Since we did make it to Stecoah Gap the night before, there was nothing for us to do before our meet up with De and Piper than to relax. While catching up on reading and writing we ran into some day hikers. The energetic and super kind Pat and Owen Mcconnell and their neighbors the Eason family (from Durham). Christine, the mother of the Eason girls, Evelyn and Autumn, mentioned that Owen had written a book all about the Unicoi area (which we were now just at the edge of). The Eastons were receiving some first hand mushroom and bird hunting help from the Mcconnels.
We wished we had checked the book out before the hike. It's a natural history of the area and called Unicoi Unity. For foragers on the trail, it sounds like a perfect test since it's filled with photos and wonderful descriptions of local fungi (as well as wildlife). Owen also gave us some wild tales about bears in the Smoky Mountains and some Unicoi factoids. For instance, Unicoi comes from the Cherokee word Unegahe where Unega means white and he is a word usually used to denote a place.
Pat also shared a bit of her cancer story with us. Apparently, reading books about the AT got her through her battle. At her young age of... we can't recall, it might have been in the seventies or eighties but based on her energy probably more likely her in twenties. The trail allows us to strike up conversations with some remarkable people.
Before heading off for lunch, we shared our trail names with them. Tyler got an adorable hug from Evelyn, who was hopefully not scared for life by backpacker smell. She gave Emily a glittery rock she had found on her nature walk. Emily is now carrying Eveyln's rock to Maine.
After that great conversation, we packed up our stuff and awaited Piper and De who were supposed to be by at around 3. Indeed, they were and a most joyful reunion was made.
Before heading to Gatlinburg with them, we asked them to help us pick up our phone which we had shipped to a nearby lodging. As a hiker having friends with a car means you have to ask them for a lot of favors. Unfortunately, the cabin no longer offered maildrops but the Thru Hikers Companion was not up to date. We would have called first but getting a warranty phone last minute after an hour of tech support meant our brains weren't working too well. The owner of the cabin, though, graciously made arrangements for her friend to pick up the package. After some logistical hula hoops, we set up a meeting point back at Stecoah Gap after our day in Gatlinburg.
We headed out to the timeshare hotel just outside Pigeon Forge. Pigeon Forge is also bizarre, but we'll get to that in the next post. We got Emily some new shoes (another driving favor) to try and help her poor blistered heels and toes. Billy, codenamed Duke, at NOC in Gatlinburg was awesome. He measured her feet and pointed out that her previous shoes were probably at least a size too big. So he told her that she needs a kid's shoe. He found her a sweet pair of shoes that look like a dinosaur.
"I'm afraid you don't have a woman's foot."
-Billy to Emily
Finally, we got some delicious greasy food at something something Backalley BBQ, ice cream at a local ice cream shop, then hung out with De and Piper back at the hotel.
Turns out, they are still the greatest. Whenever we are with then our hearts feel whole.
Also, we would be total jerks if we didn't mention Piper's mom, Pam Robbins. She sent the care package to end all care packages with Piper and De. We literally had to buy almost nothing for this resupply since we had become so we'll well stocked with snacks, meat sticks, jerky, dried fruits, and hot cocoa. The selections were so good we think she might be a secret thru hiker but she is, most assuredly, a trail angel.
Special thank you to De and Piper for their love and support and putting up with our annoying errands.
*For Evelyn if she sees this