Hello all! I have made it through the Smoky Mountains to the nice little town of Hot Springs, North Carolina. A lot has happened in the past week or so, and I haven’t had any access to internet or anything in that time, so I’ll try to recount all I’ve seen (including my first bear!).
After taking the zero at the NOC (a zero is a day off), it was pretty tough to mentally get into trail mode. But after about a day, I was right back into the swing of things. What also threw me off the first day back on was the fact that I saw three cows and two little baby cows on the trail! I was not the only one who saw them, so I know they were real. However, no one has really seen cows on the trail before, so we were quite a bit confused.
So after the whole cow encounter, I made my way into what is considered one of the tougher parts of the AT – the Smoky Mountains. The entrance to the Smokies is kind of cool. You go over Fontana Dam. I got a taste of some Trail Magic at the Fontana Dam Visitor Center. I was waiting around ‘til about 10am in order to pay a visit to the snack bar at the center. Unfortunately, the lady who runs it decided to not work that day. So this nice old lady who worked at the information booth gave me some Vienna Sausages (first time I ever had them – delicious), and an apple. She was awesome.
My five or so days in the Smokies were a bit of a mix I’d say. Terrible weather for most of the time didn’t allow me to see a lot of the nice views in the park unfortunately. A lot of really awkward stairs, bureaucratic restrictions (have to get a permit, sleep in shelters, etc), a lack of decent springs, the fact that I ate a bite of ‘cured’ pork that was actually raw, and the weather were the bad points. However, there were some really awesome high points in the Smokies. On my last day, I got a few awesome views where I just spent some time alone to look at it all. It’s strange to realize how small we are when we look out over such an expanse of land. It’s a powerful feeling, and one that I may touch upon in another entry sometime down the road. The other big highlight of the Smokies was that I saw a bear!!! I saw it from about 70 feet away, and I think it was only a cub, but hey – it still counts! He ran toward me about five feet before hopping off the trail and up into the woods. I didn’t have time to take a picture of him, and I didn’t see him again as I walked down the trail. Not the most exciting sighting, but it was a really neat experience. I also met a really cool dude named Cedric who I hiked with for most of the Smokies. So I must say, those highlights were definitely enough to counter the lower points of the Smokies.
After leaving the Smokies, I stayed a night at a place called the Standing Bear Farm. This is one of the most unique places I’ve ever seen. It’s run by a guy named Rocket, and it’s really just a complex of about eight small shacks. There’s a privy, bunkhouse, laundry room (washboard/hand laundry), kitchen, beer shack, supply house, and shower house. It is hiker heaven pretty much. I got in there early that day so I could relax and drink some beers and eat tons of food. That’s one of the really neat things about the trail – the hostel life. Currently, I’m staying at a place called Elmer’s. It is much different from Standing Bear, but I like it all the same. Elmer owns an old Victorian house on the main street of Hot Springs. He cooks breakfast and dinner every night for his tenants, and he has books galore and a music room. This morning I had breakfast with everyone, then listened to music for about an hour. Elmer is a special guy. After teaching Eastern Religions at Duke, he hiked the trail in ’76, then moved to Hot Springs where he started working at the hostel. He’s been doing this for over thirty years! He’s a really neat guy, and it’s been a pleasure staying at his place.
One last image/story I want to share. Two days ago, I reached a bald called Max Patch. Me and Tangy camped at the base of it in order to watch the sunset and sunrise. The sunset may have been the most awesome thing I’ve seen so far. I took some pictures, but they do it no justice. I’ll share them anyway, but there is something lacking in them. It was an awesome experience – take a look, it’s beautiful.
And here is one of the sunrise before I set out for a 20 mile hike to Elmer’s:
It’s hard to describe all the people I’ve met, all the sights I’ve seen, and all the feelings I’ve felt out here. I’m still trying to internalize them and understand them myself. But hopefully these images and stories so far have given you all a little insight into my trip so far! It’s been an absolute blast, and I still have about 1900 miles to go! 🙂