Tennessee

June 30 — 4.2 Miles today, 342.9 miles from Springer, 1831.7 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: +1370 feet. 
Climbs: 2, Wx: 80s, 100%, Shelter: 4, Dinner: 4, Overall: 4.

Today was inadvertently short, but that is probably a good thing. The pain in my ankle is all but gone, although the leg is pretty well swollen. If it doesn’t go down overnight [it did] I’ll give a call for a medical opinion. I hung out at Miss Janet’s — let the dog in and out, and played around with charting my mileage on Google Spreadsheets (which are very cool). I ate ice cream, too.

By the time Miss Janet got back from her shuttle to NOC, I was on trail only by about 6. Just about four miles to the shelter, though. As I was leaving I heard a train whistle and raced the train to the trail crossing; seeing only empty track, I crossed. As I caught my breath, a full coal train lumbered up the grade along the Nolichucky River (with an extra engine pushing from the back). There was a really good article in the New Yorker about all the coal coming out of the Powder River Basin and going east along the rails. I was a bit low on duct tape but I didn’t want to buy a whole new roll at the store. Luckily, someone had left a roll on the branch of a tree (trail magic!) and I partook. Rather, I took. The trail mainly followed the Jones Branch up to the shelter. It crosses it several times. One of the crossings was unbridged, but an easy rock-hop — although the hardest crossing so far. Up north, I’ll have several harder ones, with fords and such. Once I made camp, I threw wicked high bear ropes (over 30 feet), so no bear will get my food. But no company at the shelter, either, so a night alone. Long days coming, maybe with hostels!

July 1 — 21 Miles today, 363.9 miles from Springer, 1810.7 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: +1330 feet. 
Climbs: 3,3,4,4,4, Wx: 80s-90, 100%, Shelter: 4, Dinner: 5, Overall: 5.

It’s Canada day! I called a Canadian friend to wish him such and sang O Canada! on the top of a mountain. What a country, eh? I left at 9, thinking 19 miles to a hostel. But after discussion I realized that it was only two more miles to a shelter, which meant that my days would be more even (21 and 21, not 19 and 23) — the shelter is very nice, with two levels, and two other folks in (Carl and Brian, although both names could be spelled differently, father and son team going to Damascus).

A bit of a climb to start, including getting passed by a trail runner (twice, he ran past me the other way, then came back. But to my credit, I was carrying about 50 times what he was: a water bottle.) “Beauty Spot” was pretty hazy for views, but had a ton of butterflies which I ran after with my camera and took quite a few pictures. Then lots of PUDS (Pointless Ups and DownS), with no switchbacks along the way (for some reason the trail goes straight up and down all these little mountains, although it seems that they are building a few switchbacks). I also went over Unaka Mountain, which is covered with a thick pine forest which seems more like Maine than Tennessee/North Carolina.

Medical attention now seems to turn to an ingrowing toenail (most of my knowledge of this comes from Fawlty Towers with John Cleese going on “oh and how is the old toenail? Still growing in?…” before he goes on and does the funny walk for The Germans, a scene it is impossible to watch without falling over laughing.) In any case, the internet says to keep it from getting infected, and soak it. I can do that. Especially when it’s raining.

The shelter was very nice, and I hung double bear ropes for the first time. All these signs in the Smokies (made by the Park Service) show this scene of throwing two ropes over two trees, tying one off, tying both to a bag, and raising the bag between the trees. In theory, it works well, although finding appropriate trees, as is shown in the picture, is nearly impossible. I would imagine such sets of trees, about ten feet apart with “Y” shapes about 15 feet up, exist in about four places between Georgia and Maine. Maybe five.

July 2 — 21.1 Miles today, 385 miles from Springer, 1789.6 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: -1400 feet. 
Climbs: 4,2,3,4,3,4, Wx: 80s-90, 100%, Shelter: 4, Dinner: 5, Overall: +.

I woke early and was out by 8, even with a water trek and a foot soak. The day started with a steep climb and didn’t get easier. It was a slog to Roan — the last time over 6000 feet until Mount Washington in New Hampshire, a few miles up the trail, and only three feet higher than here. The climb was arduous, more than 2000 feet without much of a break. Roan Mountain has a ton of rhododendron on the summit, which were just finishing their bloom, although I pressed on, thinking that running water was at the parking lot at the next gap a few miles down the trail — and I needed it. In fact, it was at the bloody summit, with only hole-in-the-ground johns down at the road.

It was actually rather nice privy. So nice, in fact, that many long-distance hikers were lined up to use it! I met quite a few people who were ending their long hikes at Carver’s Gap there, so no company any time soon. I met Todd (ME – GA 1999) and hiked with him up across the balds. The balds are beautiful, but the sun was hot (and I was glad I had put on my sunscreen on below). There were a lot of day hikers out enjoying the views, and few straying more than a mile or two from the parking lot. I picked a nice day for these spectacular views. There is also a flower up there, and only up there, called the Gray’s Lily, which is really splendid. Todd lent me some water right before we found a stream, so I remained hydrated to some degree (I drank a lot). In fact, I started a new spring by inadvertently dropping my hiking pole on to some moss which had been restraining a particular strand of water (and then the other water stopped running, so I just altered the stream. Leave no trace? Oh well, a lot less than the trash-throwing day hikers.). I enjoyed Todd’s (maybe fanciful) stories of the trail on north (lots of beer) and he went to the Overmountain Barn, a large shelter which is supposedly nice, but not in today’s schedule. The Overmountain trail, where a bunch of settlers crossed the mountains to fight the Brits in 1778 or so, crosses here, too.

I then went up the Humps, more balds, which are spectacular mountains (and finally photographed a Gray’s Lily). I thought of camping at the top, but decided that that would do damage to the mountain and its grasses, so decided to get a few more miles in. Near the top of Big Hump, I heard an idling engine. What? ATVs. Horses are one thing, ATVs are worse. Bastards. I didn’t want to argue (again, there is a correlation between ATV use and carriage of guns) but I did mention what they were doing was totally illegal, which he acknowledged. It was Sunday, so the NFS wasn’t open, and I decided against calling the cops. In the future, I found out that I should have called Bob Peoples (who operates a local hostel, see July 3-4) and he would call the appropriate authorities, which would meet the idiots at the parking lot and write them each a $500 (maybe $5000) ticket. Oh, and they had conveniently taken their registration plates off, kind of like they knew they were doing something very wrong. Good example to set for the kids they had with them. Someone wondered why I have problems with people in the South. It is because of people like this. I know there are such morons in New England, but would any have the gaul to ride ATVs up Moosilauke or the Presidentials? I doubt it.

Right after I came off the bald, a bunch of grouse, or some such bird, took off from the grass, very loudly, as they do. All I could think: “where’s Dick Cheney when you need someone to shoot someone else in the face?” Of course, Dick’s birds aren’t wild like these. After finding out the hostel, which is near a road, was occupied by scouts and not hikers, I decided to bypass the hostel, saving $15 and a bit of walking. The last couple miles were conducive to running, so I did.

I got in around 8. There was good water and nice folks to whom I gave a bit of a show. After making dinner I managed to knock over my stove for the first time trying to put it out, spreading a large, blue flame across the sandy ground. I tried to put it out, but had to just sit and wait for it to burn out (to the delight of the boy scouts there), and it did, and I went to bed. After pudding.

July 3 — 24.3 Miles today, 409.3 miles from Springer, 1765.3 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: -500 feet. 
Climbs: 3,3, Wx: 80s-90, 90%, Shelter: -, Dinner: -, Overall: 4.

After a week of supposed hostel-hopping, I actually got to a hostel today. After the Roans and balds, the hike today was quite dull. There were a couple of nice waterfalls and the trail followed a nice river for a bit, but overall it was PUDS and random little streams and quite a few roads. I did take off my ankle brace for the last few miles and it felt pretty good! I had to pass up the new shelter but did use the shovel there [WARNING: description of pooping in the woods follows] to dig myself a hole. In Tennessee, there are no privies except at Overmountain shelter, so to use the bathrooms they provide a large shovel for you to dige a hole. I’ve dug three already (two which my hands, a shovel makes it much easier), usually out of necessity (“oh, no, I gotta go”). Having gone midday yesterday, I thought I’d be fine but within a mile of setting out I realized I was in trouble. Anyway, I dug a nice big hole, filled it up (partially, with hand-dug holes they usually get fuller), and filled it in. And I filled it fast enough not too many flies came after me — the flies have a good sense of smell and come quickly. But I think that is more than you need to know.

At Route 19E, where my hike for the day started, there is a lot of hiker vandalism (to hikers’ cars, the trail, etc., by locals). Plus there was dumping on the trail — yuck. It turns out the reason why is that the NPS and ATC took lots of land by eminant domain from subsistence farmers a while back and there was lots of resentment, but that’s really just near the road. And Bob Peoples, who runs the hostel (and spelled all this out for me) says that hikers have done a good job mending fences and often helping farmers with the harvest in the fall.

I got in to the Kincora Hostel around 8 and love it. The first thing I noticed was that Bob and Pat Peoples, who run the place (as a non-profit, for a suggested donation of $4 per night) did not sound from the south. Bob, who sounded like a Mainer almost, commented on my hat. He’s from Medford (Meffuh), his wife from Worcester (Wistah) and they met at UMass, and we talked Sox for a bit. He has tons of stories, and loves telling them, and Kincora is a great little place. He’s a really nice guy, too, and does a ton of trail work, and knows every inch of the trail in Tennessee. He, and another hiker there (Carrie, who started the same day I did but didn’t have ankle issues), suggested I hike without a pack for nine miles (sometimes called “slackpacking”) and spend another night. With all the food in the fridge (Pizza, eggs, butter, ice cream…) and hiker box, and nice digs, I took the bait.

July 4 — 8.9 Miles today, 418.2 miles from Springer, 1756.4 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: -520 feet. 
Climbs: 2, Wx: 80s-90, 90%, T, Shelter: -, Dinner: -, Overall: 5.

I took a rest day, and still hiked nine miles. It was great. I slept in. I felt guilty. But not too guilty. The waterfall in the canyon was cool, but not too photogenic, especially with the locals climbing in it. It was a haul up the mountain (they could have left the trail through the canyon along the railroad grade, but they had to eliminate the two mile roadwalk).

But, the highlight of the day had to be food. I had an omelette for breakfast. With cheese and fresh veggies. I then read about the Pacific Crest Trail, which sounds wicked cool. Physically easier than the AT (better grades) but logistically harder. Not as many hostels, or towns, or people. So I didn’t hit the trail until 2:30!

By the time I got off the trail to rolls of thunder at 6, I got a ride in to town, where everything but the dollar store, gas station and Subway was closed for the holiday. No matter. I got a footlong with extra mayo (yum) and after a discussion with people there, got another ride to the hostel, so I didn’t even have to call Bob for a ride. Two trail magicky rides — no thumbs. I got to ride in the back of a pickup again. I talked more with Bob back at the hostel, it turns out that the reason the bears aren’t bad is that because of timing. They cubs are kicked out by their mothers in March or April and go looking for food. They follow their nose to the first place they can find—trail shelters—where they meet The Wave of thru-hikers, who shoo them away, and they learn that hikers are not a good food source. Quite the system.

Oh, and happy 4th of July!

July 5 — 23 Miles today, 441.2 miles from Springer, 1733.4 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: +2080 feet. 
Climbs: 2,4, Wx: 70s-80, 10%, TRFH, Shelter: 4, Dinner: 4, Overall: 4.

After a night of rain (I was dry) I caught a ride to the trail with Bob, as well as Carl and Brian, who I met a few days ago and are doing what I did yesterday. I promptly used the restroom at the trailhead with all that rich food over the last couple days, including Rice Krispies and real milk for breakfast. It was a boring four miles to Watauga Dam, which is 315 feet high and does not have the glamour, visitors center, or alternate trail should the Department of Paranoia (a.k.a. Homeland Security) decide the terror level should randomly go up that Fontana does. It is just a lot of rocks piled up. It rained lightly, but was mainly foggy — I generally let non-thunder rain decide whether it will be a real storm or a passing shower before pulling out the rain jacket and the pack cover.

This one passed, and I climbed up the spine to a ridge which would take me on to Damascus, with no big climbs. My first eight miles took more than four hours, but then beyond then, I ran right along the trail, making close to three miles per hour. It was foggy, sweaty and very muggy, with no views. However, because it was so muggy none of the sweat evaporated, so I didn’t have to drink half of what I had to going over the Roans (a harder hike, too). By 3:00, the thunder was booming, and a bit of rain fell, so I put on the pack cover and jacket. There were a couple heavyish downpours, but nothing too bad. I stopped for an hour (too long) for lunch and to read a magazine left at a shelter, then pressed on. My last 7.6 miles took under three hours, but they were eventful. I crossed a road and went right up a road through a farm for a mile (nice, but for some reason, not mentioned in either guidebook) before going back in the woods. Then I saw a bear, which, like all the bears I’ve seen, ran away, despite being twice my size. About a mile later, I saw a bear off to the left, which looked at me and ran off in to the left. I pressed on but then heard rustling to the right and saw a cub climbing 30 feet up a tree. Holy cow! I was in the worst possible place, between a cub and a mama bear. I did what I am supposed to do. I backed away slowly, and then started singing, badly, “no bear no bear” for quite some time. Of course, I should have turned and backed up towards the shelter. But that didn’t cross my mind at the time. Once I had climbed on a log and ascertained that the bears were gone I pressed on.

I was in before 8, where I met a Brit trying to hike the trail in 75 days. And I am crazy? She has to go over 30 miles a day, average, to finish before her classes start. With no maildrops. She is in good shape from being in the army there, but that still seems crazy. Why is she hiking? Bill Bryson’s silly book. For the record, I only have to do 19 miles a day. The rain held off until I was in, but then it got very heavy, and pounded on a somewhat leaky roof all night. Neither of us slept well.

July 6 — 18.3 Miles today, 459.5 miles from Springer, 1715.1 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: -2150 feet. 
Climbs: 4, Wx: 70s, 30%, Shelter: -, Dinner: -, Overall: 5.

On to Damascus. It was very foggy when we got up, late, so I didn’t get set really early, as I had hoped, so I could get to Damascus early. No matter. The rain held off, and the sun soon burned off the fog for the rest of the hike. It looks like cool, clear weather is coming along, and the sun was out with a nice breeze, with a northerly fetch, blowing as I ran down in to town. 18 miles in under 6 hours, but a really easy hike. Hopefully Virginia will be like this. I have to turn up the miles. Lots of 25s, some 30s, some 20s on town days. Time for dinner. On to the north!