When I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2013 I spent six nights in Erwin. The small, northeast Tennessee town, tucked between I-26 and the Unaka Mountains, provides the perfect setting for a slack packing base. As I mention in both of my books, I stayed so long in Erwin that I did my laundry twice and even got a massage. I would have duplicated the massage yesterday; however, the therapist supposedly departed for parts unknown and a replacement has not been found. My ailing back had to settle for ice packs and ibuprofen.
Back in 2013 I chose the Super 8 as my home away from home. I’m here again. Even though I did take one day off while here (the second on my journey to Maine), I hiked five days, returning to the same room every night. From Devil Fork Gap, about 35 miles south of Erwin, to Carvers Gap, about 35 miles north of town, I spent every night in a bed. Each of the aforementioned trail heads is in proximity to a paved road and provides ample parking for several cars. This is one of the easiest sections of the entire A.T. to hike using the Don’s Brother Method (road to road hiking).
After my fall yesterday I was not certain that I would be able to go today. Since Dynamite decided that she didn’t really want to slog along a slippery trail, I never had to make the decision. So instead of hiking, I checked out the severity of my “injury” with a 4 mile run around Erwin. At about a 10:00-10:30 mile pace, all went well. I felt like I could have hiked even though my back is a little stiff and sore. Other than being somewhat “stoved up,” as my grandmother would have said, I’m fine. While running along Main Street, I even located some possible places to partake of a meal later in the day. The Choo-Choo Cafe looked like a good spot.
Around noon May and I ventured back into town for lunch. After reading a sign on the glass door of the Choo-Choo, “On vacation; back on Thursday,” we walked farther down the block to the Clinchfield Drug Co. A pharmacy from another era, the establishment sports a lunch counter with authentic stools that looked as if they had been around since the 50s. My hiking buddy and I both selected the daily special: Hamburger steaks, fresh mashed potatoes, green beans, and a toasted roll. The meal even came with iced tea and dessert. I chose the Mounds yum-yum; May tried the Butterfinger. Each complete meal set us back $5.95 plus tax. I would highly recommend this nostalgic dining experience if you ever find yourself hungry at exit 36 off I-26.
With our lunch complete, May and I walked through the rain back to my parked car on Main St. Noticing several porcelain elephants, May wondered what significance the paciderm has to Erwin. Upon doing a little investigation, I discovered that the only elephant execution on record in Tennessee occurred in Erwin. Apparently an unruly critter, Mary, killed her handler one day in neighboring Kingsport and was given the death sentence. With its large railroad yard, Erwin seemed like a suitable location for Mary to meet her demise. Supposedly a couple of thousand people witnessed the event even though townspeople were not in favor of the verdict. Now a festival is held each year in Erwin with proceeds donated to an elephant habitat. You just have to love “small town America.”
The plan for tomorrow is to hike. May and I will return to the trail at Spivey Gap and make our way north to the Nolichucky River, the closest trailhead to the town itself. The forecast is again for rain with potential storms. If it looks dangerous, Dynamite might decide to alter her plans. Hey, I’m just here to support my friend for a few days. When I thru-hiked I wanted to make the decisions. In this role I’m fine with her making the calls. I want to hike, so I hope the weather cooperates. If it doesn’t, perhaps I’ll go on a small scale book selling expedition. Either way will be fine. After all, I’m getting to hang out near the Appalachian Trail.