Day 43- Monday, 4/23- Erwin, Tennessee- (0) (343.8 total)
The plan was to get back on the trail today, but Mother Nature had different ideas. The weather in town was actually not bad at all, but the national weather service had high wind warnings for up in the mountains. Gusts of up to 60 miles per hour. So everyone decided to play it safe and stay in town another day. The biggest worry with wind like that is falling trees, especially while you are sleeping in your tent. Those trees are referred to as “window-makers.” It was a bummer to have to sit around for another day here, especially since there is not much in this part of town. But on the other hand, town days are usually fairly busy with all the errands we have to do. I got all of those out of the way yesterday, so it was nice to just be able to relax and chill out for a full day.
Yesterday afternoon, after we decided to stay another day, a guy from another group of hikers came over and shared my room. He would have been sleeping on the floor in the other room, so he was happy to get his own bed and I was happy to split the cost. Cool guy. He’s from Canada and his trail name is “Little Spoon.” He got the name because he told people that his girlfriend is 4 inches taller than he is and when they spoon, he likes to be the little spoon. Haha! If you tell stories like that, people are gonna give you a trail name like that! One cool thing about Little Spoon is that he used to work in an outdoor store back home, so he is pretty knowledgeable. I was telling him about my pack being a bit heavier than I’d like, and he offered to give me a shake down. A shake down is when someone goes through your pack, item by item and helps your get rid of things you don’t need in order to save weight. I’m not sure exactly how much weight we ended up getting rid of, but I’m guessing it is 3-4 pounds. I’ll try to weigh it tomorrow morning when I pass by the gear store near the trail. He pulled out some good stuff and the weight savings should be noticeable. We changed my Nalgene water bottles to Gatorade bottles which are much lighter, removed one shirt, took a lot of unnecessary stuff out of my first aid kit, removed my flash pack (light weight small day pack for town days), a small camping towel, my mug, the rain cover for my pack (unnecessary because I have all my gear in waterproof stuff sacks inside my pack anyways), my nail clippers, and a few other items. I even took off the brain (top part of the backpack). It feels like a significant amount of weight, so we will see how much it all weighs tomorrow.
Otherwise I pretty much just hung out in the room and relaxed. I did walk into town once and ended up having lunch at a BBQ place someone had recommended. Pulled pork, hash brown casserole, beans, Texas toast, and iced tea. It was a nice feed for sure. Pulled pork is pretty close in texture and taste to Kalua pig in Hawaii. A bit different but the closest we can get up here.
The weather is supposed to still be crappy tomorrow with the rain and stuff, but the high winds are supposed to die down somewhat, so inshallah, hopefully we will be able to get back on the trail tomorrow and keep cranking out those miles. I’m getting a bit restless here in town. Fingers crossed.
Day 44- Tuesday 4/24- Low Gap campsite- (16.0 miles) (359.8 total)
We finally got out of town today. We had a superb shuttle driver during our stay in Erwin. Doug took me and other hikers around to grocery shop, have dinner, resupply, etc. Great guy. So of course we had him pick us up this morning from the motel and run us out to the trail. There is a hostel and an outfitter right where we got off the trail, so I was able to weigh my stuff before I started hiking. Little Spoon helped me get rid of exactly 4 pounds of stuff yesterday. That’s huge! Next, I took out all my food and water and fuel so that I could get my base weight. My base weight is now down to 21 pounds!!! This was an electronic hanging scale too, so I trust it a bit more than the other ones I was using before. Then I checked my total weight and it came out to 34 pounds. A lot better than the 43 pounds I had been carrying at other times. The food, fuel, and water do add a lot. I carry 2 liters of water, which weighs 4.4 pounds alone. Then probably a pound or so for the fuel, and the rest for food. Anyway, I’m super happy to have shaved off the extra weight, and I could definitely feel it hiking today. It was a 16 mile day (my longest day yet) and most of it was uphill. But I made good time and I’m thinking the fresh legs from the 2 days of rest, plus the lighter pack weight were responsible.
I have changed up my lunch routine to save time and hassle. I had been bringing tortillas and putting either cheese and meat with mayo and mustard packets, or peanut butter and jelly inside. But it was just a big hassle and I hate to stop for long while I’m hiking. Taking off my pack, pulling all my stuff out of it to get to my food sack, messing around trying to open the mayo and mustard packs, etc was just a pain. So now I’m just keeping a jar of peanut butter and some sliced cheese at the top of my pack. I simply eat a few spoonfuls of peanut butter and eat a few slices of cheese and then get back on the trail. Good fats and proteins for energy, and it saves time. Plus, I stiffen up and get sore if I stop for too long, so this helps me stay limber.
I found a campsite about a mile before the shelter tonight. I figured a lot of people would be coming out of town today after we all stayed extra time to let the bad weather clear. That means a big bubble of hikers was likely heading to the shelter, so I stopped here to have a quieter and less crowded spot. The guidebook said it had a very small stream nearby. 2 other ladies arrived at this campsite the same time as me. Me and one of the ladies walked down to find the water. It was there, but super slow and very shallow. I had to use my scoop to take out very small amounts at a time. Took forever to fill the water and we had to walk through a muddy bog to get to the water. We managed, but definitely the hardest access to a water site, plus the hardest water to collect since I have been on the trail. Plus I ended up collecting quite a bit of sediment with my water. I don’t use a filter- I have chlorine drops instead that kill everything and make it safe to drink. So a little more texture to my water tonight.
The weather was cloudy and sometimes misty today. It rained a bit at some points as well. But the scenery was really beautiful. Pine forest with lots of green moss all over in some parts. At one point we came upon a pine decorated like a Christmas tree! When we looked at it, we saw that some guy was keeping it decorated as a memorial for his son who had passed. Quite a sad memorial once we realized what it was. The rain stopped a bit before we all got to this campsite which is always a blessing. These ultralight tents are made of a lot of mesh to save weight, so it it’s raining when you set it up, water gets into your tent before you can get the rainfly on. Got all my chores done and was part way through cooking dinner when it started raining a bit. It was just light so we assumed it would pass and kept cooking. But soon enough the skies opened up and it really started raining. We all had to run to our tents and finish making the food and eating it inside our tents. Looks like we will be in for a pretty rainy night tonight. No wind tho, which is good.
There are only 3 of us here tonight. Myself and 2 ladies. Both are from Texas. One is thru hiking by herself, and the other is a friend of hers who is out here for a week or so supporting her and hiking with her. Nice for her to get that support from a friend. I can’t wait until some friends of mine come out here and join me for a bit. One guy may be coming in early May, and another is booked for June first. Will be fun!
We did get some more trail magic today from a guy at a road crossing. He was by himself doing mission work. It was cold and rainy when I walked by and he was serving coffee, hot chocolate, and tea, along with brownies and banana bread. I was so stoked to get some hot coffee at that point. It was amazing! Just what the doctor ordered. Met Ian, Becker, and Caroline there. They camped last night at the shelter just 4 miles outside of town. They said the wind wasn’t too bad there, but up higher it was supposedly really strong. Stories of billboards and huge trees coming down in town. I passed the 3 of them as they were getting ready at the shelter. I stopped to say hi and Caroline was pretty pissed off. 4 times now on the hike she has either seen or stepped in human poop as she has walked in the woods to use the bathroom. Some people just are not taking the time and effort to dig a hole. They just go and leave it. This morning Caroline had stepped in it and she was not happy, as you can imagine. She was writing a strongly worded entry in the shelter log about it. Just crazy. I can’t imagine why anyone would do something like that. But somehow it seems that it is always Caroline that finds it. She still doesn’t have a trail name, so I gave her the name “Magnet” today. Short for “poop magnet.” Lol! She seemed to have a sense of humor about it or at least is resigned to it, so she said she accepted the name. It’s funny because she hikes in a group of 4 that also includes Edward Shitter Hands. Those 2 girls clearly just have some poop karma to work out on this trail.
The rain seems to have stopped for the moment. Time to run out for a pee and brush my teeth quickly, before it returns!
Day 45- Wednesday 4/25- Ash Gap- (17 miles) (376.6 total)
17 miles today. Longest day of hiking yet. Knowing my mileage has become a bit more complicated recently. We have a guidebook called AWOL that everyone uses and it tells us the mileage to each campsite. And some of us also carry an app called Guthook that uses the phone’s satellite signal to give us milage and show us where we are on the trail. Until yesterday, the book and the app were in sync. But now they are giving me different numbers. The book said I hiked 16.6 miles today, while the app says 17. I’m gonna start going with the app as I’m hoping the GPS is more accurate. Who knows tho. Tomorrow the book says I have a 13 mile day, while the app says it’s 11.8. Big difference.
Anyway, today pretty much sucked. It rained all night last night and was very foggy when I woke up this morning. The whole day was pretty much foggy, wet, windy, and cold. I was back in the dead stick trees most of the day, so the whole thing looked quite dreary. It’s hard on the mood when the days are like this. And everything is now wet. My pack is wet, my fleece that I hiked in is very damp, my pants are wet and muddy, and even the inside of my tent is damp. I don’t wear my rain gear while hiking as it just makes us sweat much more and gets us just as wet as the rain would. No rain, no pain, no Maine. I know this, but the rain is still a drag. With the extra long day, I was not in the best mood when I arrived at camp.
I set up my tent immediately as is my custom in case it starts raining. It didn’t rain but the condensation from the trees was dripping onto my tent in heavy droplets before I could get my rainfly on. Hence the interior dampness. Next was getting the water. I asked a guy named Floyd if he knew where the water source was. He pointed up the trail and said I had to walk 0.1 miles up the trail, the turn right when I saw the blue blazes and walk 0.1 miles down to the water source. That didn’t sound great right after a long day, but no choice so off I went. The trail was very muddy and wet, parts of it a small river from all the rain. I had already changed out of my hiking boots, so I was doing this in my Crocks. The trail was heading uphill and it just didn’t seem right, so I finally took out my GPS app to check, and of course I was way off track for the water. I had gotten wrong directions. The guys sounded so sure. I thought he had gone and gotten his water already. When I got back to camp, I saw that the blue blaze trail was right here at camp, just across the trail. Damn it. I should have checked myself. Then the trail down to the water was quite long and steeply downhill. It felt like just one of those days. Off on a wild goose chase after such a long day.
Finally got everything settled and had dinner with Floyd and his sister. He is actually a very nice guy. Just not a great direction giver. I asked him about it and he pointed to the blue blaze trail. I said “That’s not 1/10 of a mile. It’s just right over there.” He says “Everything closer than .01 is just .01 to me.” Anyway, Floyd’s sister is here visiting him on the trail. Today was only her 2nd day, but she seems to be soldiering on pretty well. Of course he is hiking less miles with her to accommodate her- exactly what I will do when some of you come out here. She is only hiking 6 days with him. Still it must be quit a shock to show up at this point on the trail where the rest of us have been hiking for several weeks and have our routines down and everything.
I did get one piece of tragic news this evening over dinner. This is just trail rumor and nothing substantiated, but a guy by the trail name of Savage apparently had a heart attack in the parking lot of Walmart in some nearby town, and is pretty much brain dead. His family are on their way to come retrieve him. I met Savage not too long ago at a shelter. He is a vet and is missing about 3/4 of one arm. He was a real character when I met him, carrying on with funny stories, cursing up a storm, and making everyone around the table laugh. He is a short guy and was carrying a huge pack almost as big as his body. I meant to get some video of him but forgot later. Rough around the edges, but a really nice and funny guy to hang out with. I hope that somehow the rumors are not true and that he is making a full recovery in a nearby hospital.
Well, hopefully tomorrow will be better weather, but a guy who came by earlier had seen the weather report and he said it doesn’t look like it will get better until Friday. We shall see. Time for me to get my sleeping bag zipped up and get warm now. It’s chilly up here. Camping at 5,340 ft. tonight.
Day 46- Thursday, 4/26- Bradley Gap- (11.8 miles) (388.4 total)
Woke up this morning to more fog. But as I started hiking, I could see clear skies to one side of the mountain we were on, which was encouraging. It didn’t rain much at all all day long, except for maybe a couple of light sprinkles here and there. Was great to be dry all day, which allowed my pack and fleece to dry out a lot. The trail was like walking through a small stream much of the time tho. A lot of water was running down the trail, and even the dry parts were full of small stones like in a river bed. I have been seeing downhill areas where the park service has made the trail curve and branch off to the side for a few feet, with the main trail still going forward, since the beginning of the trail. I figured it was for water run off, but got to see it in action today. Those did a great job of redirecting the water off the trail and made it easier to walk on.
As part of my shakedown the other day, I got rid of my waterproof pack cover, just to lighten my weight. The downside is that my pack does get pretty wet when it rains. This morning when I lifted up my pack to start hiking (already in my wet clothes from yesterday), I felt a bunch of cold water run all the way down my side to my shoe. I was really confused about where it came from and it certainly wasn’t pleasant. Then I thought that it must have been some rain water that had somehow pooled up in my pack somewhere. So I hiked on and let it dry as I waked. A couple hours later I reached for something in my pocket and dropped a glove. As I bent down to retrieve my glove, I got another big splash of the cold water. WTF?! This time I looked at my water bottle on that side and realized that I had either forgotten to put the cap on this morning or maybe just put it on very loosely. So I had just been pouring my own drinking water down myself all morning. Damn. The cap to the water bottle was now lost, and I had one less liter of water to drink for the day. Fun times.
While I was walking up to the top of one bald today, I caught up with a group of 4 hikers. Turns out that they were all college students from a school in Georgia somewhere. They were all part of a hiking club at their school and do fundraisers throughout the year to raise money to fund them to come out here and do some trail magic for us once a year. They were hiking up a small Hibachi grill and had pizza, oranges, ice cream bars, and beer to hand out. Really a neat group of people- super friendly and welcoming. I talked to them for quite a while, but it was going to be quite a while until they got the charcoal and coals going to cook the pizzas, so I just took an orange and ice cream sandwich and then got back to hiking. 1 of them had actually graduated a year ago, but the other 3 are graduating in just over a week! Great group of people and it was fun to see them so excited (and overwhelmed) at the thought of graduating so soon.
Made it to this campsite pretty early today. It’s kind of an unusual one, a bit off the trail. No one else was here when I arrived. I set up my tent and went to get water, when all of a sudden the rain returned. I ran back into my tent, thinking that it was just a passing shower, but it has been raining for a couple of hours now. I have internet signal here, and the weather report says it is supposed to rain most of the night. Oh well, at least I got my tent up just before it came. And tomorrow is a town day, so I’ll dry out and warm up there. There was a short time where the rain got pretty light, so I was able to run out and grab some water. Got my camp socks wet in the process tho, which is a drag. They were my last dry pair of socks.
Very happy to have internet connection tonight tho. In my original plan I was supposed to be in town today, but of course that extra day in town because of the bad weather set me back a day. That was a drag because the NFL draft starts tonight and I was really hoping to watch it. But the next best option is to follow the picks online. It is very hit and miss in terms of where we have internet connection out here, so I’m lucky to have it. My Broncos pick 5th overall, so I’m excited to see who they choose!
No one else has arrived, so I’m guessing that everyone bailed into the last shelter when the rain hit. Looks like I’m rolling solo tonight. I ran into one group of hikers I knew earlier today at a road crossing. They were getting dropped off by someone’s car. I asked them what happened and it turns out that they had a pretty good plan. Yesterday they hiked only as far as this hostel just off the trail and stayed there to avoid the weather. Today they got driven several miles down the trail and were going to hike southbound back to the hostel and have another dry night there. Then tomorrow they will get driven back to the same point where I met them today and continue north. Good idea to still be able to hike and not miss any of the trail, but still end up staying 2 rainy nights indoors. Wish I was that smart.
Day 47- Friday, 4/27- Roan Mountain, Tennessee- (6.4 miles) (394.8 total)
Turned out that my internet connection was so good last night that I was able to stream the video of the NFL draft live on my phone from my camp. Technology is awesome! Here I was, camping alone in the mountains, inside my tent in the pouring rain, and watching the draft live. It was awesome. Really took me away from my somewhat uncomfortable surroundings and transported me away to another world. It started at 8pm, so I was up pretty late watching it. Great to see Denver get Chubb. Our pass rush is going to be sick this coming season!
Super foggy when I woke up and started hiking. The start of the hike was straight up a big bald with heavy fog and wind. Luckily the rain had passed. After summiting the bald, it was a very long downhill into town. That may sound easier, but not necessarily. Going downhill over wet rocks and roots and stuff can be pretty slow going and with a much higher chance of slipping and falling. I need to go quite slowly and carefully on some parts, and it is taxing on the legs. I don’t have the cardio challenge of the uphills, but it’s still challenging in other ways. Flat and smooth is when we can really get moving and make some good time. Unfortunately flat and smooth is about .00001% of the terrain on the AT.
Got to the roadway and called the hostel guy to come pick me up. He does a free shuttle service for hikers. I had some phone reception up on a bald the day before, so was able to call and make a reservation. He has 2 different hostels in the area. I’m staying at the original one, which is a 2 story house where he and his wife live. This area is famous for growing Christmas trees which they sell all across the country. When they bought this house, the upstairs was set up as housing for Mexican migrant workers who work on the tree farms. This guy wasn’t even aware of the AT and all the hikers passing through, until a friend of his was hiking the trail and came and stayed with him. Upon seeing the upstairs set up where the workers used to live, his friend said that he could easily turn this into a hiker hostel. The rooms are super tiny and remind me of $3 a night guest house rooms I used to stay in as the other kind of backpacker in SE Asia. Kind of sad to see the living conditions of the migrant workers living like this, but as thru hikers we are not fussy. Just happy to have a roof over our heads and a warm bed. And just a week ago, this guy opened up another place a few miles away. That one has a bunkhouse upstairs for the hikers and a bar downstairs. Bring in the Bible Belt, there is no alcohol served anywhere in this town, but his new hostel is just across the state line in North Carolina, and so they can serve. The town is apparently kind of pissed off about it, but hikers all up the trail as we were approaching this area were buzzing about it. Works out well for everyone. This place where I’m at is more of a quiet house style for old farts like me, and all the 20-something’s can go to the bar one. Win-win. This place is like a mini farm tho. So many dogs in this house. 2 tiny crazy chihuahuas that just run and chase endlessly, and a couple other bigger dogs that hang around the hikers hoping for some food. Plus sheep and more dogs outside. Beautiful countryside all around here. Really a gorgeous area. There’s also a minimum security prison just down the road as we drive up here, apparently for people who are getting out soon and are slowly being reintroduced into society.
We are quite far from town here, but the guy or one of his workers is always around to shuttle us in whenever we need to go. I went in for lunch today- the NFL draft had a lot of pizza commercials, and I was dying for some. Fortunately, there is a really good pizza place that everyone was raving about, so I headed there. Small family run bakery place with a wood fired pizza oven and some crazy good cookies and other baked goods. I ate a full pizza and 4 cookies. It hurt to walk afterwards. Later came back into town for dinner with some other hikers and ended up at a local burger joint. I had one of the best fish sandwiches I’ve ever had. Coleslaw and tartar sauce on it- amazing! I definitely feel like I’m in the south in some of these places tho. 2 signs on the wall. One said “If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read this in English, thank the military.” With a picture of an assault rifle on it. The other said “It takes an average of 23 minutes for emergency services to arrive. It only takes .23 seconds to shoot a bullet.” Something along those lines. I see that kind of stuff everywhere down here. This is definitely not Hawaii or the west coast. Very different mentality.
Day 48- Saturday, 4/29- Roan Mountain, Tennessee- (0)- (394.8 total)
The usual busy day off today. Got a ride into town and back to that same bakery pizza place for breakfast. I thought breakfast would just be their baked goods, but they ended up having a full menu. I had an amazing breakfast burrito with a homemade biscuit and 2 more of those awesome oatmeal cookies, then headed over to the supermarket for some resupply. Surprisingly, there is no outfitter in this town to buy trail resupply stuff. Strange since this town is right on the trail and hikers are passing through all the time. The guy who runs this place says he is working towards carrying that stuff eventually. Still, hikers have been coming through here for years. Seems like a missed business opportunity. Before heading back to the hostel, we stopped by his other place to grab the package I had mailed here. My new therm-a-rest sleeping pad to replace the bubbled one. Glad to have that- the bubble has been growing.
Back to the hostel to unpack and arrange all my resupply. The weather is finally sunny and warm- thank god! So I took my soaking wet tent out into the yard to dry it out. Great to finally have a dry tent after a few wet days. Also had to dry out my boots and pack. The rainy days were brutal. Next, hand wash my hat, gators, and ankle braces. Took a short nap, thanked a couple people online for donations, and talked to my friend Ira on the phone, as he will be joining me out here in a month. Now blogging and soon will post photos, videos, and my blog online. I’m telling you, these zero days are not lay around and rest days. I keep pretty busy. Regardless, I do feel 100% better after these town stops. They really push my reset button and make me feel refreshed and ready for another 5 days on the trail. The weather forecast is calling for warm and sunny weather for the next several days. Hallelujah!