I am thru hiking the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine, 2185 mikes. I am currently at Uncle Johnny’s hostel in Erwin, taking a zero day to recover. So far, I’ve completed over 15% of the trail! As the weather improves, I will be able to lighten my pack weight and increase my miles per day.
Saturday April 5 Sam’s Gap 317.4 stealth campsite approximately 328
Michael took me to Sam’s Gap. Hitching a ride to Erwin, TN post office was Cactus. It’s always difficult to have a resupply sent to these small town post offices. Many have closed, all have abbreviated hours and they often turn out to be placed in an inconvenient spot for a hiker with no transportation except his feet. Cactus needed to get to the post office before they closed at 11a. Otherwise he would not be able to get his resupply package until Monday. Sending packages to hostels is problematic too. Someone else can easily get your package since there is often no security and most hostels require a $3 holding fee. But Michael, my driver, is a paid shuttle and Cactus felt he could get a hitch into Erwin for free I hope he was successful. (Saw him later in Erwin. It took him an hour to get a ride in.) Cactus’ base pack weight (before water and food) is about 8 pounds. I’ve no idea how he does it!
My sunburned healed and my feet feeling normal again, I was ready to hike. As always after a hostel stay, there’s the climb out of the valley. But first some lovely trail magic–bacon, eggs and the best hash browns I’ve ever had! A former hiker who wanted to treat other hikers. I stood for a long time talking to John from Asheville with his dog about gear. He finally asked how old I was, not to be rude, but because he had wondered if thru hiking wasn’t a young man’s folly. I say it isn’t, though we older folks may go at a slower pace.
Sam’s Gap is at 3800 feet. In a mile and a half you pass through a lovely meadow at 4400 feet, then on to Big Bald, 6.5 miles from your starting point, is above 5500. A very cool day with a stiff breeze. The views were beautiful. Hiking I met a young couple in their 20s who had just moved to Asheville and were exploring the AT for the first time. I was able to identify some spring flowers for them, but was little help with the trees. I met a couple hikers going South for a long weekend hike and they gave me good advice about upcoming features and water. Red Beard and SnorLax were hiking past me. Several of us stood at the top of the bald together to enjoy the view, but the wind pushed me on long before I’d gotten an eyeful.
I had my meal at Bald Mountain Shelter, 325.1, but decided though it was a good shelter, I had time to hike on, just a couple more miles to put me within “possible” striking distance of Erwin tomorrow. But I took a fall on a slippery decent and hobbled over a mile before I could find a spot flat enough to set up a tent. Still, I’ve finally managed an 11 mile day AND over 7 miles of that was a climb. I’m finally finding my trail legs.
too cold and exposed for me to stay the night here, but one hiker was set up already.
Here at my site are three middle aged men. One with a British accent, Lucky, is thru hiking. His friends, Milky and Gadget, are just hiking with him. But 300+ miles is quite good support. They started March 15.
This is the first day I’ve hiked with only a hiking sock, no liner, to avoid blisters. It went well. Seems my feet are finally getting tougher.
Sunday April 6 stealth campsite approximately 328 to Uncle Johnny’s hostel on AT in Erwin, TN 341.5.
Up very early because it is a town day! My hip hurts, though I don’t think it is anything a day lying around can’t cure. I will have a spectacular bruise on my derrière! I take some ibuprofen and manage to hobble along until it kicks in. It is almost entirely down hill to Erwin, though I do get a ride the last few miles.
I’m staying at a Uncle Johnny’s hostel and plan a zero day tomorrow. It’s partly the bruised hip, partly the 100% chance of rain with high winds! but mostly the knee. Downhills really are hard on it. It’s a tad puffy and tender. I’m going to go through my pack to see how I can lower my weight and buy a knee brace.
I am currently at Uncle Johnny’s hostel in Erwin, a classic trail town. As I mentioned, I took a minor fall last night. Nothing serious, but may need a zero day tomorrow to recover.
April 1, Allen Gap 288.7 to Jones Meadow Campsite 295.6.
This is April Fools Day, the day I originally planned to start hiking the AT. Weather wise, it would have been a very good move to wait. I’ve seen two ice storms and two snow storms and more cold wind than I ever want to walk through again. But I’ve also learned quite a lot, made the necessary adjustments to my gear, lightened my pack weight (not to mention lightened my waistline) and met some wonderful people, all while covering almost 300 miles of trail. So, since I’ve survived it, I say it was worth it. However, if you are planning a thru hike, I’ll recommend we wait until AT LEAST mid March.
Sly dropped me off at Allen gap, actually the parking lot of Mom’s.–a reopened shop just a few steps east of the trail. The store looks a bit like an abandoned shack, but has light resupply goods and a few treats like cold soda and ice cream. And the lady behind the counter was pleasant and encouraging. But I was fully supplied, really over supplied with food, so didn’t need anything.
Starting the trail I immediately met Dinosaur, who I’ve not seen for a couple weeks. She is from Germany and after greeting me pulled away quickly in a climb that would take almost all day.
After a couple miles of climbing, I stopped to adjust my shoes. A young man, who didn’t identify himself, stopped and asked how I liked Mom’s. He said it in a most derogatory manor, so it was clear what he thought of the place. I explained I had been dropped off there. He was aghast! Was I skipping part of the trail? No, I explained, I’d slack-packed the previous section the day before. He was clearly disgusted by the thought of slack-packing. “That’s not the same!” He bellowed. I suggested that he not do it, then. He said he had to hike every step of the trail, in order, with his pack. “I need to hate every step.” Well. If hate is what he wants I’m very sure he’ll have no trouble finding it. “Good luck with that.” Fortunately I’ve not seen him since.
It is much better hiking in this wonderful weather. Almost no snow and today I saw the first Yellow Dog violets. They are suddenly everywhere. I was glad for the cheap ball cap I’d bought at Dollar General last night as it’s a second day of sun and no leaves yet on “the long green tunnel.” I had gotten a small sunburn hiking yesterday. It would worsen today.
i had wanted to take my mid day break at the Little Laurel shelter, 293.5, but at 1p I was still walking uphill toward it and needed another mile. I spread out my tyveck ground cloth at the first flat spot, took off my shoes and napped. Glorious!
At the shelter I got water and made my one cooked meal of the day, even though I didn’t plan to stay there. I added some dried broccoli and extra cheese & milk powder to a ready made instant potato package flavored with bacon and chipotle peppers. Very satisfactory! Shy Bear was cooking falafel while he waited for Chef, Squirrel and Listen. Also met Leviathan and a couple from Alaska named Knitter (retired postal worker) and Weir Man (he counts salmon in the summer for Alaska Fish and Wildlife and is a substitute teacher in the winter). I finally forced myself to hike on to a campsite 2 miles away, but most of the way was a relentless climb. Every time you’d get to what seemed like the top, there would be a switchback and another climb would start. There was even a tough rocky section. Except for the last 8 tenths of a mile, the entire day has been up hill. I am moving quite slowly on the climbs and keep thinking I will get better. But these uphill stretches are 3 or 4 times the climbs of Georgia, so I guess I should cut myself some slack. Today’s was 7 miles from 2200 to almost 4800 feet. And you climb and descend the same thousand several times. It’s estimated that hiking the AT is approximately the same as climbing Everest 6 times! No wonder I’m tired each night.
Knitter, Weir Man and I stayed at the Jones Meadow campsite with 2 cordial, section hikers from Virginia. There was good water with springs and streams on both sides of the camping area, but the low, damp area did give us a slight chill overnight.
As we were climbing into our tents an old man with three dogs came by. He was looking for his “pups” and suggested that hikers lured his dogs away. He lived nearby and we could hear his hunting dogs barking. He never told us how many pups there were, and when we asked what they looked like he said they looked like the dogs he had with him. That seemed odd since he had a Scotty, a Lab mix and a Hound mix. But we promised not to lure his dogs along with us on the trail.
Not 15 minutes after he left, four Lab mix dogs, perhaps 8 months old, heralded the arrival of Chef, Squirrel, Listen and Shy Bear. It was about dusk, but the group said they were headed to the next shelter, Jerry Cabin, about 4.5 miles away. I know them to be strong hikers, but the next day when I saw how rocky the next section was, I prayed they made it without injury. (They did. The next day I checked the shelter registry and no one had even commented about the rocks or the night hike.)
Wednesday April 2 Jones Meadow campsite 295.6 to Sheldon Gravesite 303.8
Knitter and Weir Man were first out of camp and I haven’t seen them again. The two section hikers passed me after a couple hours. I always seem to be the slowest!
Did I say today would be easy? I distinctly remember commenting how flat the terrain was, according to the guidebook. This morning was mud and rocks and laurel and more rocks. I assume this is a glimpse of Pennsylvania, the place where “boots go to die.” If I’d realized how tough the rock scramble was I would have taken the bypass trail (an older AT trail). Often I could not even use my hiking poles but threw them in front of me and placed my hands directly on the rocks and lowered or lifted my body as needed. I seldom take any Vitamin I (ibuprofen) but my aching feet needed it this tonight. There was one climb of stone steps that seemed to lift us directly into the air and the view was fantastic. Was that Erwin in the distance? (It wasn’t) It was a sunny day and a clear blue sky. I felt on top of the world, though really only 4500 feet. It was rocky and I bolder hopped off and on all day. I lost the trail a couple times since the rocks are not well marked. This is not my favorite section.
About 1p I arrived at the Jerry Cabin Shelter. It’s the 300 miles mark on the trail and I was sorry it was too early to stop for the day and stay. But I was too tired to go on right away. Too tired even to eat. I drank the rest of my water, spread out my ground cloth in the shade and slept for a solid hour. Leviathan and another man where there, but I was no company at all. After I woke up and was filtering more water, Mariposa came by the shelter. I was the only person she’d seen all day. This is probably an indication of the number of hikers who have dropped out. I’ve read an estimate that half don’t make it this far.
There are only a few small pockets of snow and with the third day of sunshine I’ve got sunburned arms. There’s something I couldn’t imagine just 4 weeks ago! I should have put my long sleeve shirt on sooner. But the sun was still welcome. I have no thermometer but would guess the temperature near 80. I saw a small stand of Pussy Toes and millions of fresh new Trout Lilly leaves just pushing through the old dead leaf litter.
I am finally feeling well and the weather is much improved. I’ve got my gear and backpack weight fairly sorted. And I’m dropping about 2 pounds a week. But I don’t seem to be able to yet do the miles. I’m still doing less than 10 miles a day and I need to average 14. I hope I will get stronger and faster. It seems to me that I’m pushing myself enough. If I push more I fear injury. And a zero day each week seems to heal my knees and other general aches and pains without having to take anti inflammatories more than twice a week. Besides I truly enjoy the day off the trail and getting to know the trail towns. For now, I’m just going to keep moving and hope the speed and distance will work itself out.
Thursday April 3, Sheldon Gravesite 303.8 to Devils Gap 308.
Another interesting night on the trail. I meant to go to the next shelter but just could not make it. So I set up at a nice flat spot near a tiny gravesite with three Civil War dead. It looked peaceful enough but it wasn’t. Just as I began to drift off I heard something walking near by. It turned out to be just a dog, probably someone’s hunting dog. He came right for the tent and snuffed loudly, inches from my ear. I told him to go away and he did. Then as I drifted off again I heard something walking through the leaves. It honestly sounded like a man, but a hiker would have stuck to the trail instead shuffling through the leaves like that. And he’d need a headlamp or flashlight at this hour. The steps came to where my food bag was hung. Once I’d determined it wasn’t a person, the conclusion was obvious.
I try to hang my food 12 feet up and 6 feet out, as suggested, but it’s harder than it sounds. First you have to find a good tree limb. Then you have to be able to toss a line over the limb, far enough away from the trunk, raise the bag and tie it off. You can’t always get it perfect. I do always make sure that all my food and food trash is away from my tent. This particular night, my food bag was about 10 feet up and 3 feet out. Basically a large, hungry bear could have gotten my food if it really wanted to, but at least it was more than 50 yards away from my tent. While I’d hate to lose my provisions, they are replaceable.
So after I’d determined that the thing walking around was not a person, the only other plausible option was a bear. It stood near the food bag then did a semi circle around my tent, at a radius of more than 50 feet. Then it came back to the bag. Then walked away and returned to the spot a third time. I was a bit frightened, but not terrified since the bear seemed relatively small (Relatively. Even a yearling will outweigh me) and stayed at a distance. But he walked away and didn’t bother my food in the end.
Later at Laurel Trading Post, Mark, the owner, and his cousin told me that they shot 2 to 4 bear, each, annually and they averaged over 300 pounds. I was glad I didn’t know that at the time.
But there were lots of other animals scurrying in the leaves the rest of the night and they kept me awake. It was small animals, perhaps possums or a raccoon. I was not afraid, but it woke me up each time and disturbed my sleep.
I should have realized with all the activity that rain was coming in. I was wakened by a series of thunder claps and was glad I had not stayed on the highest point of the Butt Mountain. By dawn it was still pouring outside and I decided to just go back to sleep, hoping the line of thunder showers would pass quickly. I hate packing up in the rain. Even though I bring my backpack into the tent each night and can pack up most items inside, you still have a hard time keeping everything dry. So I rolled over and went to sleep and was rewarded with pleasant dreams and feet that were much improved from the previous day of rocks.
By 10:15a the rain stopped. It was almost 11a before I was packed up for the long, steep decent to the shelter. I put on my new neoprene socks, newly purchased in Hot Springs, to deal with mud, but the trail was drier than the previous section.
With three days of sunshine and lots of rain, the bugs are coming out. I killed my first mosquito today. The first of millions. I also seem to have some bug bites on the back of my arms. They look like spider bites. Still, I don’t miss the ice and snow. I’ll pick up bug spray at the next stop.
I quickly fell in with a section hiker and we talked most of the 3 miles to the shelter. He’s been hiking the AT for two years and trying to do the trail in line, south to north. As a section hiker, he didn’t have a stable trail name, but shared two with me. I can only remember Trippy, as he said his hiking poles have often saved him from falling. I completely understand! He told me there was a hostel coming up. I’d noticed it when I reviewed my guidebook that morning, but initially decided to bypass it. However, he also had phone service and said that serious thunderstorms were coming in tonight and tomorrow. I’d not seen a forecast for 3 days and had no phone service at all.
I got water at the shelter, which I needed since I’d camped dry the night before. This is the first section with few springs and so I’ve carried twice my usual single liter of water. There were a dozen young men drying out gear at the shelter and bragging about the big miles they were doing. I just listened. While there was undoubtably some exaggeration, I expect they often approach 20 miles, double what I can hike. They were eating huge amounts of food and passing around a glass pipe. I ignored it and they mostly ignored me.
Three miles later, Devils Gap comes out on a blacktop road, right on the Tennessee Line. With
roaming, I could make a phone call to the Laurel Trading Post, which has a new hiker hostel. If I agreed to buy the “executive package” they would come pick me up, give me a bed, shower and laundry. The grocery also has a fair resupply and I could get a hot meal. Mark, the owner, fried me a huge cheeseburger, loaded, and we watched TV. Mark made sure I got to see the weather report. Mark is from Pennsylvania, but related by marriage to almost everyone in the county and has lived here for 15 years. Everyone who called or stopped by the grocery was a relative and I heard much about the deer and bear hunting. Mark and his wife eat only wild game meat. His cousin also gave me tips on finding ginsang and ramps.
But the store closed at 7pm and I’m the only one in the small hostel with 6 beds. This is only the second year for the hostel and the first that it’s been in the guidebooks. While the hospitality is good, the price is a bit steep for hikers. The executive package is $40. If it weren’t for bad weather, I would not have come in.
The rain seems to have slowed down a bit, but is due in before noon. The storm has been spawning hail, lightening and tornadoes and I didn’t want to be in the mountains for that. It should pass by late evening. This is a lovely spot with a river running behind. But there isn’t anything to do. An hour of hunting through white clover and I’ve not found a single four leaf clover. And Mark’s taste in TV is not the same ad mine. Non-stop episodes of Three and a Half Men! Ugh!
There’s quite a revolving cast of characters here at the store, mostly relatives coming by for coffee, breakfast or just conversation. There’s lots of discussion of guns, hunting and conservative politics–subjects I don’t have much to add to. They are good-old-boys, and do not seem to understand the hiker mentality of carrying the lightest gear and only what you need. They all bragged about their army surplus gear and that the service always had the best. They all feel that I need a gun or two, a big knife, back up means to light fires along with a saw, a Weather radio, another pair of shoes just for rocks, and twice the clothing and food I carry. I would simply stagger under the weight. Mark asked me why he didn’t sell more gear, but could not conceive that someone would want a tiny container of bug spray rather than 8 ounces or a single blade when a huge knife could be had instead. His “camp shoes” were almost 2 pounds. And he really felt hikers should buy more canned goods. But there’s a difference between campers, hunters and hikers. Still, they were all kind to me, even if they didn’t seem to understand what I was doing.
But the big rains seemed to mostly bypass us and I should have hiked today. Mostly I was bored, watching TV and reading. No internet or phone service. The hostel is clean and Mark is nice. But the bunk house is $25 a night, about $10 too much and when he closes the grocery at 7p, you don’t have a bathroom until 7a. Also laundry is $10, twice what other places charge. Grocery items are a bit pricy, but his fresh made burgers are well worth the $5.
So I took a Spectacular fall yesterday. No worries. I fell on my right hip, clearly my most padded area of the body. No permanent harm, but I’m going to get one of those amazing purple bruises that turn green and yellow as they heal. Honestly it didn’t seem so bad at the time. It knocked the wind out of me and I sat for a few minutes to recollect myself, then hiked over two more miles. I didn’t even take ibuprofen. But in the middle of the night I rolled over sleepily and felt a sharp pain. This morning I was hobbling a bit, but made it to the hostel.
Funniest thing overheard: two hikers were discussing whether they slept with their food bag or if they hung it in a tree away from them. One replied. “Oh I hang my food bag every night. I sleep in a hammock so I’m already a human burrito.”
I hiked without my pack today, a luxury. Sly (yes, I got in a car with a guy named Sly!) gave me a shuttle to Allen Gap along with two young men. They were hiking north and I was hiking back to the hostel. It was 14.5 miles, a huge day for me. But the sky was sunny, the air temperature warm enough that I didn’t need a jacket after the first couple of miles, though I did hike in snow most of the day.
then I walked the length of Broad Street in Hot Springs (which is the actual trail) and back to the hostel.