Day 11: An Unexpected Ride
Thursday, April 25, 2019 9:07 pm
Location: TN 68 / Ducktown (127.1 miles)

A plan to hike 16+ miles today did not at all go as expected, thanks to worsening back pain.

There was a tiny bit of rain overnight, but it didn’t last long, and by morning, the tent was dry again. There was almost no condensation on the inside of the rainfly, which was unexpected, given we camped next to a river.

CareFree and I again got up before 7, hoping to get an early start, and again failed due to my back pain, which had returned. I’d tried to sleep on the opposide side of my body as usual, hoping that might help reduce the strain on the one side that hurt. It didn’t really help, and I had a hard time relaxing and sleeping as well, since the tent was sloped a bit too much. I don’t think that it’s the whole cause, but I’m starting to think that my air mattress is just too soft to be comfortable for me.

Setting out, the first mile and a half of trail today was slower than usual, because of a lot of overgrown trees next to the trail. It was almost bushwhacking. That, combined with the spider webs and my back, made for an unhappy start. That mile and a half brought us to Loss Creek, our intended campsite yesterday. (I later commented that it was a good thing we stopped when we did, since doing that after a mostly full day of hiking would have been even more tiring.)

We needed to ford the creek, but we didn’t see that note in the trail guide. Instead, we continued up a side trail that went into the woods and then kind of disappeared. Eventually, we figured out what we did wrong and went back and forded the creek (getting our feet quite wet), and that probably cost us 15 minutes.

We made it to Coker Creek Camp, a distance of 2.7 miles, at 10:30, and felt so tired we needed to stop for a break and have a snack. This did not bode well for the rest of the day; we had planned 16.3 miles today, which we had to do because that was the next available campsite, and if we didn’t get that far, we weren’t likely to get where we needed tomorrow either. An average pace of 2 mph (including breaks) after that would put us at our destination at 6:30 pm, at best.

After leaving the camp, we made a little better time to the next road crossing, TN 68, hiking 4.2 miles in just under two hours. At the road, I initially wanted to stop and sit down for a few minutes — just a short break, and then we’d be off. But my back hurt so much, we decided the best course of action was to try and hitch a ride to Tellico Plains and hope we could check in to our lodge reservation two days early.

After half an hour of standing on the hard gravel roadbed next to the highway trying to hitch a ride, no one going in the direction of Tellico Plains was willing to stop and pick us up. Then, a cop car saw us and pulled over. After hearing our story, he offered to give us a ride; he couldn’t take us to Tellico Plains since that was too far out of his jurisdiction (the county line actually wasn’t very far from where we were), but he could take us to Ducktown, an even smaller town which was about the same distance in the opposite direction. It was very much less than ideal, but we figured we’d be able to at least rest up tonight and figure out alternatives tomorrow. (It was also not lost on us that this was the 11th day of our hike, and usually we’d have had a zero by this point. We did have a short day into Blue Ridge, but that doesn’t really count, so we really needed the break.) Thank you, Polk County Officer Barnes for getting us to a motel!

We checked into a motel in Ducktown. We’d hoped that we might have the option to stay two nights, but there was only a room available for tonight. So we’ll somehow have to get out of town tomorrow. But, that’s a problem for another day.

We got showers, and walked to the local pizza place, Copper Station. The pizza there was fantastic. After that, we went back to the motel and relaxed for the rest of the evening.