Hiker Spends the Night Sleeping in a Cage
Bama➡️Baxter Day 51 & 52
Day 51: 15 miles
This morning I woke up around 5 a.m. and it was pouring rain. I curled up in my sleeping bag and felt like the luckiest person alive. Laying under the protection of the shelter, away from the rain!
We had a slow start to the morning and the rain began to slow to a halt. And by the time that we actually got to walking, the sun was already up. That’s nice for a change after starting in the dark the last two mornings. All of us were just so happy that when we started walking, it wasn’t dumping rain. The trail was beautiful all morning and we had a short climb to start the day.
About a mile or so in, all of us stopped to take off our rain gear. But for some reason, I couldn’t get my hip belt buckle undone. Upon further inspection, I had a huge rock stuck under the buckle. I must have accidentally jammed it in when I closed the buckle this morning. After struggling with it for a while, I wound up having to slide my pack off around my waist because I couldn’t get the buckle undone. The guys tried to mess with it but the rock was way too big to get out. I didn’t want to take the time then to figure it out, so I just slid my pack back on.
We continued on after that and the trail was mostly downhill. This is our last day in the Smoky Mountains, and we will pretty much be descending all day long. With just the occasional climb to help and break things up. There were some gorgeous views in the early morning. The visibility was incredible. I truly couldn’t believe it after the forecast that we were expecting for today. It was such a treat.
After a few more miles, we took another break. I slid my pack off around my waist once again. Then I sat down with my knife, determined to get the rock out of my hip belt buckle. While I was walking these last few miles, I had the idea of squirting some hand sanitizer on the rock. Maybe if it’s porous enough, the rock will shrink down a little? That was my thought. And by god, it worked! Once the rock was covered in sanitizer, I was easily able to get the rock out of the buckle. It was quite the relief, honestly. I was a bit concerned that I wouldn’t be able to get the rock out and was going to have to buy another buckle. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case!
I enjoyed our break after that was all figured out. Then we continued along to do another few miles. Once again, it was almost entirely downhill, so the time really flew by. And it was perfect weather out. The rain still hadn’t come and the sun was out. Clear blue skies. Us thru-hikers sure couldn’t complain! Just another mile or so down trail from our break spot, we stopped off at a shelter for water. And we wound up taking a long break there too. We only intended to do 15 miles today, so it felt like we had all the time in the world. Especially after our marathon day yesterday.
Another hiker named Huck Finn came by while we were at the shelter. We talked to him and hung out for a bit longer before walking on. There were less than seven miles to go for the day, and it was just 11 a.m. The downhill continued for the rest of the day, but it fortunately wasn’t too bad. Sometimes descending can be hard on my knees. But I just took my time and tried to lower myself down gently. Which is hard to do when the trail is just stone and wood steps all day long. Steps that are always way too far apart from each other.
With only four miles left to go, we decided to break one last time. We came to a junction for a fire tower that you could hike over to. But it was quite a ways off trail, and all of us weren’t feeling up to it. A light and easy day was all that I wanted after yesterday. So we just broke at the junction instead and had a nice long rest. This has been such a great day so far. Enjoying the beautiful weather, great views, and entirely downhill walking. Quite the combination on the Appalachian Trail.
After taking a final break, we all pushed on to do the final few miles to the shelter for the night. The downhill was actually really gradual and still didn’t bother my knees much at all. By the end, I was a bit tired but not too sore. We arrived at the Davenport Gap Shelter around 2:30 p.m. It felt great to be having an earlier day and knowing that there are only 2.5 miles to do tomorrow. Plus the four of us booked a stay for tomorrow at the Discerning Hiker Hostel. We’re getting a ride over there tomorrow morning at 8 a.m. And I’m so darn excited to take a whole day of rest!
The Davenport Gap Shelter is the infamous caged-in shelter in the Smokies. There is a front gate, which you have to close and latch at night because of bear activity. Bears must have been coming into the shelter or something if the parks decided to entirely cage one in. Apparently, though, many other shelters in the park were originally caged in. But the cages were removed because people were literally feeding the bears through the cage. Which sounds unbelievable but doesn’t surprise me much. This shelter, though, was perfectly nice other than that. The four of us got set up and were the only ones there. That was a cool feeling after the immense crowding in the Smokies.
A couple who we camped with last night arrived shortly after and joined us in the shelter. And not long after that, Huck Finn arrived to stay too. We all had plenty of space to sprawl out in the 12-person shelter since there were only seven of us.
I ate first dinner around 3:30 p.m. and drank a huge hot chocolate. Then I just chilled out, did my stretching and exercises, and then spent a long while drafting blog posts. It felt so nice to just be able to lay and relax for a long while at the end of the day. Everyone was in a great mood, either chatting with one another or doing their own thing. Then I just laid in my bag and called it a night. I’m so looking forward to waking up tomorrow and doing a leisurely 2.5 miles to a road, where a nice man is going to come and pick us up!
Day 52: 2.5 miles
This morning the four of us woke up around 6:30 a.m. and were walking by 7 a.m. We have a shuttle scheduled for 8:15 a.m. and only 2.5 miles to go. So we figured that would be plenty of time.
We set out and the trail was almost entirely downhill, which was nice. And a gradual downhill as well, so it was easy on the knees. To no one’s surprise, we were early for the shuttle and hung out on the curb waiting. Then Ken came and got us and brought us over to Discerning Hiker Hostel. He’s been running it for two years now, and it’s just a quieter and smaller alternative to Standing Bear Hostel, which is just off the trail.
Over the last week or so, we had heard a lot of things about Standing Bear Hostel. It seemed to be very hit-or-miss experience-wise. Some people enjoyed it there, and others had said there can be a lot of drug use, among other things. Because we didn’t stop off at Gatlinburg and just powered through the Smokies, we were really looking for a chill place to stay. And Discerning Hiker Hostel was just that.
The hostel is in a beautiful cabin and has one private queen room and then a room with three large twin beds. It’s $70 a night, and included in the stay is shower, laundry, and also breakfast. Ken will also drive you into the nearby town to resupply at a Walmart and will take you wherever you want to eat or get food from. It seemed like a sweet deal.
When we got there, he showed us around and it was even better than we’d imagined. Then we all showered and got comfortable. He had loner clothes so that we could do all our laundry. We made coffee at the coffee bar and then sat to hang out and talk with Ken. He also had some snacks for us to munch on before we headed into town.
Before going to the Walmart to resupply, he pulled off at a beautiful overlook of the Smokies. He pointed out to us where we had come from, and it was really cool to see it from the opposite perspective as hiking it. Then we went over to a nearby diner to grab lunch before grocery shopping. It’s always safer to grocery shop when you’re full.
I got the most delicious patty melt with tater tots there. I’m obsessed with patty melts while on trail for some reason. But something about the rye bread, burger, grilled onions, and thousand island dressing just does it all for me.
After we ate, we headed over to Walmart and did all our shopping. I didn’t have service at the hostel because of my cell plan, so I used the opportunity while shopping to call my parents. Then Ken drove us back to the hostel to hang out for the night.
Once we were back, I snacked a bit and then sat to journal for a long time. Even though I blog for the Trek on my phone, I also handwrite my daily entries for every day on trail. And as you might imagine, some nights I’m not in the mood to do it, so I can fall a bit behind. So I wound up sitting for a couple hours and just writing.
Around 6 p.m., Ken came back over to the hostel and he and his wife made us dinner. They made us spaghetti with ground beef, meatballs, and red sauce. And there was even garlic bread, salad, and green beans. It really felt like being at home doing a family dinner. It was such a nice treat and not something we’d expected. He even made us root beer floats for dessert. We were all loving life.
After that we all just hung out on our own for the rest of the night. I did a whole lot more journaling and then called it a night around 9:30pm which is pretty late.
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