From Nantahala to the Smokies, Day 17 thru 24

The Zero with Sherri was fantastic.  She cooked, had enchiladas and salad one night and pasta with Italian sausage, fresh tomatoes and basil the next.  I am normally not a hot tub guy, but for hikers it was amazing.  Awesome!

Hike, Billy Bob Hike!

Started back out from the Nantahala Outdoor Center on Friday without Heat Man.  Training wheels off.   Back in the mist and rain, just like we left it.  Got on trail about 9:30 for the big climb out of NOC, about 3000 vf in but over 8 miles.  Did better than I thought.  Wind got up in the middle of the day and my hands got cold.  I decided to put my gloves on.  But I should have decided sooner, my hands were so cold, I had trouble getting the chest latch undone to get my pack off.  All I could think about was a headline, “Hiker found dead on trail because he was too dumb to get his pack off and save himself.”  You get a little dramatic in the woods by yourself.  Got the gloves on and everything was fine.  Ran into Ivan, he was trying to do 15 to get to the next gap and had a hostel.  15 miles is a little much for me right now, I am felling good and want it to stay that way.  I camped at Locust Cove and Alaska was there with a fire going.  The wind had let up and it wasn’t as cold but it was still a nice time to have a fire.  Jen also rolled in and enjoyed the fire. 

Billy Bob and Ivan in the Clouds

Alaska. Man makes fire! Thanks Alaska!

The next day, still no views, walking in the clouds.  Burned off the middle of the day and some partial views up high, warmed up into the 60’s.  Met a guy headed south, Kevin, about my age, and had a good conversation with him.  He was section hiking from Clingman’s Dome to NOC.  He was from Kentucky and worked for an automotive supply company and had some customers near Atlanta.  Did 12 miles to Cable Gap Shelter. 

You can see Fontana Lake in the Distance. That’s where I’m headed.

Rolled in and to my surprise, Alaska was there with another fire going.  I didn’t expect to see him, he and some other Army buds were taking turns hiking sections and driving the vehicle around from gap to gap.  He had hopped off and went to Fontana and hiked back in going south. He said there wasn’t anything in Fontana but a dam and a lodge.  Jen ended up there also. I cooked with some section hikers, a pair of brothers, a son and a friend.  One was a history professor at Georgia Southern and one was a history professor at Ball State in Indiana.  We talked Cumberland Island, the Okefenokee,  and boiled peanuts.  The guys from Indiana hadn’t ever had any good boiled peanuts.  I told them they hadn’t had mine.  You aren’t likely to get any good ones at the road side stands unless they are cooking them on the spot.  

Resupply at Fontana

I had 5 miles the next day to get Fontana.  Pretty big descent, 2000 vf.  The Marina at the dam was not a real resupply unless your going to exist on Gatorade, beer, and Doritos.  There was a shuttle to Fontana Village at noon, so I took that to what I thought was going to be a small town with a couple of places to get lunch and a store to resupply.  When I got dropped off, I understood what Alaska was talking about.  It was Fontana Village Resort.  There was a 24 hour general store and a post office and a check-in desk where we got dropped off.  There is a lodge, cabins and units of rooms in a campus like setting.  The next shuttle was at 3:00, so that was going to be late getting back on the trail with a big climb out and entering Smoky Mountain National Park.  So, I called an audible.  Thought I would get a good night’s sleep indoors, do laundry and eat a couple of hot meals before the big climb out of Fontana.   Ivan, Jen, Alaska and Pops were all there.  Had a big Ghost Burger and a couple of beers for lunch and a margherita pizza with sausage added for dinner.  A WHOLE PIZZA.

I haven’t eaten a whole pizza since I was 18 years old.

Had breakfast with Ivan and Alaska and caught the 9:00 shuttle with Ivan.  Fueled up and ready for the 3000 vf climb out of Fontana.  I walked across the dam with Ivan and met the two Rhonda’s.  Not kidding.  Rhonda #1 and Rhonda #2 hiking together. 

Our Federal Government

You have to pay $40 to get a permit to hike in the National Park.  The National Park that my tax dollars have already paid for.  You have to go online to get the permit, but having a PDF of it on your phone isn’t good enough.  You have to print out a paper copy and stuff into a box on one side of the park and another copy when you leave on the other side of the park.  It took both hands to jam the paper copy in the box because it was so full and obviously hadn’t been emptied in a long time.  I guess the postal service must empty the box.  Then you are required to sleep at a shelter, no other place, not even tent outside unless it’s full.  Luckily, being full this time of year isn’t a problem.  I had much rather sleep in my hammock than in close quarters with people I don’t know, and I am not sleeping in one unless it’s a storm, or Ranger Rick is standing there telling me he is going to escort me out of the park if I don’t.  I never saw a Ranger Rick.  They also have a bunch of crazy bear rules, don’t like bear cannisters, which every other place in the US encourages bear cannisters.  They at least do have bear cables at each shelter, but half of them don’t have privy’s (outhouse) .  If you want to have the least impact on the environment, why wouldn’t you have privy’s?  End Rant.  

View of Fontana Lake from the Dam

View from the top. Fontana is the tallest dam east of the Rockies at 480 ft.

Into the Smokie’s

I felt good on the big climb and camped at Mollie’s Ridge Shelter with a lot of others.  Probably 30.  Hoping that will thin out on the other side of the Smokie’s.  The wind got up during the night, 25 to 30 mph, but I slept good till the rain started before daylight.  It rained hard, probably an inch.  I stayed in the hammock hoping it would stop.  Others were packing up in the rain and leaving.  I waited till about 8:30, when it had let up some and packed up in the light rain.  I don’t mind so much walking in the rain, but packing up and unpacking in the rain sucks.  The saying on the trail is, sometimes you have to embrace the suck.  I have just already had a few days weather wise, where it has been a big sloppy kiss, on you like a spider monkey kind of embrace.  Oh well,  the sun will come back out eventually.  A couple of bear cannisters got taken during the night, they didn’t get into them, the cannisters did their job, but they got taken down the hill a ways and clawed up.

Hiker Accosted by Bear

So, I am hiking out in the rain.  Tough hiking conditions, lots of mud and slippery conditions. At least the wind had laid down.  So, I am trudging along, minding my own business, and that’s when I first saw the bear.  He expected me to either flip or fly.  I didn’t do either and it hung him up.  He starts sniffing around me trying to smell a little fear and it hung him up.  So then, he ate my sun glasses just to show me he was a badass.  But my eyes was a lot redder than his was, and it hung him up.  So, the bear says “Give me that Thai Curry Rice with Chicken and that Snickers Bar!”  I said, “Hell no, your not getting my Snickers Bar!  You tell me where that still is that Jimmy Buffet sings about!”  He said, “Hell no!  Lets Rassle for it!”  I said, “You want to do the Bear Dance with me?  Cause I’m not drunk now, but I have been “God’s Own Drunk and a Fearless Man” before, I and I can do it again!”  So, we commenced to doing the Bear Dance.  Not to brag or anything, but Billy Bob sent that Bear running and he climbed a tree he knew I couldn’t climb.  

Bear pouting in tree after losing rassling match to Billy Bob

Apologies to Lord Richard Buckley and Jimmy Buffet.  If you aren’t’ familiar with the song that I have ripped off, you should listen to “God’s Own Drunk” on the double live Jimmy Buffet album, “You had to Be There”, recorded at the Fabulous Fox Theatre in Atlanta, GA.  

Clingman’s Dome, Newfound Gap and Gatlinburg

Made the big climb up to Clingman’s Dome, highest point on the AT Wednesday.   Good day for views, could see a really long way.  The climb and descent were thru beautiful Frazier Fir forests.  

Almost at the top at Clingman’s Dome

I got to Newfound Gap at US 441 between Cherokee and Gatlinburg about 11:00 and Sherri picked me up about 12:00.  Godsend was there, and a hiker named Alicia, whom I had not met yet.  Both were looking to go into town, so we all went to the Smokey Mountain Brewery, pigged out on a Reuben and a couple of IPA’s.  Then we took them to the NOC outpost and Walgreens for their resupply.  Guess who I ran into at the NOC.  Thought he was already gone and I had not gotten his number or a picture.  Very thankful to have met this guy on the trail and hope our paths cross again some day.  

Pops. Thankful that our trails have crossed! Hope they do again some day.

Looking forward to the rest of the zero with Sherri and some more home cooking! More pictures and video on @Billybobhikes on IG. 

Hasta Manana!

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