(34) Thursday, April 24, 11:45PM
I'm in bed in the Best Southern Motel in Erwin, TN. I'm sharing my room with Orion and Night Wind. I crossed the Nolichucky River into Erwin today at noon. It always feels good to get into town and regroup before hitting the next section of trail. Tomorrow I start a six-day difficult stretch to Hampton.
Night Wind and I stuffed our faces on pizza tonight, and again I managed to score a six-pack of beer in this dry town. I haven't hit a dry town yet in which I couldn't find a way to buy beer. Should I be proud of this? Oh well, we all have some special gift . . . this may be mine.
10.8 Miles Today, 336.7 MTD
(35) Friday, April 25, 9:00PM
Well today ends my fifth week on the trail. I figure maybe nineteen more to go . . . we'll see. I swear I have trouble getting out of towns. I had a nice breakfast this morning and then finally connected to my e-mail. I was right that there was something screwy about the motel phone system. I went up the street this morning and used the phone at the supermarket. It only takes me about three minutes to connect and download all my mail. I then went outside and sat on a bench for an hour reading and responding to all my mail. Then I returned into the store and connected again for a couple minutes to upload all my mail. It seemed to work quite well. I was so worried that I thought I might have fried my second modem already. Now I take the modem out when I'm not using it.
I received some great wishes from folks at work, since they all received my first public letter. I made a point to thank all of them. I even heard from Pat Jolly. What a surprise.
Right now I am camped up at Beauty Spot, all alone. I finally hit the trail just before 2:00 and hiked nearly eleven miles by 7:00. They call this Beauty Spot because it is a high clearing with great views all around, not to mention the fine sunset tonight.
I had a good stay in Erwin, and felt very productive. I think I managed to lighten my load another pound. I'm experimenting with reducing some clothing in my pack. I sent several articles on ahead to Damascus. I continue to look for opportunities to lighten my load.
I've got some tough days ahead of me with rainy weather expected on Sunday and Monday. So I'm giving myself six days to cover this section to Hampton. I could do it in five, but I just don't want to have to push that hard. My body is feeling pretty good. I especially notice the change when I'm climbing hills. I am getting up them much more easily and quickly. I just hope the blisters on my heels don't become a serious problem. They’re a constant discomfort to hike with, but I can block it out usually by focusing on something else. I take the moleskin off each night to let my skin dry out. I really need some calluses there, soon!
10.8 Miles Today, 347.5 MTD
(36) Saturday, April 26, 7:00PM
I'm cozy in my sleeping bag at the Clyde Smith Shelter with Ren and Stimpy (from England and Philly). The forecast calls for rain much of the next several days, and tomorrow morning includes a 2300-foot ascent in only 2.5 miles up Roan High Knob. This is the last 6000-foot summit that we climb until Mt. Washington in New Hampshire.
My hike went well today. I passed several slack-packers working their way back to Erwin. I have yet to slack-pack, because the opportunity hasn't presented itself. Now I wonder if I even would. Only time will tell.
14.3 miles Today, 361.8 MTD
(37) Sunday, April 27, 7:00PM
Well I'm fed and warm in my sleeping bag. Tonight I'm staying in the Overmountain Shelter, which is actually an old barn converted to a shelter. It was also the sight where some of the movie "Winter People" was filmed (with Kurt Russell, Kelly McGillis, and Lloyd Bridges). We're all sleeping up in the loft: Geo, Heavenly Sunshine, Aunt Marty, Steadfast Buffalo, Ren & Stimpy, Cookin & Shadow (father & son from NH)
The rain held off today until I was near the top of Roan Mountain. The climb was actually fairly pleasant on fresh legs this morning. I can't believe that I just said that I like a climb. By the time I reached the summit the wind was blowing the rain sideways. And the two miles across Round Bald, a mile below the summit, were incredible. The wind was gusting up to 50 mph and otherwise holding in the 30's. I really had to slant my body to the right, into the wind, to keep from being blown off the trail. There was definitely no stopping across that bald.
I would have liked to have gone further today and perhaps pitch my tent, but the nice big shelter was so inviting in this nasty weather that I couldn't pass it up. Apparently there were about 50 Boy Scouts camped in the area last night when the storm blew in. They were supposed to travel for several more days, but were unprepared for this low-pressure system. They were all moving south as I passed the last wet stragglers this afternoon. They had called it quits and there was a parking lot full of cars waiting for them on the other side of Round Bald. I wonder what they thought as they passed me with my big smile of enjoyment. I couldn't get a hopeful look from any of them. They were a sorry looking group. It reminds me of one of my early scouting weekends that got washed out by rain, and we called it quits early. . . good memories.
Tomorrow I'm going to try for my first 16+ miler, if all goes well. I really want to get an early start and cover the 8.7 miles to Elk Park by noon. I plan to probably kill two hours eating a hot lunch and buying some munchies before returning to the trail and doing 8 more miles. I think it's all pretty doable. We'll just see. It promises to be another wet day tomorrow, hopefully without the wind.
11.4 Miles Today, 373.2 MTD
(38) Monday, April 28, 12:20PM
Well I did it. Even with my late start this morning (not on the trail until 7:45) I was 8.9 miles by 11:15. Only I couldn't get a ride so I walked the two miles up hill along the road to the restaurant where I now sit drying out between meals. I was seated by noon with the blue plate special in front of me: Country fried steak, mash potatoes w/gravy, broccoli/cheese casserole, white bean soup, roll, corn bread, coffee, and cake. It took me ten minutes to eat all of that. Now I'm waiting on my Bacon Cheeseburger with Onion Rings, and their special apple pie. That ought to get me through the afternoon pretty well.
This morning was phenomenal. I had two balds to climb: Little Hump and Hump Mtns., before descending into the Elk Park area. The views from those balds were amazing through the rain this morning. Yes, it rained all night last night and through this morning, but the hike was splendid. From the balds I could see two different layers of weather. There were the rain clouds above me, and the foggy grey clouds in the valley below. And I was sandwiched in between with the wet mountain splendor. I was fortunate to get off the balds right as the lightening/thunder rolled in. I would have been a sitting duck up on those grassy balds.
Well I'm through with my bacon cheeseburger and onion rings. Now I'm just staring at a gorgeous slice of hot deep-dish apple pie with ice cream. I'm waiting for my stomach to move things around to make room for this worthy treat.
It's going on 1:30 and all the food has been consumed. I redressed the blister on my left heel and am now getting ready to get back on the trail. The rain seems to have broken for a little while. Us hikers are a real oddity to these town people. I truly think they enjoy our patronage, but try as they might, they don't understand us. One waitress just commented on how hard it is to believe that something requiring so much work could be enjoyable. It all goes back to that attitude thing. You have to want to enjoy the hike. Enjoying yourself is just another part of the labor.
I did it. I finally hiked a 16-mile day. I might have gone further, but I ran across Cookin and Shadow at a fairly good campsite; and the crap I'd been hiking through hadn't shown many good spots prior. Chugger recently joined us.
I ate so much at lunch that I'm not even cooking a dinner. I'm just snacking on some stuff I bought in town today. Tomorrow's 13.5 planned miles should be easy after today. The rain ceased for this afternoon's hike, but it might as well have been raining. The air was so stifling and heavy from all the moisture. The trail this afternoon stayed at relatively low elevations as I hiked through decaying bogs thick with the rotting odor of death. I dripped from the effort mixed with the humidity. Now I'm sitting in my tent naked as my body tries to dry out a bit from these past two days of wetness. It feels great to just sit here and relax after such a hard day’s hike.
My right heel did very well today without moleskin. I hope I've heard the last from it. My left heel has been slower to recover, but it really hasn't slowed me down more than a little bit. I'm hopeful that I just had to go through a break in period with these new insoles, and that they won't cause me any more grief once these heels heal.
16.5 Miles Today, 389.7 MTD
(39) Tuesday, April 29, 10:00PM
I passed another milestone today, my 400th mile. That sounds pretty impressive by itself, until you add that I still have about 1760 to go. I made a change in plans today. I got off the trail at Dennis Cove road so that I could come stay at this Laurel Fork Hostel. The postings they had up at the last shelter were very inviting. I really pushed from the last shelter where I stopped for lunch, so that I could get here in time to get a ride into Hampton before the post office closed.
Everything worked out swell. This is the cleanest and nicest hostel I have seen so far, but they really nickel and dime you here. It cost me $5 to do a load of laundry, but I got to soak in the hot tub while my clothes were in the wash. And for $8 we were treated to a gourmet dinner of fresh brook trout in wine sauce; and I mean gourmet, and that included desert. After dinner they showed a movie w/popcorn in a public area. This really is a nice place. The owners are just a bit self-righteous . . . and $5 for a load of wash!!!
Now I’ve got a long three days to cover the 51 miles to Damascus by Friday night. If I don't get to the post office by Saturday AM, then I have to stay all weekend and wait until Monday. I'll just take it one day at a time. It works out to be a 17+, 15+, and 18+ mile days. This'll be my most ambitious hiking yet, and tomorrow's is the most challenging.
As I readied for bed last night the skies let loose with a torrent. There was thunder and lightening, along with driving rain throughout much of the night. I had my tent pitched in a perfect spot and stayed completely dry as I slept like a baby through the night. I felt so lazy that I didn't start walking this morning until 9:30. Well, there'll be none of that laziness over the next three days.
My left heel blister is still aggravating me. I keep draining it each morning, and it keeps pussing back up during the day. This wet weather has made it hard for the skin to dry out and harden. Unfortunately there seems to be plenty more rain in the forecast. It is so difficult to keep stuff dry in all this rain. It really requires a special effort, but it pays to have dry things when the world around you is wet. I'm getting used to putting wet clothes back on in the morning after sleeping in dry ones. The only way for me to dry the wet ones is to wear them, anyway.
11.6 miles Today, 401.3 MTD
(40) Wednesday, April 30, 8:00PM
It's my 40th day already, hard to believe. I set a new long distance day of 17.3 miles, and it went pretty well. I wasn't on the trail until nearly 9:00 this morning due to an unsuccessful attempt to make some phone calls. I started the day descending into Laurel Falls Gorge with a fine view from below the falls. Then there was a long ascent up onto Pond Flats this morning, but a beautiful descent with great views of Watauga Lake. Once down to the main road into Hampton, I thumbed in to try my phone calls again. I was back on the trail within an hour and began climbing again up over the lake.
It was a long day, but quite productive. I feel confident that I'll reach Damascus on Friday, but it's still questionable whether I'll be there by 4:30 before the post office closes.
The temperatures are getting warmer. Today I drank an incredible amount of liquids. My body kept taking them in . . . and sweating them out. I'm going to need to plan more frequent water stops to avoid having to carry too much water. I'm staying in a shelter tonight with a great view from high up over the other side of Watauga Lake. The guidebook mentioned the inconvenient location of water for the shelter (over a half-mile away), so I filled all my water bottles from a spring along the trail two miles before reaching the shelter. I was carrying a good gallon in my pack, and felt each one of those eight extra pounds. But it gave me plenty of water for dinner and tomorrow's breakfast. More rain in the forecast for tonight, but we sure had a lovely one today.
17.3 Miles Today, 418.6 MTD
(41) Thursday, May 1, 8:30PM
Holy Cow! What got into me today? Well I guess I can retire the record I set yesterday. Today I hiked 23.3 miles. I just wanted to make tomorrow's walk to Damascus as easy as possible. I was woken by a whooperwill at 6:00 this morning and I was walking at 7:08. The rain that was supposed come through last night waited until I began my hike this morning. I got soaked through during the first two hours until the rain passed over. I was left with a beautiful breezy day with big fluffy white clouds blowing by. I completed the first 15 miles by 1:00, but the next 8 were progressively tougher as the blister on my left heel really acted up. And on top of that, I got a new blister on my right heel. I may have to stay several days in Damascus to finally clear these heels up. I fear that my left one is infected. I will drain the puss tonight and again in the morning, but real attention will have to wait until town.
I was victim last night of another mouse attack. They got into my pack and totally destroyed my pack towel, turning it into something like swiss cheese. The fleecy cloth makes excellent nesting material for the mice.
Damascus is a real trail town, and there are worse things than having to spend a few days there.
23.3 Miles Today, 441.9 MTD
(42) Friday, May 2, 1:30PM
Last night was a real treat. I stayed in the Abingdon Gap Shelter with several people, some camped nearby: Smiles, Huff & Puff, Lewis & Clark, Little Toe, Small World, Just Harry, and Just Bill. Lewis & Clark are a couple clever young men from Conn. They have a whole "expedition" theme as in the original Lewis & Clark Corps of Discovery. They even led a sing-along around the campfire last night. It was really good fun. Just Bill is a 50-something retired police office from New Jersey. He was one of several cops that shared a massive lottery winning not too long ago, so he's just trying to enrich his life.
I slept very well last night and awoke this morning around 6:15 to an absolutely perfect sunrise. The view from the shelter was directly east with the orange-red sky stretching across the mountains. I threw my contacts in my eyes and just sat there eating my cold cereal and enjoying the display. I cruised into Damascus in 3.5 hours arriving at 11:00. It was an easy descent as I babied my heels. I'm staying at "The Place", a large church-run hostel in town that sleeps over 30. Well, my laundry's done, so off to food & beer with Smiles, and Lewis & Clark.
10 Miles Today, corrected 452.3 MTD