Day 19: Sassafras Gap Shelter to Cody Gap campsite, 12 miles
Day 20: Cody gap to Fontana Village, 8.7 miles
Day 21: Zero in Fontana Village
Day 22: Fontana village to Mollies Ridge Shelter, 12.1 miles
Day 23: Mollies Ridge Shelter to Derrick Knob Shelter, 12 miles
Day 24: Derrick Knob Shelter to Double spring Shelter, 7.2miles
Day 25: unexpected Zero at Double Spring shelter
Day 26: Double Spring Shelter to Icewater Spring Shelter, 13.8 miles
Day 27: Icewater spring shelter to Tri-Corner Knob shelter, 12.6 miles
Day 28: Tri-corner Knob shelter to Cosby Knob shelter, 7.7 miles
Day 29: Cosby Knob shelter to Standing Bear Farm, 10.7 miles
Day 30: Standing Bear Farm to Max Patch Road stealth campsite, 13.3 miles
Day 31: Max Patch stealth campsite to Deer Park Mountain Shelter, 17 miles
Day 32: Deer Park Mountain to Laughing Heart Hostel, nearo (nearo means ‘near zero miles’) into town 3.2miles
Day 33: Laughing Heart Hostel to campsite near lookout tower, nearo out of town 8.3 miles
The Smokies, wow. The Smokies are what have transformed us into the hardy hikers we now are. We feel like we were put through a grinder, all the soft bits taken away, and put back together in a slightly hardened form of our previous selves. We had every type of weather you can imagine: a beautiful 70 degree day where tons of water was consumed and sunscreen applied, a 10 degree day where we were truly tested in grit and endurance, cold rain pummeling us encouraged by 40 mile per hour winds, and snow and ice galor. Icicle got a very bad head cold in the middle of this part of our adventure. Having a severe head cold with out any medicine to dull the symptoms is aweful if you are at home sitting on your couch. Having a severe head cold without any medicine while hiking is HORRIBLE CRAZY CONSTANT TORTURE. Imagine you are drowning, roughly 40 miles from the surface of the ocean. You sometimes catch a little bubble of oxygen that gets you a mile closer to the surface of the ocean and it feels good to breathe in that bit of oxygen. You manage 10 miles with these bits of oxygen, but your exhausted because you can’t ever take more than one deep breath every 5 minutes or so. Now you have to sleep. Sleeping without cold medicine, hence a completely clogged nose is like now turning upside down in the water and trying to sleep. Basically, those 4 days were just Icicle and Quailman getting the hell out of the smokies and to the glorious convenience of over the counter drugs. But! The amazing thing is that even while Icicle was a walking torture chamber, we both still had moments of awe. When the clouds broke and a ray of sunshine lit the landscape in front of us or the snow glittered or the people around us showing such support and kindness.
Two other hikers, Cheeze it and Ramen Shaman, were a big part of lessening the misery Icicle was feeling. They are a fun loving couple we have been hiking with for much of the trail. Ramen Shaman boiled hot water and put it in his own Nalgene bottle to keep Icicle warm at night (you put the Nalgene bottle in your sleeping bag to generate warmth), Cheeze it offered a consoling hug when Icicle had her first break down on the trail, another thru hiker named Blaze gave Kristin a sleeping pill so she could get some rest. Quailman carried half of Kristins pack weight so she could get more miles in. The sense of community we experienced in the Smokies was heart warming and made everything so much better.
Icicle has seen what she is made of out here and we have both come out the other side feeling stronger, more confident, and more appreciative of the little stuff. Our new favorite phrase is, “at least its not the Smokies!”
Now we feel like we are in an entirely new world. The weather has been kind and Hot Springs was an oasis. The community was so friendly! When we entered Hot Springs, food was our primary mission. We talk about food all the time while hiking. Almost every conversation amongst hikers now inevitably turns to food. We stuffed our faces with salad, fried pickes, a burger, fried fish, fries, and two pints of locally brewed beer. We felt happy and stuffed. We thought there was no way we could eat more that day, but alas, hiker hunger has kicked in for us. An hour later we found out the comunity sponsors a potluck for hikers. We decided to go to , ‘just socialize’. Well, that turned into eating our faces off. We thought we were full, but there seems to be no such thing anymore.
While watching a movie with other thru hikers at the hostel and eating two pints of ben and jerrys, the Smokies seemed oddly distant.