Erwin, Tennessee to Damascus, Virginia
Alright! 468 miles in and things are better than ever. The last however many days in between then and now (they all run together.. thru hiker problems) were great. So many beautiful spots along the trail. Our push out from Erwin was not too bad and it was much easier to leave than Hot Springs! We started hitting meadow after meadow and bald mountain tops offering incredible panoramic views.
Kaleidoscope, Zoltan, Smiles, and myself all set up our camp just over the railroad tracks on the AT leaving town. This gave us easy access to the road to hitch into town for grub and that was the first thing we did! KFC all you can eat buffet. Talk about knowing how to cater to thru hikers. We spent over two hours at KFC stuffing our faces, resting and the stuffing our faces again.. as you do at an AYCE buffet, right? We scored a ride back towards camp from a local outside of the restaurant that offered us a ride in exchange for a few dollars for gas.
After making a stop for a quart sized High Life we were back to camp. I grabbed my hygiene kit and heading to Uncle Johnny’s Nolichucky River to grab a shower. Ended up forgetting to grab a towel and had to dry off with my shirt. Fail.. After the shower I kicked it with the lovely Ms. Glacier-Swiss, Happy Baby, Flynn, Wanderer, Maple, Raindrop and whoever else was kicking it on the patio at the hostel.
The next day us guys got all of our chores done in town. Post Office to send Mother’s Day cards, grocery store for resupply, laundromat, and all you can eat pizza at Pizza Hut. The days when you get all of your stuff done feel great. We ended up back at the hostel, charging up electronics and hanging with folks until about 9:30pm when Kaleidoscope, Zoltan, Sunshine, Breeze, and myself all night hiked to the first shelter. It was about 5 miles out of town and we made pretty good time.
Erwin to Mountain Harbor Hostel
We made the push to Mountain Harbor in about 3 days I believe. We hit the summits of Unaka and Roan Mountain during these days. Both were at pretty high elevations and hard dense Spruce forest tops which I really enjoy hiking through. Right after Roan we hit trail magic just by luck of perfect timing (much like most experiences on this trail). Saylor and Betty pulled up just as we got to the Carver Gap and had snacks, fruit, and beer. Oh yes, nothing like a cold morning beer! Those seem to be a favorite of thru hikers on the trail. After Carvers Gap we hit some of the most beautiful hiking I have ever done. I really love those mountain top meadows.
When we made it into the hostel between Roan Mountain and Elk Park, Kaleidoscope was picked up by his good buddy who’s name has slipped my mind. The guy was a good dude. One reason being he grabbed us a case of PBR which we were able to share amongst the other folks around the hostel. He also gave us a ride into town that night so we could resupply and hit the trail early the next day. Only after eating the most incredible breakfast I have ever had at the hostel. Apparently the lady wakes up at 4am to start cooking and it shows. The biggest most delicious breakfast spread I have ever seen! I ate three plates of food. Oh yeah baby. Best breakfast ever. We showered up, packed up, and hit the trail.
To Hampton and one hell of wild experience
Alright, 18 miles out of Roan Mountain, just Zoltan and I. We made it to Moreland Gap shelter. The next day we were planning to push another good day to try and keep up pace to make it into Damascus for Trail Days. After a little bit of hiking, we started talking about slowing down. We had a good conversation about why we were out here. Which is because we are true backpackers that just love the hike and experience along the way. We agreed we were pushing to hard to catch the Trail Days craze and decided to slow down and go easy. We would just hitch into Damascus if we didn’t make it.
We ended up stopping at Jones Falls and then again right at the crossing close to Kincora. We were taking these unusually long breaks that we never would have really done before. And in doing so timing was just right to experience something I could have never expected. The next paragraph has some detail of some human trauma that you can skip over if you wouldn’t like to read about what happened..
Ok, so we are at Laurel Falls. Hoot, Tank, Flounder, and Captain Pants (The South Carolina boys as we call them) were all there too. Along with two day hikers, a guy and a girl, both early 20s. I decided to go for a swim (at a safe distance from the dangerous whirlpool by the falls). I am knee deep into the water when I hear a scream, a crack of a branch, and then I look to my left to see a young woman’s body smashing into the rocks below a maybe 30 foot rock face. Yep. This female day hiker attempted to up straight climbed a slippery rock face near a water fall. This is pretty much how it went..
After she hit the rocks she tumbled like a rag doll another 5 or 6 feet down and landed face down in the water. I was maybe 15 feet away with her friend between her and I. The other guys were maybe 15 yards away on the shore. Her friend froze immediately, he didn’t move. I yelled at him to get her head out of the water, turned back and yelled at the others for someone to run and call 911, and then ran over to her. Zoltan and Flounder made it to her at about the same time I did. It all happened in a split second. I was actually surprised at how quickly we all reacted. We very carefully got her head above water, realizing she was unconscious. We slowly move her out of the water to the shore. My first thought was, OK if she isn’t dead then she will get hypothermia because who knows how long it will take medics to arrive (about an hour for the first two volunteer responders). To our surprise while we moved her (yes I know you aren’t supposed to move a trauma victim, but when you find yourself in that situation let me know what you’d do. The medics said it was the best call which gave me a bit of relief.) she began to gasp for air. YES! She was alive! We immediately began talking to her. What’s your name? Do you know where you are? All of that kind of stuff over and over. Zoltan took his shirt off to dry her off and someone provided an emergency blanket because she was noticeably cold. An hour in two medics arrived and took over. It was another couple of hours before the team of rescuers arrived to get her out.
So, yeah. Damn, right? Craziest thing I have ever experienced. The best way I can describe it is imagine swan diving from a second or third floor balcony onto concrete letting your face catch your fall. I know that’s graphic but that’s really how it was. Worse sound I have ever heard. I am glad that we were all there because I’m not sure how it would’ve turned out had it been only her friend there. I do know for sure that the Carolina boys and Zoltan deserve a huge thanks as well. Captain Pants said he made it from Laurel Falls to Dennis Cove to make the 911 call moving the fastest he ever has. Craziness. This of course cut our day short and we ended up camping on Pond Flats with Towanda and Boomer.
Alright let’s see if I can make a smooth transition back into my normal blog talk.. Sorry if reading about that bothered anyone..
Watauga Lake to Right Here Right Now in the Damascus Library on May 20
We made it to the lake and enjoyed a nice relaxing afternoon hanging around with Old Drum, Ivanna Sherpa, and a mess of other hikers. Pushing on from the lake we reached Vendevetter Shelter which overlooked the lake and was absolutely gorgeous. The next day we pushed to TN91 where we hit some trail magic by former thru hiker Paperboy and scored a ride into Damascus for Trail Days. We arrived Thursday evening, got camp set up away from the wild tent city so we’d have at least a little quietness to sleep. Trail Days overall was incredible. I partied a bit, danced around a huge bonfire and drum circle with all of my incredible trail family, and got to kick it with a friend from home, Kevin who reps Gregory Backpacks. That weekend in Damascus was so good. For many, many reasons. It ended with packing up early Sunday morning and taking part in Hardcore Trail Maintenance with Bob Peoples and the Tennessee Eastman Hiking Club. They fed us, Mountain Squid was extremely hospitable and took us into his house for two days, allowing us to shower and do laundry.
Over the two days of doing Hardcore we rebuilt 4200 feet of trail! We were very grateful (Kaleidoscope, Zoltan, Kaveman, Glacier-Swiss, Raindrop, Mighty Heidi, and many others..) to be able to take part in the last year that Bob Peoples will be organizing. We were fed huge dinners both nights and all around just taken care of.
Yesterday Zoltan, Kaveman, and I were dropped at TN91 to make up the 20 miles that we missed by hitching into Damascus for Trail Days. I night hiked into the edge of town last night, crossing into Virginia, state number 4 of this journey. This morning I was up early and in town. I scored a great breakfast, new sandals for camp shoes, made some calls, resupplied, showered for $3 at the local outfitter (SCORE!).
So, yeah. I guess that about catches you all up. Like I said it gets better everyday out here. Sometimes there are some unfortunate events but that’s all part of life. Just gotta keep hiking. One foot in front of the other. I can definitely say that even though I’ve never really been an unhappy person, this is definitely that happiest I have ever been. I have met some incredible folks out here and made bonds that will last for a very long time, hopefully a lifetime. Until next time! Peace 🙂
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I was at Luarel falls when you guys were helping the girl. I came down as you had her wrapped in the silver survival blanket. Great job you did as she was not moving when I saw her lying there. Do you know where Kaleidescope is these days?