Fitting 8 Hikers in a 1-Room Cabin (3/28, 3/29, 3/30)
Day 31, 3/28: Devil’s Fork gap -> Hogback Ridge shelter (6.3 miles)
It felt great to sleep in. I woke up in the middle of the night to thunder and lightning outside the hotel room, and briefly thought my stuff was going to get wet because I didn’t put it away. Then I remembered I was in a building with 4 walls and a roof, cozy and dry, and went back to sleep.
Packing up and getting my food resupply together was bittersweet. I didn’t want to get back on the trail or leave Louis. I felt grumpy and angry all morning. I had such an amazing time hiking with Louis I didn’t want him to leave. I half considered the idea of just driving back with Louis. It would be easy since I had everything with me. It was tempting, but I knew I’d regret it.
We ate breakfast at the hotel and I drank a glass of milk. I haven’t had milk in over a month and I had forgotten the taste and texture of it. We packed up the car and drove out to the trailhead. I was hoping time would stand still. We talked in the car for a bit, stalling, then we said goodbye and I hiked up the trail. It was cloudy, lightly raining, and a little chilly, so the weather perfectly matched my mood. I felt like my pack weighed a ton and my feet were moving through molasses. It’s funny how the difficulty level of hiking is so much affected by my mood.
I left the car a little before noon, so I was going to nero 6.3 miles into Hogback shelter. The hike started with a climb, which looked a lot worse on the map than it was in real life. I passed a great waterfall and stopped to take a picture. Once the terrain leveled out the sun started shining, the birds started chirping, and my mood improved. I had missed the sounds and smells of the trail and I was glad to be back.
I was a little bummed about hanging out with strangers at the shelter, but when I got there, I was glad to find Winter and The Machine. Slowly a bunch of familiar faces trickled in (Rash, Pinata, Tiptoe, T-Rex, Scoutmaster with Scout, Half Price, and JAM). My dinner was bagels and cream cheese toasted in my tiny skillet, and Pinata was amazed and decided to get one when we got to town. Beeline has inspired us all. After dinner I immediately hung my bear bag on the cables, which was a rookie mistake because I was hungry and had to take it down for snacks. The water source was 0.2 miles away and hilly, but luckily I didn’t touch my water with the short hike I did today, so I had plenty for dinner. I will have to find a water source on the trail tomorrow morning which is a bit of an inconvenience.
The boys started an amazing fire and we sat around talking. Tiptoe played his ukulele and T-Rex tried to (unsuccessfully) melt coins in the fire. The weather was a little chilly but not unbearable, and overall the night was really fun. I had service so I was able to text Louis and my family. Sitting around the fire kept us warm, so we turned in way past hiker midnight.
Day 32, 3/29: Hogback Ridge shelter -> Whistling Gap campsite (13.6 miles)
The crew was planning on going to a campsite 13.6 miles away, since the shelters were around 10 and 20 miles away. They encouraged me to join them and I agreed, happy to be back with familiar faces. Before I left, Milkman offered up 2 L of water. Since I didn’t make the insane trek to the water source yesterday, I jumped on his offer. I got a semi late start around 9. It was supposed to be sunny with a high of 71, so I got my sunscreen at the ready.
We had a relatively flat start, and met a previous 2007 thru hiker with trail magic! He had Hardee’s sausage biscuits, bananas, and oranges. Milkman caught up to me and we both ate the biscuits and packed the fruit for later. We stopped at a small parking area and met JAM, Scoutmaster with Scout, Jay, and Big O. I changed into shorts and my short sleeved shirt, and slathered on the sunscreen. The sun was out in full force and I did not want to deal with being burned on top of being sore and tired. I ate my banana and headed for the trail. The small break talking to everyone was nice.
The elevation in the book did not prepare me for what actually was in store for today. The climbs were steep and never ending. It started getting hot and I drank through half my water right away after eating the salty Hardee’s biscuit. I passed a couple water sources but I didn’t want to stop to fill up. The last climbs were over big rocks and were again steep. I finally got to Big Bald Mountain and the unobstructed 360 degree view was breathtaking. The weather was gorgeous, warm and sunny with a light breeze. I found Rash and Pinata already there packing up. I took off my pack and used it as a pillow for a while, soaking in the sun. A few day hikers came through and I took a picture for them. I relaxed for a while until Jay and Big O showed up. I chatted with them, reapplied sunscreen (not forgetting my ears), and was on my way.
I passed the shelter at 10 miles but didn’t stop. T-Rex and Winter were leaving as I was passing. T-Rex was hiking in his flip flops because his feet were covered in blisters! They looked painful. He warned me the campsite might not have water and to fill up beforehand.
The hike to Little Bald Mountain wasn’t as bad, but still steep. I was tired, hot, and ready to get to the tent site. During the descent, I was on the lookout for the water source. The guide said it was a “small stream”. I got to what I thought was it, but it was a pretty slow trickle. I followed it down a bit to where it was faster moving and filled up 3 L. It made my pack significantly heavier for the last 1.5 miles to the campsite, and I felt like I needed to hunch over because of the extra weight. It wasn’t even that much added weight but it made a difference in how my pack felt. It turns out the campsite did indeed have water, so my precautions weren’t needed. I reassured myself I was better safe and a little uncomfortable than either going thirsty, or worse, having to backtrack 1+ miles to get water.
Rash and Pinata already had their hammocks up. I chose a very nice flat tent site to pitch my tent. I haven’t pitched my tent in over 200 miles! Tonight is supposed to be clear and warm so hopefully it will be a good night to sleep in a tent. The others trickled in: T-Rex, Tiptoe, JAM, Scoutmaster with Scout, Jay, Big O, and Half Price. Some other hikers showed up: Bri (a girl I’ve briefly met before on the trail), an older German lady, and Michelle (a section hiker). We sat on the logs around the campfire pit and it felt strange not to have a picnic table to spread out. We made first and second dinner and talked until the sun started setting. I hung my first ever bear bag on the trail (I have overflow food that won’t fit in my Ursack) which I was proud of. We all turned in while there was still daylight. The crew is trying to get an early start tomorrow to get to Erwin.
Day 33, 3/30: Whistling Gap campsite -> Erwin, TN (13.3 miles)
I woke up early with a little sunlight and started packing up. I was afraid packing up would take a lot longer since I had my tent, but it took no time at all since all my stuff was right by me and not across the shelter. I was the first one of our group out of the campsite and started the steep but short climb of the day. I passed Michelle on the way up. The terrain went up and down for a while, and I intermittently hiked with Rash and Pinata. I met some day hikers on an uphill. One of the dayhikers stepped on the trail when he saw me coming which didn’t give me a way around him. He acted like he just wanted to talk but it made me uncomfortable that he was blocking my path, and I thought about going back down the trail to find Rash and Pinata. He eventually moved and I hustled up the mountain and didn’t look back.
Around another corner I saw 2 big dogs up ahead. They heard me coming and charged at me. It was on a bend without any room on either side of the trail and a very steep edge. I love dogs, but seeing 2 huge boxer mixes charging at me and having only a few seconds to determine if they’re friendly or aggressive really put me on edge. They were friendly thankfully but started jumping on me immediately and I was trying to steady myself not to fall down the cliff. The owner was far up ahead and called the dogs, not before my pants were muddy from dog paws. This coupled with the strange man standing in my way on the trail put me in a bad mood and I hiked faster, just wanting to get to town.
I was walking at a good pace when Scoutmaster with Scout and Tiptoe came up behind me. They were booking it. I speed walked at their pace for a while, talking and laughing with them, which put me in a better mood. I eventually lost them on a hill, but caught up to them at one of the shelters. Bri arrived while we were relaxing but headed out quickly. We started off up the trail at a slightly slower pace. It was great to have their company after what happened this morning. On an uphill, we hear, “BONZAI!” and immediately think it’s JAM since that’s his favorite thing to shout. It turns out to be T-Rex who caught up to us! The 4 of us (plus Scout the dog) make our way down the long switchbacks to Uncle Johnny’s hostel.
When we arrived at Uncle Johnny’s, it turns out he doesn’t have 2 cabins like originally booked, he only has one for the 8 of us. We wait until Rash and Pinata show up and ask if they mind splitting one cabin between the 8 of us and thankfully they agreed. It had a bedroom with a queen bed which we split between the 3 girls, and the 5 guys took the sofa, futon, and floor space. It was lunch time so we got a shuttle to the grocery store and got sandwich makings. Back at the cabin we devoured the sandwiches and waited for the evening shuttle to Walmart.
Bri, Rash, Pinata and I teamed up in Walmart and got what we needed for resupply. Pinata got the same lightweight egg pan I have. The boys went a little overboard and decided they were going to pack out breakfast foods for tomorrow along with burgers with fried eggs for lunch. Back at the cabin we had a great time socializing, drinking beer, and watching movies. We listened to the rain pour down outside with the thunder and lightning, and were thankful to be dry and clean under a roof.
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