As introduced in a previous post, Miss Janet is a trail angel from Tennessee who has been helping AT hikers and living the trail life for 20 years. She was the kind lady who chaperoned us from Sam's gap to mother Marian's hostel On Friday, 4/12 when Pepa and Rooster came down with the Norwalk Virus that's been plaguing the AT. On our travels to and from the hostel we had the opportunity to get to know Miss Janet a little better (getting to know miss Janet has become a rite of passage for every thru hiker). Having seen a lot of Miss Janet in the days preceding Sam's Gap, we assumed that she lived close to this section of the AT. As it turns out, she is from Erwin, TN, the resupply town following our next hike. Seeing that we would be there in just 3 days, she invited us to her home for a BBQ once we made our way to Erwin. How could we refuse?
The hike to Erwin was actually more eventful than we anticipated. At this point in the adventure, we have gained a little experience, we have established a rhythm and aside from the scenery we've come to expect what the next section will bring. This hike, however, was the first that felt distinctly spring-like. Grass now adorns the small mounds of soft earth alongside the trail. Little baby wild flowers the size of dimes are found in massive swatches of yellow, white and pink. Plumes of lichen that cover the trees have brightened from the wintery mint green they previously were. The air is filled with the rhythmic chirping of birds, which are now EVERYWHERE (and they will poop on you). Wildlife is up and moving around from their winter rest, and to be honest, just the fresh smell of spring is enough to flip the seasonal switch in your brain. But the element of spring which really made our journey to Erwin interesting was the rain. Rain in the mountains doesn't play around. It's intense. We have seen our fair share of winter weather and rain alike, but the forecast was for isolated showers with a 30% chance. We interpretted this to mean some spring sprinkles. Wrong. We are always wrong, it's become a bit of a theme. Rain drops fell like stones. It sounded like a kindergarten class was bashing my tent with whiffle ball bats. The rain fell so hard and so fast that the forest floor turned to mud puddles around our tents and the driving rain caused splashing, eventually plastering the tent body beneath the rain fly with mud and leaves. Most people who tent camp carry a ground cloth which helps separate the tent floor from twigs and stones which might perforate the nylon as well as waterproof the person inside from the wet ground (tent bodies are not made of waterproof nylon). As we have learned, nothing is waterproof. Absolutely no piece of gear, gor tex, leather, nylon, plastic....it all leaks. And if it doesn't leak, it doesn't breath. Which results in you soaked in your own sweat like James Gandolfini. To our dismay, even a homemade Tyvek ground cloth cut smaller than the tent itself was unable keep out ground moisture (concievably if the tarp is smaller than the tent than no rain can fall on it.... Yup. Still wrong). The tent body being wet from splashing allowed droplets to roll down the contoured outside wall of the body and fall onto the ground cloth beneath. With the weight of the occupant, the water is pushed through the tent floor into little pools throughout the inside. It was a fiasco, albeit a fairly fun fiasco considering it didn't drop below 50 and everyone knew they would have dry stuff within a day or two. In fact, arriving at Uncle Johnnies Nolichucky Hostel (first thing you come to in Erwin), it was almost 80 degrees without a cloud in the sky. With daytime temperatures regularly reaching 70 degrees, being wet is more temporary than ever before.
We hitched a ride into Erwin which was the longest hitch ever. We walked about 4 of the 6 miles along the highway to town. I think I need to bite the bullet and start carrying a cardboard sign with an encouraging message on it. Perhaps a simple hand drawn crucifix might have some effect on the Baptist community down here. A Canadian flag may also be reassuring. Or I suppose we could get right to the point with "won't kill you". At any rate, having time to kill while waiting for Miss Janet we made our way to the Huddle House (Waffle House knock off, not happy, I'm a Waffle House purist) and ordered $68 worth of $5.99 breakfasts. A few of us having been on the other side of this exchange had some empathy for the waitress who had to deal with a pack of savages fresh from the bush. Immediately following breakfast we did what all hikers do when they are waiting for a ride in a public place; get some beer, strip to our boxers and lay all our shit out across the parking lot to dry (standards of dryness fall considerably when you're living with 1 set of clothes, shoes, bedding, etc. everything can always be drier).
Miss Janet arrived around 2:30 to retrieve us from the Huddle House and run by the grocery store to pick up some supplies for our BBQ. As we toured through the small town of Erwin, we noticed sitting outside a gas station, a group of familiar faces and an onslaught of tight n' bright booty shorts. The night before Miss Janet had taken in a group of hikers we have been leapfrogging for a week or two now (Hammer, Mallet, Easy E, Roughneck and Human). She had been very explicit with these fellas about her rules surrounding fallen soldiers (empty or half empty beer cans from the night before) and apparently the boys had broken said rules, albeit with only a few casualties. As punishment Miss Janet dragged out a box full of pastel colored (female) short shorts and insisted that these 5 throw on a pair and get to raking the lawn. Apparently a few of the lady neighbors had an entertaining afternoon. I find it hard to believe that Miss Janet had not designed this punishment knowing full well that the chores would turn into a show. I also find it hard to believe that this was the first show. At any rate, the bright boys had found there way into town and were actively flagging down Miss Janet's unmistakable tie-die van.
Being that there were already 8 persons in the vehicle (7 of us plus Miss Janet), we figured that perhaps she would make a trip to shuttle them from their precarious position on the side of the road after dropping us to do the shopping. Wrong again. God we suck. She jerked the wheel over into the bank across the street and the boys ran over and we quickly began deciphering the puzzle of fitting 13 people into a 10 passenger van (oh yeah, plus 7 forty pound packs). It was cozy. We got acquainted quickly. Now that the bright boys had seen a new wave of drinking buddies coming through Miss Janet's, they were easily convinced to take a zero and spend another night.
We took the usual allotted time at the grocery store (about 8 minutes) and came out with 36 hamburgers/buns, 24 hot dogs/buns, 50 slices of cheese, 1 gallon of baked beans, 7 bags of chips, 3 jars of dip/salsa, 2 heads of lettuce, 10 tomatoes, 2 onions, 2 gallons of potato salad, 2 angel food cakes, 2 containers of cool whip, 3 big packs of strawberries, and 144 cans of beer. Reasonable. We then refigured the van equation with the new cargo... Carry the 2... And somehow made it to Miss Janet's house with everything relatively intact.
Miss Janet's home is a safe haven for through hikers, as I've already said its a bit of a rite of passage to encounter Miss Janet, staying at her home for and barbecuing was an AT experience and an honor. That said, we made sure to do all the work in putting on this meal and contributed amply to Miss Janet's laundry, shower and food fund. We ate, we drank, we sang. It was a fun and successful night and since we didn't have to pay to sleep it was a relatively inexpensive town experience.
In the morning, we woke to the smell of strawberry pancakes and bacon.... God dammit I love Miss Janet. We again took turns on the cooking and cleaning post in order to reduce the impact on Miss Janet's home. While she shuttled the bright boys up to Iron Mountain gap (20 miles ahead of us since they had slack-packed the day before) I assumed the role of team barber and gave out a few more mohawks to the lost boys. She returned a half hour later and shuttled us back to the trail head where we had left off. Needless to say we didn't have a very productive day. But being that it was nearing the weekend we were endowed with oranges, sodas and cookies left in coolers around Sam's gap. People generally leave coolers of goodies by the road that they can retrieve at the end of the day. Lovely little trail tradition that we greatly appreciate. Even if there's nothing left in the cooler, ice is a luxury all it's own.
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