Miles Hiked: 9.2
Miles Left: 1708.5
Ending Location: Sanders Shelter
One of the things I really wanted to do in town was ride the Creeper Trail. No this isn’t some joke name for the AT like Young Beard and Sunshine thought, (though I can see how that might be appropriate). It’s actually a semi-well known section of former train tracks converted into a trail, running from White Top mountain through Damascus. The trail is almost all downhill and several shops in town will rent you a bicycle and drop you off at the top of it. After hiking nearly 22 miles the day before, cruising 17 miles downhill on a bike sounded glorious.
Unfortunately due to the weather the earliest drop off we could arrange was at 2pm so Owl and I had some time to kill. We started off at the Post Office mailing home our excess gear. In a bit of nostalgic poor decision making I decided to keep my Kindle. I had rediscovered it the night before when my phone was charging and had an absolute wonderful time reading it. I was reminded of a story my Dad had when he was a child and his parents sold his rocking horse. So looks like I’ll be carting it over a few more mountains.
After that it was on to grocery shopping for supplies. We’re expecting this next stretch to take five days which means a lot of food with the way we’ve been eating. Still when I got back to the hostel I found out once again that I had bought way more than I needed. Oh well, at least I won’t starve. Supposedly as we get further into Virginia we’ll be able to resupply every other day or so which will really help with lightening our load. Both of us need to get better at getting into town, buying food, and then getting out quickly though.
Slightly before two, Owl, Vegemite, and I showed up at the bike rental place to ride the Creeper trail. I have to say, they certainly didn’t waste time with safety instructions as we had to specifically ask for helmets and they seemed shocked we would want such a thing. Then it was a long winding van ride to the top where I tried not to get carsick and Vegemite forgot his phone in the passenger seat. Oh man, the bike ride was so worth it though. The first 10 minutes were terrifying but after that it was pure fun. The best part was that a section of the AT currently runs along the Creeper trail since a bridge was washed out about a year ago. Seeing your fellow through hikers trudging up the mountain with full packs while you blast past them in a bike with a smile on your face is an experience you have to have. More importantly though, riding the Creeper trail helped remind me that I am on vacation and am supposed to be having fun vs just pounding out the miles north every day. When I think back to my town visits, such as going to the aquarium in Gatlinberg, I’m realizing I need to spend more time doing things like this when I get back home after completing the AT. Oh another funny fact about the Creeper trail. On the few uphill, (ok flat…), sections of the trail I discovered the leg muscles you build while hiking have absolutely nothing to do with the muscles you need for biking. It was actually kind of embarrassing how out of shape I was for that activity.
After 17 miles of “off-road mountain biking” we of course needed to grab BBQ and a beer. Then it was back to the Woodchuck hostel to pack all my stuff up. My original plan was to hike a couple of miles and then tent, but with the late start time for biking and then dinner that plan had changed into moving to the cheaper Methodist run hostel down the street instead. I hung around Woodchuck for a bit though reading my Kindle some more, chatting with the owner, and recharging my phone. The sun was setting as I was leaving and the colors in the sky were gorgeous. It was absolutely beautiful weather so when I ran into Young Beard and Sunshine and they asked me if I was heading out I made a spur of the moment decision and said yes! That was a good choice as it turned into one of my favorite hiking experiences so far. As I was leaving town I was treated like a rock star. People think poor planning is hardcore! The trail was well maintained and the blazes were plentiful so I had no problems hiking in the moonlight with my headlamp. More importantly, it felt like I had the entire trail to myself. I turned my music on, both to rock out and serve as a more fun way to warn bears of my presence than bells, and was able to crank out about ten miles while having a blast. Once at the shelter I briefly considered pushing on another six miles to the next shelter where Owl and I had planned on meeting the next day, but opted not to push my luck and set up camp instead. As the weather continues to get warmer I think I’ll do more night hiking in the future.