Daily Archives: April 4, 2013

Day 29: This is going to make your head spin

So. What a day, what a day, what a day. Pull up a chair—this was a freaking roller coaster.

Every night I can see my breath—puffs of white. Every morning, too. I kind of downplay it, but up in those mountains it’s literally still winter. I loathe it. Loathe!

I went to sleep last night looking at my breath. I woke up this morning looking at my breath—only it had started to rain torrentially overnight, and the rain was rat-tatting on the shelter’s plastic roof like a million deranged marbles. The ground outside the shelter was a sheet of ice. Yay.

Sparky and his daughter and I did what we do: we packed up and saddled up and got ready to go. (Another hiker, Starman, had arrived in the middle of the night. He had an umbrella! Also, having done the PCT twice and also the CDT, he was much too professional to set out in the downpour; he settled in to wait it out or take a zero in the shelter. Smart man.)

On the schedule for the day was Clingman’s Dome, the highest point on the AT. My plan was to skip past the dome (visibility was only about a dozen yards) and go eight miles to the next shelter.


The rain was horrible. A steady downpour that mingled with ice and occasionally changed to snow. I was soaked through within minutes—gloves, hat, shirt. My rain jacket kept my torso relatively dry, but my shoes and socks were saturated in slush, and those stupid rainpants split again, so my left leg was soaked. In frigid water.

The forest changed again. It got primordial—old pine woods, dark and carpeted in needles. Bear country! But the trail was a deep runnel, a river of milky, icy mud. I eventually reached a point where I wished a bear would just eat me and put me out of my misery.

You know how you get to the highest point of the AT? You go up. And up and up. The trail was covered in snowy ice. Without the microspikes, I was in the same position as before: slipping and sliding. I could stand still and just slide back down the trail. I knew about two miles from Clingman’s that I was going to have to bail for Gatlinburg—a crazy Vegas-like town that I’d been planning to avoid. (I found out later that a girl broke her leg on the icy trail two weeks ago and had to be rescued.)

That’s when the fun started.

There are no shuttles to Gatlinburg from Clingman’s, and it’s almost impossible to get a phone signal.

The rangers in the visitor center were angels. I was shaking so badly by that point that they gave me coffee and let me use their fireplace to try to dry out. But let me tell you, I was drenched. I had to keep running down the hill in the downpour to where there was a phone signal, and the call wouldn’t go through half the time.

I was getting worried about frostbite. I could hardly dial the phone. And that’s when I got hysterical. Literally! I was sobbing on the phone to the hotel lady, and I sobbed to a guy at another hotel who runs a shuttle service for his guests. (i would have stayed there, but he was booked.) I literally begged him for help and told him I was desperate. (I was, too. My phone battery was down to 9%.) He was my hero! He called somebody who called somebody, and they radioed the visitor center, and in an hour a shuttle driver came and got me.

I’m in Gatlinburg, where Bill Bryson ended his hike. I haven’t quit yet.

And guess who got the last room here? Bud and SBS! Also, Sparky and his daughter. The hikers have fled from the mountain.

And Gatlinburg is the strangest place I’ve seen in a while. Part Vegas, but you know what it really reminds me of? The Jersey boardwalk! Anyway, more on that tomorrow. Right now, I have to try to dry my shoes with a hair dryer.

I hate the Smokies.

Sorry about the crummy pictures. I didn’t want to wreck the phone. And even the phone case was dripping wet by the time I got to the visitor’s center.




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Day 28: Hard-won victory

Silers Bald Shelter [mile 194.3]

Another majestic morning. I slept warm. The sardine next to me decided he wanted half my sleeping pad. On the other hand, I was snoring so loudly that I kept waking myself up. The poor guy was probably subconsciously trying to smother me into silence. 🙂

The first big hill led to a whole new kind of pretty—a sea of grasses and sparse trees on a big bald, with mountains all around. Their folds of earth and shadow made them look like an alien landscape. Gorgeous.

That first six miles was as hard as it was cracked up to be. I never could have climbed those hills yesterday. But it led to a dilemma. At 1 o’clock in the afternoon, after only 6 miles, I already had hamburger feet. Nobody else seems to be having this issue—believe me, I’m asking. I’m actually thinking that 15 years of stomping barefoot on tatami and concrete wore away the padding on the soles of my feet.

I can manage 11 or 12 miles, but the last two involve a lot of tears and baby stepping. Have you ever baby stepped for 2 miles uphill? I’m going to pick up some gel insoles in Hot Springs, but I have to get there first, and this shelter rule is killing me. I hate the Smokies with a white hot passion. . Very ironic, since it was in the Smokies that I first heard of the AT. Which I keep meaning to write about, then forgetting.

So anyway, I already had the hamburger feet at Derrick Knob Shelter. I pulled out the guide and realized it was going to take me 11 days to get through the park. Most hikers do it in 5 or 6, and the permit’s only good for 8.

I was sitting here gnashing my teeth and looking for a sign from the heavens about what to do, when who should appear hiking southbound but Preacher! Remember him? Knee injury. It ended his hike back around Deep Gap. But he got out and saw his doctor buddy. Turned out to be his IT band. The doc told him to stay off it for 3 months (and said he knew he wouldn’t). And there Preacher was, hiking.

How could I whine about foot pain when Preacher was hiking? So I decided to try for the next shelter.

I made it. It was fiercely difficult. Tears, hamburger, yada yada. But 12.8 miles.

Also? I blew my nose on a rhododendron. Not proud.

Sparky and his daughter and I are the only ones here. I’m still looking at probably 10 days to do the park. We’ll see.

I’m grateful to have a warm place to sleep. So tired of being cold!







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Day 27: Short one

Spence Field Shelter [mile 182.5]

Started out early and strong today. For the first few miles I was zipping! I was probably doing a steady two miles per hour (which is pretty much my maximum pace) until about mile four, when I totally ran out of gas. I mean totally. My nose was running, my feet hurt… brutal!

The day before I’d pulled one of those long days that put me into camp exhausted and frozen. It was my first night in a shelter, and my tent routine was blown. I had neighbors close enough to kick me in my sleep (or it may have been a mouse on my sleeping bag). But the worst was that it was freezing again—30 degrees with a frigid blistery wind that tore through the shelter. I couldn’t get warm, and I didn’t sleep—and that’s what really did me in, I think.

Yesterday a ridgerunner said that the six miles after Spencer Field was very hard. I checked the elevation profile: straight up.

I just couldn’t do it. If it weren’t for this Smokies rule that you have to stay in shelters, I might have done another three or so. But not a hard six. So I stopped at Spencer Field and had a big hot lunch (mashed potatoes and bacon). I got my gear sorted and better laid out to keep me warm in this little icebox.

Not too long after I got here, two hikers showed up: Guard and Freight Train. They did exactly what I did: stayed at Mollie’s and couldn’t go on.

Freight Train’s hike ends tonight. He has Achilles tendonitis. He’s hiking out a different trail and getting a ride home. He and Guard have known each other since sixth grade. Tonight they’ll be sharing the cigars they were saving for Katahdin. Bittersweet.

The shelter isn’t packed yet. I don’t know the hikers, but we’re family: King, Snap, Sparky. I’m intending to be up and out early.

A word about the Smokies: Remember when I said it was pretty? Right after that, it got ugly. The last few miles have been muddy and desolate. It’s probably different when if’s not February.

What else? There’s a privy here!

More hikers just arrived. Full up now, I think.







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Day 26: Smokies, day 1—yup, saw a bear

Mollie’s Ridge Shelter [mile 176.8]

The morning was outstanding. All the mornings are, really. Fresh legs, fresh attitude. The fog obscured anything like a view of the dam, so the entrance to the park sprung up kind of suddenly from the winter trees. I jammed my permit into the stuffed box, then BOOM! I was in the Smokes. My bete noir, at hand.

I know it’s got to be my imagination, but the Smokies felt prettier than the rest of North Carolina, at least at the beginning. Or maybe it was that weird yellow thing in the sky, trying to burn off the fog. There were more birds, more greenery… moss-cloaked trees and ancient rocks. The Smokies just feel old.

The weather was great. Above the fog line it felt like spring was trying to peek out. But the hiking… it was all uphill today. Relentless. And the sun went back into hiding after a bit, turning the sky back to slate.

I tried to rest my feet, but I still ended up with hamburger feet at the 8-mile mark. I’ve got some more ideas. Too boring to type. 🙂

So. I stopped for water about two miles from the shelter. The ridgerunner had left a handwritten note: Water –>. Bear activity. Take your pack. I was peering into the woods trying to decide whether I could hold out to the shelter, when… holy shit that’s a bear that’s a bear that’s a bear! It was about 50 or 60 yards away, lumbering through the trees. An actual, honest-to-gods bear.

I didn’t go for water. And man, did I regret not having that zoom on my good camera.

I’m at the shelter now… inside the actual shelter. Another first. Slow-but-Sure and Bud are here. The shelter’s almost full: eleven so far. I hope the mice stay asleep!

No privy, here at Mollie’s Ridge. Just a minefield marked ‘toilet area’ that’s covered with old toilet paper. Yuck!

I’m not very literate tonight. Long day of climbing! I’m not even sure if I’m in Tennessee or North Carolina.






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