13.3 miles, 341.5 overall (Uncle Johnny’s Nolichucky hostel, Erwin)
It rains constantly all night. When I wake up I don’t hold out much hope for it to stop. The weather report has been calling for rain all week and its consistency all night means it probably won’t let up soon. I pack as much as I can in my tent before I venture out to get my food bags. When I retrieve them I return to the tent for a dry breakfast. Since it is cold and wet I indulge with a cup of coffee. When I’m done I pack up the tent and put the remaining items in my pack. By now it is 8:30 and people from the shelter a few miles back are beginning to pass by. I see no signs of life from TP’s tent.
The hike begins with a moderate uphill. I’m quickly overheated with the 2 shirts and rain jacket I have on so I remove a shirt as well as unzipping my pants to convert them to shorts. Although I’ll get wet, there’s no avoiding that today and I’d rather not sweat on top of it.
After the small hill it is downhill to a gap, then up again. On this climb though the trail follows Ogelsby Branch up the mountain. When streams along the trail have names it is a signal that they are large. This one is definitely large, and it is flowing even stronger due to the rain. It has cascades all along its reach and in several places we cross footbridges just in front of a cascade. It is by far my favorite stream so far on the trail and it makes the uphill climb enjoyable for me.
After the climb it is a series of small undulations until the next shelter. I am chasing one of the section hikers who stayed at the shelter before me last night. He is faster than his buddies and has been pacing well with me all day. He reaches the shelter first and we both stop for a snack. Inside the shelter is a hiker in his sleeping bag. For a moment I wonder if he is alive until I hear him snore. Apparently when faced with hiking in the rain he chose sleeping in the shelter. No rain, no Maine….
From the shelter it is a tediously long 3 miles, downhill of course, into Erwin. I have decided I am going to go ahead and get there today. If I’m going to hike in the rain and have the possibility of a shower, laundry, and AYCE dinner at the end of it then I’m going to take it! This will put me a day ahead of UV and Ninja who don’t plan to arrive until tomorrow, but it will keep me caught up with Trophy Wife (TW) and Bob. I have a mail drop waiting for me at the hostel and I decide I will check things out before deciding whether to stay there.
When I arrive at Uncle Johnny’s hostel the guy working is gone on a shuttle run but I recognize Walker and Can Do, a couple I met on my 32 mile day. They explain that they ran out of dog food for their dog and called the hostel from a gap to get picked up. They have arranged for work-for-stay and inform me that the hostel is a great place. I am sure they are right, but it is the people staying there that I am more worried about. However I decide to take my chances. When Graham, the guy running the place, returns I pay for a bunk and laundry. Graham is perhaps the most like-able hostel caretaker yet, rivaling the group at the hostel in Hot Springs. He jokes often and never makes anyone feel silly when they ask where something is. In short order he has me set up and I proceed to the first order of business: a shower.
The shower is amazing. The water is hot and, as has become custom, I wash twice. Even so I still find some dirt on my feet when I inspect them afterward. I start my laundry and set about evaluating what I’ll need for the next few days. The hostel provides a free shuttle into town and back three times a day for meals and resupply. I will be on the dinner shuttle.
While fiddling around at the hostel I get word that TW is staying here in one of the cabins. I’m surprised since she and Bob had planned to stay at a hotel instead. When I go back to look for her I find her immediately airing her tent out to dry. I like the idea and start drying my tent as well while getting her story. Apparently Bob disappeared yesterday and nobody is quite sure where he went. Piecing together some conversations and voicemails, it seems something happened at home and he had to leave the trail. We all hope he is ok and is able to return. He’s a great guy and we’ll all miss him while he’s gone.
TW is not excited about hiking the section from here to Damascus alone. She has heard things about this stretch of trail and had planned to hike with Bob. With him gone and with UV and Ninja a day behind me, we team up for the next several days. I plot out a schedule based on what mileages I think are possible for me, making sure to include the shelters and hostels I want to stay at, and run the plan by her. It gets us through the section in 7 days, and we both like it. We both plan to meet our significant other in Damascus next weekend, so it seems like the trail may have brought us together for a reason.
The dinner shuttle drops us off in Erwin and we make tracks to KFC which has an all-you-can-eat (AYCE) buffet. For $8 we can eat all the chicken, green beans, mashed potatoes, fried okra, bread pudding, etc we desire. I put away a full 2 plates (I didn’t have much for lunch) plus some dessert. From there it is on to IGA for resupply. I split tortillas and bagels with TW since neither of us need a full package, and I find the deliciously-bad-for-you gas station type fruit pies for snacks (4oz, 400 calories!). Some Snickers, cheese, and a 6 pack of Blue Moons to be shared at the hostel round out the resupply.
By 8:30 we are back and I take some time to sort through everything. Christy sent more than I need for this section (better than the alternative) so I take my favorites and give the rest away, earning myself some hiker bonus points. It is late already for hikers, but we stay up to watch Crimson Tide before going to sleep. We joke about the prevalence of concurring in the movie when missile launch drills are done and get excited when the discordance begins. I finally get to bed at almost 11. Tomorrow we have planned a 17 mile day to set ourselves up for Roan Mtn later this week. Hopefully we’ll get there before the cold front moves in over the Appalachian Trail!