Tinkerbell and the Hostel Tour: Special appearances by Bushwhacking, Hail Storms, and Trail Angels
The trail so far…
My last update left off in Erwin, TN, after a grueling and emotionally challenging trek from Hot Springs. Since then, a lot has happened. I’ve also been terrible about journaling so I’ll do my best to keep this coherent.
THE Trail Angel
I’ve been hearing tales of Miss Janet ever since I first heard of the Appalachian Trail. Well, luck was on our side as we rolled out of the Super 8 in Erwin one morning. We ran into Tortoise and Hair (collectively “the newlyweds” and yes that’s how he spells it) who said they were slackpacking and Miss J was coming to pick them up. We ran out to meet her when she pulled up and she offered to help us with slackpacking and let us stay at her place. WHAT?! We couldn’t believe our luck but quickly accepted the offer.
We ended up spending 3 nights with Miss Janet and spent two days slackpacking, with one zero day in between. This wasn’t a planned zero, but some of the hikers staying with her had bought new tires for her van, so it was out of commission for a day getting that done – trail karma at its finest.
Onward and Upward
We finally said goodbye to Miss J and headed out on our way to Damascus. Hiccup and I were super excited to have Goldilocks back. Carver the and Balto have been with us pretty consistently so we all struck out together. We’d planned about 12 miles the first day but got a late start, then it started flooding about the time we got to the first shelter, and we ended up just staying there for the night after only doing 6 miles. The following day we planned a 15 mile day but again, weather set us back and we only made it 9 miles to Roan High Knob Shelter, which also happens to be the highest shelter on the AT. It was very cold that night and Balto and I opted to set out hammocks up in the loft of the shelter rather than outside in the wind and rain. Good call, since the wind howled all night long.
The following day we planned an ambitious 16 miles to get into Roan Mountain, TN for town food. It turned out to be a spectacular day. We crossed the 3 balds past Roan Mountain, and met “Moonpie”, a trail angel who does trail maintenance and is hoping to get her own chance to thru-hike in the next few years. She gave us Moon Pies and Popsicles, a huge boost that definitely helped me power through this 16 mile day. We then hiked on to the Roan Highlands, and Little and Big Hump mountains. This has been one of my favorite places so far. The highlands were breathtaking and the terrain was pleasant to walk. Highlighter and I met a pair of father/sons out for the weekend while climbing Big Hump; the dads thru-hiked together in 1995 and were put trying to instill a love for the trail into their young sons at an early age. It appeared to be working!
Finally we got back into the woods and started the trek down into town. I felt really good until we reached Doll Flats, about 3 miles from our destination. Another mile in and I took a hard fall, resulting in a minor ankle sprain and a near death experience for my hiking shoe. Finally, I made it to the road. The boys, Hiccup, and Goldilocks decided to camp but Highlighter and I hit town and made a reservation at Mountain Harbour hostel.
We successfully hitched into town and decided to eat at a highly recommended local pizza place. Moonpie had told us to go there if we got to town before 8pm. We are sitting there waiting for our pizza when she comes pulling up carrying a 12 pack of PBR for us. This lady is so amazing and I hope so badly that she gets her chance to do a thru hike sooner rather than later. Thus concluded our 16 mile day, the longest yet with a pack.
The Hostel Tour Begins
So here’s where things started to get weird. Mountain Harbour was a nice place, nice comfy beds with linens, beautiful property with horses grazing and a creek. I had to do laundry and we goofed off in town for a while. Plus my ankle was sticking out like a golf ball. The rest of the group went on and I ended up staying another night at Mountain Harbour with Highlighter and Slow N Steady. Hero rolled in and so did Big Brown, both of whom I was happy to see again. Bored and goofing off on my phone, I get a message from someone who offers to help me slackpack if I want. I’m a little wary, but it sounds like a great idea so I start sorting through my things. I end up dropping about 12lbs of gear at Kincora hostel, a two-day trek away.
The next morning, I head out knowing I have no choice but to make it to Vango Hostel before the day is out, since I have no shelter with me. The day started out nice, then turned a little weird as I passed a cemetery. Then we got to stop at a waterfall for lunch, the first one I’ve seen on the trail so far. Onward, it starts raining when I’m just about a half mile short of a shelter. Thankfully I didn’t get too soaked and I waited out the worst of it in the shelter. Once the rain died down, we headed out to make the hostel. Of course it starts raining again and we all get soaked. I ended up hiking barefoot part of the way because the whole trail had turned to sludge. We finally get to the side trail to the hostel only to find it’s closed and we have to go another half mile to access it from a different trail. Thankfully, this trail was pleasantly flat and we reached the hostel before the owner went to bed.
Now, Vango/Abby Hostel has been one of my favorites so far. Scotty, the owner, is a super cool guy who has hiked a ton of long distance trails. He was extremely accommodating to our late arrival and his hostel was clean and comfortable. I highly recommend his place, plus it’s easy access right off the trail.
The next day we woke up to rain. Headed out in the rain and walked in the rain most of the day. Around 1pm it starts raining especially hard and I start feeling stinging drops pelting my skin… Turns out it was hail! Of course, as usual I’m a mile from a shelter. I finally reach the shelter and get inside to try and warm up and wait out the worst of the storm. We are aiming for Kincora Hostel that night, and again I don’t have much choice because I’m not carrying a shelter. We hit the trail once the rain slacks off, joined by Wallet, who’s doing a long section up to Harper’s Ferry. We roll into Kincora around 7pm and find Baltimore Jack waiting for us on the porch!
Kincora is donations-only and I’m afraid it seems a lot of hikers take advantage of Bob Peoples’ kindness. There weren’t many people there and Bob was sleeping after a long day of trail maintenance (this guy is truly a trail SAINT), hence why Baltimore Jack was manning the hostel for the evening. After a long and surely very busy NOBO season, this place could use a good cleaning, but it was super cool to get to meet two trail legends in one place. We were having so much fun talking to them that we ended up leaving way later than expected the next morning.
Once we finally got out of Kincora we had almost 4 miles to go to get into Hampton, where I had a mail drop and could hopefully catch up with my crew. We stopped briefly at Laurel Falls, which was magical and flowing heavily. I booked it on into town to grab lunch and beat the rain and I actually managed to make it to town before the rain started. Fed and resupplied, I met up with Goldilocks, Hiccup, Carver, and Balto and we hitched out of town. Problem was we didn’t really know where we were going and the driver only thought he knew. We ended up getting dropped off at Wilbur Dam… Which is definitely not on the AT. We tried to figure out the closest trail crossing and my gps calculated a 3 mile road walk. Not too bad right? Except the road didn’t actually ever get finished. We ended up at a dead end and decided that of course the best option was to go through the woods instead of back-tracking. Then it started raining again. We bushwhacked a few hundred feet and did actually end up where we were supposed to be. We kept walking until we saw an AT sign and were thankful to be back on the trail. At this point it was late and we ended up camping just up from the road. We were all exhausted from our adventures, but happy to have the crew back together.
The next day we did a nice 12 miles to Iron Mountain Shelter. It started out a little scary, since none of us had much water (note to self- always fill up in town!) but we made it. We thought we were home free when we got to camp without getting rained on, but soon we were engulfed by a cloud and the rain started and continued all night.
The next day we awoke to more rain, still shrouded in mist. We planned a 16 mile day… But we were all so wet and miserable and worried about pending storms that we bailed at Hwy 91 and got a ride into Damascus. Tomorrow we set out to slackpack the 21 remaining miles to Damascus, and that will be our longest day yet… Pretty sure I’m already regretting that decision.
- By the end of tomorrow we will officially be in Damascus, VA! Mile 468-ish and the 4th state
- Rain sucks. Hail hurts. It’s rained for at least the last 5 days.
- I missed my normal crew but it was fun to hike with new folks for a couple days. Thanks Highlighter and Slow for letting me tag along with yall!
- I like staying in hostels because of the cool people you get to meet, but my hammock is still usually more comfy.
- I’ve been in much better spirits over the last couple weeks. Most days have been very happy and positive.
- Trail magic is most certainly not dead.
- Hiker hunger is starting to set in.
- Trail legs are coming along.
- I need to drop weight. My ankles and feet felt better slackpacking and I’ve been having some bad nerve pain in my back. Sending home my sleeping pad and some other things and trying to swap my sleeping bag for a quilt to get rid of a few lbs.
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