The Smokies – Hit Me with Your Best Shot
The Smokies were by far the most mentally and physically challenging section of the trail yet. However, it was also the most rewarding.
I was so excited to put my pass in the box to mark the occasion of officially starting the Smokies. I was surprised to not find a small ranger station, information booth or something; nope, nothing, just a metal box you drop your permit in. I was disappointed that I had forgotten to take a picture of the occasion.
Then it was on to the climb.
The Endless Climbs
I thought the climb out of NOC to Cheoah Bald was long but it had nothing on the climb into the Smokies. Ten miles of climbing with a full pack of food, six days worth, put me at my limit. By the time we got to the shelter I was ready to drop my pack and sleep.
Woke up early the next morning to snow! Snow! And more climbing; the higher we got the more snow there was. By the time we got to Rocky Top I was ready to drop my pack and soak in the view. It was our first real look at the Smokies and it was breathtaking; brought a tear to my eye, literally.
But the climb wasn’t over. It was upward to Clingmans Dome at 6,600 feet, the highest point on the Appalachian Trail.
There were many more ups and downs and ups and downs (PUDS, known as pointless ups and downs) before we took the long descent into Davenport Gap, the northern boundary of the Smokies.
Hit me with your best shot, Smokies! We started out in a cold drizzle rain. We were in our traditional knee highs and shorts even though it was cold; but knowing we had lots of climbing coming we knew we would warm up quickly.
Then it snowed; not just a little, but two to four inches. The first day of snow (notice I said first day) it was a light powder and easy to walk through; beautiful as it rested on the trees, a winter wonderland.
Day two of snow, more snow, it got a little deeper and wetter, which made it a little harder to walk through.
Oh yes, day three of snow. It now had a thin layer of ice under the snow, which made it hard to get footing traversing any steepish grade.
Day four, and I had had enough! The snow was wet, packed under your feet, and as we descended it turned to a wet, slushy ice, then a muddy mess. The snow was beautiful but I had enough of being cold, wet, and tired. We did 20 miles that day just so I could get my feet back on dirt.
You do a lot of thinking while walking alone; it’s just you and nature. Much of this stretch Walkitoff was ahead of me but I just couldn’t keep pace in the snow, only follow his bootprints. So all I could do was think.
I had a sergeant named Rocky, and his “tag” was R5F. Family, friends, faith, fun, and freedom. I thought a lot about these five Fs, but mostly about family and friends and how much I appreciate them.
I thought about how much my family is changing and no matter how messed up you think your family is, they are family. Hug them when you can and appreciate them for who they are, not for who you think they should be.
While I’m on trail my second grandchild will be born. Shortly after I’m off trail my middle son will be married and then my youngest son, Walkitoff. He’s been planning his wedding while hiking.
Then I’m sure I’ll have several more grandchildren with birthdays and holidays to follow. Soon, my life will be much different but very fulfilling.
I thought a lot about my friends and how I could be a better one. There’s always room for improvement. I’m bad at keeping in touch and reaching out.
I thought a lot about the nervous tension I always have, I’m a fidgeter. But the longer I walk the more I realize, don’t sweat the small stuff. I can live with what I can carry on my back. No worries, let the rest go. I’m hoping to end this journey a calmer person.
I was excited to put my Smokies permit in the metal box at the beginning but more excited to put it in the metal box at the end! And yes, I took a picture.
And so I end this leg of my journey, ready to move forward and more determined to stand on top of Katahdin.
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