June 12th, 2016
For day two, we had originally planned to do a 13.3 mile hike that would have included an extended climb to an open bald. The temperature was forecast to be around 98 degrees with little cloud cover. I don’t think that any of us were really up for that, so we opted for plan B.
Plan B consisted of driving to Erwin, Tennessee and to Uncle Johnny’s Hostel on the Nolichucky River. We parked our vehicles along the road and took a shuttle to the trailhead for the Appalachian Trail at Indian Grave Gap. From the gap, we needed to hike on the A.T. 8.7 miles back down to the river, and to the hostel on the other side.
Our shuttle driver was a fellow named Sarge. My guess is that he is in his mid to late 50’s (I’m 53 ). Sarge comes across as quite the character and apparently has a rather colorful history. During our chat on the drive, he mentioned that he had done this same hike in about three hours. Hmm, sounds like a challenge to me!
When we arrived at the trailhead, the others hiked on ahead while I put on my gaiters. I was feeling a bit double-minded as I began to hike. On the one hand, since it was supposed to be another hot day, I really wasn’t all that interested in pushing myself. At first I was content to lag behind everybody and to spend some quiet time alone in the woods. On the other hand, while I was enjoying the easy pace and solitude, I was tempted to try to at least match Sarge’s claimed time. After having hiked about 7 tenths of a mile, and even though I had been trying to hang back, I passed Martha, Wayne, and Pam. At this point, with Sarge’s words replaying in my head, I gave in to temptation and took off down the trail.
Except for a couple of moderate climbs, the trail was mostly all downhill in my direction of travel. It paralleled a stream for part of the way, crossing it more than once on wooden footbridges. In places, the trail was full of roots or littered with large rocks which slowed progress. At other times, it was smooth sailing.
After a while, I came to a sign post that pointed to a trailhead. Although I had been hiking fast and making good time, it seemed too soon to be at the finish. I didn’t want to risk missing my turnoff though, and end up going too far, so I decided to detour the short distance down to check it out. There was a road and cars in a parking area, but Uncle Johnny’s was nowhere to be seen and I was still on the opposite side of the river anyways. I was a little uncertain as I hiked back up and continued on. Was I supposed to have followed the road? I should have paid more attention to where the trail would come out before we had left Uncle Johnny’s earlier in the morning. I grew even more uncertain when the trail began to climb steeply up and away from the river. Eventually though, it came back down, crossed some railroad tracks, then picked up on the other side. It was at the tracks that I saw a large deer. It ran off before I could get my camera out to take a picture.
I was relieved when I saw the bridge over the Nolichucky River and the hostel on the other side. It wasn’t like I was lost or anything. I just didn’t want to miss the end of my hike and hike too far, only to have to backtrack.
Including my little detour, I hiked a total of about 8.8 miles. I bested Sarge’s time by thirteen minutes, finishing in 2 hrs 47 mins. While I waited for the others, I chilled under a covered area outside of the hostel and chatted with some of the thru-hikers that were there.
On our drive home, we stopped for dinner at the Hickory Tavern in Asheville, NC. The food and the service were both excellent.
While I write this post, about five weeks later, a part of me still wishes we could go back and do it all over again. That’s a testament to an enjoyable weekend spent hiking with good friends.