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.
The Sunday closure of the post office at fontana clumped a big group of hikers together. There are about twenty of us here at this shelter tonight. I’m the only one camped outside. I can hear some epic snoring even from forty feet away.
They seem like a great group of people. Most have been walking together for the past few weeks. It’s interesting to hit a wave. They seem to know a lot of the people who are up ahead.
So far, Smoky National Park looks exactly like the rest of the trail. Spring is definitely emerging. Grass is poking up, Trilliums are blooming and trees and bushes have their first buds.
I’m not sure what the appeal of a motel room is for me. I always think that it’ll be good, but then it’s not. When I’m on the trail, I really struggle to sleep well in a hotel bed. Last night was no excpetion. I go to town to rest, and and up restless. Smelly feet, a running toilet, snoring, the awkwardness of sharing a bed with some dude, people getting up to pee, coughing… It sucks.
There are a lot of people heading out from Fontana today. Squatch, PCT film maker, is heading sobo, the rest of us nobo. I’m looking forward to getting to know this herd for a while. If any ATers behind me are reading this.. Know that the general store is closed, and that the gas station has a very minimal but doable resupply. I’m glad I sent a box.
I’ve lucked out with the weather. It could be snowing. Instead, I’m sweating. I haven’t gotten wet on the trail since day one.
I’ve also lucked out in other ways. We arrived at a road junction to find an empty box of beer. As we sat there, wishing someone would stop, Freefall declared that the next pickup would give us some beer. Sure enough, it happened. We got five beers and some French chocolate. They also took our garbage off our hands. We’ve been picking up some of the trail side trash. That day we had a broken and abandoned tent. Today, we yanked what looked like a parachute out of a tree. It ended up being an inflatable advertisement from a car dealership sixty miles away. We cut it to pieces and carried it to town.
I’m enjoying breakfast after a damp stealth camp downstream of the famous Natahala Outdoor Center. The trail continues to be enjoyable. I’ve passed a few lookout towers. It helps to get the grand views, or even step out of the mountains to get perspective on where I am. I’ve also been surprised by how much ridge walking there is. And, the trail in spots, truly lives upto it’s reputation for steepness.