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Published: December 10th 2008
For whatever reason, Andy and I really enjoy getting ourselves into a big push to finish whatever trail we are traveling. And this hike is no exception as we left Damascus with 461 miles remaining on the Appalachian Trail. When we last checked in we had just completed the first day of our two week summit push. It was rainy but the trail was free of snow and we felt confident that our hike would be enjoyable. The next morning we awoke to freezing precipitation that we hoped would pass. Sadly it did not pass and we hiked in deep, fresh snow for two days. These bitterly cold, snowy days nearly delivered the deathblow to our summit push. We were beaten down and wanted nothing more than to go home. Then after our third morning of snow hiking we began a ten-mile descent into a river valley and we simply hiked out of the snow. Finally, the hiking had turned in our favor and the sunny weather was icing on the cake. We descended to the bottom of the valley and ordered a couple of pizzas at a trailside hostel. Uncle Johnny let us warm up inside the bunkhouse where the wood stove was roaring. It was tough to leave such a warm place but we climbed out of the valley that night.
No doubt things were looking up because that night our shoes didn't even freeze. Refreshed by the shift in the weather, we woke up early the next morning to hit the trail. The hiking was great as just a dusting of snow covered most of the trail. Once again we thought we were in the clear but later that day the storm clouds rolled in to dump chilling rain on us for four hours. As we tried to warm up in the shelter after a long 36 mile day, we watched the rain turn into snow. It was the coldest we have let our bodies become because that night it took two hours to warm up after hiking in near freezing rain. The next morning our hiking gear was frozen and it was then that Andy and I snapped. We decided that we could not continue that sad cycle of freezing and thawing our running shoes. But there was nothing we could do that morning so we hiked on to Hot Springs to re-supply.
Thankfully we had a good day of hiking and that afternoon we rolled into town in good spirits. Our first order of business was hot coffee at the local outfitter. Then we spent a longtime sitting in a warm booth at the diner. But we needed to leave town before nightfall so we picked up a package from Cynthia Albrecht that was full of delicious Wisconsin foods and we went to Dollar General to complete our re-supply. We left town to climb up the ridge where our campsite awaited us. That night we started wrapping up our shoes in a trash bag to put them in our sleeping bags. Its kind of a bummer cramming the foot area with cold shoes but we haven't yet started a morning with frozen shoes.
Our high spirits continued through the next day and we arrived at the northern boundary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. For weeks we had been dreading this section of the trail. It is only seventy miles in length but the elevation is the highest on the trail. After weeks of cold temperatures and deep snow in Virginia and Tennessee, we were certain that the Smokies would be the hardest hiking in the South. But luck was on our side and we had two fantastic days of hiking across the high ridges; we couldn't have asked for better conditions. Last night we spent a warm stay at the Fontana Dam shelter, which is so nice that it is known as "the Hilton".
Today we hiked to the Nantahala Outdoor Center to pick up our final re-supply. The day was relatively warm and the rainstorm that looked inevitable never materialized. And so we are finally in a warm room, enjoying soft beds and a break from the trail.
In the last ten days we have covered 327 miles but we are not quite finished. We have four more days to cover the final 134 miles and that's not too bad. Andy and I are ready to complete the trail and go home. It has been a longtime since we left for Old Forge, NY at the end of July. We are ready to relax and take a bit of a break. Tomorrow the forecasted chance of rain is 90% but we will hike regardless.
Tot: 3.265s; Tpl: 0.015s; cc: 5; qc: 47; dbt: 0.0206s; 2; m:saturn w:www (184.108.40.206); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.3mb