Erwin, TN to Clyde Smith Shelter
It was more than a week ago, before Winter Storm Jonas would deliver up to two feet of snow, that my good friend and fellow thru-hiker Meg decided to, on a bit of a whim, join me for a week of hiking. Meg is a pretty rad chick, a spontaneous, charismatic woman who, when she sets her mind to something, is totally going to do it.
She met me in Erwin, TN: Mile marker 343. Her idea was at least a week, maybe longer depending on how fast we hiked. She was committed to the principle of not slowing me down, and I assured her that I had to slow down because one simply cannot hike their usual pace or usual number of miles when there is snow covering most of the day’s miles. I had to face this fact a while back, and I came to an understanding with myself that when the weather is good, and the tread visible, I’ll focus on those big mile days, but for now, just go with the flow. You can’t predict the pace out here at this time of year.
Before leaving town, we stopped for breakfast, my hiker hunger ravenous and just briefly satisfied by a plate of pancakes, bacon and eggs. I was hungry in less than an hour as we strolled the isles for my resupply, approximately four days: wherever and whenever that would take me.
I barely had enough time to charge up my Braven Powerbank before we headed across the Nolichucky River, the trail literally walking into and out of this town’s outskirt. In two hours, I had tackled my list of chores, minus the binge and luxury of catching up on email. That will wait until Damascus.
Ahead of us sat some exceptional scenery, snow or no snow. (Which despite this week’s higher temperatures, there is no doubt still alot of snow, especially on the north slopes and anything above 4,000 feet. It’s not that bad anymore because a few southbound hikers (three total, and all really cool guys), in addition to a couple of “northbound thru-hikers” (who I mysteriously keep missing and who never signed the register for the last hundred miles…)…well, all these folks, plus a dozen day hikers have really helped take care of any of the would-be post-holing and navigation. Which is nice because the days leading up to Erwin, and the lack of footprints, were challenging for this solo girl.
Back to Meg. We we’re stoked to be hiking together, and she was so excited to see the Appalachian Trail for her first time, and in winter. She agreed, the views were amazing and the solitude unfathomable. The weather was warm that initial day, and the visible trail bathed in sunshine leading up to a shelter that sat at 3,900 feet. And then the snow began. But it was all good. We had companionship, laughter and views. And then I made her camp in a would-be, drive-up scenic overlook that now looked like an ice-skating rink. There, just beside the sweeping vista of the Beauty Spot, at 4,437 feet, we camped on a tiny island of thawed earth. A campsite surrounded by a sea of ice and snow. But the view was great and miraculously our shoes were not frozen in the morning.
Day two brought us up and down the the topography of the trail, and later that evening we camped in a cozy shelter, with a view of the sun setting through the foliage-free forest. I read jokes and stories from a Reader’s Digest left behind in the shelter and then, just before 8pm, looked up to the light of a headlamp. 0.1mile up the side trail from the AT was a hiker, or should I say, a headlamp. But he didn’t stop, and I watched attentively (and protectively), as the hiker made his way up the trail, along a ridge, and out of sight. That night we slept soundly and safe, and that hiker I’d never see again.
The next morning Meg decided that she couldn’t continue. Her foot was hurting too much. And with her own upcoming thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail starting in early March, she didn’t want to risk it. It was in October, on a photography assignment in San Diego, that Meg, while barefoot on a boat, stepped on the spine of a sea urchin. She had surgery and was healing up well over the last few months, until just a few days earlier, the would opened up. Poor Meg. Back to Bend she goes.
Well, the solo March north continues. I have a few days ahead without snow and I am already ravenous for a burger and beer in Damascus. That’s Thursday…Wednesday if my heart really desires.