One of the new things we wanted to try on this leg of the journey is not cooking for our breakfast (we ate meat sticks and cheese). At the very least, we got a faster start in the morning from the cold breakfast. In positive news, Emily didn't need to wrap every one of her leg joints with every brace available to mankind.
Today was to be the day we were going to pass over Fontana Dam and into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park! Most people stop at the Fontana Dam resort, but we were eager to get going and get into Smoky Mountains. We met a couple of new hikers, Hobbes and Bombadil, a brother sister team hiking the trail. Anyone with those trail names has got to be awesome, but they were stopping in Fontana so hopefully we will have a chance to confirm their coolness later.
Also, at Fontana Dam shuttle stop we met Skipper again. While we were breaking with Piper and De, the juggernaut had pushed on passed us. He was looking forward to a day in Fontana, but even more so to family time in Gatlinburg, where his wife and family would be meeting him. Since, as he put it, someone would have to drag him off the trail, he will certainly push on, pain and all, to Gatlinburg soon.
We said bye, and see you soon, to Skipper, and pushed over the beautiful Fontana Dam (note, we are sad to have discovered later that all the photos taken of this area and all the days perviously disappeared from the camera. So Em is starting over photographically speaking. Tears were she'd but she is moving on.)
We ran into a laminated sign and a pair of old hiking boots filled with small rocks during our hike toward the Smokies. The sign read that a man named James had always dreamed of hiking the Appalichian Trail but only was able to hike a few hundred miles before dying of stage IV pancreatic cancer. The sign asked that any interested thru hikers take a rock out of James' boots and carry it with them to Katahdin. We now are both carrying rocks for James.
The Smokies start just over the dam. Walking along sidewalks and roads seemed to make us overconfident and soon the initial inclines of the Smokies started. There was a nipple, as we have been calling the sudden horrible hills and mountains along the trail, as photo evidence reveals:
After the violent uphills, we were running low on water. We stopped at Birch Gap Campsite to pump some water. While getting water, Emily chatted with a weekend backpacker, Kristen (spelling?). She told us that, when the trail is over, we should definitely move to Asheville.
One immense negative for thru hikers about the Smokies is that, one is only supposed to stay at shelters. We were aiming for Mollie's Ridge Shelter, but we didn't leave Birch Gap until 6:30pm and we had five miles to go. We managed 2.2 miles in 40 minutes, but the remaining 2.8 miles managed to take 80 minutes despite being half downhill and over easier terrain. Spatial dilation, man, spatial dilation.
We made it to the shelter at around 8:30, just as the Sun was setting, ate a cold dinner, and met Nick "Master Splinter," a ridge runner in the area. This dude was great! He gave us some simple health reminders, asked us if we needed anything, and was just a general morale booster after a seriously long day. He promised to teach us the PCT bear bag method the following day, whatever that means
Yes we made it to the Smokies!