Still Moving North

Day 30: 3,940 ft ascent, 18.4 miles

Today was a day I was looking forward to for weeks… Jake was coming back! After spending three weeks without him, I was excited for him to get back to the trail with us. It is harder to hike with a dog, but seeing his tail wag on the trail and doggie snuggles at night make it worth the extra work.

We had to push a big day to make the pickup location. It drizzled off and on all afternoon. We passed a couple of rock scrambles at the top of some mountains that probably had some good views, but all we got were clouds and slick rocks where we really had to watch our footing.

I chuckled as I walked this section of trail… the trail was routed around 2 downed trees. People will always walk the easiest path.

Normally we try to camp away from roads, but we found a great stealth camp spot a couple hundred yards from the Jake dropoff location. We quickly got our tents set up in a mist and got to the parking lot.

I’m not sure who was more excited to see the other, me or Jake. He gave me all the licks, and I didn’t stop him like I normally do. I was slightly nervous after a 3-week break that he might take a few days to get his trail legs back, but I would be happy to hike at his pace to have him back!

We passed 300 miles today!

Day 31: 2,300 ft ascent, 6.3 miles

A beautiful scene to start the morning!

After the wet push the day before, I was exhausted. Erik and I had gotten a resupply with Jake’s dropoff so we had heavy packs and a big climb ahead of us. We had gone 5 days straight pushing, and had a few more until we got to Erwin. I was  mentally and physically ready for an easy day.

My dad took off early while Erik, Jake, and I slept in. Once we got on the trail it was a slow slog up the next mountain. It started raining as I finished making my lunch, adding to the discomfort of the day.

The hardest thing about hiking with a dog? Trying to keep them from getting a drink upstream from where you want to get water. When they get a drink they stir up sediment which gums up our water filters quicker.

Once Erik and I hit 6 miles, we decided to call it quits. Although we didn’t make it that far, we went as far as our bodies wanted to go. We set up camp and got well-rested so we could reset before trudging on the next two days to get to town.

Day 32: 3,800 ft ascent,15.7 miles

I was quick to notice the day was a weekend day, a Saturday to be exact. The weather was perfect and we passed people day hiking every few minutes.

It’s always weird for me to walk across an interstate. Going from the sounds of the woods to the sounds of vehicles is noticeable.

As we made our way from Sam’s Gap to Big Bald, we came across a group of local residents from a community called Laurel Wolf providing trail magic in the middle of the trail! Normally you only find trail magic at road crossings. They were cleaning up by the time we got there, but Erik and I quickly devoured the cold, burnt 5 hot dogs (no buns), 2 bags of chips, 3 apples, and 5 snack-sized snickers bars they scrounged up from their cars for us. It was a welcomed lunch!

Walking towards Big Bald, which can be seen in the distance.

Big Bald was beautiful. I was pretty familiar with the ‘highlight points’ of the trail that we had seen so far since they are somewhat local to me. This one took me by complete surprise. I hadn’t heard of it until I saw it on the map that morning. I love the views that the southern balds provide and this one didn’t disappoint. Erik and I both said it needed to be added to the list of places we want to return to after we are done with this hike.

Day 33: 1,950 ft ascent, 11.2 miles

Another day of rain. We were spoiled our first month on the trail only hiking in the rain a couple of times. I still have 2 pairs of socks I have carried and haven’t worn because I’m saving them for when it rains for multiple days straight!

We had camped near a road because the spot we wanted to camp at the night before was already occupied by another group with a couple of dogs. We barely had our packs on for a couple hundred yards before we crossed the road and met Mountain Doctor. He was a former thru-hiker set up making meatball subs! There aren’t many situations in life where it seems normal to accept a meatball sandwich in the middle of the woods handed to you by a guy who calls himself Mountain Doctor, but this was one of them.

Heading into Erwin ready for a shower and a break.

We made plans that evening to stay at a hostel called Uncle Johnny’s in Erwin. This hostel is extremely well known on the trail and I was looking forward to staying there after hearing about it for so long. We hadn’t experienced any hostels on the trail yet. Since the weather wasn’t freezing, we saved some money and paid $15 per night to set up a tent in their yard instead of getting a cabin or staying in their bunkhouse. This gave us access to their showers, laundry, and free shuttle for the 4-mile jaunt into town.

When we got there, I held on to Jake and ordered us some dominos pizza for delivery while Erik figured out where to pay and where they allow tents. We got everything mostly settled in by the time the pizzas arrived, so I headed up front to meet the delivery driver.

I had my first uneasy moment of the trip walking back through the hostel yard carrying the pizzas. Being a popular hostel a stone-throw away from the trail, there were people crawling all over the place. I had multiple guys start cat calling at me while I carried the pizzas back to where we set up. I didn’t know how much they may have been joking or how desperate they were for hot pizza, but I didn’t like it. For the first time I started reflecting that I was glad I wasn’t doing this trip alone.

Day 34: Zero in Erwin

I was ready for a full day break after going 8 days straight. I took an early shower and we caught the 9 am shuttle into town. We had breakfast at a wonderful doggie-friendly coffee shop in downtown Erwin and then walked to Food City for a resupply. We took a lazy afternoon relaxing and mentally preparing to go for a few more days before we got off trail for a week for planned family obligations.

We made lunch on a grill at the hostel.

We starting hearing rumblings about a norovirus outbreak just ahead of us on the trail, including many people who claimed to have gotten it at Uncle Johnny’s. The afternoon we were there, we overheard the Tennessee health department had even paid them a visit. This rumor seemed like more than hiker fear mongering when we saw CDC signs up around the common areas later that evening. We were ready to leave early the next morning to stay as far away from potential sickness as we could.

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