Zero in Damascus

Damascus
Day 40 (5/20/19)
Miles – 0
Total miles – 474.2
We took a quite zero today. Laundry, repacked the food for the next section, and working on the blog were the order of the day. We had are bump box so we were able to replace some equipment and do some repairs. We recoated our shoes, socks, and pants with permethrin. A tick deturant. Tomorrow we will be headed out for our next four day section.

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Into Damascus

Damascus
Day 39 (5/19/19) R
Miles – 21.5
Total miles – 474.2

We got up early and we were hiking by 7:15. Gutsy will be hiking with us. We have over 400 miles of toughing up so we hike faster then she does. So, Gutsy started to hike an hour earlier then we did. We will catch up with her later today. Today’s trail is even easier than yesterdays. We had an easy up in the beginning of the day and then we walked the ridges. There were a lot more clouds this morning and a higher chance of rain later today. We hiked quickly throughout the morning, with only one stop. As we were hiking, we bumped into Legs and Marathon still camped. Legs was sitting on a log looking a bit forlorn. We asked how is he doing. He said fine except a bear got to their food last night despite having Ursa Sacks which are suppose to be a bear proof bag. They are much lighter than carrying bear cannisters thus preferred by backpackers. Despite this, many National Parks that require bear cannisters do not allow Ursa Bags because they do not believe them to be bear resistant. The bear actually did not get the food out of the bag, however it was mutalated. Food was crushed and liquid or paste like items oozed out. They are half a day from Damascus, so they will be fine from the stand point of food. We walked on down to Low Gap and found a cement picnic table. Of course we had to stop for a break. It is a treat to sit at a table and eat. Throughout the day the clouds thickened. In the mid-afternoon it rained. The thunder rumbled about us. Soon after the rain started we caught up with Gutsy. It was a small thunderstorm and soon passed by. Odometer showed up as we got close to Damascus. He informed us of an older couple who were camped just a head with their two cats. Being cat lovers, we would have to stop by and meet these two and their pets. Soon we came across them and yes they had their two cats with them in a carrier that was open so they could come and go as they pleased. They had leash on. The cats were named Gitzmo and Punkin. We talked a few minutes before heading on. Soon we were all walking into town. Trail Days ended today, but there still a good number of hikers in town because it was difficult to find a place to stay that was not filled up. It took a number of calls to nail down a room for tomorrow, but we found a very nice one called The Dancing Bear Inn. We will be taking a zero her tomorrow to take care of everything. After unloading our gear from the van, we had to say goodbye to Odometer and Gutsy. They have a five hour drive home and after a twenty one mile day of walking, Gutsy will be tired. We appreciate everything they have done for us which has been quite a bit since our tip began. Thank you Gutsy and Odometer!!!!

Thoughts on the horrible hiking incident on the AT:

There are lots of emotions on the AT, as information has come out about the horrendous attack and murder of fellow hikers. Some are distraught and others just do not want to talk about it. For ourselves, we see another horrible deed committed by a very messed up human being that has occurred. He has destroyed the life of others and himself. We are thankful we were far away from the situation. We are no more afraid of being out here on the trail than at home. As Tolkien’s famous quote says, “It is dangerous business stepping out your front door each morning. . .” In the beginning of our trip, due to being so sick we lost nearly a week of hiking time. I have been frustrated that I caused so much delay. We could be one week further along. Odometer pointed out to us that if we had not taking the time off in the beginning, we would have been right in the middle of all the mess. We would have encountered the young man at some point and who knows what else. I now say thank goodness we lost six days of hiking!

Mama Raven

Dearest Mother,

As we entered Virginia today and left Tennessee behind, I was busy thinking of you. You always wanted to go home to Tennessee. When I was a little girl, you read a peom to me about the Smokey Mountains. The only line I can remember said something like this, “when I look out across the Smokey Mountains, I see more shades of green than a box of Crayola Crayons.” Finally after witnessing the Smokey Mountains for myself, I clearly see what the poem was saying. I also was blessed with a sighting of your favorite Tennessee flower, the Lily of the Valley, a rare flower to spot on the AT, according to Gutsy. I miss you terribly even though you lived such a troubled soul on this planet. There is not enough space in the universe to contain my love for you. Such an old soul you were, who was way a head of your time. Your heart and soul were more evolved than most preachers I ever heard speak in church. You are right, about our world, one day a big rock will be removed and all the ugly, creepy, crawly stuff of the world will be exposed. No longer will it be able to hide. Things will get worse before they get better. You read the future well. You were far too sensitive for this world, which repeatedly delivered many cruel blows to you. You could never find your shield and sword to defend yourself. Nearly every night as we hiked in Tennessee, I would go to sleep listening to a song by Aurora called Why Did You Have to Go? I need a box of tissue everytime I listen to it. However I do not have any. Instead all I have is the back of my dirty hand. It has been a treausre to walk in your home state that you loved so much.

Mama Raven

Gutsy

Sparkeling Wonder

Switchback Creek Campground
Day 38 (5/18/19)
Miles – 20.7
Total miles – 452.7

We were on the road back to the trail by 7:20 and off hiking around Watauga Lake by 7:40. We continued around the lake for about 3 miles before we came to the dam. The lake had many fingers and inlets to walk around. A morning fog shrouded the lake to add to the beauty of it. Fisherman in their boats floated along the shore as we hiked around. We passed a shelter however there is no overnight camping at it because of bear activity due to all the fisherman that clean their caught fish in the lake. The remains that are discarded are a bear favorite. Once we crossed the eastern dam, we started a long but easy up. The rest of the day we walked atop a ridge that ran straight northeast. The hiking was easy and we moved along at a good pace. Once the fog burned off, the sky was a clear blue with no clouds to be seen. It was one of the warmest days of our trip and a bit humid, but nothing like what it will be in the coming summer months. We stopped for a break at a small outcropping of rocks overlooking the lake. We stayed longer than normal for a break, about 40 minutes. Because it is Saturday and the busiest day for Trail Days, our hiking for the day was uncommonly quiet. The trail was void of human activity. We enjoyed it this way. On our CDT hike, rarely did we come across another hiker on the trail, except for Colorado. The AT is the complete opposite. That is why it is referred to as a social trail. Today we only saw Legs and Marathon and a large group of high school students and their chaperones. We stopped and talked to them a while. As the day wore on, clouds built to the South.
There is a lot of ground cover and everything is still wet from the rain a few days ago. Poison Ivy is everywhere. We all have walked through some of it at one time or another. Luckily, Mama Raven, is the only one that has gotten a itchy rashes. Another annoying plant that grows profusely here is stinging nettle. We have come across it occasionally on the other two trails, often times not realizing we were walking through it until instantly feeling our legs sting and looking down at all the small welts covering our lower extremities. Out here it is too common, completely covering large areas of land. Given all the ground cover, it is sometimes hard to find a place to sit for a break. Logs work best. However there is usually never enough for all of us, thus somebody has to sit on the ground. This is something we try to avoid because of ticks. While we were eating a snack on a few logs, we picked up a small piece of decayed log and squeezed it. Water came out. Everything is very wet and does not dry fast in this climate. We reached TN 91 around 6:00. A bit later than we wanted, but not too bad.
Gusty and Odometer were in the parking lot waiting for us. Legs and Marathon were also there. We took a short break and then piled into the van and drove to a camp ground for the night. Legs and Marathon continued up the trail. During the late afternoon, the clouds had built up into large thunder heads. As we ate dinner, thunder rumbled to the west and north. We sat and talked as we ate a dinner of hot dogs that Gutsy and Odometer brought. At one point Bling asked when will we get to see fireflies? Coming from the west coast, we know nothing about the bugs other than they show up often times in Disney movies. We have yet to see any and Odometer and Gutsy suggested that they probably will come out when the temperatures increase a bit. That was the end of that conservation. At dusk we all crawled into our tents and settled down for the night. We left the doors open to watch the flashes of lightening off too the west as the distant skies gently rumbled. All of a sudden Mama Raven excitedly exclaimed she saw a flash of light in the field, and then another. Whisper said she saw the same thing. Mama Raven was sure it was a firefly. Bling and Papa Raven said it wasn’t. We watched intensely as we started to see many flashes in the trees. They were fireflies! We all became very excited. Mama Raven had seen fireflies when she was three years old, but the rest of us has never seen them. We all got out of the tents and walked about the field looking at them. All the trees sillouted around us in the dark night were twinkling bright. Some would appear next to us as we walked around. It was a beautiful light display of a sparkling wonder!

Trail Days

Elizabethton
Day 37 (5/17/19) R
Miles – 8.5
Total miles – 432.0

We sleep well in a nice warm room. It rained lightly just about dawn. After a quick breakfast, we loaded the car and headed to the trailhead. Gutsy joined us for this section of the hike. The trail was very easy as we headed out. We hiked along Laurel River. A few miles in we came to Laurel Falls, a large cascading waterfall. The trail then followed a ledge just above the water. This area was stunningly beautiful with the unique rockwalls, rock stairways, the river and falls itself, and of course the lush moss and fern carpeted forest floor. Our favorite section of the AT!!! A short time later we started our only up of the day, 1,700′ in 2 miles. The climb was well graded as we worked our way up. When we reached the top, we stopped for a break. As usual when we decide to take a food break, it started to lightly rain. We all pulled out our rain coats, except for Papa Raven whose did not manage to make it into one of the day packs. And as usual, Gutsy to the rescue with a spare umbrella. After eating we started down to US 321. It did not take long to reach the road. Odometer was there to pick us up. We all piled into the can and headed off to Damascus and Trail Days. We also picked up Strider, a young woman from Vermont and brought her to Trail Days. It took an hour to get there. Yes we told you we wanted to avoid Trail Days, however plans change.
Several days ago Papa Raven was walking around the tent vestabule when he stumbled over a tent line and stepped on the vestabol and tore a hole in the top of our tent. The tent was in a very precarious position that made maneuvering around it very difficult. The tear made closing the zipper tricky with the potential if making the tear worse. Mama Raven suggested at the resort yesterday that Trail Days should have a booth for gear repair. We were not positive about this but we decided to give it a try.
There was a lot of people and vendors at the event. We did stop to buy 6 new tent pegs. Gutsy treated the kids with ten dollars each for icecream and whatever treat they wanted. We walked around the vendor s and did not see tent repair. Odometer and Papa Raven left the vendors and drove over to Tent City. There they found all the repair people. They approach the Etowah Gear tent. The gentleman agreed to look at the tear in our tent. He offered a bowl of beans and cheese while he fixed the tent. He did not charge for his work! That task finished Odometer and Papa Raven picked everyone else up and we drove to Elizabethton for the nights stay. Tomorrow we head off to the next slack pack. The 20 miles between US 321 and Tenn 91.

Whisper, Bling, and Gutsy

Bling dream backpack

Nero

Black Bear Resort
Day 36 (5/16/19)
Miles – 0.9
Total Miles – 423.5

With less than a mile to town why get up? We started to move about 7:00 and were hiking by 8:00. It was in the low 40’s as we came to Dennis Cove Rd. We turned southeast and headed down to the Black Bear Resort. There had a cabin ready so we were settled in by 9:30. The one problem is our boxes were not here. I called my mom and found out that the boxes should be here today. We took showers and did our laundry while we a awaited the arrival of Gutsy and Odometer. They will be slack packing us one last time, from Dennis Cove Rd. To Damascus. Our boxes did arrive about mid-afternoon. Mama Raven and Whisper got new shoes and everyone got new socks. Gusty and Odometer drove in around 3:00. As Mama Raven and Gusty talked our plans for tomorrow changed a bit. We will still be slack packing a short section, but afterwards we will drive over to Trail Days in Damascus.

An easy day

A shot way before Dennis Cove – 400.44
Day 35 (5/15/19)
Miles – 20.73
Today miles – 422.6

Another cold morning awaited us. Not as cold as yesterday, but cold enough to make leaving the comfort of a warm sleeping bag difficult. Papa Raven really wanted to linger a little while longer. Additionally, we have reduced our miles in this section to avoid Trail Days, so we are not in a hurry to rush out in the morning like normally. As we packed, we had to wipe down the nights condensation off the tents. Camping in a stream valley tends to cause night condensation. It is also colder! As we were taking down the tent, Papa Raven stepped on the vestibule and tore a seam and the tent fabric at the top of the tent making zipping the front door difficult. When we get to Dennis Cove, we will have to figure out how repair it. Today’s hiking was some of the easiest so far. The ups were gentle and not very long. We moved along quickly though deciduous forests and a lot of rodedendrums. We took the side trail to see Jones Waterfall, which was a 50′ cascade of water. After leaving the falls, we dropped down to Elk River. We hiked along the side of it for awhile, passing through some beautiful meadows. It was nice to be down off the ridges and walking some of the valleys. We have known for several days that our paper guides and the phone app do not agree on the distance from Erwin to Dennis Cove. There is about a 10 miles difference. Well, this very nice hike along the Elk River is part of the problem. It is not in our app. The app shows Mountaineer Falls and the near by shelter, but it’s trail goes someplace else. Nonetheless, all we could do is just kept hiking the trail. Our mileage remains a mystery. At some point, we would get back on the apps trail. As the afternoon wore on, we covered the miles easily and we took a short break at Moreland Gap Shelter. Second Chance was already cooking dinner there and No Slack arrived shortly after us. We have been bumping into them off and for several days now. Trying to slow our pace down to avoid Trail Days, we decided to hike on to the lookout tower where we would spend the night. Once again the app was out of sync and we never reached the lookout tower. In fact we started down the mountain toward town. We tried to stop for the night, but we cold not find a camp site. The first one that came along, we took. We only have .7mile to get to Black Bear Resort. We will get there early tomorrow morning.

Oh the wind!

Beyond Campbell Hollow Rd – 385.47
Day 34 (5/14/19)
Miles – 18.5
Total miles – 401.9

Bitter cold was our night. In addition to cold temperatures, the wind blew through the trees, but it did not effect us much. We were slow in getting up because it was so comfortable in our sleeping bags. We put on most of our clothes before getting out of the tents including long johns and gloves. The location of Carvers Gap we slept on was a thick grove of 20′ trees, which protected us. The other side of the gap was an open bald, with the wind howling across it. The entire gap was covered in fog. As we hiked up the bald, the the fog flew past us. The wind pushed us off the trail. We felt like a dish towel on clothesline on a windy day. Any exposed skin to the brutal wind hurt. We worked our way to the top of Round Bald and then Jane Bald, before dropping. A sea of thick grey fog surrounded us. There are supposed to be beautiful views all around but not today. We stopped briefly at Stan Murray Shelter to get out of the wind. Finally, we had gotten low enough to be out of the fog. It was cold thus we soon departed. We stayed just long enough to eat something. The trail kept dropping and we came to Yellow Mountian Gap and the 7 path to the Overmountain Shelter. Yellow Mountian Gap is a pass where 1,000 North Carolina and I and Virginia solders headed 170 miles south to fight the British during the Revaluation War. We had never realized that some of the war was fought so far south. We took a break at the Overmountain Shelter. It is an old barn that has been converted into a hiker shelter. The clouds were starting to break up as we left the shelter. The wind has also lessened. Soon we started a steep and long up to the top of Hump Mountain. This area was very beautiful. It is one green bald after another with views off in every direction. We were glad that we were no longer in clouds and could see out. The wind still blew up on those exposed ridges. Finally we started miles of down crossing the North face of Hump Mountain. For many days now we have been hiking right on the North Carolina/Tennessee border but at Doll Flats we left N. C. And hiking strictly in Tennessee. In a few days we will be hiking in Virginia. We have slowed our hiking miles down because coming up in Damascus is a large four day event where thousands of people come to celebrate trails of the East Coast. It is not just for hikers. But also horseman and motorcyclist. There are many events such as identifing birds and plants, fly fishing, hiker talent show and parade. Many gear companies come to show off their newest equipment. There are booths with doctors to check out hiker’s aches and pains. Also there is a gear repair tent. Shuttles will pick up wherever you are to bring you to Damascus and then shuttle you back to the trail. Thousands of hikers will be camped out on huge lawn areas. There are a few hikers like us, who try to miss the event. However, if we kept our twenty mile a day hiking we would be there right in the middle of it. Thus we have slowed our pace down so we get in on Sunday when the event is basically over with. It has been somewhat frustrating for us to do this but we really have no desire to be amongst such a large crowd of people. That’s just The Raven way of things.

From wet to cold

Carver’s Gap
Day 33 (5/13/19) R
Miles – 19.1
Total miles – 383.4

It rained all night. Sometime hard, sometimes lite. When the wind blew, the trees dropped large drops of water down on us. The kids are trying a new brand of tent. It is a Six Moons Luna Duo. It is a single wall tent. That means that there is only a single piece of material between the inside and the outside. Single wall tents have a major problem with condensation. They would be best in drier climates. However they work best when you can leave a door open for air flow. With it raining all night, that was not an option. Needless to say, the kids got a lot of condensation overnight. So much, it ended up raining inside of their tents. When the trees dropped their heavy branches of water on to the tents below, the big water drops hitting the tents would push the condensation off the roof of the tent on to their sleeping bags. Needless to say everything in their tent was soaked. We really needed to have the sun come out today to dry out. The storm that has been going on for the last two days is suppose to break up today. We got out of the tents an hour later because of the weather. It is very unpleasant to pack wet gear in the rain making everything worse. It had stopped raining around 6:00 am, however the high wind kept the trees dropping water on us. With great excitement, sun light hit the end of our tent. By the time we were up and packed, the trees had finally stopped dropping. The days hiking began with a few ups and downs before we went down to Iron Mountian Gap. The sun peeked out for a few minutes and then the clouds reasserted themselves. Mid morning it began to rain again. We quickly put on our rain gear, including skirts. It did not last long, but everything was wet again. We hiked for hours longer than normal before our first break and we had not found a place to dry out yet. Finally around 2:00, we came to a paved road that was dry, but very windy. Windy will dry out equipment just as well as sun, thus we took out the tents and sleeping bags. We held on to the tents as they became oversized kites in the wind. Rapidly they dried. Sleeping bags did not dry as well as the tents however they were drier than if we did not bring them out. We also made the last of our sandwiches. The wind was too cold to leisurely sit around and eat, so they were consumed quickly. It was comforting to know that when we pitch the tents tonight, they will at least start off dry. We were at the bottom of the climb up Roan Mountian, 5 miles and about 2400′. Crypter warned us that tonight’s low up there would be 37°, with wind. The climb was not bad, we just keep plugging away at it, but the wind was bitterly cold. We hit the top but did not stop. We started down the back side. When we reached the Roan High Knob Shelter, we paused long enough to decide that lower elevations would be warmer and hopefully less wind. So another 1.4 miles and 700′ lower, we came to Carver’s Gap. The Ravens were miserably cold. We found a flat place big enough for our two tents and that was home for the night. We did not realize that we set up camp just below a trailhead parking lot with toilets. We kept hearing cars door open and closed which made us curious enough to come out of the warmth of our tents to investigate the situation. It took awhile to start warming up. Roan Mountian is the last time we go over 6,000′ on the AT. Tomorrow we will drop to lower elevations and hopefully sunnier sky’s. We are thinking about purchasing a better tent for Bling and Whisper for the wet environment of the AT. The tent we got them was a three hundred dollar tent so to buy them another one is a painful pill to swallow. However it has become obvious that their current tent is not adequate. We need a double walled tent for them like ours is.

Out of a dry room into the rain

Cherry Gap Shelter
Day 32 (5/12/19) R
Miles – 17.0
Total miles – 364.3

We woke up early and headed for breakfast in the hotel lobby. After breakfast Papa Raven arranged a ride back to the trailhead for 8:30. We finished packing and met our ride. A short time later, he dropped us off next to the hostel where we were picked up the other day. We usually do not stay in the hostels because they charge twenty-five to thirty dollars a night per person. Since there are four of us, a hotel room is cheaper. Plus we have a private shower and bathroom, clean towels, and often times a free breakfast. Like yesterday, today’s weather calls for rain and that is exactly what it was doing as we started to hike. For a few moments we wondered if we should have stayed another night in the hotel to wait out the bad weather. Nonetheless, we made our choice, so into the rain we wen. Hiking in all day rain is slow and miserable so there was some dread as we began to hike. At this point, it was not a hard rain, just light sprinkles. Suddenly, within 15 minutes it stopped. Our spirits lifted as so did the grey cloud cover. Our trail started off easy and was quite beautiful and lush with ferns, moss, mushrooms, and wildflowers covering the forest floor. If ever there was a place to find fairies and little people tending to the forest, here was a spot. We walked long the Nolichucky River, which only added to the beauty of our morning walk. We stumbled across a few orange newts crossing the trail. As we broke away from the river, we climbed up the a river valley until we reached the Curley Maple Gap Shelter. No one was there as we ate a quick snack. Just before we left three other hikers showed up. Two of them were planning to spend the rest of the day out of the weather in the shelter. For the next several hours we climbed up higher and higher into the mountains. We came to a clearing under some power lines. We decided to stop and eat lunch. We carried out the fixings for sandwiches and we were all looking forward to them. Just as we were starting to make the first sandwich, it started to rain. Quickly, we ran around getting everything back into the protection of the packs. Then we waited to see if it would stop. It did not. Onwards we hiked in the rain. A short time later, it did stop but only briefly. We kept going on and dreaming about turkey sandwiches. About an hour later, we reached a big bald called the Beauty Spot. The Ravens were famished. For the moment it was not raining so we quickly fixed our sandwiches. Seeing more dark clouds coming our way, we ate fast and continued hiking. When we came up of the idea of sandwiches on the trail, we invisioned a leisurely scenario that was very different than what we actually had. We have enough makings for sandwiches again tomorrow. Perhaps it will be better. We continued to climb as the afternoon went on, and luckily it did not rain much. What rain we did have was light. By 4:00 the light rain turned into heavy and the wind began to blow sideways. Quickly we were getting soaked. We had not put on our rain skirts earlier because there was such lite rain, but now we really needed them. Bling had stopped behind a tree for a little protection, and Whisper was putting in her skirt. We walked up and helped protected her with our umbrellas. Then it was Bling’s turn. Mama Raven came next. And finally Papa Raven. With the skirts on, all felt a bit warmer. There was so much rain the trail became a fast flowing river for miles. Our socks and shoes quickly became water logged. The rain lasted longer this time, but it let up by the time we reached Cherry Gap Shelter. This was far enough for today. We were cold and wet, and done for the day. We found a place away from the shelter. Luckily it only sprinkled as we pitched the tents. Soon we were all inside and trying to dry out. Rain stopped while we cooked dinner in our tents, however just as dinner was ready, it started up again. It rained pretty hard when Whisper came over for their food. An hour later it is still raining. The weather calls for rain during the night and only a 30% chance of rain tomorrow. We are in for a wet night and we will see what tomorrow holds. there are some days of hiking that you feel as if you are the luckiest parth to be doing what we are doing. Then there are days that are really difficult that make us wonder what in the world are we doing. . . this just is not fun! Today was one of the those days.

Erwin

Erwin
Day 30 and 31 (5/10/19 and 5/11/19 R)
Miles – 5.97
Total miles – 347.3

5/10/19

We woke early, ate, and got out of camp. We’re heading to town. Today’s short trail was not hard, just had a number of PUD’s (pointless ups & downs). Finally we dropped down to the valley floor. We needed to find a way into town. It is 3.8 miles and we do not want to walk it. Where the trail bottom’s out, there is a hostel. They will drive us into town for $5 a person. Papa Raven walked out to tell Mama Raven and saw another hiker shuttle dropping off some people. He asked for their rates, $7 per a car load. We piled in. 5 minutes later we are in front of the Super 8. By 10:00 we are in our room. As the day went on, we sorted our boxes, got extra food, took showers, and did laundry. We are ready to head out tomorrow, except for one thing, the weather. A storm is heading this way and it should start tonight and continue through Sunday. We will decided if we hike out tomorrow morning or not.

One Gear

5/11/19
Another day in Erwin due to heavy rain. Most hikers in town are staying put for the day. Tomorrow it is also suppose to have rain but not as much as today. Some are planning to stay till Monday when the weather is suppose to clear up and others are leaving tomorrow. We attentively will be headed back out tomorrow.
There are many rumors on the trail right now about the machete weilding hiker that was taken under custody a few weeks ago. Flower Man has filled us in with the most accurate details possible sense we do not follow Facebook. Recently the Machete Man was released from police. He came back on the trail here at Erwin where he headed north on the AT. He made it a hundred miles before he attacked two hikers in separate incidents. This is where the rumor gets muddled as to the status of the victims. Some say one was killed and another injured while others say only one is injured. Anyways, the trail is closed temporaryily ahead for police investigation. The suspect has been once again arrested. We hope rumors of a hiker murdered is just that and nobody is hurt. By the time we reach this section of the trail will be opened and no more news of the Machete Man.

A quick day

No Business Knob Shelter
Day 29 (5/9/19)
Miles – 19.4
Total miles – 341.4

The wind blow hard all night long and then it continued through the morning. The last few times this happened, we got rain several days later. We were told that there is a 20% of rain today. We hit the trail a little late, 7:30. We started the day with a down, that is a nice change. After a few miles, we came to Sam’s Gap and then we started our big up of the day. It was well graded so we were able to climb it without any problems. After a few hours of working our way up, we reached the summit of Big Bald Mountain. Truly, it was a big bald, with views in every direction. There are not many clearings like this on the AT, but the few we have come across make us excited. The AT is described as a green tunnel and it is an accurate description. When an opening comes along with out trees above us makes us long for the trails out west. The only problem was the wind, it was blowing very hard. It pushed us around a bit. We hiked across the bald to Little Bald Mountain. Finally and sadly we left the bald and back into the tree. At least the wind settled down in the trees. The rest of the day was traversing downs puncuated with short ups. We made very good time and the time just rolled by. We did not want to push all the way to Erwin tonight because we would have to take a zero to get everything done we need to. Our plan was to go into town early in the morning and take a nero. We decided to stop at the last shelter South of River Road. We only have nearly six miles to town tomorrow morning. We can’t wait to shower and feel human again. The humidity out here is horrible and it is only early May. We have never sweat as much as we have out here on the AT. It can be a perfectly dry night, yet our down sleeping bags in the morning are damp and sticky from humidity. Even on cold rainy days, the sweat drips down our faces as we hiked. It is the craziest hiking we have ever done!

Lost Larry

Well it started out good

Hot Back Ridge Shelter
Day 28 (5/8/19)
Miles – 21.09
Total miles – 322.0

We had a good night’s rest and Mama Raven was ready to go. She kept bugging us to wake up. No one wanted to, however she won. Today was a mix of easy and hard. First we have fourteen miles of easy hiking and then a big up. The day began with an easy traverse around Camp Creek Bald Lookout. We decided to not take the time to go up to the lookout tower, but it was a big one. Soon we came to a sign for an alternate trail, in case of bad weather. We did not take it and stayed on the official route, which was difficult. There were many large rocks that we had to climb up or down. Hiking was slow. When we reached the exposed portion, we understood why there was an alternate. The trail was on a wide open ridge with amazing views in every direction. If there had been a thunderstorm, it would have been miserable and dangerous. Not today, instead we had clear skies. Finally we dropped down off of the ridge and the hiking got much easier. After this we hiked on a well contoured trail. We stopped by the graves of three people who, we believed died in the Civil War, given the dates of their deaths and that they appeared to be part of the North Carolina Mountain units. Also someone had placed American flags next to the headstones. Unfortunately our easy path changed at Rector Laurel Road, where we started a 1,500′ climb. It was a steep, uphill, trudge. The trail followed and crossed several times a beautiful stream with several waterfalls. The ground cover was thick and lush, although the climb was slow and hard. The kids had a much easier time of it. We took a long break at the top. It is here we discovered that everyone was out of water thus we decided to stop at the next camp, in 1.5 miles, which also had water. Keeping an eye open for the campsite, we never found it or the water. Disappointed and thirsty, we kept plugging along until we reached the next shelter and it’s water. Whisper and Papa Raven set up the tents while Mama Raven and Bling walked the .25 miles to filter water. We are all tucked nice and warm in our tents and ready to sleep. We only have 25 miles to go, to get to the road to Erwin. That will not be a problem over the next two days. A nice twenty mile and then a five mile should do it.

Tired but feeling good

Below Camp Creek Bald
Day 27 (5/7/19)
Miles – 20.94
Total miles – 300.9

It is good to wake up in a warm room, but it is hard to get going. We ate the goodies we picked up at the store, yesterday for breakfast. Hot Springs was a pleasant town to take a zero. There were several excellent resteraunts, a well supplied outfitter store, and PO close by. There was very little to do with the packs in the morning, because we packed them last night. We did have to check the room and then we headed out. The AT goes right through the middle of town. Soon we came to the far side of the French Broad River where the trail followed its shore line for about a half a mile. We passed by 15 to 20 tents pitched in just about every semi-flat place possible. Finally we pulled away from the river as we started up Lovers Leap, a high ridge that the French Broad curves around. This was a big climb and being first thing in the morning our calve muscle tightened up stretching them before we left. We had to stop and stretch them a number of times. On the way up, we met Lost Larry, who too is finishing up his Triple Crown. He is an older gentlemen that hiked the PCT in 1980 at the age of twenty three. Last year, he completed the CDT and this year he is on the AT. Towards the top, we came across a small dam with a little lake behind it. So far, we have seen very few lakes. There were tadpoles swimming it’s edge and fish swimming about. It was not long before we came to the Hwy 70 overpass. We took a longer than normal break, because they were repaving the road below and Whisper and Papa Raven were busy watching them. It was fascinating to see how the paving machine works from above. All the workers below waved up at us. Slow Learner and Kim came by and did the same watching the action below. From there, the trail climbed up to Spring Mountian Shelter, which was not difficult. We made good time. We are lunch and continued on. We traveled quickly, because it was mostly level and down until we came to Allen Gap. A small sign by the trail said that the Mom and Dad Store was open. We decided to go get some cold drinks. We walked up to the only building. It was very run down. In fact it looked abandoned. There was a very old, faded sign that was almost unreadable. Slow Learner came out with some sodas. He said it was an interesting place. The only thing that to let us know it was a store was the open sign being lit up. We walked in and there were a number of refrigerators with cold drinks and ice cream sandwiches. We picked up drinks for everyone and sat out front drinking them. Upon leaving Allen Gap we started another big up. It was not too steep, but it was long. Around 6:30 we came to Little Laurel Shelter. The place was packed. People had tents up everywhere. We set in the shelter and cooked dinner. After eating, we did what we usually do with daylight left, we hiked on. We did not go far, just another 1.5 miles further up. But it got us away from all the people.

Hot Springs

Hot Springs
Day 26 (5/6/19)
Miles – 0
Total miles – 279.9
Zero! We took a zero today. We did very little. We worked on the blog, received our food box and sorted it, repaired torn gear, dried shoes from yesterday’s rain, and relaxed. This was the day we received our bump box. We mail our bump box to ourselves. It holds long term supplies such as batteries, new rain skirts, extra sun tan lotion, Band-Aids, and such like. It also has repair equipment. We normally get our bump box every 15-20 days. It had to come to a town with a PO so we can mail it out. Hot Springs was our first PO on the AT. When we are in town, the kids like to watch videos and catch up with their friends. Whisper has swapped almost 100 emails with TLG (That Lily Girl), a classmate of hers from school. We have given her an honorary trail name of TLG because Papa Raven is always having to giver his phone to Whisper telling her it’s that TLG again. Will also took some time to talk to his friend David. In town, Bling also likes to download podcasts to listen to during the next section of hiking. The item that takes the most time is working on this blog. Correcting the text (which neither Mama or Papa Raven are good at), editing the pictures, attaching the two, and posting them takes much time. But we know everyone enjoyes it so we make it happen. Our hotel we are staying at has terrible internet connection which slows down the process. However the kids discovered if they go to the far end of the hotel and up the grassy field a bit, there is a much better reception. The hotel is filled with hikers and we informed them of the better internet. Last night hikers were all over the grassy area on their phones taking care of business on heir phones.
We leave tomorrow and it’s off to Erwin. We should be there in 5 days.

Oh the rain

Hot Springs
Day 25 (5/5/19) R
Miles – 20.58
Total miles – 279.9

It rained on and off all night. We woke at 6:00 and quickly got ready to head back to Max Patch for our next slack pack. This time Odometer will be hiking with us. We got to the trailhead packing at 7:30 and everyone got ready to hike, as the rain came down. We started the day climbing to the top of Max Patch. This bald has great views in all directions. All we saw was dense fog. It was like being in a foggy fish bowl. We crossed the top and headed down into the wet forest. We were hiking with our rain coats, skirts, and umbrellas on. The rain constantly came down as we hiked. At one point Bling and Whisper were waiting for us. Bling had found a small red newt. He named it Newton. The days hiking was not hard. We only had three ups and they were not too big or too steep. Max Patch was the first, then the climb up to Walnut Mountian, and the last was Bluff Mountian. We took a break at the shelter on Walnut Mountian. All five of us sat inside the shelter and ate while the rain fell on the shelter’s metal roof. We started to get cold, thus we got moving. It did not take long to warm up again. Around 3:00, the rain let up and the sun came out. We made it to the hotel at about 4:30. We had covered 20.5 in 9 hours with 7.5 hours of rain. Not a bad day, it was just a wet and muddy. Just before we dropped down to Hot Springs Mama Raven yelped with joy! She had spotted her mother’s favorite flower of Tennessee. . . Lily of the Valley!
It was great to see Gusty and Odometer again, and their slack pack plans worked perfectly! Not having to sleep in the rain last night was a bonus. Thanks Gutsy and Odometer for all you’ve done for us. There are attentive plans to meet one last time in Damascus, Virginia.

A bit of rain in a short day

Hot Springs
Day 24 (5/4/19) R
Miles – 12.34
Total miles – 259.4

It did not rain during the night, but it was humid. Everything felt a bit sticky. We were a little slow getting up, but we knew that it would be a shor day. We packed the tents, then loaded them in the van. Soon we were riding back to the AT. Gutsy joined us for this section. Today’s trail was a big 2000′ up. We were glad that our packs were in the van and we just had day sacks. The sun peeked out a few times but for the most part it was cloudy. We have not seen much wildlife on our trip, however, we did see a Box Turtle in the middle of the trail. That was fun for us since we have five tortoise s back home. After several hours of climbing, we came out on Snow Bird Bald. It had great views in all directions. Also, there was an aircraft radar tower up there. As we looked about, we cold see cloud masses building to the South and East. Slow Learner said that it should start raining later today. We hiked on. After all that climbing we were a bit later than we hoped. We only had 2.7 miles to go to get to Max Patch when we heard thunder way off to the South, then off to the West, finally closer to the North. The rain was coming. It started with lite sprinkles. When the wind picked up, we knew that we were in for it. We put on our rain coats and got out our umbrellas, as it stated to rain. Bling made it to the van just as the rain started. Whisper was next to seek a dry place inside the van. Gutsy and Mama and Papa Raven came in last. Our original plan was to camp at the road, but that changed as we hiked. We decided to ride into Hot Springs and get a room. Odometer drove all of us to town. We got a room and started on baths for everyone. This was our first bath in seven days. The only laundry in town was an expensive pickup service, of course we used it.
We will be heading back up to Max Patch tomorrow morning, then Odometer will join us on a 20 mile slack pack back to Hot Springs. It was going to be raining all day, so it will not be a pleasant walk today. We kept asking Odometer if he is sure he wants do this and he said yes. Gutsy would hangout in town with Luna, their injured dog. Hiking today will complete this section for us. We will have a warm and dry hotel room waiting four us when we are done tomorrow.

Slow Learner and Kim


Standing Bear Hostel

Big Creek Tent Camp
Day 23 (5/3/19) R
Miles – 10.33
Total miles – 247.0

Clear blue skies were over head when we woke. That was refreshing change after all the foggy mornings we have been having. We were not in a big hurry because Stranding Bear was not far and the hiking would be easy. We set out on the trail at 7:30. After a short down, we started the only up for the day, about 900′. Then came miles of gentle down. We stopped only once to eat and once for Bling’s bloody nose. He has been having a lot of them this trip. With only 1.5 miles to go, we sent Gutsy a text message giving her an idea of where we were. Gutsy and Odometer are meeting us at Standing Bears and they are going to slack pack us over to Hot Springs. Near noon, we left the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, crossed the Pigeon River and walked under I-40. The sky was starting to cloud up as we hiked towards Standing Bear Hostel. A light rain fell as we walked up the road. Gusty and Odometer drove up just before we reached the hostel. They had brought us pizza and drinks. We savored every bit and sip! It did not take long for us to finish the pizza. As Mama Raven and Gutsy talked, Papa Raven went off to find our boxes. Everyone loaded into the car and we drove to a parking area near the power plant on the Pigeon River. We sorted our food and good ready for the next section. Odometer found out that there was good camping just a few miles up the road, therefore we headed for it. There were a number of nice spots, so Odometer and Papa Raven drove back to the power plant to register. We set up camp and relaxed. It was good to do nothing for awhile. The sky darkened as the afternoon progressed. Gusty had bought hot dogs for dinner and we were cooking them when a light rain started. Then the thunder began. We quickly picked up everything that we did not want wet and headed for cover as a hard rain started to fall. The tents were closed up. We still wanted dinner so we sat under the cover of the bathroom roof and cooked up the last of this nights hot dogs. Lightening flashed and thunder roared as we ate. It did not last long and soon the rain lessened as the storm moved off.
Tomorrow we will have a short 15 miles, but most of it will be up. It will be nice to do that without our packs. Our destination is Max Patch.

Slingshot

Another long day

Cosdy Knob Shelter
Day 22 (5/2/19)
Miles – 20.15
Today miles – 236.7

We were warm inside of our tents. Outside was another matter. A cloud had settled over the mountain top and the tent was wet inside and out. Blowing cold wind surrounded us. No Raven wanted to get out. However, Bling was the first up and moving, then we all got out. Hiking is the best way to warm up when it is cold, so we quickly packed our saturated tents, shouldered our packs on and headed out. The hiking was a bit easier than yesterday, so we moved along well. We could not see much of anything because of the fog. To the north, we could see under the cloud and the sun was shining far off in the distance as we longed for the it to shine where we were. After several hours, the clouds began to break up and the sun warmed us. We did not stop at the first shelter because it was too far off the trail. We just had a bite to eat and hiked on. Shortly before the next shelter, we stopped to look at an old plane crash. We took off our packs and walked down the steep hill to the wreckage. There was not a lot there. People have been picking over it for years. Our guide section gave us no details about the accident other than an old plane wreck was located at the site. After exploring the plane parts, we hiked on. We stopped at the next shelter for water. Several Ravens were completely out and this was the first good water we had come to today. It was not spring water therefore we had to take the time to filteR which can take a bit of time since the four of us need a total of eight liters of water. They were six other hikers there, so we had a good time talking to them as we filtered the water. One of the hikers was Sling Shot, who we have being bumping into regularly. With eight more miles to go before we stopped for the night, we did not stay long. The days last section to hike was some of the easiest since we have been in the Great Smokey Mountains. We got to camp with almost two hours of sun light lefr. Going further, was not an option because we have to stay at a shelter in the Smokey mountains and the next one is too far away. We took our time cooking dinner and relaxing in our tents. Crypter is also camped here along with Sling Shot.
One of the hikers said that it supposed to start raining around 11:00 tonight and stop early in the morning. Then it picks up again tomorrow. The sky was clear when we closed up the tents for the night, but we can hear thunder to the South and West. We hope it does not come this way. Tomorrow we will get to our next food drop, Standing Bear Farm Hostel. Gutsy and Odometer are going to be meeting us sometime tomorrow with pizza!!!

Clingmans Dome

Icewater Spring Shelter
Day 21 (5/1/19) R
Miles – 20.69
Total miles – 216.5

The wind blew hard all night. There is a weather front moving in and the wind is the beginning of it. Waking at 6:00, we had to go down to the bear cables to get our food. After breakfast, we packed. As we hiked out, the wind hit us full on. It was cold. We hiked five miles to the next shelter and tucked inside to get out of the wind. The only problem was that the shelter was cold. Soon we felt colder inside the shelter than hiking in the wind. Quickly, this forced us to get moving again. A few miles later we came to another shelter but we did not stop. This whole time we had been gaining altitude, as we slowly climbed Clingmans Dome, the highest point of the Appalachian trail. Clouds closed in and soon we were hiking through fog. This went on for a hour or so. Then the clouds lifted, the wind died down, and the sun peeked out. On the way up, we passed a hiker named Blue berry. She completed the AT last year and today she was out leading forty eighth graders on an outing. She was passing out homemade peanut butter cookies to any hiker she crossed paths with. We eagerly took some. After 10 miles, we reached. Clingmans Dome. We were to the top of the observation platform and looked at the surrounding countryside. The tower is two hundred miles from Springer Mountain or two thousand from Katahdin, Maine.
From here there were only two places we are allowed to camp. One was in 3 miles, which would be a very short day, and the other was in 10 miles, makeing this a long day. The Ravens unanimously voted for the ten mile shelter. At the seven mile point, we cooked dinner at Newfound Gap, a major stop for tourist to enjoy a view of the Smokey mountains. After a dinner of biscuits and gravy, we where energized for the final three miles that climbed 1,100′ in elevation. Once at the top, we rode ridges until we came to Icewater Spring Shelter. The sun was down and we had a difficult time finding a place to set up the tents. It was dark and there were tents everywhere. We finally settled in between some other tents on the green grass in front of the shelter. It did rain a bit as we finished setting up camp.
On a side note. Yesterday we saw large areas of turned over and dug up soil. We first thought of bear activity, but it was on both sides of the trail spreading out 25′ to 30′ from the trail, and it went on for 100 yards or so. Then it dawned on us, this was the work of wild pigs. There are herds of them in the back country. Bling cought a glimpse of one them this evening as the pig ran away from him. We have also come across traps for them and areas that have been fenced off so they will not destroy the plants inside a specific area. For most of our trip, we have seen very little wildlife. Up to this point we have seen one squirrel and one chipmunk. Additionally, we have heard many different types of birds and owls. Other than that, all we have only seen are countless number of centipedes and millipedes crossing the trail. Since we have entered in the Smokey’s, we have seen deer and wild hogs. Other hikers have also seen bear, but we have not.

Up until today we have been hiking in decidious forest of beech, poplar, gum, chestnut, dogwood and rhodedendron trees, today we reached high enough elevations to be in a conifer forest. It was truly beautiful with thick moss growing over everything on the forest floor. We like to take deep breaths in dense forests of lichen and moss. It feels like the oxygen they produce is extra pure!

And I thought that we were tired yesterday!

Derrick Knob Shelter
Day 20 (4/30/19)
Miles – 16.82
Total miles – 195.8

It was a good night and we woke a bit after 6:00. Papa Raven had to go down to the bear cables to get all of our food. The Great Smoky Mountains have a big problem with bears, so the camps and shelters are provided with bear cables. A bear cables is simply a steel cable, 20′ in the air, strung between two trees. The Great Smokey National Park service also provides pulleys with steel cable to attach your food to that are pulled up. A clip is attached to a ring in a tree. This makes hanging food very easy. The hiking was not difficult for the first half of the day. The only problem we all had was our calves became very tight. It was uncomfortable to walk. With time they loosened up. We entered Tennessee for the first time. Mama Raven was excited to be in Tennessee because this was where her mother was born and raised. Her Cherokee ancestors are from here also. Mama Raven hopes to see Lily of the Valley’s, her mother’s favorite flower when she was a little girl. The AT follows the Tennessee/North Carolina border until we reach Virginia. We will constantly be entering and leaving the two states multiple times a day. Two shelters we passed within the first five miles. When we reached the third shelter, we stopped for a break. After lunch we hiked for a few more miles before stopping for water. This water source was not the best so we had to take time to filter. This was only the third time we have filtered on this trip. The rest of the water has been from springs, which we do not have to filter. We should have eaten something, but we just wanted to get hiking. There trail became very difficult after that water source. It had many steep rocky climbs and just as steep descents. Mama and Papa Raven got slower and slower. We only had 3.6 miles toreach the shelter although it took us several hours to accomplish the task. Towards the end, Mama Raven was having to rest frequently. We have not been on the trail long enough to have the strength and endurance we would like. That will come with time. This is why we should have eaten something back at the water source. Finally, we did make it to the shelter. There are quite a few hikers here. After setting up our tents, Mama Raven took a nap while Papa Raven cooked dinner. After eating, we were all feeling better. Bling was sound asleep before the sun set.
Tomorrow which will reach Clingmans Dome, the highest point on the AT. It is all down hill from there. . . NOT!