From Springer Mountain Georgia to Mt. Katahdin Maine

Monday, April 30, 2012

Damascus, VA part 2

Good morning! Still in Damascus but heading out as soon as I post this. We were really wiped out after such a big week and stayed 2 nights but feel totally rested which is good. Also, this is the first time in town that I've felt really relaxed. Normally a town visit ends up being very busy with "town chores" - navigating your way around small towns (usually involved waiting for shuttle services), figuring out resupply needs, laundry, showers, phone calls.. usually doesn't leave too much time for good ole sitting around & resting. This time though, we got a lot done Saturday afternoon and had time yesterday to go swim in the river, lay in the grass, and drink some cold beers in the sun. We also did some ice baths for our feet last night and everyone is feeling great today. Since the library was closed yesterday, I started to write this post in my journal:

After 466.7 miles on the trail, the fatigue has really begun to set in. My feet ache almost every morning, especially by my arches, and usually look pretty swollen. I try to elevate them or invert (doing various upside down yoga poses) as much as possible, but sometimes it just doesn't happen. I think it was Wednesday morning, it started to really rain as we were packing up and my pack got soaked for the first time. I thought it was fine, until I realized in the afternoon that the back hip part of my pack was rubbing a bad rash on my back.. not pleasant. My knees are talking to me on an almost daily basis. I played soccer for 10 years and have generally been pretty active & athletic my whole life and never had any knee issues, but now I know what people talk about when they say their knees hurt. I'm really glad for my trekking poles and just try to be careful with them - especially going downhill.

Aside from the body aches & pains, there is a consistent general level of exhaustion and therefore an increased drive for efficiency. As we try to increase our mileage during the daylight hours, it's important to accomplish all our "camp chores" as quickly as possible to have time for as much sleep as possible. Its funny - walking 15+ miles every day with a heavy pack is the most physically demanding but also the simplest part of the day. When I get up in the morning, I try to do some quick yoga stretches in my tent - child's pose & cat/cow for my back. I squeeze a dollop of anti-bacterial gel on my hands and put in my contacts (no mirror!). Depending on how cold it is, I bundle up in my down jacket that doubles as a pillow while I sleep. I find my crocs & go use the bathroom and say hello to whoever is awake. Next usually is taking down the bear line - we all hang our food together. Bears aren't a huge threat in this area, but it's a good principle and also there are mice and other rodents that can get into it if we don't hang it. Depending on how much water I have, I usually go pump water in the mornings. I switched out my chemicals for a ceramic water filter. I feel much better about drinking clean, filtered, mountain water than pool tasting chlorine water, but it is a bit more annoying. Once I have my water & food bag, I light up my Jet boil and make some oatmeal & coffee. Yes that's right - haha after scoffing at all the New Yorker's that frighteningly asked "but what will you do about coffee?!" I am now an owner of the Jetboil French Press attachment & have some fancy Intelligencia coffee!  Ha it's a bit luxurious but one of my favorite parts of my morning at home is making coffee and I love that I can now make it out here. I got the press & coffee last weekend in Boone.  At about 400 miles, I was ready to make some slight changes to my gear. Most trail towns are small & rely on thru-hikers for their income. Boone is a good hour away from the trail, so when the staff found out I was thru-hiking, they got really excited. Everyone was super helpful and they gave me some great discounts - and also a free Nalgene!

Anyway, I'm really glad about having coffee in the mornings. The grounds aren't too bad to clean out and they make my food trash bag smell good (since usually the tuna packets get pretty stinky!) After having breakfast, which is always pretty social, I pack up my food bag and proceed to pack up my home. I love living like a vagabond - walking all day and then making a home in the woods, and then in the morning packing it all back up again. The last step is putting on my hiking shoes and hoisting up my pack. We usually all leave camp one at a time - I like to get going early and some of the guys like to have a more leisurely morning. We have a joke that when anyone heads on, everyone says bye by yelling out "See you in Maine!"

Once I get going hiking, I like to go a good 8 miles or so before stopping for a snack or lunch either at a pretty view or a shelter. The great thing about shelters is that aside from providing shelter to sleep under, they are great meeting spots during the day. There is almost always water at a shelter and sometimes a privy. The best thing though are the trail registers. In the world of instant communication, I love that out here the only way to communicate with hikers you aren't physically with is via word of mouth or in the trail registers. People sign in with the date, and will put a few lines about what they did that day, like "hiked 22 miles today, great view from that mountain" or "stopping in for lunch, headed on to this other shelter tonight." Sometimes its funny jokes or inspiring quotes. They are great though because you can see who of your friends is ahead and by how many days.

Anyway, I think that's as much as I'm going to write today - need to head on out of town! Should be in Atkins, VA in 4-5 days so I'll see if I can update then. This week we will hit our 500 mile mark (we've been singing the song "and I would walk 500 miles, and I would walk 500 more" pretty much everyday so we can't wait to get to that point!). Also we will pass the Grayson Highlands that have WILD PONIES!!!

xoxo Daystar

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Damascus, VA

Good morning! Daystar here in Damascus, VA. I had visions of being clean & rested & typing up this blog post after some thoughtful reflection time, but the public library closes at 1pm and doesn't open again until Monday morning. I'm in a bit of a zombie state right now so I'm going to go ahead and apologize for any ramblings or nonsensical thoughts.. ha.

This morning, Tatertot & I left Abingdon Shelter at 5:30am (after waking at 5) to hike the last 10 miles into Damascus. We crossed the TN/VA state line about 8am which was really exciting - 3 states done. Although they say, don't get too excited about checking states off your list, because Virgina will bum you out - it's about one fourth of the entire trail. We were racing in to be here before the P.O. closed at 11 but ended up arriving around 9, which was perfect because we'd only had 2 granola bars & a few sips of gatorade all day - we were thrilled to have time to eat some greasy, southern breakfast. Yesterday we did our biggest day yet of 22.7 miles. The boys went for the full marathon - 26.2, but both Tater & I hit a wall yesterday around mile 18 and decided 22.7 was plenty for the day. We also realized we'd be able to hike faster in the morning than trudging on last night. The timing worked out though - we caught up with the boys and all had breakfast together.

In general, this has been a good but tough week. I was off the trail for three nights in Boone/Banner Elk and you kind of lose your "trail legs" and it takes some adjusting getting back in the groove of walking every day. Everyone else was pretty exhausted from surviving the blizzard. Overall, I feel like the fatigue really set in this week. We're still laughing & smiling a lot, but a lot of the extra goofy energy is waning. Damascus, VA is the symbolic 1/4 done mark. I'm not sure why, the physical mark is more like 560 or so. But as Gribley put it, making it to Damascus is like finishing up freshman year. We've walked 467 miles at this point, up and over big mountains. We've survived rain, heat, cold, and humidity. I missed the big blizzard, but all my buddies made it out alive & that much stronger.

Ok I feel like I'm struggling to write complete thoughts.. I'm going to ahead and click "publish" and try to write more later. Off to shower!

In the meantime, check out Tatertot's photos here!

Love y'all!

PS - this is right after I dropped my phone in the waterfall:

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Laurel Fork Waterfall - 417 miles

Macon sent this text around 5:30 pm today:  "Hey mom it's Macon on Tater Tot's phone.  Dropped my phone in Laurel Fork Waterfall.... It turns on but isn't really working.  I'll sort it out in Damascus, planning to get in on Sat.  I'll call or email then, love y'all." 

Macon and Monica met up with the group as planned on Monday for the sandwich picnic.  They hadn't planned on SNOW !!  All the hostels were full so they booked a room in a Best Western in Banner Elk, NC.  Monica stayed the night with the hikers and all enjoyed pizza and beer.  Macon called her dad before heading back to the trail on Tuesday.  She's in great spirits -- rested, refreshed, and ready to get back on the trail and hike to Damascus.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Boone, NC

Hello hello! Daystar here in Boone, NC. Monica & her dad picked me up from US19 E yesterday, along with Roadside - he promised his mama that he wouldn't hitchhike and so Mr. Carroll kindly agreed to drop him at the nearby hostel. He then kindly agreed to drop me at the nearby Wendy's. I haven't had fast food in years but on the trail, I've developed a serious hankering for Frostys. Ha after all that, we headed over to their adorable Mountain House (named Appalachian Moonshine) in Boone, NC - where Monica went to college at Appalachian State University. Monica showed me to the shower, where I had my first encounter with girly smelling things in over a month. All my previous showers have been in hostels or cheap motels using whatever shampoo & soap that's around. Monica, bless her heart, took all my dirty, stinky clothes and washed everything while I showered. She let me borrow some COTTON clothes, quite a luxury for someone who's been wearing only quick-dry synthetic materials. She made a mean Mexican macaroni casserole and her dad grilled some turkey burgers and we had a really great dinner. After a long, amazing soak in the hot tub, we threw on some skirts & chacos and went down to the Boone Saloon where I had a Maker's on the rocks & some local IPAs. The Maker's was especially delicious - the past few trail towns have been in dry counties. When we realized Hot Springs had no liquor, we chanted "no bourbon til Erwin" only to arrive in Erwin and realize there was "no bourbon IN Erwin.."

Anyway, the trail is still going really, really well. I'm so fortunate to be hiking with such a great group of people. I hiked ahead of them this week to meet Monica and take a day off here and will catch back up with them on Monday with a big picnic "sandwich party." Hiking without them and being on my own felt good at first, but I've realized that a big part of this experience is sharing it with others. For those who've seen Into the Wild - that was a big part at the end, a quote from Tolstoy that life experiences are meant to be shared with others.

Now that I'm sitting on a computer, I uploaded lots of pictures & videos from my phone that I'm excited to share from a while back:

Easter Sunday we left Gatlinburg and re-entered the Smokeys. One of the first things we saw was Charlie's Bunion, this amazing view. I'm here with the Peace Corps boys - a group of 3 guys that spent the last two years in Peru teaching & setting up programs about Environmental Conservation. They are Wonder, Fresh, and Squiddy (Squiddy started out as School Words, which evolved to Squidward, and then to Squiddy for short).

Tuesday April 10 was our last morning in the Smokeys. We stayed in Davenport Shelter, the last shelter in the Smokeys and also the last to still have a bear cage. Until recently, all the shelters in the Smokeys had the bear cages to protect people & their food. Unfortunately, many really dumb people thought it would be a good idea to FEED the bears through the cage, which attracted even more bears, and teaches them to associate humans with free food - NOT a good idea! They decided to take down the cages and instead provide bear cables, which work great, and you don't feel like you are in a zoo.

There was no real sign indicating that we had left the Smokeys, but I did see a cool old state line carved into a rock. 

Once we were out of the Smokeys, we had to cross I-40, which felt pretty odd. 
Check out the White Blaze under the East 40 sign!
Gribley & Pants on Fire by I-40
Along the trail are lots of cool hostels. I'm starting to realize that beyond the actual TRAIL experience, there is so much beyond the trail. I love seeing small town America and all these cool hostels along the way. They are like little trail attractions that hikers talk about. One of those was Standing Bear Hostel. We didn't stay there, but it was cool to walk over for lunch. Pilgrim, one of the owners, offered me a spaghetti dinner which was awesome! They also provided a small resupply store, which was really adorable & helpful.

Standing Bear
Spaghetti dinner for lunch with a really cute puppy watching me. 
Resupply options
Another shot of the grounds
The guys hanging out 
I LOVED this really beautiful sink & tile
After we left the hostel, we had some big climbs ahead of us, including Snowbird Mountain - a pretty bald with a weird government building:

Loved the pretty yellow flowers
Shot of the building
Flugel Horn, Hollywood, Gribley, Davey Jones, Pac Man & Pants on Fire
The biggest climb of the day, and one of my favorite spots of the whole trail was climbing up Max Patch. We'd left the Smokey's that morning and it was a long day with lots of climbs, but totally worth it hiking up this beautiful bald at the end of the day. My camera on my phone has been fussy when it gets too cold, but luckily I was able to capture this video before the camera froze.

After summiting Max Patch, we hiked down a bit to find a campsite that was pretty but very windy. That night was one of the coldest on the trail - we heard the temperature had dropped down to the 20s. Thankfully, I was plenty warm in my tent & sleeping bag for bed, but in the morning, I stayed in all my warm gear to walk a mile north to a shelter where we warmed up over breakfast. From there, we pushed hard to get into Hot Springs. I have a ton of great pictures but will share those in a separate post.

I'm going to go ahead and sign off for tonight, and hope to write another post in the morning with more. I've had a really incredible day in Boone - Monica and I had a great lunch, I got some new gear at the outfitters (with a nice discount and free purple nalgene for being a thru-hiker!), we resupplied my food at Walmart and will pick up a few more things in the morning. We soaked in the hot tub, and Monica made me a hot foot soak for my tired feet, and I applied some yoga cream from India (like Icy Hot) to my sore knees. I feel like a pampered princess! As happy as I am to be here, I keep thinking of my fellow hikers out on the trail - it's snowing out and I just pray they are safe & warm.

Goodnight y'all!! xo

Friday, April 20, 2012

Erwin to Roan Mt. this week

Erwin Tennessee
We spoke to Macon briefly on Tuesday.  She sounded good after a night in a hiker hostel, some hot food, dry clothes and resupplied.  They hope to make it to Roan Mountain this weekend where she will hook up with Monica again for a visit.  Macon said the line at the lone computer was too long to write a post in Erwin so she will use Monica's computer to write a post sometime this weekend (in Boone).  A few comments during our phone call stood out.  She says that it has been half going up and half going down, and the towns are in the down.  So she resupplies in the towns and has a much heavier pack going up out of the town.  Another thing is that she was told that it is illegal to hitch-hike in Tennessee and they have begun enforcing that ordinance (I guess they need the money) so she is more patient with the shuttles provided.  The trail magic has been prolific, and at times slows them down as they cannot pass up hospitality shown by the providers, so they linger and visit with the people who have made Belgian waffles, cookies, and goodies of all types.  Her group has merged with another group and now there are seven all told. She sounds great and is physically holding up well.  Click on the map below to look at her hike this week. For the most part it follows the AT. I will improve my Google mapping skills.

View Larger Map

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Erwin, Tennessee

Thankfully, we heard from Macon today.  We knew she planned to be in Erwin on Tuesday and now at 9:45 pm, this email just arrived:

Little Engine, Daystar, and Hips
hey hey! i'm in erwin, tn at a hostel. today is officially 4 weeks on the trail for me and so i decided to do my first big 20+ mile day to get into town. all the boys stayed at a shelter 6 miles from town but tatertot and i decided showers & hot food were worth hiking down in the rain for. we got wendys and just let me tell you what all i ate:
bacon cheeseburger
small fries
garden salad
baked potato
small frosty
also fat tire beer, 2 big reses cups, and oreos.

i just took a hot shower, forest gump is on the tv in the hostel, life is good. i'll try to call tomorrow but so far i dont have any service on my cell, but there is a computer here that i'm able to use. the pics that i'm forwarding are from one of the last days in the smokeys (which is spelled with EY at the end, not ies).
View from Mt Crammerer Fire Tower
we did a side trail up to mt. crammerer
rattlesnake !!
 and met a nice ranger who took some of our pics. i actually saved his life by pointing out a rattlesnake!

anyway, hope all is going well at home. talk to y'all tomorrow!
Trailside spring beauties

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Devil Fork Gap

Here's a text from Macon earlier in the day:  "Hey, hey, we're by a road meeting up with friends of new people we're hiking with from Durham.  At Devil Fork Gap, mile 308. I'm great! Should be in Erwin on Tuesday, I think."   Devil Fork Gap is right on the North Carolina and Tennessee border in a remote area.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Hot Springs NC

Hey y'all - Daystar here in Hot Springs, NC. This is the first "trail town" meaning the trail goes directly through the center of town. I took another zero today, feeling a bit guilty since I just took one in Gatlinburg on Saturday, but we've been averaging 17 miles a day the past 4 days so my body is pretty tired, and I can't leave this adorable town just yet! Rather than going through the day by day summaries, I'd like to share some highlights. I'm on an old dell computer in the public library in town so I can't figure out how to upload the photos on this..

Let's see, we left Gatlinburg Easter morning to finish out the Smokeys. As I mentioned, the past few days have been high mile days which are simultaneously exhausting and refreshing. It feels really good & healthy to be pushing my body hard all day, admiring amazing views, scarfing down Ramen noodles as if it were fine NYC food, and heading for bed at 8:30pm to sleep hard for a good 8-10 hours. My day stays busy - we wake up and do our morning camp chores - taking down the bear bags, making breakfast, changing out of long johns to hiking clothes, brushing teeth, packing up all toiletries/clothes/food bags, taking down the tents.. its a lot. I try to be out of camp by 8am, but lately it's been more around 8:45 or so. The actual hiking is probably the calmest, most serene part of my day. My favorite time to hike is the morning - I love admiring the soft lighting as it shines through the trees across the mountains. Sometimes I'll walk with someone and we'll talk about the day or share stories from our lives back home. Usually though no two people go at the same pace so it's a lot of alone time. We run into each other at the good water sources and spend about 10 minutes or so filtering water and resting with our packs off. Sometimes we'll meet up for lunch, and sometimes I find a sunny grassy patch and like lay in the sun and take my shoes off. As I did in the office, I still get a 3pm afternoon slump where I walk slower and generally feel more tired. Around 5pm as the light starts to change again, I perk back up and happily continue on until I get to camp.

Aside from the physical hiking & activities involved with the AT, I really love the community out here. I've met people from all over the country, all different ages, all hiking different hikes, but we are all out here together. We've all hiked the same miles, huffed & puffed uphill, carefully scurried downhill, endured the rainstorms, carried heavy packs... the trail levels everyone in a way that I don't think exists in "normal" society. Ha not to mention all the fun names! Here are a few more of the people I've met: Hollywood, Tatertot, Croc Hunter, Coozie, Corona Sam, Utah Sherpa, Little Engine, Hips, Lighthouse, Chef, Radio, Hashbrown, Packman, Megapixel, Tyvek, Gato, J-Dub, Ranger Steve, Ranger Bill, Pilgrim, Doc, Fresh, Squidy (short for Squidward, which evolved from "School Words"), Wonder, Gator, Magic Mike, Owl, Country, Bones, Mouse, Sapling, Beats, Turtle, Old Blue Eyes, Hungus, Pace, Blues Clues, Ladyfish, Plus Two, Smooth Sailing, Fleetwood, Spools (sometimes called Spooly-D), Strider.. I think that's all I can think of for the moment..

We've had exceptional views this last stretch - from Charlie's Bunion to Max Patch Bald to the Mt. Crammerer Observation Tower.. all these beat Clingman's Dome! Plus we really earned them & no tourists! One exciting moment was on the Mt. Crammerer Tower - we hiked an extra .6mile out there and met a Smokey Mtn Ridgerunner. We chatted with him for a bit and as he was walking down the rocks, I pointed out "look at that big ole snake!" He looked and realized that it was where he was about to step, and it was actually a big rattlesnake - the first I've seen on the trail. Scary but exciting!

Anyway, one fun thing about Hot Springs is that I'm staying in this beautiful Victorian house called Sunnyside Inn, owned by Elmer Hall. It is GORGEOUS, especially for a little antique nerd like me. Tatertot (who happens to be another 27 year old girl out here!) and I split a room last night and are staying again tonight. Elmer cooks organic vegetarian meals and we had the most amazing breakfast this morning - veggie omelets, toast with butter & jam, homemade oatmeal with cream & cantaloupe, and coffee - so delicious! We'll probably get dinner with the boys tonight and then all head out early in the morning. Next stop is Erwin (ps this is a dry country, so we've been saying "No bourbon til Erwin!" and then Roan Mountain. I've hiked the 50 miles from Erwin to Roan Mountain when I was 15 and again when I was 16, but we hiked south, so I'm really looking forward to hike that section again, this time going north and in the spring time.

Still loving life, LOVING the Appalachian Trail, watching as winter gracefully turns into spring, and walking north into the unknown, discovering beautiful bits of America all the way.. 

xo Daystar

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Two Cents on 10%

Bear bags in the cloud
Smokey Mountain vista
A few thoughts, as a parent, based on my infrequent and all too short conversations with Macon thus far on the Appalachian Trail.  Macon is good.  She sounds confident, she is in a great frame of mind, and barring injury should complete the trail.  The first few weeks have been a shake down for the trek.  Missy has met her three times with the re-supply tub (First aid supplies, baggies of all sizes, blank journals, etc).   She bought some hiking poles and a pack rain cover.  The good folks at Rock Creek swapped out the insoles - no questions asked.  She has sent home some of the gear that wasn't likely to be used and has refined her diet some.
Daystar prepares dinner
Macon had a hiking schedule that has become irrelevent  for the most part since Macon now has a rhythm to her day that is proving to work for her.   She wakes up, fixes carbs for breakfast, usually oatmeal.  Then she packs her gear and starts walking until beyond mid-day when she stops for lunch.  This has been a bagel with peanut butter.  She takes off her shoes and socks and rests her feet and body for more than an hour before she commences walking again.  She will find a shelter or campsite in the mid to late afternoon and set up camp.  She says she thought she would have a lot of idle time but she says the various camp chores keep her busy up until bed time just after sunset. The least of which is putting all foodstuffs and anything like toothpaste with a sweet odor in her bear bag. (You can see them hanging from the trees in the picture at the top of this post.)

Tyvek's camp
Mollie's Ridge Shelter
The community is wonderful.  This we have heard on all accounts.  Gribley told Missy that people back home don't understand but everyone on the trail totally gets it, the trek.  This community is like a giant amoeba that morphs as the days and weeks go by as people pass each other, as they sign into the registers at the shelters, as they see each other in the trail towns.  Macon and Missy commented on the number of hikers in Gatlinburg that they both now know. 
Hiker's sign to water
This community has the wonderful added benefit of aliases by trail name.   Gribley, Pants on Fire, Tyvek.  Some are silly like Sherpa, some with a little thought like Davey Jones.  But all these alter egos add to the eccentricity of life on the trail.  Macon has also developed a profound respect for The Boy Scouts of America on this hike.  Both hiking partners are Eagle Scouts; she has a dad two brothers who are Eagle Scouts.  Macon has run into two different Boy Scout troops on the trail and she says they are competent in the woods, considerate in their respect for others and a testimony to a great program for young boys and men. 
Blaze in the fog
Macon says the thru-hikers are respected, but she has developed respect for anybody and everybody out on the trail.   She says she has met people with significant medical impediments but their desire keeps them on the trail when their body is up to it.   She has met many section and weekend hikers who don't have the time for a thru hike but love the trail.  My friend Warren Mowry frequents the trail on weekends.  Because Macon is a thru-hiker, the outfitters are very liberal in their warranty policies because they want happy hikers who endorse their products on the trail and in the towns.

While she has only completed the first ten percent of the trail, better than 217 miles, I feel good that this adventure will turn out well, barring accidents or injury.  I hope you too have loved the photos she takes with her art director eye.  We should have another update from Daystar later at the end of the week when she arrives in Hot Springs, NC. 

Most importantly, Macon is very happy.  She has said that she's living in the present.  She loves all aspects of the trail - the chores, the weather changes, the scenery, her fellow hikers and those she meets on the trail, the actual hiking... it's all good. 

Smokey Mountain AT

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter

Howdy howdy, Daystar here in Gatlinburg with a recap since my last post.
Shuttles buses
at the NOC
Ha! Gatlinburg is quite a place, so glad I came but very ready to get back on the trail. Let's see, when I left off on the last update, I was headed into the NOC (Nantahala Outdoor Center, a week ago. We stayed the night before at the A. Rufus Morgan Shelter, which cracked me up by how proper it sounded. We spoke with British accents and cracked each other up by asking goofy things like: Where are the butlers?

Friday morning we hiked down to the NOC and I finally felt like I was really in the NC I love - green, lush, damp and beautiful. We had a great breakfast and looked into laundry and showers - best things ever!! It was so funny, everyone there was also doing laundry, so all you saw were people walking around in rain gear since everything else was washing (we only have 2 outfits - hiking and sleeping, both get stinky). By the time we finished up it was 3ish. We decided to stay the night at the hostel rather than attempting to hike seven steep miles in the approaching storm. We bought beers and had a jolly, cheerful time. I felt like a cool rock star staying up really late, only to realize that when I went to bed the clock said 9:30... aka hiker midnight (since bedtime is usually around 8 pm when the sun sets).

Saturday morning we headed up and out. Nothing like hiking seven miles straight uphill with a slight hangover haha but we made it to Locust Cove Gap to camp and it was great to be back in the woods.
Sunday morning we got up and hiked down to Stecoah Gap and found some great April Fool's Day trail magic - oatmeal creme pies & coca colas! We hiked the one tough climb of the day - Jacob's Ladder and then on to a campsite for the night.  

Stecoah Gap

Monday morning we hiked down into Fontana Dam (the highest dam in the eastern United States). Gribley started the day off with a bad joke by asking: What did the hikers say after hiking miles down into Fontana? DAM! Haha, so pretty much all day we found an excuse to yell "DAM."
View from top of Fontana Dam
Daystar at Fontana Dam

 We resupplied at an overpriced general store and took a dip in the lake (below).

We filled out our permits for the Smokies and got going.
Pants on Fire, Gribley, and Daystar
Pants on Fire on Fontana Dam
It was crazy to be walking along a real road as part of the AT but we had to physically cross Fontana Dam to get to the Smokies' entrance. 

Those first few miles were TOUGH, and I declared, "The Smokies ain't no jokeys, y'all!" We'd hoped to make it to Mollies Ridge Shelter for the night but were pretty beat and camped at Birch Creek Campsite - the only campsite in the Smokies. Normally hikers are required to stay in the shelters. The site was huge but they had small designated camping spots. We didn't want to be greedy taking up three spots, so Gribley, Pants on Fire, and I put our three tents up in a small space about half the size of a parking spot.
 Ha! it was like a sleepover later in the night because we could just talk through our tents as we were falling asleep.

We got up the next morning (Tuesday) and hiked over to Mollies Ridge for lunch and then onto Russell Field Shelter.
Russell Shelter

 We'd talked about going on to Eagle Creek to the Spence Field Shelter but we saw huge dark, ominous clouds and decided to stay. The heavens broke (video on my facebook page) but it was a really fun night. We shared the shelter with lots of other fun thru-hikers and also a group of Boy Scouts training for Philmont. They were so excited to hear about our hike and shared lots of great food with us. Another group of guys had these teeny tiny Delta playing cards and they taught me a mid-western card game that sounds like "yuko" but it spelled something crazy.

We got up (Wednesday) and decided to do a bigger day - almost 15 miles to the next shelter, Silers Bald. In the morning we hiked up THE Rocky Top!
Topping Rocky Top

 And yes, I was singing, "Good ole Rocky Top, Rocky Top Tennessee" all day. It rained pretty hard again that evening, and I was glad to be in a shelter with a real roof over my head.

The next day (Thursday) we got up and hiked up to Clingman's Dome - the highest point on the entire AT.
Clingman's Dome Observation Tower

Ramp to the Tower

Daystar at Clingman's Dome


The crazy thing though is that a road goes to the top so there were a million tourists, and we were the oddballs out - all stinky with our huge packs. There's a crazy 60's style observation tower that you can walk up, which was kind of pointless since we were totally in a cloud. We had some pretty awesome trail magic - there were about 7 of us sitting down below and a couple saw us and asked, "Do y'all want a beer & some beef jerky?" and we were like YES!! Ha! so we split one beer among all of us and inhaled the jerky. They offered us to come by and tailgate with them. They passed out beers and we had one then, and took one to go. It started to rain, and we concluded being on the tip-top highest point is probably not the best place to be in a storm so we took off for the next shelter. Luckily the rain let up while we hiked, but started back when we got to Mt. Collins Shelter. At 5900 feet it was pretty chilly, and we put our beers out in the rain to cool them.

Friday morning, we hiked down 5 miles to Newfound Gap where we met some trail angels. Mom took us to lunch and got us hooked up at the Grand Prix motel and took off back to Chattanooga. We took showers and divided our clothes into 2 loads - super stinky and medium stinky. For instance, our sox are SUPER stinky and didn't want them to stink up our sleep clothes, which aren't as bad. We got some beers and had a really fun time on the balcony at the motel with all the other hikers staying there. We met up with another group of three guys who spent time in the Peace Corps in Peru. We've been camping with them the past few nights and they are a lot of fun. We all went down to Mellow Mushroom and had pitchers of Sweetwater 420 and 2 large Cosmic Karmas - pretty much my two favorite things at Mellow Mushroom. Afterwards we walked around Gatlinburg which is quite a crazy experience - it's like Myrtle Beach meets Vegas meets Disneyworld but in the mountains.. haha so bizarre! We got Pete's pink hat that he found on the trail airbrushed with "FRESH" - a word those boys always use to describe things (jokingly). We then went to a local brewery where there was an Elvis impersonator singing 80's hits and had a bit too much fun. The "encore" was "When I come around" by Greenday. Ha Ha the total randomness of the evening delighted me to no end.

Yesterday (Saturday) we got up and did "full pack explosion" - took everything out of the packs, dried it off, decided if things were necessary or not - an overall pack re-organization.

Pack explosion

Hiker's sink

We headed down to Food City to re-supply. I'm still getting the hang of the food thing, but I'm glad for my purchases. Breakfast is usually oatmeal & tea. Lunch is bagels with peanut butter or cheese. Dinner is Ramen with a tuna packet stirred in or a scoop of peanut butter (like Thai food!). Snacks this go are goldfish & granola with peanut M&M's.
Food for this week

                                                         Anyway, I also got a silk sarong to have something to wear in town. The boys I'm with grew up in the Catholic church and I joined them at a local church for the Saturday night Easter Vigil. It was so adorable - a small parish about the same size as the small Episcopal church I grew up going to. It was fumbly and quirky and nothing was quite perfect and I loved every second - I love the small town personality of things like that. When we were outside lighting the fire to light the Pascal candle, a truck was parked across the street blasting bluegrass music and I was thinking, yep - this is about right. After the service we had burgers & beer and headed to bed. Lots of tired hikers ready to get back to our reality.

Got up this morning (Easter Sunday) to get packed up and write this post. There's a couple of "trail angels" that offer shuttles back to the trail and they arrive soon so I need to get a move on it. Thanks for reading! If anyone has any questions they want me to address, just leave a comment! I don't have great service on the trail, but I'll try to send an update from Hot Springs, NC in a few days.

Happy Easter! Daystar

Friday, April 6, 2012


This is Macon's mom with an update on meeting up with "Daystar" in Gatlinburg.  I found her around noon at Newfound Gap on US 441, the only road crossing along the Trail in the Smokies.  Gorgeous, cool spring day with bumper-to-bumper traffic for miles.  Macon and her two hiking buddies declined the offer to return to Chattanooga for a couple of nights.  They piled in and off we went in search of lodging for the night.  We called and booked the last vacant room at the Grand Prix Hotel, close to the national park and on the edge of town.  Then, off to lunch where each hiker wrote a post for the blog.
Lots of pictures will be posted tomorrow. 

Macon, "Daystar":  Just had an amazing salad and an Appalachian Pale Ale at the Smoky Mountain Brewery. So great to have some real food after many nights of Ramen and peanut butter.  In the fine town of Gatlinburg.  I've never been here before and it's quite a sight.  Looking forward to the "Nero" (near zero) today.  We walked 5 miles this morning and met some great trail angels who had sandwiches, Oreos, and Cokes.  Mom checked us into the hotel and took us out to lunch.  Later we'll shower, do laundry, and run to the grocery store to resupply.  Tomorrow will be the first true "zero" - total relaxation.  Sunday morning we'll hitch or shuttle back to the trail - excited to finish the Smokies!!

Pants-on-Fire (First let me explain this hiker's trail name.  So, I asked, "Patrick, how did you get your name?"  It's certainly easy to imagine different scenarios for such a name.  He said that someone on the trail asked him his name... to which he responded, "Pat-so-far."  The person said, "Pants on Fire"?  So, "Pants-on-Fire" it is.):  Pants-on-Fire here checking in on Daystar's blog for the first time.  The community out here on the trail is magical.  Everyone we meet has experienced similar trials such as rain, hail, blisters, hunger, and the miles of hiking.   I believe most are having fun still.  I am definitely having fun.  We wake up every day and hike and we are loving it.

Gribley (His name is based on the character in My Side of the Mountain.  Sam Gribley runs away and learns to survive in the woods): I've been hiking with Daystar for about a week now and it has been great.  It seems so crazy that we have hiked 200 miles in three different states in under three weeks.  There's been rain, blisters, and some annoying biting flies to deal with but that's all a small price for the panoramic views of sprawling mountains, sunsets at 5500' in the Smoky Mountains, and an awesome albeit windy night on an observation tower looking down on the lights of a city in a valley below.  We are living in the woods now and loving it.  I can't wait to see all the next 2000 miles have in store.