Day 31: Zero in Hot Springs. Beer, milkshakes, hot wings. Reading in bed, updating the blog, resupply. Thumbs up.
Day 32: Hot Springs to Spring Mountain Shelter // 11 miles. Surprisingly rough climb out of Hot Springs. Someone had left a note at the bottom that seemed a bit overdramatic–No water for nine miles! Turn back! We didn’t think it was true, but even if it was we weren’t going to turn back. We played with a kitten that had attached itself to Bearclaw and Pig Pen before starting up the climb. It was hot and steep, but there was water. At the shelter that night were some unsettling characters who looked like they had been there awhile. I tried not to imagine they were hiding out from the police. We camped well away from them and nearby another hiker who happens to be a former cop. So I felt ok about it, but I think Eric was nervous. He set a booby trap outside the tent so he would hear if they came over toward us 🙂
Day 33: Spring Mountain Shelter to Jones Meadow // 10.7 miles. Hot again. Eric’s camelbak broke, which was a pain. We managed to deal with it by putting it in his back upside down (the leak was at the bottom) and wrapping it in the bag from our bagels to catch any leaking water. We mostly hiked in the green tunnel today, not much to see. We couldn’t find a place to camp that seemed to live up to the name in the guidebook, “Jones Meadow”, so we just camped where we thought it was.
Day 34: Jones Meadow to stream above Rector Laurel Road // 14.4 miles. It was overcast and drizzling on and off today, and that makes for unpleasant hiking. I’m not at the point yet where I can just not care about a looming potential of getting wet. It was warm enough that when I did need to put my rain jacket on, I’d get soaked anyway, with sweat. We found a couple of beers left near a road and took a break to drink one. As we crossed the road right before camping two angry looking dogs came running down the road toward us. I was getting ready to fight them off with my trekking poles, but once we got into the trees on the other side they turned back. That was alarming! We set up in drizzle and were kind of damp that night.
Day 35: Stream to Low Gap // 11.1 miles. Halfway through the day we had to resupply at a gas station three miles off the trail. When we got there we found it’s not a heavily trafficked road, and we had a hard time getting a hitch. While we waited (in a steady drizzle) we sat with Delaware and Gadget, who was sick. They were waiting for a ride to a hostel in Erwin, TN, our next town. Finally we got to the gas station and found super limited selection of very overpriced stuff. I picked up a bag of moldy jerky but luckily realized it and put it back. We ended up with a lot of stuff we don’t usually, like hostess donuts and crappy packaged pastries. It sucks to pay so much for such worthless stuff. We stopped at a place .3 down the road to each lunch, then had a really hard time getting back to the trail. Once we finally did, we continued hiking in drizzle the rest of the day.
Day 36: Low Gap to No Business Knob Shelter // 14.6 miles. A hiker named J had camped the night before with us, and he has a dog named Sage. Sage was excited to hike this morning I guess, because he followed us out of camp for quite a while. We didn’t want to have to hike back, but he seemed intent on following and we couldn’t get him to turn around. Finally it was getting ridiculous so we had to scold him harshly and be pretty mean to get him to go back. I didn’t like having to do it but I didn’t want to hike the distance back to give the guy his dog! It was finally not raining on us today.
Day 37: No Business Knob Shelter to 1 mile past Nolichucky River // 6.8 miles. Hiked down and hitched into Erwin. Not our favorite place. It was very hot and we spent all day walking up and down this busy street in the sun going from grocery store to post office to Mexican food place. No margaritas because it’s a dry county, bummer. We met up with Phoenix and Johnny Appleseed again, who had a white water rafting guide friend who offered to let them stay in the staff bunkhouse. They invited us too but we decided to camp. We spent the afternoon swimming in the river with Bart and Chosen. It felt amazing to rinse off, and I even “washed” my hair. Camped just outside town in a spot with a ridiculously huge fire ring (see below). We cooked brats we had bought in town over the fire. Delicious! Then it started raining again so we retreated inside.
Day 38: Nolichucky River to Beauty Spot Gap // 11 miles. First morning with the coffee we picked up in Erwin. Eric heats the water and puts coffee into the reusable filter we also got, then he pours the water through slowly like he’s a manual drip machine. It works perfectly! This is a reveleation! It makes the morning so much nicer. Midmorning we ran into BT parked on the side of the road with goodies baked by his wife and her friends. The banana bread was amazing. We had heard some sketchy stories about weird locals doing odd things at the Beauty Spot Gap campsite because there was nearby road access, but no weirdos showed up for us.
Day 39: Beauty Spot Gap to Clyde Smith Shelter // 13.9 + 1.2 side trails = 15.1. In the afternoon we took a side trip into Greasy Creek Friendly for ice cream and to charge our phone. The lady who runs it is an interesting character. She has a running feud with her neighbor, who apparently hates that she gives shelter to hikers, so she has some good stories. When we left she said, “Have a super butterfly day!” We reunited with Phoenix and Johnny Appleseed that night at the shelter. Rain looked likely so they decided to sleep in the shelter. I would rather get a little wet in my tent that sleep in a shelter ever again, so we tented.
Day 40: Clyde Smith Shelter to Roan High Knob Shelter // 7.9 miles. Terrible weather. We climbed all morning up to Roan Mountain in drizzle that started getting harder and harder. We were so relieved to get to the shelter at lunch and find Phoenix and Johnny Appleseed, Fivel and Little Foot and Dandelion and her dog Zodiac inside eating already, plus a new hiker, Canyonman, who reminds me of a very nice cowboy. Everyone was freezing, so we took off all of our wet stuff and wore our sleeping clothes while we were eating. It just rained steadily outside while a freezing cold wind blew. We decided to stay the rest of the day in the shelter. But Canyonman decided to hike on, and we watched him put his hood up and disappear into the downpour. Later it started to let up a little, and Fivel and Little Foot and Dandelion had to hike on to meet a ride the next morning on time, so they took off too. Phoenix and Johnny Appleseed were also getting off trail to go to a friend’s wedding and had to meet a ride, so they decided to go too. We caught the hike-on bug so also decided to go, and changed back into our wet clothes. We needed to get more water, so Phoenix and Johnny Appleseed left before us, and but the time we were ready to go, it was raining so, so hard we decided not to go after all. It was a good decision. Phoenix and Johnny Appleseed later told us how miserable they were. The shelter had plenty of space because it had a second level, so we had enough room that I didn’t mind too much, especially considering what the alternative was.
Day 41: Roan High Knob Shelter to Doll Flats // 13.3 miles. It was so, so cold in the morning. When we left the shelter, we saw that one of the mice had frozen overnight, right on the windowsill. I hiked with every piece of clothing I had on. We descended Roan Mountain and then went through the Roan Highlands, a long stretch of bald hills.The highlands were beautiful, but it was still windy and very cold so we kept moving. Once we got back in the trees a wave of exhaustion hit me like a train and I was in a bad mood until we got to the gap where we planned to stop. We camped right at the NC/TN border and had flurries of snow that night.
Day 42: Doll Flats to Elk River campsite // 9 miles. It was still very cold in the morning so we wore all our layers again. We hiked down and resupplied in Roan Mountain. It was still early when we went in and the town felt as sleepy as we did. We stopped at the post office for our box, then got a delicious breakfast at Happy’s Cafe. We met a man there who offered us a ride to get pizza, but he sort of pressured us so that we were there too early and I wasn’t hungry again yet. I did my best though 🙂 You can’t really say no to wood-fired buffalo chicken pizza (at Smoky Mountain Bakery). The guy who gave us a ride wasn’t eating, but he sat there talking with us. He runs an outdoor program for youth and wanted to give us all of his ideas for food and other stuff on the trail. We just listened politely even though he didn’t understand we’re working in a different paradigm from his (weekend trips with large groups of teenagers and a few adult helpers, not much mileage.) It was a friendly town overall. So many people offered us rides places we practically had to fend them off.
Day 43: Elk River campsite to Vango/Abbey Memorial Hostel // 6.7 miles. We had another near disaster today. We were feeling kind of grimy and worn down, and looked forward to sleeping that night at the Vango/Abbey Memorial Hostel. It’s right off the trail, so no ride needed, and the book says they have one private room you can rent, so we were hoping to get that. When we got there though, everything was locked and no one seemed to be around. We decided to sit there and eat lunch before deciding what to do next. While we were eating, two guys and their dog (a super energetic Vizsla) walked up and told us the owner of the hostel was away at Trail Days. They’d discovered that the night before, and a neighbor had let them stay the night. They didn’t have any utilities though, so we were thinking about just hiking on. Trail Days had ended this morning, so we wildly hoped maybe he would come back and let us stay. While we were waffling, a clunky camper van bumped up the road. It was the caretaker! We got the private room and took showers in a gross little shed (no indoor plumbing here). The washing machine was too gross for us to put even our sweaty hiking clothes in, so we did some quick shower laundry. We bought a pint of ice cream each and retired to bed to watch their weird VHS collection–we chose a movie about a horse whisperer. It was pretty bad but the bed and ice cream and lack of hiking were not!