March 20. It was nice to be back on the trail. After some rest and relaxation in Franklin we were able to pound out a good 8 mile afternoon hike and we camped at Wine Spring. Unfortunately there was no wine there.
I am sure the three of us are a funny sight when we walk into camp. We keep our heavy packs on and walk around in circles trying to find the flattest spot on the forest floor to set up a tent. We probably look like a pack of dogs walking in circles when we are ready to lay down. Someone said that we are going to double our miles to Maine if we keep walking around like this looking for flat ground!
The long hours on the trail allow me to really think, and often I find myself thinking about useless information, but I think it is really funny! Today while walking through the woods with a thick cover of dead leaves on the ground I said to Ryan and Brian "I wonder when they send someone up here to rake all these leaves up!". Ha, I thought it was hilarious, Ryan replied that he wanted to record all of the dumb things I say on the trail but he doesn't have enough storage space on his phone! Ha!
March 21. Foggy morning. We got to our first lookout tower with plaques in the tower showing the mountains and landmarks you could see from there. The rest of the towers we have been in had nothing and we had to guess what we were looking at in the distance. Of course, the plaques showing the landmarks don't help when you can barely see your hand in front of your own face because of the fog! But the pictures on the plaques looked great!
Today we passed a guy named ANIMAL on the trail. He had been hiking for almost a month, we were just shy of 2 weeks. He carries all of his food in a 5 gallon bucket and stops along the way at streams to pan for emeralds and rubies and sent several pounds of stones home already. He was a fun and interesting guy! As we left him at lunch he was preparing the fire to cook beans which he said would take around 3 hours! Later we passed a young guy at a stream and learned that he was panning for gold in the hills and planned to make $30,000 by the end of the year...maybe we should slow down a bit and do the same! Sounds profitable!
Later in the day we were discussing the life span of a fly and I wondered aloud if Noah had only brought 2 flies on board the ark, and if so, he was probably more comfortable than we were on the trail trying to avoid a few hundred flies! Ryan again said he didn't have enough space on his phone to document all of my educational thoughts.
March 22. Today we hiked into NOC to a big outfitter store. On the way we scared up a big owl sitting on the trail. It flew up in a tree above us and it watched us watch it for about 10 minutes, pretty cool. We arrived around 10 AM and by a little after noon I had a new backpack. The REI Flash 65 just would not sinch down tight enough on my hips and I was carrying too much weight on my shoulders. I ended up with a ULA Catalyst pack. Jimmy, ALPINE, at NOC really helped and it was nice because he was part of the design team for this model of pack. He has over 8,000 miles of hiking under his boots and he gave me a lot of valuable advice! After that we got our food supply boxes and had lunch and beer at the restaurant. We dined on amazing chocolate covered strawberries from Santa Barbara...thanks Ann! We were ready to leave and a guy offered to buy us a round of beers. Turned out he had attempted a thru-hike 25 years ago but got sick along ther way and had to get off the trail. We asked if he had a trail name, he said no, so Ryan and I gave him an honorary name, BEER MAN! Thanks for the drinks!
That afternoon with a new pack and a slight beer buzz we headed out of NOC. I think the beer really helped because we had a relentless 7 mile hike up, up, and up out of the valley. It was tough but having a pack that fits really helps!
March 23. Brian and Ryan stayed in a shelter last night and I stayed in my tent. I feel like I get a better night's sleep in my tent and I haven't slept in a shelter since Springer Mountain. Today we scared another bird, this time a big wild turkey. It took off from below us and really soared down the mountain. It flew so far that we weren't sure it was actually a turkey. Later we asked a local, he said "Whal, them thar wiald turkey's can really fliah!" so we are pretty sure it was a wild turkey!
Today we found some trail magic at Stecoah Gap in the form of Pepsi and oatmeal cream pies, wow! We each had our fair share, well Ryan and I did. Brian had two sodas and 3 cookies! He said he had never had those oatmeal snacks before, I Iived off of them in college! As we finished the trail magic the rain came pouring down and we headed back to the trail in the rain and up one of the toughest climbs yet!
I'm starting to think that we go up in order to go back down. Then we go down just to go back up. It is a vicious cycle, only 5 months to go!
As we were hiking in the afternoon I stopped to look at a purple flower, a few seconds later and about 50 feet in front of us we heard a noise and suddenly a large tree fell off its base, leaned a bit, and came crashing down right over the trail! It was crazy, and luckily we had stopped to enjoy a little of the plant life along the trail!
We all decided it would be nice to get into Fontana Dam that night, get dinner, beer, a shower, and a bed. We pushed on and finished a big 22 mile day with a one hour hike through the dark to get to the Fontana Dam Village Resort. The hotel was nice and it was worth all the hard hiking!
March 24. We woke up in the hotel, good thing too because at 4 AM a huge thunderstorm rolled through and it was nice to be in a building rather than a one person tent! We did our laundry and picked up packages. I got a special delivery of home made cookies from Grandma Clemens in Arizona and we all enjoyed them! We headed back to the trail and stopped to enjoy a few beers with some other hikers before crossing the Fontana Dam in the rain. The three of us were acting like a bunch of kids on the dam watching owl pellets and pebbles roll down the concrete wall. One of us even wanted to pee off the side of the dam but decided it might be better not too. I won't say who it was, it could damage his retirement career! We entered the Smoky Mountain Park and hiked in a few miles to a camp spot and a few minutes after setting up the tents the rain came pouring down. We all had dinner in our tents, hung the bear bags and went to bed, our first night in the Smokies!