Day mileage: 18.1
AT total mileage: 342.0
Time: 7 hours
I woke up at 0200 this morning and after listening to the wind fiercely blow for 10 minutes, convinced myself to get out of my tent and photograph the stars. I can't honestly say whether or not this was a good idea, as the photos are on my dSLR (for anyone that wasn't aware, all photos posted on the blog are taken with my iPhone). Regardless, close your eyes and imagine a photo of an incredibly starry sky in the middle of the night, a low band of yellow light pollution from small sleepy towns in the distance, and a tent illuminated by the soft glow of my LED hiking headlamp. Can you see it? Truthfully what you're envisioning is probably better than the photos I took, seeing I'm not hiking with my best camera, but I'll be interested to see how it turned out... 4 months from now when I go through the pictures.
Rising again with the sun just before 7, Whitey and I hiked an easy mile down off the still windy bald and arrived at the next shelter where we had breakfast with Cheesepuff. Apparently only 3 people had stayed at the shelter the night before, so it was extremely quiet as we sat there and ate. I left about 20 minutes after Cheesepuff, leaving Whitey to finish his food and pack up for the day. For whatever reason, this morning was hiked to the soundtrack of Pink Floyd. All of nature came out to join me walking, as butterflies fluttered alongside, hawks circled in the breeze above the trees, and I even saw a large owl sweep across in front of me between trees. The temperature slowly creeped up from the evening's chill, and before long I was sweating with the inclines the trail was passing over. Knowing today's end goal was Erwin, TN, I had a good idea of what was in store. The first 13 or so miles included some good climbs, and the last 5 miles were a steady descent into the valley that comprises town.
I stopped for a break at a cute little river, and debated soaking my feet. Although it was only noon, I was well aware that I'd been hiking downhill for a few miles now, and my toes were sore. I'll likely be replacing these New Balance 1210 trail runners with another set soon, and the next ones are a half size larger to hopefully accommodate expected growth in my feet. Most hikers will go up a half or even whole shoe size in the first few hundred miles of hiking. After finding my first blister (not bad for 341 miles) today, I'm hoping my new size 12 1/2 shoe will buy me some room in the toe box to avoid this problem going forward. Anyways, after snacking on a Pop-Tart and filtering some water at the river alongside Spivey Gap, I continued up into the mountainside. This was around noon, and temperatures had risen well into the high 80s, leaving me constantly sweating as I hiked deeper into the woods. After summiting the first crest, the trail began a meandering path through the woods and on towards the next shelter. There was a reminiscent feeling about the afternoon's hike, a hodgepodge of sensory stimulus occurring throughout a few hours time.
The smell of the forest reminded me of summers past, walking my since deceased dog Bailey through the local state park. There's a certain aroma that goes along with pine needles on the forest floor, warmed from the heat of the sun. It smells like summer, adventure, and Boy Scout camp all at once. This of course caused my mind to wander, and I delightfully followed the Appalachian Trail's white blazes at a quick pace of 3 mph to the next shelter. The trail shelter at mile 335.7 is a work of art. The 3-sided, brown, cinderblock structure is affectionately known as the 'No Business' shelter. You might think this is quite the strange name for a place hikers might stay at, until I inform you of the slogan written both under the shelter's sign as well as on the shelter log book: 'No Privy. No Water. No Business (being here)'... Sounds inviting, no? Sure enough there is a large distance in front of us where shelters will not have privies. Also this particular shelter was more than half a mile from the nearest water supply, which happened to be southbound. No northbound hiker in their right mind would walk back in the direction they came for a mile round trip on a day just shy of 90 degrees. Luckily, I had stopped and filled up 2 liters, and was ready to finish the last 7 miles into town. I rested at the shelter for a half hour or so, snacking again and signing the log book 'I'd rather stay at a La Quinta than spend a night here.' Surprisingly, one of the nicer comments in comparison to others in the book, and hiker graffiti on the walls of the building.
Out of No Business came a few more steady climbs before the descent into the valley. About a mile from the base of the trail I ran into two guys out with their sons, probably 12 years old or so, for a Sunday afternoon hike. From where they were standing there was a gorgeous vista over the town of Erwin and the train tracks that come through the valley. I ended up stopping to talk to the four of them for quite a while. They were extremely interested in my hike, my gear, mileage, and the like. It's really fun for me to talk to inquisitive people about the trail, especially when they live so close by and have such easy access to it. After chatting for a while I said goodbye, and headed down the rest of the mountain to meet Whitey and figure out where we were spending the night. Our initial plan had been to head into town (the trail is 3.5 miles from 'downtown') in the morning, then hit the trail. We ended up hitchhiking to the grocery store before even getting camp set up, which will leave us in a position to get back into the woods first thing in the morning.
You may be astonished about hitchhiking, you may not. I think this is reliant on your upbringing, geographic location, and generational belonging. Let me tell you, this was a very... special... hitchhike. First by saying I am incredibly appreciative towards anyone willing to save me from walking into a town. We hopped into the back of a 20 year old white Suburban and made small talk with the sometimes incomprehensible, cigarette smoking, grey haired, kindhearted driver and his wife. Their son was also piled in next to us. Seeing as I could only understand one out of every three words this man spoke, regional dialect and all, I focused on observing my surroundings. All was well and good until I began noticing that he was living the High Life as he was driving, with two cold ones sitting open in the front seat cup holders. The combination of his talking, drinking, smoking, and friendly waving at every passing car was a quick reminder that I'm not in Kansas anymore. I clenched the seat belt a little tighter, just in case, and continued tuning in as best I could to his running commentary on the town as we drove to the grocery store.
Shopping was quick and easy, and I changed up my purchases a little to try and save some weight. The goal here is to make it through the next 130 miles with this $22 food purchase, arriving in Damascus, VA next Monday. Along with necessary food, I also bought two red apples and a half gallon of skim milk, sitting outside the grocery store consuming the aforementioned items as I repacked my bag. Whitey and I quickly re-hitched back out of town with a younger guy and his girlfriend who couldn't believe that we'd walked from Georgia and were headed to Maine. It makes me wonder whether or not people are aware of the footpath that walks through the backyard of this town. We got dropped off on a road alongside the river, where the guy driving mentioned we could find plenty of places to camp hassle-free for the night. We set up camp and swam in the river as an attempt at bathing, then cooked dinner and got into the tents just as the water spiders began coming out across the sand for the night. I hate spiders.
Weather report says thunder, lightning, and rain for the next three days. I'm not a meteorologist so I have no idea if this will be true or not, but I'm hoping we get a bit of a break. One rainy day here and there is fine, but back to back begins dampening the soul and spirit of a hiker. Regardless, tonight we sleep next to a rushing river, and face tomorrow as it comes, seeing as that's about all we can do.
From the shores of the river and a symphony of aquatic white noise, I'm off to sleep.