Hey everyone! Thanks for checking back in. I have finally found a decent wifi connection to make another update.
On April 18th, after the amazing hospitality (including a hardy breakfast) of Coleen and Bill, leaving Fontana Dam to head back into the woods was tough!
Rigga, Camel and I leaving Coleen and Bill’s
However, I enjoyed the ‘Fontana Hilton’ I’ve heard so much about. The shelter has hot showers and holds somewhere around 20 hikers which makes it by far the biggest shelter I’ve seen. Not to mention it provides a pretty view.
The Fontana Dam Shelter aka The Fontana Hilton
View from the Fonatan Hilton
We also received two different sets of trail magic that day. Of note was that of JD and Teresa Schlandt and the Great Smoky Hiking and Adventure Meetup Group. They were giving away everything from burgers and hot dogs to ice cream and beer. Whatever was desired could be found! They also provided Trail Hard bandanas I have seen donned by many hikers since. Thank you all, the hikers greatly appreciated it!
After enjoying all of the trail magic, I stopped into the TVA office to learn a little more about the dam. Built in the 1940’s, it stands 480 feet tall and is apparently the tallest dam east of the Rocky Mountains. It’s amazing to see how well the structure has held together, and I can only imagine the differences between construction 70 years ago versus the present.
After admiring the work of long ago, Rigga and I walked across leaving the real world once again and entered the Great Smoky Mountains.
Walking across the Fontana Dam
View down the Fonatana Dam
View from the Fonatna Dam
Even though we had a significantly late start, Rigga and I managed to hike 12 miles to Mollie’s Ridge Shelter. It sprinkled on us a little that day and poured rain that night. I can tell you first hand it is no fun packing up gear and a tent on a cold rainy morning. That was the first of many cold and rainy days in the Smokies.
The following day we camped near Derricks Knob Shelter. Rain (and hail) poured on us throughout the day and the wind was whipping dangerously hard as we summitted Rocky Top that day. However, we still managed to complete a 12 mile day. Many of us joked about the Appalachian Trail being the ‘Appalachian River’. Shelters were all full throughout the smokies due to section hikers. Unfortunately, they have precedence over the shelters. I wish there was a better system because if a section hiker shows up to a shelter after its already full, a thru hiker must evacuate to make room. It honestly creates a strange animosity between hikers…like an us and them mentality. I hope they come up with a better system in the future. Also, you must pay to hike through the smokies, but I don’t understand exactly where the money goes. The shelters are not as nice and some don’t have privys. Finally, you must stay near a shelter, so at times you find yourself deciding between a 10 or 18 mile day.
Luckily after a couple days of rain, we had a short break in weather. I hiked with Rebel Yell and Mountain Goat to the highest point on the AT. We met up with Bodyglide and Rigga at the top of Clingmans Dome where we were offered an amazing view!
Amazing (rare) view from Clingmans Dome
Rebel Yell, Me (Dixie), Mountain Goat, Rigga, Bodyglide
Bodyglide, Rigga and I parted ways with mountain goat and Rebel yell right after Clingmans Dome as we planned to hike on through to a parking area about a mile before Newfound Gap. On that trek, we completed mile 200 of the AT!
Mile 200! Excuse the backwards number..
Rigga’s friends Kevin, Rick and Teresa picked the three of us up when we reached the parking area. We went to eat and then to Kevin’s house in Maryville, TN. Rigga and I took our first zero day there. A ‘zero day’ is a day in which no miles are hiked on the AT.
Taking the opportunity to wash and air out muddy boots
Considering most hikers had taken more than one at this point, we were pretty proud. On our zero day, we stopped at REI and I had my pack looked at and adjusted. Tim at the Knoxville, TN store was extremely helpful as the folks at REI always are. After resupplying, relaxing and icing swollen joints we headed to trivia where we hung out with more of Rigga’s friends.
Enjoying some spaghetti at Kevin’s–thanks for the picture Rick
Icing my ankle at a diner in Maryville, TN
The following day Rick took us back to the parking area we had left from. We enjoyed the relaxation and good food of town, but we’re ready to get more miles in. Thanks to everyone in Maryville for their kindness!
A picture Rick snapped of us before leaving
Hitting the trail headed to Newfound Gap
After about 1.5 miles of hiking we reached Newfound Gap. This spot definitely holds a special meaning for me as it was there I first realized I wanted to hike the AT (as I mentioned in my second blog post “Cross the Line”). I took a picture next to the sign like I had with my Nanny and Papa–it was a bittersweet moment.
I remember visiting there so many times saying that I would someday do it…and there I was pack on..actually doing it. Kind of surreal, honestly.
At the spot where my Mom first told me about the Appalachian Trail
We camped that night at Icewater Spring Shelter. It was a beautiful spot and there was a doe wandering around when I woke up.
My tent at Icewater Spring Shelter
The smokies weren’t very re-welcoming as it rained some that night and I woke with ice on my tent. Rain, rain go away. Rigga, Bodyglide and I hit Charlie’s Bunion that day and although it was brisk, the view was worth the extra walk.
The next few days offered beautiful views and I hiked alone the majority of the time. Running the ridge of the smokies and having a view on both side was definitely the highlight! Although it was cold, I was thankful for no rain.
Our last night in the smokies a group of us were actually able to stay in davenport gap shelter. It was cold and rained that night, but we had the first fire in forever there. We were thrilled to leave the smokies the last day. Thru hikers–do not send cold weather gear home before the smokies!! The rumors are true. Cold, rain and hail are no strangers this time of year.
Bodyglide and Rigga warming up by a shelter fire on lunch break
One takeaway I gained from the Smokies is “keep your head up!” Out here, it’s very easy to go into tunnel vision mode and stare at the rocks you are stepping over–especially on freezing cold or rainy days. We have to remind each other at times why we came to hike and what a special opportunity we all have. We laugh when we find ourselves complaining about simple chores such as fetching water or hanging bear bags at camp. But, this concept can easily be applied to everyday life. How often do you find yourself complaining about tasks that you should be thankful you have the ability to perform? Do you get caught up in the rut of your everyday routine and forget to look at life happening around you? Probably too often. So, keep your head up!
Well, it’s time to resupply and hit the trail again! Another update soon to come–
Happy Trails 🙂