Update 3: Fontana to Hot Springs
The last updated ended with our break in Fontana before we pushed into the Smokies which Farasi and I have both termed as “her zeroes.” At the time, we didn’t know mine was coming.
We left Fontana feeling rested and ready to hike again. We knew the group we had been hiking with must be a good bit ahead of us which I was bummed about but wish them the best! My hope is that they’re feeling good (including Broken Hammock’s foot — hoping he’s back on the trail!) and making it to Maine. The push up into the Smokies was definitely slower than our usual pace as Farasi was regaining strength and I was getting back into the mental game of climbing mountains. At this point, we knew we didn’t have much time in the Smokies until we were supposed to be out on the other side to meet some of Farasi’s friends. In a trip that normally takes around 6 days, we had 4 days to get through the park. Our first day was long because of our pace and we hiked after our normal bedtime to complete the 16.9 miles. The next day we completed 13.4 to get out of the weather. We knew the next two days had to be a 13 or 20 mile day.
When we woke up, it was another day of my feet not recovering. I had been mentioning on and off to Farasi that my feet hurt but it wasn’t until this day that I let her know the extent of the damage. Everyone’s feet hurt after hiking ~15 miles everyday but most recover for the climbs the next day. My feet were hurting nonstop and made every step unenjoyable. Something needed to change. Because of this, we planned on a 13 mile day, a 21 the next and a delayed pickup the next day so we could get in another 8. After only 3 miles that day, we made it to Clingman’s Dome. This tower, although we had no view, is the highest point on the AT. The landmark was fun but Farasi could tell I was suffering and suggested we get off that day at the earlier gap and meet her friends when we originally planned. I was so thankful for her grace and thoughtfulness.
With new energy because relief was coming, we hiked the remaining 10 miles to the gap in what was the beginning of some nasty winter weather. We had no idea at the time that we were getting off to dodge a winter storm. Farasi hiked ahead but I knew we were getting close to the road crossing where we hoped to have service to call a shuttle to take us to town. When I arrived, a woman who I had never seen was calling my name. I answered with confusion on my face and she said my friend was in the car and to throw my stuff in and get warm before she drove us to Hot Springs. To put this in perspective, she said she was taking two very smelly strangers to a town an hour and a half away just because. I called her and angel and hopped in. The trail is good that way. Not only did she take us all the way to town, she also stopped by an outfitter to check out new shoes for me and a bank. Flash (the Angel) and her two kids were southbounders a few years back turned section hikers and now they offer magic when they can. I am still blown away by their kindness.
We ended up spending two enjoyable days in Hot Springs with Farasi’s friends and their family. It was a family of 12 so I think our day off looked different than others but I wouldn’t trade it. They were an incredible family. Wayne at Bluff Mountain Outfitter set me up with some new shoes and insoles and I haven’t had a problem in the ~100 miles I’ve done since. The break was definitely a good one.
After the days off, they took us back to the gap and we finished the Smokies. I am grateful that we didn’t just push through the park to get it over with because I think we are some of the few people who actually enjoyed the national park and that’s what I want my hike to be about. I know not every part will be necessarily enjoyable but I don’t ever want to feel like we’re just “getting through” because of some made up pressure we’ve put on ourselves.
In the last two days we did the miles between the park and Hot Springs and now we are back in town only this time we walked here rather than hitched. I am writing this update from a tent by the French Broad and it is strange to think how quickly this life has become “normal.” Tomorrow (when this actually gets posted) will be one full month of living out here. Walking everyday is normal. Getting water from the stream I pass is normal. Calling whatever new slab of ground Farasi and I deem flat enough “home” is normal. My standard of “clean” has gone down almost as much as my standard of “healthy.” But my guard has come down some too and allowed me to meet so many wonderful and different people.
I know more hard times will come, but I am grateful most of all for the connection I feel out here spiritually. I am gratefully that I can be so singularly focused to “press on” to Maine and wonder what my energies will focus towards when that task is complete. I miss my dog and I miss regular showers and home, but for now, I am so thankful to be exactly where I am.
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