When the first hint of daylight crept through the skylight of the shelter, I quietly exited my top floor accommodations as rapidly as possible. Piddling Around was having some breakfast before being the first out of camp. I ate two oatmeal pies and drank as much water as I could hold before following Piddling on up the trail. Having perused today’s terrain in my Thru Hiker’s AT Guide last night, I was looking forward to a very comfortable last day in the Smokies.
Like the Guide had indicated, today’s trail was among the easiest. What I was not expecting, however, was more ice. Although not for any long stretches, on several occasions I had to slow down considerably and navigate around or over very dangerous areas. I fell once when I stepped on what I thought was a safe place to step, that proved otherwise. Still, I quickly recovered, paying even more attention to where I stepped. Many times I was able to step on the footfall of a previous hiker, which allowed me to get a good pace going.
As I hiked throughout the morning, I saw only one southbound section hiker, 8 iron, from Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Breeze and Windy passed me before noon as did the trio of Gumby, Riley (now Wiki), and Ryan. These young men all hike at a faster pace than the “old guy.” When Breeze and Windy came by, I was stopped at the site of an old airplane crash. A small piece of twisted metal is still visible just off the trail.
Hiking strongly, I arrived at the Crosby Knob shelter, where I planned to stop for lunch, at around 11:30. All the hikers who had passed me were there having lunch as well. I only stayed briefly, wanting to get to Davenport Gap before 3:00 where one of my old cross-country runners from Shaw was going to pick me up.
So after a brief climb of about 800 feet after the shelter, the remainder of today’s hike was downhill. I met one other hiker heading south in the afternoon, Nick, who had recently moved to the area from Montana. Just after passing Say What, a hiker about my age who apparently had left the shelter this morning even before Piddling, I spotted a runner in a gold T-shirt headed up the trail toward me. “Hey, Coach!” my former student athlete and now good friend Brad Dodson shouted. Brad lives outside Waynesville, NC and often runs with friends on the AT. Today, however, he was combining a run with driving a weary hiker to a room at Lake Junaluska for the night. A very talented potter, Brad has a pottery studio, Muddabbers, just off the parkway and also does a little cross-country and track coaching himself.
As I reached Davenport Gap I could officially say goodbye to the Smokies. The views have been spectacular, and I could not have had better weather for enjoying them. So now I’m about to partake of dinner with Brad and his oldest daughter Cora, before getting a restful night’s sleep. Tomorrow I plan to slack pack to Max Patch where Brad will again meet me.
Today was another day when I paused often to think about my brother and just how much enjoyment he too would be getting from these mountains. It was again a day that allowed me hours of solitude for memories and reflection. And it was also yet another day on the Appalachian Trail when I thought again how much I loved my brother and how much Don loved the woods.