Day 19 Fontana Dam Road to Mollie’s Ridge Shelter 13.4 miles

It never did rain again the rest of Friday. I stewed about the weather forecast being wrong yet again, but in reality, this is what you deal with.  The “shoulda, coulda, woulda’s” will literally drive you mad.

Saturday morning the shuttle dropped a slew of hikers off at the marina to resume our journeys. Today would be a highlight of crossing Fontana Dam and entering Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Stripper and I planned on going straight through without the midway stopping point of Newfound Gap into Gatlinburg.

The day started out with laughs and anticipation of the six-day trek. We got our pics taken at the entrance sign, then dropped off our permit into the rather overstuffed box. Do they ever empty it? Immediately the climb begins.

I still struggle mightily on uphills. You would think that three weeks in these climbs would be getting easier. I can’t keep up with the younger crowd – they are like gazelles and mountain goats. Some of these steps up and down seem to be made more for those whose legs are four feet long.  Never mind the roots and rocks that are omnipresent and slow me down to a half mile per hour.

Three quarters up the climb, Stripper wanted to take a break. His feet were bothering him. I pressed on because if I took my backpack off, I was done. I soldiered on. We’d meet at Mollie’s Ridge Shelter. But as I trudged onward, I was getting caught in a huge mental downward spiral. My feet hurt. My back hurt. My knees hurt. My pack was groaning under the weight of a six-day food carry. I doubted why I was out here. I wanted nothing more than to be home with my partner and our dog. I was missing my home life. I was missing “easy.” I just wanted to sip margaritas and play cribbage.  I wanted my own bed and comforts and company of my family. I wanted to curl up in a ball in the middle of the trail and cry for home, like a six-year-old that got dropped off for summer camp. It was an emotional low that had me thinking for the first time about leaving the trail. I was feeling sorry for myself.

I finally got to the shelter. Someone asked how I was. “Dead,” was my reply. That climb out of Fontana killed my will. Dinner, a good night’s sleep and a fresh morning changes one’s mood.

Day 20 – Mollie’s Ridge Shelter to Derrick Knob Shelter 12.1 miles

The day broke and I felt better. The terrain was the normal ups and downs. Still trudging the ascents and granny stepping the downs. I had a beautiful view.

As we were sitting around a fire, my partner texted that the weather was going to be worse than anticipated.  15 degrees for a low but now the windchill was dipping to -4. I told the crew this news and discussions were happening about what to do.  I knew for myself there was no way I could function in that extreme low. My Raynauds would make my hands useless. Another woman in the group also suffers from this and she was all in for heading to Gatlinburg.  Half of the shelter decided to push 18 miles. The other half said they couldn’t hike that far and decided to stay at Mt Collins. God bless them.

Day 21 – Derrick Knob Shelter to Newfound Gap 17.9 miles

In order for me to hike the 18 miles and keep up with the young ones, I knew I needed to get up at God awful o’clock and do some night hiking.  At 5;00 a.m. I started packing, trying not to make too much noise, pretty much impossible with a Nyloflume pack liner. By 5:45 a.m. I hit the trail. Temps were 27 and it didn’t get above 30 all day. The wind was whipping. I got to see the sunrise over the mountains.

Today’s highlight was Clingman’s Dome. The last two miles to it were a bitch. Why are the last two miles to anything the damned hardest? The views were nice, but it was cold. Snapped a few pics then time to hit the trail.

The rest of the crew caught up to me about two miles from the Gap where we were to get shuttled into town. Refuge from the bitter temps, a hot shower and a warm bed. I didn’t need any more food while in town. The LAST thing I need is more weight in my pack. Tomorrow we will get a shuttle back to resume our journey. Rain is forecasted for Friday.

Epilogue: Stripper never did make it to the shelter that night. I thought maybe miscommunication had him hiking to the next one. But the following day I ran into a hiker we both knew, and he said Stripper wasn’t there that night either. The next day I received a text from him saying his body and feet were starting to break down and he was getting off trail.

Alone again.

Lovers in a Dangerous Time – Bruce Cockburn                                            “Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight
You gotta kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight”

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