My original plan was to avoid Gatlinburg like the plague. I’d heard from pretty much everybody that it was a shitty tourist trap, expensive, and without even a real grocery store for resupply. Plus there was the issue that it was generally easier to get to Mars from the trail than to Gatlinburg.
Yet here I am.
And it’s fascinating.
I would have missed this entirely if the trail hadn’t grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and swung me around and let me fly.
Gatlinburg’s like a big-hair-and-grits version of the boardwalk. Space needle! Mirror maze! Arcade! Ripley’s museum! Hotels, hotels, hotels! Old time photos! It smells like cigarettes and cheap perfume and popcorn and fryer grease. And it rings with pinball bells and car engines. There’s a quickie wedding place. There’s a fondue restaurant. Giant kitschy statues—bears in bathrobes, classic cars.
You wouldn’t believe all the trail magic I’ve found in Gatlinburg. First, Erik from awalkinthewoods.com, who shuttled me down, is a local expert on the trail and backpacking. He gave me a lot of incredible information about the history of the Smokies, this vestige of the boreal forest. He also gave me some practical breathing techniques related to exercise physiology that are specific to going up these hills.
I caught up to SBS and Bud, who got the last room in this hotel. (Amusingly enough, SBS just texted me. She heard from another hiker that yesterday a hysterical woman with hypothermia had to be rescued off the mountain. LOL. The most embarrassing game of whisper-down-the-lane ever. Just shows you how quickly hiker gossip moves, and how exaggerated the actual facts can get.)
This morning I met a flip-flop hiker named Chris (who knows my friend Bunny from earlier on the trail) and had a fantastic couple of hours of conversation. Also, she gave me some trigger point tips for hamburger feet!
There’s a Walgreen’s a block from the hotel. They have the exact anti-hamburger insoles I used at home. I can’t wait to see if they help!
And I met somebody who’s a friend of a friend… and he works at Walgreen’s and has a pair of microspikes he’s willing to give me!
The outfitter had the perfect rainpants to replace my useless ones, along with a lighter-weight hat and some flipflops.
Astonishing. And I wasn’t going to come into Gatlinburg at all.
This trail, man. It answers.
In other news, Socks is off the trail: knee surgery. She’s aiming to be back in four to six weeks. And my friend Anacondan Ed is off the trail after a bad fall and a busted tailbone. I heard of another hiker who fell on ice and cracked three vertebrae. (Of course, I’m taking that with a grain of salt now; maybe she stubbed her toe, LOL.)
I love you, Gatlinburg. You’re magic.