April 1-10; Hiking the AT, the Dragon, an Eclipse, Morels, and How I Left My Trail Legs in Arkansas

April 1 – Monday Update

We woke up in our tents at the fire tower. We were glad we slept in the tents and didn’t cowboy camp in the tower, as the wind was really gusting, but we were protected from it. We climbed the tower to await sunrise at 7:20 a.m., but it didn’t come. I decided the issue was that mountains were in the way, so we waited longer. Still, no epic sunrise. Clouds must be blocking it somewhere on the horizon because we can see it pretty far away. Eventually, everyone gave up on our dream sunrise and hiked on.

In No Rush

Flamethrower and I, however, had a leisurely morning eating snacks and not rushing. We had an easy 6.5-mile, 535-gain, 3,400-loss day planned. Pretty much all downhill. Now, downhill isn’t actually easier for hikers. It stresses the knees, ankles, and pretty much all the other joints. But at least it’s not nearly as taxing on the cardiovascular system as going uphill. We pretty much only left when a cloud moved in and shrouded the whole mountaintop in a thick, cold mist.

So we started our journey, and the first few hundred feet of descent weren’t too bad. We were out of water, though, so we filled up at a stream and then made our way to Wesser Bald Shelter. This is where we would have slept last night if we didn’t stay at the tower. Flamethrower cooked breakfast at the shelter, and I ate snacks. We enjoyed having a fancy privy with a door and a lock (oh my!). It’s so nice compared to all the ones that are just open.

And We’re Off

Eventually, we were ready to hit the trail. We spent the next couple of miles walking a ridgeline with great views on both sides. Some ups and downs are nothing too intense. Then, the real descent began. Some pretty steep side-of-mountain trail/scramble. This didn’t bother me too much, except for my now very painful right foot. However, the hike wasn’t friendly to folks with a fear of heights, like my hiking buddy. One point, in particular, had a stunning view but deadly drops. I loved it, and another hiker, Rusty Ladybug, actually took a seat on the edge and commented that she might stay long enough to eat her lunch there. I couldn’t blame her; it was the best view we had seen so far.

Flamethrower and I pressed forth, eventually making it through the worst of the climb. We were going slowly because my foot hurt, so we ended up letting a lot of people pass us. We also took a lot of breaks to tape or retape injured body parts.

The Last Miles

Finally, around 3:10 p.m., we finished yet another taping up and snack break and had just 2.5 miles and 1000 feet of elevation loss to go. The trail ended up being fairly smooth with a few extra high steps periodically. I actually like these because I use my poles to vault forward on these drops and have taught Flamethrower to do the same, although she isn’t as confident with the move yet as I am. Still, it’s a huge improvement over the slow turn sideways and step-down routine. We also had a few water crossings, with at least one being particularly treacherous. It was 4:25 p.m. when we emerged from the woods.

We’ve arrived at the NOC

We crossed the road and made our way to the general store to pick up the keys to our room. I also picked up a full sugar cherry Coke and a banana pudding ice cream pop. We then went right to the restaurant where I ordered smoked trout dip before Flamethrower even made it to the table. She had sensibly stopped to wash her hands before coming to the table. Which, of course, shamed me into my own extended hand washing session. You’ll be glad to know that this time, I didn’t turn the whole sink brown with the filth from my hands.

All The Food

I got back to the table and was disappointed that my trout hadn’t arrived yet. Eventually, it did, and Flamethrower, who wasn’t too taken by it, had to admit that it was pretty good. When it was her turn to order, she got beer-battered onion rings. I had picked out an entree that I wanted to eat but found myself too full to order it, so I got spinach artichoke dip with naan instead. The naan hadn’t been roasted over a campfire, but I have to admit it was still pretty good. Flamethrower ordered a gorgeous Mediterranean salad that oddly came served in a large colander; we traded some snacks for variety.

I Didn’t Know We’d Have to Hike and Climb Again

Then we were full, so it was time to find our bunk room. First, we had to climb a hill, then we had to climb about 50 stairs; oh, and the bathroom/shower/kitchen is in a different building. This upset a few of the other hikers that were staying here. Let’s just say I’m not amused and have already warned nearby inhabitants that I’ll be peeing right outside the building when I have to go. 15 times each night, I’m not going back down those stairs. Well, I already had to go shower and get water, but not again.

Our Bunkroom

So the word spartan barely covers it, the room is 6.5×8. It has one window with an air conditioner and two bunk beds. I got the bottom this time, which is good because of how much my feet hurt. There are thin mattresses on top of the bunk plywood. Outside of that, there is only a trash can in the room, no linens, and we had to pay to borrow a towel from the front desk for $5 each. The outlet is at waist-level, so I had to jerryrig a platform using the trash can and my hiking poles, but at least our phones and batteries have some support. I then put some duct tape over the sharp nails that were coming through the upper bunk ladder so that my $450 sleeping quilt would not be ripped.

I’ve also kept the AC running and door open to try to air out the mustiness of the room. On the bright side, we have this ‘closet’ to ourselves, and it only costs $60 a night with tax for both of us. I’m not actually sure if it’s better than sleeping in the woods, but at least we’re showered and fed! We’re at Mile 137.1 (.2 beyond the NOC because the trail passes through the property, so we had to walk that extra distance and up the hill.

We’re zeroing here tomorrow, so there will be laundry (great after a few 70°F+ days), more food, and more showers. I’ll also be resting and elevating my booboos.

April 2nd Update –

Today and tomorrow, we’re zeroing at the NOC due to incoming weather. There is one restaurant and one pub here. Nothing is open before 11 am.

So far, we’ve booked 137.1 miles with 31,703 ascent. That’s more than one Everest (29,032ft). The trail will have a total of 2197.4 miles and 450,000ft of elevation gain (16 Everests).

I bought breakfast for tomorrow. It’ll be my first Honey Bun. May the odds be ever in my favor (As a hiker, they tell me this will be my first of many. I’m actually a bit scared.)

April 3rd – The Adventures of the NOT-SO-Dirty Hikers

Ah, a glorious Wednesday and our second zero day at the NOC (that’s Nantahala Outdoor Center for you non-hikers). Finally, there is a break from the horrors of communal living and a chance to bask in the luxury of decent linens and a bathroom that doesn’t require a mountain climbing certification.

Now, don’t get me wrong, we love the great outdoors. But when it comes to bodily functions, we’d prefer not to reenact the “Stairmaster Olympics” every time we need to pee. There were 48 stairs between the bunk house and its bathroom, so we changed accommodation.

Furry Friends

And as luck would have it, we discovered that we had some friends staying in the room next to ours. And not just any friends, but friends with the most adorable trail dog, Traildina. Ah, the joys of a furry companion who doesn’t judge us for our smelly socks?


But enough about stairs and bodily functions, let’s move on to the more glamorous parts of our zero day. Yes, that’s right, folks, we had a late lunch. Nothing says luxury like indulging in a meal at an indecently late hour, am I right?

Then we did some shopping at the outfitter and general store before seeing the Fellowship and some other hiker friends who miraculously appeared from the woods. After exchanging hugs and pleasantries, they all decided to head to the restaurant. Food and drinks were on the agenda, but we had other plans and made a quick pit stop at the river to ice my poor, aching foot. Being a hiker means simultaneously testing the limits of endurance and coming up with creative ways to soothe our battle-worn bodies. I’m pretty sure MacGyver would be proud.


Anyway, back at the restaurant, while everyone else enjoyed their well-deserved feast, we decided to order a takeaway pizza. In our world, it doubles as both dinner and breakfast. And maybe even elevenses, if we’re feeling particularly Bilbo Baggins-y.

On the way back to the hotel room, the rain started pouring. Perfect timing, Mother Nature. It’s just perfect. But fear not, intrepid adventurers that we are, we soldiered on. We packed and repacked our gear and food while simultaneously watching the cinematic masterpiece known as “Twister.” They may have had to deal with tornados. but at least they looked pretty warm.

Free Laundry!

As luck would have it, the hotel had a free laundry room with a “soak” function. Because there’s nothing like giving your clothes a second chance at life after they’ve been marinating in the sweat of over 100 miles.

Finally, after a busy day of chores and the emotional rollercoaster that was “Twister,” we collapsed into bed, setting our alarms for the ungodly hour of 8:45 am.

Stay tuned for more tales of our misadventures on the Appalachian Trail. Will our heroes conquer the Smokies? Will they find a bathroom that doesn’t require scaling Mount Everest just to pee? Only time will tell.

April 4th, Weather Worries and Shaky Starts

So, we spent an extra day (two zeros) at the NOC (Nantahala Outdoor Center, for all you non-hiker types) because the weather report had us in a tizzy. Snow, rain, wind – you name it, mother nature was throwing it our way. But we thought, “Hey, it can’t be that bad, right?” Famous last words.

With my taped-up foot and an intense 3,400 foot, 7.2-mile climb ahead of us, I set off, fueled by a whopping 1,000 calorie breakfast. I kept reminding myself that we were stronger than ever, but deep down, I couldn’t help but worry that my foot would stage a mutiny.

Bonked and Battered

Now, let me tell you, this climb out of the NOC was no joke. It felt never-ending, like an escalator of despair. And to make matters worse, Flamethrower was hit with an immediate sugar spike followed by a crash from her honey bun. Talk about a rollercoaster of emotions (err blood sugar levels). By mile one, I was feeling good, but Flamethrower was lagging behind, fighting off the dreaded bonk. I tried to keep an eye on her and paused for some snack breaks while she fueled her body – we had a long day ahead of us.

Encounters of the Unprepared Kind

Just when we thought our day couldn’t get any stranger, we crossed paths with a man looking for his son. The son, a thru-hiker, had apparently spent a frosty night up above without water. The father “rescuer” had no provisions but was heading up a very difficult mountain. We imagined the worst-case scenario of having not one but two unprepared adventurers in need of rescue. Luckily, they were eventually reunited and descended together, but it was a close call. Note to self: always carry water and your basic survival gear, folks. As hikers, we knew we were heading up into dangerous cold, and we were prepared to keep ourselves safe and warm. We don’t carry enough gear to save others.

Snow Day Shenanigans

To add a bit of whimsy to our adventure, the weather decided to treat us with a light snowfall. I mean, who doesn’t love a winter wonderland hike in April, right? I embraced the crunchy and delicious snow (“the good snow”), licking it off leaves, and dreaming of maple syrup to make canadian candy. I even threatened to make wild mint snow cones, because why not?

But as the elevation increased, the snow started piling up, causing us to second-guess our decision. Fortunately, the trail gods were on our side, and the snow didn’t accumulate enough to ruin our day. It was like someone had meticulously shoveled a path just for us. How thoughtful!

Lessons Learned and Miles Traveled

As the day drew to a close, Flamethrower and I set up our respective sleeping quarters – my cozy tent and her strategic spot in the shelter. I devoured cold pizza and struggled with chicken noodle soup, while Flamethrower battled with a misbehaving sleeping pad. Ah, the joys of outdoor living.

Reflecting on the day’s challenges and unexpected encounters, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of accomplishment. Yeah, it wasn’t smooth sailing, but we made it through, one steep step at a time – sometimes slower than expected.

Frozen Fingers and Forbidden Food

Nighttime brought its own set of challenges. With temperatures dropping to a bone-chilling 29°F and wind gusts, staying warm was a top priority. I needed every trick in the book – hot hands, rain gear over my sleeping bag, and even an extra thyroid pill to stoke the fire within. Let it be known that I was willing to go to great lengths to avoid frostbite. Eventually, i produced enough body heat to warm up my sleeping pad and quilt. then i spent the night sweating, well, at least when I wasn’t outside my tent shivering while turning the freshly fallen snow yellow.

Beary Impossible Hang?

And speaking of a tough night, finding a suitable spot to hang my food was an impossible mission. So I decided to sleep with my provisions. I mean, who needs the excitement of playing hide-and-seek with bears in the wilderness, right? This way, they’ll come right to me… actually, there were so many piss-poor bear hangs nearby. I figured any bears would just eat the unguarded food and leave me alone. Morning note – there were no bears. Whew.

Life on the Appalachian Trail is never dull, my friends. But hey, as they say, what doesn’t kill you makes for a great adventure to tell around the campfire.

April 5th – A Snowy Adventure: Hiking in the Winter Wonderland

It was a dark and frosty morning when I emerged from my cozy tent, only to be greeted by a fresh layer of snow. I couldn’t help but wonder if Mother Nature had mistaken April for December. But being the intrepid adventurer that I am (or at least like to pretend to be), I shrugged off the cold and embraced the unexpected wintery bliss…. but slowly.

Instead of jumping out of my sleeping bag and facing the cold head-on, I decided to take my sweet time. I figured the early birds would blaze the trail for us, making it easier to navigate. And guess what? I was right. Thank you, trailblazers!

Snow Cones on a Snowy Day!

To add a little sprinkle of whimsy to our snowy adventure, I convinced some fellow hikers (shoutout to Yogi and Easy) to join us in making snow cones. Yes, you read that right. Snow Cones on a freezing day. I brought some rootbeer drink powder, and we had ourselves a winter wonderland treat. Who needs an ice cream truck when you have hiking buddies with a bit of imagination? Am I right?


Cheoah in the Snow!

But the real highlight of the day was summiting Cheoah Bald. Oh boy, that view! It was like stepping into a fairytale. Snow clinging to every surface, turning the whole place into a magical wonderland. I couldn’t help but snap a million pictures.

Mystery Pain!

Now, as we made our descent, something strange happened. My toe started hurting, even though there was no blister in sight. I decided to take a quick break, trimmed my nails, and soldiered on. That’s the spirit, I told myself. Plus, new shoes are waiting for me at Fontana Dam.

By this point, the chilly air was starting to get to us. We craved warmth and comfort, so we made the bold decision to head to a hostel for the night. Little did we know that this decision would change everything (for at least four days). But I’ll save that story for later. Cue the ominous music from a movie based on Steven King.

Time to Get Warm

We reached Stechoa Gap, only 6.8 miles into our day. (1460ft up, 2667 down). Yeah, yeah, it’s not exactly the hero’s journey we had planned, but sometimes you gotta prioritize cozy nights over slaying miles. Plus, on the bright side, we got to unleash our inner Tarzans on some massive vines that were hanging over the trail. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t have done the same!

At the Hostel

Once we were done playing Tarzan, we got picked up by our shuttle driver and headed straight for the hostel. We met some other hikers, did laundry, showered (bless warm water), and charged our electronics. But the real highlight of the evening was our feast. We devoured nearly a whole bag of tortilla chips and a jar of queso dip. And if that wasn’t enough, we shared an 8oz serving of dry pasta with a quick pan sauce. Who says backpacking food can’t be gourmet?


Finally, it was bedtime for yours truly. All that fresh air, hiking, and Tarzan-ing really took it out of me. I was out like a light, sleeping like a baby. Sayonara, blisters and sore toes, I’ll deal with you tomorrow. I closed my eyes and drifted off, dreaming of snow-covered peaks and the promise of adventure that awaits me on the trail. Life may throw curveballs at us, but as long as we can find joy in the little things (like root beer snow cones), everything will be alright.

April 6th – We’re Off the Trail*…

*and heading to see the eclipse in Missouri. We’ll be back on the trail after the 9th. Did you really expect anything less of me?

April 6 – A Whirlwind Adventure: Chasing the Eclipse and Conquering the Dragon’s Trail

April 6, 6 AM – The Snackocalypse

I wake up starving and immediately devour all my snacks from the comfort of my bed. Oops! Looks like I’ll have to stock up again.

The Team is Breaking Up: Tara’s Travel

Last night, Tara and I had a serious talk about our next moves. Tara is worried about venturing into the Smokies because of the unpredictable weather. She’s afraid that if the road closes, she won’t be able to catch her flight home to help her family, and she needs to leave me for a week or two. So, she tells me that Fontana Dam will be her final stop for now. Even though I try to negotiate other options, the dream team is temporarily breaking up. It’s a bittersweet moment, but hey, we’ll find a way to make it work. Tara will have to catch up and then make up some miles at a later date.

Dreaming Big: The Great Eclipse Adventure

As I lay awake in the wee hours, my mind goes wild with crazy ideas. First, it was hiking the Appalachian Trail, and now I’ve decided to chase the eclipse! It has been on my radar for a while, and I regret missing the last one. So, mark my words, we’re going! I’ve been counting down the days on my phone for the past four months, and it’s about time we witnessed this celestial phenomenon. Get ready Missouri, (Or Arkansas or Illinois or Indiana). Here we come!

In the middle of nowhere, but We Have a Plan

Currently, we find ourselves in Stecoah Gap, a place that might as well be called the middle of nowhere. For dinner, we had to rely on the offerings of a less-than-glorious gas station (sorry, no fancy Bucc-ee’s or Wawa here). But fear not, my fellow adventurers, because we’ve hatched an escape plan! Turns out there’s an Enterprise car rental in Franklin, a town we passed about 40 miles ago. So, we jump online, tentatively book a car for three days, and just hope they actually have the vehicle (I’ve been burned by rental mishaps before, and we’re not taking any chances). With the help of our hostel owner, we secure a shuttle ride for $80, and after approximately 74 phone calls, we receive confirmation that the car is actually there. Phew! It’s time to hit the road!

Drama on the Twisty Road (Part 1)

Our driver innocently asks if we get car sick, to which I confidently reply, “No.” Cue, the narrator: they got car sick. The road to our destination is twisty, winding, and absolutely awful. But we arrive and get our car.

The Epic Side-Quest for a Sleeping Pad (or Two)

The trip begins at the humble post office because even rugged explorers need to send and receive mail. Tara had ordered a new sleeping pad, but due to some postal shenanigans, it ended up delayed and behind us in the land of Franklin. Luckily, we were able to intercept it before it started a solo adventure back to REI. And just like that, Tara now has two sleeping pads…

Side Quest 2 -Fancy-ish Footwear

But the excitement didn’t stop there, my friends. The next stop on our grand quest was the well-revered Fontana Dam. Why, you ask? Shoes. Yes, shoes. Yours truly had been eagerly anticipating a pair of shoes waiting for me at this remarkable location. So, we embarked on the treacherously winding road to our destination right past where we started that morning.

Missing Boxes

Unbeknownst to us, fate had a sneaky surprise in store. As we arrived at Fontana Dam, I’m told they only had one box for me, not two. But eventually they find the second. We’re also told that we don’t have Tara’s box yet. I guess we’ll have to deal with this again in a few days, but for now, I dig into a box of shoe-shaped goodness (thank you, Amazon) and put on my new shoes and insoles. Ahh, bliss in the form of happy feet. A sigh of relief escaped my lips as the new shoes embraced my weary soles.

Adventure-ception – The “Tail of the Dragon”

If anyone ever tells you about the “Tail of the Dragon,” run in the opposite direction!

Apparently, this treacherous route attracts sports car enthusiasts and motorcyclists who crave the adrenaline rush of hairpin turns. As we make our way along the road, idiots in fancy and no-so-fancy cars and reckless motorcyclists pass us, nearly ending up in our lane at every turn. We even spot photographers lining the road, ready to capture the mayhem and sell the pictures online. Seriously, why anyone would voluntarily subject themselves to this kind of madness is beyond me. All I want is some saltines to rescue my rebellious stomach.

Eating All the Foods

Finally, free from the grasp of the treacherous Tail of the Dragon, we can now revel in the beautiful lakes and mountains whizzing by. Too bad I’m driving and can’t capture these sights with my camera. Just trust me, they’re amazing!

Pizza and Subs and a Fall

As hunger strikes once again, we stumble upon a pizzeria for some much-needed sustenance. We order salads, sandwiches, and a medium white pizza to share, perhaps a bit too ambitiously. The leftovers will definitely come in handy for dinner.

In a twist of fate, I slip on a wet floor in the restaurant restroom and land on my left knee. Ouch! Falling in the wilderness is one thing, but falling in civilization? It’s just not part of the trail script! I soldier on, rubbing my newly bruised knee, and return to find that the previously inconspicuous wet floor sign has been strategically relocated. The staff seems unfazed by my plight and says nothing at all. Which feels a bit weird.

Pitstop at the World of Bucc-ee’s

On the road again, I catch sight of signs for Bucc-ee’s. If you’ve never heard of it, let me tell you—it’s a gas station extravaganza! I insist on making a pit stop. Flamethrower, who’s uncertain if she has visited a Bucc-ee’s before, is in for a treat – I tell her that if she’s not sure if she’s been there, she hasn’t been there. Unfortunately, I have one big disappointment: no kolaches! Seriously, why does only Texas get these heavenly sausage pasteries! After stocking up on snacks for the road, we hop back into the car.

Hotel Hunting

Feeling the need for a plan, we search for a hotel near Nashville and stumble upon one in Clarksville. We book a room for the night and promise ourselves to figure out the next leg of our journey in the morning. As we head to a store to buy Epsom salts (a hiker’s best friend) and probably more snacks (because why not), we can’t help but feel a mixture of exhaustion and exhilaration Our adventures may be winding down for the day, but there’s no doubt that the adventure has many more surprises in store.

To be continued… (but since this is the internet,  you don’t have to wait)

April 7 – Hikermission, the Great Eclipse Hunt: From Clarksville to Memphis

So, we wake up bright and early in Clarksville TN, ready to take our next steps. But, lo and behold, the disbursed camping site we had high hopes for is full. And to make matters worse, it seems like every hotel in the vicinity has been booked overnight. Thanks, weather report, for driving everyone towards this non-cloudy corner of the country.

But fear not, dear readers, for our intrepid duo has a Plan B up our sleeves. We’ve set our sights on Memphis, a nearby city that promises shiny new accommodations and easy access to both the North and the East.

The Great Eclipse Glasses Hunt

I brought eclipse glasses and have been carrying them for a month, but Flamethrower was supposed to get them in her Fontana box. The only problem is that claimed it hadn’t arrived yet. So now we find ourselves embarking in yet another side-quest to find Flamethrower some eclipse glasses.

Now, this is where the real fun begins. We start our search at Walmart, naturally assuming that we’ll find everything there, from eclipse glasses to alien-shaped piñatas. But alas, Walmart fails us like a broken compass. Undeterred, we move on to the next contender: gas stations. Because nothing screams “eclipse glasses” like a convenience store, am I right?

The Quest Continues

But the glasses continue to elude us. We hit up Publix, Lowe’s, Kroger, Walgreens, and even a college and a book store – clearly thinking that where there are bright young minds, there are bound to be eclipse glass Unfortunately, our search yields no results. It seems the universe is conspiring against our us.

When all seemed lost, we received a tip about a lady selling glasses out of her car in a parking lot. And, like superheroes zeroing in on the signal, we make a beeline for this golden opportunity. Money exchanges hands, and Flamethrower is finally equipped with the eye protection she needs.

A Whirlwind Tour of Memphis.

With glasses secured, we make our way to Memphis while discussing important matters such as dry-rubbed ribs, pyramids, and Graceland.

But What Will They Eat?

As for meals, my day starts with accidently frozen left-over pizza, a microwavable delight that left me only moderately satisfied. And for lunch, there was a Burger King chicken sandwich. Then, for dinner, I decided, in a stroke of seafood-inspired genius, to buy the entire fish department at Kroger for dinner. From cooked shrimp to crab clusters to sushi, I indulge in an aquatic feast fit for Poseidon himself.

Epic Eclipse Plans

But let’s not forget the real reason we’re on this adventure – the eclipse. We will be getting up at 6 am, so we can secure the perfect viewing spot. Bathroom and food options are crucial requirements because… well, do I really need to explain?

As we brainstorm our eclipse itinerary, we stumble upon the charming town of Doniphan in southern Missouri. It seems like the perfect spot to witness this celestial spectacle. But really, who knows? At this point, it’s all a guessing game. Update… switched to Atkins, AR. 4min 15 seconds of totality and right on u.s.40.

Last Thoughts

And as we wind down for the evening, our gallant adventurers find entertainment in an episode of Naked & Afraid. One can’t help but wonder if our own survival skills would come in handy during such a primitive challenge. After all, I have been dubbed “forager” and even had the chance to become “fire master” (twice!) for my impressive fire-starting abilities. But you already know about that.

Hiker Hygiene – A Stinky Situation

Enter the musty-smelling backpack. Before we left the morning hotel, our trusty narrator, yours truely, discovered an unfortunate aroma emanating from her pack – it smelt like musty clothing that had been left in the washer too long. Ever resourceful, I sprung into action, buying vinegar and a spray bottle at Walmart to combat the mustiness. So throughout most of the day, I found small opportunities to spray down my pack. Now it smells like salad dressing. I’d be happy to hear your tips on. how to deal with this issue. But I’m scent sensitive and am not looking forward to carrying stink around with me.

April 8 – The Eclipse – Adventure-ception / Hikermission continues…

A split-second decision has brought us to Atkins, AR. We’re about 15 minutes from the beginning of the partial eclipse, then about an hour and 1/2 from our incredible 4 minutes and 17 seconds of total.

Skies are blue with some whispy upper level clouds. Nothing that’ll obscure our view.

The police are being super cool. Not only are they not bothering people about how we’re parked, but they’re handing out eclipse glasses. (see yesterday’s great eclipse glasses adventure as contrast).

OMG! Adventure-ception!

This was totally worth it. And why does 4:17 feel like 30 seconds?  We depart after the eclipse and don’t hit too much traffic. We’re hungry and hit Hattie B’s for hot chicken and sides. (Cause, how could we not!)

April 9th – Surviving the Rain and Timezones

Ah, another day, another early morning wake-up call from my trusty alarm. As if getting out of bed wasn’t painful enough, we quickly realized that we had failed to factor in the time change. So, despite our best intentions, we ended up returning the rental car late anyway. Talk about a great start to the day!

To make matters worse, it was raining cats and dogs. I’m talking about a full-blown downpour that made us question our sanity for even considering hiking in such conditions. I mean, we spent the whole morning driving through that mess. I guess i can’t complain too much. Mother nature gave us perfect skies when we needed them yesterday for the eclipse after all.

Anyway, we decided to listen to our tired bodies and reschedule our plans. So, instead of trudging through mud and rain today, we decided to spend the day in Franklin. It was the perfect excuse to visit the outfitter and sign the town board, two things we neglected on our last visit – 40 miles ago. Plus, we desperately needed to do laundry and sort through our gear. You wouldn’t believe how much stuff we’re accumulated in the past few days – it was like we are preparing for a zombie apocalypse or something!

Breakfast Dilemmas and Shuttle Confusion

Now, here comes the tough decision of the day: should we indulge in breakfast at the local church or skip it? I mean, on one hand, you can never go wrong with a hearty pancake and bacon breakfast. On the other hand, our stomachs might appreciate a little break from the endless food. Oh, the conundrums we face!

As if that wasn’t enough to make our heads spin, tomorrow we have a shuttle back to Stecoah Gap at the crack of dawn. Well, maybe not the crack of dawn, but the crack of 9 am. Thankfully, in two days, we’ll finally reach Fontana Dam – the gateway to the Smokies. It’ll be a bittersweet moment as I bid farewell (for now) to my hiking partner, Tara. But fear not, for I shall continue on into the Smokies, alone while singing Eric Carmen’s All By Myself.

A Warm(ish) Welcome to the Smokies

Now, if you’ve heard anything about the Smokies, you’ll know that they’re a force to be reckoned with. Unpredictable? Check. Potentially brutally cold? Double check. So you can only imagine the relief I felt when I learned that the weather there had decided to warm up a bit. Sure, it is still raining, but at least it’s not snowing, so this warmer weather is a welcome change.

Anyway, my fellow adventurers, I shall leave you now as I prepare to face the Smokies head-on, armed with nothing but my trusty backpack and a few extra pairs of warm socks.

Wednesday, April 10 – I Left My Trail Legs in Arkansas

And we’re back, but I think I left my trail legs in Arkansas. OMG.

So the day starts with our shuttle. I wake up to my 7:30 alarm, and I know the opportunity for pancakes has already passed. Oh well, I still have a honey bun, so it’s time to get moving. I re-pack my bag, this always takes forever, we arrange the maid tip and our donations to thr hiker box (left over epsom salts, skin cream conditioner, chapstick, shoe inserts, Tara’s old air sleeping pad, a sawyer squeeze back-flush injector that i swiped from a different hiker box) Then I get a call that our ride is here and off we go. despite the rain, we didn’t get car sick this time, so it was probably just having not been in a car for a long time that got us last time.

Our Shuttle

Our ride dropped us back off at the hostel that we stayed at the night/ day. I convinced Tara to go on this crazy adventure. Then, the proprietor took us back to the trailhead. We chatted about the eclipse and the local road construction / Eminent Domaine issues that would take some land from their home, etc. As we approached in a dense fog, the driver showed us where we needed to cross the road. There were some people crossing signs, but it was in the middle of nowhere, and the fog was so thick we wouldn’t be seen until the approaching car was on top of us. At least if they have their headlights on, we should be able to see them approaching…

A Warning

So we’re in the parking lot getting ourselves together, and all our straps adjusted when we meet a guy going the other way.. he’s backtracking from Fontana to the NOC. He warns us that the construction caused a detour on the trail, which starts with good stairs but quickly becomes a muddy, unwalkable mess. He comments that they should have put gravel down. He said that yesterday, the people he passed who were going up were covered in mud because they fell multiple times. And that he barely escaped the same fate, (sometimes down is easier).

He didn’t lie. OMG. once we got to the top of the stairs, were faced with a steep muddy, slippery climb. You could see all the slip marks from the folks who came before us. So we walked slowly and carefully and one at a time through each section -verbally supporting each other but impotent to help. I almost fell twice, although surprisingly not when my pole got stuck so badly into the ground that it separated. That actually happened 2x, leaving me stranded with 1/2 a trekking pole and having to reconnect them mid hill. I have some super glue with me and I think i can fix the part that seems to have seperated, but for now, so long as there aren’t strong forces pulling at the poles from below they work fine.


A Not So Slippery Situation

From there, the trail wasn’t too bad. The regular AT has enough years of rocks and sticks and grit to improve traction. So we did pretty well. Well, I should say Flamethrower did pretty well. I lagged behind almost from the beginning. It seems that I left my trail legs in Arkansas and welp they hurt and were sore, miserable, and I was breathing heavy on the ups. So all in all, it wasn’t a good start for me.. At one point, we both stopped to pee behind random trees, and I absent mindedly left my trekking poles, so I had to go back and get them.


On my way to catching back up with Flamethrower, I ran into a woman (Sunshine) and her son. They were hiding from the rain while he did an hour of school from the trail. The woman is also a digital nomad, or so I learned later. Eventually, I broke away from the conversation and rejoined Flamethrower, who was getting worried about my prolonged absence. She said I was right behind her then I was gone and the rain/fog wasn’t helping – the typicaly work is that somebody fell and got hurt.

Jacob’s Ladder

She was happy when I caught up and let me pass her, but that didn’t last long. Soon, we were approaching Jacob’s Ladder. This is a section of the trail that is crazy steep and, at some points, had built in stairs. Without my trail legs, I was huffing and puffing and questioning my existence and my ideas about what it means to be having a ‘good time’ when we finally summit . We would have finished most of the elevation gain for the day. We only have 6 or so miles left to the shelter that we’re planning to sleep in.

Why Do I Hurt So Bad?

I need to add that my feet hurt, like a lot, and all over, but really in my arches. I’m realizing that I’m taking a lot of breaks because I’m in pain, and i need to wait for my feet to recover before we move again. These are new shoes with new inserte, but are otherwise identical to what i was wearing before. I tighten my bew shoes and start to actually be able to walk without wanting to cry. I realize that this was just human error.

Beware, the weather

Oh, and let’s talk about the weather. This rain and fog is clearing up, but there is a big nasty storm with rain and lightning and possibly 65mph winds. I just don’t want to be in a tent if i can avoid it. The other option is going all the way to Fontana. The shelter there is called the Fontana Hilton, and it has power and warm showers… most of these shelters are open sided lean-tos, but it’s 5-6 more miles. And we’ll probably be tired after the 9 miles we’re already planning.

Morels are Important

We continue on, and there are a number of rocky sections that Flamethrower always struggles with. So I’m in the lead when i see something that makes me gasp. Then I gasped again (louder, because Flamethrower didn’t hear the first time). I looked over, and she’s still making her way out of the rocks, so I waited 10 seconds and gasp loudly again. This time, she hears be and sees me pointing at something on the steep trailside. She gets closer and sees I’m looking at a mushroom. I tell her it’s a morel and others might be nearby. She looks and sees one higher up on the cliff. I climb to retrieve it and find a second one. I get out a new buff I just found in a hiker box and tie one end. This will be our mushroom bag.

I snack on peppermint while I search for more mushrooms. We end up finding 2 more for a total of 5. Flamethrower helps me tuck the shroom into a low impact part of my pack, and we continue on. Although I’m 100% sure that these hollow stemmed musheooms are morels, I’m planning to feed Flamethrower too. So I do a quick double-check on one of my internet mushroom grpups and get confirmation that they are indeed half-free morels. Yay, I guess I’m actually living up to my trail name today.

Another Interruption

Then we go a bit further and I stop in my tracks again, this time Flamethrower is close and I don’t have to pantimime gasping. I don’t remember what I said but i know I went searching frantically for my camera because here is a very large 6ft black rat snake near the trail.

The snake actually stopped in its tracks, too. So we’re all just hanging out there staring at each other when I start telling Flamethower cool snake facts. For example, if you see a snake and wonder how the heck it got there, it’s likely a rat snake. I also tell the snake it is beautiful. Flamethrower, on the other hand, starts calling the snake ‘dinner,’ while making references to the show Naked and Afraid. The snake isn’t impressed and actually recoils backward before slithering away. Seriously, be nice to snakes and don’t tell them they’re gonna be dinner.

What’s in a Name?

I threatened to catch the snake and bring him to tonight’s shelter to keep the vermin away… although I’d probably end up with a new trail name for that, though. Speaking of trail names, I was thinking that after our epic adventure that if I didn’t have a trail name alteady, it would be something like ‘Sidequest’ or ‘Eclipse’ after the last few days. But Forager is still pretty apt.

Digit Nomads Unite

The day progresses, and we stop for water, which is where we run into Sunshine and her son again. We chat and exchange info. I’m curious about how they live their lives and vise versa. Digital nomading is still pretty new, and there are lots of ways people have found to handle it. She has lived internationally and from the sound of it has had some really cool experiences. I can’t wait to learn more.

The Shelter Squeeze

Once again, we say goodbye and head off. A few miles later, we are in the shelter. we get the last two spaces and one more squeezes in across the front. (bathrooming will be awkward tonight , but at least we’ll be out of the rain/ storm). As the night progresses, more people show up – mostly staying in tents. We hang our bear bags from some vines between trees, which means they are actually hung far enough away from tree turns to be safe from bears(although I’m the only one using an actual ptc hang, everyone else just tied off to a tree.

Wait, You Brought Butter?

Let’s talk dinner. I cooked the foraged morel mushrooms in butter (taken from a hotel on our recent trip) Then I made a packet of spam in my pot (my first Spam, I didn’t die, yet, yay?). I also ate some snacks. For lunch, I had a honey bun, so i feel like i did pretty good today. Probably (710+230+250+300) at least 1500 calories with the butter – though not actually enough to compensate for me walking 9 miles with a 30ish lb pack.

Speaking of packs, I seem to have forgotten everything about backpacking and hiking while I was away. I started with 2 full liters of water (5 lbs) and kept forgetting to adjust my poles as I walked to compensate for the elevation gain /loss on the trail. This is all making my day harder.

“Hi Caster!”

We chat with the guys around the shelter. One of them mentioned reading my blog… Hi Caster! (I’m contractually oblogated to tell you that Caster “trusted my ID skills on some ‘magic’ mushrooms, and he has not been seen since”… – that’s our story, and we’re sticking to it) In all seriousness, I had a suprising number of takers for my morel mushrooms in butter snack – remember these are “stranger” foraged mushrooms. I love y’all, but I’m not eating any mushroom a stranger foraged unless I do the ID myself. I tell these too trusting folks, all mushroom are edible, some only once.

Watery Wildlife

At some point, somebody takes a rock from the fire pit as a seat, and I see something moving. It was a perturbed amphibian stuck partially under a rock – once freed, it made a mad dash to the stream. Later in that same stream, I was filling up my water and saw a few more amphibians just hanging out in the water. I almost grabbed one to bring back to camp, but it snuck off while I was looking in the other direction. There was talk of somebody who ran out of food and was looking for Frogs to eat… but this was a few days ago, in a different camp.

Wrapping up

Anyway, that’s the jist of the day we’re now at the shelter (mile 159.4). Mice have already been spotted. The snake is tragically long gone. Flamethower has been snoozing for at least 30 minutes as I write this. And I’m getting pretty tired, but first, I think i must pee. Pee-ace out

A Quick Addition

One more thing, tonight is a warm night. it’s possibly one of the first comfortable temp nights I’ve experienced on the trail, and it was great, with folks hanging around the unlit fire pit and chatting.


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Comments 2

  • Steve : Apr 16th

    If you think honey buns are addictive, try tastykake fried apple pies. Both are 10x as good when eaten after a long day hiking in the woods.

    As for musty smells, you probably won’t do better than an enzyme based cleaner. For retail, think the pet aisle or the rental carpet clearing machine with spray bottles of enzyme cleaners for pets and stains. Concentrates are better than the ready to spray bottles and you can find unscented concentrate on Amazon and walmart.com. BIZ is a laundry product basically like oxiclean but with the addition of enzymes to remove stains and odors. It is great for laundry but the downside is that it should be rinsed due to soap and washing soda content, so maybe not the best for a backpack unless you can rinse it and let it dry. Not sure where else biz is sold, but you can usually find it at food lion and Walmart. You won’t want to hike with a box full, but it may be worth packing a zip lock bag with a cup or so for the next laundry day.

  • Nature Boy : Apr 17th

    Excellent post – thank you for your time to take us along, Forager. And thank you for all the great photos from along the trail, both flora and fauna (and I, too, love the rat snake!). And your pack smells like salad – ROFL…
    Wow, that was a LOT of driving by y’all for the eclipse. But definitely worth it! My son and I made the journey to Texas, and also managed to not be clouded out (and we had a fine night out in our tent as well)! Definitely spectacular – my son has now seen both the one in 2017 and now in 2024, while I, the multi-decade astronomy buff, had to wait over 40 years for my first…
    I hope the Smokies go/have gone well for you! Stay healthy, be cautious until your hiking legs get developed…


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