I’m writing to you from the roadside of Gatlinburg Tennessee this evening. I just restocked on food at food city here and just found out that the shuttle only runs every hour, so I might be here for a while.
This time stocking up I tried to be more health conscious. My dad likes to joke that college students evaluate restaurants on two criteria: are they cheap and do they card. Buying food on the trail has similarly simple criteria. Basically it is a combination of cheapness, weight efficiency (most calories per oz. of carry weight), and nutrition. But you can’t have all three, you have to pick two. If you spend the money you can have light meals that are really nutritious, but they can cost upwards of six dollars each. On the other hand, you can buy heavy, relatively cheap, nutritious food like fruits and vegetables from the supermarket, but they weigh a ton. Or you can do what I’ve been doing, buying the most calorically intense, cheap, food a poor man’s money can buy ie poptarts, snickers, and the like.
There are some ways to cut corners and some products that come closer to the middle of the three, like Clif bars, but generally food falls into one of the above three categories. This shopping trip I tried to lean towards the healthier side of the spectrum, which bumped up my bill by about 10 dollars. But I’m hoping these foods will stick to my bones longer than their higher sugar counterparts and give me more energy. Plus I think my body would just fall apart after eating six months of poptarts, no matter how good they are for a midmorning snack.
The trolley picked me up, I made it back for dinner (a massive calzone, pictures later), and went to bed. I’m now writing the morning after.
We weren’t planning on zeroing here, but Chris is pretty eager on it, and while I’d probably push on if I were on my own, if I’m honest with myself, I’m pretty tired and the last few days have been rough. Since the motel here is only 17 dollars a night when we split it, we’ve decided to spend another day here. Hopefully the rest will be what we need to make it to Hot Springs, NC, a town that the AT runs through about 30 miles after the smokies, five days from here.
Chris is meeting his family there, they’ve rented a house for four days, and he has graciously invited me to stay with him. But four days is a lot to take off so even though I’d rather not, we’ll probably have to part ways there, at least for a while.
Yesterday we hiked from Silers Bald Shelter to Newfound Gap. At the end of the 12 mile hike we emerged into a busy jumble of cars. Apparently the gap is a popular spot for tourists to stop and take pictures of the view and it was PACKED. Well to our forest acclimated eyes it seemed that way, anyways.
We met some very nice people who were excited to meet thruhikers and might be reading this right now (hi there!). We became, in a way, a part of the attraction at the gap. A lot of people stopped us to ask about our trip, our gear, and thruhiking in general.
During the hike to the gap we bumped into a lot of search and rescue firefighters. Right now there’s a park wide search going on for 2, unrelated, missing persons. The first was for a man who, with little backcountry experience, ventured off into the smokies with nothing but a parka and frontcountry clothes (jeans, tennis shoes, sweatshirt) to attempt to live off the land in survivalist fashion. They’ve been looking for him for just shy of a week now and while they found some evidence of his campsites early on, the trail has gone cold. It’s a pretty sad case of something that seems all too common here, inexperienced hikers venturing off into the woods and getting in trouble.
The park seems to have a long history of trying to manage the risk posed to and from inexperienced hikers. If you’ve read Bill Bryson’s ever popular A Walk In the Woods, you might remember that he sensationalized the fact that the shelters here were surrounded by chain link fence to separate the bears from the campers. It seemed like a prudent safety measure at the time, but the fences have since been taken down because people started feeding the bears through the fence. This, of course, made the problem much worse.
Perhaps my favorite example of park management’s attempt to mitigate the risks of inexperienced hikers is the “toilet area.” Each shelter has a sign to the nearest water supply and, in the opposite direction, a sign to the “toilet area.” One might assume, as we first did, that that path would lead to a privy. But no it literally leads to an area slightly down the ridgeline where one is supposed to answer the call of nature. Concentrating where people go to the bathroom like that has some obvious problems, choosing where to dig is a bit like walking through a minefield, so it’s hard to imagine why park management would choose to create a system like that. The best guess my fellow hikers and I could come up with is that it’s in order to make sure that people don’t go towards the water source to do their business.
And of course there’s the ever popular story of the woman who wanted a picture of her baby next to a bear, so she smeared honey on its hands. The bear obligingly took a few licks, then quickly bit them off.
Just got breakfast at an all you can eat buffet, back to write a bit more.
Over the past section, from Fontana to Gatlinburg, we shared our shelters with a group of boyscouts. At first I was a little nervous that they would be noisy late into the night, but they were incredibly well mannered and turned out to be a pleasure to camp with. From talking with their leader it sounded like scouting is going strong in the south, which was good to hear as the program in my hometown wasn’t that great. Anyways, we ended up bumping into them at breakfast and one of their leaders picked up our tab! It was a big surprise and a great pick me up. I was just telling Chris that if I make it through the trail, it’s going to be in large part due to the little bits of trail magic and people that I meet on the way.
Today I’m in Gatlinburg. What to say about Gatlinburg. It’s perhaps one of the most controversial places to stop on the trail. Some people hate it, some people love it. It’s certainly unlike any of the other places we’ve stopped in before. Our other town days were spent in quaint trail towns with small populations. But as “the gateway to the smokies” Gatlinburg has become a booming center of commercialism. The main drag, which is about a mile long, is a bit like a decentralized Disney World. It can satisfy any commercialistic vice be it food, shopping, entertainment, or even porn. It’s a mile of shop after shop after shop after minigolf after shop. It’s hard to capture with words, so I’ll have to take some pictures this evening and upload them. I’m glad I stopped here though, it’s definitely a sight worth seeing on the trail.
That’s all for now, I’ll head downstairs soon to upload some pictures.