It’s 9pm: do you know where AT hikers are? Most at this shelter 4 miles north of Erwin, Tennessee are hunkered down in their sleeping bags either writing in their journals or sleeping already. My dad and I are definitely on the late shift. We’re out by the campfire boiling water for our dehydrated dinners right now. There’s just one other hiker still up with us.
I guess we’re up so “late” because we left Erwin and the comforts of Uncle Johnny’s Nolichucky Hostel and Outfitters around 5:30 this evening. Let’s just say that 5pm is when a lot of hikers end their days, so we’re a little off schedule. We arrived at Uncle Johnny’s last night (the 17th) around 8 pm, after our new longest hike to date – 20.5 miles. We did laundry, showered & hung around the fire with fellow hikers. It’s a very welcoming place. This morning they shuttled us to JD’s, a local diner where we had a huge breakfast of biscuits, gravy, eggs, bacon, hash browns, coffee and oj, all for under $10 for the both of us. Then they shuttled us to lunch – Pizza Plus, an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet and salad bar. In between, we got to shop, go to the P.O. and just relax and repack on the grass at the hostel.
So what I’m getting at, is that it was hard to leave. Other hikers were sharing beers, playing games, checking emails, planning more all-you-can-eat adventures…and there we were, putting our heavy packs (due to the 6-day food resupply) back on our backs and heading uphill. (Towns are always in the valleys.). We’ve been moving along at a good clip for the last couple weeks and so we haven’t had the chance to stay with the same hikers much. We’ll be around the same people for a day or two and then they move ahead or we do. It’s great for meeting a lot of people, but not for making good friends.
A place like Uncle Johnny’s gives us the chance to talk to people other than ourselves and connect a bit with the faces you’ve seen along the way so far. I mean, I love my dad and all, but being together 24/7 is a lot of time together. And with the hours we’ve been putting in, it’s sometimes too late to talk much to others before everyone starts their bedtime routines at shelters or campsites.
But I know we’re not out here for the hostel bunk beds, the 10am beer run shuttles, the stupid amount of bad food we’re eating and the basic comforts of home — we’re here to be in the woods and hike! And though it was sad to turn back and see those happy, relaxed hikers as we were walking out of town, it didn’t take too many miles to feel like we were back in trekking mode. Besides, Damascus, VA is just over a week away!…