Accidental Zeros in Erwin, TN

Day 25
Deep Gap, NC
Miles: 12.8/ mm: 287.2
Mood: 1.5 smileys

Day 26
Flint Mountain shelter
Miles: 20/mm: 307.2
Mood: 2 smileys

Day 27
Stopped at a meadow atop a mountain
Miles: 13// mm: 320.2
Mood: 1.5 smileys

Day 28
Erwin, TN- Ms. Janet’s house
Miles: 22.7/ mm: 342.9

Day 29
Zero day

Day 30
Erwin, TN
Zero day

As I write this, I’m sitting at the Mountain Inn and Suites in Erwin, TN, with my two accomplices, Rico and Paddington. We weren’t supposed to stop in Erwin for more than a quick resupply, yet here we find ourselves taking a second day off. When we started the trail, we promised ourselves that we wouldn’t commit ourselves to a schedule, that we’d take what the trail offered us, enjoy each day, and take advantage of not being on a schedule. Up to this point, we have not followed that mantra, mostly because of my overly competitive nature. We’ve put in more miles than planned, taken less breaks than originally thought, and have overall really pushed ourselves. And yes, we’ve enjoyed it! I like the rush of looking back at the end of the day and seeing the ground we were able to cover. But, at some point, we put ourselves on this fast track to finish without even realizing it. So, consider this our first attempt at trying to slow down.

We’ve also elected for this second zero day because of Paddington. He has been plagued with a knee problem that is common in way too many hikers. It’s only gotten worse as we’ve gone on, so he is wisely taking a few days off to rest. While we are not plagued with the same injuries and do not require as much time off, we figured we’d take another day to relax, rest, and keep the gap between us and Paddington as minimal as possible. We’ve all been hiking together since day 2 and aren’t quite ready to break up the band. Though, once healthy, Paddington can hike us both under the table. There are worse things to anticipate!

Anyway, here are some notes on our progress since Hot Springs. Leaving Hot Springs, we once again experienced the common malady known as the day-after-town hangover. Consequently, what was originally going to be a decent 15-16 mile day, ended up being about a 13-mile day for me and Rico.

We had budgeted four days to Erwin to cover 69 miles, which would have been an average of 16-18 miles a day, so we had effectively put ourselves a bit behind. But, no matter, we’d just do a 20-mile day to make up for it, which we did! It was hard. The map made it seem like it would be a pretty easy, moderate ridge day, which would make 20 miles more manageable. However, as much as we love and rely on the AWOL AT guide, its linear depiction of the elevation gains and declines over the past few days has been very misleading. We found ourselves climbing way more than originally expected, which took a lot out of us, me especially. We were beat after that day and set up camp at Flint Mountain shelter, where Paddington also stayed for the night. We figured that if we did two 18 mile days, we’d still get into Erwin as planned, and if worse came to worse, we could always cook ramen on the morning of the fifth day and make it into town in good time.

Well, this day also proved to be harder than we thought and Paddington’s knee was not doing well, so Rico and Paddington found a good spot at mile 13 and convinced me to call it a day. It was actually really nice to stop in mid-afternoon as opposed to early evening like we had been doing. We got a fire going (and by we, I most definitely don’t mean me) and enjoyed the sunset at the top of the mountain.

Given our two shorter days, we had to pull off a 22.7-mile day in order to make it into Erwin by the end of the day. Convinced we could do it or would die trying, we set off early in the morning. Fast-forward about 10.5 hours and we were hobbling into Erwin.

In truth, we once again lucked out and had the most gorgeous hiking day. The forecast called for rain, but the sun rose that morning, and although there were some questionable clouds throughout the day, it stayed really nice. On top of that, we were treated to trail magic halfway through the day. Fueled with Coke, homemade brownies, and fresh fruit, we did the second 11 miles in just over 4 hours, thanks to the energy boost and very gradual descent that made hike-jogging easy and enjoyable.

When we got into Erwin, our plan was to wait for Paddington to make his way down since we knew would be a bit behind given his knee ailments. He can march up any mountain as fast as anyone I’ve seen, but as soon as the downhill starts, his knee goes into panic mode, slowing him down and causing him incredible pain.

We had been lucky enough to have met the woman, the myth, the legend–Ms. Janet–at a gap the previous day, and she said to give her a call when we got to Erwin to see if she could put us up on the night we got into town.

Side note on Ms .Janet: she is known along the trail as the ultimate trail angel. She drives around in her van, shuttling hikers and putting them up in her home if she’s around and has room. She operates completely off the radar via word of mouth. Quite simply, she’s amazing. As luck would have it, we got her number in Hot Springs and were looking forward to experiencing a really unique part of the trail.

Fortunately, when we got to Erwin, Ms. Janet still had some room for us. She picked us up, and we went over to her place…after eating a gross amount of McDonalds. Rico was the ultimate “winner,” downing five Mcdoubles, two fries, and a chocolate shake. I guess some might call that winning; I think otherwise.

Ms. Janet had a full house, but we were still able to do laundry, shower, and watch some movies–all free of charge. She really is a trail angel.

The next day, Rico and I had every intention of heading out in the afternoon after resupplying food, but it was gloomy, dreary, and cold, so we decided we could spare a day. We made a reservation, along with Paddington, at the Mountain Inn for the night. There is nothing else notable about the day other than we relaxed and ate and ate some more. Gotta love zero days!

This morning, we woke up, enjoyed the all-you-can-eat breakfast, and packed up for a good, steady 15-mile day. And then something happened…and I’m not sure exactly what, but we’re still here with no intention of leaving until tomorrow. Maybe it’s the cotton sheets and warm bed, or the access to wifi and TV, or maybe it’s because we are finally trying to live out a mantra we’ve thus far ignored and are learning, albeit ever so slowly, to take what the trail offers…. which right now is delivery pizza and the NHL playoffs.

Trail blazin’ and trail lazin’!

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