It's been a few days since leaving Hot Springs, NC - by far my favorite town thus far. I am currently in Erwin, TN. When I asked the guy running the hostel how he liked Erwin, the first thing out of his mouth was that it was the most horribly racist place, but great if you like outdoor adventure. The town is resting on the Nolichucky River so there are lots of options for rafting and kayaking. The population of Erwin is 5,500, and there are 66 baptist churches to choose from.......since Hot Springs was in a dry county we were unable to resupply our whisky bottles and the motto of the five day hike to Erwin was "No Bourbon till Erwin." Imagine our disappointment when we came to learn Erwin is also in a dry county:( You can't even get wine here. They do however have a vast array of Bud Light, of course.
The first two days out of Hot Springs were pretty easy. We experienced the best trail magic thus far on the hike at Allen Gap. A sign directed us to walk 300 yards up the road to a house where we would be fed. Even though we had just had breakfast, a thru-hiker never passes up a free meal. We approached a wood cabin when an older man named Hercules came out to greet and hug us. He and his wife thru-hiked in '99, loved the area, came back and bought a cabin near the trail. Every spring they post a sign directing hikers to their house where they cook them Belgian waffles, stew, and brownie sundaes. Since they bought the house, they have served over 3,000 hikers.
Trail magic is one of the most awesome things about the trail. The best magic comes from previous hikers. Around our 100 mile mark, a former hiker who is also a park ranger rigged a pully system in the middle of the woods and hung a plastic bin of homemade cake along with a very encouraging note. Every week this person is lugging out food for hikers she will never even meet. I have experienced more random acts of kindness from complete strangers in the one month I have been out here than I have in my entire lifetime.
It was a slow climb out of Allen Gap due to all the food I had just consumed with Hercules. We made it to Jerry Cabin Shelter and for the first time the shelter was empty. The crowds are finally starting to thin out. The seven of us plus Blues Clues (he's a hiker hoping to take his therapy background and combine it with wilderness therapy, nice guy) had the shelter to ourselves, but most of us still set up our tents. We got going pretty early (9am, early for us) because we had plans to meet friends of Pac-Man and Flugelhorn (formerly Ranger Steve, he changes his name more than Puffy) at Devil's Fork Gap. We got to the gap at around 1pm, but they didn't arrive until 4:30, so we ended up having one of the best lazy afternoons on the trail, chilling in a field by the side of a rarely driven road, playing cards and listening to music and eating all of our food. Luckily, their friends rock and rolled up with 2 buckets of Bojangles (the best chicken in the south), another whole rotisserie chicken, a ton of fresh fruit and 6 bottles of wine. Yes we lugged all this up a mountain and proceeded to have an awesome night camping with a great view. Lighthouse (a young Scot with the brightest headlamp known to man that he always forgets to turn off), hiked by later and decided to stay and join the festivities. Eliza, Reed, Dylan and Scot are a fantastic group of people and I am so happy to have met them. (Check out their website to learn about this phenomenal non-profit they started this year, solfoodmobilfarm.org)
The problem with trail magic is full bellies make for slow hiking. The next morning after saying goodbye we made it about three miles to a shelter where we set up shop for about two hours to relax, and eat again. We eventually made it another six and camped by a stream. Yesterday Daystar and I decided to hike the 20 miles to get to Erwin last night, while the boys stayed in the shelter six miles out because they didn't want to hike in the rain. It's still raining. I am going to hang out at Uncles Johnny's hostel till 12:30, then get shuttled to the all you can eat Pizza Hut buffet, hit up the grocery store and hopefully hike out after everyone else gets here. Lighthouse went to the all you can eat KFC buffet (yes, that exists in the south) last night and gorged himself to the point of no return. As he laid on the bed next to me while his giant food baby digested he just looked at me in pain and said "How do fat people do this? They must always be in pain." Welcome to America buddy.
One thing I have been doing less and less of is planning out my days. I used to look at the elevation profiles every morning and try to figure out where I would stay for the next few days, but plans always change. I'm not even living day to day, I'm living moment to moment and it's awesome. One minute I'll be hiking thinking about where I'm going to sleep that night, and the next I'll be in some old guys house being served a belgian waffle. The elevation profiles I'm carrying have been helpful (it's nice to know what's coming), but it's becoming kind of redundant. Every morning someone exclaims, 'Oh we have a fat climb today!' We have a fat climb everyday. I'm never going to look at the profile and be like 'What's this? I'm climbing a mountain today!? Did NOT see that coming." Remember when we thought the earth was flat? Wasn't that a lovely concept..... I think instead I will enjoy my morning poptart and instant coffee in peace, my legs blissfully ignorant of the elevation changes they are about to make.
Speaking of legs, they are stiff. My knees and ankles are really starting to get sore. Mentally, I am not all tired of being a vagabond, sleeping somewhere different every night, hiking everyday is gorgeous and awesome. If you were to ask my knees they would completely disagree. Stairs are my arch enemy, I can hear my knees screaming at me every time I go down stairs and my ankles yelling at me every time I go up them. I hope I am not doing any permanent damage to my body even though as I write this I know that I am. This experience is worth it though. As the thru-hiker mantra goes, "No pain, no rain, no Maine."
The next for sure town I will be in is Damascus, VA some 125ish miles away. I might need to pop into Elk River to re-supply, but we'll see. To anyone hoping to get a phone call from me, I'm not getting cell service in Erwin so you will have to wait. Sorry. But I am planning on taking a few days off in Damascus so I can hopefully catch up with everyone then. Lot's of love!