Day 16 – Double Spring Gap Shelter – Ice Water Spring Shelter — 13.6 miles
I woke up this morning to the rain pounding on the roof. There was thunder and lightning all night and it kept waking me up. I got out of my sleeping bag at around 6:15 and got my food bag to make breakfast. We have to hang our food every night on a tree so the bears won’t get it. It was cold this morning and my clothes were still wet from the day before, even though I hung it overnight to dry. I knew the only way to get warm was to start hiking, so I put on my wet shoes, drank my protein, and ate a clif bar on the go. From the shelter it was only 2.5 miles to Clingmans Dome which is the highest point on the A.T. at 6658 ft. There’s a tower on top and I’m sure on a nice clear day the view is amazing, but honestly this morning you couldn’t see shit haha. Knight was up there and we took a picture together. It was another 7 miles to Newfound Gap where we had a shuttle to take us into town to resupply. Also, we passed the 200 mile mark after Clingmans! The progress motivates me to keep on going. Knight and I hiked together, making jokes and telling stories. We bumped into Hobbit on the way and all three of us made the rest of the trek together to the gap. The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is the most visited national park in the country, and the parking lot was full of tourists when we got there. It was around 12:30 and scheduled the shuttle for 2:00, so we sat around and people watched for a little bit. We definitely got a lot of looks from people, more curious then anything, but our hiker appearance made us stick out from the crowd. A nice couple from Texas came over and talked to us and was really interested in thru hiking. They wanted to give us some “trail magic” and passed out granola bars, apples, and bud lights for the crew. They were awesome people and took pictures with us before they left. The shuttle eventually came and we went into Gaitlanburg, Tennessee. It was a nice small town and we had an hour to resupply at a convince store. They had hot food too and I ate three corn dogs before I even made it out of the store. Once we got our resupply, the shuttle took us back to Newfound Gap and it was another 3 miles to the shelter for the night. On my hike up I met another nice couple from Texas, Matt and Nicole. They were celebrating their anniversary and asked me a bunch of questions about thru hiking. I hope they get a chance to thru hike someday when they can. I got to the shelter around 5:30 and it was packed with hikers. About 20. I quickly made dinner which was two packets of ramen, a bag of cheezits, a bagel with cheese, and a tuna wrap. Everyone talked around the shelter the rest of the night and we made a fire. I’m enjoying meeting all of these people out here.
Day 17 – Icewater Spring Shelter – Tri-Corner Knob Shelter — 12.6 miles
I woke up to the wind this morning screaming outside the shelter. It was about 5:45 and Hobbit was already up getting ready for the day. I got out of my sleeping bag and it was the coldest morning since I’ve been out on the trail. The only way to warm up was to get hiking, so I got ready as fast as I could. My shirt and shorts were still damp so that made it a little colder. My socks and shoes were damp too haha there’s really no way around it. I ate a couple pop tarts and filled my hip pouch with snacks and by 6:30 I was out on the trail hiking. It was rainy and windy all morning. The rain didn’t diminish my morale, but it definitely wasn’t too enjoyable. Knight caught up to me about 5 miles in and we stopped and ate some bagels and peanut butter before heading off to the shelter. We finished the 12.6 miles by noon and were the first ones to the shelter. A mom and her two kids were here for lunch, but left as we were getting settled. For lunch I had a bagel with some sausage I got out of a hiker box and a few more snacks I got yesterday. Slowly, but surely more and more hikers showed up to the shelter and there’s around 20 hikers total. Two pounds and popper made a fire inside the fireplace in the shelter and we all huddled around it to stay warm. The sun eventually came out in the afternoon, but quickly switched to rain and more wind. So far the smokies have been very wet and cold and most of us are ready to be out and into Hot Springs, North Carolina. I had ramen again for dinner and a pack of cookies which totaled 1200 calories. I ate around 3600 hundred today and I think that’s where I’ll I need to be if I want to maintain my weight. I met a few more thru hikers, Headbanger, Groundhog Day, and Tuck. Tuck is over 70 years old and planning on getting to Maine! It’s amazing to see him out here and he’s in great spirit. There’s a few other section hikers staying in the shelter tonight so it’s completely filled. Tomorrow will be my first 20 mile day, so I’m excited to see how I’ll feel at the end of it and the next day. My body feels really good and I feel like my legs are getting stronger each day. My mind is also strong and feel determined to keep grinding out here each day.
Day 18 – Tri-Corner Knob Shelter – Stealth Camp — 20.0 miles
I woke up early again today. I guess my internal clock is now set to go off at 6 am. This morning wasn’t nearly as cold or windy so it was nice getting ready for the day. I ate a poptart as I put Neosporin and bandaids over some blisters that have formed and got ready quickly so I could hit a harder mileage day on the trail. 20 miles was the goal for today and the most that I would have walked on this trip. It was cloudy and foggy as I walked up the first hill. A few minutes in I passed two section hikers I met at the shelter last night. I forget their names, but they were from Chicago and one of them was British. After the first incline, the trail flattened out and I took advantage of the easy terrain to increase my pace. I didn’t see anyone else for a few more miles and then ran into Hobbit. He stopped to pee so I said hi and kept hiking. The trail today took us out of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and as I got to lower elevation the sun came out and it was a beautiful day. The sun so far has been a great morale booster, especially after a few days of cold and rain. I made really good time today and walked 18 miles by 1:30. Some of the trail took us out of the woods and onto the interstate for a few thousand feet. I thought that was pretty cool. I got a lot of looks from people driving by and also some honks and waves. At the 18 mile mark was a hostel right off the trail. I wasn’t planning on staying there, but I wanted to stop by and charge my phone. It’s also the place Camo (the dog) stayed at for the past few days because there are no pets allowed in the Smokys. I walked down the driveway and saw the owner and said I’d throw him a few bucks if I could hang and charge my phone and he said he wasn’t going to charge me for that and to put my bag down and charge it in the kitchen. I saw Camo and when he came over and recognized my smell he started crying and licking me so excited. Knight got there shortly after and Camo did the same for him. Knight and I ate some pizza and pretty soon Fuego (formally known as Flauge), Spaceship, Two Pounds, and Zippy showed up. We hung around for a little bit, charging our phones and getting packages, then hiked two more miles to an open campsite. Zippy stayed, but we all set up our tents and hammocks when we got here, then made our dinner. I had two packets of ramen, a bagel with sausage, and a couple brownie chocolate chip cookies. I am very tired and can’t wait to sleep tonight. Another 18 miles tomorrow!
Day 19 – Stealth Camp – Roaring Fork Shelter — about 13 miles
I woke up around 5:50 this morning from the sound of the river right next to me. I slept through the night in the tent so I was happy with the rest I got. I laid I there for a little bit before getting out and starting the day. Knight, Hobbit, and Two Pounds were already awake and I got my food bag to eat. Finished off my last bagel with some peanut butter and a clif bar and hit the trail. The beginning of the hike was a good climb because where we camped was in the middle of Snowbird Mountain. I worked up a sweat pretty much right away and got to the summit in about 30 minutes. I had great service at the top so I gave my mom and friend Jack a call. It was nice to talk to both of them and it got me excited for the day. The best view of the day was at Max Patch at mile 254.7. The summit was cleared for cattle and maintained as a bald so it was wide open and you had a 360 degree view. It was cloudy, but I could still appreciate the view and I hung out on top for a little bit taking it in. On my way down the Patch, I exchanged hellos with two people and stopped for a bit to talk. Their names were Lynn and Connie. They both are visiting from South Carolina and were some of the nicest people I’ve met so far. They gave me a couple granola bars and handfuls of walnuts and were so pumped about what I was doing. The trail is full with great people and I feel lucky to be able to meet a bunch of them. It was only 2 more miles to the shelter and I got there around 1:30. Knight was already here and we went up to get water for the night. I usually collect about 4 liters to drink and cook with. Hobbit showed up shortly after followed by Fuego and Spaceship. Zippy stopped by to chat, but moved onto the next shelter for the night. I ate too much of my food so for dinner tonight I just ate some peanut butter and crackers. Surprisingly, or maybe not, it’s actually a great combo. It started to rain pretty hard around 5 o’clock and eventually a couple from Germany who are thru hiking made it to the shelter. I didn’t catch their names, but I’ll ask in the morning. Heading into Hot Springs tomorrow for a shower and food. Can’t wait.
Day 20 – Roaring Fork Shelter – Hot Springs — 17.9 miles
Today was the 20th day on the trail and I was excited when I woke up because I was going to get to a pretty cool trail town called Hot Springs, North Carolina. The town has only 600 people and you walk straight through the three blocks. I left camp a little before 7am, eating my clif bar for breakfast on the walk. I stopped at the first water source to fill up my bottle and slipped on a rock and my shoe went straight into the stream haha. Even though my shoe was soaked, I’ve learned out here that I can’t sweat the small things and all I can do is keep moving forward. The hike was pretty flat to start. I had a good pace and got to first shelter 5.5 miles away in and hour and a half. I saw Tim there, a thru hiker I’ve met a lot, and we hiked for a little bit together before finding our paces. A little bit before Hot Springs I met a couple older day hikers named Don and Ray. They were both retired and said they go out for a walk on the trail every week. Ray’s daughter married a guy from Framingham, so he’s been there before and I thought that was cool. Don had one of the thickest southern drawls I’ve heard and to be honest, couldn’t understand a word he said haha. Well I picked up a few, so with smiles and asking questions about what I did hear him say we were able to have a funny, yet nice conversation. I got to Hot Springs at 1:00 and checked into the Laughing Heart Hostel just right off the trail. I finally was able to take a shower after about 9 days and they had extra clothes I could wear around town so I could do my laundry. I walked downtown just right down the street and saw Knight sitting in front of a gas station FaceTiming his mom. While he was doing that I got a snack at the dollar general and then we went to the Smoky Mountain Diner to get some lunch. I got the Carolina Burger and a Loaded Baked Potato. After that we walked down to the outfitter and on the way we saw Hobbit, Spaceship, and Fuego. I got a new shirt at the outfitter and then made my way back to the hostel I stopped to talk to a hiker sitting on a bench. I stopped to talk to him and he told me his Francisco from Argentina. His foot was really hurting him and he was waiting for a shuttle to take him to Asheville to go home. He was pretty upset with having to pay 60$ for a shuttle. Then, out of nowhere, Two Pounds rolls up in a car and yells out the window to me. I hadn’t seen him because he was off the trail for a couple days with a hurt ankle. He gets out of the car, the driver and him exchange hugs, and then the driver took Francisco back to Asheville for free. Haha it was like a scene out of a movie. Crazy what happens on the trail. I went back to the hostel to do laundry and once it was done I went down to the tavern for dinner. I got a Cobb salad and chips and salsa, and while I was eating Tim showed up so we ate together. They had the Cubs vs. Indians game on TV and we watched our first sporting event since being out on the trail. After dinner I went to the campsite the other group was at and we hung out at a picnic table by a fire until about 11. When I got back to the hostel Zippy was here still awake, so we watched 127 Hours before going to bed. I’m taking a zero day here tomorrow so I’m excited to rest my feet and legs and then keep on making miles!