The Great 8: Days 29 – 36

Day 29 – 0 miles

I took a zero day at Standing bear. Mostly I just fought with my phone and the wifi connection so that I could upload my blog. It wasn’t a very restful time and that place wasn’t very peaceful.

I’ve decided now that the schedule/plan/timing of the BMT is complete I can treat the next part of the Smokies as an acutal vacation. Im not going to worry about miles or timing. I’ll get there when I get there.

Day 30 – 10.4 miles

Slowly I meandered out of Standing Bear to make my way back to the AT. My destination was Cosby Knob shelter and that was 10 miles all up hill. Since I’m starting vacation mode I’m also not going to worry about how long it will take or how hard it will be.

I got back into the woods and it was amusing to note the immediate differences between the AT and the BMT. There were blazes on every surface, as if I was going to walk off the mountain. The well worn surface of the trail knew no overgrowth. Switchbacks and gentle grades! The trail itself was like a vacation. All ease and no stress.

I got to Davenport Gap Shelter and took a break. I saw a long black snake which I thought was a black water hose at first, except water hoses don’t move on their own. A trio of section hikers stopped by too and I ended up commiserating with them about how hard the BMT was.

Then it was a climb. Comparatively it was easy though. I kept passing day hikers and other backpackers. My legs felt great and ate up that incline. I was sweating buckets but I didn’t have to stop every five minutes. It felt amazing. I blazed past Mount Cammerer because I’d already seen it and there seemed to be bunch of people on trail.

Before I knew it, I was already at my destination. I don’t know if it was the manageable grade or what but it didn’t seem as energy suckingly hard as previous parts of my journey. The wonders of a well maintained trail.

Today I am grateful for feeling physically strong.

Day 31 – 13.4 miles

I both love and loathe staying in shelters. It’s easy to pack up and you stay dry. The drawback is that you have to deal with people.

I got going early because the forecast called for rain. A Saturday special. There was a bit of a view on the way up to the first ridgeline but after it started raining in earnest everything was socked in.

I ate lunch at Tricorner Shelter in order to get out of the rain. Three other NOBOs showed up dripping wet and we all lamented the chill and wetness. I was somewhat more dry than them because of my umbrella, but not by much.

After lunch it was a ridgline walk that most likely would have been beautiful if it wasn’t for the blasting winds and whited out views. There is a stretch of dead pine trees I remember from my 2018 AT thru hike that looked spooky in the mist. I took another picture of the same trees in the same mist. Apparently I’m not allowed to see that view. There was so much wind.

I made my way to Pecks Corner shelter where the temperature quickly dropped. I made moon eyes at the others in the shelter who had stoves and therefor hot food. My sad little cold soaked cous cous was filling but it wasn’t hot.

Today I am grateful that I didn’t get too wet.

Day 32 – 7.4 miles

The temperature dropped into the 30s overnight. It was a real struggle to leave my sleeping bag for the frigid morning. The half mile walk back up the trail from the shelter warmed me up good.

Most of the morning was a ridgeline walk where you could see both sides. The north side was cold and blustery while the sun warmed the south side. Cloud rivers moved against the trees and there was still frost on some of the pines.

At Bradley’s view I sat and watched the clouds make their way south. The wind kicked up leaves scattering them down the rocky descent. The chilly air made my eyes water. It is a dramatic feeling being up high like that and seeing landscape stretched out to the horizon as a meteorological event puts on a show. There is no one about and all of this (waves hand at view) could be just for you. It is for a short while and everything is possible. But there are miles to walk and more things to see so I must move on.

I got to Charlie’s Bunion where apparently everyone wanted to be today. I politely waited my turn for some picture taking and then moved onto Icewater Spring shelter where I met Tiger who came to meet me! He going to hike a few days in the Smokies with me. The sun was warming and we sat outside the shelter reminiscing and complaining. It was like the old times, a whole 3 years ago, when things were slightly less complicated for me. It was nice.

Today I am grateful for Bradley’s view.

Day 33 – 4.6 miles

In the frigid morning I woke to the promise of a hot breakfast in Gatlinburg. Tiger’s van was parked at Newfound Gap and we were going to town! Even early in the morning the trail was crowded with day hikers. This should’ve been our first hint.

For a random no-festival, non-holiday Monday, Gatlinburg was packed with tourists. All the pancake houses (its a thing) had lines out to the street. We ended up at Old Dad’s, a overpriced convenience store with a grill, where apparently “we’re out of that” is their favorite phrase. I was bummed I didn’t get my pancakes, but at least I got a hot meal.

After a resupply at Food City and a stop at McDonald’s, it was back up to the mountains. The drive was swift, right up until Clingmans Dome where traffic came to a standstill. Tiger took decisive action and turned us around to a trailhead that would take us to Mt Collins Shelter.

Despite all my warm clothing I’ve been cold AF the past few days. I got some warm socks and a bag liner at the G’burg NOC, so that maybe I could hang out at camp without putting on every article of clothing I own. I’ve also had some sinus issues, with an alternatively stuffed nose or running nose. It makes going uphill challenging, so I obtained some Alka Seltzer.

In the morning we’ll drive up to Clingmans Dome where Tiger can park and we’ll get on down the trail.

Today I am grateful that the Gatlinburg NOC had more bear socks.

Day 34 – 11.2 miles

I took a Benadryl to get through the night and had some weird dreams. I slept pretty well with all the warm things I bought in Gatlinburg. We got back up to Clingmans Dome and walked around the tower. It was nice to see the open mountain ranges without rain clouds blocking everything. There were even cloud lakes in some of the valleys.

The easy grade of the northern half of the Smokies was over. Today was a return to the wild ups and downs I was familiar with on the BMT. The difference, however, was that you got some straight aways and views occasionally. Its the little wins that keep you going. I also got to talk Tigers ear off, who I’m sure was regretting his decision to hike with me for awhile. After almost a month by myself, its quite the treat to walk and talk with a friend. It makes the miles seem to go faster.

We got to our destination shelter and found that it was quite crowded. This has been very odd for me, as I’ve been pretty much alone at camp for the past several weeks. There was much chit chattery and much socializing. It is a stark contrast to the first half of my trip. Im not sure how I feel about it.

Today I am grateful that my knee is feeling stronger.

Day 35 – 12.1 miles

Derrick Knob Shelter was jam packed with hikers so once one person started crinkling their stuff in morning everyone got moving. The bright moon was still setting through the trees when I went to get my food bag. Tiger and I got moving with the usual chattering. Tiger warned me about the upcoming trudge up Brier Knob and he wasn’t kidding. It was horrendous, but unlike the BMT it didn’t last all day.

Once we crested the ridgeline to Thunderhead the views opened up and you could see for miles. The changing leaves brightened the hills and painted the range in reds and yellows. Tiger refused to sing the Rocky Top song on top of Rocky Top even though he is supposedly a fan of Tennessee. The descent to Spence Field was grassy and mild.

Earlier Tiger had said that he was going to stay Spence Field Shelter and go back to his van in the morning. So after lunch at the shelter I said goodbye to my friend and headed off on my own again. The next few miles were a cruise so I put on a podcast and drifted in and out of awareness.

There was one last climb up Little Bald to Mollies Ridge and it was forgiving compared to earlier in the day. My sinuses have settled down (Thanks Alka Seltzer!) so I was able to breathe easier on the way up. I got to the shelter and it was all ladies for once. A guy did show up but he only ate his dinner and then moved on. So Ladies Night was back on!

Today I am grateful for sunshine on mountain tops and a friend to share it with.

Day 36 – 11.6 miles

The moon was so bright that during my usual 3am trip to the “Toilet Area” I didn’t even need my headlamp. Right around the time I was supposed to be waking up and getting ready to go it started raining heavily. So I just lay there and stared at the downpour from the nice dry shelter. However I wouldn’t be getting further along the trail just laying there, so I eventually rose to greet my last day in the Smokies.

The trail was rolling and not much to see until the Shuckstack near the end. The old fire tower was a little off trail but I wanted to see the landscape with all the moving clouds. The first time I had climbed those rickety steps, they were dry and it was sunny. Today the rain made the terrifying climb even more so. Once I made it to the top enclosure, of course it stopped raining, but it was still windy…and cold. I got a few videos and pictures, ate some snacks, and called my shuttle. Then it was back to the trail.

The business of the traffic on trail told me I was getting closer to the end. Day hikers were out to see the fall leaves and views from the tower. They gave my wet bedraggled self a wide berth. Then I was at the trailhead just like that. Back where I started the Lakeshore Trail, so that the northern loop is complete! I love the Smokies (even the BMT part) and am a little sad to be leaving them. Some hikers like to complain about the permit/shelter system but I think it is a small price to pay for such beautifully tended trails and views.

I was walking the road to Fontana Dam and Nancy from the Hike Inn (also my shuttle) stopped by to see if I wanted to be picked up there. I wanted to walk across the dam though, so she kindly waited for me on the other side. I did the walk, got some dam videos, and was almost to the other side when an uneven part of the sidewalk got me. I ate concrete, or rather my knee and palms did. It was embarrassing. I just kind of wallowed on the sidewalk for awhile like a landed fish. I limped up to the waiting Nancy and asked for some napkins to staunch the blood flow on my knee. Here I show up to her establishment twice with busted knees. She must think I’m a complete klutz.

Anyway I got back to the Hike Inn, showered, laundered, and then went to town on some Mexican food. Im going to take a zero to recover my dignity.

Today I am grateful for Neosporin and Aquaphor.

Day 37 – 0 miles

I woke to find that my hands and knee hurt even more. I’m fairly certain my left wrist is sprained. It’ll take longer than a day for this all to get hike worthy, so I’m calling it. My trip is done. I guess I should change the name to the Almost Great 8? The Okay-ish 8? The Not Quite An 8?

Of all the things in the mountains; the roots, rocks, bears, mosquitos, rain, blasting winds, steep inclines, spiders, turkeys, downed trees, deep water crossings, mud pits, dehydration, heat exhaustion, and frigid temperatures; it is an unassuming piece of concrete sidewalk that took me out.

I’m not all that upset that I’m won’t be completing the whole thing. My ego wants me to push through it all and finish at Neels Gap, but I know I’ve gotten what I wanted out of this trip. It funny, I started this trip hoping to gain some clarity on some big questions and feel like I just gained more questions. I do feel better though. It’s what happens when you force endorphin production through long bouts of physical movement. Maybe I’ve got one thing figured out, which is enough for now.

WARNING: Bloody content below.

One thought on “The Great 8: Days 29 – 36

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