Part 2: Learning to Walk the Walk
I’ll take over from here! If you did not read, Clearwater brought us through our second week on the trail up to Franklin. Sorry again we haven’t blogged as often as we have we would like. Stay with us if at times we can only write multiple blogs while staying in town, like right now. I digress, let’s look back on our third week in the woods!
We left off right as we met Ron. At the time we thought he was just a nice guy that stopped by to pick up hikers at Winding Stair Gap. He ended up being the owner of the motels we stayed at in both Hiawasee and Franklin without us even knowing it. This man is one of those people we know we will never forget. I could write an entire blog post on just how friendly, hospitable, and willing to help others he is.
The Budget Inn we stayed at in Franklin was at a perfect location for us to wander and explore the town. Unfortunately, the zero day we took there ended up being on a Sunday and everything is either closed, or closed by 3pm on Sunday’s. We were pretty bummed because although small, the town had a lot to offer! Museums, unique shops, and historical sites were all within a short walk. We were able to resupply entirely at a dollar general! Pro tip: do your shopping at dollar stores! All of the food that’s pack-outable is sold in increments of three and four, the perfect amount without having extra to eat or get rid of.
We were sure to be up a little early the next morning to check out Outdoor 76, a badass gear shop with a bar in the back. We browsed for a bit, grabbed a coffee, and walked back just as it was starting to sprinkle. Ron shuttles at 9 am and 11 am so we caught the 11 am and were hiking shortly after.
The hike out of Franklin was really pretty and green. We steeply hiked straight up a mountain to one of the best views we’ve had so far at Wayah Bald. It was late evening by the time we got up there and made camp shortly after summiting.
The following day we pushed seventeen miles in the cold and steady rain to a shelter about a mile from the Nantahala Outdoor Center, or NOC for short. This place was awesome. It was an outdoor hub of adventure right off the highway. We desperately needed to air our gear out after a tough day the day before so we checked out the gear shop and ate lunch there. Get the Sherpa Rice! It came recommended to me and I’m so thankful for the healthy energy it gave me to hike out of the NOC.
After lunch we found a spot along the river and aired our gear out. We didn’t have much time because it was getting late and the next campsite was still about six or seven miles away. We either underestimated that hike leaving the NOC or we got too relaxed putting our feet in the river while our gear dried out. That hike was intense. We didn’t even make it to the next shelter so we found a flatish spot on the side of the mountain and called it a night.
The next day our hike brought us down to Stecoah Gap. We weren’t planning on staying in Robbinsville but as we were coming down the mountain to the gap there was a stack of business cards with a hostels contact information that was not in our guidebook. On a whim we decided to check it out because we hiked about fifteen miles that day and town food sounded too good to pass up.
Lonnie picked us up and we learned that he was in the same category as Ron under people we won’t forget. Lonnie had spent his whole life in Robbinsville and even the hostel is the house he grew up in. We stayed with a new friend at the hostel and had Bojangles for dinner. I ate a twelve piece supreme and they gave me six honey mustards. The fat boy Inn me rejoiced. We had breakfast together and took our time the next morning. We probably didn’t start hiking until 11 am that day which for us is a very late start.
We hustled because we knew we got such a late start and really wanted to make it to Fontana Dam that night and stay at the Fontana Hilton. That’s basically just a really nice shelter, with showers, and an incredible view of the dam. Hikers just call it the Hilton because compared to what we are getting used to, that is a Hilton. We stayed with maybe twelve other hikers who got there just in time to hurry out the next morning and hustle up into the Smokies. We all feared that if we didn’t get up to those high elevations before the snow, it would be much harder getting up with the six inches of snow that was forecasted. I woke up at 5:30 that morning to catch the sunrise over the dam.
The picturesque sunrise combined with the beginnings of a snowstorm and the jitters I had knowing how high I was about to climb is a feeling I will never forget.
The Smokies have been so much harder than we thought they would be. It seems all the hikers that we talk to along the way agree with those thoughts. Maybe it’s the elevation combined with steepness? Maybe it’s just much colder with the wind being up about a 1000-2000 ft higher than we are accustomed to? Whatever it is, these mountains are a fun test! Even with the snow covering them they manage to stay so green. Tennessee was the first taste we had that made us feel we are actually hiking north.
Each day is a new challenge with the same variables here in the Smokies. Right now we still have about five or six inches of snow on the ground and because of it, all hikers the last three days have been encouraged to get off the trail and down into Gatlinburg, Tennessee by park rangers which brings us to where we are now! This is by far our favorite town. We were told it is only second to Las Vegas in weddings in this country and is called the Vegas of the South. There are so many shops and tourist attractions along its main street and at all times of the day the streets are packed with people. If you close your eyes you will feel like you are at a carnival from the smells of the foods, candies, fudge, and restaurants.
Unfortunately, there is only one road that takes you up the mountain to the gap we got shuttled into town from and it’s closed. So unless we want to hike eleven miles up a windy and snow covered road, we’re stuck in the awesome town another day. Darn….
We were able to catch up with some friends we haven’t seen in a week or so and finally plan on hiking together again. If you have the time, stay in Gatlinburg and really take the time to see this town. Be careful though, it’s super easy to splurge. We may or may not have bought a bottle of whiskey after a moonshine tasting to bring back for those extra cold nights. Up next is almost a whole week in the woods before our next town! See you soon!
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