Wednesday, June 18th, 2008
The plan this year is to cover the trail between Hot Springs, NC and Erwin, TN. My cousin Richard will be joining
me. My plan was to drive my old 93 Honda from Louisville, KY to Spivey Gap and slack-pack to Uncle Johnny’s hostel.
Unfortunately 2 days ago I wrecked my Honda when someone ran a red light and pulled out in front of me. Richard agreed to
drive his brand new Nissan so we did not want to leave it at a trailhead. Still wanting to slack-pack some of this section
Uncle Johnny was able to help us with our shuttles.
We left Louisville at 4:30 am and headed to Uncle Johnny’s in
Erwin, TN. En route we settled for a Mickey D’s breakfast. Arriving in Erwin we arranged our shuttles and sleeping arrangements
for the evening. Former thru hiker CD drove us out to Spivey Gap and dropped us off. It was simply a beautiful day to hike
with highs in the lower 70’s.
Maybe it was because I only had a day pack but the trail was great. It felt more level
than other sections I have done. 4 hours and 11.2 miles later we were back in Erwin.
As we got to our cabin I noticed
someone had left us 2 ice cold Buds in the fridge.
A quick trip in town to the Sonic Drive-in made for a satisfying day.
I could get used to this type of hiking.
Sitting out next to the Nolichucky River which runs along the side of Uncle Johnny’s
I got to thinking… It’s a good thing that Alan Jackson grew up near the Chattahoochee River and not the Nolichucky.
Otherwise his career may not have made it off the ground. You know the song “Way down yonder on the Chattahoochee…it
gets hotter than a Hoochie coochie”. Rhyming with the Nolichucky would have never gotten past the censors.
watching an old VHS tape of “Oh Brother where art thou?” It’s time for sleep…We are heading to Hot
Thurdsay, June 19th. 2008
“Snakes on a Helicopter and lost wallets”
After a decent (not great) night’s rest at the Hostel,
Richard and I prepared for today’s hike. It seems that the railway going through Erwin gets a lot of use. I’m
sure the locals are used to the train passing through every hour or so…Richard and I are not. Today we are getting shuttled
again by CD to Hot Springs, NC. From there we will backpack to Spivey and get a ride back to Erwin.
As we arrive in Hot
Springs I started to reflect getting off the trail here in 2007. I had such a great time and hoped this year’s hike
would produce the same result. We hiked from the parking lot into town and Richard wanted to stop in a local store only to
discover he had left his wallet in the back seat of CD’s truck. Quickly we call Uncle Johnny’s and leave a message
on his voice mail. Richard walked back to the parking lot in case he had dropped it on the way. No luck. We decided we would
try again down the trail to reach Johnny.
The climb out of Hot Springs was a good wake up call that the AT is demanding
of all who wish to hike it. The views from above town and the French broad river were spectacular. It was again a day of hiking
in the 70’s. It was a tough yet rewarding day.
As we scaled Rich Mountain we decided to take the side trail to the
Fire Tower. A good call on our part. The climb up the tower provided two things: A fantastic panoramic view and a cell phone
signal. I was able to call Johnny’s and determine that Richard’s wallet had been found. It was a great relief
for both of us. Today we are headed to Hemlock
Hollow Farm Shoppe and Cabins. It’s a pretty tough 16.3 miles after
slack-packing yesterday. There is a lot of controversy about the distance about the distance from HH and the trail. It is
.5 miles from Log Cabin Drive. What you might not know is that you have to travel down a private drive to get to Log Cabin
Drive. Either way let me say it was well worth it. Hattie and her husband are the proprietors of the farm. We had the hiker
cabin (bunkhouse) to ourselves. The place is very very clean. Hattie also served us up a dinner which included Grilled chicken,
home made potato salad and a fresh garden salad. We also had iced tea and ice cream for desert.
The sleep here was great.
A creek runs nearby the cabin and it lulls you into a great sleep.
The next morning Hattie prepared us a great breakfast
and then shuttled us back to the trail. As we talked to her she told us a story about how the National Forest service determined
there were not enough Rattle snakes in the area near her farm. In their infinite wisdom they decided to drop the snakes from
a helicopter to boost the population up. Snakes landed in a lot of undesirable places…rooftops, porches and back yards.
One local resident lost her pet dog to a snake bite. She shot the snake and took it to the local Ranger’s office and
demanded restitution. The Ranger responded by fining her $500 for killing the snake. I’m checking into this one. It
sounds like a story I have heard before.
Imagine this: What if the actor Samuel L Jackson worked for the Forest Service
and was piloting that helicopter. I can picture hit gritting his teeth and yelling in his radio “Enough is enough! I
have HAD it with these M&^%$r F*%^$@g snakes on this M&^%$r F*%^$@g helicopter!” Gee that would make for a great
On a personal note my pinky toes are jamming into my boots when I go downhill. Both are blistered and starting
to hurt. Last year when this happened I just faced forward and kept on going. It is like Yogi Berra said… “It’s
like De’ja’ Vue all over again.”
Friday, June 20th, 2008
Ah, that first climb of the day. There is nothing like it. The blisters on your feet go numb. Mother Nature reminds you
of just how out of shape you are. That extra piece of bacon you had this morning keeps trying to escape in a gas form. It’s
the little things in life you begin to appreciate that can only come from gaining 2,500 ft of elevation right after you leave
a place like Hemlock Hollow Farm.
Today our journey will take us over a place so beautiful that they named it Big Butt.
Along the way we traveled to Camp Creek Bald. The guidebook promises a fire tower on the bald. They were correct but it was
a crappy one in that you could not get into it because the platform was locked. Next up was the pick of the day…White
rocks and Blackstack cliffs. Both were spectacular views on your way up to Big Firescald Knob. It is quite a site to see as
exposed rocks reach for the sky on the summit. This is also snake country. At least it looked like it to me based on last
year’s experience. As we start to descend from the top my senses were proven to be correct. The rocks stepping down
on the trail revealed about 1 ft of a Timber Rattler. I never got to see the snake in whole but rather pieces of him as he
made his escape towards cover. If his mid section is any gauge he was one big fat daddy. Richard tried to get some photos
of him much to no avail. As soon as he achieved cover his rattle went into high gear. I’m pretty thankful that they
fear us as much as we do them.
On to lunch and Jerry Cabin Shelter. Well…what is it? Is it a cabin
or a shelter? Actually it is a 3 sided shelter with a history. Sam Waddle became “AT Famous” for restoring said
shelter from a hell hole to one of the cleanest on the trail, Ole Sam had a sense of humor too. He installed a telephone and
an electric outlet there. It seems the folks who now maintain it removed those items. I’m guessing they had numerous
complaints from hikers who said it was stupid because light-weighters don’t carry coins or plug in devices.
on to Big Butt. Again the trail mocks me. Today water was in short supply. The spring at Jerry Cabin was bone dry. There is
a spring listed in the online companion at mile 300.3. Someone was also kind enough to place sticks in the form of an arrow
leading 125 yds to the spring. It required hiking through some stinging nettle but it was flowing well and worth the trip.
Soon after the spring we passed the Shelton brother’s graves. Long story short: 2 southerners fight for the North.
They visit home and get ambushed…end of the Shelton brothers and the story.
We finally reach Flint Mountain shelter.
Tonight we will be staying there with Jason from NY and his hiking partner Carl from Barbados. These two were very friendly.
Jason teaches in a Jr. College and Carl from what I gather likes to carry a lot of equipment. Oh and he is a world class Snorer.
Richard had decided to tent it but was awakened by all three of us this night. I can hold my own in a snore fest but Carl
is the Champ. Richard woke up twice thinking a bear was about to attack. Let it be known that Jason started snoring the moment
his head hit the pillow. I had to listen to my Ipod in order to nod off.
Before leaving the next morning Carl was telling
us how manhood is measured in Barbados. He said it is common for men there to father a minimum of 10 kids. He even knew of
a guy who had over 30. I asked him how many he had fathered. He said “none”. In my best Jamaican accent (which
trust me sucks) I said “You lazy bum…now go out there and impregnate some ladies”.
For those keeping
track the water supply at the shelter that night was excellent!
Saturday, June 21st, 2008
Our original plan today was to hike 18.8 miles to Bald Mountain Shelter. So much for plans…more on that later.
The miles today were laboring to say the least. Last year I was able to spend 20 days on the trail as opposed to the 5 I am
getting this year. I guess this is what to expect when you section hike. You start to get in great shape only to get off of
the trail and repeat the process the next year. My pinky toes now have blisters under the nails. It takes about 50 yards of
walking to numb them every time I stop to rest.
Richard is complaining about the water which means his stomach hurts and
or he is in pain. It was not a day without hi-lites. I have never lived nor hiked a day without those. The descent to Devil
Fork gap was painful for my feet. We crossed our first fence there. Several dogs had some poor creature cornered there near
the road. We heard them all the way down into the gap and up the other side. The 1500 ft climb up Frozen knob/Lick rock (even
I can’t make these names up) was actually easier than the former descent… for me. The climbs were taking their
toll on Richard and the descents were killing my feet. It seemed to take forever to reach Hogback Ridge Shelter. It was a
nice respite. Richard and I both chowed down a lot of food. As we were leaving the shelter Jason from New York was coming
in. Carl was nowhere to be found. He was of course carrying a Sherpa’s load. We exchanged pleasantries and expected
to see each other at the shelter. I later found out they stayed at Hogback that night.
Once over high rock we meandered
our way into Sam’s Gap. We ran into a young couple from NC headed up the mountain from Sam’s Gap. I told them
of all the water sources all the way to Allen gap. My feet were throbbing and we still had 7.6 to go. Richard was not looking
forward to the climb up to Big Bald. I offered an alternative plan. I suggested we call a shuttle from Uncle Johnny’s…stay
the night in Erwin…tomorrow he would drop me off at Spivey’s Gap and I would slackpack south and he would slackpack
north from Sam’s gap. He would hand me his keys as we passed and I would get his car and pick him up at Spivey. I know…shameful
yet genius all in one. As we pondered that thought the young couple came back into the Gap. It seems they started out in the
wrong direction. We watched them start up the mountain on the other side of the Gap and I pulled out my cell phone and called
Johnny’s. 1-1/2 hours later we were checking into the Holiday Inn Express. A couple of showers and a trip to A&W
later Richard advised me that he would be dropping me off at Sam’s Gap and picking me up at Spivey’s when I was
done. We had hiked 54.7 miles in 4 days. Richard is in great shape in spite of his 63 years.
Tonight it’s a soft
bed and the great hospitality of Holiday Inn who is very hiker friendly.
For what it is worth…the Steakburger at
A&W is top notch!
Sunday, June 22nd, 2008
Holiday Inn express has a morning breakfast bar with a vast assortment of items on it. It has anything from bacon, sausage
and eggs to bagels and cereals. Toss in juice, milk and coffee and you have a very satisfying meal.
It’s on to Sam’s
Gap. Richard drops me off at 8:45am and I am off to Spivey Gap 13.3 miles away. Not having the weight of the backpack is really
helping my toes today. I think my future AT hiking will incorporate both back and Slack packing. As I approach 50 I can’t
keep treating my body this way. Last year when I did 20 days on the trail, my first week was the toughest. I don’t think
I can ever finish this trail if I had that to look forward to every year. I can also do bigger mileage days if I slack.
by myself gives me a lot of time to reflect. This trip did allow me to process information I had read about Uncle Johnny’s.
First off let me say I only judge a person from what I see with my own eyes. That said I highly recommend Johnny’s Hostel
and I plan to go there again. They were extremely helpful and friendly to Richard and me.
I see my first trail magic actually
left on the trail. It is a Tupperware box of cookie & carrots as well as 4 jugs of water. I was full from breakfast and
did not take any but I do wish to thank those that left this.
Big Bald was spectacular. The sky was clear and the fields
there were covered with yellow wild flowers. Just as I re-entered the forest I could hear a storm brewing off in the distance.
I passed the young couple I met at Sam’s Gap yesterday. I asked them about Jason and Carl. They apparently hadn’t
made it to Sam’s gap yet.
I also reflected on the people I had met on the trail. There were not as many this year.
We had been a few days behind an interesting group who I thought had a very creative name…”Girls Gone Feral”.
Richard and I would laugh every time we thought about them. I imagined girls dancing around a camp fire half naked and un-shaven
as they shouted “TAWANDA!” I hope I find their journal somewhere on the internet.
I arrive at Spivey Gap at
1:00 to find Richard waiting for me with an ice cold Diet Pepsi. My feet felt pretty good.
I can’t wait to come
back next year to Erwin to pick up where I left off.