It turned out that I was the only person in my 5 bunk room so I got some peaceful sleep until the thunder, lightning, and rains began around midnight. I was glad to be here rather than in my tent in this weather.
June 24, 2016
With fresh cleaning clothes, I followed the AT markers on the pavement to the Smoky Mountain Diner in Hot Springs,NC where I had endless cups of coffee along with one of my favorites: 2 eggs over easy with hash browns and two strips of bacon. I passed by the grits, chicken fried steak, biscuits with two types of gravy and other southern breakfast specialities.
I then resumed my AT trail walk through town with these pavement inlaid markers to the end of town where I crossed the wide French Broad River and then down to the right where the trail goes up along the wooded riverbank.
After a few minutes I came to a water soaked bicyclist named Keith who was bicycling his way across the US. He had not put his rain fly until after the downpour began and his hasty job soaked most of his gear. Fortunately the temps were in the 70s.
I began my hike up the side of the mountain to a point called Lovers Leap. The entire area was burned up along with another 4000 acres. I would walk for 2 hours through this burn area and then another 2 where they had done some controlled burn of the understory of the forest.
Apparently during the mid April Trailfest---a gathering of AT hikers, some hiker who had taken LSD, caused a lot of problems to other hikers, towns people so the police took him for medical treatment. During this time he ranted that he would burn the town down along with the people that bothered him. This was the worst fire they have every had here, with the fire burning not only the understory, but topping the trees and the winds blew the embers to start fires in other parts of the mountains. They had helicopter crews who drew buckets of water from the French Broad River. They also called in the California hot shot crews who would rappel down with their tools and chainsaws to quell this fire.
After about 3 hours of hiking I came across what I thought was a south bound AT hiker who had been on the trail for about 3 weeks. He was actually a northbound hiker who had just reversed direction and was quitting his hike. He said he was tired of seeing just an endless procession of the "green tunnel" and all of the Boulder strewn ups and downs of the trail. He just wanted to take a plane out to Montana where he could see "the Big Sky" and surrounding territory. That got me to thinking that I had those same feelings.
I began to think that maybe there was something else to do other than this boring walk. I guess my threshold for boredom on the trail was a lot more than Gary's who left after 6 trail days.
I had another view opportunity at the Rich Mountain Lookout tower---282 miles--early afternoon. With good views and iteresting graffiti, I paused to take a few pictures before getting back in the "green tunnel".
When I was on the mountain top for cell phone reception, I called my wife. She commented that it did not look like I was having much fun in the pictures I had sent her. She said that I might take a break from the trail instead of continuing on to Harper's Ferry. I related my talk with the bored hiker and said based on her comments and his, I was going to end my hike in Erwin, TN---342 miles.
Here is a more intense green of the "green tunnel".
But first I had to get there. I made it about 9pm to the Little Laurel Shelter---293.3 miles--- that was not only full, but filled with about 15 tents. I found a small place just north of the water trail to set up my tent. Washed, cooked and went to bed after deciding to hang my food bag from a nearby tree instead of the squeaky overloaded bear cables. I planned on an early start so I did not want to wake up the other campers. I was pumped to be heading home.
June 25, 2016
Sure enough, I was on my way for what would turn out to be my last hiking day---very long one at 24.3 miles and 15 hours. I left the shelter area at 3:50 am by navigating with my flashlight on a moonlight early hours and spotting the familiar white blazes on the trees every tenth of a mile or so.
One of the best views of my journey was on top of the Big Firescald Knob----I wonder how that got named---just as at sunrise with the fog dispersing. Here I am with a plaque titled "Howard's Rock" named for a volunteer trail maintenance manager who had improved in developed miles of the AT over a 20 year or more period. A lot of work goes into maintaining the hiking trails throughout the US because the public agencies continue to lack funding for such projects. In Washington state where I am from the Washington Trails Association provides that function and they are said to be the largest volunteer organization in the US if not the world to do such work.
I have done day trail work along with my daughter as a part of her community service projects, and I continued with two one week backcountry projects: one on Gold Creek trail leading to the Pacific Crest Trail and the other near Deep Lake on the PCT. It takes a lot of work to accomplish some of the trail work, especially in Wilderness Areas where power tools are prohibited.
After a tortuous route up and down through the boulders, I headed down to the Jerry Cabin Shelter---300.1 miles---where I crossed the 300 mile mark on the AT, and also met up with a hiker with a trail name of Forgetful. He asked me if I had seen his solar charger on my way to the shelter. I hadn't so he continued up---I understood why he got his trail name. I would later hike with him throughout the day. He was faster than me up hill and I was faster down so we evened each other out as we joined up at the occasional water seeps. I think I have had about 4 to 6 liters of water a day.
I then continued up to the Big Butt Mountain---named because it is bare of trees?---and with the early morning dew, my shoes, pants and shirt were saturated with water.
At the Devil Fork Gap---308.9 miles--I tried for a short time to hitch a ride to Erwin, TN, but very few cars drove by. Two south bound day hikers came down and I tried to yogi a ride from them, but they were heading south to Asheville instead of Erwin. So my next bailout spot was Sam's Gap--317.6 miles--another 8.7 miles mostly uphill---Ughhh! I thought I could be there by 6pm, but ended up arriving at 7pm.
I left Forgetful at the Hogback Ridge Shelter---315.5 miles and made it up some more hills until it was down to Sam's Gap---317.6 miles . That seemed like the longest 2.4 miles I had ever walked.
When I saw the I-26 interstate, my thoughts of hitchhiking were dashed because the area was a long bridge spanning two hills with no room for pullovers plus a chain link fence to dissuade hitch hikers.
I had two choices: 1. Continue hiking the remaining 14.5 miles to Erwin and the Uncle Johnny's Nolichucky Hostel which would require an over night stay somewhere along the way. 2. Call Uncle Johnny's for a shuttle ride to his hostel. I chose the latter and was glad of it.
My shuttle driver, Gary Clark, showed up in about 35 minutes and took me on a twisty side road down to the hostel some 15 miles away for $30. Along the way, we spotted three deer and one was a doe with her still spotted gangly fawn. In addition to being my "Uncle Johnny Uber driver", Gary Clark also worked as a raft guide, a snowmaker, and a semiprofessional snowboarder who had won awards all over the east coast until an accident dislocated his shoulder, broke some ribs and punctured one of his lungs.
Uncle Johnny and his wife lived up to his trail reputation as easygoing hippie lifestyle complete with matching tie dye tee shirt. He had a big Santa beard and preferred to offer cash discounts instead of credit cards. Even when I asked to pay by credit card, somehow the machine did not process so I got the discount. They even gave me a free dinner. I was too tired that night to search the Internet for travel back home until after the office closed. I spotted a possible Delta flight from the Tri-Cities, but by the time I rechecked, the opening was gone.
Here is my air conditioned cabin H to the right--my home for 2 nights.
June 26, 2016
My plans to take the Amtrak were eliminated because there was no nearby Amtrak plus the planned trip from Washington, DC to Seattle at $197 was no longer available. The current price was now $714 plus another $120 Greyhound bus ride to get to Washington, DC. On the other hand, a Delta flight was $576 or 32,500 miles. I picked the airline mode of travel for Monday.
After talking with Uncle Johnny, I decided it would be better to stay at his hostel another night rather than going to a hotel near the Tri Cities airport. He would have a shuttle driver take me there tomorrow by 9--9:30am---small airport with no long security lines he said For about $60. Plus, I still have my private room with Netflix and Kumo for entertainment if the other hikers aren't entertainment enough.
They offer free shuttles into Erwin town for breakfast and dinner so at the Huddle House, I had a traditional southern breakfast of eggs, hash potatoes, toast, coffee and chicken fried steak with pepper gravy. Locals say you can patch holes in walls with some of this gravy. All was good. I am looking forward to dinner in town with the other hikers---my last southern dinner---green beans with the life cooked out of them, fried chicken or ribs, pickled cucumbers, fried green tomatos or ochra, etc.
My final AT activity was to take some pictures where I ended of the green rock I have been carrying in memory of BamaHiker who had planned to hike the entire AT but died of cancer in 2015. His spouse asked hikers to pick out a pebble and take a picture of it wherever your hike ended. So here it is right on the AT trail that crosses the Nolichucky River by the Uncle Johnny's Nolichucky Hostel. I am sure that BamaHiker would have enjoyed the warmth and helpfulness of Uncle Johnny, his wife and other AT hikers passing through this hostel.
Here is BamaHiker's green rock just above the white blaze of the AT trail as it crosses the Nolichucky River just across from Uncle Johnny's place.
BamaHiker's Rock on top of road railing looking toward Johnny's hostel.
HYOH---Hike Your Own HIke----and that is what both Gary and I have done as with life.