Note: I’m currently sitting on the side of the AT at 8:30am. I can hear I-40 so I’m assuming this is the best place to upload. Cell service is still crappy – I’ll try to post those amazing pics from ridgewalk two days ago.
The thunderstorms came all right. At around 2:00am, I found myself wide awake, hard rain bouncing off my rainfly. I wouldn’t find out for several hours later, but at just around that time, the entire camp woke up as a lightening bolt hit close, illuminated the camp, then shook the mountain.
I slept on til 6:00 – when I re-awoke, I found that the rain had subsided a little bit. It was just enough to pack up and hit the trail quickly.
The plan for today called for a speedy exit from the Smokeys, a potential gas station mini-resupply, and camping somewhere before the summit of Snow Bird Mountain. I ate a quick breakfast as I hiked.
The 6 mile descent into Davenport Gap (my exit from the Smokeys) was uneventful, aside from my breaking a crucial piece of gear – my left gaiter. I snagged it on a submerged root and snapped the strap in half. I intent to take it to a cobbler (they exist) in Hot Springs, NC for a quick repair.
The trail, at times, was a river. While it was starting to clear up, the runoff from last’s nights storms turned the AT into a mess. It kind of reminded me of the tricky descent from Blood Mountain two weeks ago.
At Davenport Gap, Medicine Man, Moon Boots and I decided to follow a hand-painted sign a mile downhill promising a country store – and snacks, sweet, delicious snacks.
We were nearly there when another hiker making his way back uphill towards the trailhead informed us that the store was closed. It was a huge letdown. To think my happiness could be contingent on a my buying a cinnamon bun might sound silly, but, in that moment, I was crushed. I slowly made my way back to the trailhead.
Savage had caught up and was making lunch. In my absence, it had been noted that our group was only a few miles from an off-trail hostel – Standing Bear Farm. It was rumored to have an honor-system-based hiker store full of snacks AND a cool cabin that was built over a small stream.
We decided to give it a shot. After leaving the Smokeys, the AT immediately dives towards I-40. This might not sound like good hiking, but the trail paralleled a beautiful mountain stream. I crossed over the Pigeon River and under the interstate and headed up a gravel road. For the first time, the AT followed a road – white blazes painted on the guardrail.
And this was the first time where I got turned around a bit. I knew that if I followed this gravel road around the bend, I’d arrive at the hostel. Medicine Man, Moon Boots and I plowed forward, passing the AT as it rose into the mountains. We surmised that we’d need to backtrack down the gravel road in the morning to reconnect with the AT. We were seeing white blazes along the road after all.
A mile or so later, I saw the AT again, this time descending the mountain. I instantly realized what I had done. Without saying a word, I turned and started hiking the section of the trail I had cut off.
This brings up an area of discussion amongst hikers – the “purity” of one’s hike. While I did walk parallel to the AT (and later found out the gravel road used to be the actual AT), it still wasn’t good enough for me. It may seem silly to backtrack a mile, but the way I look at it, I’ve PAID a lot to do this hike – I’m getting every inch out of it.
As I hiked (in the wrong direction), I ran into Canuck, then Savage, both amazed I hadn’t checked in to the hostel yet. In time, I hit that first trailhead I skipped, turned, and made my way to the hostel.
Upon my arrival, I was pleased to find that my hiking buddies did in fact secure the cabin over the creek. It was rustic, but nice. I met the caretaker, Lumpy, and was given the “nickel tour”. I could wash clothes in the make-shift laundry room, cook in the make-shift kitchen, and buy snacks in the very well-stocked store. The whole thing was indeed based on the honor system. I kept a hand-written tab to be turned in the next morning. I grabbed a frozen cheeseburger and headed to the campfire.
After attempting to find a cell signal and drying my tent, I decided to call it a night. I opted to lay here, on the front porch, and write. My hope is that the creek lulls me to sleep. I hope it doesn’t rain.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking these past few days – it’s good and to be expected. Still nothing relevatory (or that I choose to share). Just imagine what you’d be thinking about after you sweated your way up the side of a mountain or stared down an approaching storm from an unprotected bald. Pretty powerful stuff.
Tomorrow, I’ll cross Max Patch, a famous bald on the AT. I’ve been looking forward to hiking the Patch for quite a while. And I’ll definitely be in Hot Springs on Monday.
I should note that the hiking “family” I’ve acquired seems to be temporarily permanent – apparently Kodak and Kool-Aid send their regards to us from a day and a half behind. They’ve officially decided to slow it down and hike their own hike. Hope I see them in the future.
Between the closed country store and the skipped portion of the AT, I hiked 3.5 miles today for no reason.
Breakfast: brown sugar Pop-Tarts
Snack: breakfast mix (now with cocoa dusted almonds), handful of prunes
Lunch: Frozen cheesburger (510 cals), tortilla chips
Snack: slice of frozen pizza, beef jerky and yellow mustard in flour tortillas (delicious)
Dinner: two frozen cheeseburgers
Money: “room charge” – $25.00
Snacks – $23.50