Powder River’s Appalachian Trail Journey from Georgia to Maine 2008

Archive for Tennessee/North Carolina

The Overmountain Boys

Day 40
Location: Apple House Shelter, TN
Miles hiked today: 14.3
Miles from Springer: 385
Miles from Katahdin: 1789
Elevation: 3,000′

First and foremost, Happy Mother’s Day Mom! I tried calling, I swear. They don’t make too many AT&T towers down here!

In 1780, the “Overmountain Militia” composed of men from North Carolina, Virginia and what is now Tennessee crossed Yellow Mountain Gap in snow that was “shoe mouth deep” (We think this means the top of the shoe) on September 25, and marched another 170 miles to King’s Mountain. The militia provided their own horses, provisions and arms, and travelled without a single wagon. Once at King’s Mountain, Americans fought Americans in a bloody and decisive chapter of the American Revolution. The British Loyalists were defeated, mostly because they were surrounded, but also because they were on top of a hill, and firing downhill upon the patriots most of their shots went high.

I crossed Yellow Mountain Gap today. I am also fortunate to have visited King’s Mountain, so I was pretty excited about it. King’s Mountain is right off of I-84 just as you cross into Georgia, and I highly recommend going.

Today was such an unbelievable day, I don’t know where to begin. I started the day at over 6,200 feet, in the middle of a cloud. The shelter on Roan is really nice, in that it has four walls and a door. It was easy to sleep in because there was very little light coming in, so we didn’t get started until late. Once off of Roan Mountain, the trail crosses Carver Gap and then takes you on a full day’s hike of balds and ridges that are collectively known as the Roan Highlands. It is an awesome and unbelievable country! Entire mountaintops are covered with grass and rocks, and you can see the route of the trail for miles and miles as it follows the ridge.

That is, when you can see more than a few feet in front of you. I experienced every kind of weather today. I started out inside a cloud, with high winds. Pretty soon it was thundering and there was lightning, and then a heavy rain. Not long after that, it was sunny. Soon after that, it was hailing, and then raining again. At times, there was rain and sunshine at the same time. Suffice it to say I saw quite a show today. I could not see off of the first couple of balds, but once I was up on Little Hump and Hump Mountains I could see for 100 miles or more. I could see the rain coming long before it would reach where I was, which only took about 5 minutes for it to travel that far. This would be repeated, as it would clear in between each shower. The whole time up on the ridge, I was buffetted by gale-force winds. Every second step was a step to brace myself against the wind on the high ridge.

At one point, I heard this very loud sound that sounded like an approaching jet or freight train. It got louder and louder, and was coming from my right. I look in that direction, and suddenly I see the branches of the trees all bend in my direction, and a split second later I am hit with a gust so powerful that it nearly knocked me over.

I cannot think of too many places that are more beautiful than what I saw today. The weather and the constantly changing clouds only made it better. As I came to the top of the last of the balds, I had a panoramic view of the ridge as it meanders down for several miles, and then becomes covered in trees again. In the distance is Grandfather Mountain, with white clouds loosely hung from its peaks. The clouds are spectacular, making a thousand shapes at once. And there, right where a hiker is standing on top of a bald a mile away, is the start of a magnificent rainbow that stretches into the valley.

As Tom Racette used to say, “I wonder what the poor people are doing right now?” He wasn’t talking about money.



Roan Mountain

Day 39
Location: Roan High Knob Shelter
Miles hiked today: 15.2
Miles from Springer: 370.3
Miles from Katahdin: 1803.7
Elevation: 6275′

I am in the highest shelter on the A.T., at 6,285 feet. It is a rather neat shelter too, as it used to be a ranger’s cabin. It actually has 4 walls, a door and even windows. There is a loft upstairs, and I’m sure you could fit 20 hikers in here.

Roan Mountain is the last time the A.T. goes above 6,000 feet until the White Mountains in New Hampshire. The trail has taken another southern jog just to climb this mountain, and it will then go northward again after crossing a couple of balds that are also down in this area.

I felt extremely spent after climbing Roan today. It was almost like I didn’t eat enough food, even though I’m pretty sure I ate about as much as I normally do. By the time I got to the top I was feeling weak and a little bit dizzy, and cared only for getting to the shelter. There is a trail that goes to an overlook knob about a mile and a half away, and I had fully intended to take it after dinner and photograph a killer sunset. Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling up to it. I guess there will be other sunsets.

Earlier today I saw a sign for Greasy Creek Hostel, bunks and food .6 miles. At the word food, I immediately justified it by the possibility of cheeseburgers, so I was on my way. The .6 of a mile was off trail, and downhill. So it’s an additional 1.2 mile walk round trip to get there. I can say it definitely wasn’t worth it. Even though the sign said food, the owner was taking a sabbath today and does not believe in preparing food on Saturday. So instead, I was given a choice of pop tarts, Snickers or a really bad chicken pot pie. Meanwhile, I was reading the hiker register and my friends who had been in yesterday were raving about the best cheeseburger they’ve ever eaten. Its too bad that sign back at the trail said “food.”

Tomorrow, I’ll come down from Roan, but it will still be a pretty tough day. Another 15 miles or so should bring me to the Apple House, and then after that I will need to pull some really big miles. The rain held off today and it even became a very nice day, but there is a much better chance of rain tomorrow.


On My Way To Damascus

Day 38
Location: Cherry Gap Shelter
Miles hiked today: 16.4
Miles from Springer: 355.1
Miles from Katahdin: 1818.9
Elevation: 3900′

I should not have taken that bike ride this morning. I have missed my bike at home for some time now, and I was really excited to see that Johnny’s has one decent road bike among all of their broken down Huffys and Murrays. I took it out for about 10 miles, but got caught in a heavy rain so I was forced to pull off at Sonic Burger. (Yes, it was rough)!

The climb out of Erwin turned out to be pretty tough. The trail goes from 1,700′ to peak at 5,180′ on Unaka Mountain, and then back down again to the shelter. It is about a 16 mile hike, so added together with my morning bike ride, I was pretty tired by the time I pulled in. I got there just in time to grab the last spot in the shelter and hang my bear rope before it got dark.

The section along the Nolichucky River is really beautiful. One of the books said that both Andrew Jackson and Daniel Boone once attended river festivals here. It was almost like being in a rain forest. There were lots of Hemlock trees, and enough green underbrush to give it that rainforest feel. I found a locust and a newt, and got some really good pictures, and also took some time to get some timed exposures of the stream.

One of the highlights of today was the Beauty Spot, which is actually one of the balds. It looks back westward towards Erwin, and far in the distance you can make out Big Bald and No Business Knob. Unaka Mountain was also pretty neat. It is a wooded summit, but the summit itself is covered with a stand of really tall, dark firs that create a really dark forest. Once you get out of the summit area, you are back into a more normal forest for this area. I did not run into many people today, but there were plenty at the shelter. Doesn’t sound like anybody here is going to make a run for Damascus like I am. It will be a tough week, as I plan on doing three 15 mile days, then a 24, then three 17s. The terrain does flatten out a bit after that third 15, so hopefully this will be doable!


Uncle Johnny’s

Day 37
Location: Erwin, TN
Miles hiked today: 0
Miles from Springer: 339.8
Miles from Katahdin: 1836.4
Elevation: 1,700′

That’s right, that number up there says zero. I hadn’t intended to zero here, but it’s just so easy to justify! I am staying at a hostel named Uncle Johnny’s, and it is a very nice place. You can get a cabin, hostel bed or just pitch your tent out back. They have a stable of bikes so that you can ride into town any time you want. They also run 3 shuttles a day into town for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Red, the caretaker who calls herself the “hostel mom,” is really nice and has been giving me a hard time for all the phone calls I’ve been getting.

I fully intended on leaving today, and making either 17 or 4 miles. I wanted to stay at a shelter, as the weather forecast was not good; there was a thunder storm coming. My tent has a slight problem keeping me dry, so I would need to be in a shelter in such a storm. The problem is, if you get to a shelter late there may not be room for you, and you will need to put up your tent.

So, I decided to aim for the 4 miles and take the breakfast shuttle in. The shuttle took us to JD’s Store, which is a combination convenience store and greasy spoon diner. None of the prices on the menu exceed a dollar, and you can order any combination of breakfast food you can imagine. It is a true local flavor kind of place, and has really good food.

The shuttle didn’t get back until noon, and by that time I decided to stay because I would only get 4 miles in exchange for getting wet. There were lots of people I knew there, and even Rawhide and Maverick rolled in on a shuttle! We loaded up a dinner shuttle a little later, and I ended up eating a burritto the size of my head. (Yes, it was that big)!

Starting tomorrow, I need to really hike hard to get to Damascus. Trail Days starts next Friday, which is the big event of the year on the trail. It is 120 miles away, and I will only have 7 days.


No Business

Day 36

Location: Erwin, TN

Miles hiked today: 11.2

Miles from Springer: 338.7

Miles from Katahdin: 1835.3

Elevation: 1,700′

The road that we camped near last night turned out to be the boundary between the Cherokee National Forest and the Pisgah National Forest. Within a few minutes, the woods on both sides of the trail were blackened and charred from a recent controlled burn. I learned a little while later that the burn had happened on the 2nd, and that hikers trying to get through had to be shuttled around it. Some people actually still got through, hiking with wet bandanas over their mouths. I am glad I came when I did, so I could get through. There was one section that was still smoldering a bit.

Within a few short miles I arrived at No Business Knob shelter. This is a special stop for me. My grandmother was born and raised in a town called No Business, Tennessee. It is not the same No Business as this one, but west and north of Knoxville, in what today is Big South Fork State Park. It is a ghost town now, and supposedly if you hike in on the trails you can still see the ruins. There was never a road built there, just a mule and horse track that you could get a wagon down. It was a 12 mile walk to get into the nearest town. It was called No Business because if you weren’t from there, then you had no business being there. But my grandma met a young railroad man from Wyoming, who was serving in the Navy during WWII. The rest, of course, is history. So here’s to you, Grandma!

I was really booking it today because I wanted to do the 11 miles before lunch, so I could eat at Sonic Burger in Erwin. This has been an obsession of mine for at least 70 miles. I love Sonic, but somehow I have always managed to live just north of where they actually build Sonics, but close enough that they advertise on tv wherever I have lived. It is maddening, because it makes me crave their burgers even more. I got to town in reasonable time, by 1:00. In no time I was set up at Uncle Johnny’s Nolichucky River Hostel, and sailing into town on a narrow two lane highway riding a rickety old steel frame bike with no brakes. 10 minutes later, I was devouring that rich southern delicacy, the number two with mustard and a large cherry limeade, a chili cheese wrap, and a grape cream float. Life on the trail does not get better!


Big Bald

Day 35
Location: Spivey Gap
Miles hiked today: 15.6
Miles from Springer: 329.6
Miles from Katahdin: 1846.6
Elevation: 3200′

The trail has a real insulating affect on you. It is amazing how simple life is out here; shelter, food, warmth, walking. The real world is miles and miles away, but it might as well be ten thousand. When things are happening out there, this is really the best place to be. You don’t have newspapers out here, and you have no idea what is falling apart out there. This is a place where you can come to see the good in people. The people you meet are ordinary people doing something extraordinary, and that makes them great. We are all doing this together, and every one of us deals with the same hills, same declines every day. We all had to somehow get around that tree that was blocking the trail, or cross that stream. There is a real comraderie out here, and you become instant friends with the people that you meet.

Yet another of my close friends left the trail today. I saw Springload leave camp this morning, and he had a big smile on his face as always. 2 miles and one hour later, he was out. He had twinged his knee on the way down, and by the time he got to Sam’s Gap his knee would hardly bend. Just like that. He said he has never had a history of knee problems, and that he had no warning before it gave out. He was pissed. I will never forget him swinging at the air in that parking lot, saying “I’m coming for you!” to an imaginary Mt. Katadhin. His hiking partner, Top Shelf, was just forced to leave in Hot Springs, because of shin splints or worse.

It is a sobering thing. The more miles I walk on this trail, the more I realize how little control I have over whether or not I will finish. How many times a day do I misstep on a root or rock, only to catch myself from putting weight on the vulnerable ankle with my hiking poles? How good are my knees, really? There are a thousand things everyday that could end my walk, and the more of them I navigate safely past, the more I realize that it will be by the grace of God alone if I make it to Katahdin.

God bless Springload and Top Shelf, and Rawhide and Maverick, and all the others. Some of them will heal and come back, but some will not. Others are section hikers, and are only here for a planned section. God bless all of them!

I have often wondered where my breaking point is. If my world at home were falling apart, or I was injured, what would I do? I guess in a lot of cases there is no choice. I just put the patch on my pack that says “Dont Give Up The Ship.” It is as much for myself, should I need it, as for anybody who is walking behind me.

In the midst of this sobering day, we were reminded starkly of why we’re all here. There was some trail magic at Sam’s Gap, in the form of Miller High Life. I took two of them up to Big Bald, which is no small climb. From the top of Big Bald, at over 5,100 feet, you have a perfectly unobstructed 360 view of the southern Appalachians. It was a perfect day. 80 degrees, and the visibility was about as good as it gets. Myself, Papa Sarge, Freckles and Sprite sat up there for a time and reflected that yes, if the world were coming down this is the best place to be.

“If they want me to wear a suit, then I don’t want to work for them anyways. But when I die, I want to be buried in a suit. That way there will be one less suit in the world. I’ll take a really nasty tie with me too.”
-Springloaded Joe


The Shelton Brothers

Day 34
Location: Hogback Ridge Shelter
Miles hiked today: 14.7
Miles from Springer: 311.8
Miles from Katahdin: 1862.2
Elevation: 4255′

I started off the day going up Big Butt Mountain. Nope, that’s not a joke. At the top there are a very unique pair of rocks that you can climb up on, and you get a view of all the surrounding mountains. I had climbed up and sat there for a little bit, then moved on. Only when it was pointed out to me later did I realize that those rocks indeed do look like a pair of butt cheeks. If only I had taken a picture! I guess these country folks down here don’t mess around when naming their mountains, and call it like they see it.

I came across some Civil War graves today. Fred back at Hemlock Hollow had told me about them, and I was looking forward to seeing them. I did not get the full story on them until later when we met a gentleman who was hiking in just to get a photo of the graves, and said he had done some research on the Shelton family. As the story goes, there was a bit of a local feud in these parts back before the civil war had started, and a bunch of men came one day and rounded up the Shelton clan. They killed 10 of the men and horse whipped all of the women between 30 and 60. Once the civil war started, two of the remaining Shelton boys, David and William decided to join the Union army. (Which was not uncommon for the hill country of western North Carolina). In 1863, the two men were coming home to visit family, led by a 13 year old nephew, Millard Haire, as a guide. Some Confederate soldiers found the three of them when they were nearly home, and killed them all. They were buried in a mass grave, and today there is a headstone for Millard and government headstones for the two soldiers. What a rough time that would have been to live in!

The A.T. is taking a huge southern jog right now, so almost all of today’s hike was southbound. From the map it looks like it does this so it can go over Big Bald, which I will see tomorrow. It also is still following the state line. The A.T. is built on public land, but much of it had to be bought from private owners, sometimes using emminent domain. There is supposedly still a lot of hostility in this area near Erwin towards the trail and towards the hikers. There is one section where you literally go between two properties, and several parts where you cross old livestock fences. I saw at least three property markers today, set right in the trail declaring that it marks the corner of someone’s property. On the map, there are some parts where the green “forest” area around the trail is only as wide as the trail itself, with the surrounding areas in white. At any rate, my friend Elgixin experienced some little kids yelling obscenities at him today, from one of those adjacent properties. I wonder where those kids learned to do that?