Day 17

Today proved my last post wrong. The smokies can be, at times, quite whelming. The first few miles of the trail today were spectacular. They took place on the kind of terrain that slaps a smile on your face and keeps it there for hours. The trail rode on top of a ridgeline, occasionally intersecting balds at the tops of peaks. Balds are places where historically only grass has grown. The reason why this was so is not well understood, and in recent history the balds have begun to be reclaimed by the forest. One can tell they used to be a lot larger, but even so they are quite spectacular. I can only imagine what they would be like during full spring. Right now the grasses are dead and look more like the paramo in Ecuador than anything else.

My morale was low today, and after the first few breathtaking miles the morning was a struggle. I knew there would come a time when I would hit a wall of sorts, that my inherent enjoyment of the trail would be overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the AT, and I suspect that moment will be coming soon. However, like so many problems out here I think, and hope, that it can be overcome with a resolve to simply keep walking.

Chris, too, had a bad day. I think the miles are beginning to wear on all of us, even those of us with the deepest love for backpacking. Chris, in fact, is one of the most avid backpackers I’ve met out here. He’s been backpacking since he was 16 and regularly goes on trips by himself. But I think at the end of the day, the trail will test everyone equally, regardless how much they love hiking.

In more cheerful news, today and tomorrow are days full of milestones. The AT is 2184.2 miles long according to the last tally and today we passed the point at which, from now going forward, the miles left to go will always be less than 2000. So that’s exciting in a way. Tomorrow we’ll pass our 200th mile on the trail, as well as summit Clingman’s Dome, the highest point on the trail.

We’ve been pushing a lot harder recently, 14-16 miles days instead of 10-12 and right now I’m very happy with how I feel. We have a 12 mile day into gatlinburg, a notorious tourist trap, tomorrow. We plan to get a good meal, stay the night, then head on to Hot Springs, NC the next day.

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