Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Great Smokies and Great People

Entering the Smokies

Well, we made it through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park this morning. It was a spectacular stretch of 70+ miles with some amazing scenery, beautiful bald summits, dizzying ridgewalks, green mosses and thick coniferous forests. It was also really hard.

The terrain was not particularly difficult since much of the trail is graded for horses, but emotionally we were taxed, and the distances we covered were on the ambitious side. Because staying in or next to shelters is mandatory, and the distances between is 6-8 miles, our days could be either much too short or a bit too long. We opted to go long, and paid the price with three days in a row over 20+ miles.

An Adolescent Bear

We saw quite a bit of wildlife, particularly in the early morning hours between 6am and 8am, when we're literally breaking cobwebs across the trail. In the Smokies we saw 3 more bear, one enormous wild turkey and the usual deer and snakes.

Ben's knee held up well, but by compensating for the I.T. band, Ben developed a painful shin splint mentioned earlier that made the late day miles a considerable chore. Lauren has been super supportive, and carrying more than her share of the food to help out.

We met some great people in the Smokies


Nuclear was a vital part of our trip through the Smokies. He's had some amazing life experiences and is now retired and hiking the trail, finishing by August, so he's smokin! Besides encouragement & conversation he helped us immensely with some AquaMira (water purification drops) and "vitamin I" (ibuprofin) for the inflamation in Ben's shin splint.

Ben, Lauren and Zealand

We met Tom and his adorable daughter Zealand from Texas at Newfound Gap, halfway through the Smokies. They let us use their cell phone to call our mothers on Sunday, but we're not sure if the calls went through with reception (so Happy Mother's Day!).

We're also meeting some more northbound thru-hikers as we catch up to the tail end of the bubble: Rider, Amtrack, Pittsburgh and Pipi (fellow Ray-Way pack carriers), Rider, Dirt, Snail and Turtle, Nuclear, Midget Momma, Colocho, Downhill, Raindrop...

Right now we're taking an afternoon rest at Standing Bear Farm, 3 miles north of the park, where Curtis runs an amazing hiker hostel on an old hillybilly homestead. The accomodations are rustic, quirky and quaint - perfect for a thru-hiker needing a shower, laundry, snacks and a bunk.


This afternoon we're headed toward Hot Springs, covering 33 miles by Thursday morning, where we hope to get a hitch up to Trail Days in Damascus VA for the largest yearly gathering of thru-hikers. We expect to have a nice 3-4 days off this upcoming weekend and then take the trail at a bit slower pace afterward.

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