Franklin to Fontana (Day 10-17)

The Vortex

Franklin, NC was a vortex in the best way possible. A true hiker town, Franklin catered to everything a thru-hiker could need. Affordable hotels? Yep. Outfitter? Yep. Brewery? Yep. Thrift stores? Yep. This may sound like your average American town but when there’s a shuttle directly from the trail to all of these conveniences, it feels like paradise. They even have an AT festival every year (which I missed by a week but that’s okay). ‘Sherpa Mama’ picked us up from Winding Stair Gap to give us a lift into Franklin as well as the low-down on where to go and what to do. She piled three stinky hikers into her very clean car without any complaints and for that, she is a trail angel. Thanks, Sherpa Mama!

When you’re spending night after night in a tent, exposed to the elements, with the forest as your bathroom (responsibly) and you’re a woman on your period, you’d pay money for anything with a mattress and flush toilets. And that’s exactly what I did. The motel we stayed at had everything we needed as well as the kindest owner, Fanny, who wanted nothing more than to assist thru-hikers. He went above and beyond for us and even drove us to a free hiker dinner in town. I really can’t stress it enough, the trail community is a magnet for some really wonderful people.

Freshly showered hikers

I can’t talk about wonderful people in Franklin without mentioning Andrew at Outdoor 76. Andrew gave me the pep talk I needed concerning some foot pain I was having that I thought was shoe related. Turns out, hiking over 10 miles every day for 9 days straight can simply just be uncomfortable. I thought for sure the outfitter was going to be keen on selling me new shoes and sending me off but instead, Andrew sat down with me and asked specifics about my aches and pains. He measured my feet for the first time since I was about 12 years old. He gave me a bunch of recommendations but ultimately left the decision up to me and reassured me that my shoes were probably not the main problem. I ended up staying in the trail runners I started with and after taking a full day off from hiking and stretching more, I’m happy to say my feet are doing much better. Wow, I never thought I’d talk or think so much about my feet!

Exchanging trail runners for camp shoes on a zero day

Franklin was a great place for my first real ‘zero’ day, or, day of zero mileage. I think a lot of people don’t realize that hikers can hop on and off the AT pretty easily and in fact it can be very necessary when it’s time to resupply food. The trail passes by several towns along the way and actually goes directly through a few. Without the ease of accessing these towns, resupplying food and gear would be much more difficult and us thru-hikers would ultimately end up carrying more weight on our backs.

Oh, the weather outside is frightful

With a full stomach and heart, I begrudgingly yet excitedly hopped back on trail for the next stretch. My next milestone/resupply goal was Fontana Dam, NC where a box full of food I had bought pre-trail was waiting to be picked up (thanks, Kev!). Fontana Dam is about 50 miles from Franklin and about an hour drive away but in trail math, that meant it was 5 days away on foot. Those 5 days were filled with winding trail, harsh weather, and new aches. They were also filled with beautiful views, stealth camping, lots of laughs, trail songs, and a pair of rain pants ripped right down the butt crack.

I call it “trash bag chic”. Not pictured: the rip in the pants.

Of course no one can control or avoid the weather, but you can try to plan around it on trail. Sometimes that plan includes walking straight into the storm with a brave face on and thoughts of how good it will feel to have warm sunshine on your face again. Snuggling into your sleeping bag after a wet day of hiking and making hot food and tea also helps. The hardest part of hiking/camping in the rain isn’t getting wet or cold, it’s having to experience it alone. I was lucky enough to hike and camp with Hunter, Ben, and Sparks at the end of the day and share some laughs about our soaking state. I highly recommend finding some buddies to commiserate with if you’re going to ram head first into some bad weather.

The following day was truly a gift as the sun slowly began to peak through the mist and fog and began its duty of drying us out. The first clear view of the Smoky’s appeared and another huge trail milestone felt within reach. As we began the descent into Fontana, another pleasant surprise greeted us: the first signs of spring! The forest floor, once coated in dry, brown leaves, was now allowing bits of color to break through. I think I smiled the whole way into Fontana.

Trilliums fighting their way through the leaves
Airing out the wet gear while enjoying some trail magic from Shortcut

Damn What A Dam!

View of Fontana Lake from the trail

Did you guys know that Fontana Dam in North Carolina is the biggest dam east of the Mississippi? Me neither. Better yet, the Appalachian Trail actually crosses right over the dam! Pretty damn cool. Okay, I’ll stop with the dam jokes. Fontana Dam also serves as the gateway to the western entrance of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, one of two national parks the trail runs through. The Smoky’s are a hot topic for the first few weeks on trail due to their infamous unpredictable and sometimes very cold weather. Most of the trail that runs through the park sits at or above an elevation of 5,000 feet. After stocking up on food and supplies in Fontana Dam (and eating the most delicious pork sandwiches I’ll probably ever have from a gas station) it was finally time to make my way into the ominous and grandiose Smoky Mountains. I’m currently playing catch-up on these blog posts because honestly, I’ve simply been enjoying myself! The Smoky’s will be getting their own dedicated post from me so stay tuned for that if you’re following along. Spoiler alert: we did in fact make it out alive!

Cheers to the Smoky’s!

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Comments 2

  • Peter : Apr 6th

    Love your posts Kay! Thanks for such a great description of the trail and trail life! I look forward to the next post!

  • Steve : Apr 9th

    I will stay tuned and follow along. I am thoroughly enjoying your posts. Thanks for taking the time to share your journey with us.


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