I was up early and organized, ready to go in less than an hour. The air was thick with humidity. This air chilled me; it being early morning with the sun still hiding behind the mountains.
The shelter still did not stir but I saw six pairs of feet tucked away in mummy bags as I left Cable Gap Shelter.
The landscape of the 7 miles of trail stood out to me with its ruggedness. Grey stone rock covered the trail in spots and outcropping of the same color lined the trail. These 7 miles to Fontana went by quick, but were slick and near technical. I tripped and nearly fell flat to my face if I had not caught myself with both hands as if engaging a push up position. Also I remember an instant of having to shimmy sideways along one rock wall to stay on trail or tumble off. I have had people ask me what physical requirements are needed to hike the AT and the only two I would say is balance and the ability do a burpee. If you don’t have these physical traits it is unsafe to hike the AT.
At NC 28 there was a vending machine as well as a phone to call a shuttle to the general store. I needed to resupply because I didn’t at the NOC. First I walked in to the bait shop at Fontana Lake, got a snack, and tried to resupply but the bait shop didn’t have enough. So I called the shuttle to take me to Fontana Village (2 miles off trail.)
While waiting I noticed a lot of Z-Cars traveling down the road and would latter find out that Fontana is a driving destination, and holds many driving club events. The week before was a Mini Cooper convention.
My shuttle driver was a young man of 19 who worked seasonally at Fontana on the yard crew. I could relate, being a seasonal resort worker myself. I tipped him well when dropped off at the General store and he returned to weed whacking.
The general store at Fontana had everything I needed. I bought up 5 days’ worth of food to get me through the Smokys which I planned to enter after my resupply. I was going to make it to Davenport Gap 4 day that way I could meet up with my Aunt and Uncle for a day in Ashville NC. I had agreed to this earlier and would let them know my exact plan of arrival at Newfound Gap, so I bought the extra day’s worth of food so if our schedules didn’t match I would be able to camp an extra day.
On top of my resupply I bought some bananas and ice cream to enjoy on the porch of the general store. I later planed on getting pizza at the Fontana Pit Stop (a gas station that sold food) after I found the ATM at the Fontana Lodge.
A couple came to the porch hauling 2 packs they were too clean to be thru-hikers I thought, and assumed them to be day-hikers over packing for their outing from a hotel room. (I was feeling arrogant this day.) They ignored me and went in the general store, but were soon to come out and joined me on the porch with their own ice cream.
“You a thru-hiker?” the man asked he was really tall (6’4) and had a full blondish beard and his smile showed in his voice.
“Yeah, how about y’all” I said smirking.
“Sure are I’m Quiet.”
“And I’m Twister.” The Woman said.
“Cool, I guess I’m Joedirt but just got that at the NOC, not sure if it’s going to stick.”
“Awesome, Joedirt, how many days ago was that?”
I was hoping and waiting for this question.
“Just the other day. I went from the NOC to Cable Gap shelter and now I’m hear about to go into the Smokys.”
“Sweet we just finished zeroing here today, It’s good to meet someone at our pace.” Twister said in a way to congratulate. And I felt a little humbled.
“Hell yeah we’ve been passing hikers like crazy, kind of made it a challenge, but it’ll be good to have someone around for a while.” Quiet said still with a smile.
“Yeah, I plan to make it to Mollies today. Then just three more days to Davenport Gap.”
“Nice, we plan to go through the Smokys pretty quick too, they can be pretty miserable.”
“That’s what I heard, also been told that it takes more than a week to get through.”
“To do 80miles, who told you that?” Twister asked.
“Sir Packs a’lot.”
“The guy at the Top of Georgia? He’s full of shit.” Quiet said.
I was glad to find someone who shared my dislike for Sir Packs A’lot, and looked forward to seeing them at Mollies. By the time they headed for the trail I learned that Quiet had previously hiked the AT and that both him and Twister had hiked the PCT and Arizona Trail. (They meet on the PCT.)
After they left I headed to the lodge to find the ATM passing a parking lot full of Z-cars fully decked out and surrounded by pin-ups. I attracted my share of attention and my ego was stroked more and more with each question and remark. I came away feeling overly confident in myself and proud, and I left Fontana Village with a full belly some cash and needing a good ass kicking. I wouldn’t get the ass kicking but by the end of the day I would be reminded of how inexperienced I was.
The Dam itself was bigger than I was expecting and the trail went right over it. (it is the biggest Dam on the Eastern sea board.) Some where there was a shower room that I planned on using but did not see it at first glance so I passed on un-showered. Across the dam I saw the sign that welcomed me into the Smokys. I was smiling with confidence ready to prove Sir Packs a’lot wrong. I saw a white mark ahead of me, (not a white blaze.) This led me down the BMT.
I zoned out for 3-5 miles assuming I was still on the AT. I don’t know how I assumed this, (there was not near enough elevation gain,) just pride that would be shattered when I stopped and reviewed my AWOL.
When I realized I had gone the wrong way I threw my AWOL to the ground snarled curses to myself. All I could do though was shoulder my pack again and back track. An hour of seeing the same uninteresting wooded surroundings of the BMT made my pride limp but I hustled physically.
At the actual internes to the Smokys I was knocked back even further when I realized a pen was not provided to fill out the permit, and that I had dropped mine. So there was more back tracking this time back over the dam exposed in the baking sun over the asphalt.
I could see a hiker coming towards me through the heat haze and recognized him as the guy I meet on Cheoah Bald.
“Hope, you got a pen,” I greeted him.
“Why.” He answered with the same confident smile I had had going northbound over this dam.
“There’s not one provided.”
Neither of us let off from our strides and passed each other. I murmured under my breath, “Fucking Prick” and was angry that he was entering the Smokys before me. Between the sun my anger and the sound of the rushing water going through the dam I lost the will to continue hiking that day. And when I found that the visitor center was closed and I would not be able to barrow a pen I decided to stop and stay the night at the Fontana Hilton an AT shelter at the dam.
It was 4pm and only a mother and daughter were at the shelter. The mother said there were more coming but they went to the village to get supplies for a party. When the party showed up I found out it was a getting off trail party as everyone at the shelter was calling it quits. They all talked of how hard the trail was, some were depressed being away from loved ones; they all missed feeling clean. So this was a big celebration for them all. I didn’t like it and it was upsetting to me. I now realized that there was nothing wrong with this since they all had happy lives to live off the trail and hiking these 166 miles lead them to appreciate it.
I drank with them accepting two lite beers, which got me buzzed. Then out of the trail came 4 Europeans with one local. The Europeans were hikers and had just finished a 20 mile day the local was showing them where the shower room was at the dam and I went with them. The shower room was one big communal shower that offered no privacy like a high school locker room. The Europeans were comfortable with this, me being American It was a little weird, but being on the trail you learn to lose a little modesty.
Once clean we all dried in the sun. (Clothed!) The local passed around a bowl, as the sun was setting. I watched Old Glory fly in the red hues of the fading light, and could faintly hear the rushing water. I was not angry or prideful I enjoyed the company around me, and answered questions the Europeans had about America, but feed them lies about myself and the reasons for being on the trail.
Storms where building over the Smokys but it was a clear night at the Fontana Hilton. I had no trouble falling asleep with the laughter of the party. I set my alarm of 5 and had everything organized for easy packing in the morning. I knew the next day I would get wet but was ready for it. I said a prayer for strength before falling asleep, and this prayer led into a prayer for humility and to live for actions not words or thoughts.