Friday, May 2 – Monday, May 5. Carvers Gap – Hampton, TN (Mile 425.6 since Springer Mountain and only 1759.7 miles to Katahdin)
I spent a great couple of days with Diane in Boone, NC and our parting was as sad as we’d expected it to be, though she declined to drive back up to Carvers Gap where we had played out the debacle of a few days earlier. As a lucky consequence, she dropped me at the Mountain Harbour B&B and Hiker Hostel. I’d already heard about the legendary breakfast served here, so I took ample advantage of it prior to my shuttle back to Carvers Gap. They serve sufficient calories to hike 100 miles!! OMG, to use the vernacular of today. It was the best $12 I’ve spent so far, though the $40 to get back to Carvers Gap seemed a bit stiff in comparison.
I should mention that, in my rush to get a line to speak to Diane a few days earlier, I pulled my pack out of the back of the car owned by a young woman who had kindly driven me down from Carvers Gap and stupidly left my hiking poles behind. When I realized, they were gone and I understood the importance of looking after all that we have on the Trail, as everything that we carry plays an integral role in our lives out here. The poles were especially important, particularly given my penchant for falling at regular intervals. I couldn’t justify paying out another 140 bucks, so went to Walmart and got their 20 buck version.
Anyway, this was supposed to be one of the loveliest parts of the hike here in the south, so I planned to hike about 15 miles. Unhappily, the poles collapsed on me three times and I lost confidence in them extremely quickly. I suppose that $20 poles from Walmart should have been a clue. Fortunately, the hike itself was absolutely gorgeous, though we were re-routed past a couple of the balds, my new favorite feature. However, Little Hump and Hump Mountain, were particularly spectacular, shown here, with both before and after videos of Hump Mountain, or Big Hump, as I called it.
As luck would have it, the 15 miles took me to within 2/10ths of a mile of Mountain Harbour B&B once more so, with the calories beckoning, I headed back again and tented in their back field. Another calorie fest the following morning left me bloated and I hung about on the porch listening to my Mighty Blues commentary on their last game of the season. We won and we’re in the playoffs. Happy Days!!
With only half of the day left to hike, I set my target at Mountaineer Falls Shelter, only 8.8 miles away, yet the place was eerily empty when I arrived there and, having never camped by myself before, I headed on to see if there was an occupied tent site just ahead. You can tell from my video that I’m more than a touch nervous about the prospect of spending my night in the woods alone, yet I did just that and lived to tell the tale.
I did hear a couple arrive later on, though they tented a little further up the hill. However, at about midnight, I was awakened by some frantic screams that sounded as if they were for fun; at least that was how I interpreted them as I burrowed further down in my sleeping bag! Still, the morning came and another barrier was down. I’m amazed at how comfortable I feel when zipped into my tent and I MUCH prefer the tent to actually sleeping in the mouse-infested shelters. Somebody told me the other day that they actually saw a mouse launch himself from the rafters straight onto his sleeping bag a few nights ago. Leave me out of that party.
I should also report that the failed Walmart poles were left behind when I found that a hiker back at Mountain Harbour B&B was cutting short his hike due to injury and I sneakily checked out his poles to find that they were almost identical to my lost ones. I paid him $50 and we were both happy with the deal; I immediately felt more comfortable with “my” old poles and he was 50 bucks to the good and unable to hike. It also meant that the stick pic was back in action, so I tried to shoot myself cooling my feet in the river on the way. Gorgeous when your feet are burning up.
Yesterday, Sunday, I planned to get to Laurel Fork Shelter, yet found myself a couple of miles short of that and gave in to the temptation to go and see the charming Bob Peoples at the “rustic” Kincora Hiking Hostel. Bob suggests a $5 donation and runs a very relaxed shelter, with available bunk room, well water (so much better than tap water), a kitchen, showers and real toilets. I chose to tent again and had a great night’s sleep, though not before spending the evening chatting with Bob and his lugubrious helper, Lumpy, along with several new faces, Walkabout, Hard Hat and Vista. I also met Chuck, as yet otherwise unnamed, who quit his job yesterday and decided to hike the Trail, WITHOUT telling his girlfriend of 14 years. He was hideously unprepared and, at 340lbs and 7 feet tall, he is certain to stand out on the Trail, particularly if he gets to use the gun he is carrying! He even had a porta-potty, intending to pack out his waste. I really can’t see that catching on. Let’s hope he adapts a little and makes a great success.
With my Nalgene bottle and water bladder full of delicious well water, and $10 paid to Bob for his warm welcome, I set out for Hampton this morning, thinking to myself that I’d consider a swim at the bottom of Laurel Fork Falls if I could work up the nerve to brave the temperature and the current. The previous day, when I’d dangled my feet, the water had been darn freezing, so I didn’t anticipate much of a dip. However, more seriously, a father and his son had died in 2012 in the undertow, so I was a little cautious. This video shows the final result.
I must say, the 61 year old me had a debate with the 14 year old me and the14 year old won the debate quite handily. Young Steve used the very reasonable argument that “you’ll never be coming here again,” and, of course, he was quite right. However, in another debate, he also prevailed to show you my first attempt to get into the water, with no rubber shoes. Bloody fiasco!!
After lounging about by the beautiful falls for about an hour, I took on the 1800ft climb and descent of Pond Flats, to reach the road that leads to Hampton. Sadly, I hadn’t realized that there was a further 3 mile trek into Hampton, so I stuck out a thumb and, within ten minutes, a really nice young guy stopped for me and yet another barrier was down.
On a more serious note, I had been thinking this morning that I hadn’t fallen for a couple of weeks, with seven falls as my total, and I was seriously hoping that perhaps my falls were over. Much like the commentator’s curse, I immediately fell on my backside when I lost balance trying to negotiate a particularly tricky tree root. This was OK, though worse was to come. On the way down, with a very gentle descent in front of me, I simply lost my footing, fell forward and, with the weight of my pack pushing me further forward, I fell fully flat on my face. I now have something of a small bruise on my cheek and several cuts and abrasions to my hands and leg. Of more importance, to me, it punctured the confidence I had built and I will head out tomorrow with a new wariness of the difficulties of this challenge.
It ain’t easy out there.