As I said in the last post I had rather too much material to relate in just one entry, so if you have been keeping up with the blog the last post is new as of today as well. Picking up from that entry I actually pushed straight from the Trail Magic at Stecoah Gap to Fontana Dam and the accompanying Village the very next day. It was sort of weird not really being out in the woods for a couple of nights in a row. I had been planning to pick up a mail drop in Fontana that Saturday and then move straight on into the Smokies the next morning. Unfortunately, there had been some confusion with my drop and as a result I ended up stuck in Fontana until Monday when the post office reopened. This was quite frustrating for me at the time. I really hadn't wanted to spend more time in civilization right then, but it certainly couldn't have been considered all bad. I got a hotel room the first night with M&M, Swampfoot, and The Sauce Master. We all ate an excellent dinner that evening. I personally had a New York Strip with mashed potatoes and some very tasty cooked spinach. This was accompanied by a pretty good Cabernet and followed by splitting one of the best Creme Brulees I have ever had with M&M. It was kind of surreal. To backtrack a little bit, when we checked in we definitely got a kind of "heavens, filthy hikers, what are they doing here" kind of vibe off of the lady at the front desk. As a result we decided to go into the rather nice hotel restaurant in full on skeez mode. None of us showered or changed clothes, we went in like we had just come off the trail. Like is said it was kind of surreal but it was also very satisfying in a way and we had a very good time. Upon returning to our room we realized exactly how bad all our gear stank because after about two hours the room reeked even to our noses. We had a pretty good laugh about that, among other things. The next day was pretty dull, mostly absorbed by doing laundry and wandering around Fontana Village and the roommates changed from Swamp and Sauce to Chico and Bowleg. Next morning I got my food as soon as I could and got the shuttle to trail straight away. I was seriously ready to hike. I was completely focused on hiking, all I wanted to do was knock out miles. Most people I talked to that day were heading for Mollee's ridge about 12 miles from where I started my hike and 9 from the beginning of the Smokies, I finished at Spence Field about 6 miles further on. Because of this readiness to hike I think the mix up with my mail was something of a blessing in disguise. I had started to think I missed civilization a bit. Being in town for a day and a half quickly disabused of that notion and made me miss the woods something fierce. I think the Smokies were that much better as a result. I spent that night with Granbeau, EZ Doesit, 3 section hikers, and 3 (odd as it sounds) cowboys who had been riding all day. Next morning I was up over Rocky Top and Thunderhead Mountain before I knew it, but it was a great view from the bald on Rocky Top. There was some very oddly shadowed light that made me just want to sit and watch the sky. Incidentally, this was the 3rd of April. It was another wonderful day, but completely different from the one before it. Instead of just pounding out miles I really took my time, I stopped and took lots of pictures and really took in the scenery. It was wonderful. I finished that night at Double Spring Shelter; with M&M, Bowleg, Bocefus, a father and son on vacation, and 3 section hikers, happier and more excited than I think I had been since beginning the trail. I don't know where all of it came from but some was just the change of atmosphere in the Smokies. Everything was greener and there were huge patches of little wildflowers growing everywhere. It was just a wonderful place to be. We got a huge thunderstorm at Double Spring that included a not-insignificant amount of hail, which I can assure you is very loud when it is hitting a tin roof mere inches above one's head. I left in the morning in a very heavy fog, unfortunate since it meant I couldn't see a thing from Clingman's Dome, the tallest point on the trail. In the end though it wasn't that big a deal, I quite enjoyed the walk anyway. The way the mist and rain set off the trail in that area was quite compelling. The mist burned off by midday in time for me to walk a couple of hours in the sun and meet a wonderful man named Ron Byers at Newfound Gap, for a personally delivered mail drop. I was also greeted at this roadside stop by some unexpected trail magic run by the wonderful former hikers Papa Smurf, Flame, and Big Red who provided me with a wonderfully Gluten-free hamburger. Thanks guys. I finished that day at a very windy Icewater Spring shelter with M&M, Bowleg, Salty Dog, Chill Out, Bocefus, and Sandwich, ate some dinner and spent most of my evening in my sleeping bag waiting on a very chilly evening.
Chilly doesn't even begin to cover how cold the morning was. One never really understands exactly how cold 18 degrees is until you can't go into a nice warm building to get away from it. When I left that morning I had on almost every stitch of clothing I had with me, although it wasn't long before I shed the rain jacket, outer gloves, and neoprene face mask. It had snowed a bit in the night and everything was crusted with a beautiful white frost. I would have taken a lot more pictures if I wouldn't have had to expose more skin to the cold. As it was I just had to appreciate the beauty of the day by myself. It was funny, there was one point where the wind was blowing snow in a particularly fierce fashion where I was wondering what the hell I was doing there and thanking God I was lucky enough to be where I was at the exact same moment. I got even luckier a bit later on. I was just cresting a ridge line when the clouds and snow parted and suddenly I could see everything. The sun was out, the sky was bright blue, I could see all the way down into the valleys and over the mountains on both sides, I could see the snow on all the trees and how it stopped at lower elevations. It was breathtaking. It was like being on top of the world. I know no other way to describe it. The rest of the day was great but comparatively without event (other than the .4 mile dash to use a privy, and the fact that I did about 20 miles that day.) I crashed at Cosby Knob Shelter that night with Sublime, Sniper, Salty Dog, Vanilla Gorilla, and Bowleg and I pushed on into civilization the next morning which wasn't quite as cold as the one before it. I am now sitting comfortably and well fed in the home of Burt and Carol Smith in Waynesville, NC getting ready to head out again tomorrow for whatever the trail has to offer. The pictures I'm leaving this time are of one of the wildflowers I spoke of, myself up on Rocky Top, me with Big Red, Flame, and Papa Smurf (right to left), and part of the view I spoke of on the ridgeline after Icewater Spring. I hope these posts continue to be interesting. I'm going to put up one about my food maybe later on tonight (I'm really trying to catch up) and hopefully I'll get some pictures of it and my cooking process soon. Later on.
-The Breadless Horseman