15.6 miles, 416.3 overall (Black Bear Resort, Hampton)
It rains throughout the night, meaning there is little hope of us staying dry today. I get ready quickly and am out of the shelter with the first few hikers but quickly pass them to lead the pack. Everyone seems to be heading to the hostel and I want to assure myself of a spot there. We have 16 miles to go and there is a small shelter between here and there so we may be cutting it close if many stayed there last night.
The hostel we are planning to stay at is called Kincora. It is another icon of the trail. It is run by Bob Peoples who is known as a great guy and who himself helps maintain parts of the trail. Last year apparently hikers took to creating Chuck Norris-type sayings for Bob, such as “Bob Peoples doesn’t maintain trails, if the trails know what’s good for them they maintain themselves.”
It is indeed wet this morning but the water seems to be falling off the trees more so than from the sky. The data book promises views from several spots but they are unlikely with the dense fog we are hiking through. It is sprinkling lightly enough that I take off my rain jacket and hike in only a short sleeve shirt for the first 10 miles until I reach the next shelter. When I get there the temperature seems to have dropped and I pull on both my warm shirt and my jacket to stay warm while I eat.
TW is the first to catch up to me but she is hiking slowly because of her hamstring. This actually makes her pace more comparable to mine. We eat quickly and move on, knowing that the hostel is only 6 mostly downhill miles away.
I only stop once for a quick snack and the occasional picture. On the way down the trail follows a stream again, criss-crossing several times. At one point it crosses and there is no longer any water. It takes a minute to register in my head. I go back to check and the water is gone. Downstream 20 yards though the water is gushing from a spring. I look more closely. I have seen this occur before in the Appalachians where the stream will dig a path underground and then re-emerge above ground downstream. As far as I can tell that isn’t what is going on here though. The water is actually percolating back into the ground and becoming groundwater again: a losing reach of stream! I never thought I would see this in the Appalachians as it is more common in desert soils. Typically streams in the Appalachians are gaining reaches, meaning they gain water as they move downstream. They are often so predictable that they are characterized by doubling lengths (the length of stream required to double the discharge). Without the proper tools I can’t say for sure whether this stream reach is losing or if I simply missed the spot where it had dug itself underground, but I take a picture to document the occasion anyway. I’m disappointed there are no stream ecologists or hydrologists around to geek out with me over this.
At the road there are competing signs for hostels: one for Kincora and one for a new place in the opposite direction that just opened this year. I hang a left to get to Kincora and walk the quarter mile. I can tell I have found it when I find hikers playing frisbee in the road. They tell me I should find a spot quickly because it is getting full. When I get inside I run into a bunch of hikers I haven’t seen in a long time and some I never thought I’d see again. Jay is here – he stayed with us in Hiawassee but goes by Slugger now. Brett, who now goes by Biscuits, is still with him. Gumpy and Peeper are both here as well. I haven’t seen them since the NOC and I almost don’t recognize Gumpy with all the weight he has lost. I mention it to him and he is clearly concerned about it, telling me he’s having trouble getting himself to stop losing weight.
When I look around the hostel the only bed that is open is in a shed out back. Although this would work for me it wouldn’t leave anywhere for TW and I don’t want to leave her stranded, especially when staying here was my idea. The other hikers offer floor space, but that is unappealing. Bob is gone on a shuttle run to pick up some hikers, so there is potential for the situation to become even more crowded. When TW catches up I relate to her the situation. She informs me that her leg is worse now – on the way downhill she felt a pop in the hamstring. There is no cell service so we aren’t able to get a call out to the other hostel to check if they have any availability, but we decide to roll the dice. We hike back out to the road and go the quarter mile back as well as a bit over a quarter mile the other direction to find Black Bear Resort.
We immediately like the look of the place. The log cabins seem inviting and they have dogs running around. As we walk in we are met by a younger man who runs the place with his wife and her parents. They apparently bought the place last year as a way to get out of Florida and into the mountains. They know of the reputation of Kincora and are trying to make a name for themselves as well. They offer a bunk room and cabin. We decide to go with the cabin, not knowing who will show up here and not wanting to risk the all-too-common bunkhouse shenanigans. While we get rung up for the cabin I buy a honey bun and a soda. TW buys us each a beer. In Erwin somehow the topic of drinking beer in the shower came up during dinner. I am a staunch advocate, having learned how great it can be in grad school after long days of field work. We make plans to drink these in the shower.
After a quick orientation we make ourselves at home in the cabin. I am the first to go for the shower. The water is incredibly hot and wonderful after the cold rainy day, and the beer makes the shower that much more enjoyable. When I return TW leaves for her shower. When she returns she informs me that shower beer is as great as I had claimed. We return to the office to buy microwave pizzas for dinner and pass the rest of the night in the resort lounge watching tv with other hikers. The lounge is small, only about 10′ by 10′, but is warm and has chairs, a tv and DVD player, and a microwave and fridge – all the things hikers need.
I turn in early so I can get some writing done and get to sleep at a reasonable hour. TW stays up socializing and drinking with the other hikers. It looks like tomorrow is supposed to be cold, and there is even a chance of snow. If it is too cold we may end up zeroing to both avoid the cold and to give TW’s leg a chance to mend. We’ll make a decision tomorrow when we find out what the weather is supposed to be like on the Appalachian Trail.