Clean Clothes—the illusion of cleanliness.

We’re sitting in the library in Hot Springs, NC for the afternoon. Yesterday we did about 17 miles from Max Patch Bald summit, where we’d camped the night before (amazing, awesome, you should do it) and stayed about a mile or so before Hot Springs at a random campsite which was nice. This morning we rolled into the town by 8am for some breakfast at the Smoky Mountain Diner. Ahhhh, coffee (a rare treat for me) and a huge breakfast that we couldn’t finish. Yes, I know, we’re calorie starved and I couldn’t finish my meal.

Since we’d stayed past the shelter we were some of the first to come into town and most everyone else came in later that morning. We hit the laundry first thing and now our clothes are clean but we still haven’t had a shower yet since we can’t check into the B&B until later today. That’s ok, at least I don’t smell so bad. It’s been so hot these past few days and there aren’t leaves on the trees yet so it makes everything so much worse.

The very cool trend on hikers is what I like to call, the pole strap tan. We have strips of white across our hands where the straps to our poles stay all day long. Part of it was dirt, but most of it is now a very bad tan line.

Well, photos are taking forever to upload here so I don’t have a lot to show you. If you want to look at everything so far you can go to our flickr photostream and check it out.

This was on top of Rocky Top, the second day in the Smokies. It was a pretty steep climb up, but had a nice view. You could see Fontana Lake back to the south and the fire tower on Shuckstack.

Chris has been looking in all of the small streams and water sources for salamanders. In the Smokies there is one called the hellbender that I think gets 2′ long. Oh, the day we came down Clingman’s and ran into the trail maintainers we heard a low grumbling/creaking sound and they told us it was a male spruce grouse (a bird). Ever since we hear them on occasion and they are really cool sounding. There’s also a bird that is very common that we hear daily and I wish I had Marc to tell us what it was.

At the lower elevations we are starting to run into a lot more wildflowers. Chris decided he was going to take a photo of every new one we see…which can get old fast if we stop every 10 minutes.

As for hiking and such, I’m slowly getting better. I still have a hard time when there is a big hill to do and I get down sometimes. Mostly I think it is because I miss ‘life’. It is such a completely different thing out here. Walking is work. It is fun, yes, but it can be work. It’s all day, every day and when you get to town or place to stop and see life happening…it makes you miss it a bit. We ran into two, well, how do I put it…old hillbilly guys…who were doing little bits of sections, low miles maybe 5-8 a day, just enjoying the day outside and doing crosswords in the shelter. They’d hiked the AT before and they said they bounce around and do little sections, shelter to shelter (or campsite) and hang out. I miss that. Lingering. I also like when we do bigger miles, too, because I know that I went a long distance that day.

We weighed ourselves at the outfitter here (Bluff Mtn Outfitters…pretty nice store, has some health food/organic kind of stuff, too. Made me want to go into Whole Foods) and they had a scale. It seems that the scale at Standing Bear was pretty accurate. probably about 12lbs or so for me and 18lbs for Chris. We’re going to have to start eating a little more soon, splitting the Mountain House meals isn’t quite going to cut it very soon. Either that or eat more bars during the day.

Since it has started getting warmer during the nights now I am finally able to sleep without layers of clothes. We also decided to buy summer bags. We weren’t originally going to, just keep our 15* bags and deal with it, but we found a Marmot Pounder for around $100 on Campmor and it is 40* and will drop some weight in the summer and not be so hot.

This is the shelter we had to ourselves at Silers Bald. Ahhhh…peaceful!

Well, I think that’s it. Our next stop is Erwin, Tn. Not sure if we are staying there overnight or just an in and out kind of thing. It’s about a five day hike from here. Then, Virginia isn’t too far away! We’ll have about 500 miles to walk in Virginia.

Until then, I’m going to try to start being more upbeat and not so down about things and keep on truckin’.

5 Days in the Smokies

Whew…five days in the Smokies. We decided to hit a hostel just outside the park today instead of staying at a campsite. Although, we are still camping anyway—we got here too late. But a shower is nice and we ran into a lot of people we’d been hiking with earlier last week.

First, thank you for all your comments and thank you to my old work colleagues who have commented! I appreciate it and I hope you are all having fun with the upcoming Everglades Study! 😉

What can I say about the Smokies??? They weren’t as bad as I thought but there was a lot more snow than was told to us.

Day1: We left Fontana Dam to hike 15 miles to Russell Field Shelter. Not too bad getting out of the Dam area, we hiked up to Shuckstack and then down for lunch and met a few other hikers on the way. It was a ‘usual’ day, ups and downs, some nice flats. A lot of the trails in the Smokies are graded for horse use so the AT is used for horses in the Smokies on most parts except a few top spots. We stayed at the Russell Field Shelter for our first night in a shelter. There was one other couple who had hiked up from a different trail for an overnighter and then four people who came in late and left early. You have to stay inside a shelter in the Smokies unless it is full and then you can tent. It’s ridiculous. I only saw one mouse the next morning and it ran across the side of the shelter.

Day 2: Oh, this day was kinda crappy. It was effing hot and I was guzzling water and there were so many pointless ups and downs. The group of hikers was one shelter in front of us so we didn’t really see many people that day. Rocky Top and oh, another one right after, were two steep climbs, both with great views, though. We made it into Derrick’s Knob Shelter for a late afternoon rinse in the stream and to see a few hikers we knew. Everyone was staying there but we were hoofing another six miles to Silers Bald. We showed up at SIlers Bald shelter to an empty shelter and we had it to ourselves the entire night!

Day 3: Clingman’s Dome was looming that morning. Every ridgerunner we had run into (they are kinda trail maintainers and helpers on the AT) had said there was 1′ or more of snow on the trail and some post-holing on the back of the dome. Which was true. Only they left stuff out. We left Double Spring shelter and the terrain changed and there were more fir trees. Smelled wonderful. The climb up Clingman’s wasn’t too bad, we deferred going to the top of the tower and instead headed down. It was tough going and we post-holed and tried to stay dry, ended up wet and like dummies we didn’t wear our gaiters and rain pants. We thought we were going to Mt. Collins Shelter for lunch but learned it was .5 off the trail so that was a no-go and oh, though we had a brief time of no snow on the trail, it was pretty much six miles of snow or ice on the trail all the way down to Indian Gap. Chris ended up hurting his ankle/heel so we went even slower but near Indian Gap we ran into two trail maintainers, Miss Scarlett and Newt who hiked the trail last year. They gave us root beers, cookie dough and apples. Mmmmm! Then, it was finally to Newfound Gap where US 441 runs though. We thought we’d get water at the bathrooms there but the NPS seems to think running water at a vital point for hikers is bad idea. Ok, so maybe they don’t think that, but they don’t have sinks in the bathroom, apparently alcohol hand sanitizer is the cool thing these days. We thought we were home free of snow until we had the last 3 miles to Icewater Spring Shelter and ran into day hikers who said there was snow all the way to Icewater and then past. Ugh. We rolled into camp after 7pm that night.

Day 4: Starting off much better and went to Charlie’s Bunion. Very cool scenic overlook. Actually, this day was pretty cool. Very good trail, some snow, most on Mt. Sequoyah and Mt. Chapman, but it was a very nice hike. We had lunch somewhere near Bradley’s View and saw two peregrine falcons swooping and diving into the valley below. Very, very awesome. Ended the day at Tri-corner Knob shelter.

Day 5 (today): After some up over Mt. Guyot this morning and snow we started hitting some ‘hiking nirvana’ which is what a section hiker coming from that direction called it. And it was. We ripped through the trail…flat/downhill with not a lot of rocks or debris. Had lunch at Cosby Knob Shelter and then had some more ups after lunch and then finally a long downhill into Davenport Gap. We walked along a nice creek/stream that I debated camping at, but earlier in the day we’d decided we might try to make it an 18 mile day and come to the Standing Bear Farm hostel. Oh, those last three miles were hard. Really, it was the last mile because it was blazing hot once we came out of the Smokies, that at one point we were on a ridge that I told Chris I felt like I was in the scrub somewhere in Florida. Yeah, the last mile after we passed I-40 was brutal because it was hot and up—steep up—and finally we came to the road to walk up to the hostel. Which we found out was out of bunks but we could tent. Oh well, we had a pizza and soda’s and talked to people we hadn’t seen in a week.

I’ve got a few blisters from the wet boots the other day so we’ll take it easy on the next three days to Hot Springs where we have reservations at a bed and breakfast with a jacuzzi. mmmmmm, my muscles need that!

So, the Smokies—the first half—kinda ‘meh’ because it was so similar to everything else, the second half, especially north of Newfound Gap—beautiful and awesome.

Oh, there is a scale here…it says I’ve lost 15 lbs already. I don’t know how accurate that, but I would definitely say 10.

Thoughts on Hiking So Far

Nickie asked a few posts ago what our greatest hardship has been so far. After thinking about it for awhile, mine has to be homesickness. It’s incredibly crazy, but I do get more homesick than I have in a long while. Even more than when I was at sea for two months between high school and college. I think it will ease up as time goes on, but the little stays in town do not help much. I also think it will help the more that spring comes around and there are things to focus on. Rainy days actually aren’t as bad as the sunny days. It has been so ‘blah’ out there, beautiful, yes, but ‘blah’ because there are no leaves on anything and everything is so brown. I’m just not used to this. I’ve been spoiled by Florida for eight years.

The hills are hard, yes, but you do them and maybe it sucks while you go up the steep ones, but eventually it is ok.

Stairs blow. Especially coming down on the knees. I try to alternate which knee goes down first in order to change the ease on each of them. Lately my right knee has been hurting more.

I really am annoyed with leaves on my hiking pole. Ever since we took the tips off the poles I pick up leaves all the time. I feel like a litter picker-upper.

I hate getting to a big rock that is hard to maneuver to get down. Lately I’ve been taking to sitting down and sliding on it instead of trying to step because in the last three day stretch I fell three times. I have some nice bruises on my right arm, too. Effing rain and wet leaves on rocks.

I’ve been dealing with a stupid cough, too. It’s not even like a cold. I am tired of the wind and cold because my nose runs all day and then gets chapped after all the wiping on the bandanna. I’m ready for warm weather so the cough goes away.

But, what I do love is talking to people, meeting everyone, getting to a shelter a little early to sit around and just enjoy the late afternoon. Some of the tops of the hills have really neat rocky-scrub areas with rhododendrons and azaleas and there are lots of species of lichen. Actually, in some areas the trees are covered in lichen that even being defoliated right now, they appear very green in the right light.

I’m having fun….I just have to get over being homesick. Oh, and not look at the large maps of the entire trail because then I feel like that tiny little inch or two we’ve done is nothing.

One little group of of miles at a time.

Oh, Sunshine, I love thee.

We are in Cherokee, NC for the day. Since we left off here last week from Bryson City, I’ll catch you up since then. It hasn’t been that long….

We hitched a ride into Bryson City and couldn’t figure out how to get back other than hitching. Then I remembered I knew people who worked for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and knew one of them was in that vicinity so I dropped him an email and he was kind enough to give us a ride back to the Nantahala Outdoor Center. Thanks so much Mike if you are reading this!

Luckily that day ended up being very sunny, but we had found out a few days before that the climb out of the NOC was kinda sucky. And it was. Lots of hills and climbing and it was fairly steep. Not a lot of switchbacks, either. The nicest climb of the day was to Cheoah Bald. Beautiful views and a nice place to sit.

Cheoah Bald
See, a nice place to sit!

We ran into another thru-hiker and two day hikers at the top and made our way down to Locust Cove Gap for the night where a bunch of other people came to tent as well.

Sunday was rainy and very gusty. We climbed down into Stecoah Gap and then back up an un-named hill that was insanely steep with zero switch backs and everyone bitched about once they got to the Brown Fork Shelter. It was a game of “let’s make it to that tree and breathe and then try the next tree and breathe”. Since we were only doing 9 miles that day (killing time to Fontana) we ended up staying for an hour or longer at the shelter to eat lunch and hang out with the hikers that were there. Then we kept on going in the rain and wind to Cody Gap and sat up came for the night. Since we had been dealing with a leaky tent we kept vigilant throughout the late afternoon with the bandanna to keep the water from accumulating inside the tent. Luckily the rain stopped and we came out for dinner.

Monday we awoke to being in the clouds and it was drizzily and crappy the whole day. We had 10 miles to get into Fontana Dam, some downhill, with an annoying uphill in the middle. Sometimes I don’t mind the smaller hills that are called “pointless ups and downs” aka: PUDs, but when you can’t see 200′ in front of you and you think you are done only to go up and down about six or seven of them, it gets frustrating and annoying.

We came into Fontana Dam in the mid afternoon and there were a few people at the “Fontana Hilton”, so called because it sleeps 20 and there is a bathroom and shower nearby (which, btw hasn’t been cleaned since like 1990 and smells awful. Use the toilet, but I’d wear layers to shower.) The Fontana Village is two miles away from the shelter and we had food to eat at the shelter but we started talking about burgers and decided to call the Lodge and see if they had dinner…and they did. So they sent a shuttle down, which picks you up at the top of the hill from the shelter for $3 a person. You should take it.

Loads of people were at the shelter on Monday evening and everyone was heading to the Smokies. Tuesday we hung around at the shelter for the morning and relaxed, drying our tent out and airing our sleeping bags out and then headed up to the general store at Fontana Village to lounge about and then eventually get our maildrop. Everyone was complaining about the size of their boxes, mostly because everyone isn’t eat as much as they thought and because they planned for too much. We ended up cutting our 11 days down to 8 from Fontana to Hot Springs and will be sending the extras to Hot Springs to supplement what we buy there.

We’ve been hiking with a guy named Missionary on occasion and he needed a ride to skip part of the Smokies to meet his wife in a few days so we brought him to Cherokee with us yesterday. This morning we didn’t have a lot to do so we drove the 16 miles to Newfound Gap (kinda splitting the Smokies in half) and now I am much more excited for the Smokies. The northern part is so much different, kinda rocky and a lot more fir trees. Also, while there is some snow and ice, it isn’t all covered like everyone on the Trail seems to be imagining or hearing. Sure, I think the north faces of the higher peaks will have some tricky parts, I think for the most part it will be clear and good. So, now I am much more excited, plus we have almost a week or great weather coming our way. I am ready for sunshine and warmer days!

Let’s see, here are a few people we’ve been hiking with off and on that you can follow if you want:
Red Hat
Walking in Stillness and Do What you Love: these two we ran into at the Fontana General Store…they are crazy fast hikers, doing 20+ miles a day. The guy has done the Triple Crown (PCT, CDT, AT) and they do other long trails. In fact, they started at the Pinhoti Trail in Alabama before starting the AT. When I get time later I plan on reading through their journals for their other hikes.

Anyway, I suppose that sums it up. We’re heading out to the Smokies tomorrow, planning five days to get through them and then three to get to Hot Springs after. A full week, with sun…we should be really smelly by then! Mmm! Actually, the smells aren’t too bad, you get used to yourself after awhile.


Blue Mountain Shelter

Blue Mountain shelter fire
Chilling around the fire…

Blue Mountain Shelter
There’s a dog under that coat! Tough hound dog and his owner, a gal from Montana. They breezed from Blood Mountain to Blue Mtn for a 20 mile day. Phew…!!

Breakfast @ Blue Mountain Shelter
Breakfast! Oatmeal…mmmm! Sometimes having a quick breakfast is better.

View from Blue Mountain

This is my last scheduled post until we get to Fontana. So, ‘see’ you in a few days.