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And thus far…

So here are the highlights of our adventure/foolish walk thus far, recorded in hindsight:

Left the visitor center on a Saturday after registering and weighing our packs. Michelle bought us AT bandanas; mine is red, Bailey’s is blue. His has since been used exclusively as a snot rag. Mine has a rock from the top of Springer tied in it which I use to toss the bear bag line. More on that later.

We went up the stairs. And up the stairs. And still ever upward. When we reached the top Bailey pronounced he had drank all 1.5 liters of his water, so he hit me up for mine. Half a liter later we journeyed on. It was about 2 pm, so I did not have any real hope of making it to Springer Mt. that day. We ended up at Black Gap, out of water. So we camped. I pitched the tent, and collected water. Bailey moaned about his feet, and being thirsty. He then proclaimed, “I drink water like a Russian drinks vodka.” Fair enough.

In the middle of the night a growling noise could be heard throughout the shelter/campsite. It was a fellow hiker, who coined himself “Wildcard”, but others called him “Snorlax”. Lots of complaints about that one. Later on yipping and barking interrupted the night, and I assume it might have a few coyotes attempting to mate, which pissed everybody off. Keep in mind the shelter was full and all of the tentsites were occupied at this point. In the morning we headed off for Springer.

At the top of Springer it was obvious a party had taken place during the night. The smell of marijuana was still floating around. We snapped some pictures and kept going. We hiked maybe ten miles, and then some, until we came to a shelter, which was packed, and pitched the tent. It was drizzling.

We did not sleep in a shelter for the first part of our hike. I think this disappointed Bailey, and he mentioned we should sleep in at least one in each state. We conquered Blood Mt. and headed into Neel’s Gap. It rained every single day, so we splurged on a cabin with a fellow hiker (Turbo). Turbo dubbed Bailey “Dr. Pepper” (see previous post).

We avoided the “shakedown” at the outfitter and opted for a lighter tent. Which turned out to be a wise choice. A Big Agnes. It was smaller, but this turned out to be more efficient. The temperature drop made things a mess, and the close quarters inside the tent made it easier to get warm. After Dick’s Creek Gap we came up on “Gypsy Hiker” and her dad. Word was the next shelter was crammed full of Boy Scouts or a church group, so we stayed at the tentsite.

We made good time and hit North Carolina. Here is what I will say about that: deception.

A small sign nailed to a tree marks your entry into another state. No pinatas, no clowns, and no Welcome to North Carolina- Home of Michael Jordan. We did meet a ridgerunner who inquired if I knew how to do the PCT method of bear bagging because North Carolina does not have bear cables at the shelters. She also asked that we pick up any trash along the trail. I didn’t see any trash after meeting her, because we were to busy sweating and groaning as we pushed our asses up these three really huge mountains that looked kind of small in the guidebook. Oh, and it rained.

At Standing Indian shelter (on the highest point south of the Smokey’s) we met up with a hiker (Ice Cream, who was hiking with “Cake” but he bailed). He was going to hide from the rain for the entire day, so we joined him.

We pushed on. Towards Albert Mt. By this time Bailey was in the mood for an actual zero-day. Maybe two. We lucked out, or my obstinance created something, and Colin Gooder (of Gooder Grove Hostel and Retreat) was on the trail. At $25 a head who could turn down a bed, shower, shelter, and a ride? Not us. It was getting late, and the rain had sapped us. Mama Cook (aka Meme) made reservations for two nights at the Microtel in Franklin, so we went with Colin to his place to at least lick our wounds. Colin is in the process of starting up his business, so if you are going to thru-hike the AT or are section hiking it I highly recommend his place. It is quite a change from the murder motels or dungeon hostels. In a word: Nice.

The next day Colin drove us to the Microtel (we wanted to make room for others), and we ate a large Domino’s pizza and watched television. The next day we walked around town and did our resupply and ate at Fatz. Here is where we made a mistake. We bought enough food to get us not only to the NOC, but Fontana, and probably Clingman’s. Our food bags were so damned heavy. We paid the price for it too.

Leaving Franklin we were pushing 15 miles the first day. Then we did more the next (mistake). The next day we were spent. Our feet ached. What did we do? We did it again, just to see if it was phantom pain. It wasn’t. But who cared. Before we knew it we were knocking on the front of the GSMNP.

Now this is the “fun” part. We stayed in a shelter, and the temperatures dropped. Drastically. And knowing that these mountains have a penchant for moisture that means one thing. Snow and ice. Well it happened. Thankfully Michelle was on notice back at home, and we were at our “conservative pick-up waypoint”. Bailey had twisted his ankle a few times, and the damage was wearing him down. I fell over some rocks once or twice, and I did not know if we would hit Davenport without a break (both a bone or rest). When we went to sleep at the shelter a cloud had formed outside. Then it moved inside the shelter. It snowed inside the shelter. Right over my head.

Bailey and I hobbled off the mountain, after some slippery descents, and found Michelle with the truck in the parking lot.

So we came home yesterday, a little banged up. Bailey will do his review for EOG testing this week and next week. Take his tests. And then we finish the portion north of Davenport into Hot Springs, NC.

I think we would have gotten a room for two nights and kept going, and Bailey even suggested it. His reasoning was probably peppered with the desire to delay having to get back into school work for the next few weeks. I’m just grateful he kept up the pace and we stayed ahead of our schedule, despite the joint pain. So, back to boring school stuff for two and a half weeks, take some tests, and join up with a new bubble of hikers.

Any advice? Absolutely.

Don’t load up in Franklin. Get enough to get you to the NOC and the NOC only. At the NOC you could probably load up and make it to Clingman’s. But don’t zero at the NOC. Keep going and zero in Gatlinburg from Clingman’s. Load up again there and finish the rest to Davenport. Also keep your mileage low from Franklin to the NOC, and push it from there to Clingman’s. After that I would haul ass after a zero and resupply. Keep in mind this is coming from the perspective of somebody hiking with a teen who has to take state administered tests at a prescribed date. If we had done it this way we would have been better off weight wise.

Some of the people we met were woefully unprepared, or over-prepared. We saw people with 45 degree bags and no tent, -15 bags and mountaineering tents. 70 pound packs and workboots. But a few people intrigued me. One guy had already completed an AT thru-hike and the PCT. He was thru-hiking the AT as a part of the Eastern Continental Divide Trail, so he came up from Key West and was going to take it all the way to Nova Scotia this time. His pack base weight might have been fifteen pounds, maybe lighter. He wore trail runners, a pair of Fara synthetic slacks, and a synthetic dress shirt. He had hobbit feet though. But he acted like he had his shit together. He did a minor shake down of our gear and told me were a little heavy on food, but otherwise fine. He used a hammock and tarp set up with a poncho liner as an underquilt. He was hanging with Finn, another thru-hiker ahead of us, and had done the PCT with him. I took note of his advice, and when we met up with Finn I did get some pointers on how to lighten our load even more. I’m still not on board with Aqua Mira or alcohol stoves, but the rest made sense. So much sense Bailey dumped his cook set in a hiker box. He uses mine now.

 

What’s next?

School stuff. We are going to change out our gear. Since we will have several weeks off we can unload some of the bulky winter stuff (sleeping bag and puffy jackets stay, tent goes), change out our shoes, weigh the tarps and hammocks. Monitor the weather patterns for the upcoming portion, especially Hot Springs. I’m hoping the end of winter is here (or there), at least the last week of April.

 

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