#40: The Station at 19E, Elk Park, NC

Elk Park, NC

He called mid morning from the top of a mountain. He said the top of the mountain was bare so the view was clear with no trees to obstruct the view. He could see the mountains he climbed already as well as being able to see the 2 towns he was heading towards. The weather has been warm and he has been hiking in his shorts.

Jesse woke up very early and hiked the 9 miles to the road leading to Elk,Park ending his day at mile 395.2 and at an elevation of 4600. He grabbed a free shuttle into town and is staying at https://thestationat19e.com. This place is beautiful and roomy. It serves a breakfast of sausage and gravy,bacon,sausage and a fruit bar. They offer fish and chips for $7 and the have a tap room and lots of board games to play. They will shuttle hikers into town. He plans on heading to the post office around 3:00.

taproom and hostel

Jesse said he woke up this morning and thought “What is that smell?!!” It was him. Along with warmer temperatures comes sweat and he apparently has been doing a lot of sweating. He said his gear will never be able to be used again after this trip. Pretty ripe. Needless to say, he was looking forward to a nice, long,hot shower.

Jesse’s spirits are high and he’s happy he is now averaging 15 miles per day. Tomorrow he will hit the 400 mile mark. He is hoping to be able to send more pics to me later this evening after all his electronics get charged.

#39: Overmountain Shelter

Jesse ended his day at mile 386.0 and at an elevation of 4662. He said Tennessee is giving him a big middle finger before leaving the state….a really big hike up a mountain. Even so, he put in just about 16 miles today.

We were talking about his first few days on the AT and people were looking at him with a pack weighing over 40 pounds and no overnight hiking experience and they looked at him like he was nuts. He was at the back of the pack during hikes. Now,he is taking the lead and really increasing his miles.

This shelter is really unique. It’s an old barn that has been converted into a 2 story shelter. This shelter is super roomy.

this shelter is a converted barn
2 story and lots of room

Trail magic has become more regular again. There was a group with breakfast goodies for the hikers this morning. He missed out on some trail magic the night before for dinner. It was about 3 more miles up the trail from where he stopped. His knee just wouldn’t allow for anymore hiking for the day.

I asked Jesse about mushrooms and he reports they are finding a bunch of them and some were huge. Even after frying them up they were still a good size. He is also still finding ramps and fiddleheads are still available.

Jesse will be heading to Elk Park for a nero day, tomorrow. He has 3 resupply boxes waiting for him there since we had to bump boxes up a couple spots due to the post offices being closed while he is there. Luckily the tramily will all be staying in town as well so if he has too much food to carry some of his tramily will likely need food.

#38: Clyde Smith Shelter

Jesse’s day ended at mile 370.4 and at an elevation of 4487. Jesse forgot to refill his water at 2 different stops with a water source and ran out of water before reaching shelter. He got a bit dehydrated which caused his legs to really ache. When he finally got to this shelter the water source was a small distance away. He also was hiking along and day dreaming and fell on a rock. His knee was sore and a bit banged up. Tooth is bearable. He is really starting to put in some miles. Very bad day for getting a signal to call. Our conversation was pretty brief.

#37: Beauty Spot Gap

feels like you can touch heaven from here

The tramily picked this clearing to stop for the night. With better weather and a wide space with a gorgeous view they couldn’t have picked a better spot. Made for a bit shorter day with the day ending at mile 356.0 and at an elevation of 4321. But,they had several more hours of daylight to set up camp and enjoy the day. One of the girls that has been walking with them is from North Carolina. Her partner was meeting up with them here for a bit more trail magic.

the gathering begins

As you can see, the trail attracts folks from all walks of life, all age groups and there seems to be a record number of women hiking this year. Some folks have no time limit and are just enjoying the experience slowly. Others, due to life commitments are more strict in the miles they put in a day. And then there are people like Karel Sabbe from Belgium who set a world record last year by hiking the AT in just 41 days, 7 hours and 39 minutes. And not only do folks bring their dogs along but there is a girl I have been following who is carrying her cat.

The weather he is dealing with seems to be about what we have been getting here in Ohio. A few warm days followed by a couple chilly rainy days, rinse and repeat. The next few days look to be pretty nice. In the next week and a half Jesse will hit a couple more milestones. He’ll hit the 400 mile mark and he’ll have finished 3 states after flip flopping back and forth between North Carolina and Tennessee for some time now.

Jesse is having a rough time getting to post offices to pick up food packages from us. The last one was closed for the Easter holidays and I had to call and bump the packages to the next spot. That next spot was Erwin. Well, the post office is closed from 12-1 for lunch. No problem right? He gets there and they are closed from 9-11 that morning for some reason. So, I now have to call and bump the package again. We were told they would only bump a box once but word on the trail is they will do it again as long as the box isn’t opened. Sooooo….Jesse will have THREE boxes sitting in Elk Park. Obviously we need to switch the way we are sending boxes and start sending them to hostels and not post offices. These little trail towns with a population of 500 have their own kinda hours. A bit stressful for all of us and Jesse is having to use his funds to resupply food where he is missing boxes. Next box I send out I will call a hostel a week ahead of time and ensure they will accept a package and have longer hours.

I started up an Instagram for Jesse and sent him all his sign in information. With spotty service he’ll only be able to download the app and then access it occasionally. But, I have been working to add all the thru-hikers for the year that I can. Not only will he be able to look back through it and see places and people he knows, but I am able to watch ahead and behind him. There are a couple points in Virginia that I am super excited for him to get to. I can also keep track of some of his friends who he gets separated from to let him know where they are at. And I can let him know that he got through an area right before floods and snow. (both have occurred) And I get very emotional when I see a hiker who has to leave the trail due to injury. I can see the pain in their eyes and hear it in their voices as they thank everyone for their support before they head home. The fact that they said “screw it,I think I’m going to climb up and down mountains for 2,000+miles ” is amazing in itself. They have dared to do what many only dream of. So whether they make it 2,000 or 200 miles, damn it they went for their dream in a big way. There is NO shame in that game!

#36: Curley Maple Gap Shelter

Jesse did some back tracking to hike the 10 miles he missed and added a few more miles to his day to catch back up with the tramily. He ended his day at mile 348.5 at an elevation of 3039.

The gang got some wonderful trail magic the night before with a feast of crab boil and a cooler full of beer. With food like that being offered up that had to be a tough area to leave.

now THIS is magical!
Hail,Hail,The gangs all here….

Erwin really filled up with cold and water logged hikers. But the camaraderie was excellent and he really enjoyed hanging out and listening to all the stories. They grabbed some bikes and rode around town a bit as well.

Only downside to the day was a miserable toothache. The tooth had been abscessed before he left but took antibiotics with the intention of going back and having the tooth pulled before the trip. But,he got busy working lots of overtime to save for the trip and it just didn’t get done. Now,without insurance, he is trying to control the pain and try to avoid more infection until we can get something done. I am trying to find a clinic or dental school along the trail that may have affordable rates.

#35: Zero day in Erwin

The weather is rainy and cold and atweather.org is reporting wind advisories so everyone has decided to stay put. Time is not an issue for Jesse so it’s better to enjoy the experience rather than having to hike in misery.

Jesse is enjoying the hostels. Fellow hikers have time to hang out and bond. In a hotel room you just watch tv and lay in bed. There is a group that painted a mural on the side of a building. Reminds me of the beautiful murals you can find down in Yellow Springs. Jesse is definitely talking a lot about going back and working at a hostel. Running a shuttle for hikers. Something involving the trail. I became very aware of the draw for Jesse very early on in this journey. It’s the spot where his soul has found contentment.

We were discussing hiker hunger. On the trail a 5 day supply of food is lasting him just 3 days now. And when he gets off the trail his body is demanding lots of food and calories. Last night he ate 3 medium pizzas himself! He said he’ll go to a restaurant . order a meal and then the waitress brings him a check. He said “Oh no, I have 2 more meals to eat!” This was something he just couldn’t plan for. That and hostel stays. Added but necessary expenses to keep the moral up and the body happy. There are some hostels along the AT that allow hikers to work for their stay and some can work for a week if they run low on funds. That is a nice option to have.

There is a guy who knows how to forage and Jesse is learning what ramps and fiddleheads look and taste like. He also found puffball mushrooms. I told Jesse how to make pizza using the puffball slices as the “crust”. Those are a huge hit at camp and bring out the best flavors of the mushroom. I’m glad he is learning a bit about foraging. I had hoped Glen Helen would have had a workshop on foraging but I never saw one scheduled. Besides food there are so many plants with medicinal purposes. With so many look alikes that are bad it’s not something you want to learn casually.

The weather looks to be improving in the next few days so he’ll be back on the trail putting down miles tomorrow. The terrain is much friendlier along this stretch so his milage should increase gradually in the coming weeks.

I’m hoping he’ll be sending a few more pictures before he heads back out. If so I’ll add those to this post as I receive them. He has his phone and he has a prepaid phone. Usually if one isn’t working he has some luck with the other. And, as always,he really appreciates the support from everyone. It really means so much to him.

#34: A little flip flopping and Erwin

Uncle Johnny’s

Jesse slack packed today and put down about 15 miles. He caught up with the Hiking Vikings at Uncle Johnny’s Hostel and Outfitter in Erwin. He skipped a 10 mile section so he could get to the post office to pick up a couple supply boxes in Erwin. He will slackpack back ten miles to complete the section he skipped.

Jesse said the vikings were getting a late start and are planning a short 5 mile day tomorrow so Jesse will be able to catch back up with them if not tomorrow then the next day. ( the plan is to hike 15 miles tomorrow and meet up with the Vikings at Curley Maple Gap Shelter at mile 348.5) Skunk,Slim and Cowboy are behind Jesse. They will all likely catch up with each other by this weekend. Storms rolling through tomorrow are looking a tad bit rough. Jesse says setting up camp on the top of a mountain during a thunderstorm is loud and miserable. A little close for comfort. He also reports he lost his pack cover that shields his pack from rain. If he doesn’t spot one at a reasonable price at an outfitter I will have to order one online and ship it to him. For now he has improvised with what he has in hopes of keeping his pack from getting soaked in the upcoming storms.

Jesse was headed to the post office and library to get a power of attorney printed out (the tags on his van expired on his birthday while he was on the trail) and then he’s heading to a Mexican Restaurant in town to put on some calories. He also mentioned they have bikes you can rent to get around town. He was planning on renting one because he thought that would be a fun change.

The terrain is much easier to hike through this section. After the Smoky’s this is a wonderful change. He said he wished there was a sign when he exited the Smoky’s so he could have taken a pic of him in front of it giving it the bird. Needless to say, I wouldn’t expect to see pics of the Smoky’s in any of his highlight reels.

I was mentioning to Jesse about the wild horses ahead in Virginia and that I was surprised it was snowing in that area of Virginia. He said there is snow in front and behind him as well as flooding in Hot Springs and Gaitlinburg which caused a 2 mile detour around a section of the AT. The ones choosing not to detour are hiking in what looks like a moving river. So,it sounds like Jesse is in a pretty good spot on the trail.

UPDATE: With rain coming the vikings have decided to stay another night. So Jesse will hike tomorrow and end up back at the hostel with them. He called and is enjoying a couple beers and some serious tom foolery. Sounds like he’s having a fantastic day. I believe the whole gang will be together very soon.

#33:Laurel Hostel

Life is so bright I need shades!

Jesse ended his day at mile 311.5 and at an elevation of 2928. He messaged me about this place before eventually sending me a video. This place is run by hippies who were formerly part of The Rainbow Family. The place was definitely laid back. The owners are former thru-hikers and brothers. And it is pretty much a shed but clean and roomy enough. A couple told Jesse to pass on this place because it was “hillbilly hell”. Jesse said “hillbilly hell sounds right up my alley”! And if by Hillbilly Hell they meant a fridge stocked with PBR and frozen pizzas than they nailed it!! He had a great time hanging out and he had the whole shed/hostel to himself. They exchanged phone numbers and one of the owners is going to let Jesse slack pack for 12 miles tomorrow at no charge. They will meet him with his pack close to the Bald Mountain Shelter. That will help him make some good time and allow him to put down quite a few miles before dealing with more rain.

another milestone!

Jesse hit another milestone….he hit the 300 mile mark. It was a beautiful,warm day. Jesse said it feels great wearing shorts.

This was the shelter the machete guys reign of terror began..mile 301.8

Jesse reports that this is where “sovereign” lost it. His log book that he burned and some of his belongings are still there. He then moved on to “Hillbilly Hell” where he totally flipped out and was kicked out. The thought crossed my mind (Momma) that the man was mentally ill. Many suspect that it had to do with 4/20 and a very bad acid trip. Last word was one of his charges was a possession charge. Lesson for the day: don’t take the brown acid kids.

Jesse was able to send me a lot of pics so I’m posting them all here. I will post locations under pics if I know the exact area he was in. A job that isn’t always easy due to spotty communication abilities and a bunch of pics getting uploaded all at once after a couple weeks. The fact he is spending most of his time experiencing and not just standing behind a lens is a very good thing. This is,after all, a once in a lifetime experience!

The trail is turning green again!
This view is why Jesse stops hiking mid-afternoon. He can set up his tent,gather wood for a fire, get his food ready and then just sit and wait for the light show.
sitting on top of the world!

Skunk and Jesse on top of the Rich Mountain Lookout Tower…mile 283.2. They camped below it for the night.

Jesse had to endure some legit rock climbing the last 3 miles of his day. Jesse said it was fun but his knees are feeling it.

exiting the mountain

Jesse is having a great time meeting new people and hearing their stories. Not only the thru-hikers but the people who make a living one way or another off the AT. He is definitely feeling a connection with the AT and I can see him returning to the area to live and work. his heart is full and he is so joyful!

#32: Jones Meadow

jesse’s afternoon view.

Jesse was able to contact me for a few minutes today. The weather is gorgeous and he’s been putting down some good miles. His day ended at Jones Meadow at mile 297.1 and at an altitude of 4460. That’s 13.9 miles. A very respectable pace. Jesse and Skunk added Slim and Cowboy to their trailmily after meeting them at the hostel in Hot Springs.

We discussed the man with a machete and he said that he is not a thru-hiker. There are a lot of homeless people living on the trail. They take items from hiker boxes (boxes set up for hikers to drop items they don’t need or want for other hikers to take) that they need and depend on trail magic people to feed them. He said it’s a pretty large community of homeless.

Teresa had asked him about his weight. At around the 1 month mark he had lost 7 pounds but after a couple zero days of eating a lot of food he gained 3 pounds back. That is great to hear. Jesse is pretty slim as is. He’s can’t afford to lose the average 30 pounds.

His tastes are changing as he hikes and I’m certain he will never eat oatmeal ever again after this. Grandma hooked him up with some dried blueberries coated in yogurt and he loves them so I’ll be keeping my eye out for more of that type item. I found some mini logs of salami and summer sausage today at Stite’s as well as Carnation Breakfast drinks so those are going in the next box I send. His day eating is mainly jerky,cheese sticks,snickers, energy bars, gummy and fruit chews and snacky stuff like that. It’s just too much of a hassle to break out the cooking gear mid-hike. So, his dried food he prepared are being sent for dinners only and I add a couple breakfast meals for days when he is not in a huge hurry to get packed up and going again.

I am using the AT weather app (atweather.org) to keep track of weather ahead of him. I select the trail,the state and the shelter and I get accurate weather reports. He has a couple dry days before the rain comes again.

I am following a number of 2019 thru-hikers which not only keeps me connected with his journey but I can see what’s ahead as well as being able to report back to him about fellow hikers. The saddest thing to read is when a fellow hiker gets an injury that ends their journey. Jesse reports that a lot of hikers are dropping off the trail, as a large majority of the hikers who attempt the entire trail do, but when they have to drop out for an injury it’s especially sad. I hope they are able to heal properly and return to try again.

There is an area in Virginia where there are wild horses. Jesse is going to absolutely love that! It’s always good to have something new and exciting ahead to look forward to.

#31:Rich Mountain Lookout Tower

Lookout Tower

view from the tower

Jesse and Skunk set out from Hot Springs this morning at mile marker 274.9 and decided to stop and set up tent by the fire tower at mile marker 283.2 and at an elevation of 3506. The weather is cool and things are still wet but sunshine is just around the corner.

Jesse and Skunk got a much needed break from their packs. Skunk’s Dad picked up their packs and is meeting them at their next stop. This is called slack packing. With 30 some pounds on his back all the time this was a nice relief and he was able to hike longer than usual.

Jesse is avoiding shelters in this sections for several reasons. #1 reason is a number of hikers are sick with giardia which is a parasite. This occurs when people urinate or defecate too close to a water source. Although hikers are filtering their water the filters can not filter out parasites. I am assuming this was an issue in the Smoky’s where so many day and section hikers were who didn’t know better.#2 reason: Several hikers have had their bags stolen. This is extremely disappointing to hear because thru-hikers are family. A shelter full of thru-hikers should be a safe zone. #3: There are reports of a man threatening people with a machete. The thought is he is living off the land and clearly is suffering from some mental illness. So, he will not be staying at any shelters in this stretch but rather setting up camp along the way.

UPDATE: this is the link I was sent concerning the guy with the machete:https://www.facebook.com/michael.k.hensley.9/posts/10211092939279142