Trail Report – April 28 addendum

Trail Report

Dear friends,

This is the same date as my last email, but I forgot to tell you an amazing thing that happened today. Greg Bell, Festival Organizer for the Festival for the Eno, drove all the way up to Damascus to see me. He brought with him the fine art screen print for this coming July Fourth’s 30th Festival for the Eno, all 200 limited edition prints. I had designed this print before I left for the Appalachian Trail and left it in the hands of the fine folks at Azalea Graphics in Durham to guide through the printing process. This morning was the first time I had seen the print on something other than a computer screen. The prints are beautiful! The folks at Duratech and Azalea did a great job! The reason Greg brought them to Damascus was so I could sign and number them. If all goes well for me on the Trail, I will not be able to make this year’s festival, hence the early signing of the prints. Be sure to check out the 30th Festival for the Eno this summer and take a look at this print. It depicts the confluence of the West Fork and East Fork of the Eno River. This confluence exists above Hillsborough, NC, and was recently purchased by the Eno River Association. We have a lot to be proud of in how the Association and many of you have worked together to preserve the Eno River watershed.

All my best,

Braid, AKA Joe Liles

Trail Report – April 28 (460 miles)

Trail Report
trail map

elevation map

Dear friends,

When I left you last, Tiger and I were caught in an old episode of “The Twilight Zone.” Not really, but it sure felt that way! We were the only hikers at the Laurel Fork Lodge on the night of April 23. It was like a ghost town, but it was great. I soaked my leg in the Laurel Fork River before heading out the next morning. We followed the river to a magnificent waterfall. There we met a hiker couple with a retriever type dog. This dog was amazing! If you threw a rock in the river the dog would bound after it, stick his head completely under the water, and come out with the exact rock you threw in and bring it back to you!

After playing with this dog for a little bit, Tiger and I followed the river to the Laurel Fork shelter and had lunch there. The trail headed up the mountain at that point, and it was a brutal climb: 2000 feet in altitude in 3 1/2 miles. What made it hard was it was around 85 degrees with precious little shade. You see, there a no leaves on the deciduous trees yet at these high altitudes. The only place I could find relief from the sun was in thickets of rhododendrons. I would climb in, take my pack off, drink water, and eat a Snickers bar. That’s the way I got up Pond Flats Mountain. On top, I was amazed to find a beautiful spring where I filled up my water bottle. Incidentally, I started my Appalachian Trail hike filtering my water to make sure it was free from pollutants, viruses, bacteria, and cysts. Along the way, I was talked into switching to chemical treatment in order to save weight. I now use a product called Polar Pure which is iodine based. I cannot taste it and have been assured that it is safe.

So, I treated my water and headed down the mountain toward Watauga Lake. This lake was formed by the Tennessee Valley Authority from 1942 to 1949 by damming up many tributaries, the Little Stoney Creek, Elk River, Little Dry Run, Hopper Creek, Digger Branch, Spice Branch, Cobb Creek, and Doe Creek among them. This lake is huge. The trail took me around its western end to the Watauga Lake shelter. This was a 10 1/2 mile hike but was one of my hardest days on the Trail. Not only that, this day of hiking gave me my first blister. 400 miles without a blister! Why now? Maybe I was getting too cocky and sure of myself. With the progress I had been making in getting over my shin splints, maybe I was feeling invincible. The blister took me down a notch. I soaked my leg in a creek near the shelter that night and the next morning.

Another thing was different about my hiking. I had lost my Trail companion Tiger. A hiker at the shelter that night reported that Tiger had decided to camp on top of Pond Flats. The heat got the best of him. I took this news with mixed emotions. First, I was concerned for Tiger’s wellbeing. Second, I was sad to lose his company. But I have been told that the Trail is like a caterpillar: sometime the tail moves up toward the head. Hikers fall behind and then catch up. Hopefully, Tiger and I will see each other again.

The morning of April 25 I climbed into the Iron Mountains above Watauga Lake. These mountains are famous for their magnetic iron ore. The views of the lake below were beautiful, but it was almost like the line from The Ancient Mariner, “Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink!” The springs up there were few and far between. I compensated by packing more water when I came upon a rare water source. Problem was that water is heavy! I was carrying eight pounds of water, but it gave me peace of mind in the continuing heat.

As the day wore on, storm clouds gathered over the lake below. With claps of thunder coming more and more frequently, I picked up the pace of my hiking. I had four miles to go before I could get to the Iron Mountain shelter. When the first drops of rain came, I stopped to put on my rain parka and I covered my pack. I ended up racing the storm to the shelter. I arrived at 5:00, but the storm seemed to split and go around me. I had the shelter to myself. I cooked my supper by adding boiling water to dehydrated Chicken Ala King with Noodles. I am using an denatured alcohol stove now. I sent my Coleman fuel MSR whisper lite stove home. Again, this decision was based on cutting down weight in my pack.

It was 8:00 and almost dark when another hiker arrived. This young woman pointed to her ear to indicate she was deaf. I spelled out “Welcome” in one-hand sign language. “Thank you!” she signed back. We both went straight to bed. “Hiker Midnight” routinely occurs as soon as it gets dark.

The next morning was Sunday. After we packed up, I wrote on a piece of paper, “What is your name?” The young woman wrote back, “Redtree.” Redtree left the shelter earlier than I did. I saw her next at a spring about two miles up the trail. Here, she indicated to me that she was sick and had a fever. I told her to drink lots of water. She hiked on in front of me. It was another very hot day. The farther I hiked north on the trail, the more I heard the roar of car or motorcycle engines. When these motor sounds got really loud, I realized I was coming to a gap with a paved road, Low Gap. Just before I made the last descent, I saw Redtree sleeping in her sleeping bag on the side of the trail. There was a note attached to her hiking poles. “I am very sick, I have a fever. Please help me get a ride to Damascus.” I did not wake her, but rushed down to the gap. I realized then that the reason Redtree did not know she was close to a road was because she could not hear the motors. I recognized a couple of thru-hikers at the road, Patch and his wife Spoon (and their dog Haily). Spoon used her cell phone to call Mount Rogers Outfitters in Damascus and arranged a shuttle ride for Redtree. Spoon also arranged for a place for Redtree to stay. It took a hour to get Redtree, still wobbly with her fever, off to Damascus.

I hit the trail again with six miles left to go to the Abingdon Gap shelter. I arrived at 6:00, found the shelter full of people, and decided to set up my tent nearby. At dawn the next morning I was serenaded by a wood thrush’s melodic trills. The took me back to the births of both my children, Joseph and Elizabeth, when thrushes nested in our backyard and provided us with similar melodies. I should point out here that today, April 28, is Elizabeth’s 21st birthday. Happy Birthday Elizabeth! I’ll call you tonight!

I got on the trail at 8:00 that morning with ten miles to go to get to Damascus, VA, a noted Appalachian Trail town. I was still in Tennessee, but a little after 10:00, I saw a guy standing by a Mt. Rogers National Forest sign. A line of rocks were by the trail. “Welcome to Virginia!” he says. I got him to take my picture by the sign and continued on to Damascus.

On the descent an amazing thing happened before my eyes. All of a sudden the trees had leaves. I was used to the bare trees of winter at the higher elevations. Now, I was surrounded by maples, beeches, oaks, and chestnut oaks fully dressed in their leaves. Dogwoods and cherry trees were blooming along the trail as well. When I came out onto the streets of Damascus and followed the white blazes of the AT down the main street, it was as if summer had arrived. I was immediately overwhelmed by all the cars and lumber trucks. By talking to some of the locals, I found out that this town lay at the confluence of the Laurel Fork and Beaverdam Rivers. By more nosing around I discovered that the area’s first permanent European settler was Thomas McSpadden and his wife Mary in 1776. Henry Mock established a mill on the Laurel Fork in 1821 and the settlement was first called Mock’s Mill. General Imboden of Civil War acclaim believed that this area could be as famous as the Damascus in the Mideast as a steel producer and named the place Damascus.

It is true that this area is surrounded by the Iron Mountains and the Abingdon Coal and Iron Railroad was founded soon after to extract these minerals as well as manganese. The railroad changed its name to Virginia-Carolina Railway Company in 1906. But alas, all the dreams of a rich steel town failed to materialize. A couple of hosiery mills and a chemical company that used the bark of the chestnut tree to dye leather sustained the economy for a while, and the trains chugged slowly up and down the mountains. Some say it was the slowness of the trains that earned them the nickname, the Virginia Creeper. Others say that the initials V-C on the side of the railroad cars spawned the name. Still others declare that the train took its name after the tenacious vine of that same moniker. When the train company finally dissolved, the dormant tracks from the top of Whitetop Mountain down to Damascus and on to Abingdon were eventually torn up leaving a nice clear roadbed. It is this vestige that gave birth to the Virginia Creeper bicycle path, 16 miles from Whitetop to Damascus and 16 more from Damascus to Abingdon. Each year, thousands of bicyclists come to Damascus to ride the Virginia Creeper trail. At least the first part, from Whitetop Mountain is all downhill! The locals told me that the bicycle trail brings more people to town than the Appalachian Trail.

Oh, and one more thing about Damascus. The highway that comes through this town was called “The Crooked Road” by all the mountain people. This road and the hollers and the peaks that surround it gave birth to much of the Old Time Mountain Music and Bluegrass that we know today. Ralph Stanley and the Carter Family are but two examples of this musical heritage.

I continued my stroll through the town and met hikers who I had lost contact with. Several recommended that I stay at The Hikers Inn. I made a b-line for this place and was lucky enough to secure the last bed in the bunk house. For $20 a day I would have a place to stay, a place to take a shower, and a front porch to sit on and watch the lumber trucks.

All this has proven to be fortuitous for me. I have had a great time in Damascus. I have eaten my way through the place. I have socialized with hiker friends old and new. And my batteries are recharged to hit the trail tomorrow. Virginia is the longest state on the Appalachian Trail, 536.5 miles long, almost a quarter of the entire Trail. Needless to say, I’ll be in this state for a while!

I have no idea what the future will bring, but my shin splint leg is healed, My blisters are on the way to being healed. I am ready for some trucking!

I will do my best to get some recent photos to Colin Law, my Internet guru, for posting.

All my best,

Braid, AKA Joe Liles

Trail Report – April 23 (410 miles)

Trail Report
trail map

elevation map

Dear friends,

After a two day rest in my “flea bag” motel in Erwin, TN, I could not shut out the call of the Trail anymore. After one last breakfast at JD’s Market, I got a ride down to the trailhead of the Appalachian Trail. I crossed the bridge taking me over the Nolichucky River, and gingerly headed up the trail with my aching leg. I pledged to myself to take it easy on the Trail. No more high mileage for a while, and lots of soaks in cold mountain streams. I met up with a thru-hiker by the name of Tiger. Tiger is from Alabama and is 66 years old. He was the perfect hiking companion for me. He would make me slow down! We hiked the four miles up to the Curley Maple Gap Shelter and decided to go a few miles more and camp on the side of the Trail. The weather was glorious. That night, we could see the lights of Erwin twinkling in the valley below. The next morning we climbed a high bald mountain called Beauty Spot. I had been complaining a bit in the past about my lack of great views from high places due to being inside a cloud. Well, this morning the views were fabulous! Again, the town of Erwin lay below us with mountains surrounding a 360 degree panorama. A 1250 foot climb awaited Tiger and me as we climbed Unaka Mountain. Even though this mountain was high, its summit was forested, but what a beautiful forest it was. Red Spruce was the dominant tree with a needle covered floor which made walking silent and cushioned. Tiger and I camped that night at Low Gap, setting up our tents, finding a spring for water, and hanging our food bags and packs away from the prying paws of bears. That night, the wind howled and then stopped dead. I could hear every sound in the forest. It was then that I heard it: a sniffing noise, something big. I hollered to Tiger, “We have a visitor!” But then as my heart was beating like the Energizer bunny, I realized that what I supposed was an inquisitive bear was only Tiger snoring. Whew!

We hiked ten miles the next day in a driving rain to the Clyde Smith Shelter. It was crowded with hikers seeking relief from the wet. Speaking of small world encounters, I met a hiker there from Beaufort, NC. We exchanged stories about the St. James, The Crab Shack, Emerald Isle, and finding sand dollars on Shackleford Banks.

What was coming really intimidated me. Roan Mountain awaited us the next morning. At 6285 feet above sea level, it is a place that I have heard harrowing tales about. That kind of altitude brings extreme weather and rapid weather changes. I had heard about hikers being caught up there in electrical storms, sudden snow storms and the like. The five mile climb was the longest five miles of my life. But when I reached the top, I was surprised to find only a small bald. I had expected more. The bald on which I was standing was once the site of the Cloudland Hotel. This magnificent hotel was built in the early 1900′s and took advantage of the first automobile traffic to get the public up the mountain on a very rough, unpaved road. People flocked to the Cloudland in its heyday for the views, for the blooming rhododendrons, and for a reputed cure for hay fever. The hotel set on the border between North Carolina and Tennessee just like the trail I had been hiking for the last two weeks. But I wondered where all the balds were that I had heard about. Tiger and I descended Roan High Knob on the old road bed for a good ways until the Trail headed into woods mixed with Fraser firs and red spruce.

Let me cut in here and mention what I had heard from some of the local people about the origin of the balds I was looking for and the origin of the name Roan Mountain. Both subjects are points of contention. Some say the bald mountains of the Appalachians are caused by the harsh winds that seem to always blow at the highest altitudes. Others say that the balds were intentionally cleared by burning which encouraged grassland, first by the Indians and then by early European settlers. It is a documented fact that early settlers grazed sheep up on the balds. This latest theory involves studies of the last Ice Age where glacier movement brought species of plants from the far north down to the southern Appalachians. Once these trees and plants were cut or burned, they did not grow back because they were out of their natural range. Another theory involves the freezing of the plants on the windward side of the mountains that inhibits their growth. And there is one theory about the larvae of a certain kind of wasp that attacked the plants at this specific altitude, stunting their growth, and sometimes killing them.

Enough science, though. The early settlers said the balds were caused by the devil. When he walked the high mountains, he killed all the vegetation wherever he trod. The Cherokees have their own explanation of the balds. Their early stories tell of a giant yellow jacket that was always carrying off their children. The Indians prayed to the Creator to help them kill the yellow jacket. The Creator obliged by sending a lightning strike to open up the place were the yellow jacket lived. The Cherokees went into this place and killed the yellow jacket. Ever since that time, the Creator cleared the tops of these mountains so the Indians could post sentinels to look out for future enemies.

The origin of the name Roan Mountain has an equal number of variations. Some say that the rhododendrons that abound on the mountain bloom a roan or red color during June and July, giving the mountain its name. Some say the name comes from the Mountain Ash tree that has vibrant red berries. Others say that the name traces back to a French botanist, Andre Michaux who studied this area and said it reminded him of his native Rhone Valley, a variation of spelling but not of pronunciation.

But the most interesting story I heard of the origin of Roan Mountain goes back to Daniel Boone. The story goes that Daniel Boone was exploring these mountains on his red horse. He gave the name Roan to his horse. Daniel and Roan were caught on the high mountain during a blizzard with drifts of snow up to six feet deep. Fearing for both of their lives, Daniel released Roan and the two set out independently to find their way to safety. Daniel survived, but feared that Roan was lost forever. It was eighteen months later on another exploration that Daniel miraculously met up with Roan on the same mountain. Roan had lived all that time on his own and was just as glad to see Daniel as Daniel was to see him! Hence the name Roan Mountain, after Daniel Boone’s famous horse.

Tiger and I had good weather climbing the highest point of Roan Mountain, but as we descended, rain hit us hard. When we came to a road crossing at Carver Gap, I realized where all the balds were that I had been expecting. They were right in front of me! Tiger and I crossed Round Bald and Jane Bald in hard rain. By the time we got to the first shelter below the summit, Stan Murray Shelter, we were soaking wet despite our rain gear. We had the shelter to ourselves, so we rigged clothes lines everywhere to dry our clothes and set up our tents inside the shelter. We had a dry, warm night inside our down sleeping bags.

The next morning broke clear, and after I packed up, I did something I should have done a long time ago. I had often said prayers on the trail while I was hiking, but I did something before we headed out that made me feel better about my still hurting leg. I put down tobacco by a tree and asked the Creator to help me by healing my foot. My Indian friends use tobacco while praying, saying that the smoke of tobacco and even placing it out as an offering will carry their prayers to the Creator. So that this act wouldn’t be perceived by the Creator just as an appeal for my own selfish betterment, I worked in some prayers for others in my life as well!

Tiger and I started out with clear skies and hiked past the remains of the old road that the Over the Mountain Men took to Kings Mountain to defeat the British. This road intersected the Appalachian Trail at Yellow Mountain Gap. There is a shelter on the side of this roadbed called the Overmountain Shelter that is actually a barn. Hikers typically sleep in the loft!

At this place, the weather changed quickly. First rain, then sleet, then snow. We climbed Little Hump Mountain and then the forbidding height of Hump Mountain, both devoid of trees. When we got to the top of Hump Mountain, an amazing thing happened. High winds blew the snow clouds away and blue skies and sunshine greeted us. I took time at the top of this bald to shoot a panoramic 360 degree video of the surrounding mountains. I have stopped complaining that I never get any good views. I count my blessings more realistically and less self-centered these days.

When Tiger and I hiked the long descent from all these balds associated with Roan Mountain, we came to Highway 19E that runs between Elk Park, NC on one side and Roan Mountain, TN on the other. Tiger had a package waiting for him at a hostel, The Mountain Harbour, just .3 miles from the road crossing. It is here that I had a humbling and embarrassing encounter. Way back at the Standing Bear Hostel just out of the Smokies, I had received an email from a Richard Broadwell. Richard said in his email that he lived in Boone, NC, near Elk Park, and he would be happy to meet me at this road crossing and take me to a restaurant. Well, I just assumed Richard was one of my old NCSSM students. I feel very tied to the alumni of the place I taught for 28 years. I have only missed one alumni reunion in all that time. Many of the alumni had been sending me emails of encouragement and offering assistance. I had used my cell phone to call Richard while I was up on the mountain to tell him I was coming down to the highway. Richard agreed to meet me at the hostel.

After I had showered and changed into the one set of clean clothes I carried in my pack, I saw Richard pull his pickup truck into the grassy field next to the hostel. I went out to greet him. Sure enough, he looked familiar. After we shook hands, I asked him what class he was from at NCSSM. Richard looked at me quizzically and said, “I never went to NCSSM, I used to be your neighbor on Wilson Street!” It all came back to me through the blush of my embarrassment. Richard did not hold this gaff against me and took Tiger and me in to Elk Park for a great meal at a diner and then over to Roan Mountain, TN for a resupply mission at the local grocery store. Richard now works for Conservation Trust in buying up land and seeking easements to protect the sanctity of the Blue Ridge Parkway. He commented that there are a lot of towns just like Elk Park and Roan Mountain in western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee, towns that grow up along a single highway, the only flat land that hugs the valleys between the mountains. Richard, thank you for your kindness.

It was at this hostel that I began a serious campaign of soaking my right foot and leg in cold mountain streams. And I do mean cold! There are times I cannot keep my leg in the water for more than 15 seconds at a time. But it is working! My leg is getting better!

The next morning, Tiger and I climbed out of the valley into a set of “kinder and gentler” mountains than what we were used to. The weather was beautiful I stopped by the beautiful Jones Falls to take some breath taking pictures of the second major waterfall I have encountered on the trail. On that beautiful afternoon, I soaked my leg in Laurel Fork River for a good thirty minutes while I ate two Snickers bars. We stayed at a beautiful, new, triple decker Mountaineer Shelter that night after a nine mile hike. A thing happened here that amazed me. I arrived at the shelter at 4:30 in the afternoon. There were only four of us there. I soaked my leg under a dramatic waterfall nearby, Mountaineer Falls. Then, around 6:00, a steady stream of young guy hikers started streaming in to the shelter. They were all in their twenties, and they had all done 24 miles that day. 24 miles! These guys are hiking machines. They talked about their longest days of 33 miles. At first I could not identify with these maniacs. Then, over supper and a campfire, we got to know each other. There was Ninja, Hitch, Guitar Dan, and others. Another small world encounter was meeting Leon and his dog Rufus. Leon was from Florida. He told me that Leon was his trail name, his real name was Thomas Lynch. He also told me that Rufus had the trail name of Halifax. I remarked that Halifax is an old town in North Carolina up where my Haliwa-Saponi Indian friends live. Leon looked at me with wide eyes. “I just finished teaching high school up there!” he said. “That’s where my dog Halifax got his trail name!” We marveled at this connection we shared. Leon said his Haliwa-Saponi students were the best students he had ever had.

Today, Tiger and I hiked from the Mountaineer Shelter, almost 16 miles, to where the Trail crosses Dennis Cove Road in Tennessee. My leg feels great! I will never take feeling normal for granted again. It feels so good not to hurt. I will continue to take it easy, and I will continue the mountain stream soaks.

But a final word about where I am staying and why I am able to send you another long email. By reading the Appalachian Trail literature, I identified a hostel near Dennis Cove Road that would accept mail drop supply packages for thru-hikers. I chose the Laurel Fork Lodge. Well, the night before when I was talking to all the young hikers, they told me they were going to another hostel, the Kincorra. Well, I came to find out that Kincorra Hikers Hostel is a famous Appalachian Trail institution. I was disappointed that I had not sent my resupply package there.

It turned out that Kincorra was full and Laurel Fork was deserted. In fact, Tiger and I are the only hikers at Laurel Fork. There is no one else here except the caretaker. We had hot showers, were able to bake a pizza in the oven in the kitchen, we have a nice cabin that only cost us 15 bucks apiece, there is a beautiful river outside the cabin for soaking my leg, and there is no one wanting to use the computer and Internet hookup except me!

So, I hope your interest in this long letter has not waned. I have enjoyed connecting with you. Tomorrow, I make my way onward to Damascus, VA. I should be there in four days. By the way, today, I passed the 400 mile mark in my journey to the north. Something is guiding my footsteps.

All my best,

Braid, AKA Joe Liles

Trail Report – April 16 (340 miles)

Trail Report
trail map

elevation map

Dear friends,

I have made it to Erwin, TN, 340 miles up the trail from Springer Mountain, GA. My hiking trip has taken a sharp turn. But, let me bring you up to that point before I tell you which way the turn goes.

I left you last at the conclusion of my first day in Hot Springs, NC. Because of a flood of hikers into the town after a spring snow storm, I was not able to get lodging at my preferred place: The Sunnybank Inn, operated by an Appalachian Trail legend, Elmer Hall. I stayed at the Iron Horse Inn up above the restaurant and bar that had the open mike night the evening before. First thing the next morning, I arrived at the kitchen door of the Sunnybank Inn to be greeted by a young bearded man who was preparing breakfast for what looked to be a large group of people. He told me to come back around 10:00 to talk with Elmer Hall. I left a letter for Elmer that I had been carrying for 164 miles carefully tucked into my food bag. The letter was from my friend Darry Wood who I had stayed with back on Buck Creek near Hayesville. I assumed that part of the letter was Darry’s way of introducing me to Elmer.

When I returned at 10:00, Elmer was in the kitchen. He was kind and welcoming, but I could tell he was checking me out. I had heard that he had the reputation of sometimes selecting his guests carefully. He told me I was on the waiting list and to return at 11:00 to see if they could fit me in. Elmer had a policy that everyone staying with him had to sleep in a bed; no one slept on the floor, couch, etc. I would have gladly slept anywhere.

While I was waiting for the 11:00 hour, I paid a visit to the public library in Hot Springs to send my last email to you. I then returned to Sunnybank. I was in! Elmer showed me to a private room upstairs with an adjoining bath. It was just like returning to my grandmother’s house! The room was furnished with antiques, and the bed was covered with a down comforter. I thought I had died and gone to heaven!

I mentioned in my last email that I arranged with Elmer to have my daughter, Elizabeth, and her husband, Matthew, join me and the other guests at Sunnybank for supper that night. Elmer does not usually let non-guests eat his famous vegetarian dinners, so I felt lucky. But I felt doubly lucky for another reason. Tonight, Elmer was preceding his dinner with a Seder, a Passover feast for the local Jewish community. You see, Elmer has a very ecumenical attitude about religion. He once taught in the Divinity School at Duke University, specializing in Middle Eastern religions. I figured this Jewish feast would broaden the religious horizons of my daughter, her husband, and myself.

This day, my first “zero day,” continued to work out like a dream. I had picked up a welcoming letter and some gift certificates the night before at the Iron Horse Inn. They were from Tyler Buckner, one of my old NCSSM students. One of these certificates allowed me to take myself and two others to the Hot Springs Spa for a mineral bath and also a foot massage. The mineral bath was exquisite with swirling 101 degree water from a natural spring next to the French Broad River. These treatments undid much of the abuse I had been heaping on my body for the first 271 miles of the Trail. When I returned to Sunnybank, Elizabeth and Matthew were just pulling in. The evening was a grand reunion. I was concerned that my appearance might scare Elizabeth since I had given up shaving for the Trail. I figured I looked like a skinny Robert E. Lee or maybe more like a wild Willie Nelson. But she said I looked great.

Over the next day I learned a lot about Hot Springs and the Sunnybank Inn. I learned that the town was first named Warm Springs, but a developer in 1890 convinced the town to change its name from Warm to Hot. A fabulous hotel and mineral baths were built at the same place I had taken my mineral bath the day before. People flocked to the new Hot Springs from miles around. In World War I, the hotel was commandeered by the US Military for use as an internment camp for more than 2000 German naval officers who were caught off the shores of the United States. Amazingly, the government allowed some of the wives of these officers to stay at the Sunnybank Inn. The Sunnybank at that time was operated by a Mrs. Gentry as a boarding house. Mrs. Gentry was also a collector of mountain ballads and stories.

This strange combination of POW camp, wife lodging, and mineral springs got even stranger when one of the German wives smuggled a letter to her husband in the camp. The letter was hidden in the collar of the couple’s German shepherd dog. A prison break was hatched! The woman rented a row boat and met her husband on the shore of the French Broad at 5:00 one morning. The prisoner got into the boat with the lady and the dog, and they slipped silently away. They took the French Broad to the Tennessee, the Tennessee to the Ohio, the Ohio to the Mississippi, the Mississippi to New Orleans, where they arranged passage to Mexico. The next Christmas, Mrs. Gentry received a letter from the German couple, now in Berlin, thanking her for her hospitality at Sunnybank.

Elmer Hall hiked the Appalachian Trail in 1976. He stayed at the Sunnybank Inn, then operated by the third generation of Gentrys. The next year, he returned and bought the inn from the Gentry family. He began his odyssey of providing meals and shelter to the thru-hikers of the Appalachian Trail.

On my second, very relaxing, day in Hot Springs, I had a little extra time on my hands. I plopped myself down in the front yard of the Sunnybank Inn with my pad, pencil, and ink pen, and spent three hours doing a pen-and-ink drawing of the place. That night at the family-style dinner, the rest of the thru-hikers and I presented this drawing to Elmer in appreciation for all he has done for the AT hikers. He seemed touched.

I had now spent two zero days in Hot Springs. The Trail was calling me! The next morning, Friday, April 10, I shouldered my pack and walked out of Hot Springs in a pouring thunderstorm. I walked down the main street, crossed the French Broad, and climbed the trail that led up the high mountain outside of town. I hiked past a famed “Lover’s Leap” cliff and on to the Spring Mountain shelter. The next morning, I hiked in the rain down to Allen Gap and the paved road, NC 208 / TN 70. I noticed a sign tacked to a pole: “Trail Magic! Turn right on road, go 350 yards to ‘Welcome to North Carolina’ sign, driveway on right. Belgian Waffles, more. It’s worth the walk!” I had not experienced any trail magic since Fishin Fred, so I followed the directions to a beautiful log home. I was met by Hercules and FAL (Free at Last), thru-hikers from 1992. I was served a progressive feast of waffles, pork stew, and a banana split. I loved every minute of it. By the time I finished, the place was full of hungry thru-hikers. This was the Saturday before Easter. Hercules and FAL made an offer to all of us: stay the day and evening with them, they would feed us well, put us up, take us to church the next morning, and then put us back on the trail. Many of the group decided to stay. I decided to press on.

I noticed a pain developing in my right leg as I climbed out of Allen Gap. At the top of the mountain, I took 400 mg of Ibuprofen and headed on. I wanted to get to the Jerry Cabin shelter, another seven miles away. By the time I got there, the pain in my leg was pretty bad. The strange thing was that I didn’t remember any slip or fall that could have caused an injury. Was I being punished for not going to church?! The pain reminded me of shin splints I had gotten in high school and college, running cross country. I soothed the pain by stretching my ankle and trying to work the muscles on the front of my shin and get the blood circulating.

The next day, Easter Sunday, was absolutely beautiful. I was tired of hiking day after day in the rain. I dealt with the pain in my foot/shin and hiked 14.7 miles to Hogback Ridge shelter. The next day, I hiked over Big Bald Mountain in driving rain, winds gusting to 80 miles per hour, and limped into Bald Mountain shelter after 10 miles. That night, I worked my ankle and shin while inside my sleeping bag. The next morning, it felt better. I sucked up my stamina and courage and hiked 17 miles in the rain to Erwin, TN. This is where the AT crosses the Nolichucky River. There were beautiful views of the river and the town from the mountains above. I hiked into town alone but soon met up with thru-hikers I knew and got a ride to a motel. We put four people in each of three rooms brand cialis online pharmacy. We all took showers and most of us went next door to JD’s Market for double bacon cheeseburgers for supper. Remember, the doctor said I could eat anything I wanted on the Trail! Back in my motel room, I began a series of hot water baths in the tub for my leg.

The next morning, Wednesday, April 15, I decided to stay another day while all the other hikers hit the trail. After a down home lunch at JD’s, I took off on foot on what I thought was the back way to the uptown section of Erwin. I wanted to find the public library and send all of you an email. I promptly got lost. After walking through a residential neighborhood and arousing many fierce, barking dogs, I found myself at 1:30 at the Emergency Entrance of the Unicoi County Memorial Hospital. Taking this as a sign, I walked in and registered as an outpatient.

This is the sharp turn I referred to at the beginning of this email. I spent the next four hours waiting to be seen by a doctor. At 4:00 a nurse took my vital signs. At 5:00 Dr. Ken Trzil examined my leg. He said that I could be suffering from any of three different things: the worst case of shin splints he had ever seen, phlebitis, or blood clot. Blood clot! This got my attention. This could mean surgery. This could mean the end of my AT adventure! Dr. Trzil ordered a round of blood work. At 6:00, the good doc came back to inform me that the blood work pointed to something else than the worst case scenario, but to rule out the possibility of the dreaded blood clot, he wanted me to get an ultra sound of my leg the next morning. I was amazed when he informed me that a sheriff’s deputy was waiting outside to take me to a pharmacy to get prescription pain medication and then back to my motel. He wanted me to stay off the leg, elevate it, and start ice pack treatments. It felt weird riding in the back of a sheriff’s car. I noticed people on the street craning their necks to see who had been picked up.

That night, I had a strange supper. On a grassy plot beside the motel, I lit my alcohol stove and prepared a macaroni and cheese dinner. This act made me feel strangely connected to hikers on the mountains I could see from the parking lot. I polished of a quart of pralines and cream ice cream for dessert and returned to my room for elevated ice packs and something very rare, TV. I watched two episodes of Andy Griffith before drifting off to sleep.

This morning, after a big breakfast at JD’s (Yes, all the waitresses are recognizing me now and calling me honey.), I headed out on foot to the uptown section of Erwin. Besides directions, I had learned a few things about Erwin by talking with the locals. The town was founded as the county seat of Unicoi County, TN in 1876. I was told that Unicoi was the Cherokee word for “fog draped mountains.” I had certainly seen a lot of these. The town I was in was first called Vanderbilt. In 1879, the name was changed to Ervin. Because of a mistake in naming United States post offices, the V in Ervin was replaced with a W, and the name became Erwin. At first, every person I talked to wanted to tell me about a very strange thing that happened there. This is not something I would want to remember or be proud of. In 1916, in nearby Kingsport, TN, a circus trainer was tragically killed by an elephant by the name of Mary. People were outraged. Something had to be done! Lynch the elephant, people cried out! With the tragic history of lynching just starting to die out in the South, there was still a lynch mob mentality in the air. But no oak tree, no rope could lynch an elephant. Then it was remembered that Erwin, TN had a huge railroad yard, and railroad yards had industrial cranes. The elephant was transported to Erwin by train. The lynching was carried out in the rail yard next to the station which is now the Public Library. This is where I am typing this email. I could have looked out the window and seen this mad spectacle! Mary the elephant was killed on the second try, because the first chain broke. Sad, so sad. Over 2500 people gathered to bear witness. People are strange.

I typed on this email for as long as I could, leaving myself 25 minutes to walk to the hospital for my 10:45 scheduled ultra sound. I only spent a few minutes in the waiting room before Betty, the ultra sound technician, came to get me. Betty lubricated most of my right leg and then began exploring my blood vessels with a strange looking stethoscope. Images started to appear on a monitor. Every once in a while, Betty would take a picture. She worked her way down my leg, from top to bottom, front and back. When she got down to my ankle, she switched off the machine and said she would be right back.

Dr. Trzil and Betty came into the room. The doctor said, “I’ve got good news. You don’t have a blood clot. But you are not out of the woods yet. Your leg is suffering from overuse. you need to go slow getting back on the trail. Hopefully, with an ease back into things, your leg can adjust, and you can walk your way out of this painful condition.”

This was the best news I could possibly have hoped for! I felt strangely liberated, happy. But before he let me go, Dr. Trzil wanted to straighten me out on a few things. “I don’t want you only telling people about Erwin being famous for hanging an elephant. We have so much to be proud of here.” He went on to tell me that this area of Tennessee is famous for the Over the Mountain Men. These mountain men volunteered during the Revolutionary War to fight for the colonists against the British. They chased the British troops all the way to Kings Mountain on the border between North and South Carolina and defeated them there. Thomas Jefferson declared that the efforts of the Over the Mountain Men provided the turning point of the war. Our war for independence could have gone the other way if it was not for them. Dr. Trzil also pointed out that, in nearby Elizabethtown, the first representative governing body in America was elected. They were called The Watauga Assembly and predated anything that happened in Philadelphia, Boston, or anywhere else.

As I walked the mile from the hospital back to the library, I noticed trees blooming everywhere, cherry trees, apple trees, plum trees. The world seemed more beautiful than it had earlier in the day. The dogs didn’t even bark at me. In the business district, I stopped by the Choo Choo Cafe next to the rail yard and had lunch on an outside table. I was soaking up the goodness of life. That goodness is always there, but sometimes we are too distracted or worried to see it. On to the library to finish up this missive.

Whew! I know it has been a long email. But I composed much of this while waiting in the Emergency Room. Following emails will necessarily be shorter. My future has no guarantees in terms of completing the Appalachian Trail. I am in a delicate state right now. I will rest up. I will treat my leg with ice packs and elevation. I will ease back into hiking in another day or so. Damascus, VA will be my next major stop, if I can make it that far. It’s 121 miles away. Maybe I can find a place to communicate with you before then. I will hope for the best. That’s all any of us can do.

All my best,

Braid, AKA Joe Liles

300 new images from Joe’s Trail Hike


Hello to everyone following Joe’s Trail blog. Joe has recently sent me several CDs filled with all the images he’s taken so far on his hike. There is a new IMAGES section of the blog where I will be putting the image galleries as they come in. The galleries and images are in chronological order and broken up by trail sections as Joe has labelled on the archive CDs.

So far there are 3 new galleries with ~300 new images.

Gallery 01: Start, Georgia, NC Line
Gallery 02: Chunky Gal, Wayah Bald, Nantahala, Fontana Dam
Gallery 03: Smokies, Standing Bear, Snow, Hot Springs

Joe left Hot Springs a few days ago and is back headed north into warmer springtime weather.

- Colin