Uncle Johnny's Nolichucky Hostel

June 1 & 2

Uncle Johnny's Nolichucky Hostel, Erwin, TN

Greasy Creek Friendly Hostel to Beauty Spot Gap, 12.5 miles

Cee Cee fixed me eggs over easy and toast, plus fresh fruit and berries served in a parfait glass with whipped cream on top. After breakfast, I topped off my denatured alcohol bottle and put two days of food rations in my pack that had been waiting in my mail drop. I walked half a mile back to the trail at Greasy Creek Gap and then another seven miles to Cherry Gap Shelter where I stopped for lunch—chili topped with cheddar-flavored goldfish. A box turtle near the shelter was munching his lunch—a black-and-yellow millipede. He dropped it and pulled back inside his shell when I took his picture. Several backpackers were there eating lunch, bringing a little cheer to the brown cinder block shelter. One young man ate a bowl of Cocoa Krispies and cookies. The Cocoa Kid beat me to the spring and washed out his bowl. Apparently, he did not know that he should Leave No Trace of milk and Cocoa Krispies in the water source. I waited a few minutes to filter water.

After lunch, I ascended steeply over the next few miles to the top of Unaka Mountain. The walk over the summit meandered through meadows with views of evergreens sloping down and endless waves of blue-gray mountains rolling away. The sky at the horizon was nearly the same light shade of blue as the last mountain. The trail through the grassy areas was well worn, but just in case, white blazes were painted on metal posts to show the way.

A mile later, after a steep descent, I reached a camping area just below Beauty Spot Gap. Picnic Basket and Uconn, a couple of nice guys from New Jersey, were tenting there and had a fire going. After filtering water from a piped spring, I set up my tarp between two trees and then went over to cook supper with them—tuna-fish casserole, a side of asparagus and mushrooms with cheese sauce, and banana-nut bread pudding for dessert. It was dark by the time I hung my food bag from a tree, so I got settled under the tarp with my headlamp on and wrote in my journal until moths started landing on my eyebrows.

Beauty Spot Gap to Uncle Johnny’s Nolichucky Hostel, Erwin, TN, 10.8 miles

I ate pumpkin-pie bark for breakfast—goes in like a chip and down like pie, no cooking required. The guys from New Jersey gave me a cup of coffee, and I got an early start. A corridor of grass, blackberry shoots, and stalky weeds with yellow flowers lined the half mile of trail leading up to the grassy bald at Beauty Spot Gap. It would have been a nice spot to camp and watch a sunset and sunrise over the mountains. There was a ring of charred rocks showing where others had camped. Unfortunately, they left food packaging behind—expecting the next campers to burn it rather than pack it out themselves.

The next seven miles to Curley Maple Gap Shelter were mostly downhill but strewn with rocks and roots. It’s hard to look up with an obstacle course underfoot. The air was hot, humid, and breezeless. I stopped and pumped water twice from streams before arriving at Curley Maple Gap Shelter to cook lunch—bean-bark stew.

The trail continued downhill for another three miles in close proximity to Jones Branch. I crossed the stream eleven times on the way to the Nolichucky River. Lush ferns grew in the moist drainage channel, as did mountain laurel, occasionally curling over my head into tunnel-like passages. The mountain laurel was freshly bloomed—the ten spring-loaded stamens inside each white parachute-shaped flower had yet to be sprung by pollinating bumblebees. After descending one more mile, I crossed the bridge over the Nolichucky River and walked a short ways to Uncle Johnny’s Nolichucky Hostel.

I had hurried the last mile to reach Johnny’s in time for the supper shuttle into town, but I was too tired to go when I got there. A group of thru-hikers sat at the table on the front deck. They had extra food from a convenience store and offered me as much as I wanted. I selected a ham-and-cheese sandwich and two corn dogs. In addition to that, I downed a Gatorade, a Yoo-hoo, and one of Johnny’s famous forty-cent Snickers bars. Beer lubricated the festive mood on the front deck, but I was too pooped to party. I washed clothes, took a shower, and fell into bed in a little cabin around back.