Sunday, April 24, 2011

NC/TN Border

Sorry it's been a little while!  I made it through Erwin, TN, staying at Uncle Johnny's hostel, putting on about 8 pounds on sodas and all you can eat pizza buffets, and having no computer access.  I've been adventuring since I left Hot Springs - nothing seems to have gone how I expected it to.  I have been low on energy from an increase in allergies with everything blooming, but I've still been doing good miles.  I've been hitching to cafes and hiking extra miles to hostels for real meals, to skip my seemingly endless supply of Ramen noodles and Knorr pasta sides.  I've slept in two barns since Hot Springs, one had
been converted to a shelter on the trail in the '80s and the other was an old pig barn behind a cafe a couple miles off the trail with tons and tons of junk in it.  A storm was coming so I figured if I could hitch into the cafe before it came, someone would certainly feel sorry for me and I'd find shelter of some sort.  They call it Yogi-ing out here, or putting yourself in a situation to get something from someone without really asking - like sitting around in a parking lot full of people for awhile, hoping they'll give you something to eat.  It's pretty hoboish.  Well four of us cleared out enough space to put our tents on the dirt floor of this old barn behind the cafe and we were sheltered from the storm that did hit pretty hard.

And I got lost.  I have talked endlessly about the impossibility of getting lost on the trail - you just follow a path marked by white blazes to Maine, how hard could it be?  Well, I take it back.  I went a good 2.5 miles out of the way, at least, before I ate my pride and turned around.  This is what I wrote on April 14th...
Hiking's a lot like driving sometimes. Your body does all the work but your brain shuts off.  Minutes and miles pass without realization. Your poles churn away like pistons in an engine. You try to think about things, but nothing significant ever really materializes. You hum a song or try to think of lyrics to a song - you think about a lot of random stuff. Your pole tips add to the lines on either sides of the trail, done by previous hikers, like oil streaks on the road. My body feels like a machine most days, and some days I drag for hours, not getting anywhere as time freezes.
I woke up tired and I was out of it all day - no energy. I didn't feel like hiking and I was lazy all day, dragging behind everyone else and stopping whenever I got an opportunity. I made it to a shelter 10 miles away and sat there for an hour, not wanting to go on. But I did go on, past 300 miles for the trip and I got lost.  There was a crossing that I took a wrong turn at. I remembered thinking the trail didn't look very well maintained, but there were a lot of footprints and pole marks so I didn't think twice. The path began to widen and it turn into an old road. I started to become skeptical. I realized I hadn't seen a whit blaze in awhile. I walked at least another mile out of stupidity and stubbornness - I was going steeply down a mountain and the last thing I wanted to do was turn around and go back up. Finally, after hiking for well over an hour I realized it definitely wasn't right and I needed to turn around. It was getting dark and I needed to get water and find a place to camp on the actual trail.
All's well that ends well. I made it back to the trail and set up camp, got water, cooked dinner, hung a bear bag, and changed out of my hiking clothes all before it got dark.  So to finish my analogy that hiking is very much like driving a car - you hike along semi-coherent for miles, with your brain halfway turned off it's easy to miss a turn and end up in a town named Enigma - right mom?
I made it to Elk Park, NC Thursday and have taken two full days off the trail with Pauline. It has been incredible to see her and rest up all of my aches and eat real food and sleep in a soft bed next to her. I'm about to head back out and it sucks. I miss her already and it feels like I've been off the trail for so long. But I'm excited too, to make progress and get back out there. I'll be hiking with a brand new group, and hopefully I can catch back up with my old group soon enough.  It's hard to take significant breaks on the trail but I definitely loved every second of this one - it was totally worth it. We went into Boone, NC and had a really nice, romantic dinner.  She beat me at pool, too, I must be getting rusty out here :)
Pauline and I went to Grandfather Mountain and the mile-high swinging bridge

I plan to be in Damascus, VA in about 4 or 5 days.  I'm super excited to get into Virginia, and for flatter terrain and wild ponies. A huge chunk of the trail is in Virginia, so I'll be there for quite some time, but I look forward to the change of scenery. I get to see my mom and the Horns in Draper, just outside of Bland, VA, which I'm really looking forward to! I'm equipped with my ipod now and I got to see Pauline. I'm energized, I have been able to recharge. See yall in Damascus!


  1. I've been checking this all weekend -- it's so good to get the update! I'm glad you and Pauline had fun. Can't wait to see you in a few weeks! Happy Easter! love you, Mom
    (Thanks for the reminder of Enigma... wandering aimlessly through south GA, at 3 or 4 a.m., in the fog!!)

  2. Nice man... nice. Every time you post, this trip sounds more and more rich to me! Your excerpt that you wrote a while back was really poetic, it's a really interesting perspective on things. Enjoy the breaks while they last, it's good to hear you had a relaxing time with pauline. You earned these breaks bro. Keep trucking through man... I'll see you in another life brotha!

  3. Glad to hear everything is going great! Keep it up and I'm sure you'll be in Maine in no time. We definitely miss ya around Mags!

  4. I'm so glad I get to follow your journey this way! I never knew you were such a talented writer. Keep up the good work. So proud of you, all the time. Love you Mikey

  5. Michael - sent your blog link to my brother and he is amazed. Been missing you and so great to read about what's going on. Hope you're dodging all the crazy weather that seems to roll through here on it's way up to you. Stay safe buddy boy.