Making it to the Smokies

Day 13 – Deep Gap to Betty Creek Gap – 12.3 miles

After the missing bear can debacle, I got a shuttle back to the trail and did the hike up to Standing Indian Shelter AGAIN. It was foggy and spitting mist, and got ever windier as I climbed to 5000 feet for the first time on the trip. The upside of yesterday’s rain was that all the water sources were running well, and I discovered that a chilly, misty forest is a fabulous ambience in which to listen to an audiobook of my favorite murder mystery.

I got to Betty Creek Gap and tried to find a sheltered campsite. The forecast for tonight and tomorrow is three inches of rain, so I’m mentally preparing myself to wake up in a puddle. I scooted my tent as far as I could into a clump of rhododendrons in hopes that they’ll keep a bit of the rain off me, and I keep tightening my guy lines to get the rainfly taut. Luckily I’ve got a hostel reservation tomorrow so even if everything does get wet, I’ll have a chance to dry it off.

Day 14 – Betty Creek Gap to Winding Stair Gap – 12.2 miles

The wind woke me up a few times last night, doing its best to sound like an approaching tornado. My only complaint with my tent is that the only way to vent it to allow condensation to escape is to unzip the top part of the rainfly, and in a torrential downpour, that option is pretty unattractive. So every time I woke up, I had to wipe down the inside of the mesh walls, and eventually the whole floor of my tent was soaked. I packed up and thanked Yesterday Me for wrapping some pepperoni in tortillas last night to serve as a quick breakfast. I tried to keep my feet out of the puddles for about the first 30 seconds of my hike, then gave in to the inevitable and starting sloshing through them. I was so happy I’d brought my umbrella; it didn’t keep me 100% dry, but there’s something psychologically encouraging about seeing rain pouring down around you but not directly hitting you in the head. Anyway, I was ankle deep in water for much of the first few miles, but they were surprisingly beautiful. Impromptu waterfalls were cascading down the cliff faces next to me, and they served as convenient water sources, as the streams I would normally use were choked with dirt and debris from all the rain.

I decided to take the bad weather bypass around Mount Albert, which was a bit of a shame because it’s the 100 mile marker, but I’d been told there was a rock scramble on the way, and I didn’t love the idea of climbing rocks in the rain. So I did a mile or so on the road, muttering to myself, “Three inches of rain, this counts as bad weather for the bad weather bypass!” I rejoined the AT and ducked into a shelter for lunch. When it’s raining, a shelter looks like a palace with its roof, three walls, and nearby privy, which saved me from having to dig catholes in a downpour. The rain briefly let up but then I started a ridge walk into fierce winds that turned my umbrella inside out and threw sleet in my face.

No better encouragement to make great time down to the gap and meet my shuttle, finishing my first two consecutive 12-mile days! I was rewarded with a Taco Bell run, a hot shower at the hostel, and a reunion with friends – Mama Bear, Papa Bear, and Noodle. I’ve got a zero tomorrow and I cannot WAIT.

Day 15 – Franklin, NC – 0 miles

The hostel I stayed at last night was booked full tonight, so I got dropped off in town and killed a few hours reading at the library and eating as much fried rice as I could hold at a nearby Chinese restaurant. I walked up the road to another hostel and found out to my joy that Wise and Dying of the Gooch Group are staying here too, and met new friends Pickup, Prodeal, Olex, and Chad. One of these days I’ll have a proper zero where nothing dramatic happens – an hour or so after I got settled, a sudden high wind blew down a tree across my host’s driveway. So we spent a few hours helping the hostel owner start cutting up the tree and clearing the brush. (I wasn’t about to try my luck with a chainsaw, but I am a pro at dragging cut branches into a pile.)

After a quick resupply trip to Ingles, I walked to the nearby brewery and met up with my friends, along with Bones and Evening Snack, who were staying at another hostel in town. 

Day 16 – Winding Stair Gap to Wayah Shelter – 11.1 miles

Today was interesting. The first 4 miles or so were mostly climbing (always is, when you’re leaving a gap), but then I got to the side trail to Silder Bald. A “bald” is basically a high open area, like a summit meadow, where you have more or less unobstructed views all around. It was only a quarter mile trail to the top and didn’t look too steep from where I stood (they never do!), but I pretty quickly began cursing myself for not leaving my pack at the bottom. I got to the top eventually, though, and promptly burst into tears. I thought it was just relief that the climb was over, but soon realized I was crying out of joy. All these beautiful, wild places that I’ve seen other hikers reach in their YouTube videos – and now I’m actually here myself, climbing windswept balds and mountain ridges and feeling my legs getting stronger every day. I think this have been the first time I believed I can actually do this.

Another 5 or so miles took me to Wayah Bald where a family of trail angels were handing out brownies and fresh water. Another group of hikers reached the top at the same time, and one of them celebrated by dropping his pack and standing on his head. (There are two ways to celebrate a summit – acrobatics, or collapse. I lean toward the latter.) But as it turns out he is a yoga instructor when he’s not hiking, and between brownies, he showed us some stretches that eased our weary muscles. It was just a quick mile down to the shelter, where I practiced taking pictures of my hand pointing in the direction of where my bear can is hidden. I’ll be damned if I lose another one!

Days 17 to 20 – Wayah Shelter to Brown Fork Gap Shelter – 32.5 miles

I’ll admit I’ve been horrible about journaling the last few days, so I don’t have a lot of details to relate, but a few events stand out. The descent to the Nantahala Outdoor Center was beautiful, full of freshly green trees and the scent of flowers. There were also views that were reminiscent of PCT videos I’ve seen. 

I met up with Wise, Dying, Bones, Evening Snack, Christie, Pickup, and Prodeal for a riverside dinner at the NOC.

I printed out my Smokies permit at the outfitter there, which felt like as big a milestone as hitting mile 150, met new friends Stinky, Hemlock, and Paperback, had my first full day of climbing (8 miles out of the NOC, thanks very much), and was warned about a potentially violent hiker with whom many others had negative interactions with. Most of the people I’ve met out here have been lovely. Sure, there have been some I probably wouldn’t be best friends with, but that’s not unique to the trail. This is the first time I’ve heard of a particular individual being generally shitty. 

Day 21 – Brown Fork Gap Shelter to Fontana Dam Shelter – 12.9 miles

Last day before the Smokies! Or such was the plan. I started off strong, enjoying the increased birdsong and watching for new flowers. I was hoping to make the 4 pm shuttle from Fontana Dam into Fontana Village to resupply, so I put off / forgot to eat most of my lunch. I thought I’d drunk enough water but the sun was merciless, the high was 82 degrees, and I was still climbing, so the leaf cover was fast decreasing. I felt really sluggish and crappy and couldn’t figure out why I was taking so long to get to the top of this blasted mountain, then suddenly it occurred to me that I couldn’t remember the last time I’d peed. Well there’s your answer, said I to myself, you’re dehydrated. Plus you have no energy because you barely ate lunch. And the closest water is past the top of this mountain. Way to set yourself up for success, Liz. (Can you tell I need to practice being nice to myself?) I finally got over the mountain, found a stream, sat down in the shade, and chugged water and electrolytes and ate a big snack. I knew I definitely wasn’t going to make the 4 pm shuttle. If anyone was around that stream, they got to hear me talking myself off a metaphorical ledge. Sometimes it helps to ask myself out loud, “What exactly are you feeling (angry, scared, etc) and what happened to make you feel that way?” So in this case, I felt shitty because I got hot, dehydrated, and hungry. I felt foolish for letting that happen and trepidatious about how I could handle the 90+ degree heat later in the summer. I was upset that I wouldn’t catch the resupply shuttle, so I’d have to change my plans, and discouraged that once again, I’d fallen far behind my friends, and I don’t know if I can keep up with them through the Smokies.

Talking it out with myself helped a bit, and I’ve decided I’m going to take a zero at Fontana Dam tomorrow to rest, resupply, and reset my brain before I enter the Smokies. I was cheered up to find a lot of my friends are zero-ing here tomorrow too, and by the fact that the night is warm enough to sleep with one of my tent vestibules open to the moonlight. It’s the small joys that keep us going. 

 

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Comments 1

  • bricks : May 17th

    Stay safe, with a potentially violent hiker out there

    Reply

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