Watch Your Step: NC/TN

Our stay at the Laughing Heart Hostel in Hot Springs was very warm and welcoming, especially after hiking through freezing rain that morning. Many thanks to Chuck Norris and Tigger for their hospitality and to the Hot Springs community for the pot luck dinner on Friday night.

By the next morning, the frozen rain had turned to ice on the trees. We got pelted by it the next day climbing out of Hot Springs as the weather warmed up. It felt like spring was finally breaking through in the most dramatic way. Claudia got grazed by a chunk of ice, and a large piece made me jump as it shattered on my pack. By the afternoon, it was sunny and warm, gorgeous hiking weather.

It was the first of three twenty mile days, and one that ended with an ominous note at the shelter. In a scrawl, and held down on the ground with rocks, the note relayed that people had been very sick there three days before. There was no sign of sickness and we assumed rain and animals had cleaned up the mess.

Our next night brought us to a shelter full of thru hikers recovering from the illness mentioned, doing their best to make conversation as they laid out across the shelter floor. Chin Music, a fellow thru-hiker, was talking about norovirus, saying it was most likely the culprit. Claudia confirmed that norovirus swept through this same area on the trail last year. Lady Grey told us that more people were sick up ahead in Erwin.

We finished our third twenty miler at No Business Knob Shelter, just 6 miles out of Erwin. One guy, Dave, who had been hiking the same distances as us the previous two days (sleeping in the infected shelters), was already wrapped up in his sleeping bag when we got there. He insisted he was just sick from dehydration–and then he raced from the shelter to hurl next to a tree. We had been cooking dinner, yuck.

It was too late for us. Although we hadn’t slept in shelters, shared food, or had contact with the illness besides what I mentioned above, somehow we caught it. We shook with cold sweats and fought the nausea all night and into the morning. Luckily, we didn’t get the violent vomiting that others did, but our 6 miles downhill into Erwin felt harder than any of the days before. We had planned on a quick in and out of town, but instead we got ourselves a motel room to recover. It’s a bummer to hit a town with no appetite and an achy body, but I’ll appreciate the rest and break from the trail contagions.

–Pat

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