When last we left our protagonist, she was hanging out for a day in Erwin, TN recovering from the AT plague, the scourge that has taken down lesser (wo)men.
Ok, enough speaking in the third person for the day.
After zeroing (convalescing?) one day at Uncle Johnny’s hostel, I decided to get the heck out of dodge. Admittedly, I would probably have benefitted from another day of rest, but this patient didn’t want to pick up another bug by hanging around the hospital too long (several bugs going around before Erwin).
That first day out, the weather was cool, and I was feeling energized. I’d brought Gatorade for the first time and noticed an immediate difference. Definitely have to pack it from now on.
About 17 miles in, I charged up Unaki Mountain and decided I felt good enough to keep going.
Shortly, I came across this eerie spruce forest. The sun was shaded, and – although it was difficult to capture in a photo – rays of light eerily peeked through the light layer of fog.
I ended up hiking 22 miles that day, arriving at Apple Orchard campsite at 6:45 and more or less collapsing into my tent. It was my first and only night to date that I spent completely alone on the A. T. Lentil, who’d also hiked out that day, had hiked ahead a few more miles to Greasy Creek Friendly hostel. Zen and Techie had stayed back in Erwin to recuperate from bouts of the AT Plague.
It definitely felt strange to be completely alone. There was nobody to chat with, so I resorted to talk to my pants as I repaired a hole and to my rice pasta as I made dinner.
The next day was gorgeous and cool, so one would think I’d have hiked my way north with a vengeance. However, when I woke up, my body and I had a conversation that went something like this.
“I love you. Why are you doing this to me?”
“You thought you could abuse me, and I’d just put up with it?”
“What? I thought we had an agreement. I gave you over a month to get your trail legs.”
So instead of putting in the miles I’d planned, I laid in my tent all morning and finally started hiking at 11am. I made it 12 miles to the top of Roan Mountain by 6pm and called it a night.
I was treated not only to a cool foggy evening on top of a mountain, but also to a shelter with four walls and a door. What will this AT world come to next? Oh, I know: snow on the ground. I thought we left the snow behind in the Smokies, but I was wrong. As the highest shelter on the AT, I guess I shouldn’t have been that surprised.
I spent the night in the shelter with Papaya, Tugboat, and Life Raft. The following morning I hiked out with the intention of aiming for a shelter 25 miles away.
But the trail had different plans. Coming down from Roan Mountain was a pebbly mess. Usually this terrain wouldn’t have been a problem, but my ankle was sore from my recent heavy-mile day. I got off the mountain and thought, “Oh good, grassy balds. Way better.”
I quickly changed my tune when I realized that these grassy balds included steep climbs (as opposed to switchbacks) and no shade. And the sun was strong that day. Soon I was cursing the inventors of grassy balds and the person who decided to place the AT directly over them.
After what felt like a dozen miles of internal grumbling, the terrain changed again, this time to rocky boulders and tree roots. You have to be friggin’ kidding me. I was so looking forward to Not Grassy Balds, but this was no better. My ankle protested with every step and rolled at least once a minute.
After a couple more miles, the terrain smoothed out to a forgiving dirt path. I did a little jig in my head and fell into an easy gait when…
…my boot snagged on a branch in the trail and completely tore. I stopped dead in my tracks and stared at my feet, dumbfounded. I’d noticed a nick on the other boot earlier in the day, but this was another story. And then I laughed and laughed, some may say like a crazy person. But tell me this: would a crazy person then get out her phone and call Merrell? I think not.
I ended up hiking about 16 miles that day. When I got to the following road crossing, I’d had enough. I went to the nearby Mountain Harbour B&B and nursed my wounds. I spent time chatting with the owner Mary as well as Bearfoot, Steps, Trail Snail, and Airborne. I sent pictures to Merrell to prove I needed new boots and arranged to have them sent to Damascus, about 80 miles away. 80 miles? Yeah, I can hike 80 miles in busted up boots.
The following day I hiked 25 miles in the pouring rain, which improved my mood greatly. The cool rain calmed my sunburnt skin and prevented me from overheating. The terrain – mostly rolling easy grades – worked in my favor. And there was a dry bed waiting for me when I arrived at Kincora Hostel, run by the well regarded Bob Peoples. I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome.
I ended up taking two Zeros, the first to rest my feet and the second to wait out the rain. On the morning of the third day, Lentil – who’d arrived at Kincora the same day – and I set out in the direction of Damascus.
And after three days of hiking past and through some beautiful sights, including Lake Watauga, above, we arrived in Damascus to the most beautiful sight of all:
My new boots, care of the US Postal Service.