AT Thru Hike – Part II – The Smokey’s Nearly Killed Me

  • Picking up where we left off after Part I – “The Smokey’s Nearly Killed Me”…

We walk down the lengthy paved road from Clingman’s Dome toward the parking lot. I’m wearing flip flops because I don’t realize it’s such a long walk. We get to the end of the parking lot and raise our thumbs. A few cars drive by and some smile at us while some turn their heads away from two smelly hitching hikers. We formulate a plan of how long we will wait before we give up. We wait and wait. Finally a car stops, rolls down its window and….

The Hitch

“Where you heading?”, the couple asks. We’re unsure if they’re willing to make the long drive, so we respond inquisitively with, “Gatlinburg?”. The kind couple graciously offers to take us into town. The young woman jumps out to make room in the trunk for our packs and hiking poles. We hop in the back seat and begin our 43 minute drive. The mountain roads are smooth, scenic and winding. Spring has sprung and greenery is flourishing everywhere. We see scores of families stopped at scenic viewpoints along the roadway. The Great Smokey Mountains is buzzing with activity.

The couple is from PA and they are taking a short weekend road trip to visit TN. The young woman is a nurse and her partner has just started nursing school. She is curious about thru hiking life and they ask us how we filter water, where we sleep, what we take in our packs.

We are conversant and happy to answer their questions. We tell them how we use our water filters to source water from mountain streams and springs. It’s the best tasting water you’ll ever drink! We sleep in our tents unless it’s raining, then we may opt to share shelters with the mice. Our packs are filled with everything we need for our 5-6 month journey but we try to keep them as light as we can.

The young couple drops us at the doors of the Comfort Inn. We thank them and grab our stuff from the trunk. As we wave them off and stand outside the hotel, we take a moment to weigh our options. Daddy recalls his stay at the Quality Inn, which is closer to town and has the added bonus of balconies. We’re both in agreement to take the short walk and see if they have rooms available.


No Quality Inn

We step inside the lobby of the Quality Inn to be greeted by an apathetic man behind the counter. We ask about rooms and he gives us the “hiker” rate. The price is reasonable so we each get our own rooms. If we wanted balconies, we would have to pay extra so we decide to stick with the standard room.

We are instructed to walk across the parking lot to the elevator, press the button for the third floor and then walk to our rooms from there. My gut tells me they hide the hiker trash in the back of the hotel and once I get to my room, my suspicion is confirmed. The short walk down the odorous hallway leads me to room 132 with a door that is adorned with peeling paint. I open the door to find a mostly clean but outdated room. I’m ok with the accommodations after being wet, cold and tired in the Smokies. I’m happy to have a clean bed. Wait…is the bed clean though? I do my routine bed bug check. I lift the end of the fitted mattress sheet to check for reddish brown stains and it’s all clear.

Unpack That

I begin my customary pack cleaning. I take out my tent and hang it over the shower bar. I’ve learned to shake the dirt outside to avoid making a mess on the bathroom floor. Sleeping bag, air mattress etc get hung on any hooks or bars I can find in the room. Dirty clothes go into the dry bag to transport them to the laundry. The sandwich bags get washed and dried for reuse. The Cnoc water bladder gets rinsed and hung. “All the stockings were hung by the chimney with care. In the hope that Saint Niccholas soon would be there.” The room has been transformed to hiker trash paradise. Ok…now I understand the “hiker” rate rooms lol

I back flush my Sawyer Squeeze filter and tap it on the side of the sink as I watch dirt and brown tinged water flow out. I love pack clean out days! It feels as if I’m clearing out the residue of the past and making space for a vibrant future. I remove the stain of cold nights in the tent, sore feet, blisters and a fatigued mind.

Work Continues

Once pack cleaning is done, I set up my phone for a virtual personal training session. I have committed to continuing to train one client during my hike. I miss all of my clients but I only have the capacity to commit to this one. I enjoy our session because it feels good to be of service to others while I’m out here on my soul searching journey. It’s a taste of home, comfort and normalcy, which I miss sometimes. I also enjoy catching up on my client’s life and welcome our barmy banter.

Mellow Mushroom

The session wraps and it’s time for a “first shower” and then a meet up with Daddy for Mellow Mushroom pizza. First shower just skims the surface of dirt so I’m moderately ready to present myself to the public. At least two more showers will be required during my hotel stay to fully wash off the dirt and grime. My arm pits tend to hold onto the citrusy funk I create on trail. Side bar, I have grown to enjoy this body scent and if you’ve ever thru hiked – IYKYK. My toenails have trouble letting go of their “Raw Sienna” nail polish hue and I think they’re permanently stained with brown flecks of dirt.

People, Politics and Pineapple

We meet up outside of our rooms and take the short walk toward cheesey goodness. I order a gluten free pizza with peppers and onions and a spinach side salad. Daddy orders a large pepperoni and pineapple pizza. We talk about food, the trail, our backgrounds. There are few people on trail I feel comfortable talking openly with including race, gender and politics and Daddy is one of them.

We are both full to the gills and it’s time to get our town chores done. Laundry, resupply and of course…dessert. We head to the free shuttle depot to find a long glum line of people in wait. We check the board and see that it’s a 40 minute wait. We confer and decide to call a Lyft instead.

Town Chores

Laundry is in process so I pop over to the Latino store and grab a seltzer served up in a glass bottle. While we wait, we check the shuttle schedule and discover that the next shuttle is coming within minutes of laundry completion. We work together to get the laundry out and bagged and race to the depot to catch the shuttle.

The shuttle comes and brings us up the street to Ingles grocery store. It’s always my favorite when I can resupply at a grocery store, though the selection can be overwhelming. We are on a tight time frame because the shuttle will be back in 20 minutes. I start my resupply thoughtfully but as time races by, I start throwing things into my basket.

My Shopping List

The shopping is done and we wait, once again, for the shuttle to take us back to the hotel. When I arrive back in my room, I organize resupply and settle into bed for rest. My resupply usually consists of the following:

  1. Corn tortillas
  2. Peanut butter packets
  3. Jelly packets
  4. A block of cheddar cheese
  5. Protein bars
  6. Knorrs rice sides
  7. Mashed potatoes 
  8. Rice pasta
  9. Fruit snacks
  10. A snickers bar
  11. Trail mix
  12. Electrolyte replacement mix

If I’m feeling mighty, maybe I’ll grab a bag of spinach, an apple or an orange. I have to account for the extra weight in my pack.

Reunited and It Feels So Good

Rest time is over and the internal dinner bell has rung. Having already perused the menu, we head over to Cumberland Jack’s for Mahi Mahi tacos, which are delicious. As we’re eating, guess who walks in? It’s Bear Bait (formerly Swapper) and Jenna! I had no idea we would reunite because I thought they were way up the trail but I’m thrilled! We exchange hugs and catch up. Once our dinner is fully smashed, we walk around Gatlinburg. It’s quite built up and more touristy for my taste.

The Burg

On “the Parkway”, the main street in downtown G-burg, you can find any sweet you can imagine from candy to funnel cake to ice cream. There are shops galore which have vagaries of kitchy collectibles and Gatlinburg branded merch. I pass by a couple shops that are clearly sending a message by displaying offensive flags in their store front. I avert my gaze as they’re not worth my time or attention. The sidewalks start to get crowded and I continue to walk and my gaze lands on a Christian book store carrying a shirt that reads “Vaccinated by the Blood of Christ”. I let out an audible chuckle.

One may be enticed to test their luck at any of the street side games, especially the one where the tattered doll spins on the oversized prize wheel. You can even ride a copycat “Space Needle”, a 407 feet observation tower. If heights are your thing, take a ride on a gondola up to Anakeesta Park. And Ripley….believe it or not.

Full Zero

I’m not hating on Gatlinburg, it’s just on par with the mega consumerism and overindulgence that is a stain on our society. And most of us are not immune to it! The next day, is a full zero day and I take advantage of the yummies Gatlinburg has to offer. I fill my belly once again and rest in bed as much as possible.

On the morning after my zero, I wake up and head back into the Smokies…alone. Daddy is leaving early with Bear Bait and Jenna. He’s skipping Clingman’s Dome because he has already completed this part of the trail last year.

On My Way Out

I walk up the long paved path toward Clingman Dome to get back on the AT. Once I get on trail, I quickly fall back into the rhythm of the trail. I have two days of uneventful hiking. My mood is a bit solemn because my pals are gone. The reality has hit that I won’t always be surrounded by people.

I finally arrive at the black box that asks Thru Hikers to deposit their permits as they exit the Smokies. Wait…I’m out? I’ve done it! I conquered the scary Smokies. The Slokies. The Soakies. Another milestone checked off of my mental list. Next stop…Hot Springs. I’m elated.

 

Check out my Part II – YouTube video for content: https://youtu.be/WUgrOpzrtvE?si=PiF-Ri_X1gH1irKU

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Comments 2

  • Karen : May 18th

    Yay, you conquered the Smokies! Hope your days are pleasant on the upcoming miles

    Reply
  • Jimmy : Jun 14th

    Stretch, where you be? No posts in over a month. Everything alright?

    Reply

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