Week 3: 200 miles, Near Death Experiences in the Smokies, and Gatlinburg Escapades
Every now and then I am struck with the bizarity that is trail life. The highs are high and the lows are so low. Two days ago I was driven from Clingmans Dome by freezing weather, winds upwards of 60 mph, and sleet. While today I find myself waiting for the trolley after binge eating McDonalds (two cheeseburgers, small fry, four Cokes, and two apple pies) in the colorful town that is Gatlinburg, TN. For my Missouri friends, think Branson but younger. There’s even a Dixie Stampede! (copycats)
I have to admit that the Smokies have thrown me for a whirl. Initally the plan was to hike straight through but four days in I was clambering for the warmth of civilization. Halfway in, I have experienced breath
taking beauty, every form of weather including mind-numbing cold.
After a brief but wonderful stay at the Fontana Hilton shelter including a shower – Dr. Bronner’s does not really clean my hair, an inhaled burger and four Cokes, and 3 resupply packages including a package of Peeps and Peep socks (I managed to convince a Welsh hiker Mismatch to try this delicious treat… He was not impressed)
I headed into the Smokies with two other hikers, PackRat and Commando.
Insert pictures of the Smokies
The Smokies are beautiful and the views are spectacular. There’s no doubt about that. I have also experienced a sunny day, winds upwards of 60 mph, thunderstorms, sleet, freezing temperatures, and snow.
Near Death on Clingmans Dome
Day three we headed towards Clingmans Dome hoping to put in 15 miles. The day started out great, windy and cold but dry. Then there was sleet. In my excitement I snapped a couple of photos.
As we travelled higher the snow increased.
Until we reached Clingmans Dome. The winds also increased. The ramp up to the tower was ice covered but we decided to face it for the experience. Smartly, however, we decided to keep our packs on… Because someone might steal them. You know… all those people on Clingmans.
As we reached the top, winds increased even more topping 60 mph. I just envisioned being blown off the top and the daily headlines reading, “AT Hiker Makes Poor Decision to Hike Up Clingmans Tower. Falls Off and Dies.” At one point Commando was blown from one side of the tower to the other. It was a truly terrifying experience. Then it started sleeting. If I was ever to be shot with buckshot, I imagine it would be similar to the experience. Wisely, we chose to leave the tower and trek 4 more miles to the next shelter.
The next morning was a winter wonderland and we wisely (notice the wise theme) chose to head into town. Hiking through 3+ inch snow is beautiful for about 30 min. The rest is drudgery.
When we reached Newfound Gap, we were lucky enough to meet a man from the Sevierville Baptist Church who runs shuttles for free into Gatlinburg. It was the most unexpected of trail magic, but perhaps the most meaningful.
Gatlinburg is an interesting place all on its own. Coming down from the mountains into Gatlinburg is major culture shock. On the trail you live with so little, but Gatlinburg is a town of excess. However, calling for temps in the teens and winds upwards of 45 mph has caused hikers to come crawling out of the mountains.
We’re stashed in the ever so fancy Grand Prix Motel. The shower only stays hot for several minutes at a time, the guys claim to have bed bugs, and I was scared to sleep between the sheets so I used my sleeping bag. However there’s wifi, I’m not freezing, and it came at the low low price of $39.99/night.
Trail life puts some things in perspective. Or maybe it just allows my greaseball to come out. This morning the guys were like, “Oh your hair clean and washed and down is pretty.” I spend 90% of the time with in a greased back braid. However, I’m ready to return to the trail and say goodbye to the Smokies.
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