Currently sitting in Compucraft Computers/Hiker's Haven Hostel...
Pretty standard day. It was a little bit on the cold side last night, so I had trouble getting out of my sleeping bag this morning. I didn't get going until 6:40, but that was nice because then I didn't have to use my headlamp very long. Also, I didn't need to get up super early because today's mileage didn't call for it. After my strong push to get into Damascus, I started to wonder if higher mileage was even justifiable anymore. I don't have a deadline to meet, so pushing my pace would only open me up to injury. I can't even begin to fathom the emotional pain that not finishing this journey would evoke. At the same time, I do have an ego to pad, and by my counts I am the fifth sobo to pass through these parts this season. I continue to remind myself that I won't care what place I finished in a few years. Also, I don't think anyone else really cares. A little competitive spirit is healthy, though.
I ran the ever-undulating ridge until I came to Iron Mountain Shelter, where I took my standard snack break. More of the same got me to another shelter whose name escapes me (I already put away that page from my guidebook). I chatted with a section hiker named Russ while dining on a Nutella tortilla, then I was off again. The 20 percent chance of rain stuck in the back of my mind. I dropped down, down, down from the ridge until I started to catch glimpses of Watauga Lake. It's one of those lakes created by a dam, and it reminded me of the Dale Hollow Lake, where my family took a couple of vacations that I look back upon fondly. I passed through an area with an active bear population. They are so active, in fact, that only thru-hikers are technically allowed to hike the trail through this section, and even then I wasn't supposed to stop. Being a danger fanatic, I stopped at the shelter to check out the logbook. That was only mildly entertaining so I continued on for a short hike to US 321. On the way, I met a section hiker named Postman. He was planning on staying at Watauga Lake Shelter. I reminded him of the bear situation and, more realistically, the chance he would get in trouble for violating the rules. He seemed pretty tired and dead set on staying, so I gave him directions and headed on.
I got to the road just as the first sprinkles of rain were hitting my head. I stuck out my thumb and a truck pulled over from the first line of cars. That must have been my fastest hitch. My chauffeur was so nice as to drive me farther away to a real grocery store. Not only that, but he picked me up on his way back from his errand. I like Tennessee already! He dropped me off at Compucraft, which recently opened up a hostel in the owners' disused carport. They're technically in the computer repair business, but it's also sort of an internet cafe/diner inside. It's very interesting. I got checked in and took a shower before trying again to plan out my next few days. The distribution of shelters and campsites is just wonky. I can't figure out a sensible plan to end up in Erwin in either three or four days. It looks like it might end up being more like three and a half. I have to take it one day at a time because the terrain ahead looks a lot more challenging than the stuff in my recent memory. Maybe I will experience the soreness in my quads and calves that were so familiar in the north. I can almost guarantee I will get all flabbergasted at not being able to keep up the same pace I've been trucking along at. But you have to take what the trail gives you. I'm just not sure what it will be. I do know that the trail jumps onto the Tennessee/North Carolina border in a couple days. That means I'll only have one more state line to cross! It also means that I'm close to familiar country. It's only 40 miles to Boone on the highway here, and I've actually been to that town! It's starting to feel like I'm almost done. Three weeks to go, assuming I average 20 miles per day. That's not an absurd number, ya know.