We had heard once again that Fresh Ground was camped just up the trail out of Erwin about 8 miles. I had planned to stop by, smash some food and keep moving. But no luck. He convinced a few of us to camp there and keep him company. In exchange he would provide all the lunch/dinner we could eat and then all the breakfast we could eat the next morning. Say no more. Done.
I ate till I felt sick, hung around a big bonfire, and slept soundly. Since everyone had got stuck in the smokies, he hadn't had a lot of hikers at his last stop, so all his bananas were less than desirable looking. So he decided to make banana pancakes with them. Now, Fresh Ground is well known for his hot dogs, and the record for the most eaten in a single visit is on a big board. (We're talking upwards of 1,000 hot dogs in 10 days he can go through). Well, I decided to set a new record for banana pancakes. He took some convincing, but after he watched me put down 4, he let me start a new record with my name on the board. Now, I know what you're thinking...only 4?! These are not your average pancake. They fall over the edge of a standard plate and have nearly a whole banana in each one. They're filling, trust me. After that I felt terrible, but decided I needed to walk it off. Hiked all day and didn't eat again until dinner.
Hiked all day the next day and camped at a little rocky overlook, awesome sunset.
The next day's hike included Roan Mountain, which happens to be the last 6,000' peak until New Hampshire! After that, you cruise Lord of the Rings style across one bald after another, with 360 views all around. Awesome hiking. Some of my favorite thus far, and it makes me very sad it lies in Tennessee.
Decided to camp for the night on the last and steepest of the balds. It got super windy at night, but had a phenomenal sunset on one side and then an awesome sunrise on the other.
Made good time the next day, logged 20 miles by 4pm, and found a great spot by a stream and decided to give my feet some rest. It stormed pretty crazy that night, lightning, thunder, the whole works. Spent it hunkered down in my tent.
Next few days were absolutely gorgeous. Awesome hiking weather.
The last 25 or so miles into Damascus are nicknamed the "Tennessee Turnpike" because they're considered one of the easiest sections of the whole trail. I decided to put it to the test and logged 4.5 miles in just over an hour, easily double my normal speed.. Needless to say, I support the nickname.
I've also noticed in this section of a lot of seemingly random graves basically trail side. Some of them appear to have no real relation to the trail, only the area. One of the ones that stood out was that of Nick Grindstaff, who had probably the sadder epitaph ever: "lived alone, suffered alone, and died alone". So next time you're having a drink (probably about 3 minutes for Brian) raise it to ol' Nick.
8 days on the trail and 125 miles, into Damascus this morning for laundry and a seriously needed shower.
467 miles down.