AT Day 11 – Lounging At The Lake
Walker Gap to The Fontana Hilton
Warm n Cloudy Camp to First Shower Camp
AT miles: 3.6
Total miles: 173.9
Elevation change: 348ft gain, 1857ft loss
My first real nero (day with nearly zero miles hiked) of the AT was a good one. I slid a few miles into Fontana and watched the rain drizzle down from a big comfy couch. Top it off with a hot shower and I’m feeling refreshed, ready for the big haul through the Smokies.
The rain showed up for the last few hours of the night. It fell steadily, and I took comfort in knowing that there was absolutely zero rush today. I just needed to make it about three miles to Fontana, where I planned to pick up my resupply box, charge my things, and rest for the night. And it was all downhill from camp.
I waited it out as long as I could, but the rain was still coming down when I got hiking around 9am. The trail down was fully saturated and slippery. The layer of leaf litter was a couple inches thick and full of water. About half of my steps had a little bit of a slide to them, which I quickly got used to. That said, I did hit the deck once when I slipped on a hidden root. A little dirty, but no harm done.
The marina parking lot was nearly deserted after I crossed Hwy 28. It wasn’t exactly fishing weather, after all. Signs pointed me to the restroom building where there hung a phone to call for a shuttle to the resort. I pushed zero and made my request for pickup, after eating a large cookie, of course. I brushed my teeth and waited in the heated restroom for my ride. It was only 30-something outside, so even the bathroom was a glorious improvement to waiting on the damp bench.
Shua drove up in a van a few minutes later. I threw my pack in the back and hopped in shotgun. He was a nice guy singing a sad story, and I felt grateful for the real human-to-human honestly he gave so willingly. Wishing him the best, I unloaded and wandered into the fancy lobby of the Fontana Lodge.
Unfortunately my resupply box was not at reception. It seems that I mailed it to the post office instead, which wouldn’t open until 11:45am the next day. Ugh. Well, I had planned for a long rest, and now I was going to get it with a little extra on top. Whatever, I’d hike out tomorrow afternoon instead of tomorrow morning.
So with an entire day to enjoy at me leisure, I wandered downstairs to the lower lobby, a little less fancy and well away from the public eye. Still muddy and damp from the trail, I was a little self-conscious and I saw no reason that I should stink up the couches next to the main lobby fireplace. That privilege was reserved for paying customers.
The lower lobby had everything that I needed, a comfy couch, wall plug, bathroom, and 100% vacancy. The season hadn’t picked up yet, so the place was deserted. I posted on a couch with a view of the pool and the rainy clouds, and settled in for a long stay.
Over the course of the next five hours, I barely moved. The classic rock pumping through the speakers was soothing, and I sat and stretched while working through a backlog of internet chores and making calls home. I also worked through half a jar of peanut butter. But that wasn’t enough, so after all my stuff finished charging, I hoisted myself from my deep couch indentation to find something else to snack on.
Wandering the resort grounds, I couldn’t help thinking about just how awesome this place must be in summer. Mini golf, 18 holes of disc golf, a pool with a lazy river, tons of fire pits, this would be an epic trail stop in a few weeks. For now, however, I couldn’t even find the one thing I wanted most, a fresh piece of fruit. The general store was still closed for the season and the convenience store carried only non-perishable hiker staples, like tuna and ramen. With the selection further reduced by my vegan diet, I opted for a Backpacker Pantry veggie stew. Not exactly a gormet town meal, but it was still a treat when compared to the cold beans I’ve been sucking down. The super friendly emoyees even boiled some water in the microwave for me.
As I was checking out, none other than Catfish walked through the door, on a mission for beer. The timing was perfect and I jumped in the idling shuttle with Shua at the wheel for a ride back to the marina.
I walked the final mile to the Fontana Hilton along the lakeshore with a piping hot pouch of stew in my jacket. The rain was finished, but the low clouds lingered and it certainly wasn’t warm. I pulled into the large shelter and joined Catfish, AKA, and a section hiker on the plywood bunks. As I dug in to my meal I wondered where all the hikers were. With a great stretch of weather starting tomorrow, I figured that there would be about 30 hikers hanging tight, waiting for the rain to pass. I was wrong about that. It was just the four of us, which was fine with me.
I wandered around the beautiful spot, complete with large fire pit, picnic benches, and a solar charging station, perched on a small flat with expansive views of the lake. But the best part was the free hot shower at the nearby bathhouse. Good pressure, hot water, no line. I took my time, letting the salt and gunk from the last 11- days wash down the scummy drain. With the cool temperatures we’d been having, I didn’t feel particularly nasty, but that wasn’t really for me to judge. It was salubrious for my soul if nothing else, and by far my favorite moment of the day. A transcendent feeling after so many cold days and nights in the hills.
I pitched my tent on a grassy ledge below the Hilton. As nice as it was inside, I always find that sleeping in a bunkhouse setting is disruptive to my sleep. As a light sleeper, the quietest snores or gentlest farts can keep me awake. I hung out with the others, exchanging stories, for a couple hours, then turned in around hiker midnight, feeling clean and relaxed. As the snores began to echo above, I knew that I’d made the right decision. Smokies tomorrow. I’m stoked.
This post was originally published on my blog hikefordays.com. Check it out for trip reports from my other hikes including the CDT and Sierra High Route.
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