It’s been five days of sporadic thunderstorms and 1000% humidity. Everything is damp or on it’s way to being damp.
I made it out of Hot Springs NC into a wiltingly hot climb in the steamy sauna of the mountains and have now made it to Erwin TN.
I’ve worked the night shift for the past four years or so and am also a bit of a night owl. It’s really hard to sleep during the day because, duh, sunlight. One of the many benefits of this journey is a return to a natural sleep cycle. I go to sleep when it gets dark and I wake up with sun. WITHOUT AN ALARM! I feel all kinds of productive.
I don’t really have much else to report. Trees, trail, and trekking. It all kind of blends into the same story.
Although I did have to go around a downed tree and almost fell into a ravine. Thankfully I caught a tree branch to steady myself. But other than that…just a bunch of walking and being damp. So here are some pictures.
The Smokies are a National Park that encompasses both Tennessee and North Carolina and the AT actually straddles the border between the two states. I hated the NC portion of the AT so much I consider ALL of the Smokies to be only in Tennessee and you cannot convince me otherwise. I say this because you can tell an immediate difference in the condition of the trail when you enter the Smokies. The grades are gentler and the trail itself seems in better shape.
The views are as advertised and you think oh that’s why they call them the Smokies!
Today I went on a side trip to the Shuckstack. You can see it from Fontana Dam and it gives you perspective on how far you’ve walked.
The Shuckstack is an old fire tower next to the ruins of a caretaker’s cabin.
It doesn’t appear that the tower has been maintained in any significant manner which gave me some reservation about climbing it. I did it anyway with the possibly misguided thought of well you’ll probably never get to do this again. So I went for it….very carefully.
Today was a rough one, so I didn’t get very far. The day started out rainy and windy which also put a damper on my progress. When I ascended Rocky Top there was zero views, just more wind and white fog everywhere. Despite this I still feel good about my climbing. I see a difference now and can get to the top without stopping.
Today was a Julie Andrews hike. The birds were chirping, the sun was shining, and the GD bees were buzzing. It was a total movie moment.
In the higher elevation the forest turned Alpine and looked like the Pacific Northwest. I kept getting confused about where exactly I was hiking.
Clingmans Dome is the highest point on the AT with and elevation of 6658 feet. The climb weaves in and out of cool mossy forest and rocky hills baking in the sun. At the top is a tower for you to admire 360 degree views of the entire Smoky range. Seeing where I came from and knowing that I actually walked that far was another special change of perspective.
From this point me and Uncle Tiger tried to hitch into Gatlinburg without much success. Finally we got a ride down to Newfound Gap where we found more options to get down the mountain.
Gatlinburg is a weird tourist trap of a town. It’s like Panama City Beach in the mountains. Everything is old timey and log cabins. The strip has these weird animatronic attractions to get you to shoot guns.
I was more interested in the bed I slept on. It was DRY, LEVEL, CLEAN, AND STAYED THAT WAY ALL NIGHT!!! So I mostly spent my zero day wallowing in the comforts of civilization which included sleeping when I wanted, indoor plumbing, and soap. It’s the little things.
I got back up to Clingmans Dome with some severe reservations. That bed I spoke of earlier was still as comfortable as the previous day and I’m really missing flushing toilets. It seems every time I go into town I get tempted by the lures of civilization.
But when I get back on the trail I remember why I started this and forget about the inconveniences.
Today the walk was just as beautiful as going up Clingmans. The woods were soothing with the bird song and soft green light. The air created a soft blanket that felt like an outdoor hug. I really like the Smokies so far. Also I made it to Mile 200.
Today started out a little rainy but then once again the Smokies deliver with the views and the good hiking. There was a little side trip to Charles Bunion where I crept to the outcropping and DEFIED DEATH WITH MY BRAVERY! Nah, really it was just a little bit of careful maneuvering. (I promise I’m not being an idiot, Mom).
The ever present threat of thunderstorms dogged me all day. At one point in between mountains I was treated to an amazing meteorological show of rain sweeping through a far off valley.
I’m kind of sad to be leaving the Smokies. They’ve been what I thought Hiking (with the big H) should be like. A little bit of drama, a mix of challenges and pleasant strolling, and of course The Views.
Today I took a side trip to Mt Cammerer to see the fire tower built by the CCC in the 1930s. Unlike the Shuckstack this tower has been renovated and kept up.
At the fire tower I decided to eat a Payday in which the peanuts kept falling off. I noticed an inquisitive nose in the crack between the building and deck so I moved the peanut closer. This little mouse darted out and claimed his prize.
Also some dude bros arrived to the tower after me, one of whom was trying to tell the story of how FDR died. All I heard was “Colorado” and “bedpan” and knew this guy was speaking of some other President. It went something like this:
Dudebro: Yeah FDR was dying in Colorado and the nurses…
Me: FDR?! As in Franklin Delano Roosevelt?
DB: uh… (now looking at me like I’m a weirdo and probably wondering why this red faced sweaty chick loves FDR so much)…yeah?
Me: (very authoritatively) Because FDR actually died in Warm Springs Georgia of a sudden stroke.
DB: Well maybe it was Eisenhower?
Me: I don’t know anything about Eisenhower.
DB: uuuuhhhh… yeah so anyway blah blah blah….
So I guess have to back and thank all the school field trips to the Little White House for informing me about this one thing so I could shine bright and tell dude bros what’s what. I hope I haven’t spent all my FDR currency too soon.
On my way to Davenport Gap shelter which is nearly then end of the National Park, the sun dappled through the green leaves. Little pops of white and purple dotted the slope and a cooling breeze drifted through the canopy.
And then in all this sweetness I kept twisting my ankles on the damn rocks. A fitting goodbye from Smoky Mountain National Park.
I must revise my opinion of the North Carolina portion of the trail. Two words: it hard. Georgia was tough but had manageable climbs and descents. Mostly they were short and to the point.
NC is all about the pointless never ending climb where your nose is practically parallel to the ground and interminable descents that destroy your knees.
Also for some reason they are hell bent on not maintaining the trail itself. At one point I was “walking” on the “trail” that was less than a foot wide and you could look straight down and see the bottom of the mountain.
Oh but then we got to Fontana Dam, which is the southern gate of the Smokies. It was built during WWII To aid in energy supply and is the tallest dam east of the Mississippi. The trail runs right over it.
But before I got to the dam there was a marina shop full of ice cold beverages and the most delicious microwaved burger I’ve ever had. Well it’s the only one actually. But still it was a taste treat.
We spent the night at Fontana Dam. I pitched my tent on a slant and ended up sliding down onto the tent pole which collapsed the tent onto me. I was not as they say “a happy camper” in the morning.
I got over my upset after a quick dose of coffee and the realization that the Smokies were coming up. Also the flushing toilets were nice too.
I entered North Carolina agog that I actually made it. This whole trip is starting to become a real experience, not just some far off fantasy. The miles go by and my feet keep moving. Not once have I wanted to stop and give up, even when it gets super hard. It’s a nice feeling, when you can surprise yourself.
Rain started up promptly AGAIN after Bly gap. Everything was bathed in an creepy fog glow. I stupidly kept pushing forward and almost gave myself hypothermia.
Albert Mountain was a sum’bitch to climb. It a straight up rock climb. At the start you see a fire tower way high up and wonder how long that will take. It is so far away. Then stop at the steepest incline that never ends. Apparently it takes about 45 minutes of sweating and cursing as I found out. The view from the top was literally breath taking…there was yet another climb up some carney-esque stairs to the fire tower.
Shortly after the mountain I made it to the 100 mile mark. Someone artfully positioned some sticks into a mile marker. I’m getting new shoes. Mine suck.
The downs are as hard as the ups. Trudging up these eternal inclines, my lungs shout at me. Going down, my left knee which has an old derby injury, makes it’s complaints known. All the while my feet bark at me. People talk about getting your Trail Legs like it’s a magical event. ***Like you wake up one day and the Trail Fairy has been by to drop off your legs. If it was only that easy.
When I get to the top there are these stretches of flat straight aways that are surrounded by pine and cedar. The path is soft as Berber carpet from the previous years leaves and needles. Up there the smell of trees is undiluted and I swear there was some cardamom nearby because I kept smelling winter drinks. These are my favorite parts of the trail. With the mountain ridges in the distance, it feels like you are in the clouds.
So there I am huffing the air like it’s going out of style and come around a corner to see two black bear cubs! We all stop for a moment and then one of them makes an Aaaack! noise like those Martians from Mars Attacks. They both take off down the hill like rockets and I make steps to get out the area in case Mama Bear takes offense. The adrenaline made that pretty easy. I can just see the cubs going back to Mama being all “We were just enjoying the pine smells and this stinky human had to come and ruin it! ”
It rained all day yesterday and my feet are still soaked. Even though the day is mostly dry, my feet have swollen up and stayed damp. This in turn has created a very painful situation that make it fell like I’m walking on razor blades. Appropriately Annie Lenox’ s “Walking on broken glass” popped up in my head radio and would not shut up! My brain thinks it’s being funny.
My feet started hurting so bad I stopped early at a shelter while the rest of my trail family pushed on to a further campsite. I’m sitting there, mercifully off my feet and feeling pretty crappy that I can’t keep up when loud clanking comes from the trail. Wok (the guy who fed us at Neel’ s gap because it was his birthday) shows up with a full sized grill strapped to his back. He brought hot dogs, burgers, and beer to the shelter.
I perked up quickly after that! Haha! Who’s the sad sack now? I’ve got hot dogs! He also started a fire and the little shelter group sat around and ate and talked. That’s another nice thing about the trail: there is rarely cell service at the shelters. So everyone actually talks to each other.
*** Clarification: I stole this from Uncle Tiger and he wants me to let you know that. I REGRET NOTHING.
Left Neel’s gap yesterday, where a nice young man had a cookout with hot dogs and beer because it was his birthday and we were all invited. So a bunch of thru hikers sat around till almost 9pm (!!late!!) and actually talked to each other. Not a cell phone in sight.
Today I made it to Unicoi gap where a lovely group of people were handing out cheeseburgers and drinks in the rain under some tents.
They are what are known as Trail Angels. I met one yesterday at Tesnatee gap who was handing out oranges and waters just before the Hogpen mountain climb. It’s like ole Roy knew that climb would suck…a lot.
Today the fog and rain moved in with reports of a downpour tomorrow. My group decided to shuttle into Hiawassee and get a motel room for a nearo and a zero day. Respectively those are days where you don’t put many miles in and rest and when you don’t hike at all.
I’m glad for it because I GET TO TAKE A HOT SHOWER AND WASH MY CLOTHES! I’ve never paid much special attention to hygiene. Just wash things when they are dirty, then done.
Obviously when you are in the woods staying clean becomes a little more difficult. I don’t mind the dirty clothes so much, although I would pay good money for a fresh sock delivery service. It’s the dirty hands and booties that get me. I feel like Howard Hughes all: GEEEEERRMS! There is a reason hikers don’t shake hands or eat each other’s food.
I had to stop and get some actual soap. Hand sanitizer only does so much. My health is directly tied to the state of my hands for obvious reasons and I don’t want to come down with some 18th century bacterial disease.
Privies are just as gross as you think. What is even grosser is that there is a mountain of poo down there with no toilet paper. Again, don’t shake hands with a hiker. Of course I brought my own TP and if you can get past the smell it’s actually kind of nice to take your morning constitutional outside. Your butt gets a nice breeze.
You have to dig a “cathole” if you are gonna actually poop outside. Very annoying. Who knew the ground was full of rocks and roots and stuff? If you come across two sticks crossed on the ground, just keep stepping. That was someone else’s cathole.
And now all the dudes can stop reading…really. This is the end of this update.
I’m not kidding, it’s about to get all lady talk in here.
Are you sure?
Well you can’t say I didn’t warn you.
Okay so for those of us with vaginas: you know what really sucks? Starting out a huge adventure and then starting your period the next day. Yaaay. Now you’re probably saying “But Cheryl you didn’t know this was coming?” To which I reply, my period is ornery and stubborn as I am. That bitch has never been regular.
So there I am in a forest full of bears and sharks and now I get to deal with Aunto Flo’ s visit. I found out though, that apparently when you’re walking up and down mountains that cramps become a minor irritant. So there you go ladies. Next month instead of hot packs and Aleve, go huff it up a mountain.
After a year of plotting and scheming I’m actually here about to walk the Appalachian Trail. If feels kind of surreal. I’m officially hiker 2288 with my own little orange badge. It’ll take approximately six months to get to Mt Katahdin in Maine.
(Obligatory pic with the arch)
I started at Springer Mountain after driving up a bouncy dirt road (thanks for braving that USFS road with me Dad!)
I’m pretty sure I was fueled by adrenaline and leftover caffeine that first hour. Thoughts of Aaaaaaah! Are you crazy? You’re really doing this!! played havoc on my brain. Thankfully that all settled at the first hill and I just kept putting one foot in front of the other.
About a mile in I stopped at a shelter to finally ingest something (my nervous twittering from earlier prevented any proactive food consumption, dumb move really). There was guy from Tuscaloosa I met in the parking lot going the wrong way and so I helped him back to the trail. He suggested my trail name should be Compass. So there you go I got a trail name the first day. Which is actually really appropriate because my friends used to call me Mapquest back when that was a thing.
Up and down through bare limbed oaks with the sun in my face and light cool breeze I went. A grit mixture of old leaves and dust quickly pinpointed the hot spots on my heels making my decision to not buy gaiters an unfortunate one.
7.1 miles later I came to Hawk Mountain Shelter. I set up my tent all janky but I didn’t care because it blocked most of the wind and I fell asleep pretty early.
I awoke to another beautiful cool day. Apparently while I was asleep a whole bunch of people came in and set up. I met up with Ree who was in the same registration “class” as me. Johnny from Arizona carried wood burning stove. Aaron proclaimed a love of all things weed. Bill was section hiking. We all fell into a leap frog group hiking, passing each other as the other stopped.
The real bitch of the day was Sassafrass mountain. A trail runner named Splitter going the opposite way said he had some cold sodas in the back of his truck at the bottom of the mountain. That Orange Crush was like a miracle to my mouth. Mostly because of the iciness I’m guessing.
Continuing on after our sugary treat, we entered back up into the pine forest laid thick with last year’s foliage. By this time the heat of the day baked the resinous needles over the hard packed clay trail and formed a distinct smell I associate with childhood memories of tromping about Pine Mountain. It’s a smell that gets stronger the louder the cicadas are.
But then we hit the damn Rhododendrons. They offered much needed shade I’ll give them that but they stink so bad. Like piss soaked cloth tarps covered in mold. Am I the only one that suffers their hellacious perfume? No one I’ve talked to seems to notice that devils waft.
Made it 7.6 miles to Gooch Mountain Shelter, where I was able to stay up long enough to do a little socializing. After the appropriate dose of Ibuprofen of course. A guy brought his ukulele and serenaded us with a Hawaiian version of “Why don’t you get a job” by the Offspring.
I won’t say the going is easier yet, but I’ve quickly realized that going up has got to be done. So I just plod along. And that somehow makes it easier. Also the views today were motivating.
I’ve found a group of people to walk with just like I thought would happen. (See mom I’m not all alone!)
Ree the previously mentioned, who is guide for rafting and snowmobiling at Yellowstone. Dots has freckles (hence the name) and is a metal worker. Aaron, well I don’t know what he does, but I know his Mom is worried about him. Johnny was in the Army and is carting the heaviest pack I’ve seen so far.
It’s hard to update this blog with the lack of usable signal. So I’m going to be short and sweet while I have signal.
Blood Mountain today.
Got to Neel’s gap. Ate much pizza. Am stinky. Feet hurt.