From Franklin to Charlotte and Other AT Adventures
Well friends, it’s been a while since I have had a moment to blog, so you will have to bear with me if this is extremely long or drawn out. I’ll do my best to be brief, but a lot has happened.
Leaving Franklin and Hitting the NOC
After a second delicious free pancake breakfast meal from the friendly Franklin Baptists, BB and I got a ride back out to the trail. We spent the next few days traipsing around, enjoying the company of our friends Whichway, Whynot and Single Speed, and being mistaken for a lesbian couple (but BB and I agreed that this false assumption may just come in handy depending on which creepy man believes it to be true).
Two days after leaving Franklin we approached the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC). It was a neat little area with a vibe that strongly reminded BB of her summers in Colorado. It didn’t really remind me of anything except that I was hungry (a common symptom I suffer from out here on the trail). Luckily there was a restaurant and it was glorious. BB and I both got ourselves the most delicious cheeseburger and put them away like pros. In terms of our eating habits, I’m not a total garbage disposal yet, but I am beginning to get there, that’s for sure.
After filling our bellies with a delicious lunch, we went into the outfitters store to pick up a few things.
This is where we were fortunate enough to be at the right place at the right time. Had we gone to the general store first to get food, we would have missed out on the several hikers with over-stuffed resupply boxes from home. As it was, we stepped out of the outfitters just in time to hear hikers say, “I’ve got too much in my resupply box!” So BB and I made off like bandits with several snacks, a bunch of meals, gobs of Snickers bars, and the creme de la creme: a free Mountain House meal! With everything we got for free, we only had to stop in the store and get one more item. Our weighed down packs and bellies allowed us to hike a few more miles and camp on the side of the trail where we would meet three of our newest friends: Rock Steady, Paradox and Stix, three awesome ladies who have been hiking together since Georgia. We continued to hike with them all throughout the Smokies and enjoyed their company very much.
Getting Through Fontana and to the Smokies
After the NOC, BB and I took two and a half days to get to Fontana. During those days, both BB and I got a little beat by some of the demanding hikes. First BB felt the heat coming out of the NOC, so we ended our hike out of there a little early. The next day, it was my turn to get frustrated. For the first time since we began, I let the AT get in my head and beat me. It was because of the stinking mountain that didn’t end. This thing had about 5 or 6 false summits and each one came down with such a crashing disappointment, that I called it quits after only 8 miles. I was getting sassy, tired, and no longer having fun. I’m not a genius, but I’m smart enough not to try and beat the AT back, that’s just a recipe for heartache. I was rewarded for my sense the next day when we had a great day of hiking and an awesome evening of joking around with all of our many friends as we made and ate dinner. We ended up making it to Fontana by April 9th and had a very interesting day there indeed.
Fontana is little resort area, so the number of rooms available was pretty dismal. BB and I were about to pay much more than we wanted for a cabin, when we ran into Bionic Woman. She offered to let us share a room with her and we eagerly accepted. I’m so glad we did, because it allowed us to meet a person that I consider to be the most interesting person on the AT, and maybe even in life.
Let’s talk about Bionic Woman for a bit: she will stand out to anyone hiking because she has a prosthetic leg. At 40, she is attempting to be the first female thru-hiker with a prosthetic leg. I’m sure you’re already impressed, but that’s really only the tip of the iceberg for this woman. Bionic Woman is from Berlin, Germany where she was an excellent kick boxer. She mentioned something about winning a world championship in Copenhagen or something, no big deal. After that, she moved to North America because there was basically more room to be boss (my words, not hers) because she then biked from Alaska to Mexico City twice, picking up odd jobs along the way. After getting into tip-top shape, she decided to hike the PCT and was able to hike with anyone. Nobody out there was too fast for her. 15 months before beginning her hike along the AT, Bionic Woman was rapelling over 300 feet and free-fell the last 40 feet. She suffered from a shattered hip, broken vertebrae, broken ribs, and broken sternum. Her left leg sustained the worst of it and was completely destroyed. It was then amputated, leaving her leg with only 45% of it’s previous strength. As a means of strengthening it back to it’s full potential, Bionic Woman is hiking the AT. She’s easily one of the slowest now, but she works harder than most. Getting up early in the morning, she hikes until it is dark out. Spending the night in a room with Bionic Woman was inspiring and challenging. Being very German in her demeanor, she speaks unapologetically and with authority on every subject. She’s a person that makes you question opinions you held to 100%. We definitely enjoyed our time with her.
Leaving Fontana, BB and I planned to hike through the entire Smokies without stopping in Gatlinburg (been there, done that already). So we bought food for a week and took our extremely heavy packs back out on the trail.
Hiking in the Smokies
As of this moment, I am officially out of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, and I must admit, I’m so thankful. Not that I didn’t enjoy the Smokies, but…okay I really didn’t enjoy the Smokies that much. In my mind, the Smokies will always represent two things: Rules and Rain.
Rules: In the GSMNP there are a bunch of really annoying rules that you have to follow. First, you
have to pay $20 to get a permit (what’s that all about?) so I got started on the wrong foot with the Smokies. Second, the rules require that you MUST camp at designated shelter area. You can’t just be hiking and say, “Look, here’s water and flat land and I’m tired. I’m camping here tonight.” You have to go until you reach a shelter. This doesn’t sound like a huge issue, but when it comes to planning your day, it kind of stinks. BB and I would look at the guidebook and think, “Well, do we want to go 8 miles to the next shelter, which is really less than we are capable of or do we want to go to the second shelter which is 18 miles away and really much more than we are able to do today?” It definitely limits your days. In fact, I may go as far as to say it keeps me from “hiking my own hike,” which is like heresy, right? The last obnoxious rule is that when you get to said shelter, you MUST sleep in the shelter. You can’t set up your tent unless the shelter is full. This is a big eye-roller for me. I’m not antisocial, but I do love my tent time. I love setting up our tent, throwing all of my things in there (but knowing they’re contained) and sleeping next to BB, a person I know and love very well. Forcing me to sleep in a shelter means that I must keep all my things very close by so they don’t get mixed up with the 11 other people there, and then I must sleep next to a stranger. And here’s the kicker: 99% of the hikers on the AT snore. I can’t tell you the symphony of snores BB and I have been forced to endure in the Smokies that have penetrated our earplugs. No thanks, I’ll prefer my tent always.
Rain: There are absolutely stunning views in the Smokies. I know this because I have been told so and
seen it in photos. I’ve not personally witnessed this myself though. Clingman’s Dome? The highest point along the AT? Completely shrouded in thick fog. Along with the hidden views, our time in the Smokies was spent with the worst weather we have ever had. You want to talk about a bad Monday morning? I woke up last Monday morning with the wind blowing all kinds of rain up into my side of the tent and getting my sleeping bag all nice and wet. I guess that’s what we get for defying the rules that night and setting up our tent. We spent the last four days hiking in what was literally either a river or a mud pit. There just comes a point where rain pants and jackets give out and you become drenched from head to toe. It’s on those days where you just have to start laughing, otherwise you’re going to be completely miserable.
So the Smokies…not my favorite. Didn’t even see any wildlife other than 2 deer (and somewhere in the universe Maria is feeling a deep sense of calm and peaceful serenity).
BB and I have been extremely blessed. I say that a lot, so I must clarify what exactly I mean. I don’t know if this is a term or not, but I am about to use it when I talk about our dear friends Kanati and Nora V. These two lovely individuals are our trail guardian angels. Trail magic is the lovely acts of kindness given to us hikers for no reason other than to be wonderful. Trail angels are the incredible souls who give out these acts of benevolence. I’m going to suggest that trail guardian angels are those who have hiked the AT already, and who personally know, love, and think of you as you are on your own adventure. Nora V is BB’s best friend (I’ve mentioned her before as she visited us in Hiawassee) and Kanati is my hiking mentor. As a result, BB and I have two lovely trail guardian angels that are looking out for us and more than willing to offer help whenever we need it.
While we were in Fontana, many people were having package issues. A lot of people stayed in Fontana an extra day because their package didn’t arrive on time. That wasn’t the case for BB and I. Kanati sent us a WONDERFUL package full of all kinds of amazing things (including fabulous deer sausage from his hunting trips) that arrived just on time. In fact, the woman at the post office knew my name already because he had called ahead of time to make sure it was there for me. He’s such a sweetheart.
After exiting the GSMNP, the trail comes across the 1-40 underpass. Nora V, being the angel that she is,
drove 3 hours from her home in Charlotte to pick us stinky and muddy hikers up and take us back to her lovely home. It was here that we were given showers (much needed), lovely warm beds (much appreciated) and a trip to Chili’s for supper (much desired). And it is here that we will stay until Sunday morning. It has been a most glorious stay at that. Nora V has let us borrow her clothes, made us delicious cookies and pancakes, and given us a place to prop up our feet and just watch New Girl for hours. BB and I have been deliciously lazy under her care, and I will forever be thankful for that. Two zero days may set us back a bit in our schedule, but laughing, eating, and being lazy with Nora V has been well worth it.
Body Dialogues with BB: Sometimes your body hurts when you hike several hundreds of miles. At
least, that seems to be a pretty common side effect. So BB has begun a fun little bit where she makes her body parts talk to each other. Sounds weird, and it really is, but it usually has me cracking up. For example, when my toenail fell off, her body dialogue sounded something like this:
” So basically you have this toenail that’s like, ‘Hey man, what the heck? I didn’t sign up for this hiking business! I’m out of here!’ And the other toenails are like, ‘Yeah, get the heck out of here man! If you can’t be on board with this, then we don’t want you around. Get the heck out of here!'”
Maybe it’s just one of those things you have to be there for…but I’m cracking up every time, I promise you. And it usually makes me forget my pain, so that’s the real important part.
Privy Ratings: Single Speed is this awesome older guy who tells a lot of dad jokes, but I also love dad jokes, so it makes my day. One of his jokes that we have carried on from shelter to shelter would be the privy rating system. We have now been rating the privies (which are essentially outhouses for those that don’t know) on a 1-4 “Toilet Seat” basis. Single Speed is pretty fast, so when we pull into camp, he’s usually the first to tell us, “Oh that’s a one-seater at best.” We base our ratings on various things such as location of the privy (can you wave to hikers while you are using the restroom or is it up a big hill forever away?), whether or not the bucket is full of leaves to help decompose the waste, how full the privy is (which he has appropriately called “Drop Time”) and various other important aspects. Yeah, it’s kind of gross, but it makes us laugh a whole lot. I feel like we have spent an obnoxiously long time talking about privies, and that makes me chuckle.
Jimmy Fallon: If for some reason, we find that Jimmy Fallon is MIA, I know exactly where he is, and that would be on the AT. There is a character that we have been seeing occasionally whom we know very little about. We really only know one thing: he looks and sounds EXACTLY like Jimmy Fallon. As a result, BB and I may or may not have crushes…
Chili’s: I mentioned a trip to Chili’s earlier, but I really need to spend more time talking about this
matter. This has been the one place that BB and I have been craving like no other. Bottomless chips and guacamole, chicken pasta, chicken fajitas, strawberry lemonade, all of these things were calling us. We would sit at the shelter and talk in almost inappropriate ways about this delectable food. Nora V and her lovely mother Kay were able to make that dream a reality Thursday night. Needless to say, we ate our hearts out…
On Sunday we’ll hit the trail again and head towards Hot Springs, NC. Looking forward to what lies ahead!
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.
I love reading about your adventures! Thinking of you and praying for you and BB lots! Love you!! ~ tyree