Week 5: Days 30-33; Erwin, TN, to Damascus, VA

Day 30

Today we took an unplanned 0 due to the winter storm blowing through the area. My home area is getting slammed with 12-16 inches of snow, so I’m thankful we are only getting about one. Chili Dog’s friend met us for lunch and drove us to a local Mexican restaurant and Walmart. Erwin is not laid out to accommodate someone without a vehicle, so the ride was necessary. A few of us rode in the back of the truck bed in true Tennessee fashion despite the heavy rain/sleet/snow mix falling on the interstate. Other drivers were definitely surprised to see us in the back as we passed.

It seems like everyone in my group is getting sick. Sherlock and Achilles are both having stomach issues. I’m very much hoping it’s something they ate and not something they can pass along. We didn’t accomplish much other than a resupply today and mostly just sat around waiting for time to pass.

I had a lot of time to contemplate my life in the now month I’ve been on trail. A month in means I’ll be out about 4-5 more, which is a mix of short, long, daunting, and exciting. I’m not sure where I’ll end up when I return. I debate moving to a whole new state against staying in my current situation. Much of it will depend on my ability to find work when I return. Either way, I know I’ll be rampaging through my possessions and reducing drastically. I carry my entire life with me currently, and it’s only 30 pounds and a handful of items. People truly don’t need as much as they think. In fact every study ever done on the subject says the less you have, the happier you are–which I can see directly correlated to those on trail. Despite the pain, weather, and hardships, the morale on trail is undoubtedly positive, and it’s wonderful.

Day 31

I was incredibly excited to get back on trail today. After two days of rain and snow, the trail was essentially a river.

Achilles is still feeling sick, so we have a smaller day planned. We met at the first shelter about four miles in, and he was feeling good and in high spirits. We then opted to extend our day from 13 to 17.

At Indian Grave Gap, there was trail magic with some of the Catholic Brothers. They had beans/onion/cornbread, brownies, hot chocolate, and fruit. We crossed over beauty spot shortly after where some fellow thru-hikers are planning to get married in a few days.

Our campsite is pretty crowded, as everyone left town and pushed to the same location tonight. I’m assuming we will hit Damascus by Sunday (per usual), making it a little tougher to get to government buildings like the post office.

A quick hike today ended with 17.1 miles, bringing us to 368.6 miles.

Day 32

I sleep so much better in the woods than in town. It’s crazy how quickly your body wants to transition to its primal state. Sherlock was out in the woods with me as we retrieved our bear bags. I was trying to show him how I tie my bag off, as it takes one swift tug to pop the holding stick loose and then it lowers itself. This method is much easier than having to pull on the line to lift the bag up and untie the stick manually, as everyone else does. Unfortunately, as I showed him my mad skills, when I pulled on the cord, the stick popped loose, but so did my entire bear bag–which sent it plummeting about 15′ to the ground. I don’t know if I’ve seen him laugh so hard.

Despite my shortcomings in showing off, I was off early this morning at 7:40 and made great time all morning. I hit the lunch shelter around 10:50 and waited around for 45 minutes before seeing another hiker. It gave me a lot of extra time to pick some wild ramps and toss them into my ramen and Spam meal. I will be sad when the ramp season ends in a week or two; they are a great way to get greens into my diet while not having to carry any extra weight.

I loitered around after lunch talking to hikers and then trekked forward to tackle High Bluff and Roan Mountain. Roan Mountain is the last peak over 6,000′ on the AT until we get to the White Mountains and hit Mt. Washington. I can’t say I’m overly sad about that fact. Virginia isn’t flat, but the rise/fall between peaks is much less, allowing us to make longer and quicker days.

I have a short video on YouTube about the climb. There used to be a three-story hotel on the top of the mountain where the affluent could stay for a meager sum of $2 per night! A line was actually drawn down the dining room floor, as the building itself was built on the NC/TN state line. At the time it was illegal to drink in NC but not in TN. It was rumored that a Sheriff would lay in wait in the crowd to arrest those that crossed the line with their drinks in hand.

Shortly after the summit laid Roan High Knob Shelter our planned stop for the evening. This shelter is the highest shelter on the AT at 6,285′. I arrived around four o’clock. I grew restless and decided to jump forward to Overmountain Shelter, a two-story renovated barn in the valley about 7 miles farther. I crossed two balds, Round & Jane, prior to arriving around 7 at the barn. I setup my tent in the grass near the valley center just in time for the sunset.

My group stopped at Roan, as they were far too tired to continue. I will meet them in Damascus in a few days as planned, as I’d like to keep doing 20+ mile days if possible.

With my push today, I walked the farthest in a single day of my life at 26.3 miles. My new total is 394.9/2199.7.

Day 33

I was abruptly woken this morning at 4 a.m. to my tent slamming me in the face. Winds in excess of 50 mph suddenly started whipping through the valley. Everything was flying around my tent. I resecured my possessions and slept until about 6. The view is different this morning for sure.

I packed up in a light rain and quickly headed out. The fog has become dense and dropped visibility to about 30′. The wind has also picked up to a sustained 30-40 mph, gusting often to 60+ mph.

At the peak of the storm I was faced with a climb of Bradly Gap, a 1,400′ climb with a seemingly endless amount of false summits, especially in the fog. A bald is named for its lack of cover, so it was reminiscent of the prairie but like basically climbing a ladder. The path is worn in about a foot deeper than the surround land and is only about 6-8″ wide. The now-heavier rain, mud, and incredible winds make it impossible to stay within the confines of the trail. Every once in awhile, the fog would blow away opening a window to the horrors ahead. I could see other hikers being thrown around and blown to the ground ahead of me. This climb, despite its shorter elevation gain, was my hardest to date. I’d never been so happy to see a grove of trees while hiking.

After my retreat to the trees, I began my descent down to the valley. I was greeted with a nice sign to remind me of my progress!

This marks the last step in North Carolina. We’ve been crossing the TN/NC border dozens of times in a day since entering the Smokies. This is the second state finished out of 14! I glanced at my guidebook and noticed a bed and breakfast just off the road that had a resupply and a food truck. I changed my plans to resupply in Hampton and headed there instead. It was closed when I arrived, but the caretaker was going to open in an hour. I waited around in the hostel portion catching up with hikers in the meantime. I then got a text from my group saying they were only a few miles away after an attempt at a sunrise viewing and a dash to catch up with me. I grabbed food and scrapped my plans for another 26-mile day and waited for them.

After we rejoined and ate, we set off again into a starkly contrasted day. The afternoon opened up into a cool and sunny day, which was perfect for hiking. It shows that although things are hard and you may not be able to see far in front of you, beautiful and great things are in your future. My resolve was tested hard today, but I endured and am thankful for it. I never thought of quitting, but I was getting frustrated. I’m thankful I persevered, as the reward was worth it. Life can change in an instant.

I met up with Achilles at the shelter, but there wasn’t enough tenting spaces for our group. I opted to walk farther to the next campsite to grab spots. When I arrived there, I discovered the same situation. I walked to the next road and found a flat area to stealth camp at. Achilles joined me, but the other three in my group stayed at the prior site, able to squeeze in. I camped near a dirt road traveled very quickly by back mountain pickups. In my mind I could hear the banjo music, and I hoped to hear none of them slow down or stop. Thankfully, my night was without incident.

Today I walked 18 miles, totaling 412.9/2199.7.


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