BLOG NOTE: for the smokies, I had to conserve my phone battery over 5.5 days, so I cut down on the terrain commentary because dictating into my phone consumes a lot of battery power. More pictures and slightly less exposition about going up and down and up and down hills!
I had a Short but good night of sleep. Right before bed, I whined to Oakland about my guthook app which, as I mentioned, has lost all of the user comments. She kindly offered to text screenshots of the comments to me until I get through the smokies and can deal with the issue in hot springs. I stayed up far too late obsessing over the app and trying to upload another blog post. I’m still behind myself but I managed to get 4 days posted.
I got up around 7 and entered the social fray for Breakfast. We ate with Rod and Mary Beth, two non hiking b&b guests. I ate too much because I had to finish the yogurt & banana I bought at the store yesterday (banana!) and I decided to eat a waffle and a piece of sausage. Fuel for the hill we have to walk up! But mostly it made me feel sluggish.
Jess and I gathered our belongings and were standing around waiting for Jeff by about 8:45. We finally Left around nine after waiting for Jeff to rip himself away from fussing with maps for the b&b guests. We were standing in the living room with our packs on when he pulled out yet another map for them. I exclaimed that I would just sit down to wait, which made Cynthia and Jess laugh. Cynthia gave us hugs and ordered me to send a postcard from katahdin. On the ride back to Fontana dam, Jeff stopped in the middle of the road and opened his car door to pick up an empty ice bag. Great idea picking up litter, but maybe next time not in the middle of a two lane highway?? He Dropped us off at the dam around 9:30. I thanked him for everything and silently hoped to never ride in a car with him again.
I made a quick stop at the bathroom by the visitor center to pee one more time while Jess kindly waited with the bags. We finally got on our way and walked across the dam together. It made me a little sick to look down all the way to the pump house. Maybe leftover car sickness? It was a pretty amazing view though.
Across the dam we took a right turn and passed a very unimpressive sign indicating that we had entered great smoky mountains national park:
Then came another 3/4 of a mile road walk that I could not get off of fast enough. We moved on and off the shoulder of the road depending on how tall the grass was. I asked Jess whether she preferred donuts or cupcakes. As it turns out, we are Both emphatically donut people. We Finally took a left turn into the woods where we had to stop and tear off the bottom portion of our permit to put in the registration box.
Within minutes, sweat was pouring down my nose and dripping from my temples. The trail wasn’t especially steep but it was very humid and my bag was heavy because I had about 5 1/2 days of food in it. There were switchbacks mixed in with longer gradual climbs. I heard a noise up above me to the right and saw a monotone color. My brain had to work hard to recognize it as blue of a hiker backpack and not the brown of a bear. It turned out to be dizzy and brownie who were stopped talking to a ridge runner named David.
I hung out for a minute or two and then decided I needed to keep moving because I am familiar with how much brownie can talk and my priority was to keep my feet moving. Standing in one place is a fastrack to sorer feet for me.
The trail gained elevation I found myself in a misty forest, squelching my way over clumps of saturated leaves that were the result of two days have heavy rain washing down the trail. I heard a Very insistent of oven bird off to my left. I passed through the Occasional flat stretch amongst the climbing and rolling hills. I felt Very grateful that it wasn’t pouring at that moment. Thus far there had only been passing blips of rain that hadn’t amounted to much.
I Came to a little stream decided to top off my water and drink a bit more since the sources are somewhat spread apart today. Here’s a pano shot to give you an idea of the curves (I’m standing at the top of the curve by the stream):
I pulled my phone out of airplane and received a number of supportive text from my mom And Oakland. Then back into airplane mode and onward up the hill. There were Rolling to flat stretches for a little while. I took the time to look around at the bright green forest. Occasionally there were bits of tulip tree blossoms strewn across the trail that looked like broken balloon pieces. I could just make out a bit of the surrounding mountains through the trees and fog to my left.
I passed an unexpected water source flowing over trailside rocks, saw a new flower, and then had to go over a pretty big blowdown. I chose the lower path and it was fine even for my short legs.
Right around the corner I came to a rocky overlook that would’ve been a nice place to have lunch had it not been for the slight drizzle and my wet shirt. I rounded a corner to find a small overlook with rocks that were peppered with a gangly tiny white flower that I first saw high on a mountain in Georgia.
I passed over another unmarked water source. I suppose there will be plenty of those today given all the rain. I eventually came to a side trail for the Shuckstack fire tower. There were a handful of backpackers standing around, trying to decide whether it was worth it to head up the side trail for the view. I went for it, and regretfully decided to bring my pack because I didn’t want to leave it unattended for a sneaky bear. I passed a guy coming down from the side trail asked him if he had seen anything. He seemed confused and gruff. I asked him again if he had seen any view on the fire tower. As it turns out he had unintentionally gone up the side trail and hadn’t gone up into the tower.
As I set my pack down at the base of the tower, two of the men I had seen in the debating group came out of the woods. We all went up the old wooden tower with questionable handrails and got a bit of a view (today’s top picture and the next picture) before it fogged over and began to rain.
I scurried back down the rickety tower before I got soaked by the passing rain cloud. I slowly made my way back down to the main trail, passing this new purple on the way there:
Shortly after getting back on the AT, I ran into Brownie and Dizzy. We walked near each other for a few minutes before I pulled ahead.
I came upon Jess sitting on a log and decided to Stop for lunch, which consisted mostly of snacks because I wanted to get moving again before the rain returned. Brownie and Dizzy joined us shortly after I sat down. My hands started to get pretty cold, so I said my goodbyes and moved on to the soundtrack of woodpeckers and birdsong filtering through the tree canopy alongside the constant patter of moisture dropping from leaves around me.
The temperature was hard to manage in terms of wardrobe. I didn’t want to be soaked by a passing rain, but it was also a little too humid to wear my raincoat up the frequent climbs. Inertia left me wearing my raincoat as I made my way through the woods. I passed the elusive balloon flower.
I Realized a bit too late that I should have popped it and packed it out in my trash. Then came a nice flat stretch followed by more rolling Hills covered in Painted trillium and ferns and the occasional patch of soggy bluets.
I Wound my way through the woods thinking about shelter space and how strange this whole thing is to walk every day carrying everything you need on your back solely for the purpose of moving from one place to the next. I Saw a new bird that had stripes on its back towards the wings and a white ring around its eye with an overall dark color. I Heard another new bird that had a video game-like chime first going up and going down with tones that were maybe a half step off of each other. Every now and then the sky brightened. My mid back was achy from the extra weight and I was itching to go past the first shelter, but I forced myself to let go of that plan. Extra miles today do absolutely nothing for my bigger picture schedule because of the shelter closure.
About three miles before mollies Ridge, I stopped and ate another snack near a silent hiker who sat on a different log. I didn’t make any attempt to talk to him because I was cold and didn’t feel like it. I’d seen him at the fire tower and he was gruff then, so I made no effort for him. The trail was either flat or more down for a while with very saturated the sections that made my feet Slip a few inches here and there with some of my heel plants. I’ve been a bit on edge all day because I’m worried about stumbling upon a bear or worse, bear Cubs. Just about every noise makes me look around. The big toe on my right foot is pretty achy today for whatever reason. I tried not to be aggravated that I had taken a day and a half off and something still hurt.
I Walked along pretty flat stretch that had a high bank on the left and a steep sloping bank to the right with what would’ve been views of the mountains if it weren’t for the fog. The forest opened back up and the trail took a steady downward trend. It Finally flattened out and became bit muddy. At some point, I removed my raincoat because I was too worried about getting sweaty and subsequently very cold. I arrived at an intersection with a side trail to water and was stopped in my tracks by the incredibly loud sound of a woodpecker high in the trees.
I stood taking a picture of an inchworm that was on my arm when the ratatat came from almost directly overhead and made me jump again. With less than an hour to go, most of that time being uphill, I decided to skip the water to avoid the extra weight.
There was a Passing rain shower for which I didn’t bother putting on my raincoat because of the incline. I was generating plenty of body heat to stay warm. I saw a somewhat full version of the blossom that was all over the trail earlier.
Speaking of things on the trail, I also saw horse manure earlier. I continued to climb and take what seemed to be wraparound corners like the trail was coiling in on itself. I stopped to take my pack off for a minute and ate the rest of the fruit snack packet. I don’t think my lunch was big enough but it feels too late to sit and eat now, so I pushed onward.
I startled at the sound of plastic rustling and looked up to see the section hiker sitting on a log eating a snack. I was about to say “I thought you were a bear!” When my feet caught a stick and I pitched forward. My knee and palms partially caught my fall, as did my right temple, but it hit a soft part of the ground. I righted myself on my butt and the hiker walked towards me asking if I was okay. I told him I just needed to sit there for a minute and he went back to his log. I checked my faculties and brushed off the dirt, feeling slightly embarrassed but mostly just grateful to have not hurt myself. As I stood up I said, well that was graceful! The section hiker grunted in my direction and went up the trail. I followed shortly behind him. My uphill pace was faster than his, but I didn’t want the pressure of staying in front of him, so I went slowly. To my relief, he pulled off to the side for something in his pack and I pulled ahead. About 4 minutes later, I saw the shelter just to the side of the trail. A man stood at a hitching post (I guess horses are a thing here) washing mud off his tent. I said hello and surveyed the small double decker shelter. The bottom layer has small wooden dividers which I’ve never seen but which are useful for corralling the man-spreading. I picked a spot towards the left half, not too far in the corner but not right next to the only guy here. I pulled out my pad and threw it down without inflating it. Then I pulled out a bunch of other shelter specific items and hung my pack on one of the giant nails on the eaves of the shelter.
It started pouring as I sat in the “kitchen” area. I felt bad for Jess, dizzy and brownie who were stuck in the downpour. Jess showed up first and came in smiling at the ridiculousness of being soaked. We commiserated over the rain and she collected herself. I went to make a short phone call to Oakland. It’s a battery splurge but I did pretty well today in airplane mode. She tried out new trail shoes on a hike in redwood today because our current shoe model have been changed for the worse in this year’s version. Of course!
As I talked to Oakland about her hike, people came rolling in, soaking wet. First josh (unexpected!), then dizzy and brownie. There are a couple of section hikers here as well. Ranger and west Texas made it around 4:30. Also Unexpected. Jess, now going by Cider, and I figured they all would have gone on to the next shelter.
I sat around updating my notes for the day and waiting for my moment to get water. The rain finally let up around 5, so a bunch of us sloshed our way down to the stream. It was a steep and soggy trip but an easy enough place to fill.
By the time I got done with water, I was soggy again, so I blew up my sleeping pad and changed into my long Johns in my sleeping bag. Cider and brownie went “ass out,” as did west Texas. In other words, everyone just tries to look away and you change in public. I’m sleeping next to brownie and dizzy who are attempting to take up one sectioned off floor space for two people. We’ll see how that goes.
Next came dinner! People clustered in phases in the kitchen space to prepare their meals. I had black beans and rice with one of the small tortillas I didn’t eat for lunch and part of a Twix bar for dessert. I alternated between sitting and standing around. My hands were close to being numb but managed to never quite go over the edge of horrible. Brownie and dizzy are always the last to eat because their elaborate dehydrated meals take awhile to prep, but they smell good!
After dinner came the dental routine and hanging food bags on bear cables. I’ve only used them a couple of times during my 2017 hike so it was a clumsy process. Cider had the good suggestion to clip my carabiner to the cord itself rather than looping it over the hooks provided, so I went back and rearranged it. The bears around here are pesky and very habituated to food hanging procedures, so they know how to shake bags off the cable hools.
I wandered down into the “toilet area” to pee. I’m embarrassed by my pee rag because I haven’t seen anyone else using one but i refuse to use toilet paper that many times a day. Speaking of which, next came the nightly pee timing dance. My shoes are wet, which makes it all the more exciting (read: onerous) to get up in the middle of the night.
I’m finishing this to the sound of a section hiker snoring on the 2nd level (it’s 7:10pm by the way), josh talking about his pillow leaking air, Jess griping about the strings on her jacket, brownie fussing with her bear canister (they’re required to be hung on cables in the smokies), and late-comers laughing over in the cooking area. They apparently saw 2 bears and a wild boar not far from here. Did I forget to mention the wild boar? Yay!
Nighttime update: it is pouring again! the upside being maybe now I won’t have to listen to other people’s snoring.
Mile 166.3 to mile 177.7 (11.4)
Total miles: 186.1
Creature feature: the new bird! But not much else in light of rainy patches.