Day 30: Uncle Johnny's Nolichucky Hostel
The next morning, I coast out of camp at 7:30 with only a few sips of water in my bottle. I passed lots of streams in the last few miles yesterday, so I plan to fill up at the next one. But the trail climbs to a ridge and then stays there as the mountain rolls downward toward the Nolichucky river. I'm low on food so my pack feels light, and I reach Uncle Johnny's hostel by 9:30, thirsty but pleased with myself for my quick pace. There's time to make it to the post office. Then, I learn that the hostel sends mail, so I didn't need to hurry at all. But it's just as well. I have the rest of the day to relax, and the weather is warm and sunny.
I like Uncle Johnny's Nolichucky Hostel. It's rustic and the bunkroom is stifling and the mattress uncomfortable, but they have plenty of room outdoors to relax, the bathrooms are nice and there are enough of them, and they provide convenient shuttles into town. They have a package from my parents: my down sleeping bag and my trail runners. The compressed 32° bag feels so light and tiny compared to the synthetic 20° one. I'm taking a bit of a gamble by swapping them so early, with the Roan Highlands and Grayson Highlands yet to come, but in town I see the weather channel on a TV. The words "This week: Record-breaking heat in the South and Mid-Atlantic" scroll along the screen, and I feel better.
In the afternoon, I go swimming in the river in my underwear. I've never been one for two-piece swimsuits and I feel acutely, painfully self-conscious of all the pasty white torso that's showing, not toned much by the 300 miles of hiking so far. But it's also nice. Here, on trail, among strangers and new friends, no one knows how out of character this is for me. Half-naked in the frigid river, I feel disguised as a more carefree, adventurous version of myself, one who is far too confident to hesitate at having fun just because someone might notice her belly. The cold water feels good on my sore joints, and when I wrap up in a towel afterwards, I'm glad that I did it.
Later, I find a white sundress in the hiker box to wear while I do laundry, and it fits so well that I decide to carry it for whenever I'm in town. In the evening, there's music and the hostel is lively, but not as wild as I've heard it can get. People begin to turn in at ten, and by eleven the only sounds are crickets and the river. At night, a cat sneaks into the bunkroom and jumps onto my bed. Startling at first, but she's sweet, and I cuddle her until I realize she's kneading my new down sleeping bag with her claws, so then I scoop her up and put her outside. Because of the stifling heat and uncomfortable "mattress" in the bunkroom, I wouldn't pay to stay in the hostel at Uncle Johnny's again, but I would camp there in good weather, and I leave feeling fond of the place.