342 miles on the AT – Erwin, TN
Mile 342, and what a whirlwind it has been.
The last few weeks have been up and down, both literally and figuratively.
The Great Smoky National Park had it all. Spring flowers, rain, blizzards, views, sunburns.
My first day was particularly beautiful. After accomplishing the first major ascent, I was greeted by spring flowers covering the floor. They almost seemed to sparkle. It was the most magnificent display of spring I’ve ever seen.
In the days that followed, the weather turned sour and it began to rain. I hiked in my first thunderstorm of the trail and it was terrifying and magical, all at the same time.
Blizzard? No thanks.
The rain was followed by a blizzard and I was reminded, once again, that none of my gear is rated for freezing temps.
I decided I would hike to Clingman’s Dome asap (the highest point on the entire AT sitting at 6,644 ft in elevation) and then hitch a ride to Gatlinburg, TN to wait out the storm.
I got all the way to Clingmans (no view, of course), and it was bitter cold. The wind was howling and I couldn’t feel my face or hands. I spent all of 30 seconds at the top.
The trail down to the parking lot (not the AT) had no footprints. This should have been my first red flag.
Yet I continued on down to the parking lot, shivering. When I got there, the Visitor Center was closed and there was only one car in the parking lot.
With the wind still blowing and our hands still frozen, I hid in a public restroom while I called around for a ride. They all said the same thing:
The road up to Clingmans is closed.
I had to decide between hiking back up to the trail then completing the next 8 miles to the gap, or hiking 7 miles down the closed road. In my shivering delusion, I chose to walk down the closed road.
Those 7 miles were long. About 1 mile from the bottom, a ranger came by and picked me up.
He dropped me off at Newfound Gap where I immediately snagged a ride into town.
I took a zero in Gatlinburg.
Back at it.
When I finally got back out on the trail, the snow was still piled up but the skies were clear.
The second half of the Smokies was beautiful. Between the snow and the views, I was at an all-time high. I had lunches in the sun and took my time scrambling over ridge lines.
The trail provides.
The trail does that. Just when you think you’ve had enough, the trail gives you a glorious moment that reminds you of why you’re doing this. Similarly, when you’ve had an amazing day, the trail has a funny way of humbling you.
It gives you what you need.
Life after the Smokies.
In the last two weeks, I’ve been experiencing some serious homesickness.
I re-twisted my ankle and even twisted my other ankle. I fell 6 feet off a rock face and somehow didn’t break anything (except my ego, I’m sure), and slipped in mud more times than I’d like to admit. My trail family is ahead of me and I’m unlikely to catch up to them anytime soon – back to solo hiking for now.
I’m almost certain this trail is trying to break me.
But it hasn’t yet.
I’m still here.
Because, really, there is still so much good!
I’ve received amazing generosity from perfect strangers (burritos, candy, hot dogs, and even a Chinese restaurant lunch special!) and have met so many wonderful people (thru-hikers and non-thru-hikers alike). I’ve also received an astounding amount of support from friends and family back home, whether it be phone calls, messages, care packages, instagram comments.
Not every day out here can be a good one, and these things keep me afloat when things get rough.
And, in spite of all of the injuries, I’m getting stronger, breathing easier, hiking longer.
I’m now more than 300 miles into this and I’m still having the time of my life.
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