Big Bald Mountain to Erwin, TN
Miles Hiked: 16.9
AT Milage: 344.3
After barely sleeping all night, I got everyone up at 6am. We wanted to get on trail as early as possible because we were planning on driving home to Ohio from Erwin, TN where Emma and Caroline parked their car before they took a shuttle to meet me in Hot Springs, NC. Most people who section hike, like Emma and Caroline, park their car at the end of their hike and pay someone to drive them to the spot they plan to hike from. We got out of camp by 6:30 which I was very happy about.
The morning was chilly and cloudy. As we hiked we continued to warm up and strip layers of clothing. Everyone’s feet were hurting really bad. The past five days Emma and Caroline hiked 72 miles making their daily average above 14. The last section they did with me we hiked 60 miles in six days making the daily average 10 miles a day. This week was significantly harder for everyone. I am so proud of them for doing big miles with me! Caroline will be hiking the 2,600 mile Pacific Crest Trail next year so she has been using these section hikes on the AT as a chance to prepare for what she is getting in to. I really don’t have much to say about today except that it was extremely challenging. We all wanted to get to town so bad. The lure of hot food, a shower, and bed for the night get stronger the closer you get to town. One of the favorite things about the trail is how much sweeter it makes all of the simple things in life. We all discussed how shocked we felt the first time we visited town in the middle of our last trip together. I remember that I couldn’t believe that I could get water from a soda machine without having to filter it. I wonder how I will fee being home for the next five days or so. Not only am I returning to civilization but I will be attending events for my best friends wedding for three days straight that require me to get cleaned up and wear nice clothes with makeup the whole time. This is something I don’t normally do in my regular day to day life.
A few miles into our hike around 9am I was coming down a steep hill pretty fast with Emma and Caroline behind me. All of a sudden I saw a bunch of black shapes moving very quickly through the woods. I was scared! Then a mama bear and two cubs popped out on the trail 40 yards in front of us. The mama bear looked at us and they all kept running across the trail and down the other side of the mountain. I was so happy and excited to see bears! I’ve been waiting so long to see them and was disappointed I didn’t see any in the Smoky mountains which has a high population.
We continued our hike and took many breaks. Something that made me laugh today is that we all sounded like a bunch of cows walking through the woods. Emma and Caroline have metal objects (a trowel and coffee cup) hanging off their packs that kept clanging together. Every step they took made so much noise! I have a trowel hanging on my pack too but it doesn’t hit anything to make noise. If you are wondering why we were all carrying trowels aka poop shovels they are to dig a cat hole to go to the bathroom in. This is a common leave no trace practice that people in the outdoors follow so that you don’t run into human waste in nature as much, but it still happens.
Caroline eventually broke away from the pack of us and hiked the last 4 miles alone. Emma and I were going at a crawling pace due to our hurting feet. We both hiked in our crocs for a while and then switched back to sneakers. Sometimes hiking in a different shoe helps distract your feet from their pain for a tiny bit. Some people even hike all day in crocs or sandals!
Caroline reached the trailhead at 2:15 and Emma and I got there at 3pm. We all walked to the car. On the way home we stopped at a gas station to change and McDonalds for chicken nuggets. The drive took about 7 hours including stops. I am so happy to get rest for a few days and see my family and dogs!