Day 15: Riding the Roller Coaster – No Not That One
Strap In and Hang On
I won’t reach “The Roller Coaster” for another 500 miles, but today’s hike was more roller-coaster-ish than the official one.
I hopped on the ride at Stecoah Gap, a little later than usual at 8:30 am, in bright sunshine and a crisp 42F. Just like your favorite old wooden roller coaster, I started out with a slow, steep 950-foot climb, my joints creaking and clacking as I pulled to the highpoint of the hike.
From there, it was all downhill to Fontana Dam, with just enough bumps, twists, and turns to make it interesting, and some great views of this big amusement park we’ve been visiting. The ride even had that second climb that slowed me down, almost to the point of stopping, before sending me down the last long 2,300-foot descent to the end.
Those old roller coasters are always too small for my long legs and I climb off the ride with aching knees. Today was no exception. After the long descents into the NOC, down from Cheoah Bald, and today’s 4,962 feet of total descent, the tendons above my left knee were screaming.
Vitamin I (Ibuprofen/Advil), stretching, and dip in the Fontana Village hot tub helped some, but it took a few hours of rest before I could walk without a limp. Fortunately, the next few days are almost all climbing, as we enter the Smokies and climb to the highest point along the entire AT at Clingman’s Dome.
I bumped into Mousefeaters at Yellow Creek Gap. He was just heading out as I walked in, so I skipped my planned break and hiked with him up the second big climb of the day (1,200 ft over 3 miles). I hadn’t hiked that long with another person so far, and the miles flew by. But given my knee pain, I probably should have taken the break and rested.
I met and walked with Shamrock for about 15 minutes earlier in the day. He’s my age and is also supported by his wife. She camps in their van, but they only meet up every three to five days. Shamrock said he knew of three other couples were doing the supported hike thing this year. I’d only heard of one – Heading Home and Home Sweet Home – but I’ve not met them yet. Nice to know I’m not alone.
I saw Happy Feet, Mudbug, Squeaks, and Psy-Ops at the Fontana Marina. Psy-Ops was getting off the shuttle and heading out, after arriving last night at 8:00 pm on his one-day 29.6-mile hike from the NOC. The other three were getting on, heading up to Fontana Village. Survivor and crew still haven’t caught up, though they had planned to hike the Smokies on the same pace as me.
Fontana Village, Meh
Speaking of Fontana Village, I’m not a fan, though the setting is gorgeous. The cabins are pricey, but there’s no WiFi (there is cable TV though) or cell coverage. Our cabin had holes in the walls, a missing shower door, huge bubbles in the linoleum, lots of other oddities, and seemed to be landscaped with poison ivy. If any of the other housing options allowed dogs (the campground was fully booked), we would have tried those.
But the Village at least offered a known meeting place for my friend Brian, who caught a shuttle from the Knoxville airport and arrived at dinner time. Brian is my long-time hiking buddy from Phoenix who hiked with me from Springer to Winding Stair Gap in 2014. He flew in to hike the Smokies with me starting tomorrow morning, possibly giving him the record for the most consecutive zero days.
See You in a Few Days?
I’m not sure what kind of internet access I’ll have in the Smokies, though we plan to resupply in Gatlinburg, so it may be a few days before I post again.
- Start: Stecoah Gap (Mile 150.6)
- End: Fontana Dam (Mile 166.3)
- Weather: Cold & bright, then cold & grey
- Earworm: Your Kiss is on My List. Sigh. At least it wasn’t the Gilligan’s Island theme.
- Meditation: Jn 9
- Plant of the Day: Showy Orchis & Wild Geranium
- Best Thing: Food
- Worst Thing: Knee/Quad pain
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