We are at mile 206.8, taking a zero day in Gatlinburg, TN at the Grand Prix motel.
The past four days in the Smoky Mountains have been simultaneously some of the hardest and best days so far.
In Fontana, we ended up sharing a Fontana Resort Lodge room with our friends Harry and Misty before crossing the amazing Fontana Dam and climbing some 3000 feet up into the first shelter. This day was quite warm and sunny and all the climbing made us feel it. We climbed a super rickety old fire tower had great views of Fontana lake but was terrifying as it swayed in the wind. The wind was blowing extremely hard that night but the shelter design helped out greatly.
The shelters in the smokies are all stone, old stables. Large tarps have been placed over the front in an attempt to protect from the elements. There are fireplaces inside which we have found very helpful. The sleeping areas are a double decker of platforms along the back wall that sleep about 16 people. It is mandatory that thru hikers sleep in the shelters in the smokies unless they are full. We have been keeping up with our same group of friends and the shelters have been packed, but we fit.
The next two days in the smokies were wet. The first mostly damp but the second was pouring and a tough day mentally.
The rain unexpectedly turned to snow that night which was bone chilling in my crummy sleeping bag but luckily another hiker gave me a 15 degree bag that was abandoned on the trail (and soaking wet). we woke up to a wopping amount of snow! Up to knee height in some places! The sun came out by around 10am and we hiked the hardest (in my opinion) 10 miles yet to Newfound Gap. On this hike we reached the highest point on the AT, Clingman's Dome, which offered amazing clouds, winds, and quick openings in the sky for views. Unfortunately I have no pictures of this day but Greta does so I will post them later. We finished the day in good spirits after our friend Fresh saved me from trail bonking and falling asleep in a snow drift with food bars. Thanks Fresh!!!!
When we arrived at Newfound Gap we ran into Mr. Jimmy who has been supporting his wife, I Believe, as she hiked the AT and providing trail magic to other hikers along the way. He gave us soda and a ride to our motel which is very nice. Shuttles here are pricy. At the motel, other trail angels, Beth and her husband from FL, served a delicious all you can eat meal for thru hikers. We ate like kings... soup, salad, fritos, avacados! Mr. Jimmy took us to get resupply food that night. His generosity has no bounds. So far our time in Gatlinburg has been great. Today we will exploit this tourest mecca for some cheap thrills and vegan pizza before hitting the trail again tomorrow.
-Chris aka Junco
P.S.: Greta says, "hi."