Currently sitting at the Uncle Johnny's Hostel computer...
The rain had to come at some point. This morning, I told Pamola that he had been good to me up to this point and that he could bring on his worst. I don't think it really was his worst, but it was a comparatively dreary day. I got going early from the Knob, taking a side trail to a parking area with restrooms and a drinking fountain. Last night, the piped spring had been nothing more than a trickle, so I just used what water I had from the day to make dinner and have a sip before bed. That wasn't enough, so I found myself scooping water from a pool at 8 PM last night. With my thirst quenched, I could finally go to sleep. Well, after eating another brownie. Anyways, I took the opportunity to get water from a pure source, aka the water fountain, as well as to use the immaculate facilities. Back on the trail, I had some slow going over rocks near the summit, but I found my stride as I descended through the warm fog and winds. The winds only picked up as I got to Clyde Smith Shelter, where it darkened and I was sure it would rain. I put on my rain jacket after my break and forged ahead, daring the rain to start. It immediately did, albeit with tiny, sporadic drops. I got impatient and asked for more, since my rain jacket tends to make me too warm in the absence of precipitation. Only a little more rain followed, so I had to take it off. The rain picked up, but so did my pace. I fell into the perfect equilibrium of exertion and coolness. A strong wind blew from left to right almost the entire rest of the way. Soon I ran in to a group of students from a small school starting a five-day backpacking trip. I talked to their chaperone and advised him against reading my shelter log entry from Roan High Knob. The group gave me a banana and relieved me of my trash, so I thought they were pretty cool.
On a day that I thought would be slow going, I was hiking out of my mind. I covered six miles in an hour and a half and was at the next shelter in approximately no time. Rain will do that. I was in a battle to stay warm without layering up, so it was more like a game than a hike. I found that I rarely looked at my map. Now was the moment of decision, though. Should I stay at this shelter, making my day only 16.8 miles and ending at noon? Or should I push on to the road that I knew would lead to Erwin and risk my luck getting a hitch. You read the start of this post. You know what happens. I left the shelter after twenty minutes of snacking, prepped to climb Unaka Mountain. 1200 feet over a lengthy 2.2 miles didn't make this a steep climb by anyone's reckoning, but I did end up over 5000 feet again. As I climbed, the rain picked up and a cold wind blew. My body's heat matched the elements on the way up. I chanted the name of the mountain, as I believed it was pronounced, under my breath. OO-na-kuh. oo-NA-kuh. oo-na-KUH. I tried them all out. It sounded very primal. On top was a spruce forest, which looked really cool with the rain coming down. I didn't stop to take a picture for fear of wetting out my phone, so it's one of those personal images that I get to keep in my own memory. Sorry! As the effort of climbing ended, I caught a chill and put my rain shell back on. I dropped down, down, down as the wind still whipped my face. Brrrr. Luckily it got better as I dropped to lower elevations. Before I could keep track, I had crossed the Beauty Spot and was at TN 395, my way into town!
Cars were sporadic and didn't look to be keen on stopping. I walked down the road for a bit until I got service, then called a shuttle. 10-K was there to pick me up within 15 minutes. He's an angel. I was out of the rain and eating mexican food in no time! But a chill had set into my bones, one that doesn't just leave. I spent a good amount of time in the bathroom with my hands under the hot water and letting the hot-air hand-dryer dry a lot more than my hands. Once I decided I had been using these services for a suspicious amount of time, I paid up and went outside. Shivering and shouldering my pack once again, I got pestered by a panhandler. I couldn't believe it. I looked worse than he did! He asked for a dime, I gave him a quarter, and he asked if I was sure I didn't have any more. I looked at the see-through ziplock that I keep my money in, but was at a loss for words. I walked away and went down the street to hitch. My driver was so eager to pick me up that he slammed on his brakes in the road and backed in to the KFC parking lot. I didn't realize he had stopped for me, so I kept walking. He followed me down the road and beeped at me, and I figured out my mistake. He was a really nice guy. We talked about bear hunting and how he admired what I was doing. Back at the hostel, I got a much-needed hot shower and talked to the two sectioners who are also in the bunkhouse. Sarge, the head honcho at Uncle Johnny's, made fun of my beard. He offered to trim it, and called me "Whiskers" throughout the night. That's funny, because he did that on the first night I've felt truly annoyed with my facial hair. When it's wet, my mustache goes right into my mouth. I'll shed it soon enough!