I’m treated to surprise visitors in Erwin, TN, as I continue my Appalachian Trail thru-hike through the Roan Highlands and leave North Carolina behind.
Unfortunately my knee pain had not gone away in the morning. I got up at 6:30 and got ready quickly in the cold. It was still dark but I could see well enough. My boots were still soaked so I doubled up on wool socks. Soon I was off into the misty, snowy forest as I descended the mountain.
Despite my knee pain, I planned to hike just over 21 miles, my longest day yet. I had planned on meeting my friend Lindsey on a state highway the trail crossed the following morning for a resupply. Thus, I needed to get to the shelter closest to our meeting point today.
It was a cold and wet start, but Gazelle came up behind me and startled me. We ended up hiking together and talking nonstop about our lives. This made the day go by quickly and we both enjoyed the company. She’s a fun hiker to be around. Sixteen miles into my day, we reached the town of Erwin, TN.
Gazelle planned to stop here at a hostel and spend the day in town to resupply. I had 4 more miles to hike to my shelter, but first I needed to make a phone call to my friend, Leslie, from Wisconsin. She had mysteriously requested I call her when I reach Erwin.
As it turned out, Leslie was in fact on her way to Erwin with her boyfriend, Vince, to surprise me. They were in the area to buy a used car and thought it would be fun to see me. Boy, did that brighten my day!
Because they were still an hour away, I opted to keep hiking to stay on track with my mileage plans. The only problem was I now needed to hike past my planned shelter to the state highway so Leslie could pick me up. Apparently Lindsey was in on the surprise, too. My four miles to the shelter became eight miles to the state highway. My longest day on the trail had just gotten longer!
I hiked with renewed vigor. Normally I’d be getting tired by now but the prospect of a good meal and a warm, dry bed at a hotel that night rejuvenated my spirits. The damp, gloomy, wet day became brighter. I was shocked how fast I hiked those eight miles, especially considering my knee pain. I stopped briefly for lunch at the shelter I would have stayed the night. It was small and the winds were gusting. Good riddance!
By 6:15pm I reached the state highway. My planned longest day of 21 miles had become 25 and I had accomplished it in 11 hours! Soon Leslie pulled up in an Audi convertible and we drove off in style!
At the hotel we all quickly discovered how rank my clothes smelled. Even a shower couldn’t erase the stank of my wet socks that had skunked the rest of my dirty clothes. I chose the cleanest items to wear to dinner but it still couldn’t mask the stench. Oh well, I’d be doing laundry with Lindsey the next day.
Dinner was a fantastic feast of pulled pork nachos and fried pickles to start, followed by Carolina pulled pork and then a chocolate pecan with ice cream dessert thing covered in hot fudge. I also helped finish Leslie’s French dip sandwich. This was all washed down with multiple Dr. Peppers—after all, it makes the world taste better. Later I ate squeaky cheese curds from Wisconsin and Cheez-Its for a late night snack. I have the best friends!
Day’s Mileage: 25.2
Total Miles Hiked: 361.0
Remaining Miles: 1,838.7
After a refreshing night in the hotel, I bid farewell to Leslie and Vince as they took her new Audi back to Wisconsin, but not before they left me with some cheese whips to munch on from back home!
Lindsey arrived in short time to drive me to Asheville, as we had originally planned. Back in Asheville, I immediately stripped all my clothes off and threw them in the washer. Lindsey let me borrow some of her clothes to wear in the meantime. We hit the town and indulged in giant salads for lunch. I figured I needed some fresh, healthy food. Later we topped it off with Coldstone ice cream.
We made a stop at REI so I could try on backpacks. My bacpack has a small tear and I’m not in love with the fit; my hips have really been taking a beating. A staff member, Claude, helped me out and was very knowledgeable about the differences between brands. I have a Gregory pack and they are designed so most of the weight is carried on your hips. I was interested in an Osprey pack where more weight is distributed on the shoulders than I am used to but it forces you to stand up straight. With my current pack I tend to hunch over on big inclines and stick my butt out to carry the weight on my hips.
Long story short, I decided to switch to an Osprey pack but the color they had in stock didn’t inspire me to continue hiking. Thus, I took to the internet, ordered the color I wanted, and hatched a plan. My new pack will arrive in a few days so Lindsey will pick me up again from the trail in a week and we will return my current pack. She’ll return me to the trail after another night at her abode and we will finally bid farewell. It is exciting to look forward to a new pack and another day off the trail in a week.
Though Lindsey thought I should have sucked it up and gotten the ugly colored pack, she was thrilled to get to see me once more before I continue north. We remarked how funny it is that I’ve been hiking for almost a month and I’m still only an hour away from Asheville on the trail. We ended the day with Mexican for dinner and some beers.
Day’s Mileage: 0.0
Total Miles Hiked: 361.0
Remaining Miles: 1,838.7
Before Lindsey dropped me off on the trail, we hit up Dunkin’ Donuts. Lindsey cajoled me into eating eight donuts before she dropped me off at the trail. It was an easy goodbye knowing we’d see each other again in a few days.
Full of glaze and frosting, I set off with the sun shining and the wind gusting. I ran into maybe eight people conducting trail maintenance by cutting back the foliage and cleaning up the trail. I thanked them for their work and continued on. I didn’t see many people after that but there were some great meadows and views as I hiked.
My knee seemed to be doing alright. The full day off in Asheville really seemed to help. I had planned to stop at a shelter after 17 miles, but when I arrived I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay. I knew I should take it easy for my knee. I chatted briefly with several hikers at the shelter and they offered me pot. I passed. Then they noticed my Jack Daniels hat and offered me whiskey. I obliged. Though there wasn’t a campsite for another six miles and I likely wouldn’t make it there until dark, I said my goodbyes and headed back to the trail. I’m not sure why I didn’t stay and stick to my plan. Maybe I just wanted to be alone.
I climbed up and over a large mountain. I was pretty sure I would arrive at the next campsite at sundown. As I hiked I saw some other hikers stealth camping in a clearing near the trail. Stealth camping is when you camp at an undesignated site and leave without any trace that you were there. Upon seeing this, I decided it would be wise to make camp before dark. I found my own clearing a little ways off and pitched my tent with plenty of daylight left.
I was happy I didn’t push on. Setting up in the dark wouldn’t have been fun. I ate a bit of dinner and realized I hadn’t eaten anything since those donuts. Apparently Dunkin’ Donuts’ slogan is accurate: America runs on donuts—at least I did that day. I watched the sun set over the mountains while the moon shined bright. Coyotes howled somewhere off in the distance.
Day’s Mileage: 21.0
Total Miles Hiked: 382.0
Remaining Miles: 1,817.7
I woke up to a light mist. As I packed up camp, I encountered my first gear failure. My compression dry sack started to tear. This is a bag that I use to compress my sleeping bag to the size of a grapefruit and it keeps it dry. I guess it’s a good thing I’m going back to REI this week.
As I ascended up Beartown Mountain I was very happy that I didn’t push on the night before. The climb was difficult and it was very windy. Not an ideal place to camp. Later, my climb got even harder as I tackled Roan High Bluff, one of several peaks that comprise Roan Mountain. This peak was only a few hundred feet short of Clingmans Dome back in the Smokies, the highest peak on the trail. This would also be the last time I am 6,000ft above sea level until Mt. Washington in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
In Game of Thrones they keep saying “winter is coming.” Well, here on the AT, winter is here and it’s a song of ice and snow. The ascent up Roan High Bluff was steep and the melting snow had frozen into rivers of ice down the trail. This was the most tedious and dangerous climb I’ve experienced so far due to the slippery trail, black ice, and gusting winds. Any beautiful views were ruined by the clouds.
The descent was slightly easier. It’s funny how the AT leads you thousands of feet up a mountain only to take you right back down again. At the bottom I ran into Jon, a hiker who is loosely part of the tramily with Nightmare, Diablo, and Jenky. We ended up chatting and hiking the rest of the day together.
The sun finally came out as we hiked up Little Hump and finally got some views. Little Hump was a bald with sweeping meadows leading down and back up an even bigger bald called Hump Mountain. I’m not even making up these names (Big Butt is still my favorite so far)! The views were amazing and reminded me of Lord of the Rings or something. Ironically we ran into a hiker whose trail name is Gandalf.
Eventually Jon and I made it to Doll Flats where I had planned to camp, but I was feeling good with only a little knee pain so we pushed on. There was a hostel a few miles further and I was feeling lazy after a long day. Jon had never been to a hostel and needed to resupply—it was easy to convince him to tag along.
For his first hostel experience Jon really got a good one. Mountain Harbor B&B was the best hostel I’ve been to so far. It was a converted barn or something that smelled of fresh cut wood. I had frozen pizza for dinner on a balcony overlooking a babbling stream. A goat grazed around the yard. The beds had camouflage linens provided and the bathroom towels were softer than most hotels. At check-in, the manager asked if I wanted to add the $12 breakfast which he claimed is rated the #1 breakfast on the AT. How could I say no to such a sales pitch? To top it all off, the multiple new laundry machines were free! I haven’t talked about how bad some of the previous hostels were for comparison but I was blown away by this one and I haven’t even had the breakfast yet! A great end to a long day! Except for the female hiker sleeping near me who should have used the laundry machines or a longer shower…now I know what Leslie and Vince dealt with when they visited me…I’m sorry!
FUN FACTS: This was the last day of my 4th week on the trail. I’ve been hiking for 28 days and today I hiked my 400th mile! I also crossed the state line from North Carolina into Tennessee for the last time. The North Carolina section of the AT is now complete! 12 more states to go! Also, new video coming soon!
Day’s Mileage: 21.6
Total Miles Hiked: 403.6
Remaining Miles: 1,796.1
Daily Average: 14.4
“Shed a Light” is one of my ultimate favorite songs. I listened to it a lot along this section of trail and it reminds me of my times spent with Lindsey.