Fontana Dam-Hot Springs, NC: Running out of food is traumatizing 

Total mileage: 274

Daily: usually around 15

I don’t know if we’re going slow or not. I feel like a lot of people around us started a week or so after us. Are we taking too many neros? Are our days too short? Am I a wimp? We’re doing the mileage that feels right for us, and resupplying where we need to (more on that later) but I don’t know. It’s a weird mindset out here. I know it’s still really early (like 2 inches done on a 6-foot wall map early) but I don’t know if we’re doing it right! HYOH yeah yeah yeah but still.

This was the 10-degree night

Anyway, after Fontana we headed into the Smokies and wow they were so pretty. We did 15 on our first day, with a few pretty hefty climbs. It was the first time I felt physically exhausted when I dragged myself into camp, but I wasn’t feeling the shooting pains in my shins/ankles/feet, which was a relief. They came back of course, but it felt like progress. The Smokies didn’t get really epic until the second day, when the views opened up and I really felt like we were in a different zone than we’d been in. We only did 9 to Derrick Knob Shelter on the second day, but ok something was totally wrong with the mileage in the book. It took us six hours to do the “9 miles” and we definitely weren’t moving that slow. Every person who angrily stomped into camp said the same thing. “THAT WAS NOT F*CKING 9 MILES I’M GOING TO KILL SOMEONE.” It was irrationally fury-inducing.

still smiling even during a 6-mile climb

Then we started to run out of food. We didn’t resupply in Fontana, severely underestimating our increasing hunger. We still had a few days before we could drop into Gatlinburg, and we had to ration pretty hard. Rationing food when you’re burning up to 5,000 calories a day is not enjoyable. I remember reading about a blogger last year who ran out of food in the Smokies, and I vowed not to do that. Interpret that how you will. We did a nero into Gatlinburg and we split our last pasta side and half a tiny candy bar. I was so hungry. I hung our food bags (consisting almost entirely of wrappers) next to someone’s bulging bag and briefly considered just peeking inside. Just to ogle the food. I reminded myself of our dog when he stares at us eating dinner. I focused on other people eating with a laser intensity and a slightly tilted head. Feeeeeed me. We blew through the last five miles the next day on empty stomachs, until lo and behold, a table full of trail magic awaited us at Newfound Gap. The amazing ladies from a local hiking group fed us and then drove us into town. The way to a hiker’s heart is through food and a free ride. If you’re reading this, THANK YOU SO MUCH.

maybe regretting the 27 pounds of food

So Gatlinburg was… weird. I knew it was faux-Bavarian and totally touristy, (I kind of appreciate tackiness like that) but I was caught off guard. Also surprised by how incredibly expensive it was. We got a pizza, two salads and chocolate milk and it was $55. Ouch. We’ve spent way more money than I’ve planned for so far, and it is rather alarming. We resupplied in Gatlinburg, and it took forever because we had to take a total of four trollies to the grocery store, where we bought a terrifying amount of food. We were kind of scarred by running out, so we went completely overboard. We filled two trash bags full of food (bought compactor bags to line our packs) and convinced ourself we weren’t being absurd. Examples: 36 poptarts, 24 granola bars, 5 pounds of pasta and rice, and 40 mini candy bars. Four pounds of Little Debbies. It totaled 27 pounds. I added it the listed weights. We will get this good thing right… I swear.

a visual of how to not resupply

My pack weighed close to 47 pounds the next day, and I was staggering by the time we ascended the final climb. We got to camp and practically threw food at other hikers. “Please take this cupcake. Poptart. Snickers bar. Anything.” We were extremely popular and everyone also made fun of us.

Max Patch Arctic Circle

I loved the Smokies, and it was even ok staying in shelters. They are very big and I knew pretty much everyone in our bubble. One thing I’m not a fan of is the thru-hiker elitism that is showing up in some people. Just because we have the resources and dose of crazy that it takes to undergo a 2,000-mile hike, it doesn’t make us better than people out for the day/weekend/week. We ran into spring breakers, church groups, and scout troops at every shelter, and everyone was so nice and interested in our trip. (Except that drunk college group from Iowa. You guys were the worst.) I’ve been on many weekend trips in the Whites and week-long trips on the CDT, and I love talking to thru-hikers. I think that anyone who gets out into the woods deserves respect and courtesy, and just because we’ve come 274 miles, we don’t deserve special treatment and all the shelter space.

majestic Hare with a majestic backdrop

We managed to take a wrong turn on Clingmans (arguably the best-signed location on the trail so far) and had to do an extra mile, including a half-mile road walk back up to the tower. I lost my shit and stormed up to a bench and sat there wailing. Hare got the whole thing on film, so it’s there for blackmail.

angry tortoise and happy hare

We had amazing weather through the Smokies, and then everything completely froze. The day we got out of the Smokies the temperature dropped to 20 degrees at ground-level, zero at elevation. We stayed at Standing Bear Hostel to avoid the worst freeze, and it wasn’t my favorite. We paid $50 to share a chilly cabin with four other people, and most of the food in the resupply was expired by many many months. Do. Not. Eat. The. Salami.

We hiked out the next morning towards Max Patch Bald into winter redux… It was pretty epic. The snow was up to my thighs as we climbed, and Max Patch did not look like the postcards, rather it looked like the Arctic Tundra and we felt like brave little penguin explorers as we waddled across the expanse. Amazing views though, as I dared glance up and look around before the icy wind blew my eyelashes frozen solid. Since it hurt to look up, we followed the tracks of everyone else who had gotten lost, and wound up wandering in circles around the snowy woods. We finally spotted Loner Bohner (74 years old, third AT thru-hike) laughed at us and said “Path’s down here kids.” We got to the next shelter after Max Patch and crammed 11 people onto a 6-person platform with the idea that we would stay warmer. We didn’t get water because we were too cold, another great plan. It was a face-numbing 15 degrees, but by the time we hiked the 18 miles to Hot Springs, I was down to a simple long-sleeve and my running tights. Hare bounded ahead to make sure he got to Bluff Mountain Outfitter in time to pick up our packages. In 6 miles, he gained 30 minutes on me! Our names are fitting. So whew those two days were a taste of what the hikers in front of us dealt with for their first 2 weeks. Brrrr!

Hot Springs is great. We took a zero today and are staying at Elmer’s Sunnybank Inn. It’s so cool- and old Victorian house and they serve a fantastic family-style breakfast and dinner feast if you sign up in time. It’s my favorite place we’ve stayed so far.

Our packages here are also the best. Hare surprised me for my birthday and ordered us a new Nemo tent… The Dagger 3P. Thanks to the advice I got on my last post, we decided to go big or go home. So psyched to try out our new mansion. And it’s only .5 pounds heavier than our tiny 2P. I also bought a dress at the Dollar Store so I don’t have to wear my rain suit around town. It looks really good with my knock-off Crocs!

Well that’s all for now. Feel free to leave questions in the comments, I’d love to answer them. Back to the woods tomorrow, with hopefully a reasonable supply of food. Tortoise and Hare out.

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Comments 3

  • MHorton : Mar 31st

    Millions of years ago when we got to the Smokies, we discovered that one had to “schedule” their hike along the trail. You had to be at a specific place on this day, and the next, and so on. Is that the case now? Or is it all dependent on the season and the traffic on the trail? We were hiking just pieces of the trail with our Volkswagon as anchor, so we ended up bypassing that section and its great views! And what exactly does “nero” mean? Wishing you both the best, while vicariously loving you odyssey.

    • Babs Des Marteau : Mar 31st

      No, you thru hikers do not have to reserve shelter space in advance, but you do have to get a backcountry permit that gives you 8 days to get through the Smokies, but you do not have to specify your shelters when you get it. A thru-hiker is defined as anyone starting and ending their hike more than 50 miles away from the park boundary. Ordinary hikers do have to specify shelters and dates.
      You may obtain an AT Thru-Hiker Permit up to 30 days in advance of the date you anticipate arriving in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
      There is a cost of $20.00 per permit. The cost of the permit is non-refundable.
      A Thru-Hiker Permit is valid for up to 38 days from the date you obtain it. Thru-Hikers have 8 days to get through the Smokies. A break to rest or resupply in a nearby town does not negate one’s standing as a thru-hiker.

  • TicTac : Apr 4th

    For goodness sakes, stop worrying about whether or not you are “doing it right”!! There is only one “doing it right” and that is the way you do it, plain and simple. You are out there to hike the hike that pleases you, just go and do it.
    I have made the same mistake as you at that damned misleading sign on Clingman’s. I took the trail to the right (which turns out to be all gravel and “too easy”) which takes you down to the parking area. And also make the hike up to the summit again. I think the dress is a great idea, you may even end up hiking in it!


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