Sunday, 29 May 2016

Appalachian Trail 2016 Update 5: Erwin TN to Damascus VA

May 23 to May 30
Start Location: Erwin TN (mile 342.1)
End Location: Damascus VA (mile 469.0)
Total Miles Hiked: 469.0
Miles Left: 1720.1
Miles Since Last Update: 126.9

May 23
Start Location: Erwin TN (mile 342.1)
End Location: Low Gap (mile 358.1)
Total Miles: 16.0

I did the 1 mile road walk back to the trail with Frosty.  I immediately felt severe pain when I put my pack on, indicating that my back was still hurt.  For the first little bit the pain was so intense that I could barely breathe.  By the time I was on the trail, I could breathe, but not without pain.  I was debating spending more time in Erwin, but I didn't really have the time or money to do that.  I elected to push on, vowing to not leave the trail until my body was well and truly destroyed.

I was on the trail by 11:00 am, later than I was hoping, and essentially guaranteeing that I wouldn't be able to make big miles that day.  The early part of the day was uneventful, though I did get a millipede stuck on my pants at one point.  In addition to freaking me out a little, the millipede left some kind of yellow residue on my pants.  So much for the clean laundry.

I came to Beauty Spot Gap after a few hours, and while I hadn't hiked very far yet, I was tempted to stop.  It was a fantastic location.

The climb into Beauty Spot Gap

View from Beauty Spot Gap

I pushed on, doing the steep 1000 foot climb up Unaka Mountain.  The top of the mountain was covered in dense spruce forest, reminding me a bit of the forests of BC.

I descended the mountain and was at Low Gap by 7:50 pm.  I decided I had gone far enough, and called it a day.

May 24
Start Location: Low Gap (mile 358.1)
End Location: Carvers Gap (mile 378.3)
Total Miles: 20.2

I was on the trail at 9:45 am, still suffering from severe back pain.  I could hike for about 20 minutes before the pain became so bad that I had to take my pack off.

I skirted the summit of Little Bald Knob where there was a nice view.

View from Little Bald Knob

Towards the end of the day, I would do the 2000 foot climb up Roan High Knob, reaching an elevation above 6000 feet for the first time since the Smokys.  Like Unaka Mountain, the top was thick coniferous forest.  I filled up with water at the shelter, and then, with fading daylight, descended the mountain.

The top of Roan High Knob

Chimney a little ways down from the summit

I made it to Carvers Gap and camped on a grassy hillside.  My tent ended up angled down and leaning to the right, there were mice in the bushes that were out and about all night (I swear I didn't punch any), and there was noise from the highway periodically.  All in all a pretty good campsite.

May 25
Start Location: Carvers Gap (mile 378.3)
End Location: Elk River (mile 399.2)
Total Miles: 20.9

I woke up to blistering heat.  I checked my thermometer and saw that the inside of my tent was 48 degrees Celsius.  The sun was pounding down on my tent and with my tent fly on, the tent was just absorbing heat.  That got me out of bed pretty quickly.  As soon as I opened the fly and felt the warmth dissipate, I felt a swell of relief.  I still didn't get on the trail until 9:45 am, but that was still a little better than my average.

The first climb of the day was up Round Bald where there was a nice view.

View from Round Bald

Immediately after Round Bald I climbed Jane Bald, where there was a fantastic view of Round Bald and Roan High Knob.

View from Jane Bald

I continued on for several miles, noting that, while my back still hurt, it was getting marginally better every day.  That was encouraging.

Soon I was on Little Hump Mountain with the third good view of the day.  This was definitely turning into one of the most scenic days of the trip.

View near the summit of Little Hump Mountain

Hump Mountain from Little Hump Mountain

I began the climb up Hump Mountain where there was false summit after false summit.  The view from the top was the best of the day, and I basked in said view with my nuclear waste colored Gatorade.

View from one of the false summits

View from Hump Mountain

I descended the mountain, and a few miles later I was at the North Carolina/Tennessee border, where I would leave North Carolina for good.  Two states down, twelve to go.

I continued on, passing a cemetery just as it was getting dark.  I noticed a freshly dug grave, which is definitely something you don't want to see at twilight.

I got to the campsite at 399.2 that I had been shooting for, only to find that it was occupied.  I took a side trail that went off from it, hoping it would lead somewhere flat where I could pitch my tent.  The trail paralleled Elk River, and because of the slippery mud on the trail, I slipped and started sliding towards the river.  I don't know how I saved myself, but somehow I pulled myself back onto the trail, avoiding disaster.  I eventually came to a little field that I decided to call home for the night, falling asleep to the sound of rain hitting my tent.

Ridge a few hours before dark

May 26:
Start Location: Elk River (mile 399.2)
End Location: Field with barn (mile 418.0)
Total Miles: 18.8

I somehow didn't manage to get on the trail until 11:00 am.  I passed the 400 mile mark, and celebrated the occasion with a freeze dried chicken a la king lunch a few hours later.

I began to feel the psychological effects of the trail set in, as I was swarmed with claustrophobia and disorientation throughout the day, augmented with the odd stretch of pure euphoria.  I was somehow less mentally aware of everything, going into an autopilot mode and losing track of miles and time.  It was a very strange day.

My foggy state was broken in the fading hours of light, when I came to a little clearing where I saw a mama bear and a cub take off to the right, with another cub taking off to the left.  About 50 yards further, another mama and 2 cubs heard me, with mama and one cub running in separate directions while the other cub climbed a tree.  I could see all 6 bears, there was maybe 10 minutes of day light left, and I was faced with no choice but to get between two sets of mother bears and their cubs.  Not a fun situation to be in.  I decided to muster all the false courage I could, and marched through my valley of the shadow of death, bashing my poles together and singing the first song that popped into my mind (YMCA in case you were wondering).  My tactic worked.  I didn't die that evening (as you could have surmised by the fact that I wrote this post).

A nice scene just before the bear incident

I came to a field with a worn down barn and decided to call it a night.  It is worth noting that this was about a quarter of a mile from where the 6 bears had been.  Brave?  Yes.  Smart?  No.

May 27
Start Location: Field with barn (mile 418.0)
End Location: Spring (mile 434.2)
Total Miles: 16.2

I got a typical 10:00 am start and made it to Laurel Falls after a few miles.  The falls were quite nice, and I was glad that I hadn't hiked by them in the dark.

Laurel Falls

I took a side trail into Hampton Tennessee where I topped up my food and got a hearty dose of Big Macs at the local McDonalds.  Yes Ronald, I am lovin' it.

Back on the trail, I came across something that scared me more than the 6 bears.  A snake.  Next to the mouse, the snake is the next biggest enemy of the tortoise.  I nervously tip toed around it and prayed that it wouldn't follow me.

I began the climb up Pond Flats, stumbling across another mother bear and two cubs.  They took off pretty quickly, leaving me quite astonished that I had seen 9 bears in 2 days.  There were people who had been on the trail for 6 weeks who had told me they had still not seen a bear.

On the descent from Pond Flats, heavy rain began coming down, turning the trail into a slick muddy bog that was borderline unhikeable.  After making slow progress for a couple of hours, I decided to stop at the first flat spot I could find.  I came to a not quite flat spot, but I wasn't prepared to be picky, so I set up my tent and went to sleep.

May 28
Start Location: Spring (mile 434.2)
End Location: Double Spring Gap (mile 455.7)
Total Miles: 21.5

I found a millipede on one of my trekking poles as I was breaking camp.  I knocked him off, but he came back two more times, the last time working his way up to the handle of the pole.  What a great way to start the day.

The day featured a hike through a farm field, littered with cow paddies.  It was an interesting area to hike, as it was listed in the guide book as being handicap accessible, something definitely uncommon on the trail.

I left the farm and entered the woods again, where two squirrels were going absolutely crazy, zipping around and making as much noise as possible.  I sat down and watched their antics for a good ten minutes before pushing on.

A little while later I heard a sound off to the side.  I turned around and saw an adult black bear taking off.  Ten bears in three days.  If that wasn't enough, after it got dark and I was hiking by headlamp, I shone my light in the face of two more bears, who promptly climbed a tree.  That put me up to twelve bears in three days.

I stopped at Double Spring Gap, in striking distance of Damascus.  In what was beginning to feel like a tradition, I fell asleep to rain on my tent.

May 29
Start Location: Double Spring Gap (mile 455.7)
End Location: Damascus VA (mile 469.0)
Total Miles: 13.3

I got an 8:30 am start, much better than my average.  Nothing like the allure of town to motivate a tortoise.

Just before I said goodbye to Tennessee for good, I came across yet another bear.  By now it wasn't even fazing me.  Thirteen bears in four days.  And to think, Bill Bryson didn't see a single one on his hike.

I came to the Tennessee/Virginia border.  I was so happy that I began jumping up and down, which really wasn't a good move with my messed up back.  I celebrated by eating a pack of bologna, and pushed on.

Best graffiti ever

I was soon in Damascus, one of the most iconic trail towns (it is the site of the annual Trail Days gathering; it's basically the Woodstock of hiking).  I got a room at the Hikers Inn, took a few showers, bought way too much food for the next week, and then wrote this post.  I don't know what the rest of the day holds for me, but I'm assuming it will include binging on Subway, and a few more showers.

May 30
Start Location: Damascus VA
End Location: Damascus VA
Total Miles: 0.0

This day hasn't happened yet, but I can guarantee you I am not hiking a single mile.  Put a gun to my head and I still won't do it.  Got to rest up before the next stretch, which will take me to Pearisburg.

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