Hiking by Numbers (live from Hot Springs, NC!)
“What time is it?” Perhaps the most inane question on the Trail. “Judging by the position of the sun,” I begin, wetting my grubby pointer finger between my sun burnt lips and using it to test the direction of the wind, “and the upward whip of the wind… it must be day time.” What more does a hiker need to know?
I don’t wear a watch while hiking. I had one up until the hot springs at Deep Creek on the Pacific Crest Trail last year and used it to calculate roughly how far I’d gone. I’ve heard it refered to as navigating by time and it goes a little something like this: “Well, if I’m going 2.5 miles an hour, which I’m probably not, and I started at 8:30am… then how is it possible that it’s only 10am and how the hell is everyone else hiking so freakin’ fast!?”
It was in those hot springs that my “waterproof” watch met its end, and as I hear the shuffling of hiker trash outside the hostel today in the small town of Hot Springs, North Carolina, the questions about the time, how many miles to the next shelter, how many thousand feet we have to ascend – I feel free. I don’t need to know what the temperature is to know that I don’t want to hike out in the heat of the day today, and I don’t need to know how many miles to the next shelter there are because it’s a beautiful day to camp.
There are times when hiking by numbers are important, but fortunately for me, most other hikers still have their watches. I have really been enjoying taking it easy, letting the sun be my alarm clock and the sunset be my bedtime story.
In any case, here is an update on my hike:
I have been hiking more or less on my own, but with about 50 of my closest friends. It rained for a week straight before I arrived at the Great Smoky Mountains which begin at Fontana Dam, from where I posted about my awesome ass boots. I spent that night in a shelter called the Fontana Hilton because of its size. There were many hikers raging there that night as a general store is a mere 2 mile hitch from the shelter, but I partied in my own way: with ice cream. I got a little shit for buying as many ice cream bars as I did and then eating them all myself, but – but, but… it was so worth it.
The next morning my friend Quiet Diet and I walked passed the 6th largest dam in the nation, Fontana Dam, and climbed into the Smokies in a muggy haze. I didn’t remember how painfully rugged the first half of the Smokies were. Fortunately, it allowed me to catch China Rock, who I knew from the PCT. We all went into Gatlinburg, Tennessee and had a couple beers (my tolerance ain’t what it used to be), and caught up. I hadn’t taken a zero day in the 3 weeks I’d been on the Trail, so I decided it was time. It was so very needed. We hitched back to the Trail with a retired couple the next day and ascended Clingman’s Dome, the highest point on the Appalachian Trail. It was completely socked in the fog, but I kinda remembered it from 4 years ago, so I was able to give a rough description of what my friends were missing: trees and mountains and shit.
The second half of the Smokies was far smoother than the first and the weather has been generally clear since then. We ran into some amazing trail magic at Brown Gap, just before one of my favorite places on the AT – Max Patch. So we loaded up on cheeseburgers and got all jacked up on Mountain Dew and hit the summit from a sunny burny nap amidst a slew of day hikers. There are so many people on the Trail this year, doing sections, thrus, or day hikes. So. Many. People. But it’s alright because we share the common love of nature, so I can get down with it. I’m also gaining the ability to sleep through anything, so that’s good. ?
Today the plan is to hike out of Hot Springs a few miles. Once again, I have resupplied as if I have 4 stomachs and am therefore not looking to carry my weight too far this evening. I stayed at Elmer’s Historic Sunnybank Inn last night where we had a big family style dinner. 5 courses. But who’s counting?
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