Location: Unknown Shelter, TN
I left Uncle Johnny’s this morning around 9:45. I found some cereal and powdered milk in the hiker box and decided I would have it for breakfast. I considered waiting for the coffee shop to open at 10:00, but I decided that I better leave because a cup of coffee would keep me in town until 10:30. I climbed out of Erwin in the drizzling rain and it rained all day. I met Super Dave just outside of town. He is a flip-flopper. He claims to remember me from an encounter up north, but I can’t place his face. He said he has seen a dozen or so southbounders heading to Springer in the last two weeks.
I had planned to hike 27 miles today, but I only hiked 17. I have to make Hot Springs by Thursday so I can meet the girls on Friday for a couple days hike. After I hike a couple days with them, I will be in the home stretch to Springer.
The last four miles of the hike today were a pain in the wet and cold day. The trail was slippery and steep, and the constant sliding back every time I took a step wore me out emotionally and physically. On one steep section, I used my hands to pull my body above a steep rock face. When my face cleared the edge, it met the snout of a white dog. I slipped down the rock and fell into the mud. The dog had scared the hell out of me, but I had seen it long enough to know that it was a lost hunting dog. It wore a blaze orange collar with a radio beacon. The dog looked as though he had been lost in the woods a long time. His face drooped and his ribcage showed clearly through his mangy fur. I feared that the dog might be interested in feasting on the food I carried and that he might attack me for it. I scared him away and continued on the trail, but the dog returned several times. He followed me to the shelter and sulked in the cold rain just outside of the shelter while I rested on the edge of the sleeping platform and yelled at him to leave. The leafless trees, the wet woods, the misty air, and the freezing temperatures all contributed to an eerie scene. I had a real fear of the dog in the woods because he seemed so desperate. He shivered and sulked, but he watched my every movement. It was lucky that there were two levels to the shelter. The upper level could only be accessed by a ladder, so I climbed into the rafters to cook dinner and sleep.
The wind blew hard through the night. I unfolded my emergency tarp for the first time on the trip and strung it across the very edge of the shelter opening. It only covered about two feet worth of the twenty feet wide shelter opening. I tried to plug holes in the windshield with trash bags and my raincoat. I huddled against the side of the shelter behind the tarp, but the wind persistently blew into my sleeping bag. Sleeping above 3000 feet has been the worst part of the trip recently because the temperatures frequently dip into the low teens at night.
The hunting dog crawled into the shelter after I had climbed into the rafters for the last time. He wrapped his body around his head and spent the night below me. I spent a cold night also, but I felt safely out of the reach of the jaws of the desperate dog.