March 30, 2004
Miles To Go
March 30, 2004
Miles To Go
Ok, so in yesterday’s journal entry I mentioned a bit of rain at the end of the hike. That was just a bit of dampness so today’s entry dwarfs that one! It seems that my stiff-legged walking style has caused some severe shin splints in my right leg. The last 5 miles today were pretty ugly.
Let’s take it back to the beginning when we woke up to poring rain and wind. It had started around 2:30am and continued through 15 minutes after we left the shelter. You might think “well, if you’d waited 15 minutes longer before hiking…” and you’d be right. And wrong. Mostly wrong, because that “the rain is going to stop and then I can hike” mentality leads to lots of time laying around and not hiking. It is amazing how you can psych yourself out when the day’s going to be wet and miserable, though. Then the rain stops, the fog lifts a bit, and it’s wonderful walking!
We summited Clingman’s Dome in some blowing fog—there’s a cool tower on top, I think. It was kind of lost in the fog today! But it was at 6,634 ft and now it’s all downhill from here! This is the highest point on the entire Appalachian Trail!
The Smokies have been pretty cool with lots of different environments: Rhododendron groves, grassy balds, evergreen thickets, and beech forests. Today we walked over a lot of small streams that crossed the trail. The wild hogs that are invasive and hunted in the park have dug up huge stretches of terrain. They grow up to 500+ pounds and are one of the reasons hikers are not allowed to hike at night in the park. The 2,000 black bears in the park are the other reason, but we have yet to see either.
The worst part of the park is that we have to stay in shelters. I would have loved to set up camp after 10 or 11 miles today, but the next shelter wasn’t until the the 15.5 mile mark. That translated to 5 miles of teeth-gritting pain, unfortunately! The funny thing was that I came upon Newfound Gap during this stretch.
Now this is the major road in the park and the area was full of cars, tourists, little kids—and me! Many of them were taking their short strolls on the trail before retreating to their cars. They were clean. Bright and shiny, sparkling clean. Many of the women were wearing perfume. And my sense of smell has vastly improved out here, likely due to my sinuses clearing out. So they’d walk by and blow my mind with these incredible smells! And me? I have 3 weeks of beard, I’m covered in mud, stinky and my eyes are undoubtedly wild with the pain I’m trying to control. “Look honey – there’s a thru-hiker! Quick! Hide the children before he eats them!” I was not at my conversational best and was massively taken aback by the crowds. Probably not my best diplomatic moments but I did add to the thru-hiker mythology!
We’re camping tonight with 4 section hikers, Iron Lion, Chris, Chris & Ana as well as Rockhound and the Jaybirds. D & I have been with the Jaybirds for newly 2 weeks now. Rob & Robin sold their home in Maine, quit their jobs, and are great company on the trial.
7:30pm, bedtime for another dark, 10-hour night…