Week Three: Miles Evaporating Underneath My Feet

Day Fifteen (15.7 miles) Newfound Gap to Tri-Corner Knob shelter

It was a rough night, tossing, turning and up periodically monitoring video uploads. Breakfast in the hotel in Gatlinburg was just what I needed before venturing out into the rain. My brothers, Dean and Doug, delivered me back to where I stopped yesterday and sent me on my way with a fully loaded backpack. We had a fun time in town and I was very happy for the resupply.

The trail was wet from the all night rain and in many places water was running like a small stream. The ancient varieties of trees and mossy underbrush are colorful and interesting, from the bright red exposed roots to the vibrant green mosses. No scenic vistas because the clouds enveloped everything at this over-five thousand feet altitude.

Passed Rob, Hotdog, and several other thru and section hikers along the way. Arrived at the Tri-Corners Knob shelter around 5:00 pm and found Big Island and a couple others already here. Quickly took care of chores, ate dinner and got ready for a cold night. It began to sleet as the last of the hikers arrived and the it began to snow. Before I went to bed it was already a Winter Wonderland in the woods.

Day Sixteen (14.8 miles) Tri-Corners Knob shelter to Davenport Gap shelter

Woke up to a frozen wonderland today and stayed in bed until the last minute. Finally jumped up, hustled to get everything together and start moving down the trail.

The snow covered landscape and clearing skies offered many photo opportunities which I could not resist. My pace was slightly slower as I soaked in the moment. After all, it might not snow again on this adventure.

Seemingly out of nowhere, I rounded a corner and two 2017 thru-hikers were doing trail magic. Cheese, crackers, fruit, snacks and wine plus some friendly conversation.

Only one mile before crossing the northern border of the Smoky Mountains, I stopped at the last shelter to rest my feet but after taking off the backpack and sitting down for a few minutes I decided to settled in at Davenport Gap shelter with Eskimo, from Texas.

Big Island and Bear Claw bypassed this last shelter in the Smoky Mountains. Tinkerbell and Klaus #1 stopped in for water but pushed on as well. Just before dark Hungry and Thirsty joined us for the night.

Day Seventeen (18.8 miles) Davenport Gap shelter to Roaring Fork shelter

Said goodbye to the Smoky Mountains this morning and thanks to the snow and ice it was an epic crossing. I have to admit it’s nice to have that sight in my rear view mirror.

Today’s highlights included some cascading waterfalls, many varieties of wildflowers, a sunny visit on Snowbird Mountain, an afternoon break for coffee and a hot lunch, then topped off the afternoon with an intense hike across Max Patch in howling winds and dense fog.

Eased on in to the Roaring Fork shelter a little before 5:00 pm and setup the tent, ate a Mountain House meal, and curled up in my quilt.

Day Eighteen (17.9 miles) Roaring Fork shelter to Hot Springs, NC Elmer’s Sunnybank Inn & Hostel

The snow has melted all but the mountain tops and the trail is muddy. Got started early and hiked a few miles before stopping to make coffee and breakfast. Very few people on the trail and the lack of distractions made it easy to lock into a comfortable rhythm.

The trail featured many footbridges and cascading brooks. Wildflowers are springing up particularly in the lower elevations. Passed a sign that said Mt. Katahdin 1914 miles, not sure how old the sign was but I believe it’s 1916 miles from Hot Springs this year.

Met Slosh, a big, outdoorsy, 60 year old lady, who was very friendly and moving along pretty well.

Landed at Elmer’s Sunnybank Inn & Hostel around 3:30 pm. Walked down the street and did laundry and visited the outfitters for 5-day resupply. Back at the Hostel, I sat on the porch overlooking the street playing a small guitar and relaxing. Family style dinner with Elmer and several young hikers was wonderful. Home cooked vegetarian meals are what’s on the menu here, and it did not disappoint.

Some folks I met included Nice Legs, Baguette, Minnesota, Sherwin, Matt, Pam, and others.

Day Nineteen (19.8 miles) Hot Springs to Little Laurel shelter

Sorry to leave Elmers Sunnybank Inn & Hostel, mainly because Elmer is such a fine cook. He serves home cooked vegetarian meals that are just wonderful, filing and exactly what a hiker needs to eat. They have an extensive music room which includes three guitars, all of them were unplayable. Matt, who works there, loaned me his travel guitar and that was nice. Before leaving I ordered a new guitar for the hostel, should arrive next Tuesday. Maybe I’ll come back someday and play it.

I have had bad luck with the WiFi at the hotels and hostels. Hillbilly WiFi is slower than a Commodore 64 with a 300 baud modem. However the free WiFi at the public library is slamming and you don’t have to go inside to use it.

There was a thick fog over the French Broad river early this morning. After climbing several hundred feet of rocky terrain out of the river bed, I was above the foggy mist and in the sunshine. It was time for a hot breakfast and a wardrobe adjustment.

The weather was sunny and cool and the trail was smooth and well groomed. The miles evaporated under my feet with each steady stride. I arrived at Little Laurel shelter around 4:30 pm and setup camp just down the trail a short distance. The shelter filled up with young hikers and about a dozen folks in tents nearby made it quite a congregation of hikers.

Day Twenty (20.4 miles) Little Laurel shelter to Big Flat campsite (mm 314.7)

Packed up and rolled out of camp around 8:00 am. Logged several uphill miles before stopping for breakfast. Sat down with veteran hikers, Perfect Storm, Paint Splatter, and Daredevil, who is llegally blind. After a quick coffee and oatmeal I was ready to go.

There was a variety of highlights and landmarks on today’s journey. I arrived at the 300-mile milestone about the same time as Mr. Peanut Butter, Tarzan and his young German Shepherd, Ash.

There was a rocky and technically challenging ridge walk over Blackflat Cliffs, Howard’s Rock, and Big Firescald Knob – challenging but big fun.

Somehow I arrived at Big Butt Mountain at the same time as Audrey, a former track sprinter in school. She asked me to take a photo of her backside next to the Big Butt sign. I was just being neighborly and accommodated.

Passed Marmot, an older lady who was hobbling along with an ankle brace and refusing to quit.

The youngsters, Mr Peanut Butter, Tarzan, and Audrey all stopped at the first shelter calling it a day at 12 miles. I continued on to a stealth campsite a couple miles shy of the second shelter but just beyond the summit of a really big climb. It was a tough finish to the day but sets me up for an easier day tomorrow and possibly a Nero into Erwin, TN the following day.

Day Twenty One (15.8 miles) Big Flat campsite to Whistling Gap campsite

Big Flat was an excellent campsite last night. Gentle breezes and a welcoming sunrise and best of all, nobody else was there. I got started around 8:00 am and headed to the nearest water source which was at a shelter about 2-miles up the trail.

I stopped at the shelter for coffee and breakfast and met General, Bluegrass, and their Golden Lab. They’re from the South and big fans of Col. Bruce Hampton, Widespread Panic, Derek Trucks and that jam band scene. I think they were impressed to find out I knew and had played with many of those guys.

The trail was well populated today with many runners, Day hikers, Section hikers, and Thru-hikers. There was big crowd on top of Big Bald. The campsite at Whistling Gap I stopped at turned into tent city. I arrived first but eventually there were about 20 tents. Everyone is aiming for Uncle Johnny’s in Erwin, TN tomorrow.

Some folks today; Klaus #2 from Frankfurt, Underpass from Florida, Tarzan, Ash, Mr. Peanut Butter, Bronson, Bryan Delay, and more.

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