Week 4: Days 22-25; Asheville to Erwin, TN

Day 22

We rose with the sun in typical hiker Austin despite sleeping on the living room floor of Paul’s (Chili Dog) house. We quickly got ready and piled into his wife’s station wagon (one of us is always riding in the trunk) to head off to breakfast. Chili Dog took us to a local sensation called “Biscuit Head,” which serves southern style biscuits and gravy mixed with traditional breakfast items such as eggs and bacon. They have a topping bar for the biscuits that is adorned with 30 or so flavors of butter, jam, jelly, and local honey. It was incredibly busy, and we easily waited behind 50 people in line.

Despite the vendor’s ability to quickly serve people, the line only grew as our meal went on and quickly went out the door, wrapped around the building, and then continued down the street! As soon as I started eating, it was easy to see why; it was absolutely wonderful. I wonder how a restaurant like this would hold up in Sioux Falls but sadly think it wouldn’t do as well due to its southern twist. I can’t help but notice the vast number of skinny people in Asheville despite their propensity to eat such unhealthy meals. Chili Dog tells me the residents are incredibly active and partake almost daily in a high-energy activity like hiking, trail running, or white water kayaking.

Following breakfast, Chili Dog showed us around town, and it’s somewhat similar to Sioux Falls. They have a massive art scene with dozens of little studios around town, a hugely active community life, and great outdoor recreational areas. It’s essentially a smaller mirror of Sioux Falls but liberal instead of conservative. It’s really a wonderful city, and I find myself asking Chili Dog a lot of questions about the area. Like me, he is a real estate investor, so we have a similar interest and view on the area. One of my major life questions to answer on trail is if I’ll stay put in Sioux Falls or move elsewhere. Asheville definitely has me very interested in that regard.

We hopped over to REI for some gear. I grabbed two sets of sock liners to abate my blister issues that have plagued me since day one.

I also grabbed a fuel canister, a second light set of socks now that it’s getting warmer, and my big ticket item was a new down sleeping bag. REI had a 20% off single item sale for members, and I had some dividend left to use from my prior gear purchases. Down is a hiker’s best friend, as it is incredibly light and packs down small. It weighs less than 2 pounds, which is half the weight of my old bag and takes up about two-thirds of the space. The major drawback of down is that when it gets wet, it loses all of its insulating properties. Treated down, like my sleeping bag, has come a long way in resolving this issue. I’ve never owned a sleeping bag this nice, so I’m pretty excited for my new piece of gear!

We spent the day updating blogs and relaxing, which was very much needed. Many of us have ailments and most detrimental is probably Danny’s (Goldilocks) Achilles tendinitis. It’s plagued him for quite awhile and has slowed his speed. Chili Dog made us shrimp gumbo for lunch, which was incredible. I’ve never had gumbo before but essentially everything he creates in his kitchen is top notch. Following lunch we hit Ingals for a 3-day resupply to get us to Hot Springs. For supper we went to Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack, which was also excellent. I’m certain I won’t find much food disagreeable through the duration of this trip, so my reviews may have a slight bias. We opted to check out the night scene and went to Urban Orchard for hard ciders and shared a few trail stories with the locals. We ended our evening with a few games of pool at a local pub, but all in all it made for a fantastic 0.

Day 23

We all feel as if we’ve been off trail for a week after indulging in Asheville. Before heading out, we hit Bojangles, which is the Hardee’s fast food equivalent of a biscuit and chicken restaurant. Chili Dog brought me to the post office to mail off my old sleeping gear, but they were unable to provide me any tape to send the package. Chili dog had an issue with his bank, so we were both thwarted and forced to return to his house. A second trip resolved both issues with just enough time to return home to pack before Neal arrived to bring us back to the trail.

Getting out of Neal’s van was difficult in the cold and rain. Five minutes of climbing back into the mountains, and I was back down to my t-shirt anyway. Climbs often spread our group out quickly, so I found myself hiking alone again rather quickly. During my hike in the dense fog, I walked through a grassy Bald. On top I heard a very strange humming sound and looked to my side to see a strange white circular shape hovering above the ground. The sound and image were basically right out of a sci-if movie of a UFO. In my video you can see the experience, but sadly it was just an FAA station. We are still alone in the universe…for now.

I arrived at camp shortly afterward, pain free and in great spirits. My hikes are getting easier, and my knees are about 85-90%. They will never be 100% out here due to the sheer difficulty of the trail, but they are feeling great at this point! Our campsite had a few widow makers over our tent sites, so I climbed 30-40′ into the canopy to clear them out. It frightens many to see someone so high unsupported, but those familiar with me are well aware it’s a relatively common occurrence.

We made a campfire, cooked supper, and Chili Dog surprised us with a bottle of wine he’d packed in. It made our night all the better. We are planning to push some bigger days this week, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing what we are all capable of.

Jumping back on the trail today we put down 8 miles, bringing our total to 256/2199.7.

Day 24

I must say this shelter has the tiniest privy I’ve ever used in my life. I’m not a large human by any stretch of the imagination, and I was incapable of closing the door to it while inside.

I mention this because people really do ask me what it’s like to “use the facilities” in the woods. Thankfully most trail clubs maintain a privy, but there are a lot of shelters that are without and then it’s you, nature, and a trowel. Unless you don’t pay attention and get to close to the trail and have bystanders that is. Many of the North Carolina privies are this size. Very small, narrow, and short. I assure you that you can see all 360 degrees around you when using it, and yes, everyone can also see you.

My hike today was a pleasant one. We crossed Max Patch, which hosted some spectacular views. I sadly have no pictures, but I did take video of our crossing. We crossed a smaller unnamed patch shortly after where Chili Dog saw a bear. I wasn’t far in front of him and clearly walked right past it without noticing.

The shelters were at an inconvenient distance for us on this stretch, so we stealth camped on an old dirt road. Stealth camping is essentially camping in a not camping-designated place. It is allowed but only when done correctly. This road was long ago decommissioned and is now covered in grass, which means excellent flat surface to camp on but nearly impossible to put tent stakes down. We chose to camp here to make a short walk into Hot Springs tomorrow. Goldilocks broke bad news to us over supper and announced that once he got to Hot Springs he’d be leaving the trail to get his ankle issues looked at. We are all incredibly sad to see him go but want him to get the help he needs. Once he has recovered, he plans to get in touch with us and rejoin our group to continue hiking.

A man named Albert joined us late into the evening and set up camp. He had just done a 28-mile day. He shared many stories and advice of his many long-distance hikes (including already a triple crown) and of his times in the military. He’s actually doing the ECT (the Easter continental trail), which is a trail running from Key West up to the start of the AT, including all of it, and then continuing on into northern Canada to Belle Isle. The ECT trail runs 5,600 miles.

I took notice tonight that my trail lifestyle is becoming 2nd nature and no longer bothers me in any way. I pay no mind to pitching my tent every day, walking 200′ into the woods to use the bathroom, or finding the perfect tree for hanging a bear bag.

Today we walked 18.7 miles, now totaling 274.7/2199.7.

Day 25

I ended up packing quickly this morning and was off around 7:45, a full 30 minutes earlier than normal and ahead of my group. The walk was quick and pleasant to Hot Springs. The AT goes right down Main Street in town, which is wonderful making the extra walking minimal. We stopped at the local diner for lunch and engulfed some cheeseburgers. Following lunch I hit the local outfitter and got a new titanium spork and a belt. The spork I got because my current one is collapsible and isn’t sturdy enough to stir the potatoes I make at supper. The belt I got because I’ve lost weight and my pants are starting to fall down. The store owner also gave me a trash bag for free, which was great because the one lining my pack has holes in it.

We spent a few hours laying around the lawn of the welcome center in town utilizing the free WiFi and planning. We took turns walking to the various grocery stores for our resupply of about 5-6 days. My food bag barely closes with that much food, and it’s not possible to fit it in my pack as I normally would, so it causes some shuffling. I read the information signs at the welcome center, and Hot Springs once housed 2,100 German POWs during WWII. These soldiers helped do a lot of local work while staying there including constructing many buildings, digging out hot springs, and sharing their musical talents for locals. For supper we went to the local pub and ordered virtually every fried food on their menu. After supper we sadly had to say goodbye to Goldilocks. We hugged him goodbye and went our separate ways. I hope we see him again very soon. Following a brief walk along the river we climbed 1,200′ up the bluff where we discovered an amazing camping spot with a great view of the city and river.

We have big miles planned for the next few days, but today we sadly only walked 9 miles, bringing us to 283.7/2199.7.


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