AT Update: Through the Smokies

Day 20:

It is smokies day! Our first of 2 national parks on the trail, it’s gonna take us about 7 days to get all the way through. The night was warmer than expected, and we got up early enough to enjoy hot breakfast before we went. Our first part of the hike was along a road, and across Fontana Dam, which was pretty dam cool. I was kinda tempted to jump off, it looked fun, but there were signs saying we’d get fined, and I cannot afford that. So we stayed high and dry across the dam.

The damn dam

There’s good news and bad news about the Smokies. Good news, it’s VERY pretty. Also once we’re in the mountains, we stay pretty close to 5000 feet the whole time, no major ups and downs. Bad news, we have to climb up to 5000 feet first. That’s what we spent most of they day doing. The first 8 miles or so of the day were basically straight up hill. We got a really cool view from the top, especially from the wooden tower at the top of the climb.

It started snowing when we were up in the mountains. And there was already snow on the ground. It was like walking through a winter wonderland, which was really cool. Of course, up on the mountain it was also super cold, and we had to keep moving quickly to stay warm. We could see the clouds rolling over the mountains, which is uhhhh low key scary cause that can easily turn into a storm. But so far the weathers held out for us.

We got to our planned shelter around 2, so of course, we decided to push another 3 miles to the next shelter. It was pretty downhill and it made our next day a good deal easier, so we just went for it. The snow was much thicker up there, and the temperature dropped quickly. We also saw plenty of bear sign, but still no actual bears. I’m a little disappointed, but hopefully soon. Again, most of our usual crew landed at this shelter with us, so it’s nice to know people here. We’re actually staying IN the shelter for the first time, which is kinda fun but a little scary, why with norovirus going around and everything. But hey, risk it for the biscuit or whatever.

It is COLD up here. Like bone chilling cold. alike genuinely nothing you can do to get warm cold. We all huddled in the shelter to try and warm up. But no fire, food, hot drinks, are gonna warm us up. We just gotta bundle up in our sleeping bags and hope that we can stay warm enough. This is the coldest it’s supposed to be up here, so if we can weather this we’ll be good. Not gonna make it comfortable though. We also had a little talent show before bed, and by “talent show” I mean Sopita doing single woman broadway performances and Will telling dirty jokes. It was funny. Lindsey kept asking for Hamilton but wouldn’t get up to do it. That’s fucked up if you ask me.

I feel a lot better today. I’ve gotten a lot of words of encouragement from people, both in letters and texts, which have really helped me push through the tough few days. I just hope that it keeps getting better. I’m trying to remind myself that not every day is gonna be mind blowingly amazing, and that’s 100% ok. I think this is a good place to remember that. Especially because the conditions aren’t the best. But it’ll hopefully be a fun week anyways. One way to find out I guess.

Quote of the day: “I just thought all glove designers were kinky like that”

Day 21:

So remember how I said yesterday was our hardest day in the Smokies? I lied. I lied big time. But I didn’t KNOW i was lying. I found out today. First of all, last nice was FRIGID. No getting warm, Absolutely not. So, bad night of sleep. But it was also cold in the morning, so no getting away from it. The only way to get warm was to start walking, but even that was miserable for a while.

We had a pretty big climb pretty immediately in the morning. And for those of you who have never started hiking in this type of cold, it sucks. It really really sucks. Everything hurts, and you can’t feel your extremities, your waters all frozen. It’s just unhappy. Combo that with slick rocks and a steep incline, it wasn’t the happiest of mornings. But at least the view from the top of the climb was pretty. We paused there for a mid morning snack and to enjoy the view.

Through most of the afternoon we walked through a winters landscape. It was pretty slow going, as it was rocky and slippery. And lots and lots of up and down. We spent a good while picking our way through the mountains, and finally started to warm up a little bit. By 11 I could feel my fingers again, so that was nice. At around 12, we were both incredibly hungry, but we decided to push forward to another shelter that was supposedly only a mile away. It definitely felt like more than that, but we made it eventually.

Snowy little pine forest

We all had a lot to eat for lunch today. The whole group of us that were having lunch together were all feeling super hungry, having burned so many calories early as well as through the night. We thought this was gonna take us about 7 days, so that’s how much food we have. It looks like it may take us closer to 4, so we’re dipping into our food a little more than we usually would. Which is good, because again, we’re all insanely hungry for some reason. After a large lunch we got to moving again. We also ran into 2 ultramarathoners who were “causally” running 45 miles (psychotic). They told us the shelter 2 miles past where we were going was easy to get to, and the ground between was flat (remember this).

The rest of the day was a slog, both literally and figuratively. It was all muddy and wet, and our feet got dragged. The downhills were a slip and slide, and the uphill were the same (but going the wrong way). It was hard, and uncomfortable, and wholly unfun. The view was really pretty, but we could barely ever take our eyes off of the ground to see it. The whole time, Clingmans Dome was sitting in front of us, slowly growing bigger and bigger.

It took us til around 5 to reach the first shelter, 2 miles from where we planned to stop. We decided to push, thinking “the ultra runners told us it was easy!” Yeah fucking right. We had to climb up a mountain, down a mountain, through a little flat in between, and then up another mountain. Whoever called this “flat” needs their head checked. It was tough, and slow. Someone said that the middle miles today didn’t peel away like they used to, and I agree. It was a long long day. And we all ate a crazy amount for dinner, mostly upwards of like 1200 calories. We needed it all.

So yeah, today was a tough day. I was in a shitty mood this morning. I had lots of emotions, but anger was probably the one that surprised me most. I was kissed about… something? Discomfort? I’m not really sure. It was a little disconcerting. But honestly nice practice to try and move through that without letting it overwhelm me. But yeah, definitely an interesting feeling. The afternoon came with better thoughts, but physically it was a lot harder. This is probably he toughest day we’ve had so far. Our asses got kicked a lil bit. I’m tired, and hungry, and TIRED. I think I really need a good night sleep, and maybe some extra food in the morning.

Quote of the day: “I will tape it to your butt”

Day 22:

Todays the day. Clingmans Dome. 6643 feet, the tallest point on the Appalachian Trail. And we’re gonna climb it. We took it easy in the morning, had some hot breakfast, and got ready. It was much much warmer last night and this morning, which was a lot more pleasant than the day before. But after fueling up, and bundling a little bit, we started our climb.

The climb itself was, to be honest, not incredibly difficult. It was about 1300 feet up from our campsite, across 2 miles, so a relatively slow up. We also ran across several beautiful viewpoints, where we could see all the way back to Fontana and further. It was really really cool to see how far we’ve come, literally walked on our own two feet. Plus the rising sun made it golden hour, so it was even better. I have pictures, but it simply won’t do it justice. If you can ever get there yourself do it. It’s worth it.

Very pretty

After 2 miles, we reached the peak of mountain. Again, it was beautiful. There’s a big concrete tower that gives a 360 view of the landscape. Again, it was simply breathtaking. There’s not many other words I can use for it. It’s crazy to think that that’s the highest point on the AT. It’s all downhill from here. Right? RIGHT??? Also we passed 200 miles (officially under 2000 to go!) Also, three weeks on trail! Yeah, big day.

View from the top of Clingmans

There was supposedly a shop at the bottom of the tower, which was about 0.5 miles down a paved road. The good news is, it was all downhill. BUT it wasn’t until about 0.4 miles that we realized we probably should’ve left our packs at the top. We would now have to walk them back up. When we got down there, we realized the store was closed. So, we figured it must open later. We gathered up with a whole group of other hikers and hung out for a while. After about an hour, we realized that it maybe wasn’t gonna open today. It was then that we figured out that it closed for the winter (it’s totally spring btw). It doesn’t reopen til April 10th. We were 3 DAYS EARLY. Insanely annoying. Even worse was we had to hitch our pack 0.4 miles straight up hill. Oh boy.

The afternoon dragged again today. More ice and mud made it very slow and slick. We only had about 9 miles to do, but it felt like FOREVER. And of course, the end was straight uphill. Lovely stuff, truly. More ice on that path too. We finally got to the shelter and ate pretty much right away. We’re renting tonight, so we got set up and got to cooking. It’s a crowded shelter, and we only know a few people, so I’ve been kinda keeping to myself. My social battery is low.

Plus we’re waking up early to catch sunrise so I’m gonna sleep early.

Today has been better in some days, and worse in other. I’m definitely enjoying my time hiking more than I have been. It’s really great to have that kind of pressure lifted. In the other hand, I feel like me tolerance for other people has gone down a lot. I find myself wanting to be on my own a lot more, even from lindsey. I don’t really know why. It’s like nice to have people around, but I’ve really just been wanting to be silent, and I feel like when I’m with people there’s a pressure to actually exist and talk. I’ve found recently Id rather not. Or, that there’s only strain people and times I want to talk. Maybe I’m just tired, maybe I need some alone time, I really don’t know. I’ve managed ok so far, but hopefully I can figure it out soon. I don’t feel that I need to “solve” it, per se, but I’m curious. I’m gonna keep poking at it tomorrow.

Quote of the day: “The fuck is a water pipe doing out here?”

Day 23:

There have been a very few times in my linde I’ve understood the phrase “sleep in their eyes”. This morning was one of them. We woke up at 5 (gross) to go hike a mile and watch the sunrise on Charlie’s Bunyon. It was quite dark when we got up (duh), and I’m pretty sure I left a tent stake at camp, but I didn’t have time to look because by the time I started to, the rest of the crew had fucking dashed off to start the hike already. Quite rude of them. Anyway, I went off after them, and this is where the sleep in my eyes came in. It was like I could see, but I couldn’t really SEE. Now that I write it, it sounds really dumb, but basically I couldn’t really tell where I was stepping, which is not a great combo with wet and icy rocks. But I made it alive, in time for sunrise!

The Bunyon is really cool. It’s this nice little outcropping of rock that looks over basically the whole valley west out of the smokies. It has great views to the north, south, and west. Now you may be thinking, doesn’t the sun rise in the east? Well, it in fact does. So yeah, not the greatest view, especially because it was ALSO cloudy, but the pre dawn view of (I think) Gatlinburg was quite cool. There was also a really cool outcropping of rock that rose above where the trail went, and for legal reasons I will not condone what I did, but suffice it to say I got vertical and had a pretty sweet view. Worth the early wake up for sure.

The rest of the day is what Lindsey referred to as “Ridge Day”. We basically followed this one continuous, long ridge from the bunyon up and down the mountains for about 12 miles. It was really really pretty, despite being a tad windy. We have looooong views to the southwest, where we had come from, and to the northwest, where we were going. It was also a healthy mix of ups and downs, so we weren’t super strained for a good chuck of the day. Was it a little sketchy how narrow it was in places? Sure was. Did I miss the edge of the path with my trekking pole and almost fall off a cliff? Once or twice. But it was cool nonetheless.

The last 3 miles before camp, the ups and downs came to an end. Or, rather, the downs came to an end. We went up and up and up. And up. Oh, and a little more up for good measure. Me and Lindsey went “music mode”, which we do during long stretches of uphill. The only problem with music mode is sometimes I zone out and forget how fast I’m going. And today I did that BIG time. I forgot to take a break for what Lindsey claims was 5 miles. TBH i’m not sure how long it was, but it was a good while. So yeah, I was tired. But good news, we got to camp early! Like really early. Like 1:30. So that gives us a solid, oh, 6 hours of just hanging around doing nothing. It was ok, we had hot lunch which was nice. Bibo, Molly and Ziggy all came and hang out with us for a little bit. It was cloudy, so unfortunately we couldn’t SEE the eclipse, but it did get dark. So yeah, we just hung out, had an overly evening at camp, and went to bed.

I was on autopilot today. I kinda expected it, it happens a lot when I’m tired, so yeah, not awful, but not the BEST. Have definitely been trending upwards though, so that’s good. I think it has to do with my sleep, which hasn’t been the best in the Smokies, but we’ll see. So far the weathers held out for us, so that’s been nice. Fingers crossed we close out strong these next 2 days. We made crazy time through here, it’s wild.

Quote of the day: “I notice you hold your iodine tablets the same way you hold your rectal misprostol.” – Avalanche

How many owls would you have to see before you got suspicious?: “Probably 3, if you’re gonna make me put a number on it.”

Day 24:

Y’all, I’m gonna keep tonight’s journal short. We got up early again, to beat the rain that was coming. It did not work. We had about an hour of dry, and then the rain started. And that was the rest of the day. It rained, we walked, that’s honestly it. I’m sure there were nice views, but we couldn’t see any of them. We got to camp around 2 and have spent the rest of the day trying to get dry. Again, sorry today is short, but there’s like nothing to do about it.

I felt fine until we got to camp. I think something I’ve discovered is that me and Lindsey have fundamentally different views about ways to spend our time. I hate sitting around camp. I can’t stand it, all that time with nothing to do. Lindsey loves it. And we’re struggling to figure out our next steps because of it. Especially because the weather looks bad the next few days, and we’re probably gonna need to either take a day off or a short day. She wants to do a short day, but I really truly do not want to sit around camp for 8 hours waiting to go to bed, especially if it’s rainy and there’s nothing to do. But we’ll see how we resolve that.

No quote, no owl. Again, not much going on today.

Day 25:

So it was drizzly again this morning, but nothing awful. This was kind of a day in flux for us, we had a lot of plans that could’ve worked and we made it up as we went. First things first, we got out of the shelter around 7:30 and started our 4 miles hike to Standing Bear Farm, where I had a box waiting for me. After about a mile we officially passed out of the Smokies! Big accomplishment, we did it 2 days faster than we meant to. It was really beautiful and we lucked out big time with the weather.

It was a very pretty hike, quite luscious and green. We passed a whole bunch of waterfalls, and followed a stream most of the way down to a little gravel road where we ran into some trail magic! Some very nice folks with good soup and lots of resupply gifts for us, it was quite nice. One of the best we had so far.

One of the waterfalls we walked past

The next stretch of trail was our first that really followed a major road. We walked along, and then under I40 for probably half a mile, so that was a fun preview of New Jersey. But anyway after that is was only like half a mile to Standing Bear, where I had to pick up a resupply box. Our original plan was to slack pack about 12 miles and get shuttled back, stay the night and zero the next day. At least, that was the plan until we found out it was 100 bucks per person to slack pack to where we wanted to go. Yeah, no shot. So, after we resupplied and refreshed, we decided to push about 8 more miles to the next shelter.

The hike to the shelter was pretty easy, and boy oh boy did this seem luxurious after the smokies. It had a bear box, privy, and good water source! Cushy living for us after the past week. We also met a really fun group of pharmacists, and spent the evening playing cards and struggling to build a fire (we got it in the end). There were quite a few nice running around the shelter, but other than that all good.

I felt pretty darn good today! First of all, it was beautiful after the rain had cleared. Second, we made lots of plans, and improvised really well when we had a wrench thrown in them. I think me and Lindsey did pretty well about compromising where we needed too, and as far as I can tell both walked away happy. I’m pretty nervous about the weather tomorrow, it’s gonna thunderstorm most of the day. I think Lindsey only wants to do 8 or so miles, which I really don’t want to, but I guess we’ll figure that out as it comes. Feeling a lot better about it after today.

Quote of the day: “We’re just playing one Jack off”

Day 26:

So, uhhhh, we’re stupid. Why you ask? Oh well get there, don’t worry. We decided to take it a little slow this morning, which means we slept in til 7:30 and did oatmeal for breakfast. It’s supposedly gonna rain today, but pretty much all day, so no chance of out running it. Surprisingly, the morning was clear and dry, and we got started in pretty much no rain at all. In fact, most of the morning we had not a lot of rain. This morning we were climbing a mountain called Max Patch, and it took us until about 11:30 to summit it.

It was until we reached the summit that the rain started. Supposedly it’s a great view from the top, but we couldn’t see and if there was. To be honest, I’m not really sure if it was raining, or we were just walking in a cloud, or both. But either way we were wet when we started the decent. The rain stopped pretty quickly after the summit, and we were only about a mile from our planned stop. We ran into our friends the pharmacists about 300 feet from the shelter, and sat and ate lunch with them. Because we were feeling good, and the weather had thus far been ok, we decided to push another 5 miles to the next shelter.

Our “view” from the top of Max Patch

Funny thing about storms in the mountain, sometimes you don’t see them until you walk around a corner and all of a sudden it’s pouring. And that is exactly what happens on our way to the second shelter of the day. We turned a corner and it started drizzling. To the right was blue sky. Then, I looked left, and watched as rain literally rolled up the valley and slammed into us. So yeah, that was cool. But we got DUMPED on again. It was ok, we made it to the shelter quickly after that.

But ladies and gentlemen, here’s where the stupidity began. You see, it was only 2:30. Other than the one rain storm (which passed quickly), the weather had been nice. So we decided, let’s push to the next shelter. How far, you ask? Oh, only 10 more miles. For those of you counting at home, that would be 23 in the day. No, why would we do this? Well for starters, we’re stupid. Also, that would put us only a few miles outside Hot Springs, NC. In Hot Springs there is a diner. And the lure of hot breakfast was strong. So on we pushed.

And at first it was fine! In fact, we made it about 4 miles before it started to be not fine! However, in the middle of our last (and biggest) climb of the day, the skies opened. We got DRENCHED. I mean we were wearing rain gear and still soaked through. Shoes, socks, literal pools of water at our feet. And the way down was arguably worse. We were slipping and sliding, almost off the mountain at times. It was tough going. But eventually, the rain stopped. Now, having already pushed our luck once, and with the rain stopping do you think we set up camp for the night? Of course not! On we pushed again.

And we almost made it too. The sun had come out, and we had started to dry off.

Only 3.5 miles left to go. And then, we rounded a corner. Now remember what I said about storms sneaking up on you? This was the worst of it. Thunder and torrential rain, as soon as we rounded a corner. And unlike before, this one went on and on and on. Genuinely that last 3.5 miles felt insanely long. And we were wet, and tired, and hungry, and thirsty, and everything else you could imagine. But eventually we saw the shelter. We BOOKED it down the hill to this shelter. We finally rolled in around 7:30,

and pretty much had time for nothing but dinner and sleep. So yeah, tough day. But hopefully this comes with hot breakfast in town, which could make this all worth it.

Today was a test in perseverance and patience, in more ways than one. The morning was a little tough for me. I was listening to an audio book for a lot of the morning, and for some reason I got into my head that this meant I wasn’t paying attention enough to the trail, or that I was somehow doing it “wrong”. I tried to stop listening, but I just couldn’t. This thought haunted me for a lot of the morning, and I got pretty worked up over it. But after lunch, without even noticing, I was hiking with nothing and without even thinking about it. So yeah, a learning moment to be patient with myself, and sometime just to give yourself what you need for a little while. And yeah, the whole day was a day for perseverance. It’s the most miles we’ve turned in so far, and it definitely felt

long. We also passed 250 today, which is pretty sick. So yeah, not an easy day, but a good one for sure in the end.

Quote of the day: “No pain, no rain, no Maine”

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Comments 1

  • Flash : Apr 13th

    You have an amazing attitude as you are challenging your mind and body to the maximum! And, listening to music or an audio book does help when you are experiencing type 2 fun. Stay strong and safe travels!


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