Day 25 is winding down – I holed up at a tentsite near Standing Bear Farm Hostel in Hartford, TN. I’m tenting by myself for the first time, which is a little scary but I think will be good for me. I’ve got my knife right next to me which is presently serving as a bit of a safety blanket. Couldn’t do another night in the hostel.
Today is 4/20 and the Hiker Bash is in full effect at the hostel. Just in case you keep more respectable company than myself and are unawares, April 20 is an annual celebration for marijuana smokers every where. So the crowd at the hostel is mostly stoned, almost certainly including the proprietors and probably Biscuit the miniature Rotweiler and especially the cat.
But back to the trail. The last time I checked in I was in Fontana Dam, NC at the southern edge of the Smokies. Alyson and Brad met up with me at the shelter there. At the moment I was sitting on the beach playing Hot Coo (sp? — a game that involves passing a hot coal around a circle… Like hot potato but with coals) and had just witnessed Water Boy, Eastwood, and Shakespeare drunkenly Skinny polar bear into Fontana Lake. When they wandered up I believe Shakespeare was still dancing to Eye of the Tiger in his underpants. Needless to say, it wouldn’t appear that this promised to be the beginning of a spiritual journey for any of the parties involved. I have a video of this I am unbelievably tempted to post but will probably not… If I do it is not suitable for work.
Alright, the Smokies. Day 1 was a big uphill climb out of Fontana. I felt really strong and was surprised by how well Alyson and Brad did considering the 3000 or so foot elevation gain. We got to Mollies Ridge shelter around 6 and ate a delicious dinner that Brad hauled in …. Steak, potatoes, bratwurst, awesome! It was an unbelievably windy night with tents and rainflys flapping noisily.
Day 2 we hiked over some really nice balds and unfortunately Alyson strained her ankle and spent the next day and a half slowly and steadily conquering the remaining miles.
Day 3 we got to Clingmans Dome, the highest point on the AT. Alyson drove Sweet Spot and I into Cherokee (21 miles east) and said our goodbyes. I resupplied on cigarettes and hitched back to Clingmans. I thought I was going to have all the way back after the first discouraging mile but ultimately I got picked up by the Riggs, two 70 something brothers who were helicopter pilots from Sevierville, TN. They gave me their Big Mac meal which I devoured and dropped me at Newfound Gap, the mid point on the road to Gatlinburg that intersects the AT. I hitched up to Clingmans with a nice couple from Wisconsin. Four miles and made it to Mt Collins shelter which was beautiful and nestled in a spruce forest. I found an awesome tent site in the pine needles and stayed dry despite some showers that drenched others’ tents.
Ok, the next two days it rained. The sky opened up, I walked in the rain at least 50% of the time. By rain day 2 everything in my possession was essentially drenched, I had given up trying to hopscotch around the puddles, hallucinating and slightly hypothermic, the fog swallowed every beautiful ridge line view into an abyss, I had never been happier or sadder, more alive and dead, positive or glum all at once. I realized that life is difficult but it is also beautiful, the beauty makes it worth the difficulty.
By the end of day 2 I am literally staggering over what had become of the AT, now the Appalachian River, putting one foot in front of the other, cursing God for having forsaken me (apparently I am melodramatic when wet?). But at the same time there was no past or future as if part of my brain had shut off and I was happily trodding through the rain. Cold night in shelter with everything wet except my sleeping bag and down jacket. Everyone was exhausted and crashed at about 830.
I plugged a roof leak over my head with duct tape.
The next day was all about getting out of the Smokies to eliminate the funk, get dry etc. The sun came out, life was beautiful, I didn’t even really care about getting back to civilization I was so grateful to be out of the fog. We made a brief detour to the Mt Cammerer lookout tower and then hiked for another 10 miles to Standing Bear Farm Hostel.
I took a day off today which is probably good. I’m halfway to Damascus, VA which was my goal before coming back to Nash. I have 19 miles to cover the remaining 220 miles which shouldn’t be too bad.
Miss everyone and hope I didn’t worry too many of you for being disconnected for a few days – my footprints don’t move if my phone battery is dead, Mom 🙂