Day 21-22 “Anything Can Happen in the Smokies”

The blog count fell behind a day at some point, but the above should be correct. Today marks the start of my fourth week on the trail! It’s exciting to think that by the end of next week I’ll be one sixth, to one fifth done with total time spent on the trail. Also, this is my last night in the Smokies! I’m one mile from the border right now, at the last shelter.

The title of this post is a running joke between Chris and I. Before we came to the smokies many people lauded how unpredictable the weather could be. When it turned out, at the beginning, to be quite mild we started making fun of the initial fear with the sarcastic catch-all “anything can happen in the smokies.” Turns out the weather can be pretty crazy.

Two days ago it was high 70s to 80s. Yesterday on the trail we walked through a hail storm for a while and this morning we woke up to snow on the ground. I was pretty pumped because the snow and the feel of the air reminded me of early winter days at home, but many of my companions did not share my enthusiasm. It hit the low 30 last night and some were caught unprepared. A few people sent home their winter gear because it had been so warm.

Last night the shelter was ridiculously crowded, more so than I’ve seen since the start. There were probably 20+ people sleeping in a shelter meant for 12. I had set up in the one spot left when I arrived, but when it was time to go to bed, I realized my face would be inches away from my neighbor’s and opted to pitch my tent instead. Flat ground was almost non-existent so I ended up sleeping right on the trail to the shelter.

During our afternoon in Gatlinburg, right after I posted the pictures in fact, I found out that Waldo had dropped out of the trail. He was having some problems with his girlfriend when we were at the NOC, and we thought he might leave to spare the relationship, but it was a surprise all the same, especially that it happened so soon.

Many people dropout, so the fact that he did isn’t terribly¬†significant alone, but the fact that he’s the first “real” hiker that I’ve heard of dropping for non-medical reasons is. Waldo was as motivated as the best of us, was hiking for a charity, and had a bunch of people following his hike by gps, and yet he still dropped out. Many people have dropped, about 20% do before the first 30 miles, but many of those were people who just didn’t know what they were getting into. And Waldo isn’t alone. I know of two other people who also made it 200 miles yet dropped. One of them, on the second night, pledged to spend as little time as possible in towns because he wanted to do it right. Yesterday he got on a shuttle to skip the next 200 miles.

I guess my point is, the trail is real now. The best of us are feeling the strain and some have already given up the fight. Personally, I had a good day today. I like hiking in a light rain, there’s something zen to it, so today felt good. And there will be more good day, more days when it feels great to be a thruhiker, but also more bad days, more days when the miles are oppressive. When all is said and done, it seems to me that all any firsttime thruhiker can do is swear to themselves that they won’t give up on that given day. Then make the same promise ~160 more times.

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