Day 22 – Thursday, March 31: Pecks Corner Shelter to Cosby Knob Shelter, 12.6 miles, 229.9 total AT miles.

Note: Not enough cell coverage to upload pics. I’m planning on leaving this hostel early and uploading by I-40.

I slept hard last night – I’m pretty sure I only woke up once. The first thing I remember hearing at 7:30 when I opened my eyes was the loud, roaring wind.

I emerged from my tent and saw grey clouds overhead. The rain hadn’t started yet, but it was obviously well on its way. I broke camp in a hurry and hit the trail at 8:30.

I continued the same ridgewalk with Savage and then Canuck. The wind was howling. I kept my eyes skyward, watching for falling limbs. The trail is covered in fallen logs – some of them obviously recent.

  
After three quick summits, I met up with Savage and Canuck at Tri-Corner Knob Shelter 5 miles up trail. I ate quickly. The weather was getting bad and no one’s had a reliable cell signal for at least 2 days.

As I got ready to head out, Moon Boots rounded the corner – I was pretty excited. The four of us quickly set off for Cosby Knob Shelter 7 miles away. The weather was getting worse – still no heavy rain though. I quickly fell behind.

  
The past few days, I’ve been clocking myself while I hike, checking the time and my GPS to see distance covered. On an easy grade, I can hike almost 2.5 miles per hour – that’s admittedly tough. With a medium grade (think rolling hills), I slow to right at 2 mph – I’m fairly consistent with this pace. During steep ascents and descents, I’m right at 1.5 mph. Savage, Moon Boots and Canuck are the fastest hikers I’ve tried to keep up with – they book it at 3+ mph.

About 2 miles in, the rain started – it was light at first, then picked up. The wind stayed gusty. I hiked quickly, but still took some time to admire how much these higher elevations reminded me of the Cascades.

The steady rain persisted as I rolled into Cosby Knob Shelter at 3:45. I hiked hard averaging just over 2 mph – that’s good for me. I set up my tent in the rain and huddled near the shelter to make dinner.

As I was eating, the rain picked up. It’s a nice feeling when you’re already eating hot food when the storm finally hits. I was organizing my stuff in my tent when Medicine Man and Clutch came into camp. I finished dinner with Medicine.

A short time later, the rain stopped and the clouds parted, revealing a deep blue sky fading to sunset. What was rumored to be a raging thunderstorm turned out to be rain associated with a “high wind advisory” – this itself another weather-related camp rumor.

I’ve loved the Smokeys, but am excited to leave tomorrow. Although I’ve successfully tented each night I’ve stayed here, all hikers are forced to stay near shelters – no rouge camping (known as stealth camping) allowed. There’s been at least 30 hikers at every shelter – 10 inside and about 20 tents scattered about in odd places. I’m sleeping on a slight hill next to a drainage ditch – it’s prettier than it sounds.

Tomorrow, after I exit the Smokeys, I cross under I-40 (rumored to have a gas station nearby), and begin the steep ascent of Snowbird Mountain – there’s campsites 12 miles in and a shelter at 17. But that doesn’t matter – I can camp ANYWHERE I want starting tomorrow. I’m elated.

In all, the Smokeys have been amazing. I’ve hiked and tented in every weather scenario I can imagine aside from blizzard and heat-wave.

I’m looking forward to the next 50 miles and my arrival in Hot Springs in three days. I severely need to do laundry.

Breakfast: brown sugar Pop-Tarts

Snack: Cocoa dusted almonds

Lunch: more almonds, lots of raisins, bag of beef jerky

Dinner: the same thing I ate last night (Mac and cheese spiked with instant mashed potatoes, bacon, salmon and lots of black pepper)

Day 21 – Wednesday, March 30: Fork Mountain Trail to Pecks Corner Shelter, 14.2 miles, 217.3 total AT miles.

Note: I haven’t had cell coverage in two days. I’m posting this from the side of a country road next to Standing Bear Farm.

Note: I still don’t have enough cell coverage to upload pics. I am hiking in the backwoods after all. I’ll post pics ASAP.

I woke first at 8:00 and took a nice long shower. I slept fine. Apparently the Grand Prix has extended stay units very close to our room – there was a loud screaming match followed by lots of laughing at around 1:00am.

I grabbed my pack and headed to McDonalds before catching the shuttle at the N.O.C. Savage, Canuck and I hopped off at the first road crossing before Clingman’s Dome to resume our trek – Medicine Man, Moon Boots, Shaggy and Owl needed to start at the Dome and stayed in the shuttle.

While Savage and Canuck headed north, I backtracked a quarter mile to Mt. Collins Shelter – the note we left yesterday for Kool-Aid and Kodak had not been removed from the trail marker. Here’s to hoping those guys catch up.

I should mention our moving ahead of Kool-Aid and Kodak is something that’s been discussed amongst Savage, Canuck and I. It’s regrettable, but totally inevitable, that groups get separated. The philosophy is called “hike your own hike”. The miles the three of us are putting in daily fits our needs, as far as personal fulfillment goes. I think I’ve said this before, but my getting satisfaction out of a hard day on the trail isn’t necessarily better than someone taking their time. I’m just hiking my own hike.

Note: “Hike your own hike” also applies when people engage in “gear shaming” – attempting to verbally one-up you on weight and/or who’s being more lightweight. It’s unfortunately common.

Out plan was to hike 14 miles to Pecks Corner Shelter – the grade looked fairly level despite hiking consistently at 5,500 feet. I set off at 11:30. 

My first stop was four miles ahead at Newfound Gap. I remember seeing a table full of snacks (trail magic) from the shuttle as we headed toward Clingman’s. Medicine Man gave me a sweet roll before we departed Gatlinburg – it was gone before I even started hiking. I was booking it towards Newfound for those snacks.

When I arrived, I was sad to see the trail magic was no more. Instead, I found myself in a giant parking lot surrounded by day hikers. I crossed the lot and approached the trailhead.

I came across a huge informational display about the AT and thru-hiking just as I was about to hop back on trail. At least ten folks were standing there reading along with me. I instantly found myself PART of the display – I had become a human zoo animal. I took it in stride, even though some family from Kentucky thinks I’m “crazy and insane” for walking to Maine.

  
Leaving Newfound Gap, the AT climbs to 6,000 feet at Icewater Spring Shelter and then begins the most amazing ridge walk to Pecks (where I’m tenting tonight).

  
I still didn’t realize how awesome the day was about to get, even as I was leaving Icewater at 3:30 after a quick lunch. I hiked over to Charlie’s Bunion, a monolithic rock outcropping with amazing views. I was elated. This was cool.

   

  
I checked my maps and the time – I had about three hours to hike six miles if I wanted to make Pecks at a decent hour. I started hoofing it and was instantly floored.

At times the ridge (the actual TN/NC border) dropped off sharply on both sides leaving two amazing views to the left and the right. I can’t tell you how many times I stopped today and took pictures.

  
Words can’t describe how cool this part of the AT is. It was the first time I wanted a close friend, loved one, family member, ANYONE out there hiking with me. Pictures just don’t do this part of the world justice. If I had the opportunity, I would certainly hike this section again – truly amazing.

I eventually pulled into camp at 7:30. Savage and Canuck were already set up – they had even saved me a spot to pitch my tent. Having had a light appetite all day, I ate a great dinner and promptly went to bed.

Tomorrow calls for heavy rain with thunderstorms moving in on Friday. This might delay my expected arrival in Hot Springs to Monday. That’s fine – I have plenty of food now.

I decided I’m getting a haircut in Hot Springs, but continuing to grow my beard.

Breakfast: McDonalds chicken biscuit, hashbrowns, coffee

Snack: Mrs. Freshley’s Cinnamon Bun (450 calories – gas station food)

Lunch: beef jerky, almonds, brown sugar Pop-Tart

Snack: Peanut M&Ms

Dinner: Geez. Box of Kraft macaroni and cheese (and instant potatoes) mixed with bacon, beef jerky crumbs, two mustard packets and a lot of black pepper. It was delicious – I’ll probably eat it again tomorrow.