The Appalachian Trail in the Smoky Mountains

Trail Day: 19

Friday, April 9, 2021

  • Location: Mollies Ridge Shelter
  • Start/End Time: 9:30/6
  • Weather Conditions: Hot…again

I’m going to the Smokey Mountains today!!!

For some reason we all woke up really early, got our stuff together, and were in the lobby of the hotel by 8 when the shuttle didn’t start until 9. I have no idea why we did that.

Then we arrived at the “Fontana Hilton” the classiest shelter in the AT with a fire pit, grill, charging station and shower. I signed the log a d got aggravated because people set mouse traps in the shelter. This really pisses me off! Mice live in the woods. People built shelters in their home. DON’T PUT MOUSE TRAPS IN SHELTERS! It’s mean. I took them all and threw them in the trash.

A couple minutes later I was walking across Fontana Dam. Walking across the dam itself was amazing! The sky was nice and blue and I could see for miles! The road across the dam was closed, so I got to walk right down the center.

The road continued around the corner and entered Great Smokey Mountains National Park. I put my permit in the box and began the nearly 3,000 foot uphill. All you need to know is it took and forever and I hated every second as it was really hot.

After several hours I finally reached the top and the short uphill trail to Shuckstack fire tower. I want going to do it because I was really tired, but this hiker named Data shamed me into doing it. I’m glad he did because the view was spectacular!

When I came back down there was a grumpy south bound hiker, not sure if AT thru or section, that told us there was a man bear with Cubs up the trail a ways. About 10 minutes later and sure enough, there they were! First day in the Smokies and I’ve seen 4 bears. The cubs were super cute running around, and while they were too far away for good photos it really made my day.

After this I lost everyone and hiked alone for the rest of the day. I listened to Master of the Reveals and some music. My feet really started to hurt when I reached this ridge that was covered in little pink and white flowers! As far as I could see they littered the forested floor. It was like something out of a dream. 

About an hour later and with throbbing feet I finally reached camp. I was the last one to come into camp, as usual.

I cooked dinner and got a spot in the shelter. It’s supposed to rain early tomorrow and all day so I’ll be able to have all my stuff packed up and dry!

Right before bed, when I went to get water a deer randomly walked through camp, grazing on grass. It was a lovely end to a very long and challenging day.

Trail Day: 20

Saturday, April 10, 2021

  • Location: Derrick Knob Shelter
  • Start/End Time: 7:45/3:30
  • Weather Conditions: Very windy with rain on and off

Started off early today to try and get to Derrick Knob Shelter before the thunder sets in.

The first 3 miles were easy going. While it wasn’t hot by any means it hadn’t started raining yet either and the steady uphill was a nice start to my day.

I stopped at Russell Field Shelter and found Reboot, who I’ve been running into most mornings as she has been slackpacking SOBO, crying. There were a few other hikers and a ridge runner in the shelter with her. I walked up to her and she told me last night she had spilled boiling hot water in her toes.

She let me take a look at them and they definitely had 3rd degree burns in them. I took out my first aid kit, put my gloves on and helped her clean and dress the burns so she could start walking out. That WFA training really paid off (Thanks WHOA)!

I continued on and didn’t see that many people, as usual I was in the middle of the pack mid-day. Everyone else will catch up soon.

When I reached the turn for the Spencer Field Shelter I considered being lazy and stopping there for the day and not getting wet. Since it was only 11:30 I decided against it and kept walking.

After lunch I finished Master of the Reveals and was disappointed. It was not enough close to as good at the first book, The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. Started a new audiobook, The Duke and I. It’s the first book in the Bridgerton series. I enjoyed the Netflix show, so we’ll see how the books are.

In the early afternoon the wind really started to pick up and the rain became more steady. It had rained on and off in little spurts throughout the day, but now I was actually getting wet.

Most of the afternoon I was up in a ridge so the wind was whipping. In certain spots I had to take it really slow to make sure my footing was good or I would get blown over. It was super not fun.

The last 3/4 of a mile before the shelter were the worst! I was completely exposed on a ridge and the rain was really coming down. I started to get cold as well, which is never good in the rain.

Wen I finally arrived at Derrick Knob Shelter there were plenty of tents set up and lots of people in the shelter. Luckily, Iris who I’ve met several times in the trail was there and told me there was a spot for me in the shelter! Score!

Iris and I spent a great afternoon chatting and snacking in the shelter, getting to know each other. While we’ve seen each other in passing a bunch we haven’t really had a chance to hang out so it was amazing to get to know her. She’s part of a group of hikers calling themselves the Big Gay Odyssey (find them on Insta) the whole group is lovely and I hope I get to spend more time with them.

Her partner is going to meet up with her in Hot Springs, which is around the time of my birthday so if we end up there at the same time we’re gonna rent one of the mineral spring baths as a group and celebrate.

Once the rain stopped Reboot showed up at the shelter and we had some laughs. Apparently, she carries a gator aide bottle full of whipped cream vodka with her for each day shes on the trail, drinks that and only eats a mountain house meal each day. She also smokes plenty of cigarettes. Not sure how she functions, but she’s out here living her best life. Before she left the shelter to press on another 5 miles she was drunk and asking which direction the trail was. It takes all kinds out here.

Pretty crazy day, can’t wait to hit the 200 mile mark tomorrow!

Trail Day: 21

Sunday, April 11, 2021

  • Location: Mt. Collin Shelter
  • Start/End Time: 8/5:30
  • Weather Conditions: Partly cloudy and on and off wind. 

Today is by far the best day I’ve had on trail so far! Ended up doing a total of 14.8 miles and I’m feeling pretty good.

Since I reunited with Hoagie a few days ago the plan was to reach the 200 mile mark and Clingmans Dome on the trail together.

This morning we set off for Clingmans together along with Iris. They both have a much fast pace than I do, but I did a pretty good job keeping up.

Even through all the ups and downs I did a pretty good job keeping up. They also slowed their pace a bit too. It felt really great that they slowed down for me. I know that can be a challenging thing to do when hiking.

We had some amazing conversations all day long. So many laughs and we’ve dubbed ourselves Seal Team 3 because of some terrible joke about putting Nair all over our bodies and being more aerodynamic for hiking., like seals?

About 3 miles from Clingmans Dome I needed to slow down and told Hoagie and Iris I’d meet them later. It was a big uphill and I needed to take my time. 

A little over an hour later, before I even saw Clingmans Dome, I found Hoagie and Iris sitting waiting for me. I was so overwhelmed with emotion I cried. They didn’t need to wait for me, but they did. It warmed my heart!

Together we walked up the platform at Clingmans Dome. We had officially reached 200 miles and the highest point on the AT! We definitely got some stares, not sure if they were cause we were smelly or because of all the clothes we had hanging off our packs so they would dry out from yesterday’s storm.

We wanted to dump our trash, use the bathroom, and get water so we walked to the parking lot. Unfortunately, there was no spigot so we collected the droplets coming off the rocks. We used the bathroom, but sadly there was no sink to wash our hands (don’t worry there was hand sanitizer). And we put our trash in the bin.

While we were relaxing on some grass in the sun a super cute family (Father and 2 kids) came up to us and gave us trail magic. The dad was teaching the kids about long distance hiking because he was going to do some section hikes. They were so cute!

From there we jumped back on trail and did about 4 more miles to Mt. Collin Shelter.

On the way there I began getting a sharp pain in one spot along my hip joint. I’ve felt a little numbness there over the past couple of days in that spot, but never any pain. The last mile to the shelter the pain came and went making it difficult to keep up a good pace. I took it slow all the way there.

Once I set up my tent I did some stretching which made it feel a bit better. Before bed I messaged my thigh thinking the pain might be a result of tightness there, then I put a hot hands hand warmer on it too.

Hoagie and I are only doing 8 miles tomorrow because of shelter spacing. One of the shelters later on is closed because of an aggressive bear making it difficult to plan. We’ve got about 3 more nights in the Smokies and then it’s on to Standing Bear Farm for a resupply, showers, and laundry.

Trail Day: 22

Monday, April 12, 2021

  • Location: Icewater Spring Shelter
  • Start/End Time: 9/3
  • Weather Conditions: Sunny and Windy

This morning was a slow morning and I loved every second of it! Hoagie, Iris, and I had breakfast and did a lot of stretching before leaving around 9.

About a mile in we parted ways with Iris so she could meet up with the rest of her group back at Clingmans Dome.

The rest of the sub-8 miles to Icewater Spring Shelter was super chill. Hoagie and I chatted all the way to Newfound Gap and took a nice long break. Sadly, there was no trail magic. We did get some service so I got to chat with Will for a bit. I really miss him.

Before we left we had a conversation with a couple who had so many questions about hiking the AT. They couldn’t believe we were hiking the entire trail.

Then we left and it was a steady uphill most of the way to the shelter. We even saw a couple of wild hog traps set up just off trail. I really hope I don’t run into any.

When we arrived at the shelter there weren’t that many people here. Now that I’m in my tent I can hear more and more people arriving as the sun goes down. I can’t wait until we get out of the Smokey’s and can stealth camp away from all the people.

I have a feeling I’m not going to get a lot of sleep tonight. With so many people it’s going to be loud. And it’s a mix of weekenders (even though I know it’s not the weekend) and AT hikers. The weekenders are out here for a good time and I’m here to hike. It’s just a different vibe, and while everyone I’ve met here is super nice we’re just out here for different reasons.

And just when I was about to go to sleep I hear, “Is Pikachu here?” and the response, “Yeah, she’s around here somewhere.” So I peek my head out of my tent and Iris is standing there sweating her ass off, looks right at me and says, “I’m here and I’ve got wine, let’s have a glass.” Dumbfounded, I say to her, “OK, let me put my pants back on.”

Hoagie and I helped her find a decent spot, granted there wasn’t much left as it was 8:00 when she rolled in. Iris dropped her bag and pulled out 2 small boxes of red wine. She filled us in about her crazy day and we told her our plans for tomorrow.

With a glass of wine in my belly I’m going to sleep well tonight. I’m glad she sprinted up the mountain for 3 miles, it made my night 100 times better. #traillove

Trail Day: 23

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

  • Location: Tri-Corner Shelter
  • Start/End Time: 7:30/2
  • Weather Conditions: Partly cloudy with lite rain in the afternoon 

I had to get up and pee 3 different times last night. I’m never drinking wine right before bed while on trail ever again.

Because there were so many people at the shelter everyone was up and moving around 6. Granted the sunrise was beautiful, so a bunch of people were up watching it.

Knowing everyone would be going to the Tri-Corner Shelter, Iris left at 7:15, I left at 7:30, and Hoagie left at 8. We were determined to get spots in the shelter/a tent space.

The terrain today was mostly ridge line with a few easy ups and downs. There were so many amazing views today, but my personal favorite was early on in the day, Charlie’s Bunyan. I know, weird name,  but it’s my favorite view in the Smokies so far. And the best part is I had it all to myself.

While I feel like I’ve had my trail legs for about a week now, this is the first day I feel like my endurance is getting better. Uphills are challenging for me, but I’m getting better at them. I’m challenging myself to walk longer on the uphills and take less breaks. It’s definitely starting to pay off as I did 12.5 miles today in 6 1/2 hours! That’s a pretty big deal for me.

I got to the Tri-Corner Shelter by 2 and was able to get a spot in the shelter. There is a chance of rain tonight so I’m glad I got a spot just in case. Iris, Hoagie, and I may also have consumed a second little box of wine upon my arrival.

Spending the afternoon at the shelter hanging out was really nice. I ate all the snacks, watched the AT halfway there video on YouTube (it’s hilarious, you NEED to watch it!), and met a bunch of new people. While I’m still overwhelmed by the number of people in the shelter I had a nice day.

Iris, who is a former massage therapist, offered to rub my feet to help my hip feel better. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned it before or not, but I’m pretty sure I’ve pinched a nerve along my right hip joint. I’ve been doing a lot of stretching and taking ibuprofen. One of my amazing support team at home, Holly is a medical professional and she recommended I roll my feet with a ball. At the moment I don’t have one, so Iris really helped me out.

Tomorrow is a 14.6 mile day, it will be my biggest day in a while with most of it going downhill. It should be interesting.

Trail Day: 24

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

  • Location: Next to a small stream near Standing Bear Farm
  • Start/End Time: 7:15/4
  • Weather Conditions: Sunny with late rain after 6pm

Last day in the Smokies! I’m excited to check this section of the trail off the list, but can’t wait to not have to share a shelter with 35 of my closest hiker friends. I’ll be honest, I won’t miss the snoring!

As with every shelter I’ve slept in so far someone set an alarm. It went off at 6am so I was awake. I packed my stuff and was up and out by 7:15.

Today the terrain was mostly downhill which I’m super thankful for because the 14.6 miles we planned turned into 18.5 miles.

I hiked all day alone, which was great as I haven’t done that in a while. Nothing particularly interesting happened during the time and their weren’t too many views and the terrain was easy going.

When I arrived at Davenport Gap Shelter where I planned to meet Iris and Hoagie I was able to get some service and they texted me that they kept hiking because of the lack of tent space. The shelter was basically on a hill so I totally get it.

At first I was kind of pissed off as I didn’t really want to hike. But I didn’t want to spend the night with the people that where in the shelter last night so I put my pack back in and kept going.

Once I left the Smokies it was like Spring had truly arrived! There were wild flowers blooming everywhere and tiny leaves in the trees. I walked through an area with a stream running through it and a small cascading waterfall. It was like being in a fantasy world.

If found out they were a mile up ahead of this beautiful area and they wanted to head to Standing Bear Farm, another 1.5 miles ahead. Once, I heard there was pizza and beer and I was in but didn’t text them that just in case I reached them and was super tired.

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