The Learning Curve: Carolina and Tennessee
To date, I have hiked over 200 miles. In the large scheme of things that’s not much, I know. It’s a personal record though and this trek has been a constant roller coaster that goes something like this:
“Golly-jee hiking sure is fun!
Oh crap, that’s not good.
This Trail is for sadists; why didn’t I just go on a beach vacation?
Oh wait, I think I can fix this.
Everything hurts, but I guess I’ll just keep going.
Wow, look at that! I can’t believe how awesome this is!”
Here are some of the more and less awesome things I’ve encountered. I’ve only provided photo documentation of the awesome things (because who’s taking pictures in the health clinic?).
My Body Hates Me
Yup, it’s a cage match between my body and the wilderness. So far, the wilderness is like Rhonda Rousey, and I’m like an underweight freshman on the wrestling team. Blood Mountain lived up to its fierce name and trashed my knee. My initial tactics included sucking it up, creative limping, and trying to rest it for a day. I broke down and got a cortisone shot in Robbinsville NC and my husband over-nighted me the biggest knee brace he could find. It was here that my Trail name was born: Robo-Knee. Other bodily insults include daily sunburns, pack induced sores, bruises from a stumble, and a stomach that can only survive on cheese and peanut butter. Yup, my body really does hate me right now.
Last year was intense for western Carolina. The local people I’ve talked to have described last year’s drought and fires and how they devastated the region. I walked through countless miles of burnt forest; in some places the fires burned so hot that the fire killed the mature trees. Now whole mountain peaks might crumble without the vegetation to support them. The town of Gatlinburg is rebuilding, but burnt buildings and slopes still scar the views. If you want to pretend you’re hiking through the Apocalypse, the AT through here is the place to do it.
Sadly, the observation tower on Wayah Mt. had burned. Darn you, Sherman!
You never really get tired of these, and they seem to show up just when you need them most. After a seemingly endless climb your legs are burning, your lungs are ready to explode, and you swear “if there’s one more f*#ing false summit I’m going home”. Then you come around a bend and BAM! Payday.
Max Patch is one giant outdoor recreation photo shoot!
Great Smoky Mountains
These mountains are in their own class. I’m sure when I get to the Whites I’ll reminisce on their quaint hellishness, but the Smokies were hard! Temps dropped into the 40’s, which by itself wouldn’t be bad. However, the cold combined with a deluge that turned the Trail into a trout stream, making conditions similar to something you might have seen in a WWI documentary (minus the tanks). Seriously though, no one should ever voluntarily hike through 6 inches of mud and running water. There were no views for the most part; just white out. Sure, the spruce and fir trees were neat, but the altitude was high enough that all of the beautiful wildflowers I’d seen in Nantahala were still soundly sleeping. Good things that came from this experience; I dumped a bunch of gear I didn’t need; lightening my pack by 5 pounds. I also was rewarded with one day of sunshine that proved the Smokies could be nice, if you can catch them on a clear day.
The Smoky Mountains are aptly named.
Okay, so I’ve been endlessly entertained by the flora and fauna out here. Little red squirrels and chipmunks yell at me from trees and so many cool insects have crossed my path at camp. There has been an endless parade of wildflowers that have me smiling like an idiot every time I see a new variety. Every night it seems I fall asleep to owls, coyotes, and whippoorwills. Every morning I wake up to towhees and warblers. This is a naturalists dream!
We almost squished this guy while setting up camp!
Early Hydrangeas were blooming.
Hiking with a Buddy
Just as I was settling in to my solo life on the Trail, I got to meet my college friend Roomie, aka Carolyn, trail name Mexico!! Hiking with her has been tons of fun. It’s nice to catch up with an old friend and have someone else to struggle up hills with (Roomie never complains though; she’s more stoic than the entire cast of 300). I’m going to miss her when I continue on with the journey, but having the company was really refreshing.
Roomie riding the caboose in Hot Springs.
So there you have it; my latest adventures and misadventures on the AT. This thing so far is no joke; there’s a lot of pain, but the rewards make it worth it at the end of the day. At least that’s what I tell myself when I’m in town, well fed, and rested. I hear it gets easier though in Virginia, and if not I’m sure they’ll tell me it gets easier a little further down the line…
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The trip sounds like it’s both horrendous and amazing. Your pictures of the views though are amazing!! I hope your knee is doing much better – take care, I don’t want you destroying your body doing this!
Also, 200 miles blows my mind. How far away/close would you estimate you are to the VA border?
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