So this guy walks in to the bathroom…
My last post was made after having taken a zero near Franklin, NC. At that point the novelty of hiking the AT was still new to me. I had been spending a good deal of my time on trail alone or passing 1 or 2 other solo hikers. Since then, I have covered a few more miles, crossed into my 3rd state (although still not done with NC) and have met quite a few hikers.
What is amazing to me, is how friendly and helpful hikers are to one another. There is certainly an esprit de corps in the hiker community that really helps make the task at hand more bearable. While I wouldn’t say that I am in a “tramily” (trail family), I have been hiking with a few people on a regular basis (Ope and Hiker 109) We don’t see each other all day but often end up at the same shelter in the evening.
Thinking about hiking the entire AT is daunting. To make the trek seem more doable, I set short term, micro goals so that I can feel I’m making progress. Upon leaving Franklin, my next micro goal is reaching the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC). It’s a cool village that caters to the hiking community with a great outfitter, good restaurant and lodging. While he lodging would never be confused with a “5 star” accommodation, they at least keep you out of the rain. Did I mention the rain? I think I have experienced precipitation almost every day I have been on trail. I’ve seen snow, sleet, hail, mist and both gentle and torrential rain. Keeping your gear dry is extremely challenging. This makes the visits to places like the NOC all the more special.
Leaving the NOC is tough. Not because the food or amenities, but rather because you are faced with an 8 mile climb. Waiting at the top of this monstrous climb is a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains – or so I’m told. All I saw was cloud and rain! Oh well, it’s about 2 days of hiking before you reach the next micro goal – Fontana Dam.
Fontana Dam is a great place to resupply and prepare yourself to enter the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. I was met by a good friend (Thanks Peter) who brought me food and a change in gear for my upcoming hike through the GSMNP. I chose to stay at the lodge – great shower and good food as opposed to the shelter nearby referred to as the Fontana Hilton. I did stop by to check the shelter out and I must say it’s pretty sweet as far as shelters go. After a quick breakfast I began my climb into the mountains. It was a tough hike and, unsurprisingly, wet.
I made it to my target shelter but it was full so I pressed on another 3 miles. Turns out Russell Field Shelter was far superior and more or less empty. With another big mileage day (by my meager standards) I could theoretically reach Newfound Gap on my third day out of Fontana Dam. I only had to get past Clingman’s Dome (highest point on AT), and 28 more miles of foot pounding ups and downs and, of course, more rain. The excitement about reaching Newfound Gap is that that is where one can catch a ride to Gatlinburg, TN.
Well I braved the weather, put in the miles and reached Newfound gap by 1pm giving me plenty of time to enjoy all the Gatlinburg had to offer – warm bed, shower, clean clothes and of course, FOOD. Unfortunately when I called for a lift into town, I learned that the road was closed due to high winds. I was told to hunker down in the bathroom there and that the road should be open by 7am the next morning. As appealing as spending the next 18 hours in a bathroom was, I was looking for a Plan B. Just about this time a guy walks into my temporary housing aka the bathroom. As he’s trying to relieve himself I ask “Do you have a car?” As it turns out, this young man from Indiana and his wife were day hiking and, unbeknownst to them, were now trapped at Newfound Gap. The difference being they had a car. I convinced him to take Ope, Hiker 109 and I in to Gatlinburg and that we would get him by the closed gate. We each upheld our end of the arrangement. So, this angel, sent by God, drove us into town where the festivities soon began. When we said our goodbyes they said that they would pray for my safety and well being on my journey. Can’t beat that!
- Completed more than 200 miles of AT
- Entered Tennessee
- Experienced my 2nd occurrence of Trail Magic
- Still standing – although slightly hunched over
Never been closer!
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