Ukelady and Possum Escape the Smokies and Hit Up Hot Springs
Hello from Ukelady! I’m sure Possum would also say hi, but he’s busy watching Gone Girl. So, let’s catch you up on our latest adventures!
April 24 – 11.1 miles!
I’ve been having a hard time recently with the idea of hiking your own hike. I have all these ideas for why I was hiking, why I wanted to be out here, and I feel pretty strongly about them. The trouble is, when you’re hiking with a partner from start to finish you are no longer hiking just your solo hikes. You have a new goal: hiking our own hike. Together, Possum and I have a set of goals for what we want to get out of a hike together. We feel pretty strongly about this list, too. But I keep running into points where I feel “our” hike and “my” hike might be less than compatible. One list is about strengthening as a team and the other is about conquering as an individual. I’m hoping I’ll find the right balance eventually.
Today was pretty big on the conquering front, though – our most ever miles in a day! It marked our crossing of the beautiful Fontana Dam and our entrance into the Smoky Mountains. We had an incredibly close view of a bald eagle right before we entered the forest – truly an auspicious start to this leg of our journey.
April 25 – 5.6 miles
Today we had planned on hiking 12 miles, but rainy morning weather left me feeling reluctant to start. Rainy days are always the hardest to get moving. But once we got out there, the weather calmed down and we were joined for our hike by Rue. She’s one of those people who is instantly easy to connect with, and we had some great talks. It was nice to mix up our daily routine and hike with someone else for a change, especially since her pace isn’t far off from ours. As a result, we cut our miles in half and enjoyed some good company. Many of our favorite hikers were at the shelter when we got there, so spirits are high for the night.
I know it’s popular to be bitter about the shelter system in the Smokies so I’m trying not to give in to that urge, but I should note that it’s annoying to get bumped out of a shelter to accommodate section hikers who come in after you. Especially on nights where your friends keep reminding you of the high wind and hail threats. Ah well – at least this shelter has a privy. Small victories.
April 26 – 12.1 miles!
Our most miles yet. We awoke to a bright, clear sky that lasted for about 15 minutes until the fog rolled in. What was supposed to be a beautiful day was cold and rainy and gross. The Smokies kind of suck so far.
April 27 – 8 miles
Big milestones today: 200 miles, the highest elevation on the A.T., and our one-month trailiversary.
Finally, some payoff from the Smokies! A clear day that saw us to Clingman’s Dome, the highest point on the trail. Everything is beautiful but it’s hard to get used to the cold – freezing last night, freezing again tonight and not much kinder in between. Trees were still partially iced and rained bizarre ice chips down throughout our hike. We’ve been warned of sleet in the morning, but for now we’re getting settled in our first shelter in the Smokies. Let’s hope for no mice.
April 28 – 7.5 miles
Today was another of those great breezy days where you’ve knocked out half your mileage for the day by noon. We got an early start (for us) so we could head in to Gatlinburg to resupply, and we ran into incredible trail magic courtesy of the Fierce Chicks with Hiking Sticks. Awesome name, right? They had a table full of delicious hiker snacks, and I played them a song as thanks.
One of the group members, Tammi, was so kind as to drive us into town for groceries and then bring us back to the trail. Trail Angels are seriously the best. Also, Tammi’s car is amazing.
The harder part of the day was that inevitable moment when you refill your pack with food and have to start hiking again. We got excited for low grocery store prices and bought seven days of food instead of the three days we had planned for. I stand by the deals, but Possum’s pack got oppressively heavy and that made the final three miles to the shelter a bit harder than we would have liked. Still, we got space in the shelter and someone’s got the fire going, so it’s a nice end to a whirlwind day.
April 29 – 12.6? miles
Today we found the coolest spot on the trail thus far: Charlie’s Bunion. We hung out there with Smiles and Salamander and got some great photos, mostly of the gentlemen performing daring feats.
Sometimes it’s hilarious that hiking the trail was my idea. Possum is clearly built for this.
The rest of the day was just a lot of hiking – we broke our mileage record again. Some people hate hiking while listening to stuff, but the audio from Toy Story 2 got us up a mountain. We got to the shelter too late to fit in, so we got stuck on a horrible slant in nowhereville. It doesn’t help that one of the supports for our tent fell out of my bag in the last day or so, but Possum fashioned a new one out of a stick that seems to be holding out alright. Not an ideal night, but a fun morning made the whole day feel worthwhile.
April 30 – 7.7 miles
Last night, we slept at a ridiculous decline. Our tent was so slanty that it was like sleeping on a slide – you would wake up smooshed at the bottom and have to climb back to the top. Unfortunately, as I clambered back up in the dark I managed to crush my glasses to death, as they had apparently slid as well. My dad was bugging me to bring many extra items before my hike – mace, extra glasses, a gun – and I decided all were unnecessary. No regrets, as Possum taped my spectacle halves together for that sexy Harry Potter vibe.
Today’s hike was uneventful, though the weather got worse as the day went on. We got some tiny hail as we walked, but escaped the real rain by minutes as we set up at the shelter. Friend reunions on our last night in the Smokies are the best!
May 1 – 10.7 miles
We finally left the Smokies! As we emerged into a new and more beautiful world, things were lush and green and bright again.
We walked along a gorgeous rolling river with our friend Whizbang. The water followed us, rolling and tumbling down the hills like a marvelous welcome home. The difference from the Smokies was starkly apparent. We dunked our heads in a waterfall and celebrated our victory. If the Smokies was a final exam, today started our summer break. There wasn’t room at the hostel we hoped to stay in with our friends, but it’s all gravy because we’re coming up on a bunch of visits from friends back home. This is what we came out for. Love of the trail is back!
May 2 – 6.9 miles
Not all miles are created equal. It was a gorgeous day again, and the wildflowers were out in full bloom, but I had the hardest time getting through today’s hike. It was like my body forgot how to hike overnight. Luckily we had planned for low mileage, because I couldn’t have done more. We increased altitude for most of the day, gaining about 2000 feet in elevation. Rough stuff for my little bird body.
We did get to hike and camp with our friend Olaf, who is German. She asked us this morning how far we were going and said we must be taking a lazy day. Hilarious. My idea of a lazy day is when you only eat foods that can be assembled during commercial breaks because you can’t find the effort to press pause on Hulu. A day I hike multiple miles, most of which are uphill, with a 30 pound bag strapped to my back is far from lazy. Like, planets away.
Possum also made a killer fire tonight. Let the record show he is amazing.
May 3 – 6 miles or so
Max Patch was the one place on the trail we had already been – last Easter, we watched the sun set there and dreamt of our own thru-hiking adventures. So today we were especially excited to go back. It’s a beautiful North Carolina bald with 360 views.
When we reached the summit, we found some trail magic beverages from hikers of years past. We hung out enjoying the views and the sun, taking silly pictures as more hikers showed up.
Originally we had planned on hiking another two miles to the next shelter for the night, but then a guy called Float pulled out a frisbee and fellow App Trials blogger Squirt started harmonizing with my ukulele. It wasn’t long until a good crew had assembled and we gave up on the idea of hiking further. The nice thing about this hike is you can really choose to live in good moments, so we watched the sun set and set up our tent under the full moon to the sound of coyotes in the distance. It’s a cool life on the trail.
May 4 – 8.8 miles
I woke up to the sunrise over Max Patch – the full moon over one shoulder, the orange glow of sunrise over the other. The view from our tent wasn’t the best, so I dragged my sleeping bag outside and slept for a few hours more out there. A perfect way to start a gorgeous leisurely day, full of wildflowers and chipmunks and birds staking baths in streams.
Possum built another solid fire tonight, and I perfected my bear-bagging skills. It’s nice to have a campsite to ourselves for a quiet change.
I know I wrote before about the difficulty of hiking your own hike while with a partner, but we’ve found our stride again. I think the pressure of having to get through the Smokies in only eight days got the better of me. Life is smoother now, and I’m glad for it.
May 5 – 11 miles
We expected today to be a breeze, but the trek into Hot Springs was more challenging than we expected. Luckily we ran into friends when we hit town, and Possum got himself a haircut courtesy of Whizbang.
We used to live in this area, so we took the opportunity to connect with old pals. Our friends Mike and Grace came to pick us up and bring us to Asheville, where they cooked us a delicious meal. We’re so lucky to be surrounded by such good people.
May 6 – 0 miles
Hello, zero day. We have been in Asheville for less than 24 hours and have already seen a man unironically riding a unicycle as transportation, watched movies in a theater full of couches, sampled international honeys and gone out for vegetarian fried chicken. I love this place.
May 7 – 4.9 miles
Getting back to Hot Springs was a bit of a challenge, since our friends were back to their responsible real lives and we didn’t want to pay to get back. So, we hitch-hiked!
Many thanks to Elliot and then Pat, whose collective kindnesses got us where we needed to go. Once back in town, we decided to check out the hot springs from which the town got its name. This was an amazing choice, as an hour soak in a mineral water hot tub was bliss.
We went for smoothies after, and the locals warned of an oncoming storm. We waited it out and started begrudgingly hiking at 4:45 in the afternoon. Still got some alright miles in, though, and some nice views.
May 8 – 10.3 miles
We got up early and hiked some of our fastest miles yet! We’re getting better at this. We also had good motivation, as friends were picking us up for another hangout session. Unfortunately it took them a while to figure out where Allen Gap actually was, but we were happily reunited before the rains hit. Another night in a hotel with good company is heaven!
May 9 – 0 miles
Hendersonville is a super cute town, and we’re having a great time with our friends. Tomorrow we’re back on the trail for an ambitious week, but tonight we’re ignoring responsibilities in favor of hot dogs and mini golf. Smiles not miles, right?
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