Days 31 – 35; Dirt, Boulders, Blazes

Days 31 – 33; 0’s in Gatlinburg

After getting my butt absolutely handed to me from Newfound Gap to Fontana Dam, these upcoming 0 days with my Love are much welcomed.

We don’t have a plan, just a general outline to enjoy each other’s company and our dogs. I do want to go to Cici’s Pizza Buffet and eat more pizza than my brain can comprehend. But other than that and taking Tara to the Smokies for a day in the front country, I wasn’t too sure what else was around to do. I am very much looking forward to seeing her smile and hearing her voice.

Some highlights of our time together included Ripley’s Aquarium, Cades Cove Loop and Laurel Falls in the GSMNP, Anakeesta Mountain chairlift at sunset, gourmet cinnamon buns, the dog park, and just being amongst her energy. Photos speak louder than words; the following is a photo dump of our time in Gatlinburg together. I feel so fortunate to have had this experience.

How sweet it is to be loved by you.

I am back on trail tomorrow with 30 miles left in the Smokies. There’s no way I can do those 30 in another single day suffer-fest. Due to my one trekking pole and the mere fact my biggest day prior was 27 miles when I was like 25, I definitely was not immune to overuse and shit form injuries. I can finally add the ‘no pain’ part to the saying ‘no pain, no rain, no Maine.’ I developed blisters under the calluses on my feet, the ball of my right foot and middle toes are completely numb still, and I have some IT Band Syndrome creeping in on my right side as well. Stretching, the roller ball, and time should resolve these issues eventually. My bags packed one last time without River’s gear, my alarm is set, and I am as ready as I’ll ever be to keep moving north.

The plan is for Tara to drop me back off at Newfound Gap sometime in the late afternoon.

Day 34- 15.41 miles, 5,084′ elevation gain; Newfound Gap to Tricorner Knob Shelter

I just needed to get 15 miles in to get my ass to the Tricorner Knob shelter around 2200 to literally blow my mat up and crash. I didn’t need time to eat dinner, I’ll eat and walk. Well after hiker midnight I know, and I honestly put my needs prior to other hikers needs. The sun isn’t going to shine today and there’s a high chance I’m going to get soaked. At this point, I’m just seeing miles on a digital map. I don’t want to have to say ‘see you later’ again, although I’m grateful for the time we spent together.

With my phone fully charged, I put on some music and took off north. Tara dropped me off at Newfound Gap at 1500. The trail was nothing to write home about but it’s still pretty early for vegetation at that elevation to not be dead. What started as overcast gave way to a light sprinkle, just enough to be a slight nuisance.

It’s wild how excited I was to get from Newfound Gap to Fontana Dam as quick as I could and now that I’m on the other side of that adventure, I’m having all I can do to will myself into these next 30 miles. It’s simple, walk, eat, and sleep. It may be simple but not easy.

I climbed over Mount Ambler, skirted of the east of Mount Kephart, and the west of Masa Knob. I then found myself on Charlie’s Bunion, a 5,541′ peak that happened to be my favorite part of the Smokies. I’m pretty sure I confused Charlie’s Bunion as being part of my 40 miler in my last post. It was not, it was about four and a quarter miles into my second day. Whoops!


After basking in the beauty and sheer size of the forest I was looking over and down into, I dropped a couple hundred feet to Dry Sluice Gap, gained a false summit before dropping down into Porters Gap. Climbing, descending, and climbing some more until I reached my designated shelter.

Where the heck are my trail legs and which outfitter are they hiding out at? They weren’t back in Franklin, NC, but they’re somewhere and I need them.

I arrived at Tricorner Knob shelter at 2145, people were still up reading and going about their evening’s. Sweet, I thought. I did, however, still manage to get rudely spoken to. Two hikers were on the bottom platform, one all the way to the right and one all the way to the left. Directly in the middle was a support beam and a step to the upper platform. Perfect, I’ll slide right in there, I thought. Guy on the left, gal on the right. Me being me and prioritizing a woman’s comfortability because I have that lived experience, I chose to enter on the guy’s side. Well, the ass hat makes a snide toned remark and tells me ‘to go in the middle.’ I thought shit dude, I already am in the middle and no I’m not getting in that woman’s space as she tries to sleep, I’ll get in yours as you have 0 to fear out here. I quacked back quietly ‘I am in the middle.’ He said something else of which I didn’t hear or care to at that point and I just carried on with my plan to slumber. I took it upon myself to turn my headlamp from the red light to the normal light so I could get a good image of the hat that was resting beside him. When I see this hat again, I’ll know not to engage. I read a few pages of my book and passed out.

Day 35- 16.31 miles, 3,298′ elevation; gain Tricorner Knob Shelter to Stealth site past Davenport Gap

My alarm went off at 0430, sure I felt bad but not as bad as I would have if the gremlin beside me didn’t treat me the way he did. I always have the sound off, but I let that thing vibrate for a couple minutes before turning it off. I’m definitely crabby, overtired, slightly over hiking at the moment, and just generally feeling like a sack of negativity. A first out here and my first dick move on the trail. Not every day is gorgeous.

I’m insanely quiet and packed up in a way not to wake anyone. Success, hopefully. I was on trail by 0515 and I didn’t hear a single cough or see anyone get up to pee. I had a plan of 15 more miles where I would meet Tara and pick Steady back up at Davenport Gap. As soon as I got there, she could carry on her way back home.

I was hot to trot despite the trail being a literal river. No need to carry water today as it was right at my feet all morning. Around 1000, I reached out to Tara to ensure that when she met me at the gap to have the hypothermia protocol ready. The temperature was in the low 40’s, I was soaked through and beginning to shiver. I kept eating calories, one bite at a time to create heat internally and I couldn’t even stop to pee. I was beyond miserable, hiking in the wet AND the cold is just stupid, but I knew once I got to the gap, I’d have a dry sleeping bag and a heater to warm up in. I got there just before noon and Tara had cleared the front seat, got me a towel, laid out the dry sleeping bag, and even got me a giant turkey sub to eat my feelings. I’ve known for quite some time that this woman is a keeper.

I didn’t want to say see you later, but the time finally came. The rain stopped and the sun started to make its way, that was my sign to carry on. I repacked my pack adding in all of River’s gear and food. Seventy miles in the Smokies is the only time I’ve backpacked without River on a personal trip. Unless I was out instructing where he couldn’t come anyway, I don’t count those. So when people ask, ‘How does the dog like it?’ The answer is, I started doing this for him, and he still loves it to this day.

As I headed up the trail, I looked back and told Tara not to cry as I began to get emotional myself. I’ve never loved someone the way I love her, but we’ll be hiking together again in no time.

I read on the FarOut app of a stealth site between two arms of a creek a couple miles before Standing Bear Farm and Hostel. We set our sights, did the 1.5 miles and called it a day. River was most definitely confused as to why we stopped so soon. He was also very confused each time I grabbed my pack and left for the Smokies without him. Pitching my tent between two water sources was nice and all, but it came with a cost. I had my first condensation experience inside my Nemo since purchasing it ages ago. No big deal because I knew I couldn’t have made it any farther if I wanted to. I dried as much as I could from the inside before packing up and taking off for the day.

…and still we’re headed home.

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Comments 2

  • DEB : Apr 12th

    Loving your posts! So happy you are back to hiking with River. How lucky & wonderful that you have such a terrific support & partner as Tara. Your writing about your time together and how you feel about her brought a little tear to my eye. You a very lucky! Any way, happy to be tagging along on yours & River’s walk home! Stay safe out there & watch out for asshat.

    • Slow & Steady : Apr 15th

      She’s definitely a diamond. And I too am so glad to have River back. He’s very good at pacing me and showing me my worth.


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