What up! I’m sitting on the floor of the Fontana Lodge bringing the blog up-to-date. The nearly full moon just set over the surrounding mountains that the lodge is cut into. Breakfast beckons once these words are typed.
Today we push into and through the Smokey Mountains. This section is our biggest challenge to date. My pack is enormous with over 20lbs of food. I need enough for 6-8 days to see me through the 109 mile section to Hot Springs, North Carolina.
I’m way heavier on food than everybody else and am carrying nearly twice as much as some. My plan is slow and steady to Clingmans Dome eating as much food as my stomach will hold. After a sunrise on the highest point in the AT, over half my food should be eaten. I’ll pick up the pace as my bag lightens and hustle off the high Ridgeline to Hot Springs, NC.
On the outside deck, the contents of everyones pack erupted onto the wooden planks as we prepared our food and supplies. Mr. Kool-Aid lost over 10lbs from his pack. Canuck lost a bunch as well with a few pounds subtracted from a switch to his hammock. I sent my e-reader home 😦 Not only am I not carrying a paper journal, but now I lost my book as well. Sacrifices! Their just isn’t time for reading with everything else going on. Oh, Mom, expect another package with an e-reader!
Yesterday’s rain stopped in the night and we woke to a foggy, cool morning. A fast 5.5 miles put us on the shuttle to the Fontana Lodge where we picked up our packages, some wine and beer, and then hit the showers. I showered twice soaking for nearly an hour in total. I’ll take another before leaving.
Sometimes, I’m just not sure what to say. We wake in the morning and we eat. We pack camp and we eat some more. We hike. We snack while we hike. We eat lunch on top of mountains and filter water flowing right out of the earth to drink. We eat more. Some of us drink coffee. Lots of coffee with enough to share.
We eat first dinner then we set up camp. We sit around fires or huddle beneath overhangs of shelters to stay out of the rain. We eat second dinner and we hang our food in trees to be safe from bears but more often mice. We goof around and share stories. We retrieve our bear bags to eat a third dinner; only sometimes, you know, when the pain in the belly outweighs that of the legs. We sleep. We sleep a lot. Sometimes 12 hours or more.
Mr. Kool-Aid and Canuck wake at 6:30am to walk to the tower for sunrise. I wake but decide to stay in bed. I’m still sick with a cough I’ve had since a trip to NYC with mi Grande Tio and Tia.
Rachel and Lorne stop down asking if we would like some apricots and prunes. Apparently, they give Lorne some god awful gas and he’s not allowed to have anymore. I guess that’s one way to hot-box a tent…
We pack up and head down the mountain to the NOC, the Nantahala Outdoor Center. They are located on the river and offer whitewater rafting and kayaking. For the thru-hikers, they have food. Hot food and real. We split a bbq bacon, onion, and something pizza. SOO good.
The pizza fuels us up the mountain to the Sassafrass Gap Shelter. The place is super crowded. A day hiker told me I was the hundredth that she saw. That was at 3pm! Looks like we are coming up to the next bubble…
I’m standing on the rickety platform of the the Wesser Bald observation tower 4,627 feet above the sea. The western sky is ablaze in the light of the sun slowly slipping below a mountain range of purple, blue, and green. The full moon fills the eastern sky rising through a rainbow haze of reflected light. Mr. Kool-Aid stands in front of me tears streaming from his eyes. I extend a hand for a shake. He pulls me in for a hug.
People always ask us why. Why would we do something so seemingly crazy? For moments like these. Moments of ecstasy and euphoria that break through all barriers. The climbing and physical challenges strip us bare leaving raw our emotions for moments like these.
After the sun is sufficiently set to satisfy our senses, we descend the tower and walk the mile to camp in the light of the moon. We arrive, tired and hungry, to the shelter where our friends await. We sleep inside, my second time on the trail. It seemed clean and little used. Not like some of the shelters our here.
We wake to an all-you-can-eat breakfast and gorge till our stomachs can hold no more. The breakfast is much the same as in the last hotel. Perfect! I eat plate after plate of Sausage, eggs, grits, biscuits with sausage grave, and blueberry waffles. A taste of heaven.
We figure out our food situation and mail ourselves enough food to get through the Smokey Mountains. In a few days, we’ll be in Fontana Dam where food is expensive. It is a very small place with no grocery stores, only a general store and a lodge. I mail myself two medium-sized flat-rate boxes overflowing with 20+lbs of food. We must carry enough for 6-8 days.
The woman who rode us to the post office waited. We found her 20mins later still in the parking lot to shuttle us further up the road. She could not take us the entire way due to a family obligation though she would have been glad to. The people of the south are super friendly.
A truck stops within a few minutes and rides us to the trail head. We take our time walking the four miles to the shelter. I sleep inside this one, my first time on the trail. I don’t think I will again; too noisy.
We wake in the grass alongside the highway to the sound of a car entering the parking lot: day hikers. Some of our group rallies and begins breaking camp. Not me. I stay in the warmth of my sleeping bag for as long as I can. I turn over, unzip my tent, and brew a cup of coffee. I’m carrying a GSI Java Drip and a pound of coffee. Everyone has their vice, right?!
Hitch-hiking is SO easy right now and it is not long before we have a ride to the front door of our hotel. Cool Dad booked us a night from somewhere on the trail. So crazy that we have cell service out there.
We are too early to check-in but the woman hooks us up. She lets us eat breakfast! We walk into the dining room to find the rest of our trail family finishing their feast. They pushed hard through the night for some sleep in a bed.
Towns are cool. They’re are a lot of work though. After breakfast it’s time for chores. I shower and get my dirty clothes together. Savage does laundry. We go shopping for our next stretch of food plus a mail drop to Fontana Dam. I mail myself 20lbs of food in two medium-sized flat rate boxes. The food barely fits and my boxes are “lookin a little wonky,” as one of the shuttle drivers would say.
Canucks hammock didn’t arrive. The post office sent it to the wrong town, Charlottesville. He’ll have to wait until Fontana Dam. Bummer dude. That tent your carrying is heavy and I know how much miss sleeping above the ground.
We walk to Walmart for more supplies. I need bear cord and alcohol for my stove. My bear line just wasn’t long enough. 550 paracord will work for now. I’ll replace it when I find some climbing accessory cord.
The pizza place’s shuttle, the cook driving the bosses car, picks us up at Walmart and drops us off with the rest of the family for a huge pizza dinner. Afterword, we head back to the hotel.
The hotel gets little crazy. People are piercing blisters with needles while others whittle away at packs that have exploded across the room. Dice are tossed on beds and bills change hands. What a day. What a night.