Beard Length: Chuck Norris
Showers Taken: 5
Beers Drank: 20
Bears Spotted: 1
Zero Days: 3
Wow, thank you all so much for reading the first post and for all the nice comments! I truly appreciate you following along this journey, and am glad you enjoy reading about it!
So after a refreshing rest day, a bunch of beers at Lazy Hiker Brewing Co., and an amazing night with some rad people (what up Rogue we set out from Franklin, NC… Into a five day stretch of rain.
Fighting the darkness, we set up camp outside of the Wayah Bald Gap Fire Tower. I think I honestly went to bed around 6:30 PM and remember waking up about midnight because I had to pee. The wind was relentless smacking against my tent and the torrential downpour pounded on the fly. So I told myself to hold it and that I would wait til it was light out. In the morning I could still hear the rain and thought I felt much colder than I probably should have. Then I realized that I was also feeling a little wet around my waist and feet. My first thought was “Shit, I peed myself”. Then a loud fluttering noise made me look up to see the silver flash of the rain fly of my tent whipping freely in the wind. The wet soil combined with the strong gusts caused the stake to come loose and subsequently for rain to flood my tent. My clothes, down sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and worst of all, my copy of The Return of the King we’re all drenched.
Being wet in cold climate is a recipe for hypothermia, so I stripped down and made my way out of the tent and under the fire tower. Since almost everything we owned was saturated, we made an executive decision to not hike that day. I used Jack Rabbit’s phone to call and reserve us a bunk room at a hostel. Then found a guy named Sid’s phone number in the comment section on the hostel page to come pick us up. Sid was an older guy who was real hard of hearing, and I hoped that we were clear on the meeting time and place. He told us to hike down to a parking area where a public restroom was and he’d meet us there.
So we waited together for over an hour in the men’s restroom… (brings dirty hippy to a new level) But Sid finally came and we sure were thankful when we saw the ridiculous drive he had to endure to fetch us.
First order of business was to lay out all our gear to dry in the bunkroom. Then I spent a half-hour drying out my book under a hand dryer in the bathroom. And after we went down to do laundry (continuing our tradition of laundry beers), I realized I needed to wash and or dry everything I owned. So I did my laundry naked.
Fast forward 30 miles and I was humbled to finally be in the Smokey Mountains. This was a part of the hike I was looking forward to most, known as some of the most challenging and scenic miles of the trail. The mountains are just so different than New Hampshire, with tall evergreens and mossy tree growth at elevations greater than 6000′.
We ascended Clingman’s Dome, the highest point of the AT at 6643′ and crossed over the 200 mile marker in the same day. Many milestones were accomplished and although there were many signs noting ‘aggressive bear activity’, I didn’t see a single one. It was cold, dipping down into the high 20’s at night, but we could not have had better weather with sunshine and blue skies everyday.
Coming out of the Smokey’s I made an early start to the day because I had an important package waiting at a hostel 3 miles beyond the park boundary. Mom had sent me a working phone and a batch of homemade brownies. I was up at sunrise and nothing was going to stop me until I got to Standing Bear Hostel, or so I thought. Right before the I40 underpass, I saw a group of hikers stopped beside a cooler chatting with a dude in his late 20’s. His name was Lightning had thru-hiked the AT in 2016 and was beginning the PCT in two weeks. Lightning decided to do some trail magic by bringing A COOLER FULL OF PBR. It was meant to be, so I took a half hour break for brewskis and good conversation.
Afterwards, moms brownies became the talk of the trail and I finally hd a working cell phone. Honestly, I was fine without one, mostly because I was able to use one of my friends’ to check email every couple days. The biggest drawback was being unable to take pictures. (Jack Rabbit gets the photo credit of the Salamander below.)
Pressing on, now having the power of technology, I treated myself to hiking with some music and got into a groove climbing up Snowbird Mountain. I stopped suddenly when I saw a small black shape in the middle of the trail. After hiking 70 miles through the bear troubled Smokey’s and seeing nothing, a young cub now stood before me drinking from the stream. I didn’t see momma bear, so I did not stop to take any pictures. Instead a clapped my poles together and yelled at it, stating, “I’m a friend of Jim Gagne!” And it scampered off into the woods.
The top of Snowbird Mountain looking back at the Smokey’s.
With the Smokey’s behind me, it felt a tad bit surreal. This hike was always a concept brewing in my mind, I had never thought about the feeling it would invoke when sections were completed and small goals were reached. More so now it makes me realize the need to appreciate everyday for the trail that’s in front of me and not forecast into the future so as not to passively experience the steps I’m presently taking. Often times, I don’t even know what state I’m in as I bounce back and forth between North Carolina and Tennessee. I’ve come to realize that I may never hike this part of the trail again, so I am going to try to do better at ‘walking in the moment’ and not thinking too much of what’s ahead.
But that could be said for normal life too I think. Too often, we spend to much time thinking (or worrying) about what’s next instead of truly experiencing every sense the present moment has to offer.
Just yesterday I took a two hour lunch break atop Max Patch. A grassy bald that was originally cleared for cattle and now leaves a 360 degree panoramic view of the surrounding mountains, it was wonderful
A wildfire just south of Hot Springs has closed 7 miles of the trail which actually ended up getting me into town a day early to relax and regroup, then it’s back to the mountains!
Nevertheless, I’m incredibly comfortable out here now and could do this forever if it were possible. I’m feeling happy, healthy, strong, and smellier than ever. And after the response from the last blog post I am feeling an incredible amount of love and compassion. I feel very fortunate so many people actually want to read about my adventure and can experience it with me.
Most importantly thank you to Mom and Dad for helping me get my phone back up and running and for all the other treats they sent in the last package! And huge thank you to John McNeil for posting these updates for me as well!
That’s all for now, but wanted to ask for a little help! I’m flying through books out here and will definitely finish my reading list before the end of my hike. I would love some suggestions if you can drop me an email (email@example.com) or comment on here (I don’t see the Facebook or Instagram comments).
Lastly, the beer in the South is good, but if anyone wants to mail me a Heady Topper I will reward them handsomely!
Hot Springs, North Carolina
May 4, 2018