Florida Keys on the Florida Trail and linked it up with the AT. And his final destination is Quebec in Canada. The Appalachian Trail does actually go past Mt. Katadin in Maine and continues all the way up through Quebec to the coast. I hear there are plans to connect it to Europe, as geographically this mountain range continues over there. This guys was pretty dedicated to be hiking that far. Amazing. He only had this tiny pack that didn’t even have a hip belt. He was sleeping only with a tarp with some mosquito netting in it, and was carrying a quilt instead of a sleeping bag. No down jacket either. It’s quite astounding what some people do. Just when you thought the AT was a big deal... Well, just enjoying the peace and quite of the solitude here. We will see if others show up. There is still more than an hour of daylight left. Day 41- Saturday 4/21- Erwin, Tennessee (13.5 miles) (343.8 total) More people did finally show up last night. They just got a later start and took some breaks. Becker and Ian arrived first with Caroline the British girl. Then the Thai woman arrived and another girl just before dark. In the end we had a nice little crew hanging out around the fire. I was there 3.5 hours before anyone else showed up and thought I had the place to myself. I popped awake without my alarm at 4:30am and decided to make an early start. Usually when we go into a town, we try to make it a Nero to maximize our town time and make sure we get a room somewhere. But the math just worked out differently this time and I ended up having to hike 13.5 miles today. So I left early to get a head start on the miles. Got some amazing views over Erwin as I got close. We had a huge descent down into Erwin as is usually the case when we go into a town. This of course is followed by a huge climb up out of the town and back into the mountains when you leave. I wasn’t hiking with anyone to share a room with so I just took a room by myself at the Super 8 motel in town. I do seem to be hiking and camping more and more by myself as time goes on here, which I feel like I prefer and enjoy. Just hang out with whoever is at the campsite or shelter for dinner time. I like the solitude of hiking alone and listening to my podcasts and audiobooks. I also like making my own decisions about how far I go and where and when I stop. These things have to be negotiated in groups. This is one downside of that style tho. People who hike in groups can share rooms and save money. But it’s also nice to have my own space and I saved enough money for this trip in Saudi, so it’s all good. Erwin is quite a spread out town, and the location of this motel is only near a few fast food places, so Ian, Becker, and I walked over to McDonalds tonight for dinner. Not that exciting, but still a nice change from camping food. They were complaining about some guy they met who had chastised them for complaining about how steep and difficult a hill was while they were hiking. This guy was saying something about how beautiful the day was and how lucky they were to be out here, and saying they shouldn’t complain. I’ve come across a few guys like this myself since I’ve been out here. It’s weird. Yes, they are being super positive and upbeat, which seems like it should be a positive thing. But often it feels kind of phony or strange somehow. Like, we all know exactly how hard and butt kicking this trail is. There are moments for all of us when we just feel tired and beat and need to express some frustration with it all. It’s impossible to believe that these types of guys never hit those walls. They have to. So it just feels like a mask sometimes where they feel like they have to always put on the super positive face when anyone askes them how they are doing. Personally, I like it when people are dead honest and admit to having a rough day, or talk about how hard that last section was. Because I felt the same way. Those moments when we can talk and be real, really be honest about the struggle and difficulty that we are mutually experiencing, I think those are often some of the most powerful and bonding moments we can have out here. Those admissions really make me feel like I’m not alone in all this. We are all getting our butts kicked and we are all persevering through it all together. That actually inspires me and keeps me going way more that the overly positive guys. Day 42- Sunday, 4/22- Erwin, Tennessee- (0) (343.8 total) Zero day in town today. I got a ride to my motel yesterday from this guy who lives around here and he told me that Erwin has a population of around 5,800 people and around 67 churches. That’s a lot of churches for such a small town. I took an easy slow morning today to just rest. I slept like a log last night. I never sleep that well out in the woods. I sleep, but I wake up a lot, checking the time to see when I have to get up and hike again. I think it’s just hard for me to relax when I know it’s another big day coming up. But these first nights in town, knowing that I have the next day off, I just sleep so deeply. My big mission for the day, other than groceries and resupply, was finding the spray we need to prevent ticks, and applying it to my clothes. I have been meaning to do this for a while now and keep running out of time. None of the outfitters nor Walmart carry it here. I called everyone. The only place that had it was Johnson City, about 30 minutes from here and the shuttles charge $30 each way to get there. I decided to skip it and just do it in the next town or two and just had the shuttle run me to the supermarket to get my groceries. The shuttle driver walked into the supermarket with me to buy something, and we ended up finding the spray in the supermarket. What a surprise. So after the resupply I was able to come back and start spraying my clothes finally. Lyme disease is a big problem on this trail. We need to check our whole bodies for ticks each night after hiking. Apparently they are attracted to movement and jump onto us as we walk by. They haven’t been a problem at all so far because it’s been cold, but soon they will become an issue. We need to buy this spray and apply it every 6 weeks to help keep them away. One girl told me she sent her clothes in to some company before she left and they applied the chemical professionally, which will last the entire hike. Damn, I sure wish I had heard about that option rather than having to keep reapplying this stuff. The deal is tho, it takes over 24 hours for the tick to transmit the Lyme disease once it bites you. So as long as we check ourselves nightly and remove them promptly if we get them, we should be fine. Supposedly there is a good Mexican restaurant in town further away from here. I might jump in a shuttle with others and head there tonight if I can. Will be a nice break from McDonalds and Taco Bell.