Location: Uncle Johnny’s Hostel (Erwin, TN)
Mom dropped me off this morning at the trailhead for the last time. I carried a full pack again, and started south, only a few hundred miles from Springer Mountain. I moved slowly but steadily down the trail. My slack-packs and zero day made me sluggish, but I made good progress down the trail thanks to the rolling terrain. At the first shelter I reached, I met a group of AT trail maintainers. They volunteered for the organization that keeps this part of the trail clear of fallen trees, maintains the shelters, and does whatever else needs to be done to keep the AT in passable order. They had hiked into the woods on a side trail and planned to hike north to clear obstructions on the trail. One of the men carried a chainsaw in his hand and the others carried standard day packs. They asked me to record the fallen trees I came across between Low Gap and Curley Maple shelter and then report my findings to Ms. Janet in Erwin, TN. I found a dozen trees down across the trail over the next few mountains. The recent freezes likely caused them to fall because many still showed fresh wood where they had broken away from their trunks. The trees made the climbs difficult. Rarely do any lay flat on the ground, but most often they are waist or chest high, meaning I have to climb over them or crawl under them.
As night fell, I strapped on my headlamp for the last hour of the hike into Erwin. I considered calling Ms. Janet for a ride since I had heard so much about her generosity. Most people prefer to stay at her hostel rather than Uncle Johnny’s, since Johnny has a reputation of occasionally being cantankerous. Ultimately I decided to stay at Uncle Johnny’s because fatigue and cold had overcome me. I couldn’t find anyone at the hostel or the outfitter, so I knocked on the door to the trailer behind the building. I woman answered the door, and a cloud of pot smoke poured out the door. I nearly choked in the open air when the smoke reached my face. She told me to wait in the hostel and she would come check me in.
I cooked dinner in the hostel, and while I ate a drunken man stumbled into the hostel. He wore neoprene waders and green slicker. His Rottweiler followed him into the room. The man claimed to have thru-hiked in 2001 and 2003, but I didn’t believe him. He didn’t know much about the trail. He continued to bug me through dinner, and he let his dog drool on the floor at my feet while I ate my hot rice dinner.
Once he left, I turned on the television and watched Tommy Boy on VHS. While I watched the first few minutes of the movies, I sorted through the hiker box in the hostel to see if anything good had been left behind by other hikers. I ate several packs of fruit snacks I found at the bottom, but everything else in the box disgusted me. Lipton’s packets of rice and noodles, cans of tuna, and ramen overflowed from the box. It appears that other hikers have become as disgusted with these products as I have and are discarding them when they can. I fed all of my dollar bills into the drink machine on the porch outside the hostel and drank several bottles of Sprite. I decided to stay away from the caffeine since I planned to go to sleep early. I fell asleep with the movie playing.