Month Two (Part 1)

Howdie, y’all! (hmm, maybe I’m spending a tad too much time in the south…) I know it’s been FOREVER since I posted, but apparently the south doesn’t believe in reliable WIFI (or working computers…) Needless to say, it’s been tough finding a way to post without using up my cell battery. But, I’m off-trail for a few days (planned, no injured…) so wanted to update on the past few weeks… well, two months, really. With this much content, I will be splitting it up into multiple posts.

So without further ado, here’s your update!

Day 31 – Hot Springs
Miles: 0

I know this day is repeated from my last post, but it went a little differently than I had originally planned. We had planned a zero day in Hot Springs, to take a break after the Smokies. I ended up hitting the library (from where I posted my last update…) for about four hours. Afterwards, a few of us ran some errands to the dollar store and to the outfitter, getting ready to go back on trail. Hoping to get a little quiet time, I decided to try out the mineral baths at the resort, after which the town is named, and while it was relaxing, it wasn’t what I expected. It was simply a normal hot tub that they pipe spring water to. Guess I expected something more natural than a hot tub. As always, the day escaped from me and it was a late night, getting everything sorted and packed back up.

Day 32 – Hot Springs to Spring Mountain Shelter
Miles: 11

As always when leaving town, we got a late start back on trail, walking out of Hot Springs around 10. And as has become the norm, the walk starts with a long uphill. On top of that, it was a hot day, so the uphill hurt. I walked out of town with Kamikaze, while a few others lingered in town a tad longer. It was a little weird having the group broken up… something I’ll have to get used to. We stopped for lunch at a pond, utilizing some benches that were there. It was a nice setting to relax at. Later, we heard that some of the group actually stayed next to the pond for the night, swimming in its murky waters. No, thank you!

The view from Rich Mountain Lookout Tower (Mile 282.7)

The view from Rich Mountain Lookout Tower (Mile 282.7)

Sunset from Spring Mountain Shelter

Sunset from Spring Mountain Shelter

Day 33 – Spring Mountain Shelter to Little Laurel Shelter
Miles: 8.6

Today was a day of big changes. Kamikaze and I got an early start out of camp, and were making good time. We caught up with Trail Chef and the three of us kept a good pace. Until Kamikaze slipped in some mud. Immediately, I knew it was bad. She normally jumps up, laughing. This time, she laid there, and I could tell she was crying. We took a break and she was able to get up and put some weight on it, but it was painful. She wrapped her ankle with an ACE bandage, and we tried walking a little further, coming to a road about a quarter mile later. We were told there was a convenience store just up the road that catered to hikers, so we walked up there. While there, Kamikaze decided her ankle was too painful to go on today. Trail Chef was able to call the outfitter in Hot Springs and arrange a shuttle back to town. Foxfire decided she would go back with Kamikaze, since her knee was bothering her today, too. Knowing we had used up some daylight, Trail Chef and I packed up and walked on. This was the first time I’ve hiked without Kamikaze on trail, so it was a little different. Chef and I got to the shelter around 2, and decided to eat lunch there. Just after lunch, the skies decided to open up. Everyone there climbed into the shelter to wait it out. Two hours later, the rain stopped and we were able to move about. Trail Chef decided to move on, but my legs had tightened up while waiting out the rain, so I called it a day. Shortly after Chef left, I was joined by Whiz Bang, Bookie and Star, who had left the rest of the group in order to push some higher miles. I am not real familiar with either of these hikers, but comfortable enough to feel relieved to not be hiking alone. We had a good evening, chatting and catching up.

Mom's Store, where we said goodbye to Kamikaze.

Mom’s Store, where we said goodbye to Kamikaze.

Day 34 – Little Laurel Shelter to Flint Mountain Shelter
Miles: 13.2

I walked with Bookie and Star today. Walking with a dog is a new experience for me, but Star is a well-trained acrobat so it was completely entertaining to watch her run back and forth across the trail, chasing chipmunks and squirrels. Being the first time that Bookie and I spent any real amount of time together, we had a lot of getting to know each other, so the conversation flowed pretty easily. And this made for a good day of hiking, as the conversation distracted my head from the hills and monotony of the trial. We got a later start out of camp this morning, and took an extended lunch at Jerry Cabin Shelter, but still made it to the final shelter by 6:30. I am finding that having a dog in the “trail family” takes a bit more time.

Day 35 – Flint Mountain Shelter to Low Gap Campsite
Miles: 14.9

It rained overnight night, which is always interesting in the morning. And to make matters worse, someone got sick overnight. We could hear the heaving through the camp. Feel sorry for whomever it was, but in the same respect, we packed camp and got out as quickly as we could. Today was a long day of hiking, getting on trail by 8 and not getting to the final camp until 7:30. We did take an hour and a half lunch at Hogback Ridge Shelter, but the final six miles were unexpected, as Bookie wanted to push a little extra today to get into Erwin a little earlier in a day or two. I agreed to walk with her for those six miles, so that she wouldn’t have to walk it alone, but she had to boil my dinner water and make me breakfast in exchange! Pretty sure I got the better side of the deal, although those last six miles were rough on my legs. Today was also the first time I hiked with Bookie’s trail family – Moonlight, Whiz Bang, Rikki Tikki and Rhythm. It’s an interesting dynamic on the trail these days, and I have yet to find my place in the new bubble. But we caught up with Trail Chef at the campsite, so not completely out of my own bubble.

My niece "climbing mountains like Uncle JJ"

My niece “climbing mountains like Uncle JJ”

Day 36 – Low Gap Campsite to Spivey Gap (Erwin)
Miles: 9.7

We got a late start this morning, due to Bookie having to cook me breakfast (see yesterday’s write up!).  Our goal for the day was for No Business Knob Shelter, but for some reason, today was an exhausting day. The hills didn’t seem all that bad, and the heat wasn’t real bad or anything, but when we hit Spivey Gap, we decided to call it a day and hitch into Erwin. Actually, Star decided… She plopped down and refused to move, so we gave in.  What a good choice.  A cold hotel room and a hot shower made the days pain melt away.

Star rolling in the sunny grass on top of Big Bald (Mile 324.9)

Star rolling in the sunny grass on top of Big Bald (Mile 324.9)

Day 37 – Spivey Gap to Erwin
Miles: 11.1

Before bed, we had arranged for a shuttle to take us back to Spivey Gap this morning.  We planned to do a quick slack pack, to cover the five miles we missed by stopping early yesterday and the couple extra to walk back into Erwin. This was my first time slack  packing, and I have to say, I think I’m ok with slack packing from time to time. It’s a nice break from the normal full-pack hiking!  We rushed to get off the mountain with clouds and thunder rolling into the area. Once we hit the hard road, we stuck a thumb out and immediately got a hitch into the post office, making it there to pick up packages with 30 minutes to spare.  We went for dinner to a little place called Hawg’n’Dawg that serves hot dogs, BBQ, and such. If you are ever in Erwin, you have to stop here!  First and foremost, the food is AMAZING.  And the owner, Lou, is a standup guy, the type of guy who knows everyone and remembers everyone’s name.  Just as we were finishing eating, a road sign blew over.  I turned around, and the sky was pitch black, so we started gathering our table items. Lou ran out and basically told us to get inside fast, that a huge storm was coming in. But we had Star with us. In a stroke of passion, Lou opened up a meeting room, laid some cardboard down for Star, and even brought us more food. We ended up being there for over two hours waiting out the store and had a lot of time to chat with Lou, whom I can now call a friend.  We headed back to the hotel and started sorting our resupply boxes.

A random meadow in the woods.  If this picture had sound, you would hear the buzzing of all the honey bees.

A random meadow in the woods. If this picture had sound, you would hear the buzzing of all the honey bees.

Rainbow over Erwin, as we walked back into town.

Rainbow over Erwin, as we walked back into town.

This train took 20 minutes to clear the road crossing.  Gotta love railroad towns!

This train took 20 minutes to clear the road crossing. Gotta love railroad towns!

Day 38 – Erwin
Miles: 0

We decided late last night to take a zero day, to take care of some town chores.  I did laundry, downloaded pics from my camera, made phone calls, and generally tried to relax. We also walked to the grocery store and did a proper resupply.  And to top off the day, a large group of us went back to Hawg’n’Dawg for dinner.  There seems to be some tension building in the group, and I’m not sure why. I’m also the outsider in the group, so not sure how I fit into that tension.

Day 39 – Iron Mountain Gap to Erwin
Miles: 20.2 (slack packed)

Today was a long day!  Bookie, Older Dog and I did a 20-mile slack pack to make up some miles. We arranged for the same shuttle from two days ago to drop us off at Iron Mountain Gap and walked southbound back into Erwin. It was a long day, my longest so far, but it was a good day, too. My hip hurt a little at the end of the day, from the accelerated pace, but otherwise it was great. And some of the terrain we covered was beautiful. We walked back into town, were picked up by
Rhythm (who was borrowing a rental car from someone…) and dropped off back at – you guessed it – Hawg’n’Dawg!  Love that place!  We walked back to the hotel and quickly collapsed into bed!  But it was a good day.

Shadow play in the forest.

Shadow play in the forest.

My love of trees continues... the walk up to Beauty Spot Gap (Mile 354.7)

My love of trees continues… the walk up to Beauty Spot Gap (Mile 354.7)

Beauty Spot Gap

Beauty Spot Gap

Dog on a Log, AT style.

Dog on a Log, AT style.

Streams galore as we walked back into Erwin.

Streams galore as we walked back into Erwin.

Day 40 – Erwin to Damascus
Miles: 0

Today was a stressful day for me. We slept in (not that stressful, I know…) and planned to rent a car to drive to Damascus, for Trail Days. For those that don’t know, Trail Days is a big hiker festival, with vendors, displays, presentations, lots of trail magic throughout town (free showers, free knit hats, free water or snacks, etc.), a hiker talent show and a hiker parade. Essentially, it’s a big town-wide party. Anyways, we were told the rental car wouldn’t be ready until after 1, so we all checked out of our hotel rooms, and then sat around the parking lot for a few hours, much to the chagrin of the hotel management. Finally, Enterprise showed up and took us to the shop in Johnson City to do paperwork. Let me tell you, driving a car after being on trail for over a month is quite overwhelming. And expensive! And even though Trail Days doesn’t officially start until tomorrow, the town was loud and obnoxious with all the people walking around and partying. By the time night came, I was ready to climb into my tent and relax… but alas, the party gets louder at night. We were camping back in the woods of Tent City, and there was a huge bonfire with probably 200 people around it, all chanting and screaming and dancing… until about 4am. Needless to say, I didn’t get a lot of sleep.

Day 41 – Damascus (Trail Days)
Miles: 0

Trail Days officially opened today. And the amount of stuff I wanted to get done or see was stressful and overwhelming. I made sure I was in line to get my gear fixed as soon as the gear tent opened up. My trekking pole was still bent from my fall, and Leki replaced the bent section. I should’ve given them the good pole, too, as they were replacing the carbide tips for free, too. I also took my backpack to the Osprey tent and explained the issue I was having with the Velcro hip belt not staying secured. The rep told me they were having a lot of issues with the new backpack design this year, and together, we came up with a solution to my issue. They sewed the hip belt solid, so it no longer is adjustable. And it works perfectly now! I saw Jodie (now going by Haulin’ Oats) as she walked into town, and we chatted for a few minutes, but she had a lot of errands to get accomplished, so we didn’t talk much. And I also ran into Outro, whom I hadn’t seen since Top of Georgia! She and I hung out after dinner, catching up over a cold beer in town. When I had first met her, she had just learned that she passed her Architectural Exams and was now a licensed architect. We had talked a little there, but she was pulling higher miles than me, so I never got the chance to hike with her. Needless to say, it was nice to finally get to catch up again. But all the socializing and walking around town wears you out quick, and it ended up being a long, hot day. Unfortunately, the party continues…

Day 42 – Damascus (Trail Days)
Miles: 0

Last night was miserable. About 3am, a drunk hiker tried to get into my tent, while I was inside trying to sleep. And not just once, mind you, but THREE TIMES. His buddy, obviously a little more sober, kept telling him it wasn’t his tent, but he insisted. When I woke up and told him to go away, that it wasn’t his tent, his drunken reply was, “See! I told you it’s my tent, it’s talking to me!” Thankfully his friend led him away, because at this point, I was becoming a little irate with the drunken and drugged lemmings who seem to think the trail, and especially Trail Days, gives them the right to act like Woodstock is happening again. Today is the first day I can say I am ashamed of what being a “thru hiker” has come to symbolize. Apparently, the trail means something very different to me than it does to everyone else. Today was a hot day, with lots of giveaways and presentations happening at different ends of town, so I think I walked about 15 miles today… too bad the non-trail miles don’t get added up! It rained a little in the afternoon, which helped to cool things some, but not enough really. Bookie and I also made the decision to move our tents from the woods in Tent City to the Family Section in the ballpark. While the noise can still be heard, hopefully the drunks won’t be trying to invade my tent here.

Day 43 – Damascus to Johnson City
Miles: 0

Moving my tent yesterday was the best decision ever! I put earplugs in, a blindfold over my eyes (there were a lot of lights in the ball field) and slept the entire night! Today was the end of Trail Days, and there wasn’t much really going on in town, although we knew we couldn’t check into a hotel until the afternoon, so we lounged around town before leaving. Once we loaded up the car, we drove back to Johnson City, where we found a much cheaper (but still nice!) hotel for the night. We did our resupply and got some dinner. It was nice to be in a quiet space again. Talking with everyone in the car on the drive back, I found out Hot Hands (another Appalachian Trials blogger) has decided to not return to the trail, and the news hit home hard. She’s the first person I have known personally that has decided to leave the trail, and while we didn’t always see things in the same view, she and I have had a lot of good conversations and I know I will miss her out here.

Day 44 – Iron Mountain Gap to Greasy Creek Gap
Miles: 4.1

Another day of mixed emotions. While we were doing our last minute packing at the hotel, Rhythm walked in and told us that he has decided to go home. He’s having some family issues at home and made the tough decision that he is needed there, and can’t complete the trail. We were all shocked! After calling around trying to find him a decently priced car rental, we decided the best option was to use our rental car from Trail Days to drive him the hour to Asheville Airport. The car didn’t need to be turned in until early afternoon, and while it would change our hiking plans, there would be plenty of time to drive Rhythm out there and still get back to turn the car in. Needless to say, it was a somber drive to Ashville. We all said our goodbyes and exchanged contact information, with the hopes that Rhythm would be able to come back out on trail for a little bit at some point. And just like that, our group was one smaller. While in Ashville, we took Bookie to a running store, so she could get some compression socks for some shin splints that were developing at Trail Days. While it was another delay in an already long day, hopefully it’ll help her heal faster. We turned the car in at Enterprise and had them shuttle us back to the trail head, so we could at least get a few miles in. As we were doing last minute packing, we kept an eye on the darkening sky. Older Dog, Rikki Tikki, Bookie and Star, and I started hiking, but within about half an hour, it started to sprinkle. Then it started to outright rain. Then pour. We were already wet, so we kept pushing on, hoping the rain would stop before we made it to camp, but alas, it wasn’t to be. In fact, I’m pretty sure it got worse as we got to the campsite. Everyone started setting up their respective shelters. Rikki Tikki and Older Dog were at a lower campsite, with their hammocks. Lucky bastards – they could set up their tarp first, and then be dry as they set up the rest. Bookie and I weren’t so lucky, but thankfully, I had put my tent away in a “quick set” mode, where all I had to do was thread the pole down the middle and it was up and dry. I set it up as fast as I could, threw my backpack inside and jumped in, trying to minimize how much water I let in. Downfall of the tent design I am using is that when the door is open, rain falls into the tent. Wouldn’t recommend this tent for thru hiking, even though it is one of the most popular ones out here. After about an hour or two, the rain lessened and we were able to get out and cook dinner as the sun set. But as we finished eating, the skies started to leak again, so back into the tents we jumped. While not a great day of hiking, it was great to be back on the trial. To be back home.

Day 45 – Greasy Creek Gap to Roan High Knob Shelter
Miles: 10.3

We woke up to more rain, so everything was wet. Thankfully, it slowed to a drizzle while we were packing up, so it wasn’t too miserable, but it rained until about 10 this morning, when the sun came out and turned it into a beautiful day. The hike was pretty rough too, with lots of uphills. After having so much time off, the uphills feel especially difficult. While hiking, we met section hiker Zip Lock, who had done over 1,700 miles last year in a thru hike attempt, but had become injured and is doing sections now to complete the trail. She was an entertaining person to chat with, having lots of stories of the previous year’s hikers. Our destination was Roan High Knob Shelter, the highest shelter on the AT. And it is a beauty! It’s a fully enclosed building, with a large loft inside. But the tent spaces were too inviting to stay in a shelter, with the whole floor covered in soft pine needles. The rock outcroppings, combined with the pines and some of the mountain laurels, gave the entire campsite a dream-like quality. But I can tell it’s going to be a cold night up here already!

The dream forest at Roan High Knob Shelter.

The dream forest at Roan High Knob Shelter.

Alright, folks, that’s it for this post.  I’ll have another post up in a few days (already written, just need to format it…)  Until then, remember to Spin the Compass and enjoy the trail!

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