This week has brought so much trail happiness and also so much trail TRIAL! It’s definitely been an exciting and challenging last few days.
We left Fontana Dam and headed into Great Smoky Mountain National Park! It was a TOUGH climb up to the higher elevation we would we spending the week at, but super fun. Day one was 80 degrees, sunny and lovely. We got some fantastic views and met some animal trail friends!
That day we only did 7 miles, up to a nice little campsite in the Park. We camped with our new trail friend Sloth, and some other people who sadly were getting off the trail because they felt it was too busy with other people
The next day we hiked through more sun, and beautiful views, to Spence Field Shelter. The Smokies have a rule (unlike the rest of the trail) that you HAVE to sleep in the shelter provided if you are one of the first people there, unless a section hiker shows up, you have to give it up to them. There are many rules in the Smokies, mostly to help avoid bear encounters, as it is the most concentrated bear population in the country. Lots of people are kind of assholes about it, to be honest, and can’t just follow them and respect the park rules. It makes me really mad to see people ignoring the rules but I can’t do much about it unfortunately. ANYWAY! That evening we had so much fun laughing around the fire with two of our trails friends, SLOTH (who we met a few days ago coming into Fontana, and who gets his name because he walks in the same slow pace no matter if he goes uphill or downhill), and THE GENTLEMAN (who we met coming out of Franklin and who got his name because he took other people’s trash and a shovel off the highest and hardest peak in Georgia because he didn’t want litter up there). Both of these guys are great and we are enjoying hanging with them this week, taking on the Smokies together!! They even learned my signature move:
The Smokies decided that all we got were two good days. The next morning we awoke to crazy wind and rain. It was pretty misty the rest of that day, and the climbs were TOUGH! We were lucky to get some views in the morning but soon all visibility was lost in the fog:
The last three miles of that day (Monday) were RAIN, RAIN, RAIN. And it was cold. And there was no visibility whatsoever. By the time we got to the shelter we were SOAKED and shivering and frankly not super happy. All the fellow hikers felt the same, and the shelter was packed with …unhappy campers 😂we set up our tents, made our food, and hung our bear bag all with numb hands and not feeling all too happy. It was definitely one of the worst camping nights we have had, ever! The wind was rocking the tent all night and the rain was crazy! In the morning we had puddles in our tent but thanks GOODNESS our Big Agnes Air Core mattresses keep us warm and dry. Moonbow has a down sleeping bag so it’s important it stays dry!! We packed up all of our cold wet stuff, made breakfast inside the shelter, and hit the road. Everyone was bailing the crap weather for GATLINBURG and we needed to resupply anyway so we decided to get into town and dry out. GENTLEMAN and SLOTH were taking a zero day there, and Lightning Bug was not feeling well, so we decided to all split a room and we also took a zero! 😎
So we hiked 14 miles from Siler’s Bald shelter, up Clingmans Dome (the highest point on the AT!!), and to a gap where we could hitch a ride into town. The miles were SO. MUDDY. And the fog was insanely thick. We gave up attempting to stay dry and were caked in mud by the end of the day.
After the long climb up Clingmans in which we had ZERO view, we started downhill and or spirits were lifted as we found ourselves walking through a magical rain forest of moss, water and old trees. It was stunning!!
We finally arrived at Newfound Gap, where The Gentleman was waiting to hitch hike with us.
The sun had finally come out a bit, too!! A former thru hiker picked us up and took us directly to a buffet in Gatlinburg. We had a ton of food and stayed until it closed, and Sloth met us later, too! We all split a room for crazy cheap at a motel and started trying to dry our things out!! The room looked like a tornado hit:
Our zero day in Gatlinburg was honestly really fun. We woke up late, got a breakfast buffet, went to the outdoor center, got Starbucks (YUM!), got our resupply, and of course hung out with all our hiker friends, which gets me to the title of this post!
The AT is amazing because you have an instant bond with every hiker. Some you certainly mesh with more than others, but when you do mesh you stick together for a while and it’s awesome. Sloth pointed out that we are all basically strangers, and it’s kind of true!! But it doesn’t feel that way. But when else in life do you meet someone (or a group) and IMMEDIETLY share a living space, run all your errands together, share all your meals, and share the same journey… And over share all the same stuff, like your popping habits and preferences in the woods? Our group spent a good 45 minutes today talking about poop and all other kinds of stuff you would not discuss with boys you have only know 3 days. But this is the AT and it’s different and amazing.
Later in the evening some of our other friends, two girls SPLASH and TOTS came over and we pigged out on snacks and cookies and cereal and laughed so much Moonbow cried. We did Splash’s “Cutie Challenge” which was to see who could eat a Cutie clementine the fastest. Sloth won in like three seconds and Moonbow lost, taking two minutes because she was cracking up and crying from laughter
We wilł hit the trail again early tomorrow and have a really fantastic week of some gorgeous stretches coming up. We are super excited to be coming up on one MONTH on the trail, and this week we passed the 200 mile mark!! 😃