I’m writing to you from Uncle Johnny’s Nolichucky Hostel in Erwin, TN. The trip in from Hot Springs was rough, with rain every day. Many fellow hikers compared it to the Smokies, and I’d agree it was a tougher section than I had expected it to be. I fell in with a nice group of hikers for the first couple of days, and then the group gradually fragmented. The rain and mud made a town stop more and more desirable, and we spread out fast.
I ended up stopping into a bar before departing Hot Springs, which was a mistake. I had a few beers and a sizable meal consisting of a turkey club wrap and a massive salad. Another thru-hiker bought me a couple of more beers. Then a man with a failed run for the Tennessee State House came in, and we got talking about the nature of corruption and power. I corrected him on something (I can’t remember what) and he bought me a beer as well.
“You know your history young man!” He shouted across the bar as I left.
Drunk and hiker-hunger satiated for the time being, I realized I needed to find a place to stay. I asked around, and decided to stumble my way back into the woods. I found the white blazes soon enough, and made the substantial climb out of Hot Springs at 9:30pm by headlamp. Firebird and Ladybug were also late getting out of town, and I hiked with them for a bit. Firebird was adamant about night hiking without any light, and I tried it for a while.
Eventually I found a nice clearing and bid the others goodnight. I slept about ten feet off trail, with a very nicely hung bear bag nearby.
The rain started the next day, and soon the trail was a muddy mess. I stopped keeping close track of my mileage. Many of my fellow hikers believe AWOL is off in this section, and I’d agree. With the amount of obviously recent trail redirects in the last thirty miles, that’s not a stretch. It could be that we’re just tired, cranky, smelly thru-hikers too.
I stopped into a brand new hostel called Hiker’s Paradise a couple nights ago. The rain drove hikers off trail in droves, and we ended up with some twenty people there. A pizza and Star Wars party ensued. It was grand.
I’m seriously considering opening a hostel after my hike, and Hiker’s Paradise was one of my favorite so far. Built off the side of what is essentially a double-wide trailer, it was a converted sun room. The floor was gravel (very smart for people with muddy boots) with bunks along the walls. Three mini pizza ovens, a microwave, and a picnic table adorned one side. On the other was a small TV, internet area with a charging station, and a washer/dryer combo.
They had a full, cheap resupply, with a kitchen and a shower. They had real soap and real shampoo in the shower, which is rare, let me tell you. That was the cleanest I’ve been on trail.
I set out the next morning at 9am, in a failed effort to keep pace with Firebird. I made it to one of the shelters the next day and found a note she wrote in one of the registers. She said she was going HMOH (hike my own hike) till her friends caught up, and closed with “come and get me.” A small drawing of a checkered flag followed. The rest of the group was doing 12-15’s and I too felt the need to up my mileage. I’ve had a hell of a time getting the kind of rhythm back, that I had hiking with Flo.
Yesterday, for the first time ever, I listened to my .mp3 player while hiking. What a game changer! Prodigy got me up the hills, Radiohead saw me across the flats, and Chopin and Yoko Kanno got me across the balds. There were absolutely gorgeous balds yesterday, framed in by thick fog. I watched Jane Eyre before I left for my hike, and the scenery may as well have been from the same time and place.
Listening to the “Into the Wild” soundtrack while thru-hiking the AT is a crazy and epic feeling. Music took my mind off of being wet and cold. It gave me a rhythm with which to dance (slip, slide, and nearly fall) across the muddy trail.
I slept about three miles out of Erwin last night, and the rain caught me again. Packing up this morning was cold, everything was filthy. I can deal with wet and cold, but muddy boots, socks, gaiters, legs, shorts, pack, etc gets old really fast. As wet as my tent has been inside and out, my down bag has stayed remarkably dry though. I am immensely thankful for that. The difference between discomfort and danger in those conditions is a wet sleeping bag. The importance of having something dry to crawl into at night cannot be understated.
I strolled into Uncle Johnny’s at 10am this morning and took a nice hot shower. There was no soap, just multiple bottles of hair conditioner. That’s about par for the course out here. I claimed a bunk, shuttled into town, and devoured about fifteen slices of pizza at an AYCE (all you can eat) place. I bought very cheap resupply at Priceless Foods.
I’m just waiting for the evening shuttle for dinner, and to visit a Walmart. How I’ve missed Walmart! I’m going to head off, do some laundry, and recharge both myself and my phone.
This is not an easy challenge, but a beautiful one. I have a post about that coming later. A phrase I heard earlier this year is that “happiness is not always comfortable.” That sums up my hike so far. Supposedly I’ve lost 13lbs so far.
Stay warm and dry my friends.