Location: Kincora Hostel (Dennis Cove Rd, TN)
When I woke up this cold morning, all of the clothes I had hung in the shelter to dry last night had frozen. My shirts and pants were stiff and my socks had ice crystals on them. I was wearing dry clothes inside my sleeping bag, but I have maintained a strict policy of keeping my camp clothes dry, because I consider dry clothes to be an essential element to not only comfort but survival. I ate breakfast in my sleeping bag, and I realized that the moisture in the air last night had soaked my sleeping bag. I packed my pack quickly, stuffing my sleeping bag and then my dry clothes into a trash bag that I stuffed into the top of my pack. I grabbed the frozen clothes that I had banged a couple of times against the shelter wall and beat them against a tree just outside the shelter. The ice broke away from the fabric, and I pulled the freezing clothes over my naked body. The clothes burned my body with the icy touch, but I pulled on my pants and socks in a hurry. When I grabbed my boots from the ground, I realized they too were frozen. I couldn’t squeeze my foot into the shoe, so I banged the sole against the shelter wall until I wedged my foot in. I couldn’t tie the frozen laces, so I strapped on my pack and started waddling down the trail with solid shoes on my feet. After several hundred yards, my feet thawed the shoes and I could knot the laces. My clothes were no longer ice cold, but had become hot and wet with my body heat.
I felt great once I had warmed up, though the air was still cold. I had planned to hike 27 miles today to the third shelter to the south. After seven miles, I arrived at Iron Mountain Gap Lean to, and I found Pi and Laces bundled up in their sleeping bags. Their gear had frozen the night before also, but they chose not to get out of their sleeping bags until the sun warmed the mountaintop a bit. I only visited for a few moments while they started packing. They told me they were planning to hike to Kincora hostel at Dennis Cove road. I thought that sounded like a great idea because I needed to dry my sleeping bag and clothes. I left before they did, now set on hiking 25+ miles to the hostel.
I hiked mile after mile through the rainy and windy day. I walked around the Watauga Lake wilderness and over the Watauga dam. My shins burned on the trail, and I had to take several breaks of the relatively easy terrain that wrapped around the lake without too much climbing. I ran out of daylight about three miles short of Dennis Cove road, so I night hiked again. The last section before the road was especially tricky. It involved a lengthy boulder scramble on the edge of a river. The water level was high from the last few days of rain, and the sharp rocks were treacherous. While scurrying across rocks using my hands and feet, I planted my face in the rocks several times. I passed underneath a large waterfall that I heard half an hour before I saw it. The trail passed so close that I could feel the spray as the wind blew it across the path. I climbed out of the small ravine and found flatter trail that led to the Dennis Cove road.
When I reached the house and hostel, the caretakers did not answer the door I knocked on. I walked around the property and eventually found the hiker hostel. Aaron and Moses were inside eating pizza when I arrived, fatigued and shivering. Several weeks ago, I had found Moses’ bracelet at a shelter in northern Virginia. I recognized it on the ground because he had showed it to me in New Hampshire. It was a gift from his grandfather, who had determined the brothers’ trail names before they came to the AT. He was grateful that I returned it, and he offered me two slices of his supreme pizza in return for my carrying the bracelet so far.
I dried all of my clothes in the dryer without washing them. I didn’t feel like staying awake to change the clothes and sleeping bag from machine to machine. I took a hot shower, but the shower was essentially outdoors. There was a small heater, but the area was not heated space. A small swinging door separated the shower from the freezing temperatures, and the tile floor was dead cold so I laid down a couple towels to walk on while drying my body.
I didn’t visit long with Aaron and Moses. The hostel caretakers returned shortly after I changed into my dry clothes, and he stoked the wood stove for us. The man had converted an addition to his house into the hostel. It may have been a garage, but I don’t think so. The ceilings were low, maybe only seven feet. There was thick yellow carpet, dim lamps, dark wood, and several couches along the walls that looked like they might swallow a small body between the cracks of soft pillows. I didn’t have any use for the small kitchenette, but I did call mom to let her know that I would be at our rendezvous in a couple days. I pulled my sleeping bag from the dryer just before going to bed, and I carried up the stairs to the large bunkroom and climbed in immediately. I slept like a baby after 30+ miles on a tough trail.