A Walk in the Woods: A Thru-Hiker’s Movie Review

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The view from the Chestnut Knob on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia.

I was cautiously optimistic as I walked into the theater with my mom and dad to watch A Walk in the Woods… the trailer looked good, the cast sounded awesome, and I believed that there was plenty of comedic gold in Bryson’s book for the screen-writers to work their magic with… My optimism didn’t last long… The movie lacked coherency, character development, and to my surprise, it even managed to dilute the parts of the book that I thought were funny, and highlighted the parts that I thought were awful… I didn’t love the book, but I’d recommend it over the movie any day!

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The Roan Highlands (Days 32 & 33)

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When the sun finally comes out after a number of consecutive rainy days it’s an amazing thing. The moisture was still clinging to the air and the trees were dripping, but the sun finally came out!

I’d been hearing for days that Roan Mtn was some of the best, prettiest hiking on the AT. I’d hiked a couple of shorter days hoping to get nicer weather for this supposedly awesome portion of the trail. Roan Mtn is also the tallest mountain between here and the White Mountains in NH.

Cee Cee at the hostel the night before had said, “you’ll moan and you’ll groan, going up Roan.” She was right. The trail going up Roan was long and was in the process of being redirected to add more switchbacks.

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When we were about half mile from the summit, we ran into a group of three or four people that were surveying the trail and they gave us some bad news, the section between us and the summit had an additional 0.4 miles due to the redirects… Instead of 0.5 miles to go, we had 0.9 to go. The new trail was nice, but they hadn’t figured out the drainage for it yet. It was very wet and muddy going.

We got to the summit and there was a parking lot and an ok view… Not at all what I’d expected based on trail rumor. I ate my lunch there and pushed on.

I came down from the summit, hiking through the alpine hemlock forest, and just zipping along when I came around the corner to another parking lot that was chock full of cars. I looked up at the trail ahead, this was clearly what everyone was talking about. The trail stretched on and on over beautiful grassy Balds.

The trail rumors turned out to be true! It’s been phenomenal hiking for the last two days.

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Eventually we descended from the final bald and into the woods. Not long after, I came to the sign indicating that I was done with hiking North Carolina. It definitely ended on a very positive note!

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Scavenger Hunt (Greasy Creek Friendly Hostel)

I love the white blazes of the AT. They are like little friends that remind you where you are, and reassure you that you’re not lost. Sometimes, however, we leave the safety and security of the AT to seek shelter, sanctuary, and warmth. We sought out Greasy Creek Friendly Hostel in hopes of finding soft dry, with an emphasis on dry, beds for the night. We read in the guide book that it was 0.6 miles off of the trail, and that the owner observes the sabbath and doesn’t do work after sundown on Friday. We called and the owner said as long as we were there before sundown that there wouldn’t be any trouble having us there for the night.

For some reason I’d assumed that the trail crossed a road and that we were going to walk 0.6 down a road to get to the hostel, however, the owner said that we were actually going to be following a ditch out of the back of a campsite away from the beloved AT and down to the hostel. Eventually we found the unmarked ditch and the scavenger hunt began!

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As the ditch intersected other ditches and unkept logging roads, we knew which direction to go because of the arrows that people had made out of sticks to show us the way. Once we navigated the “trail/s”, we came upon the back of the house and started following signs that they’d put up around the property.

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On the back door there was a sign directing people to the front door.

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On the front door there was a sign directing people to the table.

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On the table there was a sign directing people to a key.

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And finally, we were directed back to the back door where we were able to let ourselves into the hostel and read notes about the available options within the hostel. The scavenger hunt was over!

Since we were wet and soggy, we wanted to do a load of laundry to dry our socks and assorted other sopping wet cloths. Originally the owner had said that that would be fine and that she’d do it for us when she got home. Unfortunately she was running 3-4hrs late and would be racing against the sun to get home. Hoping to make her life easier, I called her on the black phone (the one that you could dial from, but that wouldn’t ring), to ask if I could start the laundry. She didn’t feel comfortable with that, so the race was on… The hostel lady vs. the subset.

A couple hours later she called back (on the yellow phone that rings, but doesn’t dial) to check and see how we are doing. Eventually, she got home. It was about 15 minutes before sundown and she was clearly frazzled.

She realized that she wouldn’t have time to do the laundry, but decided that if she watched me and told me what to do, I could do the laundry since she’d be able to oversee the process. We had to hurry, however, to straighten out all the payments for our stay before the sun went down and the sabbath begin though.

Miraculously everything got done before the sun completely set. As advertised, the owner was incredibly friendly! She disappeared into the other room and poured a bunch of wine into an old little soda/tonic bottle, and then came into the room where I was organizing my pack to sing her Shabbat blessing and to keep me company. She then explained to me that she is a messianic Jew (which suddenly made all of the New Testament stuff around her house make more sense), and that neither the other Jews nor the Christians like of understand her religion.

Over the course of the next 4 hours she pretty much gave me her entire life story (I don’t think I managed to get more than one word into the conversation). Her neighbors apparently hate her… They think she is running a hiker scum brothel because they see her driving around a different young man every week (she offers hiker shuttle services). Her nearest neighbor, according to her, has been trying to sabotage her and her business… Taking a sledgehammer to her water reservoir, trying to run her down with his motorcycle, posting signs around the trail that say the hostel is actually closed etc. Apparently she has gone to court with him 5 times already. Other stories were about her ex-husband, her cat, and her financial woes (the fact the hostel makes $193 profit a year so she can’t get a loan).

Eventually the laundry finished and I ducked out to go to bed. Finding and staying at that hostel was definitely an adventure… I would say that it was a generally positive adventure and that there is no doubt that the Greasy Creek Friendly lives up to the friendly portion of it’s name!

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The Hiker Plague (Days 28-30)

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Starting from day one, I’ve been hearing rumors about an outbreak of norovirus on the trail. The outbreak was supposed to be centered at Hot Springs and extending into the area between Hot Springs, North Carolina and Erwin, Tennessee.

By the time I got to Hot Springs there was no sign of the norovirus there, but I was still hearing rumors that it was running rampant on the section of the trail between there and Erwin. I decided that I would try to avoid the shelters and other people in that section just to be safe. However, as I mentioned in the last post, the rains came, and I ended up deciding to stay in the nice dry shelters to get out of the rain.

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After the rain cleared out, I had some beautiful trail and I forgot about the nasty rumors about norovirus. When I pulled into the next shelter, however, I found a hiker curled up in his sleeping bag recovering from the norovirus. Luckily, it was a nice and sunny afternoon and I isolated myself out in my tent and set everything out to dry.

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The closer and closer to Erwin I’ve gotten, the more people I’ve encountered that are suffering or recovering from the norovirus. Two people at the hostel I stayed at last night seemingly had noro and spent the night puking in the men’s bathroom.

At this point I’m crossing my fingers, getting lots of sleep, and taking a few easy days in the hopes that I’ll manage to get through this hike without getting the hiker plague!

I’ve heard that the current issue of backpacker magazine has an article about noro and this year’s thru-hikers, and the link below is to an article that talks a bit more about it:

Info about the Norovirus on the AT.

Reality Strikes (Days 25-27)

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Some days on the trail are more glamorous than others. I’ve been relatively lucky with weather so far, warm sunny days and cool breezy nights. Day 25 on the trail was one of those days. Seemingly perfect. I met some cool people, 4-5 thru-hikers going at about my pace, a section hiker that was celebrating his first day of retirement, and a person that had already successfully completed two thru-hikes. We had a nice evening sitting around the campfire, hanging out, and celebrating mile 300. I went to sleep in my tent that night warm, dry, and happy.

Per usual I woke up bright and early in the morning as the birds started their morning chorus. Everything was sopping wet from the rain that had moved in the night before, and the pitter patter of the rain provided a nice percussive accompaniment to the birdsong. I checked the forecast. Rain all day. Staying in my warm cozy sleeping bag longer was only going to delay the inevitable, so I got up and hit the trail. At first it wasn’t pouring, I was just hiking in a cloud that was constantly dripping on me and the cobwebs were main annoyance.

As the first one on the trail in the morning you get the distinct pleasure of cobweb clearing… The spiders spend all night preparing to catch that first hiker, but we end up catching them instead…. The cobwebs cling to our arms, our legs, our faces. Moist with dew or, in this case, fresh rain, they stick to our eyelashes and no matter how much we try to brush them off they stay and keep collecting the little gnats that buzz around in a constant tizzy.

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Aftee an hour or so, the downpour really started. The terrain wasn’t too bad, but it was incredibly soggy and wet. My pants, my socks, my shirt, my raincoat, everything just got soaked. On the plus side (and keeping with the Halloween theme), the newts and salamanders came out (I saw 5 newts, and 3 newt-like salamanders) to bask in the moisture rich trail.

Eventually I made it to the next shelter, which was wonderfully dry (albeit cold and dark). I took my pack and my boots off and listened to the rain pounding against the tin roof. It was only 10:30 in the morning, but I was thinking that perhaps I was done for the day. It was hard to convince myself that going out into that rain was a good idea.

I sat around and waited, maybe the rain would let up? I got cold, so I changed my shirt and decided to cook my hot dinner and eat it for lunch. I kept waiting… The rain got worse. Eventually 8 other people showed up at the shelter and we all just sat there watching the rain. After almost 4 hrs of watching the rain, I got bored enough that I decided to keep on hiking to the next shelter. I talked another person into joining me and we trudged off into the rain.

The next couple of days were cold, wet, and muddy. These are the days that are “character building.” So beware, I may return to the world with even more character than I had when I started this adventure *grin*.

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