Monday Oct 18th 2021, 0700-1800
Iron Mt Shelter to Kincora Hiking Hostel, SOBO AT mm 1773
4870 gain, 6410 loss
We woke to the coldest morning yet. It was in the mid 30s. I was in no hurry to walk in the dark, so I delayed setting off. Old Army was the first to leave around 6 am but I caught up to him later. It’s always nice to have someone clear the cobwebs, though I’m not sure how active the spiders are in such cold. The wind was also strong on the ridge, which usually blows away the webs.
The ridge rolled along quite a bit, with lots of short ups that served to keep me warm. I wore all my top layers for a long time…even my puffy. The first rays of sunlight didn’t hit me until 07:40 am. What happened to the daylight? I chatted with a guy at a shelter for a few minutes, then caught up to Old Army. I learned that he’d been a doctor in the service for 30 years, retiring as an 0-6. We had an interesting conversation all the way down to Watauga Lake. There we crossed a dam and followed along the lake for a mile or so. It had finally warmed up enough that I could take off all my layers. It was a beautiful day.
I stopped at a nearby hostel, Boots Off, for lunch. It sold a good variety of snacks. I had a frozen burrito, hot pocket, tuna, Klondike bar, and ramen miso soup for lunch…I was hungry! Mud caught up to me while I stuffed my face. He raided the fridge for unclaimed leftovers and did pretty well. We pushed on after an hour, negotiating a climb that was just one big up and down, nothing more, just to remind us of the nature of the AT.
We descended steeply to Laurel gorge, where we followed along the creek for a ways, coming to a pretty neat waterfall. There are heaps of excellent waterfalls in TN and NC. A short but very steep rock staircase brought us out of the gorge, reminding us of our time in the Whites. We met 2 women just before a road. Marlene asked if we wanted trail magic and if so, to follow her back to her car. We obliged like hapless puppies. The boot of her little Prius was packed with hiker treats, like a tiny resupply cabinet. It was so cute. She set out chairs and wrapped us in blankets while we snacked. It was getting late in the day and very cold again.
I asked her my standard Trail Angel interview questions and she had a sad story of personal loss to tell, as is sometimes the case. She worked as a prison chaplain but had been barred from performing her services since Covid. How unfortunate, just when the people could use her kindness and empathy the most. So she’d taken up the call of feeding hikers, coming out to different spots in the area up to 5 times a week for the past few years. She goes for day hikes while she waits. I could see that she embodied a deep and relentless energy, always eager to help others. She needed a release, so swaddling us in blankets as one would do an infant and seeing the smiles on our faces filled a need. Trail Angels are so incredible.
Eventually the cold won out. We’d stopped to break at the road leading to our planned destination for the night. It’s a donation-based hostel, built by legendary long distance hiker and trail maintainer Bob Peoples. He’s been having hikers over to his home for over 20 years and is also a big reason that switchbacks exist in Tennessee. Mostly I wanted to stay at the place to meet him but it also helped that the cabin had a fireplace and hot shower. It would be another night in the mid to low 30s. We walked up unannounced, making ourselves at home. Bob came over to meet us and help get the fire started. We had a lovely chat while the place warmed. He’d hiked everywhere, including the middle east and all the Caminos. He was also at the Gathering but I didn’t know who he was then. What a guy. Sadly I didn’t get a picture of him.
The cabin was rustic to put it best, well-loved over many years. I took up residence on the couch while a stray cat, Boots, took up residence on my lap. I tried to extract her several times to get up to make dinner and she sprang back like a rubber band every time. Later she served as a constant leg warmer through the night…and would have slept on my head if I hadn’t pushed her down towards my feet. I’ve never seen a cat so friendly or one that sticks like glue…I guess that’s the kind of cat a man like Bob invites.