Day mileage: 17
AT total mileage: 359.0
Time: 6.5 hours
I was woken up at 0500 this morning to the blaring horn of a freight train, followed by minutes of screeching brakes as it slowed before heading into town. I had slept without headphones in last night as I'm a sucker for sleeping with ambient noise, and the river did its job almost as well as my trusty desktop fan that I rely on for a good nights sleep in the real world. This meant that my exposure to the train noise was completely unprotected and made me regret picking a camp site by the train tracks, although I don't think there's anywhere in a 10 mile radius where I could have escaped the noise of the horn.
Camp was struck and backpacks packed by 8 am, with the looming threat of severe storms and rain present. While Whitey went to a local hostel, Uncle Johnny's, for fuel, I instead hit the trail. My goal for today was to get as many miles in as possible before the rain started. We parted ways and I headed back into the woods, again falling subject to the guidance of the inanimate 2x6" white blaze on trees marking the pathway to Maine. About 1,000 feet into the woods I heard another train coming, and rushed to make it across the tracks before the it cut me off. Unfortunately the 70-something car train won our undeclared race, and I stood alongside the tracks watching the mammoth vehicle in motion. As I stood there I wondered what it'd be like to hop on a car and 'ride the rails' as B.B. King might sing about. A few minutes later my thoughts passed as quickly as the last train car around the bend in the track, and I got back to my task at hand. I was quick to realize that I was the first hiker on the trail this morning, as I was walking through many cobwebs that had been spun the night before. While this shouldn't be an overly exciting occurrence it felt rather exciting to know I was the first to the trail for the day, like opening a new birthday present nobody had seen before. The climb back out of Erwin started off wonderfully with slow uphills that wandered past a dozen waterfalls and rivers, most large enough to require walking bridges to safely cross from one side to the other as we carved our way out of the valley. About 4 miles out of town I stopped at the Curly Maple Gap Shelter and quickly ate a granola bar before heading on.
The majority of my hiking today consisted of uphills, in 10 miles the trail would ascend over 3,600 feet of elevation change. Despite this fact, and the incessant presence of heat and humidity, by the time I stopped for lunch at noon I had already hiked 12 miles. Three miles per hour uphill is fast for me, and I was pleasantly surprised with my accomplishment. I laid in a grassy open field, chatting with a hiker I'd just met named Pockets, as she and I enjoyed the vista looking back over Erwin. I only allowed myself to stay for half an hour or so before I pushed on to make it over the final 5,300' summit and down to the shelter I'd planned on staying at. Despite all Armageddon type storm warnings, it was sunny, blue skies, and humid for the duration of my hike. During the climb out of lunch I began hiking with Chili, a younger guy from Tallahassee, and Cannon, a 32 year old pharmacist who grew up in L.A. and is now living in Manchester, NH. Halfway up the mountain we came across a white van on the dirt road that the trail skirts alongside, where I officially met Miss Janet for the first time. She's something of a trail magic legend, and drives from Georgia to Maine between March and October every year, sprinkling hikers with trail magic and being supportive however she can. Again, I don't know the story behind her ability to do this, but she's an incredibly kind woman who handed out bananas and chatted with us before sending us on our way.
Up and over a gorgeously unique summit, thick with tall pine trees and a dark mossy forest floor, the trail took a sharp turn before heading back down to a lower elevation. I continued talking with Cannon as we hiked for the rest of the day. About a mile out from the shelter we heard the first crack of thunder, and rushed our way over the next hill to attempt to stay dry. Three or so minutes after getting under the cover of the shelter all hell broke lose- dark clouds appearing out of nowhere, the temperature dropping, walls of water pouring down from the sky, all while lightning bolts illuminated the sky and thunder shook everything around. A dozen or so hikers huddled under the roof of the shelter for over half an hour until the storm moved on leaving blue skies and a damp ground. Apparently there were tornado warnings associated with this storm system that's passing over between now and Wednesday, as it's the same system that's been wreaking havoc across the southeastern part of the United States.
I managed to snag a spot in the shelter, eager to not have my tent get wet if I could at all avoid it. Dinner was cooked and this group of hikers, many new to me, talked for hours. Two women here have already thru-hiked, and one was quick to say that from point forward on the trail, it's 'all mental'. We'll see how that works out. We crammed 7 people into the shelter built for 6, and conversations faded as the sun disappeared behind the mountain ridge. I'm not sure what the weather will do tomorrow, but it's expected for another storm to move in overnight. My headphones are in to cut down on both storm and hiker noises, and I'll tackle tomorrow as it comes. Perhaps even with a detour to a famed hostel, as a port in the storm kind of thing.
Onward and upward,