I woke up early and, for the first time in recent memory, warm. I was determined to make big miles today. With a few exceptions, the terrain looked only moderately difficult. I left camp at 7:00, (jealously) watching Shaggy eat cheese grits from his tent.
Less than a mile outside of camp, I crested a small rise and paused to watch the sunrise. Man, I was feeling really good today. I munched on breakfast in the early morning silence before pressing on.
After a quick water refill at Low Gap, I started making the push up Big Bald – a mountain that’s been visible in the distance for a few days now. The ascent slowed me down, but I was really feeling good. I reached the summit at 10:00 and enjoyed the amazing views – not as beautiful as Max Patch, but still stunning nonetheless. As I was descending Big Bald, thought I could hear Moon Boots shouting from the summit, but I couldn’t be sure. Whoever it was, they sounded excited. I pressed on.
I stopped to have a quick snack at Bald Mountain Shelter and utilize the privy. I struck up a conversation with a few hikers – weather talk. Trail rumor had rain moving in tonight – light showers starting at 9:00pm and getting worse throughout tomorrow.
This was good news – I’d have plenty of time to make camp before the bad weather started. Still hiking alone, I enjoyed the easy walk to Spivey Gap, 14 miles north of where I started. I made it there at 2:30, now very hungry for lunch.
As I made my way up to the road, I saw a few people mulling around a white van. Good timing! A gentleman named Rob Bird was giving out trail magic to hikers. I enjoyed a soda and some cookies with my lunch.
As I sat and chatted with Rob and some other hikers, I was mindful of the time – if I wanted to keep up with the big miles today, I’d need to leave soon. My goal was to make it back to Erwin, TN and camp by the river. If I ran out of time or energy, I could stop at No Business Knob Shelter, a mere 4 miles way.
I heard them before I saw them, even warning Rob to get those sodas handy again, and watched as my hiking buddies emerged from the woods. I really wanted to hike all the way back to Erwin. I thought it’d be kinda cool to have covered the 33 miles back to town in a day and a half. Everyone was in agreement and we got started hiking again.
No Business Knob was the last water source before Erwin – I had over a liter left and decided to keep pushing. It’s funny – it doesn’t matter what time I leave, my hiking buddies catch up to me pretty quickly. I was passed by nearly everyone within an hour.
About 4 miles outside of Erwin, I had to stop. It was about 5:00 and I was starting to feel a little weak. I plopped down right next to the AT and went for my food bag, gobbling snacks to give me the extra energy to keep pushing. After about 15 minutes, I picked myself up and carried on. I decided to listen to music for the first time in about a week – I finally had decent cell reception again. I’m glad I did – good music really helps get down (or up) bad mountains.
The descent into Erwin was probably one of the most frustrating to date. And not for it’s difficulty – it was well-graded with numerous switchbacks. The problem was that there were too many nice views. Every ten minutes or so, the trail would cut back towards town and “reward” you with a great view. The first one was nice, but then they started teasing me – only serving to highlight my lack of progress.
Our plan was to tent (for free) on the banks of the Nolichucky River, about a quarter mile from Uncle Johnny’s hostel. As I made my way down the road, I saw my buddies hanging out on the front porch, laughing with a large group of hikers. I walked over.
Moon Boots and Medicine Man were offered a ride into town as soon as they got there, maybe a half hour ahead of me. I decided to use the toilet (it flushed – huge score). I’m only gonna say this because it was so comical – but this cat just wouldn’t leave me alone, even as I sat there trying to do my business. He laid between my boots and clawed at my shoelaces. It was kind of funny.
It didn’t take long for Moon Boots and Medicine Man to get back. They were smiling and holding four huge bags of McDonalds. We made our way to the river and quickly set up camp as the sun set. Then the feast – it was great. We listened to music and ate burgers, congratulating each other on everyone’s biggest mileage day yet.
It’s 10:00pm and the rain still hasn’t come yet. I’m beat – I mean really beat. My legs are sore and my left big toenail is killing me.
Damascus, VA is only 125 miles away – I still want to be there by next Tuesday. The terrain looks rough for the next two days. Tomorrow, I’ll rapidly gain elevation and stay there until I hit Roan Mountain. It’s supposed to be difficult but beautiful. I hope the weather holds out.
Breakfast: breakfast mix is back (almonds, peanuts, granola, apricots, raisins, prunes)
Snack: Little Debbie Raisin Creme Pie
Lunch: Mountain Lion (another Mountain Dew knockoff), a mini Moon Pie, three beef jerky tortilla wraps with yellow mustard, the rest of today’s breakfast mix
Snack: Bag of peach-flavored gummies, Little Debbie Frosted Brownie
Dinner: two double cheeseburgers