Some days you get packed up right before the rain starts, others you get caught in a down pour in your jammy jams doing your morning business. Score one for the smokies.
The rain started around 7 a.m., so if you weren’t moving out of your tent/tarp you stood the chance of remaining in purgatory. It’s so easy to lay in fear of rain under a nylon canopy, listening to it pound on the worlds around you. Lucky for my progress to Maine my tarp was down
I don’t stop much or socialize while hiking on rainy days. Headphones block out the sound of rain on my hood and keep it funky. I chose Chuck Mangione and Big-L on this fine day.
At every shelter people come together and discuss the day. I stopped at Molluies Ridge to share a Máte with Atlas. He’s a goofy French-Canadian who got his name because, “He carries the world on his pack.” His red mountaineering backpack is burley.
Grits told it like it was, exactly how you needed to hear it.
We decided to stop at the Spence Field Shelter to round out a decent day of hiking in the rain. It was filled with thru-hikers except for two delightful Canadian ladies. They drove down for a week after one had just finished grad school. They fit in quite well getting trail names quickly. One girl was named Thunderbox and the other Soorry, on account of her overly apologetic politeness and because she said it funny. Apparently in certain parts on Canada they call privies Thunderboxes because of the loud boom the lid can make across a frozen landscape or lake — Or for far more crass reasons. She did not like the trail name but tolerated it for a night.
The next day was much clearer but with a bitter chill. About 20 hikers trickled out before dawn to catch sunrises (yea right) until I left with K-bar around 9. We all had the same itinerary, including the Canadians, but plans change. Alas we never saw Thunderbox and Soorry again.
I met up with snuggles to do the summits of Rocky Top and Thunderhead. We had stunningly clear views that disappeared into the blue layers of the beautiful mountain ranges of North Carolina. Tennessee fell away on the other side.
I hiked ahead after creeping up on Grits, a tenured three-time Florida Long Trail thru hiker in his 60’s. Just as I got 10 feet away he slipped and fell on his butt like everyone does but hopes to do alone. He turned and smiling said, “Of course I have to fall ass with an audience.” He had a lot to say about hiking, with zero bullshit. Some long distance hikers are a pain to talk to with most of your efforts spent wading through ego. Grits told it like it was, exactly how you needed to hear it.
“Of course I have to fall ass with an audience”
Soon after his ego bruising fall Grits and I met a Ridge Runner and chatted with him for a bit. A Ridge Runner is an Appalachian Trail Conservancy caretaker who looks over a section of the trail. I don’t think there is another hiker out there that gets so excited to see ATC staff in the field. I immediately asked him questions about what his main season objectives were, the new permit policy and implementation, and if we had overlapping friends (we did!). After a few hikers stopped I decided my turn talking to Gravy Jones, aka Fletcher was up. The ATC is fielding a great field staff and I hope to meet more.
I pushed it into Ranger gear, catching Rockman just after lunch. It’s always satisfying to catch him since the task is tall and requires hours of persistence. We took a break at the shelter before our final stop and enjoyed a bit of rays while Grits told us the real scoop on the Florida long trail. One Thousand One Hundred miles of Florida that can be hiked in Winter. Despite Bill Bryson-like horror stories you’re lucky to see snakes and alligators, and if you don’t sneak up on the gators, you’re fine. It doesn’t take long for Grits to convince you to put it on your list. I told myself I couldn’t talk about another long trail until I got to K-town but I’m comfortable thinking of this one. Grits makes you OK with it.
The section between Silers Bald and Double springs shelter is my favorite section of trail so far. We finally hit the middle of the park around Clingman’s Dome and this massive ecological shift started. Clingman’s Dome is such a defining feature in the landscape it affects microclimates, creating an East and West side of the park that are drastically different. The West is dominated with high altitude hardwoods like birches and beeches while the East slips over to red spruce, white fir, and hemlocks. This two miles of trail walked the ridge that takes you from the West to the East. You can peer down into both sides and then slowly emerge from hardwoods to conifers. I see why these Smokies are so popular.
The section between Silers Bald and Double springs shelter is my favorite section of trail so far.
We stayed at Double Springs Gap that night with a packed house of thru-hikers. Clingman’s tomorrow with the potential for making a run into Gaitlynburg.