I left Newfound Gap before noon and headed back into the Smokies under overcast skies with a cool wind blowing from the west. I seem to always return to the woods with renewed energy and purpose. I glided up the hills as the blood started pumping into my legs and I began sweating for the first time of the day.
A few miles in I came to a place called Charlie's Bunion, named after some guy's foot ailment. It was a breathtaking place with somewhat easy access from the road so local tourist where abound. I took a quick video, but shut it off when I got too close to others and began feeling awkward. I really need to try ignoring that feeling.
Shortly after leaving the Bunion was another accent, onto what was called the "Saw Tooth". It was an extremely narrow ridge very high up with sheer drops on either side. I took video again because it was so dramatic that i felt it needed to be shared. Unfortunately, I don't think that it really gives a good sense of what it was like up there with the wind howling and blowing me slightly off balance with each gust. This spot was truly an amazing place, I don't think that I have ever walked to something so awe inspiring before. Simply breathtaking.
A few hours in I was cruising along nicely when I came upon "Santa" and "Gnome" who were taking a little break on top of another beautiful vista. We chatted a bit and started walking together, but before long I was again alone, but the ridiculously awesome scenery was non stop all day long. I came to the intersection for the shelter I was tentatively planning on staying that night and sat down and ate a nice fresh pink lady apple. I felt good and there was plenty of daylight left so I decided, what the hey, so I pushed on to the next shelter a mere eight miles away.
Several hours later I pulled into the shelter moments before a storm blew in. "Santa" and "Gnome were not as lucky, but were happy as ever. As darkness began to fall a lone hiker came in who was hiking south on the AT and was planning on just staying on for the length of the Smokies. The ridge runner, a person tasked with maintaining the trail and shelters, said with a sly smile "Y'all are in fer a intrestin' night". Not thinking too much about it I settled into my little nook in the shelter and slowly let sleep overtake me. That's when it began. The floorboards were literally rumbling, I thought a bear had entered the shelter and was growling at the top of it's lungs. This dude was snoring so loud and breathing crazy that I was sure that he was going to die in the middle of the night.
As morning came we all crankily left the shelter not getting much sleep. I named the man Zeus, god of thunder and it was suggested that he see someone about his snoring because it really was extreme. Several times in the middle of the night people tried to wake him to make the horror stop, but he slept through it all and woke well rested.
I left that shelter and planned to make it to last shelter in the Smokies, called Davenport Gap, some fourteen miles away. As the day progressed rain clouds started gathering overhead. I made it to a shelter for lunch just as it began raining. I happily ate my lunch staying nice and dry thinking to myself, "Man, someone must really like me if I keep making it to these shelters just in time to avoid getting soaked". As the rain stopped I finished my lunch and pranced along merrily down the trail.
Not more than ten minutes later I was soaked completely. The skies opened up on me and didn't let up. By late midday I came to my destination dripping wet. There were two locals in the shelter eyeing me strangely. I struck up a conversation and learned that the man was the teenage girl's uncle and this was her first experience in the woods. He said and I quote " Dis is ma niece's first time and I'm gunna pop 'er cherry". I made the decision that I didn't want to witness that so I pushed on another three miles to a hostel called, Standing Bear Farms, I knew was down the trail. And with that I had left the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
By the time I arrived at Standing Bear the rain had let up and the sun was trying to poke through. The hostel was a small complex of rough wood buildings. There was a bunkhouse, a kitchen with eating area and a store with things like; Lotion $1.00 and Good Lotion $1.50.
I felt like I was in an old hippie commune and because I arrived late the spirits had obviously been flowing for a while already. There was a really odd vibe coming from the place that I couldn't quite put my finger on. There was a moment after dark when I was hanging out in the eating area with the other guests and I felt like I was in the middle of the "Lost Boys" movie from the eighties. I thought that at any moment the Keifer Southerland looking dude across the table, who had his hand drapped over some punk looking chick's shoulder, was going to sprout vampire fangs and try to convert me to the legion of the undead and I was going to have to find and kill the leader of their vampire gang in order to save my soul.
I left the next morning unbitten and heading for a place called Max Patch Bald. This was said to be a must see place so I had a slight skip in my stride as I walked along. Miles passed and I went over a place called Snowbird mountain that had old AT posts in the ground so you can see the trail even if there was snow covering the treeless mountaintop. Midday came and went and clouds started threatening to storm. By late in the afternoon I could start to see my destination emerging in front of my through the trees. This place was awesome, very hard to describe. I sat on my pack all alone in the middle of this enormous place and ate an apple. Again I took video, so I hope you like them.
The next day was an easy downhill stroll, with an uneventful night of camping outside a shelter. I was slowly making my way towards Hot Spring, NC where I planned to resupply and take some time to luxuriate in their famous hot springs. Another day came and went, but this time I got too much sun on my newly shaved head so when I rolled into the shelter area I was completely out of energy. Again, not long after I arrived the clouds burst and rain with thunder and lightning were on the menu for dinner. The storm blew over and the sun came out just before dipping below the horizon.
Morning came and I walked the easy three miles downhill to Hot Springs where the Trail actually runs directly through the town.
I am typing this at the local library after having sat for an hour in the laundromat in nothing but long john bottoms as my retched clothes got clean. The plan is to stay the night at a historic hostel and soak in the hot springs come tomorrow. Fantastic.