Oh I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain…

We made it through the Great Smoky Mountains! The first few days hiking without Skye Stalker were weird.  I’d constantly find myself turning around looking for where she was.  However, we had way more space in the tent with just two of us which I feel guilty saying but it was pretty nice.  The Smoky Mountains offered a variety of vistas: rocky balds,  fields of straw like grass,  fragrant &  shady pine forests,  with lots of sage all around making the Smoky mountains smell of weed ( which is quite fitting considering the name is Smoky).

We have been criss crossing between the Tennessee and North Carolina borders for the past week or so.  We heard stories prior to our adventure to the Smoky mountains from former hikers.  They told us how it’s so cold they would have to chip ice off their Tents.  We did not have that issue,  we were hiking in Temps of 70-80+ degrees-only enhancing our thru hiker fragrance as described in prior posts. 

One of the many rules of the Great Smoky mountains (aside from no dogs)  is that you need to camp at the spots where there were shelters.  The shelters also needed to fill up first before anyone could just set up their tent outside the shelter.  The shelters were either about 5 miles (which makes for a pretty easy day) or about 15 miles apart ( this mileage is pretty undesirable for Snorlax and I right now).  Typically on any other part of the AT you can camp anywhere along the trail- this is convenient because you can hike until you are tired and set up wherever without having to be at a specific shelter/site.   It appeared that the Smoky mountains also had less water sources along the way so we had to carry more water.  And while dogs weren’t allowed on the trail,  horses, and mules were. Therefore, you would have to watch out for stepping in a huge pile of their business along the trail or keep alert to not get trampled by any while hiking if they are behind you. You could also see bear scat along the trail which answers the question whether or not they poo in the woods… They do, on the trail or wherever they want. There were not many privies at the shelters in the smokies, some of them only had “toilet areas”. The toilet areas were pretty much hills of toilet paper, making it look like a homecoming float just exploded. Because the privies were so far and few between shelters, Snorlax actually had to use the woods for like his first time since this whole adventure began.

Snorlax and I started to do some night hiking recently.  We decided to start this week not only because of the full moon but also because we have been sleeping in (we don’t have a furry four legged friend waking us up) , and in order to get to those shelters which are over 5 miles away, we either needed to get up and going quicker or just hike later into the day.  Anybody who knows Snorlax would know early rising is not really a thing for him and we made a rule early on to not set an alarm while on the trail.  Night hiking with a full moon is great though because the moon is so bright you don’t need a headlamp,  and the temperature is cooler.  One night we rolled into a shelter at 11:30 PM and everyone was already asleep so they didn’t see us come in. The next morning we woke up to a bunch of people talking, you could hear some people asking who was in the tent. You could hear a little dog which just kept barking at our tent (no one else but that dog would probably know that a dog was in our tent). I could hear someone whisper, “I saw a girl go in the tent”. When we finally got out we stepped out to a group of over 40 boy scouts, singing “bohemian rhapsody” and enjoying the outdoors. Skye Stalker was the most popular one at the shelter that morning.

We resupplied in Fontana Dam with what we thought was enough food for 7 days.  Turns out our appetites have increased drastically that by about day 3 in the Smokies we needed more food.  Although our pack weight went down recently because we dropped some gear, it’s now gone up because we need more food.

In the Smokies we did hit some milestones,  such as making it past the 200 mile marker of the trail,  hitting the highest point on the AT which is Clingmans dome (6655 ft),we have been on the trail for a month,  and most importantly having our first Ramen bomb – which is Ramen with instant potatoes.  For those reading that and making disgusted faces –  do not knock it until you try it. 

On our way to the gap where we would be able to get a ride into town to resupply,  we lost track of the white blazes and ended up about a mile off trail.  While we didn’t end up completely lost or in danger,  it’s not really ideal to get off trail or need to back track,  especially when you have little to no food.  When we did make it to the next gap before town,  we arrived to some wonderful trail magic provided by the First Baptist Church in Sevierville,  TN. 

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We also got a cheesy photo next to the Tennessee/ North Carolina border sign. 

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Snorlax and I also did some other type of hiking we are not used to-hitch hiking.  Our first hitch hike was quite easy and pleasant.  An older,  retired couple picked us up and brought us to Gaitlinburg,  TN where we would be able to get more food.  They gave us a lot of educational historical information along the way about the area.  We saw a mama bear and two Cubs along the way. We were very grateful that it was from the car and not on foot on the trail.  Pat and Eddie if you are reading this- thank you very much for the ride and your kindness.  Snorlax and I were amazed that they didn’t even roll down the windows considering we did not smell the best…

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We spent a Nero in Gaitlinburg,  which the best way I can describe the city is a tourist boardwalk town without the boardwalk.  Snorlax and I indulged in some 5 star cuisine – McDonald’s.  We ended up splitting a 20 piece chicken nugget,  two large two cheeseburger meals and shakes.  We also visited the Smoky Mountain Brewery,  and of course did laundry and resupplied. 

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There was only one  hotel in town which had laundry on site. We declined to stay at this hotel because we were recently advised that someone died there that week,  and also there were reviews of bed bugs.  While I know based on some previous posts of the places we have stayed at in the past sound just as fancy sometimes,  we had to stay somewhere else in this case.   Our hotel did tell us that we could do laundry there and we did however try that which was a big mistake.  The owners yelled at us and started complaining about local hotel drama which we just did not have time to listen to.  Needless to say we ended up doing laundry on the other side of  town (and are very grateful for Jessica from the NOC in Gatlinburg for the ride).

Snorlax also called L. L. Bean while we were in town because after only three weeks of use,  my guaranteed for lifetime sleeping bag ripped,  our tent ripped,  his merino wool base layer pants ripped and my glove liners ripped.  While we understand that nothing lasts forever – we were expecting more than 3 weeks use out of it.  While the service over the phone was not the best,  (and as former L. L. Bean employees we would know if a manager heard the call they’d be disappointed in the representative) we were pleased to find new gear shipped to us at our next stop. 

We finished the smokies within 6 days,  which was a little over 70 miles.  We made it on the trail the last day of the smokies before 9 AM and made it to the pick up spot for Skye in record time (for us slow pokes).  We waited for Skye Stalker at Standing Bear Hostel which was a really cool place.  The hostel had a tree house,  trampoline and a little shed stocked with goodies.  People were playing music and enjoying the break from hiking.  I was craving salsa and chips but the only chips they had were holiday red and green tortillas with a sell by of March 28…of course I got in the holiday spirit. 

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We got Skye Stalker back and returned to the trail.  Within 24 hours of being out of the smokies we received about two days of rain.  Everything was soaked.  We were cold,  soggy and it took over a whole pack of 30 wet wipes to “clean”  Skye stalker off enough to allow her into the tent.  By this point our blisters have turned into calluses and now those callused blisters have a prune texture to them from all the rain.  The trails turned into rivers in some parts, and everything you touched provided a trace if not a coating of mud.  Luckily it did clear up a little bit for us to allow us to see some views at Max Patch,  which lifted our spirits.  Not much further past the summit did we stumble upon some former 2014 thru hikers providing awesome trail magic.  PBR beer,  Brownies and little Debbie snacks never tasted so good.  Thank you to Mo and friends for the delicious trail treats. 

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About 36 miles later we came into Hot Springs,  NC.  We ran into some of the Culture club who we haven’t seen since Hiawassee,  GA.  We enjoyed some of the hot springs – which was essentially a hot tub with mineral water,  and of course we indulged and beer and food.  While this town did not have a local brewery,  they did have what us thru hikers have been calling dumpster beer.  Dumpster beer is unopened cases of a variety of beers which have been placed in a dumpster after a business closes.  This is not something that you find everywhere and in fact is likely pretty rare I assume.  We only stumbled upon it because once a thru hiker catches word of such “trail magic”  it’s like a game of telephone and just goes through the grapevine rapidly.  We have also been indulging in some tasty HOMEMADE cookies from my awesome sister in law, brother and nieces and nephew (love you guys).

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Currently we are still in Hot Springs,  NC.   There are wild fires and part of the AT is shut down because of this. We have been seeing the fire department helicopters go with buckets of water to the mountains to put out the fires.  We are alright but we will likely need to get a, shuttle around the location of the fire to continue our journey.   Despite all the rules and crazy weather,  the smokies were fun but glad we are back to the freedom of camping where we want and have our pack leader Skye stalker back.  Next town stop is likely Erwin,  TN-until then happy trails or as Skye stalker would say (if she could talk) happy tails to you!

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