Season of Change: 81.2 – 241.8

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been regularly reminded that it’s spring time in the mountains. Spring is a time of change which seems like a fitting description for the weather, the forest, and myself.

The weather has been all over the place. I’ve had snow (when hiking up Albert Mountain), cold rain (when hiking up Jacob’s ladder), and many beautiful hiking days while going through the Smokies. I’ve even had one day where I was hot enough to dunk my t-shirt in a stream to cool off.

The forest is changing too because the leaves have also started to come in. They’re a bright green at lower elevations but at higher elevations,  the trees are bare and the wild flowers are flourishing. They’re absolutely gorgeous and in some places they carpet the forest floor. The picture below is from the Smokies.

Finally, my body is starting to change too. Hiker hunger has started to kick in and I’m eating at least 7 times a day.  I’m also starting to get trail legs. A few weeks ago, a 15 mile day was do able but would leave me feeling drained the following day or two. Now, an 15 mile day is average and we’ve started to push for a few longer days too. 

Not only am I able to hike more miles, but the individual miles are feeling easier too. Gaining a 1000 ft over two miles isn’t as daunting as it once was and even the downhills are easier. (Downhills tend to be worst since they cause all the little aches/pains to show up). For example, the hike down to the the Nantahala Outdoor Center (AT mile 136.9, ~4 miles 633 ft/mile) was slow and painful, while the hike out of the Smokies (AT mile 240, ~6 miles at 592 ft/mile) flew by and turned into an 18 mile day because everything felt good.

Who is “we”?

I’ve been camping at shelters/marked campgrounds on Far Out, so I’ve always been around others. As a result, there’s a group of 4 of us  (Don, Reaper, Dominick) that have been hiking together regularly for the past ~170 miles.

We started hiking together right before Franklin and stayed together through the Smokies. We’ve also been meeting new people as we go and are starting to run into more and more familiar faces. Over the course of a week you tend to leap frog people hiking similar mileage and town stops help shuffle people around too since people will take different length breaks.

Town Stops

I’ve taken zeros in Franklin and Fontana Village and both were partly weather motivated.

The zero in Franklin let me avoid 2 nights in the 20s, while the zero in Fontana Village was to avoid climbing into the Smokies in the rain with winds of 35mph and gusts of 65mph. (I didn’t want to get blown off the mountain). 

Franklin was a great place to zero because they really welcome hikers. The First Baptist Church has a free pancake breakfast for hikers and they facilitate mailing a letter with a picture of you.

As part of the zero there, everyone at the hostel decided to go the fitness center to take advantage of the hot tub. We decided to take the county shuttle because it was only $1, but we ended up taking the entire route (~40 minutes) both ways. It was a great taste of the characters who live in the mountains without a car, but I’m not sure I’d recommend it just because it was a such a time suck. 

Fontana Village was less adventurous zero, but I’d mailed myself a new pair of shoes and was counting down the days until I got them.

Out with the old and in with the new

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend zeroing in Fontana Village because it’s a resort town. There isn’t really anything to do and everything is expensive. We managed to find a shuttle driver to take us to Robbinsville because they had an Ingles. I’d sent myself a box but still needed to get lunch/snacks while everyone else needed to buy everything.

My food bag was very heavy but it ended being the right amount of food.

Happy Trails!

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