Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Crocs, Thunder, and St Lightning (aka Kristen) to the Rescue!

Right now I am updating from Gatlinburg, TN where I am taking a 1/2 day to resupply.  I'm dividing this updates into two posts for easier reading. So this one is information about the stretch of trail from Franklin, NC to Fontana Dam.

Our group left Franklin in good spirits but quickly dissolved.  The break-neck pace that we were setting was fun while it lasted but was unsustainable.  We had planned on 10-12 mile days, but have already learned that planning in futile.  The first day out of Franklin Nick and I had to hike 15 miles because the shelter we had planned to stay at was full and there was no water and the following campsite.  Fortunately, we found cold Pepsi that a Trail Angel left in a cooler at Burningtown Gap, where we spent the night. 

The next few days were moderate mileage days into the Nantahala Outdoor Center.  The Nantahala mountains are breathtaking and my trail legs were getting stronger each day.  The weather was awesome and I continued to meet people, but I had a major problem developing.  I was still wearing the shoes that didn't fit in the toes.  My feet were majorly swollen and I had some killer blisters on every toes.  So I basically hobbled 30 miles from Franklin to the NOC with nothing keeping me going but the promise of new boots and the possibility of an ice cream cone.

I also got my trail name- THUNDER.  I love it.  Long story short, after some of the guys had been joking that my nickname should be thunder thighs, one of them (Tree) thought he saw me on the trail.  He called "Yo Thunder Thighs" up the trail

After an agonizing 3000 ft descent into the NOC, I arrived at the Outfitter just before closing time.  And.... not a SINGLE pair of shoes in my size.  Seriously? I wear a women's 8.5 or 9, which is average.  I did need wide shoes, but they didn't even have any none-wide ones for me to try on.

So I thanked the guy working there, and walked outside to where my friends were sitting and tried to pull myself together. No luck- the first major breakdown of the trip occured.  I burst out crying in the middle of the parking lot.  Fortunately I had some great friends there to console me, and although I felt a little foolish for crying, I wasn't the only person crying about something that day.  So it was ok and there was a very wonderful solution- my good friend Kristen from Utah volunteered to bring shoes to Franklin- more on that later.

The high point of the hike so far came later that evening, after I had a hamburger with Silent Bob from Pennsylvania and was sitting with my feet soaking in the Nantahala River.

And I hiked 25 of the next 27 miles in my pink Crocs.  Seriously, it was amazing and all of my blisters healed in three days!!  Despite a scary thunderstorm on a ridge after Stecoah Gap, those miles were awesome.  I started hanging out with a group of guys dubbed "The Fraternity".  They include characters named Superman, Cope, Grizzly, Hercules, Sockeye, etc.  They are somewhat rowdy men in their 20s and 30s who hike hard, party hard, and go to bed when I tell them to.  Most importantly, they are always looking out for me, and I am very, very grateful for that.

So the hike to Fontana was awesome, and it was then that I first felt like a thru-hiker.  I visited Fontana Dam on a geology fieldtrip in 2005, so it was the first place on my thru-hike that I had visited before.  I remember seeing the AT there in 2005 and knowing that someday I would return as a thru-hiker, and I did!

We took a shuttle into Fontana Village and ate hamburgers.  We washed up in secret showers that we found in the rec room of a hotel in the Village.  I had no soap so I filled my shoe with handsoap from the bathroom and took it to the shower.  I dried myself with paper towels.  Then I did laundry in a bucket at the carwash.  Seriously, the universe provides.

Then the long-awaited moment- Kristen drove all the way to Fontana from Birmingham Alabama!! She braved a rockslide and 7 hours in the car to bring me 8 pairs of shoes to try on! I found the perfect ones, and have had no blisters since.  She also brought hot dogs, donuts, and beer for me and all of my friends!  She stayed at the fancy shelter with us and hiked into the park with me the next morning.  It was wonderful to see her and I am so grateful to have such a wonderful friends.  The guys started calling her Lightning, and then St. Lighting- patron saint of vagrants and hobos.  She was a big hit because they hadn't seen a clean, pretty girl in a while.

So I set off into the Smokies with new shoes, new friends, and a huge smile on my face.  I'm going to find some ice cream in Gatlinburg now and then I'll be back to write a post about the first half of the Smokies.

The take home point of this section of the trip- the universe provides.  Everytime I have needed a person to give encouraging words, a water source, a sunny day, or a little bit of inspiration, there it is.


ps- Supposedly I have a theme song- "Thunder" by ACDC.  I have never heard it but people sing it as I enter or leave camp.


  1. what happened to Will, Trail and Dog Face, or whatever his name was?

  2. Congratulations on getting your trail name!

  3. Thunder... I love it. So happy the universe has shown you great love! Also, very happy to hear you have "The Fraternity" to look after you. Much love from the city folk :)