A cold night, a cold morning, the best views so far and my first “twenty” safely into Erwin, TN.
Although I had eventually warmed up in my bag by the time I fell asleep about 10:30 I woke up multiple times before checking my watch to see, confusingly, it was only 2:15am. I realised my inflatable Exped sleeping pad had half deflated and left me in contact with the cold wet ground through just the tent floor. I sat up and reinflated it and tried to get back to sleep. At least it seemed to have stopped raining. Again, I kept waking up and by 5:45 the pad was down again and I figured I might as well get up.
I sadly unzipped my bag, let all the hard-won warmth dissipate and got dressed. Actually I just wore all my night gear with my rain gear on top for more warmth. It was so cold that by the time I finished packing up I actually could not feel my fingers. I was very glad it was dry at least but my shoes were soaked from yesterday and I would squelch along all day.
I left camp at Low Gap at 6:40 wearing 4 layers on top (long sleeved tee, fleece, wind shirt and rain jacket) plus eVent rain mitts and my down beanie, and on the bottom half I wore my merino wool long johns under my rain pants. Everything else was saturated from yesterday. Straight out of camp there was a 1200′ climb and I was actually grateful for it! Climbs work the biggest muscles in the body – glutes, quads, hammies – so create warmth quickly however slowly you move. Downhills do not, unless you move very quickly.
Since I had started so early the temperature would stay low for several hours yet. I took off the rain jacket after an hour or so but otherwise I stayed in that outfit until 10:30 when I reluctantly removed my beanie. I only removed the thin mitts some time around lunchtime.
I reached Big Bald at 5516′ about 9am. The wind was ferocious and it was hard to control the camera with cold hands. But the views in the early morning sun with rapidly moving low clouds and mist were spectacular. The scene changed every few seconds. I think these were the best views of the trip so far – but I couldn’t linger or I would have become a hiker-shaped icicle!
After that literal and figurative high point it was a net 3000′ downhill over 17.6m to the edge of the town of Erwin, Tennessee.
In fact these are the leaves popular with hikers for teasing out a useful water source from a mountain spring that otherwise just dribbles flatly down the rocks. The combination of strength and waxiness means you can make a spout of water you can get your bottle or bladder under. Someone told me they are chrysanthemum leaves.
Six miles from Erwin is a shelter called No Business. It’s right on the trail so I stopped in to check the register. I’ve been reading these more in the last week or so and even writing in them occasionally. I know other hikers look out for people they know to see what they’re up to and some of the entries are funny or touching. I’ve been particularly taken with Engineer’s drawings as they illustrate thru-hiker issues humorously. His entry in this register summed up his night and mine (except my pad didn’t stay inflated!).
Finally I was on the descent into Erwin, a small but spread-out town on the Nolichucky River. It took 20.4 miles today to get here.
I tagged onto the dinner shuttle from Uncle Johnny’s Hostel to get to the more modern Super 8 motel. Turns out that Renaissance, Saint Rick and Engineer were on the shuttle so I was able to pass my compliments onto Engineer who I hadn’t seen since the Smokies. His illustrations ought to be collected and turned into a book. Or at least a Tumblr page!
As soon as I entered my room I turned the heater onto ‘non heat fan’ and started drying my clothes.
Once I had a dry outfit to wear, I headed out for dinner. It meant walking along some busy roads with highway intersections and so I just stuck to the nearest restaurant – McDonalds. I had 3 chocolate milkshakes, double quarter pounder with cheese, filet o’fish and an apple pie. Don’t judge me.
I was served by a very sweet girl who picked up on my accent and said she had always wanted to visit the Royal Albert Hall. What a great pick! She gave me a free milkshake and later came over to point out a double rainbow that the mixed weather had created. It was the most intense I have ever seen and seemed to exist just a hundred yards away so at least something good came out of all this rain.
Tonight I am tired but happy. Happy to be through a 5-6 day section in 4 days, happy to be warm and dry, happy to back on track. Now at mile 341.5 I have more than doubled my mileage since Fontana at 165 in only 2 weeks.