What a day for a hike! Blessed with a beautiful sunny Sunday, I covered 17.9 miles for my longest day so far. But before I comment on the particulars of today, I want to add some info regarding last night. My evening at the Hike Inn was truly memorable.
Nancy, Jeff’s wife, drove Rocket, Whiskers, Piddling Around, and me to Robbinsville for a meal and re-supply for the Smokies. I shared a table at a Mexican restaurant with Piddling Around, a retired postal worker from near Wadley, AL. When I was about finished with my meal I experienced a wonderful surprise. Into the restaurant walked Prayerwalker and her husband Nick. Prayerwalker, a member of the trail journals community, and I have been corresponding since late last year. We had discussed where we might meet on the trail, but at a eating establishment outside Stecoah Gap was never a consideration. I think the excitement over finally meeting was mutual.
After arriving back at the Inn, I was finally able to watch a Braves game on TV. When the Braves rallied for the walk off win, I texted Brent and Sam to share in the victory. On so many occasions when the Braves won with ninth inning heroics, Don and I would replay the last inning over the phone. I even was able to watch some of the Final Four. It was a special ending to the day.
Today at 7:30 Nancy drove Rocket, Whiskers, and me back to the dam. They were starting at the visitors center; however, since I had ended my hike yesterday at the marina, I had a little over a mile to cover to get to the dam. When I did got there, Piddling Around had just arrived, so we hiked together over the Fontana Dam and into the Great Smokey Mountain National Park, the most visited park in the US and the one with the greatest black near population. We hiked together for a mile or so, but then I pulled ahead.
Once again, my legs felt fresh all day. Even though the climb up to the ridge ascended over 3000 feet, ample switchbacks afforded a comfortable ascent. I stopped to rest briefly twice, but waited until I found a comfortable tree to sit on to have my lunch. While I was enjoying a Subway melt that I has brought from Robbinsville, I realized that I had a cell signal, so I called Linda. Then I hiked on strongly for the remainder of the afternoon.
Not until after lunch did I see any other hikers. Johnny, a southbound section hiker from Chattanooga, stopped for a brief chat. Shortly thereafter I met a ridge runner, Carl or Greybeard, who gave me some information on available spots in shelters. While we were talking, I noticed two trail maintainers headed toward me. One said, “hey, it’s Don’s Brother.” It was Hopeful that I had met my first day on the trail. His fellow worker was Amy. You just never know who you’re going to meet on the trail.
For the remainder of the afternoon I saw no one else until I reached Mollie’s Ridge shelter. Walker T was taking a break for lunch. I retrieved some water from a spring behind the shelter before moving on up the trail. When I arrived at the Russell Field shelter, Whiskers and Rocket were there and going to stay the night. I rested for a bit, but then decided to hike on. Kind of like Forrest Gump, I just felt like hiking. A re-broadcast of The Prairie Home Companion escorted me to the next shelter where I arrived before 5:00. Garrison Keillor was at the Town Hall on W43rd St in Manhattan.
When I arrived at the Spence Field shelter, Zeus already had a fire blazing. Also there were two other hikers I had not met, Double Dare and Spicoli. Also here tonight are Grinch, Kermit, Head Bones, Molar Man, and Piddling Around.
Well, it’s been another remarkable day on the trail. I did big miles, met some more new hikers, and have a good spot in the shelter tonight. Tomorrow I have two options. I’ll probably choose the shorter one. So after the first day in the Smokies, all remains well on the Appalachian Trail.