Today was my first day hiking in shorts! It’s weird to think it was freezing here just a few days ago and 12+ inches of snow are about to hit my home back in South Dakota, and now it’s 70 degrees. I will soon regret the heat and miss the cold. 70 for a hiker is equivalent to 100 normally; it’s just way too hot! 40 really is our ideal hiking temp, but alas those days may be lost to us now. My morning walk seemed to drag on forever with mundane ups and downs and little else to look at other than dense forest cliff sides. I did find a side trail with a fire tower which presented a nice view. Every other step was missing, and it was being repainted, making the climb to the lookout level a bit precarious.
It seemed like 3 p.m. when I stopped for lunch with my group at noon. I topped off my water at a nearby spring, and I was off again for the second leg of the day.
Many water sources look like the one above and are nothing more than cracks in rocks with water rushing through. A benefit of a spring like that is you really don’t need to filter it. Chili Dog has actually only filtered his water twice in 300 miles. I still do so each time just to get the solids of dirt and leaves out. I notice a vast contrast in the water we drink on trail versus bottle water and tap water in society. Even bottled water marked as “fresh spring” is a garbage marketing scheme and is generally filled at the tap in factories. I can pick out chemicals when drinking such water now and they ruin the taste. Britta and other filters can’t hold a candle with nature’s ability to provide us with clean water. I’ve now many times dumped out bottles of tap water only to fill them with my filter from springs and streams when I returned to the trail.
My second leg of the day went much faster, and I arrived at Little Laurel Shelter around 4:30. Here I met an aspiring triple crowner on his break and the infamous “Pappy,” a retired Korean War Vet who didn’t start hiking until after the age of 65. He has since triple crowned as well as completed many other long-distance trails and is now rehiking the AT to become the oldest person to do so at 83!
I also met a section hiker who was beyond exhausted and dehydrated. Sherlock thankfully had some Gatorade, and a few of us gave him some food to nurse him back to coherence. He clearly needed liquids and didn’t have even half as many calories in food as he needed for his hike. He thankfully is only out for a week and will be able to restabilize Monday when he returns home.
Tonight I opted to sleep in the shelter with the dehydrated section hiker, Pappy, and Beaver Pelt. I regretted this decision in the morning, as a mouse chewed some holes in my shirt and my thermal leggings. The view outside the shelter was nice though!
Today we walked 18.1 miles, pushing our total to 301.8/2199.7.
I’d forgotten to get a selfie with Pappy last night, and he shot out of the shelter early this morning. It took me over an hour of hiking to catch up to him. A few pictures later, and we departed.
Shortly after passing Pappy, we hit a ridge line rock scramble that went on for over a mile. I enjoyed it quite a bit, as it was different from our normal trail walking, added a new challenge, and had excellent views the entire stretch. Views are easy to come by when the drop on either side of you is many hundreds of feet below.
Howard’s Rock lay at the center of this stretch, and if he was responsible for this section, he most definitely was a Master Trail Builder.
I hit a massive wall going up a 1,500′ incline about five miles away from our stopping point. I got light headed, nauseated, and couldn’t think straight. I drank a bunch of water and wolfed down a Snickers bar to power me up the rest of the incline. I stopped at the top and cooked a meal of ramen and a tuna packet. The food and break did me wonders, and I flew down the trail and arrived in about and an hour and a half.
We stopped at Hogback Shelter, which was pretty crowded and had over two dozen hikers. The privy here is small like the other NC ones, but this one is brand new, has an excellent view, and no door. Honestly, the door is irrelevant to most of us at this point, as they are so out of the way it’s hard for anyone to mistakenly walk up on you. A lot of hikers talk about pooping in the woods being some of their favorite parts of hiking. It’s definitely a different experience.
I felt good after finishing my day today. My knees are great, ankles are holding up well, and my feet are getting used to the constant punishment.
Today we pushed to a new record of 22.8 miles, meaning we completed more than 1% of the entire trail in just a single day of hiking! This brings our new total to 324.6/2199.7.
I woke up to a lot of bear cable squeaking. These steel cables have pulleys at the top to make things easier to lift, but the elements make them squeaky almost immediately. It was clear whoever was taking their food down was going slow as to make less noise, but it had the opposite effect. It did make me laugh a bit, so I got up a few minutes earlier than usual. It is primed to be another beautiful day on trail other than a fair amount of wind. Nothing my Midwestern upbringing hasn’t prepared me for.
I walked with Sherlock for most of the morning, and we ended up crossing Big Bald.
At lunch we met Safety Sean and Jake the Dog, two thru-hikers I’ve seen multiple times but never introduced myself to. They mentioned a large group headed to Erwin to dodge the snow, which I wasn’t aware was even coming. I confirmed after checking the weather and called the hotel in Erwin to extend our Nero day stay another night to miss the storm. I’m a little frustrated by the weather, as I’ve grown fond of throwing miles down daily, and an unplanned zero is an annoyance. I know the rest will be good for me, and I have no qualms skipping the snowstorm either. Our goal of an early August finish means we need to average about 16.75 miles each day, and each 0 makes that harder to achieve.
Later in the afternoon, we came across Jake the Dog’s parents providing some trail magic of Coke, beer, fruits, and oatmeal cream pies. They are helping him slack pack and getting his foot some much needed attention. He’s left loco tape on it far too long, and the skin is starting to slough off.
My new sock liners are working wonders on my blister issues, and each one is now healing nicely. Chili Dog brought us a bag of freshly picked wild ramps at supper, so I put a bunch in my mashed potatoes. They are a wild edible that grows readily in the mountains and taste like a cross between garlic and onion with a zingy, spicy finish. They made my supper all the better!
We walked another 20.7 miles today, bringing our group to a total of 345.3/2199.7, and we are now over 15% completed!
I got up earlier than normal to get my tent and belongings packed down before the rain started. I beat it by about 45 minutes. I was about five miles away from Erwin, TN, where we plan to stay the next two nights when the heavens opened up and dumped the rest of the day. I managed to catch a small window in the downpours for a quick ridge shot that it seems every thru-hiker passing through today took.
I waited on the bridge for someone in my group to catch up, and Achilles was first. I crossed it with him when someone came out from under the bridge asking if we wanted a soda. Normally in society this is pretty sketch and frightening, but on the AT it’s pretty normal. Two hikers were camped under the bridge and had a large party the night before (evident by the two 24-packs of empty PBR). We snagged some Dr. Peppers and chatted with them while we waited for the rest of our group. After about an hour, they all caught up, and we walked the two miles in the rain through Erwin to Pizza Plus for their all-you-can-eat buffet.
Walking in the woods in the rain wasn’t so bad but down the road was dreadful. I was soaked all the way to my skin and could hear my shoes squishing. The walk was worth it. It was $8 for my two sodas and 12 pieces of pizza. Money well spent in my opinion!
Following we went to our hotel and checked in. We planned to all five share a room, but they were adamant about only allowing four per room, which forced us to get another one. It’s frustrating and greatly increases the price and the pain of our stay. All the places to eat were three miles or more away, and many were closed because it was a Sunday. Our supper options included whatever the gas station next door had–which wasn’t much. I spent time in the evening writing much of this week’s blog posts and chatting with other hikers. I did meet the couple responsible for the YouTube channel “Average Campers’ Adventures” which I personally was watching prior to my own departure. They started their thru-hikes on March 1.
Today was a short 6.2 mile day to Erwin, making our grand total 351.5/2199.7.