Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Appalachian Trail- We did it!

This is a repost of a blog I did for The News-Press while Scott and I hiked the Appalachian Trail in Tennessee in June 2007.

A Week on the Appalachian Trail
Friday, June 15th, 2007

We limped out of the woods today after hiking more than 20 miles in the back country onto a busy Highway 321 and walked toward Hampton, TN to catch a side trail to bypass a difficult section of the Appalachian Trail. We had been warned of the difficulty of the section from other hikers we met on the way, so we decided to save our knees and ankles from a long and difficult climb up Pond Mountain.

On the way to the side trail we met a bicyclist who warned us of severe weather approaching. Then a very nice woman stopped and asked us if we needed a ride and we jumped at the chance to move at more than two miles per hour. Before we knew it, she drove past the trail head of the side trail and we ended up in Hampton. I can’t say we were disappointed about the mistake.

She dropped us off at Brown’s Grogery, and we looked for the owner, Sutton, to shuttle us up the mountain to our car, which was parked at Kincora Lodge — a favorite place for thru-hikers to stay. While we were waiting at the store, we got some Cokes for $.50! It was very exciting to have caffeine after none for almost four days. We finally found a nice resident of Hampton to drive us up the mountain to our car where we dumped our 40-pound packs and set off back down the trail toward Laurel Fork Falls feeling blissfully light on our feet. I really wanted to see the falls, and I was thankful for the way our day turned out.

We left for the hike Monday afternoon, June 11 after filling up on fired bologna sandwiches at Hampton’s internet cafe. Bob Peoples, the owner of the Kincora Lodge, took us to our start point where Tenn. 91 crosses the AT near Shady Valley, Tenn. Peoples is a legend on the Tennesee section of the trail, because of his goodwill toward hikers and his wealth of knowledge. He maintains a lot of the trail in the area.

He told us stories about the trail on the 45-minute ride and told us to make sure to fill up our water bottles whenever we saw a spring, because the mountains, like Southwest Florida are in a drought. “The Appalachian Trail is the great equalizer,” Peoples said. He added that millionaires and homeless people often hike together. It makes sense because everyone you meet our there is going through the same thing as you. Everyone is carrying their home on their back and pushing their body to the limit.

It was a tough 4.6-mile hike up to Iron Mountain Shelter. My back and shoulders hurt almost immediately from the weight of the backpack. On the way we met talked with thru-hiker whose trail name is Mouthpiece. (Most people go by their trail names while on the trail.)

When we got to the shelter three hours later at 7:30 p.m., there were already seven others there. Six were from different parts of Florida. One of the Floridians, Jenny Eckenrode, grew up in Fort Myers and attended Tice Elementary School. She now lives in Gainesville. “Backpacking is a lot harder than running a marathon,” she said. She and her friend were hiking to Daleville, Va., from the Roan Mountain. Eckenrode, who is a elementary school music teacher, hikes during her summers off from school. “Being on the trail is something I look forward to,” she said.

The second day was probably the most difficult, especially because we didn’t sleep well on our first night in the woods. It was about a seven-mile hike with lots of ups and downs. We were really feeling the pain in our backs and knees. We met some hikers that were planning to do 22 miles that day, and I could not imagine planning to do that! It was all we could do to make it to Vandeventer shelter. On the way I tried my to see if my cell phone would get a signal, and by the time we made it, my phone battery was dead. That is why you’re reading about the trip all at once.

There was a beautiful view of Watauga Lake. It is a man-made lake that was built by flooding the town of Butler (now Old Butler) in 1948. More than 700 families were displaced from the town that is now under 100 feet of water. The trail guide said that when the lake is drained people go back to visit the old homesites and school.

It was nice to relax, watch the sunset and talk to the other hikers on the rocks behind the shelter. We met two more people from Florida there. We were able to give one hiker some of our extra food, because it became apparent that I’d packed way too much. We were happy to get rid of the extra weight. In the morning we had to hike straight down — and straight back up — for a half mile to filter water for the day. Then a mile or so into the hike we passed a spring right on the trail!

The hike was all downhill to the lake. Tough on the knees!
Scott was getting a little grumpy.

We reached the 320-foot high and 840-foot long Watauga Dam at 1:00 p.m. Only Appalachian Trail hikers can cross the dam. There were beautiful views of the lake and surrounding mountains. It was nice to be in a more open area after being surrounded by woods for two days. We continued to hike around the lake to the Shook Branch recreation area, where there is a swimming area and public bathrooms. We got there just in time to miss a thunderstorm. Perfect timing.

After waiting out the storm we backtracked to a campsite on the shore of the lake and set up camp.

We could feel the stiffness setting in after a nine-mile hike — our longest yet. It rained a little more during the night, and I had to run out to get our packs and my boots and put them under our tent’s rain fly. In the morning, I cooked myself some oatmeal and hot chocolate to warm up. Then we hiked out………
At the park where the Appalachian trail crosses US 321. After this we hitched into town.

Trying to hitch a ride back to our car so we could hike Laurel Fork Falls.

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