Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Clingman's Dome and I Hate Ramen

After organizing food from my maildrop and tightening the laces on my new shoes (see previous post) I walked over Fontana Dam with Kristen and Khakis (his new trail name is Studmuffin) and climbed into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Every thru-hiker's story I have ever heard about the Smokies includes terrible weather, but so far we have had nothing but sunshine, blue skies, and 75 degree weather.  It has been blissful and perfect walking weather to say the least.  Despite the 6 oz of sunscreen that I have been carrying, I already have a killer tan.  Some trees are beginning to bud and wildflowers are out, but we still have weeks before there is enough tree cover to prevent the major tanning that is going on.

I have been hanging out with "the fraternity" some and have met some other great characters.  This is partially because of the rules of the national park.  All hikers must stay in shelters or camp next to them, so people are concentrated in small areas.  It is obnoxious in terms of mileage because some days I have had to choose between a 12 mile day and a 17 mile day when I really want to go 15 miles, for example.  Also, some of the shelters have bear cages around them and can be dirty.  And not all of them have outhouses- gross! The just have large shovels and a designated "toilet area".  Double gross.

My mileage has slightly slowed, but it's not because I don't want to go faster.  My muscles could take it (they called me thunder thighs for a reason) but I don't want to put unneccessary stress on my feet and knees at this point.  I need to be conservative with miles here to increase my chances of making it to Maine.   I have seen too many people drop out already due to blisters, leg and foot problems, and other uncontrollable issues such as family emergencies.  Also, I want to enjoy the scenary as much as possible through the Smokies while the weather lasts.

One major thing that has changed is my appetite.  I cannot stop eating.  Someone who is a veteran thru-hiker warned me that last time his hunger started on his ascent into the Smokies and didn't stop for 5 months.  I'm right on schedule with that.  I have 5 days of food for the Smokies and finished all my lunch and snack food in 3 days!  That's the reason that I am in Gatlinburg now.  The Gatlinburg Food City was like heaven today.  Also, I'm trying to find ways to vary my diet.  Yesterday I had Ramen for breakfast and for dinner.  I don't even like Ramen anymore, and I'm pretty sure my sweat is starting to smell like it. 

Despite the regulations and my insatiable appetite, my time in the Smokies has been incredible so far.  I've walked along 5000 ft high ridges with sweeping views of nothing but mountains all around me.  There are still a few patches of snow that have been easy to navigate.  Also, I reached the highest point on the AT- Clingman's Dome! It's 6643 ft above sea level I think.  It's kind of a tourist eyesore because there is a parking lot 0.5 miles from the top, but fortunately they were paving the parking lot so I got to enjoy the views alone.  I have been spending more and more time hiking alone lately, and I generally enjoy it.  I always know that there is someone I know ahead of me or behind me in case something happens.  I am never lonely and always know that there will be smiling faces to great me in camp or along the trail.

Clingman's Dome also put things in perspective because of the crystal-clear day.  We could see some of the mountains that we had climbed last week and the week before.  And last night (April 11) we stayed at a shelter at mile 200.  I'm completed almost 10% of the trail already, which actually seems like a lot because I never want this to end.

That day I got to hang out with a southbounder named Lucky whom I met in Virginia at the beginning of March.  That was really cool because as I passed the ~200 mile mark he was passing the ~2000 mile mark.  I had a good time hearing his trail stories and his thoughts as his trip is winding down.  I also am glad that I chose to go northbound because of the weather and the camraderie. The one main point that I have been ruminating about lately and Lucky agreed with is that the trail is a great equalizer (TAKE-HOME POINT).  Out here the things that we normally use to judge people don't matter.  Money doesn't matter.  Cars and houses don't matter. Education doesn't matter- in fact, only two or three people even know that I have a Masters degree and I'm going to keep it that way.  Religion doesn't matter- most people here are Christians, some are atheists, some are in between but few are judgemental.  The thing that brings us together is  our love of the trail and our common goal of walking north.  It also seems like we're all out here searching for something.  Some of us don't know what and unfortunately I think that many of us with never even find what we're looking for, but here's to hoping.

Right now I am in Gatlinburg, TN.  I got a ride here from another thru-hiker whose husband came to pick her up at Newfound Gap.  I have avoided hitch-hiking (the universe provides!) We are anxious to head back to the trail early tomorrow morning because this town is terribly tacky.  The lights are blinding and the traffic is too much to handle after just a few weeks on the trail.  And the town is bringing out the worst in some of us- another group is not quite dissolving but morphing into something stronger and better. That's the way it goes out here.  After less than 12 hours here we are ready to go home to the trail.

My next major stop is Hot Spring, NC.  Talk to you then!


1 comment:

  1. Hi Erin, it's Elissa. I accidentally posted under Dave's login before. At any rate, I love reading your blog! I have to admit, I didn't really have any desire to thru-hike the AT before, but your entries have put a bee in my bonnet! Keep up your high spirits. :)