We’ve been walking through clouds for the past few days. It’s been a quick section since the last time we were in town. The first night out, we camped and it rained. Last night, I crammed into a full shelter. Shelters are strange to me. We were packed in so tightly that any movement from the guys on either side and I’d feel it. I understand shelters when it’s raining. But most people out here only stay at shelters. Being crammed in a dilapidated shack, sleeping on top of strangers, stinking, mice, graffiti, trash, …. It’s the antithesis of the beautiful wild camp. It’s stupid. And yet, the appeal of the socializing, and dry camping, sometimes makes out worth it.
Spring is really erupting. The dead forest floor now has a wide variety of inch high plants poking up.
Visibility is less than one hundred feet. It’s a foggy, misty, drippy world. Sometimes near creeks, I’ve had a feeling that I was back on the Rio Beni in the Bolivian Amazon. Lots of resemblance except for the silence. There are very few bird and animal noises here.
Other highlights? Freefall’s company again. He even made cherry cheesecake to share. Also we hung out briefly with some local kids. The were throwing firecrackers into a creek. Even though they lived within a few hundred feet of the trail, they had never walked on it and some didn’t know what it was. I have them the five minute sarcastic intro to the AT.
After being passed, I caught up to Freefall in Hot Springs, NC. We neroed and zeroed. It was excellent. The highlight was indisputably the hostel. For twenty bucks a night we stayed in a mid-nineteenth century manor. It’s full of antiques and staffed by hikers. One, recognized me immediately from this blog (hey!) I sat around in comfy old chairs and on a large second floor porch talking with hiker friends and reading from the house’s library. Elmer has nearly the same type of collection that I’d have if I had a collection. Another highlight were the vegetarian gourmet communal meals. Truly one of the best hostels I’ve been to.
Today, I helped Butter reoutfit. We sat at a computer and I chose a new backpacking setup for her. Once everything arrives, she will go from perhaps a twenty three pound baseweight to an eight or nine pound one. For the rest of the trail, she will be enjoying a true ultralight setup, with likely the lightest setup that I’ve seen out here. All told, the changes were made for about $800. Not bad for a new stove, pot, tent, pack, pad and sleeping bag.
After noon, Freefall and I finally hit the trail. We sill managed about fifteen miles. No views as we were walking through the clouds. We also stopped by a trail angel house to get some water as an “unreliable” spring was indeed dry.
After a breakfast of eggs, ham and biscuits ($2.75 for the ingredients!) at Standing Bear, I headed off. From the start I shared the trail with pods of trail crew. There were quite a number of them, doing a great job maintaining this section of trail. One even gave me a perfectly ripe pear. I wolfed it moments before meeting Apple.
Apple, his real name, is a year round trail angel. A year round trail angel! That pretty much blows my mind. He hangs out at little used road crossings on the AT, Florida Trail, Colorado Trail, and CDT. Needless to say, he’s got our preferences for snacks and drinks down pat. I’m happy to finally meet this legend. What a life to live. To operate your life based entirely on being generous towards strangers. He’s been doing it for ten years.
I walked over Max Patch Bald. It’s a grassy topped “mountain”. Turkey Feather called it one of the best views of the trail. Sure, it’s a rare three sixty view. A quite nice one too. But it’s also just a mowed lawn at the top of a hill. I miss the CDT….
I’m camped with a trio of new guys. We had a blazing fire and fun conversation before a little drizzle drove me to my tarp.
Shortly before Clingmans Dome the flora turned to evergreens. It has stayed that way for nearly the rest of the park. It was a nice change from the bare winter forests. The trail has also been a lot of true ridge walking. Obviously, that is nice too.
I stayed at Tri Corner Knob Shelter last night. There were four of us. We are forced to stay in shelters in this park. I’m not thrilled of that fact, but last night’s torrential rains and lightening made me happy that I was indoors.
Today was cold. Clearly a cold front had moved in with the system. Trees had a little ice, and it felt like I expected an early start on this trail would. I hiked on to Standing Bear Hostel without pause, eating only on the move.
I’m actually not a fan of this hostel, and I say so reluctantly. The facilities are indeed pretty cool. I love that the wall of the shower is the AT logo made of beers bottles. I like the rustic wood buildings and funky kitchen. They have a fairly priced and well stocked resupply room. And heck, all of this is perfectly placed practically on the trail. The turnoff for me is the owner and the staff. In short, I find them to be asses. They complain about hikers, make fun of people and they are sexist and homophobic. While the place reminds me of hippy rural california, the people are squarely rural east tennessee. I’d shy away if you are female, gay, non-white, old, sober, or the politically correct type.
Most of the day I hiked with the others. We stopped at the numerous shelters and had a fun day. I ate multiple small meals instead of a large one. I mostly got to know two teenage girls, one named Feisty, the other I dubbed Caustic. We will see if it sticks.
When they quit, I moved on to the next shelter. I passed the AT highpoint, Clingmans Dome. I walked up the aging and out off place circular lookout for what is indeed a pretty good view. The exhibits on top talk mostly of the sad effects air pollution has on the park. There are just a few lingering snow patches around. The registers tell of up to two feet of snow only eleven or twelve days ago.
I’m at the shelter with a few random hikers, one who felt compelled to discuss why thruhiking the AT is not a worthy endeavor. And there is one thruhiker, who could psychotic. He mumbled something about how he controls other’s lives.