See Ya, Smokies! Days 23–29

A big ol’ update!

Day 23: Mt. Collins to Newfound Gap to Gatlinburg; 4.9 miles

Today was a shorty. Banjo, Uncle, Ramen Bomb Tom, Dinger, and I hiked to Newfound Gap. I came across my first wire fences that are supposed to prevent wild boars from entering a protected area. Here’s the sign:

And here’s me about to cross over the fence:

Quite exciting.

When I got to Newfound Gap, I was greeted with some amazing trail magic provided by thru-hikers! I scarfed down a grilled cheese sandwich, a donut from a local bakery, clementines galore (!!), and took a care package.

Then Dinger provided some trail magic of his own: He covered my shuttle ride into Gatlinburg. I’d decided to go into town because I needed rest and to do laundry. My period was exhausting me and I’d bled through most of my pants by this point. Yay.

Well, the Microtel I split with Ramen Bomb didn’t have a laundry machine for guests, so bathtub laundry it was. COVID flashbacks (I didn’t have a laundry machine in my Brooklyn apartment at the time).

Ramen Bomb, Banjo, and I ate at Mellow Mushroom Pizza, then resupplied at Walgreens ($$$). This town is a zoo.

Pizza was dec, though

After organizing my food and talking to a friend on the phone, I passed out and slept incredibly well.

Our beds faced each other. Kinda weird, kinda perfect for lounging and chatting. Pardon the backpack explosion.

On that note: It’s been challenging for me to stay in touch with my loved ones while on trail. I’ve felt so present when I don’t have cell reception, but when I get to town, I find myself buried in my phone sometimes trying to respond to everyone on top of doing my town chores (resupply, planning the next week of my life, etc.) on top of being present with the people around me. Phone calls are a little easier. I’m figuring out what works for me.

Day 24: Newfound Gap to Peck’s Corner Shelter; 10.5 miles

Uncle had to leave the trail, so he and Banjo’s dad dropped us back off at Newfound Gap — Banjo now equipped with his namesake.

Banjo with banjo at Charlie’s Bunion

We passed a lot of dayhikers early on in the day, then enjoyed a lovely afternoon on the ridge. We took breaks every few hours and Banjo taught me some songs I could sing while he played. It felt so fulfilling to be learning and making music with others again.

Happy because of the music and views

We’re staying at a shelter about half a mile off the AT, but the vibes are great! Most of the hikers at the shelter are women tonight. Normally the folks staying at shelters and tent sites are like 95% men. 

One of the women I met tonight was another blogger for The Trek, Kay Allan aka Chappie!

Dinner time at the shelter

Banjo and I might hike about 20 miles tomorrow — a first for me. Wish us luck. I really don’t want to be in the Smokies for the impending snow storm.

Day 25: Peck’s Corner to Davenport Gap Shelter; 19.5 trail miles (20.4 total including the blue blaze from Peck’s Corner!)


Banjo and I started the day hiking through a cloud. Everything was foggy, misty, and damp. Once again, the wind motivated me to move rather quickly because the sound of it stresses me out to no end. I wonder why. But hey, the Smokies lived up to their name, and this weather is its own kind of beautiful.

In the afternoon, the clouds parted and gave way to sun. I really wanted to bask in it, but we had to get these miles in. I still took a few short, pack-off breaks throughout the afternoon, though.

The long, rocky, stair-step descent to Davenport Gap Shelter was… painful. I was glad to see the shelter at the end of the day. Though we’re supposed to sleep in shelters in the Smokies, my Uncle Ron’s reminder that it’s safer to stop and set up camp than hike exhausted rang through my head in the afternoon. I felt proud of myself for pushing myself while still taking breaks and checking in with myself throughout the day.

Since so few of us were at the shelter tonight, I actually set up inside. This shelter is caged so bears can’t get in. It’s kind of weird but I feel extra safe, I guess (aside from the giant wolf spiders and mice scurrying around).

Caged in

Lastly, my first period in the wilderness is finally done. I feel like a badass, honestly. For my next period, I’m planning to use tampons and just pack them out with me. It’s the method I have the most experience with, and doesn’t require me to put my sometimes dirty hiker fingernails too far up where the sun don’t shine. And on that note…

Day 26: Davenport Gap to Tent Site at Mile 251.9; 13.6 miles

Thanks to my newly acquired Merlin app, I know that it was an Eastern Phoebe that woke me up this morning.

At some point during the night, a mouse got into my hanging food bag and had a party in my trash bag. Luckily, it spared all my toiletries and food, but I was a little grossed out packing everything up this morning.

Today was HOT and I couldn’t wear my shorts. They’re getting way too big, and yesterday, the built-in mesh underwear rubbed against my upper thighs too much. I swapped my shorts for my hiking pants halfway through the day thinking I’d caught the issue in time, but unfortunately the damage was done. Word to the wise: If something is bothering you, take care of it immediately before it becomes a problem! Anyway, I begrudgingly threw on my long black hiking pants on this 80-degree day and off we went.

See ya, Smokies!

It was a little sketchy finding our way under I-40 to get back on trail after leaving the Smokies. Banjo would probably say otherwise, but I know if I was alone, I would’ve been stressing that I was missing the trailhead.

We opted to skip Standing Bear Hostel. Though we didn’t have an exact shelter or tent site in mind, we wanted to hike about 15 miles today. We’re trying to get to Hot Springs for a couple nights to wait out the snow.

No one talks about Snowbird Peak, but it’s quite a climb. Buoyed by a combination Aleve (I rarely take any kind of pain killers) and a caffeinated electrolyte tablet (I also rarely consume caffeine), I managed. I was super sweaty, though, and ready for rest at any tree trunk or water source I could find.

Banjo, Chickadee, and I stopped at a mossy waterfall to eat lunch and soak our tired feet. I’d say that was the highlight of my day.

Snowbird Peak is a grassy, open summit with a nifty air traffic control tower and an expansive view to take in. 

Sweaty Betties

After lunch, I took fewer breaks. A thunderstorm was supposed to blow in around 6, so I wanted to get camp set up as soon as possible. As I type this up around 9pm, it hasn’t yet begun, but the wind is blowing hard against my tent.

We found a campsite with a fire ring and plenty of space for three tents (mine, Banjo’s, and Chickadee’s). I ate chana masala for dinner and strung up my food bag as the wind started to howl.

In my tent, I wiped down with some wet wipes and cared for the upper thigh chafing that started yesterday. Even though I didn’t wear my shorts today, as the afternoon wore on and I got sweatier, my actual merino wool underwear started rubbing uncomfortably in nearly the same place. This is quite unfortunate. I’m hopeful for cooler weather — and even snow — the next two days. I may or may not be hiking commando tomorrow.

I think I’ll get some cheap emergency spandex at the outfitter in Hot Springs. I’m very much done with all this chafing. Stay on top of your clothes as your body changes!

Day 27: Mile 251.9 to Tent Site at 267.7; 15.8 miles

Okay, I understand the hiking kilt thing now. Because of my chafing the last two days, I decided to go commando under my loose-fitting hiking pants and wow. Life changer.

It’s Max Patch day and I have to say, I wish it was sunny and clear. Instead, we trudged up and into a cloud today. It was misting, then raining, then the wind picked up again.

At our first gap of the day, we came across a true trail angel named Wicked Pissah. She offered us snacks galore and let folks sit in her truck to warm up. I grabbed some electrolytes to power me up the next hill.

By the time I reached Max Patch, the rain was coming down and the wind was gusting at 50 or 60 mph — I could hardly keep my balance. It was pretty fun, though I was concerned about my hands being too cold. I stopped a few times to nestle my hands between my legs and warm them up.

We reached our second gap of the day, and there was Wicked Pissah again! This time, she made us hot chocolate and let me dry my rain fly on the back of her truck because the sun had come out. And here’s where “the trail provides” rings absolutely true: Not an hour before seeing her again, I’d finished all my toilet paper and was stressing out. I very humbly asked Wicked Pissah if she happened to have an extra roll or some tissues, and she pulled out an entire roll of the GOOD stuff. What a gem of a human.

The rest of the day was pretty chill. The sun stayed out and some snow blew in. The trail was relatively flat and downhill. And I especially loved the cozy little thicket of rhododendrons that protected our tents from the wind beyond.

Now mostly dried out from the day’s adventures, Banjo, Butters, and I hunkered down in our tents in preparation for the impending snow.

Guapa, for the fans

Day 28: Tent site at 267.7 to Elmer’s Sunnybank Inn in Hot Springs, NC; 7.5 miles

The little Michigander in me was really excited to wake up to a dusting of snow.

I played music in one ear as I packed up camp and “Roll, Brandywine, Roll” by Hoots & Hellmouth came on. The lyrics felt especially poignant today.

I have gone and left my heart
My life, my love, my home
To roll, Brandywine, roll
It is well with my soul

I have turned off all my thinking
Except for what I need to know
To roll, Brandywine, roll
It is well with my soul

With every melody
of every symphony
from every bird in every tree
I am the least of these…

A short 7.5 miles into town. Not too much to report besides some graves we found right off trail!! I was just so happy to see Hot Springs!

I need to resupply and plan out the next few weeks of my life, but today, I think I’ll get some nachos at the brewery, enjoy a smoothie, and just be present with the people around me.

I highly recommend Elmer’s Sunnybank Inn for folks passing through Hot Springs. I felt the magic of community tonight… something akin to the collective effervescence I mentioned in my first blog post.

Before bed, everyone at the Inn gathered in one of the common rooms to sing, play games (I won two games of backgammon!), and chat. At one point, I sat in the corner and just observed the raw humanity happening around me. Everyone’s essence filled the space like a big hug as we all sang along to “In Spite of Ourselves” by John Prine with Iris DeMent.


Day 29: ZERO

Sleep: Great.

French toast at Smoky Mountain Diner: Delicious.

Ambiance at Artisun Café: Top notch.

Resupply at Bluff Outfitters: Easy.

Sandwich at Vaste Rivera: Incredible.

Introvert time back at Elmer’s Sunnybank Inn: Necessary.

Dinner at the taqueria/brewery: Yummy.

Goodnight 🙂

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Comments 2

  • Lisa : Apr 7th

    First I wanted to tell you how much I am enjoying hanging out with you along your journey…your posts are so real and for a wannabe hiker like myself you include practical information that will be useful. It truly touched my heart though at the end of this post as you described being in a room full of warmth and true belonging. My partner of 13 1/2 years died suddenly in 2021 and I have been searching for that feeling of knowing that I belong. Neither one of us felt like a piece of paper was needed to have a life together but if we would have ever taken that step we decided early in the relationship what song we would sing and dance to…you guessed it…In Spite of Ourselves. Thank you again for allowing me to tag along in your journeys…I am cheering you on from GA!

    • Mo Wynne : Apr 16th

      Lisa, I’m sorry I didn’t respond sooner. Your story means a lot to me, and I wanted to thank you so much for sharing it with me. This brought tears to my eyes! The song has a special place in my heart now, too. Maybe this was your partner saying “hello” and telling you to keep searching for that feeling of knowing and belonging (if you believe that sort of thing)!! Sending lots of love and encouragement from the trail! X


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