Monthly Archives: March 2014

Day 44: Zero Day in Erwin

Miles Hiked: 0
Miles Left: 1843.8
Ending Location: River road, Erwin TN. Cantarroso Farms Hostel

We awoke this morning to a fairly sunny day. Cursing the gods, we decided to take a zero day anyways. I was still trying to kick this cold, Owl wasn’t feeling well, and both of us were aching from hiking through all that snow.

After reserving the cabin for another night I promptly went back to sleep and didn’t wake up again till around 1pm. While I felt like a slacker, that’s precisely what I needed. Even after my nap I didn’t exactly light the world on fire as I ate leftover pizza, updated my blog, checked Facebook, and basically continued to lounge around in my bed the rest of the day. The biggest news I found out was that they just started filming a movie adaptation of Bill Bryson’s book “A Walk in the Woods”. It’s starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte, and they are going to be shooting scenes on the actual AT. How cool would it be to be an extra in that!

Around two it started raining so Owl and I felt much better about our decision to zero. It intensified into a downpour and them later in the night it turned to snow as temperatures dropped below 20. I guess good idea week is continuing?! The owners of Cantarroso Farms Hostel were really nice and asked us if we wanted to grab dinner with them and then go see a movie. We both declined because while it sounded like fun that was way too much work. My goal for the day was to stay within 20 feet of my bed!

About the only other thing of note was that we finally tried the vegemite that Owl ordered off Amazon in honor of our two Australian friends. We put on music by Men at Work, set up several different breads to try it on and then cracked the can. From our extensive scientific testing, it’s not that bad on tortillas and absolutely horrid on a Pizza Hut breadsticks. Also it freaked me out that vegemite is not actually made from vegetables but it is a yeast extract. It was an unique experience, but we ended leaving the jar of it in the hiker box for future guests.

See, it was raining!20140414-232224.jpg

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Day 43: In which we return once again to Erwin

Miles Hiked: 5.8
Miles Left: 1843.8
Ending Location: River road, Erwin TN. Cantarroso Farms Hostel

This had to have been the earliest start we’ve had yet since once people began to stir you had no choice but to get out of bed. The hike today was mostly downhill and we were treated to a couple of scenic views of Erwin on the way there. The major industry in Erwin is that they process all the nuclear fuel for the Navy here so we had a good time trying to figure out which weird building was the breeder reactor. Oh the places you’ll see on the AT!

Uncle Johnny’s hostel was directly off the trail so we stopped there to pick up Mountain House meals for the next leg of our journey. We were staying at Cantarosso farms again but Mike was out of town and said to just walk the mile there as the cabin was unlocked. We were hesitant to do that, any town miles are wasted miles, so we joined a Young Beard and Sunshine in tying to convince the local Pizza Hut to deliver to the hostel. Luckily we were successful so each of us ordered a large pizza for lunch.

Uncle Johnny’s was an interesting place. If we hadn’t reserved a spot at the farms I would have been really temped to stay there vs walking the extra mile. At one point they received a dump truck worth of gravel and then offered work for stay to two of the hikers to shovel it and lay it out all over the walkways. It looked like a tough job and once again I was happy I had enough savings to avoid having to do things like that. While enjoying our pizza we also gossiped about one of the other hikers who had a girl, (or in the case of Erwin two girls), in every town. It’s certainly a diverse and interesting group of people who decided to hike the AT.

After procrastinating as much as possible, Owl and I eventually sucked it up and made the walk over to our cabin at the farms. Once I took a shower I laid down in my bed and was out like a light. I did wake up around 5 to grab BBQ, (Woho, a Ribs Night!), but after that I was still dragging. I actually found myself wishing for rain the next day as I badly needed more rest. Not only was my cold still hanging on, but all sorts of new muscles in my legs were sore from walking in the snow. I dislike zero days as I want to make further progress north, but they do serve a purpose.

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Day 42: In which safety limits are tested

Miles Hiked: 10.6
Miles Left: 1849.6
Ending Location: No Business Knob Shelter

While yesterday I had been feeling better, the extreme cold we had last night brought my cold back with a vengeance. I didn’t even think twice about popping open some of my hand warmers and bringing them back into my sleeping bag with me.

That morning was not fun, and was made worse by the fact that we couldn’t filter water since the small spring by the shelter was muddy and my filter kept freezing up on me. Add in the fact that my boots were frozen solid and I was not a happy camper.

The first section of the trail today was a ridge line walk up Little Bald mountain. The wind was crazy strong and combined with the cold made it feel like we were climbing Everest. This was the first time I had to don my full bad weather setup with my rain gear serving as a wind block layer and my hand warmers stuffed inside my gloves. It was a bit scary since we were much closer to my safety limit than I was really comfortable with. I tend to like being over prepared so no water, being sick, and not being able to get out of that weather was a tad worrisome.

We eventually made it off the ridge line which helped with the wind and things started to warm up as the day went on. I also was very relieved to find a spring in one of the valleys where we could refill our water containers so by noon things were looking much better. I was still in a lousy mood though by the time we hit the side trail to High Rocks. I’ve been pushing myself to take these side trails to different views since I want to enjoy the AT and not just put on the miles. So with that mindset, leaving Owl behind I went up by myself to check it out.

Right as I was getting to the top I slipped and banged my shin real bad. Cursing, I laid down on the bare rocks that gave High Rocks its name. They were snow free and had been absorbing heat all day so they were toasty warm. I just laid on them for several minutes soaking up the heat radiating from them. Finally looking up I was greeted with a great view. It was so nice I even took my shirt off to dry out. This was the first time ever I was glad I banged my shin as it forced me to enjoy where I was at vs hurrying back down to the main trail. It reminds me of the acorn story from my Tallahassee Larping days, “And then an acorn hit me on the head…”

With my outlook changed the rest of the day was much more enjoyable. While there was still a lot of slipping and sliding we were also starting to hit a part of the mountains that were mostly snow free. We arrived at No Business Shelter around five thirty and were faced with a difficult decision, stay there or continue the next six miles on into town. With bad weather forecasted to start soon and a general unwillingness to go down a muddy mountain in the dark we decided to stay put.

I’m pretty sure No Business shelter gets it’s name from the fact that you have no business staying there. The nearest water is half a mile away, there is no privy or “bathroom area” for that matter. There are no bear cables. Judging from the wet spots in it, the roof leaks. The biggest worry though was that there was a huge tree in front of it with a crack going up the middle that caused it to sway like a seesaw whenever the wind blew. I was terrified the entire night that it was going to break and come crashing into the shelter.

It was a memorable evening though as more people arrived to stay at the shelter. It was designed to sleep five hikers, and we proved the old saying “There’s always room for one more”, by squeezing eight people into it. We were packed like sardines but we made it work!

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This was much more extreme in real life

Day 41: In which snowshoes would have been nice

Miles Hiked: 8.7
Miles Left: 1860.2
Ending Location: Bald Mountain Shelter

Perhaps the biggest news of the day was Owl finally shaved his beard off as it was getting annoying. This was the first time in over six months that I’ve seen him beardless and was struck by how much weight he’s lost.

While it was still cold the sun was shining so both of us got a ride from Mike back to Sam’s gap. In the parking lot we ran into Youngbeard and Sunshine who were trying to get a ride into town as they were low on food. That’s been one tricky part of this stretch since the normal time between resupplies has been four days and we had originally planned six days for this section. Add in bad weather… The two of them also confirmed that it had been a miserable night so I have no regrets spending it inside.

Upon starting our hike one thing that struck me was the variability of the snow. On some sections there would be barely a dusting while in other places the drifts would be over a foot deep. Luckily a couple other people were ahead of us so we could follow their footprints. Unfortunately even they had gotten lost a couple of times so we found ourselves backtracking and writing signs in the snow to help direct future hikers following us. The other annoying part was that for the first section of the trail today, the person we were following was a cross country skier so when the snow became deep they threw on their skies leaving Owl and I to post hole behind them vs being able to step in their tracks.

That’s another way to say it was a slow going and tiring day today. On the flip side, just like in the Smokies the snow made the mountains “pop” leading to some gorgeous views. The best of them were on top of the appropriately named “Big Bald” Mountain where we had a 360 view of the surrounding countryside. We summited that near the end of the day and I have to admit we were a little slaphappy from the hike and proud of ourselves at that point.

Arriving at the shelter was an instructional experience for us as we saw just how many mice visited it based on their paw prints in the snow. I also learned that most mice sleep in the hollows of trees since the tracks radiated out from the shelter to just about every large tree in a twenty foot radius. Much to our surprise we were later joined by Youngbeard, Sunshine, and Greasespot back from town. Both Owl and I had expected them to stay the night there. Youngbeard mentioned that someone had gotten violently ill a couple of shelters back so they were trying to stay ahead of whatever outbreak that was, (hopefully not Noro). With so many hikers crowded together with such poor sanitation, things like this can resemble a zombie film as people flee infected spots. We were also joined by Storm who was taking a second shot at hiking the AT after requiring back surgery during his last attempt. The shelter was a double decker so the six of us and about two dozen mice had plenty if space to spend the night.
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Day 40: In which an impromptu town trip is arranged

Miles Hiked: 2.4
Miles Left:1867.9
Ending Location: Sam’s Gap, Cantarroso Farm Hostel in Erwin TN

Forecasts of bad weather proved accurate as we woke up to around 3 to 4 inches of snow. Now that might not sound like much to the New Englanders and Minnesotans reading this journal, but it presented a host of problems to those of us camping in the woods. Have you ever had to knock snow off a privy seat before? More importantly, the AT which can be difficult to follow in normal circumstances just about vanishes in that much snow. Whoever thought that white blazes were a good idea…

It was a bit disheartening since I certainly thought that with the Smokies behind us and Spring upon us we had left this type of weather behind. Along with my cold I had no desire to tough on through another day on the trail only to be rewarded with low mileage and a night where the temperature dropped into the 10 degree range. So Owl and I called a local hostel and arranged for a shuttle to pick us up at one of the nearby road crossings. Yes we may be wimps, but we’re wimps with credit cards!

We only had two miles to go to make it to the road but that took us quite a while as conditions were bad. The temperature was still dropping and the snow started up again which complicated things. The worst part was going up and down hills as the snow combined with the leaves and the fact that we never really knew where the trail was led itself to slipping and sliding everywhere. Owl and I attempted to wear our microspikes but that was mostly worthless as the snow bunched up and stuck to them so the experience was akin to walking on platform shoes.

Luckily the road crossing itself was located at an underpass for the freeway. That meant our ride could get to us and we had some protection from the elements while waiting for it. While there we met Noodle and Studebaker who were unsuccessfully attempting to hitch into town, but with conditions the way they were no one was out on the roads. When our shuttle from Cantarroso Farms arrived we were very happy to see him, and even more happy to see the hot coco he brought us! His truck was also decked out in Virginia Tech stickers so we knew we had something to talk about.

He wasn’t expecting to pick up two extra hikers and a dog but Mike from the hostel offered to let Noodle and Studebaker ride in the pickup bed. Owl and I gave them the rest of the hot chocolate because riding in the back on the highway in that weather… It must have been miserable.

Noodle and Stude got off at Uncle Johnny’s hostel and Owl and I continued onto Cantarroso farms. A note about the hostel at the farms. Spoiler alert we ended up staying there twice, once this time and once again when we made it to Erwin by hiking in a couple of days later. It’s a very new hostel, we were their second guests, and they are certainly trying to cater to the better off hiking clientele. First off the place is clean. Like really clean! They did our laundry and returned it folded to us. It is a farm, they raise bees and they are right by the river where you can go paddling or fishing in better weather, (fishing poles provided but you are responsible for the fishing license). We stayed in the cabin which sleeps two, and has a fully stocked kitchen, shower, and restroom. For $25 a person this is an amazing deal.

Now for the downsides. The hot water heater in the cabin only lasts through one quick shower so two people getting clean requires some planning. “Who’s going to stink for the next hour?” The bigger issue is neither one of the owners focuses on the hostel full time so getting rides to it or around town can be hit or miss. Also they are still figuring out their pricing scheme so things were a tad more expensive than we originally thought. For example when Mike mentioned $20 round trip he was talking about his round trip and not ours. Finally they don’t have many bunks, (two in the cabin, two in the trailer, and one queen for couples in the main house). The reason I point this out is I would strongly recommend against sending a mail drop there as you might have to stay somewhere else.

All that being said, we made the right decision staying here. For dinner we were originally going to go to Pizza Hut but Mike mentioned the magic word barbecue so we found ourselves at Hawgs and Dogs instead. This was by far the best BBQ we’ve had so far on the trip and I would recommend it to anyone. What made it stand out was they had 12 different sauces and they were all unique and tasty vs simply mild to hot.

Mike and his wife invited us to hang out in their house and watch movies for the night but Owl and I declined. Both of us were tired and had to make phone calls now that we had signal.

Long story short, I’m very glad we decided to cone into town early vs suffer on the mountain. The trail will still be there in the morning.

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Is this the trail?’20140328-211008.jpg

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Day 39: In which good idea week continues

Miles Hiked: 8.8
Miles Left:1870.3
Ending Location: Hogback Ridge Shelter

It was below freezing in the morning so Owl and I left the shelter in our normal leisurely fashion. I stayed a bit to talk to one of the trail maintainers who was cleaning up the mess there. They do an amazing amount of work, much of it not fun like hauling bags of trash and cleaning the privy, for little recognition. The AT wouldn’t be usable if it wasn’t for people like him.

On the hike out Owl heard some meeping/barking noises that sounded like baby animals. I speculated they were fox cubs, Owl guessed they were baby bears. In a display of rare common sense we did not investigate the noises to see what were causing them.

Shortly afterwards we ran into Wiki, Vegemite, and Tog enjoying trail magic in the form of two coolers full of snacks and soda. We of course joined them in partaking of this feast. It’s amazing how unexpected junk food can brighten up your whole day. About 20 feet from that was some more soda someone else had left. Apparently that’s a popular spot for trail angels to leave gifts.

I hate to sound ungrateful but I do have one request for future Good Samaritans. Please don’t leave soda for hikers before a big climb. We’re dumb animals, of course we’ll drink it! Someone could leave soda out tomorrow and I’ll still down it after writing this journal entry. On the other hand, if you are hunting hikers, soda and moon pies are effective snares as they make us lethargic and unable to run away. As you can guess, part way up the next mountain we were all regretting the fact that we don’t learn from past mistakes and burping up a storm.

I wish I could blame the cold start or the soda but today I had no “pep”. I normally like the pace Owl sets as we make good progress but usually I have some reserve left in my tank. Not today, as I was huffing and puffing over every part of the trail. The most likely culprit is a cold as a couple of other hikers have gotten sick since Hot Springs, but I was in denial about that. With bad weather forecasted for that night, (snow and freezing rain), I did decide to continue good idea week and asked Owl if we could stop early at the shelter vs. pushing on and camping which was our original plan. I was in no shape to break apart a tent in the morning if conditions were bad.

We were joined by RoboHiker, an 18 year old who was trying to complete the trail in three months, Noodle , and Studebaker along with her dog Foxy. While I love dogs, them being in the shelters can be problematic. Foxy was very well behaved though and quickly became everyone’s friend. Is it bad that a wet dog smells better than any of us as well? After five days without a shelter we were all smelling pretty ripe.

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Day 38: In which hiking is postponed due to rain

Miles Hiked: 12.7
Miles Left:1879.1
Ending Location: Flint Mountain Shelter

As stated earlier it had started pouring around 4am and the rain was still going strong when we all woke up. None of us particularly wanted to venture out into it so we all used this as an excuse to sleep in. I didn’t feel guilty about this approach until other hikers came dragging in to the shelter soaking wet and I still hadn’t made it out of my sleeping bag yet. Eventually Vegemite had to answer Nature’s call and went outside only to return with all our food bags so we had breakfast in bed. It actually wasn’t a bad way to spend the morning.

Eventually the rain stopped so Owl and I reluctantly left the shelter around noon. The day started with a lot of ups and while it wasn’t actively raining, we were basically hiking in a cloud. The temperature was also rapidly dropping and we saw patches of snow everywhere. These were the conditions we were dealing with when we had to make the decision on going up the exposed ridge line trail or taking the AT approved “bad weather bypass”. We of course took the ridge trail since it sounded more fun.

The trail had a lot of interesting rock scrambles and I’m sure the view would have been fantastic if we could have seen more than 20 feet. The bad weather didn’t affect us much but I did come very close to making two nasty falls before my hiking poles saved me. I wish I could blame the slippery rocks but the first time I got unbalanced due to my pack and the second time I simply tripped. It’s probably a good thing sections like this are rare until we hit New England.

Around 4pm the sun finally decided to make an appearance and shortly afterwards we met up with Tog and Wiki at the next shelter. They were trying to figure out whether to press on or not since Tog didn’t have any cold weather tenting equipment. The temperature was currently hovering around freezing with it supposed to fall into the high teens that night so if he couldn’t get shelter space he was talking about hiking through the night. My 40 pound pack is a huge pain but in these circumstances I do appreciate my gear as it gives me a lot more options.

With three plus hours of daylight left and a general unwillingness to have two low mileage days in a row, Owl and I headed out for the next shelter six miles away. Even with our late start we arrived and managed to pitch our tents before we lost the last of the sun. Considering we hiked almost thirteen miles I’m very happy with our current hiking speed!

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