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..