Editor’s note: This is a reprint (with Jim’s permission) of an email from Jim Heaney sent during his “through-hike” of the Appalachian Trail.
Yeah, a little unplanned stop-over in Erwin. It’s been raining for two straight days, with more rain forecast for the rest of the week, and Stonehenge arranged a shuttle for me, Hoops, Woods Dragon and No Pain, from US23 to a campsite/hostel, so we can dry out and food up (more on terminology in a future email?). It was of course sunny this afternoon, but looks like the clouds are moving back in. Here’s our plan:
- Today: we hiked 2.5 miles to the road crossing, and are taking it easy.I’ve finally caught up with your emails, and I hope to answer most of your questions below. Big lunch; shopping; planning a big dinner.
- Tomorrow: catch a shuttle back to the road crossing we left, so as to not miss any of the AT (Appalachian Trail), and slackpack (hike with only water and snacks and a camera) the 25 miles back to the hostel. Big dinner.
- Friday: leave the friendly confines of the Nolichucky Gorge and proceed towards “Trail Days,” eight days and 120 miles from here.
This puts me a day behind schedule, but I took two zeros in Hot Springs—soaked in the springs for an hour, ate a LOT, hung out. That is the not-really-backpacking part of this hike, but after almost a month, definitely something we all needed. Also, I’m ready to start walking 20s with my pack on, so I expect to easily make it to Rockfish Gap (US250/I-64) in time for the reunion.
So, what can I tell you?
- Waterproof is a big fat lie. When it rains steadily, nobody’s raingear keeps the water out. I have at this point hiked three days, probably a total of 20 or 25 miles, with enough water in my boots that I had to wring water out of my socks. However, since I am “Trail hardened” at this point, the feet hold up fine. I’m ditching my rainpants and the 10 oz they add to my pack weight. I am going to keep my rain jacket though, since, as we joke, it is yellow, and it makes me think about sunshine as water streams through the material.
- In general, ditching things is a guilty pleasure, because one spent good money on everything in their pack, but heck if one wants to carry all of it to Maine.
- I’ve stopped using moleskin or other blister prevention/remedies, as tough as my feet are now.
- I’m one of the only people I know who hasn’t busted out a 20-mile day yet, but hey, we’re all at about the same place, and I’ve felt pretty good so far. Plus, see tomorrow’s slackpacking plans.
- We’re all pretty much eating three dinners every night now. It’s amazing. Ever gone to an all-you-can-eat restaurant with very hungry people, and seen them eat plate after plate of food? That’s us, every single day.
- I ditched my official “Data Book” that the Appalachian Trail Conference, the AT’s governing organization, puts out every year—it lists campsites, water sources, etc.—and replaced it with the “Thru-Hiker’s Handbook,” a rogue (but much more useful) publication published annually by a seven-time thru-hiker named “Wingfoot.“ I did this after the Data Book lied about there being no water for 8.2 miles, when in fact I crossed five or more streams. However, today I met one of the guys pictured on the Data Book—not the one with the mohawk, if you are looking at one now.
- Grandpa Bear has the message “Don’t say you love nature, if you only love sunshine” carved on his hiking staff. If I haven’t said this already, Grandpa Bear is much tougher than the rest of us. We’re all in high-tech polyester clothing, some wool and silk, the latest in boots and trail sneakers; and he’s hiking in jeans and motorcycle boots. He also hasn’t taken a zero yet. However, by this I note that I’ve walked in rain (afternoon thunderstorm or all-day steady rain) 15 of the 30 days I’ve been walking.
- I have, however, seen great sights from Clingman’s Dome in the Smokeys (highest point on the AT, second highest point on the east coast), Max’s Patch Bald in NC, Trey Mountain in GA, just to name a few. In a few days, I plan to stay in a shelter at 6,200 ft. above sea level. The wildflowers have been fantastic. Have seen one rattlesnake, one orange salamander, and otherwise just common birds and lots of insects.
- The shelter system: there are three-walled structures scattered every 3-10 miles on the AT, with six to 20 spaces for sleeping out of the rain. Problem is, there aren’t nearly enough spaces when the rain comes. I’ve managed about five shelter stays in the month I’ve been out here, and am now accustomed to mice running over my sleeping bag; have even been able to sleep in them, a good accomplishment since someone is ALWAYS snoring.
- Finally, “Mothman” has nothing to do with the movie “The Mothman Prophecies.” However, I can say no more.
Thanks to all who have offered their well-wishes. They are appreciated. Hopefully I’m entering a part of the country where, how should I put it, DSL is a little more widely available.
Yours in flight,