April 4. Woke up in the hotel and took a relaxing morning with coffee and a walk around town. It is nice to start the day with running water and a flush toilet now and then! Before leaving town my aunt Karen sent me a message asking if we got her care package, yesterday in the mix of picking up 9 packages we missed the 10th one so I went back and picked up the chocolate covered pretzels, muffins, and more. That worked perfectly for our mid morning snack! Before leaving we stopped by the outfitter and weighed our packs, Brian and Ryan were at 35 pounds and I was at 38 pounds with 5 days of food and water. Not bad, better than when I was at 48 pounds, but still looking forward to dropping more weight! I also weighed myself before leaving town and it seems that I've maintained weight for the first month, thanks to Amy's 5,000 calorie a day meal plan! Out on the trail we climbed higher out of the gap it got hotter and my thermometer again registered above 90 degrees. We took a short side trail to an old fire tower and had a great view from the top. Along side a small lake we saw our second snake of the hike, this was a large water snake. The first snake we saw was a couple of days ago when we saw a small snake along trail as it tried to attack Brian's hiking pole. Later in the day we stopped for water and Ryan's brand new water filter broke on its first use...it was new because the old one broke last week and the company sent him a new one. Needless to say, Ryan was not happy, I'd tell you the rest of that story but I am sure Ryan is writing up a great blog post about it, check it out! We hiked on and set up camp on a great ridge with a fantastic sunset and potential sunrise tomorrow morning.
April 5. Today marks 4 weeks on the trail. Woke up to no sunrise, it rained last night and the clouds had rolled in. We packed up camp and headed down the hill. At the road crossing we read a sign about trail magic a half mile down the road. We walked there and knocked on the door to meet Hercules and FAL, past thru-hikers themselves. They invited us in to their kitchen table with several other hikers and the magic began. We had our choice of drinks first, coffee and tea for me. The first course was a fresh made belgium waffle. Next came a big bowl of hot home made stew. When you think you can't take anymore you have your choice of dessert, home made apple crisp for me! We had fresh baked home made bread as well. They do this almost everyday for hikers and have been for the past 8 years right there, out of their home. They said they have served more than 2,900 hikers in that time, impressive! They are a very nice couple and it was very much appreciated and it will be hard to top that trail magic in the future!
After leaving the house it was one big climb for the next 6 miles. The day warmed up and the sweat was dripping off us. We made it to a shelter in time for lunch and to take cover from an afternoon rain storm. We waited out the rain for an hour and continued up. Not long after it started raining again. We came to a trail crossing for the "Good Weather Trail" and the "Bad Weather Trail" for the Blackstack Cliffs, we chose the good weather trail despite the storms. We hiked up a very rocky trail and passed through places where my backpack was almost too big to fit through. The climb was worth it and the view of the farms, rolling hills, and mountains nestled under storm clouds was fantastic. By that time the rain had really started coming down and we scrambled down the tricky rock trail to get off the mountain. We walked in the rain to the next shelter and we were soaked by the time we got there. The shelter was already full so I set up my tent in the rain, ate my dinner, and crawled in my sleeping bag to warm up and fall asleep.
April 6. It rained all night, woke up wet and cold still, but at least the rain had stopped. During the night we heard a pack of yipping coyotes passing the shelter. It was a pretty incredible sound. I packed my wet gear up and started walking in search of sunshine and a place to dry my gear out. Ryan and Brian were a bit behind me, taking time to eat breakfast and pack their gear, I wanted out of the fog and into the sun and I was cold and the best way to heat up is to get the internal furnace going by walking. As I walked ahead I wasn't paying enough attention and I stepped on a wet log used across the trail to divert water. My Merrill Chameleon shoes with Vibram soles are fantastic on most surfaces, but on the wet log they were like tuxedo shoes on ice. My foot slide out from under me and I stabbed my trekking poles into the ground in front of me. For a split second I thought I was safe...then I started leaning forward. It seemed to take forever, I felt the left pole dig into the ground and I could hear it tearing through the dirt as I fell forward. I kept my arms in so I wouldn't break anything and landed square on my shoulder. I laid there for a second, mostly because I was facing downhill with my arms pinned under me and my 30 pound backpack on top of me. It was tough getting up and I was fine, the only negative was that Brian and Ryan were not there to see it all happen and laugh about it with me!
April 7. We hiked to a road crossing today and ran into some great trail magic. Two past thru-hikers were there cooking hash browns and eggs, with muffins, candy, fruit, and drinks. They set up there each year for a week or two and cook for thru-hikers right out of the back of their pickup truck, it was a great stop! We hiked on and ended the day on top of Big Bald, a 5,500 foot bald offering 360 degree views of mountains, valleys, and city lights in the distance. We decided to camp there for the night and planned on some great views!
April 8. Windy...we placed our tents facing away from the wind but at 3 AM the wind changed directions and I woke up to my tent blowing over sideways on me. I got dressed in all of my clothes and got out and moved my tent so it didn't blow so hard. The morning sunrise was nice and a great way to start Easter Sunday! We packed up the tents as quickly and carefully as possible and tried not to lose anything in the wind. It was a cold night, my thermometer was below 40 in the tent, Ryan said his was close to 35! I have sent most of my clothes home so the only thing I had left to wear in the cold was a pair of running shorts and another pair of underwear! Even with the cold wind that was one of my favorite camp spots so far and I really enjoyed the views!
We hit another stop for trail magic when we found some hard boiled, decorated Easter Eggs hidden along a section of the trial. They led us to a full cooler of candy, fruit, and beer, couldn't ask for more!
April 9. We camped 4 miles out of Erwin, TN and quickly made it into town. Our first stop was McDonald's and Ryan and I each had a Big Mac value meal followed by 2 more dollar sandwiches, and we were still hungry! Ryan visited the clinic again and got more meds for his lingering cold or allergy or whatever he has going on. We cleaned our clothes, showered, and got ready for a night out on the town! We tried for a China Buffet but it wasn't open. We settled for the KFC all you can eat buffet, amazing! We headed back to the hotel to hang out with a few hikers and had a fun evening!