It was a short 70 something mile stretch from Hot Springs to Erwin. It was hot the first half and rainy the second. We've narrowed our group down and picked up a name. Caveman, Patch, Sulley, Reverie, CamDog, and myself are now known as The Human Caterpillar. That's right. We hike close enough together most of the time to call ourselves that. It's great hiking in a group. And on the occasion we split up, the end of the day usually ends in laughter around a fire. That is with the exception of Tuesday evening.
Tuesday we split and agreed to meet on Big Bald, a large bald at the top of a mountain around 5600 feet elevation. We were hoping for a reminiscent of Max Patch and we may have gotten it if it weren't for the weather. Reverie and I were behind everyone else and by the end of the day after the somewhat intense climb up the mountain and a threat of rain, a cloud consumed us. The higher we climbed the more dense it became. In addition, the wind was beginning to pick up. So, we made it to the top and there we saw our buddies' tents already set up. Apparently, when they had arrived it was a beautiful view. But when we got there the weather had turned. Against my better judgment, we fought the wind and set up the tent. Not an easy task in this hurricane-like gust. We immediately threw our gear and ourselves in so not to blow away. As we sat in the tent, I seriously began to question the strength of our tent. It's awfully tall and didn't seem to be liking the wind. I got out as the temperature dropped and tied strings from the tent to large rocks. Still, the tent poles weren't having it. I rigged our trekking poles, stabbing them in the ground, and bracing them against the jarring poles. That seemed to do the trick. It wasn't perfect but we were losing light.
Throughout the night I had troubles sleeping. Not only did I constantly fear the tent would buckle and break, there was also something right outside the tent and I could not figure out what it was for the life of me. There were no trees to hang our food bags so whose to say a bear wouldn't come on by and take them? Quite scary. Eventually I fell asleep and awoke in the morning to rain. That has been an ongoing theme the last week. Rain in the morning. However, that means we were stuck way up on this mountain with massive wind AND rain. It sucked. It rained until noon. We hopped out of our tent and battled the wind to wrap it up. We had to have a death grip on our tent in order for it not to fly away. Sure enough, it bent our poles(not too bad) and got everything wet. Interesting position, indeed.
After that, the Trail was muddy and slippery. A cold snap was back and hiking conditions not nearly as nice. The rest of the Human Caterpillar was determined to make it Erwin that night. We got such a late start, there was no way unless we wanted to slip and slide hours into the night. So, we stopped 6 miles short of town. Apparently, they made it. We were able to dry most all of our stuff out as the next morning was beautiful.
We hiked towards Erwin making a multitude of phone calls trying to figure where we could possibly stay for a reasonable price with a dog. No where in town wanted less than 70 a night... for MOTELS. Garbage. We ended up staying 40 yards off the Trail at Uncle Johnny's. Great choice. We got a little cabin for a somewhat reasonable price with no extra charge for the dog. Good deal. The fella, Grim, who was running the place was excellent. He shuttled everybody everywhere. Pizza buffets, cheap beer, post office(WHERE I GOT MY GUITAR!), the movies, and grocery stores. We found the right place.
We hooked up with the Human Caterpillar, had a couple beers and Miss Janet, a 35 year committed Trail Angel who shuttles hikers all over on donations, brought us back to the hostel. She rules. The next day we got a great deal on kayaking the Nolichucky and we had never done anything like that so we were all about it. Not to mention we were zeroing anyway while waiting for my mother to get us. It was a BEAUTIFUL day. The only problem was, we didn't wanna rent a cabin again, so to save money we pitched our tent near the cabin. We didn't know what to do with Chaser. We didn't wanna leave him in the tent for hours. Sulley called the kayaking place and they were all about taking care of him while we were on the river. Really? That's awesome. Let's do it.
We arrived at USA Rafting and the anticipation was killing us. We were so excited. Chaser was happy with other dogs and we were ready to be on the river. Off we went. I brought my waterproof camera and so did Caveman. It was a blast. The water was cold and that was nice. We ended up being out there a little longer than we had planned, like 6 hours. Upon being picked up, after getting nice and sun burnt, we found out Chaser hadn't been seen for a bit. No big deal. He'll come to me. We get back to the rafting place and sure enough, not there. Where the HELL is our freaking dog. "Hadn't seen him for a couple hours." WTF!!!?? You said you'd watch him, you bastards! Panic mode creeping in. It turns out the AT runs right by the place so presumably Chaser saw the blazes and starting following. We were losing day light and was not coming to getting called by all of us. We regrouped at the hostel, Rev took my phone into town as I, once again, had no service where we were staying and if someone was to call, we wanted to make sure they could actually contact the phone. Caveman and Patch ran a mile and a half towards each other on the AT as I went north 3 miles to next shelter. 3 UPHILL miles... in a panic... around 7:45pm. I haven't ran like that in years. Nothing from Reverie, nothing from Patch or Caveman. Nothing on my end. I hauled ass up to the shelter completely out of breathe to find no dog. I put the word out, gave my number and made some signs. I then turned around and ran 3 miles in about 30 minutes downhill in the dark. It was gnarly and dangerous. No dog. Finally, I arrived back at the rafting campground where Patch and Caveman were currently searching. Chaser had his shock collar on and I continually shocked him in hopes for a locating WHELP! And then... there he was. Coming in the direction of all the people we've been asking. Chaser, that little bastard, showed up and I bought lost it. I immediately called Reverie and she bout lost it too. Our boy was found. Caveman and Patch didn't even see him but apparently he went back to where he first left. He about scared us to death. We love him so much but he can be quite a handful. Thank God he's back.
We tented that night as happy as could be and as worn out as could be after a full day of kayaking and a 6 mile sprint. Beer, fire, sleep. This morning we hopped the shuttle for an outstandingly cheap and filling breakfast, got back, broke down camp, and my mom showed up. Chaser went with Caveman, Sulley, and Patch while Reverie and I headed back to Gatlinburg. It took about 2 and half hours but it was worth the wait. Its a pretty sweet place here. Hopefully, this Gat experience will be way better than the first. It's time to go get wet.
Boy knows how to clean out some peanut butter
Makeshift beer funnel
Bathroom door stall at Uncle Johnny's
Diner. The pic looks familiar
Where we are