Finally I have made it to Erwin, TN.
The Smokies: I guess I did not do my homework properly because I had no idea how difficult the Smokies would be. The steep terrain combined with the nearly constant turbulent weather made for an extremely challenging climb up to Clingman’s dome. Several nights the temperatures got to around freezing, and my 15 degree bag was simply not doing its job. On the day my friend and I hiked up to Clingman’s, conditions were at their worst. The wind blew in strong with thick chilled white fog and freezing rain that seemed to pierce through any weather protective gear. Taking any sort of break during the hike was dangerous, so by the time we got to the heated shop we were ready to get off the trail. We shuttled into Cherokee for a night of dry rest, food and laundry. As I child, I remember Cherokee being a magical sort of place rich with Native American Culture. However, now the town seems sad to me. Lackluster and kitschy. I was eager to get back to the trail and finish the Smokies, which although were very difficult, were well worth the hard work. The land is so beautifully diverse and rich in wildlife. Also, in the smokey mountains are some of the best views I’ve seen yet.
This excludes Max Patch. I’ve found that even more than cemeteries or fire towers, the bald mountains alone are reason enough to attempt a thru hike. Max Patch was more magnificent then I’d imagined. During my horribly wonderful and extravagant four zero days in the pit of quicksand that is Hot Springs, I doubled back to Max patch with my boyfriend to share the views. We had such a lovely time hammocking and watching the sunset. He said “I feel like I’m in a bowl of mountain.” And we were.
I was also able to meet up with my parents in Hot Springs. They were very generous and we shared the jumbo tub at the resort. It was very relaxing although I wished the springs were naturally a little hotter. My parents also rented me the Song Bird Cottage near the Smokey Mountain Diner. It was all so wonderful being the world’s laziest human. The only hitch in my stay was being harassed by the town cop, who treated me like a second hand citizen and grouped me in with the “homeless drunks and thieves posing as hiker.” He caught me using the bathroom in the wood behind my tent and told me I was creating a human cesspool in front of the town’s children. A bit of an overreaction, but I’d wished I didn’t already have a trail name so I could be cesspool.
The climb out of Hot Springs proved to be very mentally and physically challenging. I felt out of shape and missed home more then ever. This lasted until the night before I got to Erwin. I camped on Bald mountain and watched the sunset around a fire with a group of strangers. One hiker named Gold star performed a fire dancing ceremony and knighted everyone, presenting us with gold star stickers. After the ceremony the sky cleared up and I thought maybe it was because of his dance.
Because I can not keep my hands out of my food bag, I ran out of rations and had to hike the 17+ miles into Erwin a day early. Here I’ve stayed at Uncle Johnny’s Hostel where the staff and guests have been so kind and welcoming. Although I have experienced plenty of generosity and trail magic, staying here was the first time I really felt like I was a part of the hiking community.
I am very excited for the upcoming Trail Days Festivities.
Thanks for reading.
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