The Smokies: The Good, The Bad, and Then the Zeros
This zero day thing is pretty cool. Personally, I think we all need this time in our lives whether we are hiking the AT or not.
Welcome to Hot Springs.
I don’t think OneFoot and I could have picked a better town for our first zero days together. Ray chose the Laughing Heart Lodge for our stay. There is also a hiker hostel but we chose to stay in the Cardinal Room at the B&B. We really can’t say enough good things about this place and its location, service, and people. Massage therapy is available on property and a soak in the hot springs is just up the road. Noticeably absent in the rooms and throughout the lodge are televisions, phones, and clocks. This place is all about exhaling. Just breathe.
The drive from the Tri-Cities Tenn., airport to Standing Bear Hostel to pick up OneFoot was a breeze. Then we were off to Hot Springs for our mini vacation. Everything a hiker needs is within one block: outfitter, post office, restaurants and bars and, of course, Dollar General. Our favorite hangout here is the Iron Horse Saloon. Really great food, beer and wine (not a full bar). We also made it to Asheville for a day to shop REI and seek out the best burger in the area at The Vault. I could totally do this trail life thing if it didn’t involve walking 2,200 miles.
The Hiker Culture.
I have fallen in love with the hiker culture. Backpacks sitting outside a restaurant are a sure sign that you’ll find someone you know inside. We walked into the Iron Horse last night to find a table of a dozen or so hikers enjoying a meal together. It was like a “Cheers” moment but they all yelled “OneFoot” instead of “Norm!” Ray was so excited to introduce me to Navster, Wiley, Peanut Butter, Bird, Knots, Natalie, the Traveling Nurses, and Mike. Mike needs a trail name. The use of trail names seems to free hikers from their home identity and allows them to fully embrace this way of life. It’s OneFoot, not the retired prison guard. It’s Navster and Wiley and Free Spirit and Peanut Butter, not whoever they were before they stepped foot on the trail. Everyone is equal out there. They share a common goal and a single way to reach that goal. They each must walk the walk. Kinda levels the playing field and makes whoever you were before the trail a bit less important.
Have I mentioned before how much I’m enjoying Ray 3.0?
Lessons Learned in the Smokies.
OneFoot made it through the Smokies in five days thanks to an 18-mile push on that last day. He leaves behind some not so great memories and moves forward having learned a few lessons.
–Food: He just didn’t pack well and he knows that. He was short on protein options and should have given more thought to his daily menu. On the 18-mile day, his food sack had little left to offer so he made do with two power bars and a hot cocoa.
–Where the hell is that white blaze? It can happen to anyone out there. Your mind wanders, you miss that one white blaze and it becomes an oh shit moment. And Siri isn’t there to say “please proceed to the route – recalculating.” Thankfully OneFoot caught his error fairly quickly and got himself back on trail but it did cost him an extra two miles.
–Cell phones dislike freezing weather as much as the hikers do. In its struggle to stay warm, the phone battery drained quickly each day. This limited his entertainment options, including his music and evening texts with me. Oh, and some folks have asked how he keeps his phone charged. He carries an Anker portable charger that allows him to recharge on the trail between town stops.
–Remember that water bottle OneFoot had? Yeah, so does he. It’s sitting in the parking lot at Newfound Gap. By the time he realized it was missing, he’d gone too far to turn back. Tough to move forward with only one water bottle but he made do.
–Then there was the night that he left his shoes sticking out of the tent vestibule. Throw in a good soaking rain overnight and you have the makings of a cold, soggy hike the next day.
–After making a big push to finish the Smokies and get to Standing Bear Hostel ahead of more freezing rain, he and his hiking partners for the day arrived to find no vacancies. They were given space outside on the covered porch. They set up their tents there and hunkered down for a cold night. Turns out it wasn’t going to be a full night of sleep anyway, thanks to a rooster’s 2 a.m. wake-up call.
The Smokies were challenging and tried to break his spirit. From his journal: “A day of mistakes. Wrong turn 1 mile out of my way only to then forget my water bottle in the parking lot of Clingmans Dome. Struggled all afternoon and I really think my poor food resupply had a lot to do with it. Finally made it to the shelter after Brian, a beautiful soul, gave me a water bottle. When I was heading down to the shelter I saw two guys setting up camp. Lo and behold it was Navster and Wiley! Oh, how my day turned around then. Ate with them, camped with them. It was just awesome. The trail always turns things around for you. You just have to give it a chance.”
The next day OneFoot would join Navster and Wiley on the 18-plus mile trek out of the Smokies. He reports that it was his best day hiking ever. The trail taketh away and the trail giveth.
Overall, How’s the Hike Going?
Awesome! Truly better than expected. OneFoot is feeling strong, mentally and physically. The trail is all that he had hoped for and more. He’s careful not to talk Maine, though. “Maine isn’t even in the vocabulary yet,” he says. He’s barely touched three states on that super-long AT map hanging in our kitchen. We generally look ahead to the next shelter, town, or resupply. Every day on the trail is a gift and we’re grateful for each moment – the good, the bad, the ugly, and the zeros.
In the Company of One
On the drive from the airport to pick up Ray, I discovered that I am really great company. Put some good tunes on the radio and it’s amazing how effortlessly I transition from sounding exactly like Eric Clapton to Stevie Nicks to Cat Stevens. If the artist occasionally gets the words wrong, that’s OK. I got it covered. I’m learning to embrace the new, independent me. Hey! It’s like Cheryl 2.0!
Planning the Next Zeros.
We were off just a bit in our calculations for our visit to Hot Springs. We had hoped that OneFoot would be coming through town and we’d meet up there. As it turns out, I picked him up at a trailhead 30-plus miles short of Hot Springs and I returned him to that trailhead this morning. We will next see each other in another 250-plus miles. We’ve planned for a couple of days in the Demascus/Abingdon, Va., area, where we’ll celebrate our 29th wedding anniversary next month. We’ve learned from the trip to Hot Springs that it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where he’ll be but I’ll chase him down wherever he is.
One Final Note.
Early one morning I drove Free Spirit from the lodge back to the trailhead. On my way back, I saw a lone hiker making her way into town. I did a quick U-turn and offered her a ride. I’ve never met a hiker who will turn down a ride while in town. No one wants to do those extra miles if they don’t have to. I told her I was in the area visiting my husband who was thru-hiking. She introduced herself as Knots and asked who my husband is. “OneFoot,” I said. “No way! You’re OneFoot’s wife?” Why, yes. Yes, I am OneFoot’s wife.
Until the next white blaze,
OneFoot and Should be Good
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