I pushed it out of Fontana Dam after purchasing the newly required $20 thru-hiker pass to the Smoky Mts. Nat’l Park and did 17 miles that day. Again I did 17 the day after and was pretty exhausted from 3 consecutive days of 17 miles including the one into Fontana just before the last post. Realizing my food supply was low, that I’m ahead of many hikers I know, and my state of exhaustion, and the likelihood of rain tonight I have gone into Gatlinburg TN for the night. Gatlinburg is a complete shock of commercialism for thru-hikers and is usually avoided. However, the stretch between resupply in the Smokies is quite long so many do stop in town.
Today was a 10.8 miile day. An off day! When I started a couple weeks ago this would have been a long day. It is now just a mornings walk as I’m mostly in hiker-shape now. There was a 1100 ft climb this morning up to Clingman’s Dome, the highest point on the AT, and then 8 miles mostly downhill to the highway. At the highway we (me, Chaos, and Dip & Sip) got trail magic of sandwiches and sodas from some trail angels. Then, a guy we camped with the night before offered to take us to town. He then proceeded to pay for a steak dinner! Appetizers, soup, salad, steak, and sides. Now, I am full. For a hour or two anyways. This was trail magic to speak of for years to come.
Chaos is a forester about my age and has spent much of career in the woods fighting forest fires, but hopes to get out of the business. Dip & Sip is a 60 year old early-retiree successful businessman – former operations officer for the U.S. stores of Tim Horton’s. We’ve got a room here in Gatlinburg for the hiker rate of $38.81. I like the prices in southern Appalachia!
It’s a good thing that today is going so well. Yesterday, mostly uphill, brought out a lot of doubts. Uphill usually produces muffled cursing as false summit after false summit make way for further climbs. Flat land produces a sigh of a relief and an intense enjoyment of the experience. On the flat terrain I am able to look at the nature and wildlife. On downhills I have taken a new strategy – a type of running which looks like downhill skiing. I learned this partially from Vitamin C who also cruises in such fashion. It seems a bit dangerous so I limit it now to reasonable terrain. But, it sure is a rush hitting maybe 5 or 10 mph running downhill as compared to the usually hiking pace of about 2 mph.
Also yesterday I was bummed because I thought I was making killer time, but you always get somebody to one-up you. Actually, thinking about it now it was our good friend who paid for the steak dinner who was talking yesterday about in 1999 Southbound thru-hike and his regular 25-30 mile days. I think I might do that in the flatter Virginia territory but he seems to have done it even in the mountains. This is why HYOH (Hike Your Own Hike) is the necessary mantra of the AT – everyone is at a difference pace. I started March 28 and have met hikers that have started anywhere from March 14 (and thus the slowest) to March 31 (and thus the fastest having caught me despite a 3-day lag).
There are doubts sometimes about this whole thing. Luckily I haven’t had much rain because that would likely bring out more doubts. But, I know that essentially I’ve got nowhere else to be as I’ve blocked off this 5 months for the hike. Plus, the good times are really good and I’m amazingly blessed to have this opportunity at all. I certainly don’t want to waste it.
I’ve hike the majority of the time alone and continued to sing a few songs, the only ones I can see to remember any lyrics to. The Black Velvet Band, The Irish Rover, Amazing Grace, It is Well with my Soul, and a few others. Hopefully I’ll find some time here on the computer to discover the missing lyrics that I have to keep skipping over when I get to the 3rd or 4th verses of the songs. Plus, I should get something new! I had once thought of carrying any ipod but sold that along with most else for wanting a simpler existence. Maybe this will help teach me lyrics.
I’ll try uploading some photos along with this post.