My mom dropped me off back onto the trail early Sunday afternoon. I only did a 6 mile day up to the closest shelter but it was still a very tough day. It was wicked hot all the sudden, such a huge change from the icy conditions I left the trail in. And worst of all, all my friends were behind me. A few stragglers I knew were at the shelter but most people were a whole new group of hikers. And just as me and all my friends, these hikers were sick too.
I tented in what seemed to be the quarantined sick section because I had already had the sickness. I got into bed early and tried to get a good amount of sleep but I was battling sadness. I even woke up in the morning with a slight sense of sadness at still being in my tent. It was the beginning of an emotional roller coaster of a day.
2.5 miles down the trail next to I-26 was a former Thru-hiker cooking up eggs and homemade hash browns. I took some time out to fill my belly and talk with the other hikers I had ignored the night before and then set out for a long day.
I was planning on 20 miles to a shelter right outside of Erwin. Throughout the day I checked the hiker logs to see where everyone was. I saw that Movie Star had gotten sick. I saw that Genie and Duffle Miner were heading into Erwin that day. By the time I reached my destination that evening, I had had such a rough time dealing with the day and a half back on the trail on my own that I decided it was time to catch the crew.
It may be true that I had cried more out of sadness (I actually shed happy tears here and there often) in the past two days than the rest of the trail combined (no mom, no friends, no perspective) but it didn't mean that I was being a total girl. So I pounded out the last 7 miles down into Erwin, TN where I knew by the logs that Maineiac, Movie Star, Genie and Duffle Miner all were for the night. I convinced Dan, another hiker who had slept at the same shelter with me the night before, to join me and even after a 27 mile day we made it down to Uncle Johnny's Hostel by 8:30.
I traded sickness stories with the guys and we caught up on the latest news and all commiserated about how we had gotten separated from one another strangely during the sickness days and all felt so alone. It seems as if we had all had the same realization over the past few days. The trail is so much so made by the people around you. The views are nice. The adventure is fun. But it is the people that make it worth doing. 27 miles is a stupid, long way to walk in a day with a 35lb. pack on your back, but we do stupid things for a family and the ones we love. I'd do that stupid thing again and again if it meant meeting up with my brothers.
The next day we caught a shuttle into town and resupplied on food. Then we hiked out knowing that our good friend, Fresh Ground, was only 9 miles down the trail. After the morning errands, we made it into his camp about 4pm. We hung out and ate dinner, sat around the fire and Fresh Ground made popcorn. He has been funding the past few stops fully off of hiker donations and spends his every waking hour cooking for us and running into town to get more food. He has become a beacon of hospitality and comfort for a large group of us hikers. And of course, as he has done 3 of the 4 times I have seen him, he cooked breakfast for those of us who camped with him that night.
The day we left Fresh Ground promised to be a hot one before the sun was even far into the sky. I left after an early, yet still hearty, breakfast. We were planning to go 18 miles, which would set us up to cross over Roan Mountain the next day. By mid day the heat was pretty rough. Many breaks and much water was needed to deal. I can see that hot weather hiking is going to be a much slower game. On an icy day, 18 miles takes me 7 hours because I am nearly running to keep my body heat up and on a hot day it takes me 10 hours to do that same mileage. Despite the rough day, it set us up for a great day.
The entire camp seemed excited to get going the next morning, or just trying to out run showers that were expected that evening. Everyone was up and out early to hike over Roan Mountain, which is the last huge peak until way up north. It is a notoriously steep climb and it was still slightly iced over from some previous storms. The hardest part of the climb was the decent, however, when we found ourselves literally walking down a stream of melted ice and snow, hopping from rock to rock trying to keep our shoes dry. The AT never ceases to throw and new and unexpected dilemma your way.
Roan Mountain, which is all beautiful moss and spruce trees, gives way to a series of balds with incredible views. This leads down to Overmountain Shelter, a huge red barn converted to a shelter. It is a dream come true for me. It's the kind of place that makes you think about getting married just so you can throw a fancy party there. I love it.
Upon leaving we hiked to Roan Mountain, TN, a small town for resupplying. The say started put horrible and ended up nicely. The hike out was a brutal straight up ascent up several balds in foggy spritzing rain. I had woken up sick that day and was not handling the weather and terrain combo well. I felt miserable. When we finally got to the highway, we split and to hitch in. Movie Star and I ended up walking all the way into town. The squalled town of Roan Mountain is still bitter that the Appalachian Trail Conservancy won't let them build resorts on the AT, so they take it out on hikers. We got pizza for lunch, food for resupply, a lot of dirty looks and too many ominous sounding "be careful" to feel comfortable there.
But then luck changed. The sun was out and blue skies were all around. On the way out of town Movie Star, Maineiac and I were able to catch a ride in the bed of a truck belonging to someone who obviously wasn't a local. Moments later, Genie and Duffle Miner arrived at the trail head brought by a section hiker we had met. There was beer and food from Comic Charlie, a section hiker who had cooked up plate after plate of fried potatoes for hikers at the barn. When we finally hiked out, we only went about a mile out and built a camp site up on a beautiful ridge when several "Jeeping" roads intersected.
Now that we have left Roan, we are on the way to Damascus, VA and we are all very excited! It's a major trail town. I have a mail drop from my mom and I have heard so many good things about it and can barely stand the wait!