After some fun in Gatlinburg, I returned to the Appalachian Trail to finish off the Smoky Mountains alone.
Here is my first video from the trail! The first two weeks have had ups and downs but it’s been a fun journey so far. Here are some highlights from the trail:
THOUGHTS AFTER THE FIRST 2 WEEKS
Two weeks on the trail and I’ve definitely noticed I lost weight. There have been some scales at hostels or outfitters and I’m guessing I lost about 10 pounds. I’m starting to think my waist is shrinking, too.
I’ve also noticed how I can eat an obscene amount of food and be hungry an hour later. It’s kind of nice to be able to eat whatever I want. Too bad it’s so heavy to carry the amount of food I want/need.
Over the first few days of my hike I was constantly sore and my feet hurt after maybe 8 miles. Now, I don’t really get sore until 12+ miles and I’m used to the pain and can press on and do 18+ miles, a number I couldn’t fathom that first week. The body is an amazing organism. I’m fascinated at how my body has adapted to trail life.
Apart from getting my trail legs, my body has been able to heal itself after the constant beating I put it through each day. A minor tear in my meniscus from December has surprisingly healed itself. On Day 3 I really tweaked it and thought my knee pain might end my hike. Since then, my body has somehow overcame and I rarely have any pain and lately haven’t even needed to medicate. I’m amazed since I keep pushing myself to hike more miles and at a faster pace. Fingers crossed my knee pain won’t return!
My physical health aside, life on the trail is much simpler. My mood is most affected by the weather and how many people are sharing a shelter. I wake up, think about how many times I wore a pair of socks and if I should change my underwear or wait another day, and get out of my sleeping bag. Once packed, I hit the trail and have no cares in the world until it’s time to set up camp. The monotony hasn’t gotten to me yet but the rainy/cold weather is definitely dispiriting.
After a nice night in a Days Inn, Michael and I explored more of the tourist trap that is Gatlinburg. Lindsey, our friend who dropped us off at the trail in Georgia, would be arriving later in the afternoon and we planned to go to Dollywood the following day. Thus, we walked through town in search of discount tickets. We were a day ahead of schedule so we had time to kill.
Forget the discount; we found a better deal…free tickets. All I had to do was sit through a two-hour sales pitch for Wyndham time shares. I survived…and I discovered I have no desire to stay in Margaritaville themed hotels. Sorry, Jimmy Buffet.
With our free tickets, we met up with Lindsey and had Chipotle for dinner and Krispy Kreme donuts for dessert.
Day’s Mileage: 0
Total Miles Hiked: 216.1
Remaining Miles: 1,983.6
Dollywood was everything I hoped it would be and more. It was opening day and not too crowded. We rode all the major rides except one roller coaster that was closed for maintenance. We watched shows, went inside Dolly’s tour bus, saw the house she grew up in, and rode coasters. It was the perfect weather and to top it tall off, we saw Dolly! I snapped a blurry picture of her as she drove by in the shortest parade I’ve ever seen.
Following Dollywood, we ate at a quaint southern comfort food restaurant. It was on an orchard and looked like a quintessential country cottage. Dinner began with apple julep drinks, apple fritters, and apple butter. Next, I ate garden vegetable soup and chicken noodle soup. This was followed by fried chicken, chicken and dumplings, and chicken pot pie. There was also a side of cornbread sausage dressing and mashed potatoes. For dessert I couldn’t even finish my apple spice cake. We could barely walk out of the restaurant.
Back at our hotel I tried to pack all the new supplies Lindsey had brought me. I couldn’t fit all the food I requested she bring but I took about six days worth and indulged in some Cheez-Its. I probably had over 10 pounds of food!
It was bittersweet knowing this was the last night the three of us would all be together. Lindsey, Michael, and I had all met up to hike the Grand Canyon in December which was my first backpacking trip. That trip became the impetus that led to my decision to hike the Appalachian Trail. And somehow I was able to convince Michael to join me for the first two weeks on the trail. And Lindsey was gracious enough to drive us to the trailhead in Georgia and now she was picking Michael up in Gatlinburg. But sadly Michael’s journey on the trail had come to an end and I would be going solo.
Day’s Mileage: 0
Total Miles Hiked: 216.1
Remaining Miles: 1,983.6
After breakfast at the hotel, we returned to Krispy Kreme for a dozen donuts. I ended up eating five before we reached Newfound Gap. This time the road was open and the snow had melted. It was sad saying goodbye to Michael and Lindsey (unbeknownst to him at the time, Michael would return to hike more of the AT a year later). To make matters worse, the minute I hiked away from the parking lot and returned to the trail, it started to sprinkle.
It was strange to be back on the trail after 2.5 days away. My feet weren’t used to my boots anymore and my pack felt extremely heavy, although I’m sure the extra food was the culprit. Though I set out to hike the AT for solitude, self-reflection, independence, self-reliance, and all that, I almost felt an unease about the future. I could tumble off the mountain and the rest of the world would never know. Strange thoughts, indeed.
The trail was icy from the snow melt. The mountains were mostly bare compared to the winter wonderland when I left them a few days ago. The ice was slippery and I actually preferred the wet rocks. After only an hour, the rain stopped and the sun came out. Suddenly the gray skies cleared and I hiked past vista after vista of panoramic views of the Great Smoky Mountains. I wished Michael had been with me to finally see the beauty of the Smokies.
It was a very easy day, one of my favorite days on the trail. I try to remember these great days so I can recall later which sections of the hike were my favorites. So far Day 4 and Day 18 were great sections to hike. Though I started off slow and with unease being on my own, by midday I was cruising at 2+mph and happy as a clam. I made quick time and arrived at Tri Corner Knob Shelter.
At the shelter I met a number of thru-hikers who were super cool and friendly. Donatello, Joe Cool, Steve-O and Charlie Horse are the only trail names I can remember. The first three had all met on top of Blood Mountain when they were caught in a storm and had to share the shelter atop the mountain. They called themselves the Three Amigos. They were a fun bunch and I imagine I’ll be seeing them for a bit. A light rain began as darkness fell. It was a good day.
Day’s Mileage: 15.7
Total Miles Hiked: 231.8
Remaining Miles: 1,967.9
The day started off a bit misty but the sun came out and it was gorgeous. I had great views of the Smokies and a really easy section of trail. I saw the popular landmark of Charlie’s Bunion and also used my camera timer to snap a selfie on some cool rock.
After about 15 miles I left the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I crossed under interstate I-40. A thru-hiker from last year (2017) was alongside the road handing out Gatorade. Trail magic is always appreciated. Two miles later I reached Standing Bear Hostel and had a Digiorno pizza.
Joe Cool, Charlie Horse, Donatello, Steve-O, and pretty much everyone from the shelter the previous night showed up. It was another fun crowd to hang out with. Great weather and easy hiking made for a good day. Lots of uphill for tomorrow, though.
Day’s Mileage: 18.4
Total Miles Hiked: 250.2
Remaining Miles: 1,949.5
Daily Average: 13.2
I left the hostel around 8am and had a big four-mile ascent. I was shocked how quickly I conquered the mountain. My, how my body has changed. It was a pretty easy day and the sun stayed out despite forecasted rain.
Halfway through my day it became cloudy as I hiked to the top of Max Patch, a high peak with gorgeous views. It’s a bald so there are no trees on top, just grasses. Here I ran into Gazelle and her family. Gazelle began her hike the same day as me and I have been running into her off and on the for the last two weeks. I hadn’t seen her since I left Gatlinburg. She said she’ll be back on the trail tomorrow after her family leaves. I’m sure she’ll catch up to me.
It started to sprinkle a bit but not for long. I was partially sheltered inside tunnels of rhododendrons. The rain didn’t last long. I planned to hike about 15 miles to a shelter but the weather was so nice with rain forecast for the next day, I figured I should make use of it and push for 20 miles, my longest day yet!
The end of my day was a steep climb up to the top of Walnut Mountain. The shelter at the top was small and obviously full. A large group I had seen at Fontana Dam and my first night in the Smokies was there. They were a loud bunch. Tents were scattered about. I was not in the mood to deal with all those people. My guidebook said a tent campsite was only three-quarter miles away. If I’m gonna tent I’d rather be in the peace and quiet. Funny how my 15 mile day became 20 and then 20.7!
I made camp alone in a nice clearing surrounded by pines. I had two hours of daylight left to eat dinner and plan ahead. The night called for rain and lots of wind. I didn’t want to hang my food in a tree; I was feeling tired and lazy. Then I realized this is the first night I’m completely alone. There’s no other people around, no shelter, Michael is gone. If a bear eats me then that’s that. So I got my ass out of my tent and hung my food just as dusk fell. It took me a few tries to get the rope around a suitable tree branch; in the past I had let Michael handle that task, haha. Now I won’t be paranoid all night about bears. The wind picked up and was gusting as I got into my sleeping bag. I guess if the bears don’t get me, one of the dead trees will fall on me in the night. Sheesh.
Day’s Mileage: 20.7
Total Miles Hiked: 270.9
Remaining Miles: 1,928.8
Daily Average: 13.6
THE ADVENTURE CONTINUES
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