Day 38 – Saturday, April 16: Dennis Cove Road (Black Bear Resort) to Stealth Camp (Hampton, TN side trail), 2.8 miles, 421.0 total AT miles.

Note: I’m uploading yesterday and today’s post from the trailhead outside of camp by headlamp light. It was spooky at first, but I’m fine now. It’s crazy how going around the bend (or in our case tonight, into a small valley to camp) can totally disrupt cell service. It’s really something I take for granted living in the city.

I woke up and immediately felt yesterday’s run down the mountain. My thighs were stiff and my feet were killing me – my toes literally throbbing. It was early, about 7:30, and I hobbled to the shower.

The shower was awesome. I stayed in there for about half an hour. When I finally made my way back to our cabin, everyone was up and packing. The shuttle for town was to leave at 9:00am. The four of us hung out on the front porch and waited.

  
I got a chance to weigh myself on the scale – I’ve lost a little more weight. Not much, but still noticeable. My pack, with four days food and two liters of water, weights 38 pounds. I hope to get that down considerably once I make my summer gear swaps.

While I had no real business following Shaggy and Medicine Man to town, I figured I might as well stop by the Dollar General and grab some snacks before hitting the trail. I threw my pack in the shuttle and headed to town.

I’m glad I did. Within five minutes of walking with my pack on, I knew something was wrong. My feet started hurting very badly. I’m sure all these days of strong hiking haven’t helped, but I now know I need new boots as soon as possible. Every step was excruciating. I changed into my camp shoes and continued on to McDonald’s for breakfast.

I got to meet Medicine Man’s parents (and Summer), before they left to go tour the area. I compulsively grabbed a few extra things from Dollar General and made my way back to the shuttle stop.

While I could have gotten off at the trailhead, I rode with the guys back to Black Bear. Shaggy bought some fuel and the three of us took off. Sort of.

I was hobbling. For two days, I had southbound AT hikers tell me how much of a treat the next couple of miles would be. I tried to be excited as I walked through miniature canyons and made my approach to Laurel Falls – but my feet (really my toes) were on fire. I could move, but slowly.

   

Shortly after Laurel Falls, the trail splits – one went to Hampton, one continued on as the AT. I found Shaggy and Clutch waiting for me at the crossroads. They knew my feet were in pretty bad condition and wanted to see how I felt before making the 2,000-foot ascent to Pond Flats. I couldn’t do it.

It was very disheartening. We sat there for a few minutes and discussed our options. It was decided that, considering our recent good mileage, taking a day off to rest was for the best. Shaggy was still going strong, but didn’t want to get too far ahead. Clutch wanted to rest as well.

As we were doing some trailside planning, a father and his two young kids approached. He wanted to know if he could help us out in any way. If we could get to town easily, maybe grab some steaks from the grocery store, then taking a day to rest our tired muscles might be worth it.

We set our packs down at a campsite by the river. Shaggy stayed behind. I decided to walk the trail in my camp shoes to see if a change in footwear really made a difference. I also figured a short walk (with no pack on) would help keep my muscles loose. And I could gauge how I might feel hiking tomorrow.

After a level walk from the trail crossing to the parking area, the helpful dad drove Clutch and I into town. We stopped at McDonald’s (for Shaggy), Subway (for Clutch) and Brown’s Grocery for me. I bought steaks.

Clutch and I made our way back to camp by 4:30. I started a fire and, noticing Clutch had run a clothesline, decided to wash my socks by the river – I even made clothespins out of sticks. 

Dinner would have been awesome, except I managed to buy the toughest steaks imaginable. They were inedible, I kid you not. I mean, check out our setup – I made a separate cooking fire using this grill grate I found. Dinner was so bad that, after a few minutes of pretending we could eat those steaks, we broke down laughing and threw them in our trash bags. I improvised a quick dinner and made my way to bed.

  
I’ll be honest – I’m concerned about my feet. I’ve got a few options. Assuming the tightness I felt with my boots is due to swelling, I might be fine tomorrow and can carry on (slowly) towards Damascus – it’s only 47 miles away. If not, I can try to hike in my camp shoes – folks do it all the time. Either way, I’ll know first thing tomorrow – that ascent up to Pond Flats is pretty steep.

One thing is certain, if I can’t hike out tomorrow, I won’t. I’m not going to put this whole thing at risk because I’m being stubborn about getting to Virginia quickly. 

If it comes to it, I’ll bite the bullet and hitch to Elizabethton (the next town over). From there, I can catch a ride to Johnson City and buy new boots from Dick’s Sporting Goods. I wouldn’t be that far behind the group. Worse case scenario, I’ll see everyone in Damascus.

The good news is I’ll know in a few hours.

On hitching: I never thought I’d be “thumbing it” from the side of the road with such gusto. If you’re concerned, let me assure you, so am I. It’s weird.

But, folks that live near trail towns are used to giving hikers rides – a few even have trail names without actually having set foot on the trail (more like a road name, which is another story entirely).

I’ve learned a few tips to ensure I get a quick hitch. First, keep the pack on – it looks heavy. Second, keep the trekking poles out – it shows I’m hiker, that I’m hitching for a legitimate reason. Third, swap the sunglasses for eyeglasses – Canuck taught me that one. And finally, stand in front of a church – it works.

I’m going to bed hopeful about tomorrow. Small injuries are bound to happen. Please don’t worry. I’m going to finish this thing.

Breakfast: McDonalds Chicken Biscuit, hashbrowns, side of biscuit and gravy, coffee

Lunch: 6″ Subway Roast Chicken sub, 10 McNuggets

Dinner: Chewy steak then (sigh) beef jerky tortilla roll ups dipped in McDonalds BBQ sauce, granola

Author: Chris Kummer

Hey y'all - Cool Dad here. Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to thru-hike the AT. It remained a nagging thought for nearly a decade - then it got loud enough to warrant my attention. So I quit my unfulfilling job(s) in Seattle and commenced hiking north from Springer in the spring of 2016. And I'm exceedingly thankful I did. The people I met, the things I saw, the gross foods I ate - not a day goes by without fondly remembering life on the trail. If you've already thru-hiked a long trail, you know exactly what I'm talking about. If you're thinking about tackling a long-distance hike, do it. Do it now. I'm probably gonna do it again...

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