Next Up: Great Smoky Mountains
We’ve made it to the threshold of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Fontana Dam! While this feels like a great accomplishment, it will be completing this 75-mile section of the AT that will truly feel like a win.
Bodhi Takes A Break
Unfortunately, we’re without our best buddy, Bodhi, for this part of the trek. Dogs aren’t allowed in GSMNP so he’s getting some well-deserved R&R at Loving Care Kennels. He’ll rejoin us at the far edge of the Smokies, Davenport Gap, in a little over a week.
Which means he misses the hike up Clingmans Dome – at 6,643 feet, the highest point on the AT. My ankles ache just thinking about it.
Injuries and Other Challenges
Speaking of ankles, Chris (aka Buttermeister) has recovered from a nasty sprain on his right ankle though he is still dealing with shin splints on his left leg. As for me, the pain in my hip appears to have subsided and my overall stamina improved – I can now stay awake at least 30 minutes after sunset. Blisters are a new problem for me and I’m counting on leukotape to put an end to that.
We decided to take a double zero here at Fontana Lodge to tend to our injuries, do laundry and eat until our tummies are full.
As for other trail challenges, we survived 60 mph wind gusts overnight at Sassafras Gap. Our tent survived a glancing blow from a tree branch with no damage & we were thrilled at only a short rain shower that night. We did a 3,000 ft elevation gain climb up Cheoh Bald and completed our first 12-mile day with a three-mile downhill to Fontana.
New Friends, Lost and Found
The best stories from the trail revolve around the people we’ve met. The father and son hiking pair, AM and PM, have become good friends. AM is our age and likes to get an early start. PM starts out later & typically passes his dad on the trail. PM also lives with Parkinson’s which gives him a unique lens into the world. We heard he’s taking some healing time off-trail and look forward to traveling with him again soon.
Our one-time hostel host, Zen, is a Tai Chi master with a labyrinth mind. After you talk with him, you feel like you knew less than you did before. As we set off from Rock Gap, he called after me: “Put on your gloves, Owl! The wind is stronger than your chi!”
Another hiker that we shared a shelter with, Overflow Joe, built large timber frame structures, including a huge winery in Virginia. Young hiker, Half-Pike, got his trail name literally from the javelin that he cut down into a hiking pole. Logman carries (you guessed it) an actual log to bring awareness to veteran’s issues.
There is sadness, too, as some new friends have left the trail or travel so much faster that we are unlikely to cross paths again. Nine-year-old Little Red and her sister, Rocket, were among Bodhi’s favorites as well as mine. Their clergy parents are on a tight schedule to complete the trail during their dad’s five-month sabbatical. The Happy Hippie had to return home to Colorado because of recurring back pain though her partner, Whiskers, plans to continue after she is taken care of and we hope to see him again soon. We’ve lost track of Shamrock and her daughter & hope they are well.
The ever-cheerful Tigger left the trail to return to his NC home after completing his planned section hike. We’ll miss his antics with making Jiffy Pop over a camp stove and his late-ish nighttime greeting “Goodnight John-boy.”
Recently we’ve been keeping pace with Rainbow Brite and Mr. Clean. They hike faster (heck, EVERYONE hikes faster than me) but tend to stay at the same campsites.
One last story before finishing up – we were just outside the front door of Fontana Lodge on Friday night, gathering our things to walk down to our room, when we were approached by a man with a big smile. “I bought too much beer to fit into my pack. You two look like thirsty thru-hikers. Would you like 3 cans of beer?” You can bet we didn’t say “no.”
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