Expectation vs. Reality: Franklin, N.C., to Fontana Lodge

You go into a thru-hike with a lot of expectations. What the landscape will be like. How you’ll feel. The people you will meet. I left Franklin in high spirits (thanks again First Baptist Church for the pancakes) and pleased to have some warm weather. After camping at a shelter with an actual lawn (Siler Bald Shelter), Bear Box and I were treated to a spectacular view at Siler Bald. Finally! A view I can see. It was beautiful in the morning light and the day was promising to be warm. Plus, another fantastic view at Wayah Bald. Warmth and views; what more would you ask for a day on the AT?

I had cranky pants. For whatever reason, I could not tell you. Everything felt too hard. The climbs, the heat. You mean I have to walk up another hill to use a bathroom with four actual full walls? Ugh. The expectation for this day was amazing. My reality was grumpiness. For no good reason. It happens.

Did I not also mention there was trail magic for Easter? Still grumpy hiking pants.

The following day should have been my grumpy day. It was hotter, longer, and more strenuous. I felt lied to for the first time by the AWOL guide. Another day of everything feels extra hard. But that day I took it in stride. Even though it was hot. Even though it was long. Even though my bear bag hang was on a giant hill on a branch too close to too many trees. Today the views at Rocky Bald and the Jumpoff made up for the pain and difficulties of the day. Ham sandwich trail magic never hurts either.

The Nantahala Outdoor Center is a haven in a strenuous section. I hoped and expected it to be a haven with breakfast, but alas, it was meant to be pizza (no breakfast on weekdays, FYI).

The trail after the NOC was essentially up and Jacob’s Ladder, both of which were tough but not as harrowing as I expected. Bear Box and I were pleased to find that although our knees and Achilles ached, we had not been defeated. Yet. Cue our first thunderstorm that night where we were camped alone. I made it through with a damp sleeping bag and sopping leggings and underwear. How? I’ll let Bear Box  tell you the rest. Luckily, we remained in good spirits (mad props to Bear Box) and made our way to Fontana Lodge to rest before the Smokies.

We met up with Rebound, whom we shared a room with. The lodge is a retreat with no cell service and one working washer and dryer, which makes for some serious hiker bonding.

The one expectation that has met reality is the people. All of the different types of interesting people make the trials and pain of the trail worth it. I’ve never met such a kind and welcoming group of people. The trail truly does strip people of their inhibitions and lets the you shine through. No one is burdened with the stereotypical social pressures because we’re all working toward the same goal. Nowhere else could you meet a guy like Texas, a punk-rock band journalist rancher who speaks Libyan Arabic. Or Akuna, a veteran and PCT thru-hiker you can read more about, here. Or Bear Box, a photographer and great hiking buddy.


The AT has a knack for meeting, shattering, and failing expectations in one full swoop. How I think things should be, and what I think   will happen, are often not the reality. It is something else entirely; a beautiful truth all its own that I am still discovering.

Another true but unfortunate reality? You will have to pee (again) the moment you’re comfortable in your sleeping bag. Just  a heads up, from me to you.


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Comments 1

  • Chris : Apr 30th

    Good post.


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