Monday, May 20, 2019

Appalachian Trail: Erwin, TN To Mountain Harbor Hostel

During this part of the Appalachian Trail (AT) I finally entered my third state.  I like that I'm seeing progress as I trudge northward.

The dense spruce forest.
Day 44 - I left the hostel early after saying goodbye to another thru-hiker who was shuttling to Damascus for Trail Days.  Many hikers who can't get to Damascus in time shuttle there to participate in the festivities.  I decided I would not partake until I earned it by getting to Katahdin.  I see a trip for me in May of next year.

The climb out of Erwin was difficult but not terrible.  I met a newbie after the first shelter.  She'd started in Erwin and was hoping to meet up of the trail with her thru-hiker nephew.  I don't think she will be on the trail for long.  She needed help putting up her tent.  All of her food was in the form of nutrition shake powder.  No 'real’ food.  Other people who saw her said she was struggling.

At a pass where the AT crossed a road I met Brother Tom handing out Trail Magic.  I had lemonade, banana bread, and a brownie.  He had been doing this for years.  He commented how slow it was due to trail days.  I didn't expect magic this late.  Most 'professional' trail magicians travel with the March/April bubbles.

I arrived at my target campsite.  I sat down and drank some water.  I decided to push on.  The added miles would not shorten my AT but it would allow me to stop at a famous shelter located in a converted barn.

The next four miles were pretty awful.  I climbed up a steep mountain which had a dense spruce forest on the top.  At one campsite partway up I noticed a tree decorated with Christmas ornaments.  A note book explained that it was a memorial for a young man of twenty-two.  At the bottom of the notebook cover was the suicide prevention hotline number.  I left a message in the book but failed to take down the information.

The trail snaked through the dense spruce forest.  The trail was somewhat vague so I walked from one white blaze to the next.
The trail down the mountain was difficult and my cranky left foot was having none of it.  By the time I got to the Cherry Gap Shelter my foot was hurting and I was pooped.  I did 17.1 miles (27.5 km).

I arrived to the shelter after 5:00pm and I was the only one there.  Two others arrived over the next hour or so.  Three people in a shelter area is rare.  I ate, hung my food bag, and went to bed early. I drempt I lost all my stuff while on vacation.  It rained early in the morning and I was glad I'd skipped the campsite and moved on to the shelter.

Another day ... Another view.
Day 45 - After the long day I did a short day to the next shelter.  I only hiked 9.1 miles (14.6 km) but I was ready to stop.  My foot started out cranky but got better as I got closer to the shelter.  I don't really understand what's going on with my left foot.  It seems that tying my shoelaces tighter helps my foot.

Day 46 - This was a long day but satisfying.  The up was tough and the down was welcome.

I passed the site of an old hotel that was dismantled a long time ago.  I took a break at the highest shelter on the AT, Roan High Knob shelter.   The shelter is actually a cabin with a door but it also had some Blair Witch vibes too.  Apparently from the log notes the shelter is really cold at night.

The attic of the Roan High Knob Shelter.  A bit spooky.
I ended the day at Overmountain Shelter, an old barn converted into a shelter, but was disappointed to find it full of boy scouts.  I tented for the fifth time to get away from the ruckus.  The tent area had an incredible view.

Talked to Betty who was thinking about thru-hiking.  I gave her advice and told her how it was on the trail.   I hope she got something from my experience.

The view from my tent site.
Day 47 - I got up early, broke camp, waved goodbye to Betty, and headed up to Little Hump mountain.  The climb was steep but short.  The views were, as usual, awesome.  A group of hikers had camped on the top of Little Hump.

Near the top of Hump mountain.
Next came Hump mountain.  It was taller and covered in grass like little hump.  The place was magical.  The area is know as the Roan Highlands and it reminded me of what I think the Scottish Highlands are like.  As I paused and looked around I realized I was exactly where I belonged.  I wish I'd known about this spot beforehand so I could have tented there and watched the Sunset, Sunrise, and all the stars in between.  Maybe up ahead somewhere.

As I left the highlands I finally crossed into Tennessee.  For a while the AT has bounced between Tennessee and North Carolina.

Another state bites the dust.
Then the downhill started.  It was one of those long descents that seems to never end.  I finally reached the road and followed it to Mountain Harbor Hostel.

I got a bed, took a shower, washed some clothes, and ate a pint of Ben and Jerry's.  I resupplied at their well stocked general store and had a burger, fries, and a salad for dinner.

It will be a late start tomorrow as the all you can eat breakfast starts at 8:00am.

Pictures can be found in my 2019 Appalachian Trail Google Photos album.

Total Distance: 395.2 Miles (571.58 km)
Section Distance: 69.0 Miles (111.0 km)
Section Elevation Up: 14,697 ft (4,480 m)
Section Elevation Down: 16,998 ft (5,181 m)


Thursday, May 16, 2019

Appalachian Trail: Hot Springs, NC To Erwin, TN

The past couple of weeks have been a mental and emotional rollercoaster.  Despite meeting new people everyday, or possibly because of it, I have felt isolated and alone.  Everyone I've met are nice people with many interesting stories but I would have to have the chance to meet people for more than one or two days to really meet them.  Then I push some hard miles and feel a real sense of accomplishment and my mood soars.  What a ride.

Day 37 - I left Hot Springs late because I'd forgotten to buy a gas canister for my stove.  The outfitter opened at 9:00am and they were out of small cannisters so I bought a huge, heavy one.

The French Broad River along the trail.
The trail leaving Hot Springs briefly follows the French Broad River before turning and climbing up the mountain.  It was warm and humid as I hiked out and sweat was dripping off of me.

A bench begging to be sat on next to the serene pond.
The trail passed by a novelty for the trail so far: a pond. The calm waters were serene and a bit stagnant though there were fish in it. I don't think I stop enough to enjoy things like this.

The full pack of food and bigger gas canister didn't help -  by the time I got to the Spring Mountain Shelter I was exhausted. By the the numbers the climb up to this shelter was not as bad as the first day in the Smokies but I was more tired and worn out today.  This was a bit demoralizing.  I felt I was backsliding.  It was supposed to be getting easier.

Day 38 - My plan for the day was to do a short hike to the next shelter some 8.6 miles (13.8 km) away.  When I got there I felt like I'd gone through the wringer.  I was pooped.

I stopped at the shelter and rested.  Drank some water and ate some food.  Then I made an odd decision.  I decided to hike the 7.3 (11.7 km) to the next shelter.

Note the AT blazes going down the rock wall.
I climbed down the wall hand over hand.
Strangely I started off with a second wind.  I climb the next hill and did it with gusto.  Then I hit a part the AT Guide described as rocky and strenuous.  It was a tough rock climb/hop along an exposed ridge.  I handled it without any issues.  I loved having to climb down hand over hand for one section.  At the end of the rock scramble someone had marked the distance in stones: 300 miles.

Passed the three hundred mile mark.
I arrived at the shelter feeling awesome.  I'm not sure where it came from.  I did 15.9 miles (25.6 km) my longest day so far and I felt good.  This actually put me a day ahead of my schedule.

Day 39 - The forecast had rain Saturday and Sunday.  Some people in the shelter were going to hunker down.  This didn't make sense to me so I started out in the drizzle.

Is this Big Butt Mountain's crack?
There was only one hill in my way, Big Butt Mountain (love how things are named in these parts).  It was just a light intermittent drizzle when I crossed the crusty rocky top of big butt. After the summit it started to rain harder.

I started humming songs with the word 'sunshine' in their title.  It worked.  My mood was lifted up and I really made good time down the hill.

At the bottom I made my way to the Laurel Hostel.  This place is tiny and has few amenities but it was dry and warm and the shower was hot. The resupply was non-existent so the owner took me and a few other hikers to Erwin, TN for resupply and McDonald's take out.

This appears to be a bear print on the trail but no bear has been seen yet.
Day 40 - The forecast for today was more rain so a few of us decided to take a zero in the hostel.  We went into town again to eat and get more supplies.  This was the third weather caused zero day and I wonder if I'm being too cautious.  Hiking in the rain can suck but as they say "you must embrace the suck."   This zero day ate up my extra day I'd earned a few days ago.

This day also tied for the longest hike in terms of days hiked I've ever done matching my second Camino.

A meadow is a nice change of scenery along the trail.
 Day 41 - After talking with other hikers over the past couple of days I decided to push hard the next couple of days.  This day would be a long 15.9 miles (25.6 km) predominantly up hill.

It was a very long day and it was overcast and a bit uninspiring but after seeing some interesting but muted views from Big Bald Mountain I arrived at Big Bald Mountain Shelter.

Is that Pi or is a shelter nearby?
Day 42 - Temperatures were in the low 40s this morning and for some reason I was really cold.  I think some of my insulating fat layers have been replaced with non-insulating muscle.  I spent most of the night putting on more layers.

Lots of rain equals lots of
water in the streams.
I left early and hiked hard in an attempt to warm up.  Today I would push hard again, this time predominantly down.  By the end of the day I'd hiked 16.8 miles (27 km) to Uncle Johnny's Nolichucky Hostel and Cabins just outside Erwin, TN.

I rented a cabin that had a set of bunk beds with full size mattresses.  I've never seen that large of a bed.   The hostel has an outfitter and offered three free shuttle trips into Erwin.  I took one of those shuttles into town to resupply and eat an Italian dinner.

The hard hiking days I'd just done had pushed me a day ahead of schedule.

Day 43 - Another zero day to recover from the two hard days I'd just hiked.  A shuttle into town for breakfast and a relaxing afternoon at the hostel to let my body recover.  That was what I needed.

A lot of hikers here were shuttling ahead to Damascus to celebrate Trail Days.  It's a big celebration there with gear vendors, food, and lots of drinking.  I decided to skip it.  Who knows, I may catch up to people who took time off for the festivities.   I expect the trails to be empty between Erwin and Damascus.

Pictures can be found in my 2019 Appalachian Trail Google Photos album.

Total Distance: 355.16 Miles (571.58 km)
Section Distance: 70.35 Miles (113.22 km)
Section Elevation Up: 15,928 ft (4,855 m)
Section Elevation Down: 15,794 ft (4,814 m)


NOTE:. Due to human error, part of the GPS track was not recorded properly.  I drew in the approximate route on the map but the elevation data listed above is an approximation.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

My Eighth Caminoversary

We often do not realize that our lives are a series of life changing adventures.

Follow your own Camino.
Enjoy your life and onward to your next adventure ...

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Happy Mother's Day

I want to wish my Mom a very Happy Mother's Day.

I would be nothing without you.

I would have liked to be there but the trail calls.


Thursday, May 09, 2019

Appalachian Trail: Standing Bear Farm Hostel To Hot Springs, NC

I'm moving from bubble to bubble.  As I take nero and zero days I leave everyone behind ... well actually they leave me behind.  This makes the social game of the Appalachian Trail (AT) a bit difficult and makes the trail feel isolating and lonely.

My first bubble is way ahead of me. I liked most of those people.  Only Curry, who has had knee issues, is behind me.  My second bubble didn't click with me.  My third had some good people who I liked but they too are ahead of me.  The latest one was, frankly, too old.  I prefer a younger group who doesn't discuss retirement or losses in their families.  Younger people are more positive and supportive.

I have been told there are a few bubbles behind me.  Not sure if they will catch up with me.  If they do, will we find something in common?

An orange salamander sharing the wet trail.
Day 33 - The blueberry pancakes were not ready yet when I left the Hostel.  My first mistake of the day.  The other mistake was not waiting out the rain.

I climb up the trail in pouring rain.  I'd thought I might do a fifteen mile day but the river that was the trail, and my wet cold self, convinced me to go for my planned stop of 6.9 miles (11.1 km).

I arrive early to the shelter and stripped off my wet clothes and put on some dry things to help me warm up.  The weather got better but I decided to stay anyway.

Day 34 - This morning started out cloudy but dry.  The trail was still slow going due to the muddy swampy conditions left by the rain.  I started out really slow this day.

The view from Max Patch.
The highlight of today's hike was summiting Max Patch (formerly Mack's Patch).  The summit had been cleared of trees to allow the grazing of cattle.  The view from the summit, despite the low clouds, was superb.  As I stood taking it in the Sun made an appearance.  As I walked over the summit I expected to see Julie Andrews proclaiming the hills were alive with the sound of music.

After Max Patch I got a second wind and finished the 13.1 mile (21.1 km) target for the day.  The shelter was small and a bit rundown so I tented for the fourth time on the AT.

For my Mom: Closest thing to a Maiden Hair Fern that I could find.
Days 35 & 36 - I had another 13.1 miles to do to get to Hot Springs, NC.  Most of this was down.  A never-ending down.  While I started off strong I finished with a whimper.

The AT symbol marking the trail in Hot Springs.
I was almost out of water and my legs and feet were sore from the pounding when I arrived in town.  The AT runs right down the town's main street.  I arrived at my hotel where I'd made a reservation a few days ago.  They had texted me my room number and a code.  Turns out the code opened a lock box next to the door with my key in it.   I ended up checking in and out without actually talking to a real person.

I checked out the town and got some food - not easy to do when three of the four restaurants were closed for one reason or another.  I did eat a pint of Ben and Jerry's while I did laundry.

On the second day I slept in a little and had a good breakfast. I resupplied at the outfitter and Dollar General.  Since I was in a town named Hot Springs I soaked in a mineral springs hot tub.  I bought a sleeve for my cranky left foot.  Just a bunch of town and trail related stuff.

Today, after this posts, I will return to the trail.  It is tough leaving the comfort of the town.  At times it seems all I think about when on the trail is getting to the next town.  I can't say this is the right attitude and it may just be a passing phase but it has been tough at times to keep positive.

A comment about statistics.  25% of thru-hikers quit by Neel Gap (day four for me).  45 to 50% have quit by Hot Springs.  The odds are getting better that I'll make it all the way.  Barring an unexpected injury, the only thing in my way is my mental state.   The past few days have been tough for me.  All I can say is I am here to finish and I will keep on keeping on.

Pictures can be found in my 2019 Appalachian Trail Google Photos album.

Total Distance: 284.81 Miles (458.36 km)
Section Distance: 34.56 Miles (55.62 km)
Section Elevation Up: 8,105 ft (2,470 m)
Section Elevation Down: 8,721 ft (2,658 m)


NOTE: I have corrected a day numbering issue in the last few posts.

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Appalachian Trail: Gatlinburg, TN To Standing Bear Farm Hostel

The trail is changing.  As I climbed into the Smokies evergreen trees appeared over moss covered ground.  As I left and the altitude dropped new flowers and leafed out trees greeted me.  I've been on the trail for thirty-one days and I've watched nature come alive.

Day 30 - Hitchhiking didn't happen.  After another thru-hiker and I tried and failed to get anyone to stop we decided to share a Lyft to Newfound Gap.

Charlie's Bunion.
The hike out of the gap was tough but I'm getting better on the hills and the hills in the Smokies don't feel as steep as those in Georgia.

Met Mama Peaches and her daughter Woodstock and a few section hikers.

Day 31 - I decided to do another long day.  This time it was 13.2 miles (21.2 km).  It drizzled on and off though I still saw some awesome views.

A view before the rain.
I felt good when I got to the shelter.  Then I started sneezing.  From out of no where my allergies began to rage.  I was sneezing, my eyes were itching, and my nose was running.  It would be a Benadryl night.

A Ridgerunner and his supervisor spent the night with us in the shelter as the rain started coming down.

Day 32 - A month on the trail.  People got up early today.  This gave me the opportunity to see my first sunrise on the trail.

I left the Smokies today on a long downhill hike.  The weather started out great but turned humid as the day went on and the rain returned.

My first sunrise on the AT.
Part of the trail passed a river and the sound of water was soothing.  The ground was wet from the rain and going downhill was slow and a bit slickery.

A cluster of butterflies.
The trail crosses over the first major river (the Pigeon River) before going under I40.  There was some trail magic under the bridge.  From there is was a short, humid hike to Standing Bear Farm Hostel where I spent the night, ate some good food, took a hot shower, and did some resupply.  An interesting place in the middle of nowhere.

Pictures can be found in my 2019 Appalachian Trail Google Photos album.

Total Distance: 250.26 Miles (402.75 km)
Section Distance: 35.39 Miles (56.95 km)
Section Elevation Up: 6,460 ft (1,969 m)
Section Elevation Down: 9,497 ft (2,895 m)


Saturday, May 04, 2019

May The Fourth Be With You

May the Fourth be with the Wife's niece and her brand new hubby.

Wishing them the bestest of wedding days and a wonderful life together.

Wish I was there to celebrate with you guys but the trail calls.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Appalachian Trail: Fontana Dam To Gatlinburg, TN

Last post I said that I like the primitive nature of the Appalachian Trail (AT).  While this is still true. I am often annoyed by the competition between the rocks and the roots to see who can trip you up the most.  At this time I would say it's a dead heat.

The view from the Fontana Hilton.
Day 24 - I spent the last day in the Fontana Dam area at the Fontana Hilton.  It is a rather spacious shelter with an actual bathroom and shower ... which are located in a separate building up the trail.  This shelter has, by far, the best views so far with a clear view of the lake.

On this zero day I met Mary Poppins (a guy who knows how to properly pack pop tarts), Super, My Way, Bob (a German girl), Barefoot, Lunger, and others.

Day 25 - I'd been dreading this day for some reason.  The Smokies were notorious among AT thru-hikers as being difficult.  I left the Fontana Hilton, along one of the few paved sections going to the Dam visitors center, over the dam itself, and into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Beautiful reflections.
My original plan was to do the Fontana Dam to Gatlinburg section in four days.  In Franklin I decided it was too aggressive of a plan so I made it five days.  This new plan died when I arrived at my first stop at 10:40am.  I still felt pretty good so I made for my old goal.  Mollies Ridge Shelter was 11.8 miles (19.0 km) with over 4,000 ft (1219 m) gain in elevation.  I felt oddly refreshed when I arrived.

All the shelters in the Smokies are made of stone and have fireplaces.

I was joined by most of my new trail family here as well as Ridgerunner David who helps maintain the shelters and trail.  Ridgerunner David laid out all the rules such as you have to stay in a shelter in the Smokies.  He was a nice guy but some didn't appreciate there being 'law' on the AT.

Day 26 - Having been a bit overconfident after the prior day's hike I decided to push again and make for Derrick Knob Shelter.  Ridgerunner David had implied that it would be easier than the previous day.  Shame on you Ridgerunner David.  You fibbed.

A great view after a difficult climb.
When I arrived at Derrick Knob Shelter I'd hike a brutal 12.1 miles (19.5 km) up some pretty steep hills.  The only consolation was that everyone in my trail family felt the same way about this section.  I went to bed at 6:30pm but didn't fall asleep until my legs finally stopped aching.

Day 27 - I had a decision to make.  It was a gorgeous day weather wise and I really wanted to reach Clingmans Dome, the highest point on the AT.  To do this I would have to climb over three thousand feet and hike 14.1 miles (22.7 km).  The other choice was to stop three miles short and do it the next day when the weather might not be as good.  I decided to play it by ear.

The observation tower at the top of Clingmans Dome.
When I reached the shelter before the final push to Clingmans Dome I stopped and took a rest.  I felt surprisingly good.  I decided to move on.  I reached the peak of Clingmans Dome and celebrated not only reaching the highest point on the AT but it turns out that the peak is also at the 200 mile (322 km) point - another milestone.

While at the top a lady gave us brownies and cookies while her husband gave Six (a new hiker for my collection) a back stretch.  Another family with a sweet little girl shared her candy with us.  A nice trail magic surprise.

I left because I still had four miles to go.  On the way down I kept hearing sirens.  Turns out a person suffered an heart attack at Clingmans Dome.  One of the thru-hikers I knew, Godspeed, had administered CPR until the EMTs arrived.

I arrived at the Mt Collins Shelter feeling pretty good.  No major aches or pains though I had been taking ibuprofen (vitamin I) due to a mildly cranky left foot.  Despite feeling pretty good I still went to bed early.

Days 28 & 29 - I hiked the short 4.6 miles (7.4 km) to Newfound Gap and tried to figure out how to get to Gatlinburg.  I noticed a thru-hiker named Letters that I met briefly getting back on trail.  Her friend who was dropping her off offered me a ride into town.

Follow the old wooden path.
Turns out she was interested in the Camino and I mentioned that I'd done it twice.  I talked about the Camino as we headed into town and ended up giving her my email address.

She dropped me off at the NOC satellite store where I found a nearby hotel and got checked in.  I navigated the trolley system in this tourist trap of a town to get to the post office to pick up my new rain fly.  The rest of the day was doing a partial resupply for when I reenter the Smokies and exploring the Old Tyme Photograph capital of the world not to mention marveling at the multiple Ripley's Believe It or Not attractions just on the main drag.  This place is hard to believe ... or not.

On my second day in town I once again navigated the trolley systems of both Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge so I could see the new Avengers movie.  Most of the navigating consisted of waiting.  I waited way too much today.  The movie was worth it.

After the movie and waiting I finished my resupply, got some food in my belly, and made preparations for getting back on the AT.  Not sure how I will be getting back to Newfound Gap.  There really isn't any shuttle services here.  This may be my first hitchhiking experience.  I wonder if the rain in the forecast will help or hinder my first attempt.

Pictures can be found in my 2019 Appalachian Trail Google Photos album.


Total Distance: 214.87 Miles (345.80 km)
Section Distance: 43.27 Miles (69.64 km)
Section Elevation Up: 12,143 ft (3,701 m)
Section Elevation Down: 9,466 ft (2,885 m)