*please forgive any delays in updates- data service has been severely lacking*
Day mileage: 11
AT total mileage: 176.5
Time: 5.5 hours
Today seemed to last forever, and at some point we officially entered into Tennessee.
For some reason I was exceptionally exhausted this morning, and finally rolled out of 'bed' at 8:05. Striking my tent and walking to the visitor center by 9 allowed me to wash up and brush my teeth while Crusoe tried to get us on a shuttle into town. This ended up being quite the (comical) ordeal trying to get the older couple working at the visitor center to stop bickering about their fax machine long enough to make the call for us. It was pricelessly hysterical to watch this situation play out. We waited 10 minutes or so for the Chevy SUV to pull into the parking lot and take us to what constitutes 'town' for the sum of $3/direction.
We stopped in at the Fontana General Store, where I giddily drank a Minute Maid orange juice while I shopped for resupply items. I've got a fair amount of meals left, so I filled in my 'mid-day snack' collection with Pop-Tarts, glazed honey buns, Snicker's, and Milky Way bars. It's quite enjoyable to shop for things by what has the *most* calories, since it's probably the only time in life i'll do this. For $25 I filled up the next week and a half of food items, and Crusoe and I sat in the sun using the store's wifi while it was available. We then headed up to the Fontana Lodge to try and find breakfast. Upon arriving (10:50) we were informed they were closing to change over to lunch... Nothing seemed to be going our way timing wise, as we were still waiting for the single-man-operation post office to open at 11:45. We sat in the lobby of the Lodge conversing with other hikers, and I picked up my new tent poles. We eventually were let into the restaurant where I ate a delicious burger and washed it down with a perfectly chilled Sam Adams Lager. The brewery founder would be ashamed to know it was served to me in a Bud Lite glass. After lunch we went back to the post office to pick up our permits (thank you Mr. & Mrs. Mather) for the Great Smoky National Park, and hitched the shuttle back to Fontana Dam.
The quick background on the GSMNP permit is as follows: in order to thru-hike the A.T., you pass through GSMNP. To 'legally' do this, each hiker is required to print and carry at all times a permit, costing $20 per hiker, to grant them access to shelters and trails. The 70 some-odd miles of trails include a fair amount of shelters, which come with their own rules. The most detrimental rule in my opinion: shelter space must be fully occupied before a hiker is allowed to set a tent. Basically, no alone space as you have to be in the shelter. The best way to describe these shelters is to compare it to a large morgue. There are two levels of 'shelves' 7 feet deep and with about 3 feet of head room. The shelves are about 15 feet wide, giving room for 5 hikers to fit in next to each other. The sections are divided by small 1x2 pieces of wood to differentiate personal space. Not my idea of a good time. The second ridiculous rule: a thru-hiker has no priority over a weekend hiker for shelter space. Regardless of when a weekend hiker arrives at the shelter, they have precedence for a shelter slot. So I could theoretically show up at 3 pm, exhausted from my 200th mile of hiking in two weeks, and at 7pm when a late weekend hiker arrives, be kicked out of the shelter and forced to set my tent up...... Angry face. Oh and since you asked, the GSMNP trails are patrolled by 'Ridgerunners' who check for permits and enforce these rules at night. I'm really hoping to be down and out of the Smokys in 4 nights.
Crusoe and I hit the trail at 1400hrs, very late in the day, due to our required errands in town. This afternoon was exhausting, and included a few thousand feet in elevation gain over not many miles. We were able to climb the sketchiest fire tower I've ever been in, comprised of angle iron, missing railings, rotted floor boards, and amazing views. We snapped some photos and headed back to the trail. Knowing we had to stay at the shelter (11 miles from where we started) our fate was pretty much sealed for a near-sunset arrival time. We did pass through some gorgeous fields and amazingly grown trees, as well as the first bear trap I've ever seen in my life. Tennessee shall be interesting! A long and steep uphill eventually landed us at the shelter at Mollie's Ridge. Unfortunately there weren't enough people to 'force' tenting, so staying in the shelter is what's going to happen. A nice fire with a new group of people, including a mid-20s couple who decided to hike the Trail as their honeymoon (not my idea of a good time), and it's bed time.
Having to stay in shelters really limits the open-ended freedom of where we camp at night. Shelter location will limit or force how many miles we complete per day for the next few days, but I think I've got a plan in place to get my butt out of this Government Controlled Woods by Monday. Aren't there better things to be policing than if hikers are sharing bunks appropriately??