I did not want to stop in Gatlinburg. I am one of those hikers who wanted to plow through the Smokies and be done with them. Don’t get me wrong… the Smokies are absolutely beautiful, but I didn’t want to have to deal with cold, wet, icy or snowy weather. I know my equipment does not keep me warm in temperatures below 30 degrees.
When I got the message from Bud that there was a chance of ice and snow at the upper elevations, I knew I needed to get down the mountain and get off the trail. A friend had sent me pictures of hikers in thigh-high snow in the Smokies just a few short weeks ago!
I had been told that a shuttle (run by the Baptist Church) stopped in the parking lot at Clingman’s Dome and 9:30 and Noon. This was an unexpected surprise. I had thought I would need to hike another 8-9 miles to o Newfound Gap in order to hitch a ride to Gatlinburg. I was determined to get on that 9:30 shuttle. I didn’t want to miss it, because Bud said the front was to pass through midday. You have to keep in mind that the weather in Gatlinburg is not the weather they are having at the higher elevations. Even at our Boston/Ozark mountains at home, we will have not gotten snow, and then leave for town and see the higher mountain tops covered in snow!
I didn’t sleep well. I heard the rain pounding the roof of the shelter all night long, and I wondered if it would stop by morning. Finally, before the sun was up, the rain stopped. At 6:30, I started crunching things into my backpack when I heard another person doing the same. I think it was Cado (short for Avocado) who has been landing at the same shelters as I have. He is a fast hiker and an early bird! He is a bartender in the Montrose area of Houston. I am the first person from Houston area that he has met out here. We agree that Niko Niko’s out his way is one of the most awesome places to eat!
I was on my way by 7:00 a.m. It was an uphill climb to Clingman’s Dome, which is the highest point on the A.T. (Someone correct me if I am wrong on this.) I couldn’t see anything in the distance for the fog. There were puddles of water on the trail and water streaming down the rocky parts of the trail. This was the first time my shoes had gotten wet enough to get my socks wet.
I made it to the parking lot with 45 minutes to spare. It was foggy, windy and cold, and the wait seemed like an eternity! Hikers can keep warm in extreme temps by keeping moving. Sometimes we even sweat in very cold temps. When you have to stand around in the cold, you are a sitting duck. At some point, Cado appeared out of nowhere to ask about the shuttle. I later learned that he had sought refuge from the wind in a vault toilet. I have to admit that I had thought about doing the same!
Finally, the shuttle arrived, and on time. I had not taken the time to eat breakfast that morning, nor have my coffee. I figured I would get something in town. I did not warm up in the van. I guess the driver was warm enough. He made several stops on the way down the mountain to see if any hikers needed a shuttle. We only picked up one other guy.
I was worried about the other hikers. One lady at the shelter had decided to continue hiking over the highest peak. There is another young lady named Savannah I have been leap-frogging with since the NOC. She left Fontana Dam with only two days of food. She is a vegetarian and does not even do dairy. She is sending herself mail drops, and had one waiting in Gatlinburg. She had pushed on the night I stopped at the shelter with a fireplace hoping to get to Newfound Gap to hitch a ride to Gatlinburg. This day would have been her third day in the Smokies (i.e. No food on this day.) When the shuttle stopped at Newfound Gap, I was hoping to see her there. We waited there for a while, but no Savannah.
When we got to the outfitter where the shuttle dropped us off, the driver mentioned that he had a message on his phone that they had shut down the road up to the Mountain due to the weather. That meant that unless those people waiting for the Noon shuttle hitched a ride down, they were stuck up there! Again, a prayer of thanks that I had made it down off the mountain brushed past my lips.
It was misty and cold in Gatlinburg when I got there. I knew nothing about Gatlinburg except that it is a tourist trap. I didn’t expect to see so many people! It was so people-y! I couldn’t believe how many people were out in the nasty weather…hoards of them. There were crowds at every stoplight waiting to cross! This place reminds me a lot of Branson, MO. I noticed a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, and lots of places to eat. Other than that, I was focused on finding my motel and getting out of the weather. I was chilled to the bone!
I had sent an Inreach message to Bud to please make a reservation at any hotel. When the weather turns bad, motels fill up quickly in trail towns. Add to that, this is apparently a hot place to be! I had no idea.
When I found my hotel, it was approaching lunchtime, and I had not eaten anything that day. My metabolism and hiker hunger have already kicked in, too.
When I got to the hotel, the first thing I did was get out of damp, stinky clothes and take a long, hot shower! I also washed some of my clothes in the sink. I had seen some great looking coupons in the lobby offering incredible deals on pizza. I spent too much time trying to find one of these pizza places that would deliver to my hotel. I just wanted to hunker down in my motel room for the rest of the night. The only coupon I had for a place that delivered was not such a great deal when it was all said and done. By this time, I had my heart set on the taste of pizza, so I decided to carry out a pizza from a local joint I had seen close by.
It took a long time. The place was packed with people and different noisy pinball type games. I watched the girl make my 13 inch pizza and salivated as the yeasty pizza smells hit my nose! I made a beeline up the hill to my hotel with my pizza carton, as the scent from the pizza carton wafted up to me. I was salivating! I put my pizza in the room, ran down to the ice machine with my little bucket. The ice crackled as I poured my Pepsi over it. I was shaking as I finally ate my first meal of the day. I had intended to save half of the pizza for lunch the next day, but before I knew it, I had eaten the whole thing. I was not stuffed, either! It was the only time thing I ate that day (except for that bag of Fritos I ate when I woke up after midnight last night with a gnawing in my stomach. I was wide awake! I was craving Fritos at Fontana Dam, but the General Store didn’t have any Frito Lay products!)
I’m taking a zero today. I was so stressed, dirty, tired and sore when I got here. I feel like I need one. I was also worried that the shuttle might not be running today. I had the continental breakfast when I first woke up at 6:30. A couple of hours later I went to Dunkin Donuts for some good coffee (and a few donuts.) Hey I’m just being honest and ‘fessing up! Food only lasts a few hours a in a hiker’s gut! I had been craving Dunkin Donuts since the morning before when Cado mentioned there was one here!
It is quite cold, but sunny day his morning in Gatlinburg. I can see clouds over some mountains in the distance and snow on others. I am switching hotels today for my zero. Everything was booked when Bud made my reservation and I’m moving later today to a much less expensive motel for my zero day.
If you feel so inclined, I would appreciate a prayer for Savannah. She is a very sweet and quiet ’20-something’ and I’m worried about her. She was a firefighter of wildfires in Montana and Idaho before she started hiking, so I know she is tough…but anyone can find themselves in trouble out on the trail due to the unexpected and unknown.
I’ll try to take some pics of the town later!
Until next week time….