Pecks Corner Shelter to mile 239.5, tenting – 22.3 miles
What a frigid morning! I am not excited to get out of my bag in the dark, damp, cold of the shelter. I let the air from my pad and then lie there for about 10 minutes. Usually releasing my air mattress at the sound of my alarm is a sure way to get up in no time. I finally squeeze out of my bag into the cold darkness, peel off my warm dry base layer and pull on my cold wet shirt, cold wet socks, cold wet fleece, cold wet shoes, cold wet gaiters, cold wet fleece gloves, cold wet rain gear, and cold wet shell mittens. With the temperature hovering a few degrees above freezing, it is a race to get moving in order to get warmed up.
After about 45 minutes of hiking I can finally feel my fingers again. The weather is cold and wet. The temperature is just above freezing for about half the day. The trees are frozen and the wind is howling. The trail is still very wet and very muddy with water flowing everywhere.
I come upon a Ridge Runner, heading south. He stops to make sure I have a permit. After talking a little, it turns out I don’t have the permit with me, but only the receipt from the online purchase, which I had made before leaving home. He doesn’t make me dig it out of my pack, but just asks if I can be out of the park today, just to avoid any problems with the rangers. No problem. We end up chatting for a few minutes about ultramarathons, mileage, my awesome wife letting me come out here with two little ones at home, etc. He just wants to keep talking and I want to get moving again because I’m starting to lose heat standing here in the cold.
About noon, the trail starts dropping in elevation, leaving the wet, dark, mossy forest and entering the dry, leaf covered ground of hardwood forest again. After leaving the clouds, the views are for miles. There are only glimpses of sun and then about 3 PM, I can see my shadow for good. Since the day is finally nice and I am full of food, I am cruising. Nearing the exit of the park, I cover one mile in 16 minutes. I was planning to stay at the last shelter in the Smoky Mountains, but when I get there about 4 PM, it is empty (unusual) and kind of rundown and nasty, so I decide to cruise to the next tent spot I can find outside the park. And I remember I told the Ridge Runner I’d leave the park today anyway. Within a mile I am out of the park (which is probably what most people do, rather than stay at that shelter just inside the boundary).
I go a few miles further, where I see a hiker setting up his tent, down a slope near the stream. I call to him to see if he minds if I tent here too. His name is Stitch. He’s from Ohio and his ex-wife lives in Hagerstown with their daughter. When he had told her he was planning to take some time off when he gets there, she was confused why he’d go so far out of his way, not knowing the trail goes right by town!
It feels good to finally be out of the wet, cold, windy Smoky Mountains. Hopefully the weather will be nice again. I talk to Lindsay and Ryder! Ryder misses me. “My Dada, my Dada,” he says.
My socks are potent! I need to figure out when to do laundry, but I don’t want to blow a day in town. With just two days of food, meaning a light pack, I should be able to cruise to Hot Springs, NC. Lindsay told me that Debbie will meet me Saturday evening in Tennessee, so I need to cover some (lots of) miles to get to a road crossing. She will be bringing me some supplies, which I’m looking forward too. Plus, I can send some things home.
For dinner, I have a double serving of Mountain House Noodles with Chicken and dump a three cup serving of Cup o Noodles into the pouch as well and add 16 ounces of boiling stream water. There is no broth, but like 5 pounds of hot noodles. It is so much; it’s ridiculous. But so good! Never have I eaten such a huge quantity of noodle soup before and I doubt this will (can) ever be repeated.
Engineering on the AT: Retaining wall in GSMNP
Tenting a few miles north of GSMNP