Day 16: Pain, Rain, and … Maine?
Parting Ways & Re-Supply
Brian and I said goodbye to Mrs. The Incident around 9:00 am. Brian needed a few resupply items (coffee) and Mrs. I needed gas, so we had to wait until The Pit Stop gas station opened at 8:00 am. They both got a cuppa, but no backpacking coffee. So, we made a detour to the Fontana Marina, but got skunked again. He’ll have to make do with tea, which is a more civilized drink. Mrs. I is heading west to be grandma while I’m in the Smokies. The doods are boarding at Nooga Sitters, which is run by my cousin Paul’s daughters.
As soon as Mrs. I pulled away, I remembered that I should have printed my Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) hiking permit at the Marina. Oops. The chance of me hiking 1.5 miles back to print a piece of paper was less than zero, so when I got to the permit box, I just wrote the permit number, date, and my (real) name on a piece of paper and stuffed in the box. Or tried to. The box was so stuffed, I could barely fit a business card sized slip of paper in. Apparently, the park rangers and ATC ridge runners are a bit less vigilant about permits than the Amicolola orientation and ATC website imply.
The hike into the Smokies starts with a 2,000-foot climb over three miles. But the grade is relatively smooth, so we were at the Shuckstack Fire Tower in no time. After looking at the very tall, rickety stairs of the abandoned tower, Brian elected to inspect a nearby abandoned cabin, while I risked the stairs and got the payoff of the best view yet on the AT.
The knee/quad tendon problem that started on the descent into Fontana yesterday was fine on the climb up from the dam, but got steadily worse on each descent as we sawtoothed up the ridgeline. By lunch time, every step down came with a sharp pain like a dull electric shock and a punch in the thigh. Those huge descents into the NOC, off of Cheoah Bald, and into Fontana had taken their toll.
The refrain “No rain, no pain, no Maine” was echoing through my head, but the verses of that song were variants of: “This is it. Knee pain doesn’t get better with more walking. Your hike is over.” I envisioned a helicopter rescue (not my first), emergency surgery at a small town hospital (also not a first), and hobbling around all summer in rehab (that too), but I soldiered on trying all sorts of pacing, foot placements, and hiking pole support alternatives to alleviate the pain. I even tried walking backwards to fool the knee into thinking I was ascending. Nothing worked.
During a late lunch stop, Stoked and Tumbles, a pair of self-supported hikers staying in a van like ours, stopped to chat. I mentioned my knee problem and they suggested TY tape. Stoked even dug through his pack to try to find some. Somehow that triggered my brain into action, and I tried some stretches I’d learned when during PT for my Achilles. And some Vitamin I. And then some serious prayer.
Almost immediately after we continued the descent after lunch, I had no pain. Miraculous, you might say, particularly in light of yesterday’s and today’s meditation. Or maybe it was the stretching, which I continued to do at every break. Or the Advil. But I know what I know.
I felt so good, Brian convinced me to hike past Mollie’s Ridge Shelter at mile 11.4 and do the extra 3.1 miles to Russell Field Shelter. As Machina and Survivor said when they zoomed past us after lunch, every mile in today’s sunshine is a mile we don’t have to walk in the rain later this week.
That’s right, I’ve had the pain, the rain is coming, and so is Maine, I hope. The Wednesday to Saturday forecast is all the talk along the trail. What day, how much, how intense, where to stop? But who really knows? The forecast changes each time we get cell coverage. We’ll get 100 percent of the weather we get.
Machina also called out as he passed, “It’s nice to see you in a ‘real’ backpack for a change!” Nice for him, maybe. I miss flying up and down hills with my slackpack, but I enjoyed having someone to walk with all day. Poor Brian. Apparently, I had a lot of words stored up. Was he tired from climbing when he dropped back, or tired from listening?
A small crowd had gathered at Russell Field Shelter by the time we hobbled in, but only two hikers had set up in the shelter itself. Everyone else had set up their tents around the shelter. One older gentleman was actively trying to convince everyone else to tent, I think so he could snore with impunity. We didn’t take much convincing. He can have the snoring, farting, rustling, mice, and norovirus, and I’ll choose my tent every time. Unless the weather is horrible, which could happen later this week.
We set up by ourselves on the hill above the shelter, surrounded by fields of White Nemophila, a flowering ground cover. The GSMNP and ATC “require” that everyone stay in the shelters. Except that permitted section hikers can kick out thru hikers regardless of what time of night they arrive. And except that hikers concerned about COVID can elect to tent. Apparently, most of us were petrified of COVID and retreated to our tents by 7:30 pm.
- Start: Fontana Dam (Mile 166.3)
- End: Russell Field Shelter (Mile 180.8)
- Weather: Cold (42F) & bright
- Earworm: Worm-free (thank you, Brian, for the conversation)
- Meditation: Jn. 9 (again)
- Plant of the Day: White Nemophila
- Best Thing: A hiking partner
- Worst Thing: Intense Knee/Quad pain
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The shelters in NJ have Bear Boxes. Too bad you can not put Norovirus in them.
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