The morning had finally come for Deep Woods and I to head for Uncle Johnny’s Hostel in Erwin, TN and hit the AT to head Southbound for nearly 102 miles on the AT back to Deep Woods car parked at Standing Bear Farm Hostel just shy of I-40 outside of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Were we to finish this section, we would have completed 342.9 miles, beginning at the Southern terminus at Springer Mountain, Georgia. These numbers are according to the 2015 Edition of David “Awol” Miller’s “The A.T. Guide” book, so YMMV. We had also done the 8.8 mile AT Approach Trail at Amicalola Falls State Park, GA to get to the summit of Springer Mountain back in 2014 but those miles don’t technically count toward completion of hiking the Appalachian Trail.
We hit the road for Erwin from Pigeon Forge around 6:30 or so. We stopped by Mc D’s for some breakfast and then Standing Bear Farm to drop off Deep Woods car. Met good old Lumpy, the manager. He’s quite the character! Lumpy mentioned that there had been some issues with forest fires and the possibility of having to shuttle around them but I didn’t think much about it. Later on, those forest fires would totally change our trip. Ran into “007”, a thru-hiker from England that Loonie and I had come across at Derrick Knob shelter in the Smokies earlier in the week. Cool guy and good to see him again. He was hobbling a bit from the steep downhill trek to Davenport Gap from the top of the Smokies but looking forward to pushing on. Anyway, all of that gobbled up some time. Off again. Then I managed to screw up the navigation on my phone so we wound up taking some obscure, ridiculous route and didn’t arrive until after 11:00. Needless to say, Bulldog was pretty bummed out. Our intended destination for the day was Whistling Gap, 13.3 miles away, we were starting at an elevation of 1,720 ft. at the Nolichucky River and the profile showed nothing but uphill for the most of the way. Not good. Took a couple of pics, said bye to Mrs Bulldog and we were off. But not before almost leaving without my brand new Black Diamond carbon fiber trekking poles. What a bonehead!
Most of my fears proved to be unfounded as the trail served up a gentle grade by means of a series of switchbacks. It was a pretty hike with a relatively smooth track covered in pine needles in long stretches and a couple of nice views overlooking the river once we got up higher.
Spotted a few wildflowers and interesting things along the way, including some flowering Rhododendron, Doghobble, a beautiful Pink Lady Slipper practically right on the trail, and patches of Sqauwroot.
Stopped in at No Business Knob Shelter for a snack and talked with a couple of other section hikers. The nice, gentle trail continued and we crossed a series of streams, some with footbridges.
We spilled out onto US 19 at Spivey Gap where two nice young Northbound thru-hiking ladies were taking a break. You can read about their adventures over at AppalachianTrials.com – Blueberry and MoLa (short for Mountain Lady). We get to talking and they pronounce that they had done more than 20 miles each of the last two days. Deep Woods and I turned and crossed the road dragging our trekking poles behind us, feeling like total losers.
Now the trail headed up to High Rocks and things intensified quite a bit. For the first time all day, we were really starting to feel the burn. Or maybe it’s just that we were ready to be done for the day. From Spivey Gap we only had 2.2 miles to Whistling Gap where we intended to call it a day. Those 2.2 miles took us like two stinkin’ hours but we made it with enough daylight left to setup camp, cook, eat and hit the sack.
The weather had been great, it was a beautiful night out and, considering our late start, we had a pretty successful first day on the trail. Took me a bit to get settled in but once I did I slept pretty freakin’ good. Lovin’ the fresh air!
More to come…