Day mileage: 13.1 mi
AT total mileage: 110.8 mi
This morning began earlier than others, and with a very abrupt noise. I was woken by a snapping sound, followed by the consequential bark of Cormack the dog. My first thought from deep inside my dark sleeping bag? The tree precariously leaning over my tent had broken and I was dead. My fabric abode became a fabric coffin, and I was to be buried at Betty's Creek Gap... Oh, what a way to go. Okay so in actuality one of my tent poles had snapped at a joint. Due to the tension of the rain fly over it, it didn't collapse on me. After breakfast with the group, I inspected it more closely, and traded Wild Turkey some band aids (for her blisters) for a brace for broken tent poles. I attempted to call the manufacturer later in the day, but they were closed for the weekend. Neither hiking outfitter in the next town had anything better to offer, so I'll need to call MSR/Cascade Designs on Monday to get new parts shipped quickly to Fontana Dam before beginning the trail through Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
We left camp at 8:30 or so, and began a climb of about 1,000' to the top of a fire tower on Albert Mountain. The last 1/4 mile before the fire tower was a hands-and-knees scramble up rock faces unlike anything we've climbed so far. At some point during this climb we unceremoniously passed the 100th mile mark of the Appalachian Trail. I high-fived myself, I'm now 1/22nd of the way to Katahdin. Upon arriving the tower was locked, but the four stories of exposed staircases let us get up over the trees to a beautiful view of the mountain ridges to the east. This was also the first time many of us have had cell service in the past few days. The coverage area is drastically different in NC vs what we had in Georgia. A few phone calls, booked hotel rooms for Franklin, NC, and posted blog entries gave us almost an hour of leisurely time at the fire tower. Moments like these, with new friends like these, are the ones I'll remember. I'm really happy that we got a few photos of the group with the mountains in the background.
We had decided early that the majority of us would be sticking together mileage wise, as we've fallen in a comfortable gap between the main hiking groups on either side of us. Pushing those extra 4 miles yesterday bought us some leeway to less occupied shelters, campsites, etc. With the end goal of 110.8 miles in mind, myself, Kevin (now officially trail named: Crusoe), Doc, Keegan, Turkey, and four-legged Cormack played leapfrog for most of the afternoon. Due to his appearance in a supporting role for the next few days, I'd like to go into a little more detail about Papa Doc... In his early 50s, Doc looks like a twin brother to ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbs, and he's quite the character himself. We all met up again for lunch at a 1 year old shelter, wooden beams still smelling richly and glowing with a gorgeous red stain. We continued our walking by several waterfalls (pictures to come) and meandered through the hills for quite a while. This changed, however, and with some good sweat inducing climbs in the sunny 80 degree heat, we put a lot of effort into getting to camp this afternoon. I walked alone for a while, and mentally debated the pronunciation of the word nuclear. Is it nuke-yuh-ler, nuke-lee-r? These are the pressing issues at hand in my world, and I'm not complaining in the slightest. For what it's worth my pronunciation falls towards the latter of the two. I wish I could gift friends, co-workers, and strangers alike with the ability to think so freely and without agenda, about such pointless things. Back with Kevin we spent a while talking about more serious topics like climbing Kilimanjaro, the European zoo that recently killed the lions and giraffe, and the depletion of fish species from the world's oceans. The conversation is never boring. At the final road crossing before where we intended to stop, fellow hikers Bulldog & Deep Woods hitched a shuttle ride into town for a zero day tomorrow. I hope to see them again. The tent site we aimed for has room for 2 tents next to a stream, which were already placed and occupied. Due to the next campsite being a mile uphill with no water, our half-dozen member group decided to attempt squeezing in. Sure enough, we've fit 9 tents into space for 2, including one that was put up at 7p (in theory after the last hikers would walk by) and placed in the middle of the trail. We'll be up early enough to not disturb anyone. From a distance, we look like a makeshift base-camp on Mt. Everest. Dinner was a yummy fettuccini alfredo with bacon crumbles - not my normal meal, but great nonetheless. I can make meals like that by just boiling water. We talked for a while, staying somewhat separated from the four others who had settled before we did. Kevin and I have passed them before, and we've discussed them at length due to the strange vibe they give off and the sneakers/suitcase looking backpacks they carry. While I do my best to not judge too quickly, we sure have encountered some strange individuals on this stretch of trail.
As I'm laying in my bed typing this, I'm half-listening to a drunk hiker/self appointed philosopher preach (loudly and disruptively, given the code of bed-at-dark) the ways of successfully hiking through to Maine. Our speaker Carver, a storied hiker reporting 6,000 miles of walking last year, although repeatedly announcing his intoxication, has some good points. If you're not enjoying it, it's not right for you. This is about creating a memory for a lifetime, one that you can look back on as an enjoyable and life changing undertaking. Certainly good insight, Carver. It's been frequent conversation lately that per Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) statistics, 25% of hikers have already headed home from their A.T. attempts. Recognizing each one has their own reason, story, gained insight, what have you, I wonder what my fate with this trail is. Tomorrow, I'll continue my walk in the woods with a smile on my face.
Onward & upward.