Waking up early on Day 11 to a very short walk into the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) where whitewater rafting is their specialty. Sitting a little over 30 miles from the beginning of the Great Smoky Mountain NP, it is a common place for hikers to take a zero and enjoy the river on a nice day. Though today wasn't one of those days. After they provided a hearty breakfasts for Squirrel, Honeybunns and myself and satisfied with my short stay, I looked to push on to Stecoah Gap (15 miles away) where I had reserved a bed at a small hostel run by Lonnie. I knew rain was on the way, and the gloomy overcast sky was a clear sign of the impending doom. If the weather was really bad, I could zero at the hostel as well. A clear win in my book.
About half way to Stecoah, as I crested Cheoah Bald, then the wind picked up and a light drizzle began. Just enough to get things wet. Begin Rain - Day 1.
The hostel experience was perfect as Lonnie and Shadow were great hosts and provided good conversation. I did end up taking the zero day due to solid rain and wind all day long. Nearby forcasts predicted 50mph winds and in this area, that meant any tree was a widow maker. Day 2 Rain.
Day 13 was foggy, on and off shower with some slightly difficult terrain (Day 3 Rain). Knowing Fontana Dam Village lay 15 miles ahead, it was very easy to push through anything to make it to a place I thought they was a milkshake with my name on it. Arriving in the early afternoon, the sun poked it's head out as the shuttle ($3) came to pick up me. Just in time to pickup my resupply package at the post office and find out the the entire Village lost power due to the wind and rain - I was a mixed bag of emotions. Unable to do anything in town due to the facilities being inoperable, I chose to walk the 2 miles back to the Trail and soak in the sun's rays while they still lasted.
The night of Day 13 would be the last time I'd have access to my cell phone before the wet dampness would make it useless. As I packed my bag the morning of day 14, still at the Fontana Hilton (name of the Shelter), I took many pictures and chatted with a few hikers before taking the plunge. I'd be entering the Great Smoky Mountains this day and the rumored reputation made me a little nervous. Between the lack of views due to clouds, rainy/cold conditions and the ever lurking threat of a bear waiting around the corner to maul me, I was just more than alert for the first couple hours walking into the park. Passing signs that campsites were closed due to aggressive bear activity didn't help settle the nerves either.
Then the clouds thickened, the mist turned to drizzle with quickly turned to a steady rain till I stopped for lunch (Day 4 Rain). Maybe capturing 4-5 pictures of the foggy and muddy trail was enough to get my phone wet enough that I decided it best to leave it put away in my pack. Checking it at lunch, the screen was flickering and the power button wouldn't work all the time. Thinking it'd be best to keep it off and maybe sleep with it through the night to dry it out, I put it away to check it another day.
A bit sad that I wouldn't have music for the afternoon, I continued to place one foot in front of the other. I fell once as the mud path gave way, where even my trekking poles weren't enough to save me. It really would have been a pleasant walk had it not been for the endless mud path I was forcing myself to walk on.
That evening the shelter was packed full, with a couple tents pitched outside. It rained and rained throughout the night and as we all awoke, we were surprised to find blue skies. Knowing what the forecast had in store, I packed and ate quickly and was on trail very early. At this point, my phone's touch screen and power button were inoperable. This means no pictures, no music, no podcasts, and most importantly no map and navigation information.
Imagine standing on one of the highest peaks around which had a ridge going to the peak next door, both completely covered in chaparral, lush green vegetation with tall trees still leafless and the orange morning sun warming you from the previous 4 days of rain. It was quite the pleasant way to start Day 15. Views and Sunshine. That very quickly change. The sky turned to overcast, then the fog rolled in just before drizzle and rain took over the day (Day 5 Rain). The rest of the day was miserable and what added insult to injury was that I had no idea where I was.
I never really understood how much I rely on my phone. It is really everything to me out here. I would spend of total of 4 Days walking through the Great Smoky Mountains and I wasn't able to take any pictures of the the rather incredible views provided when the rain and clouds subsided. Clingmans Dome, the highest point on the Appalachian trail; rolling green hills as far as the eye can see in one direction, layered with a haziness that gave the view depth. In the other direction, the mountains steeply descend into the relatively flat land in Tennessee. Though not photographed, I did stand a long time at some of the views to really soak it all in. It's tough to really grasp it all, especially when seeing completely new and exciting things the next time. One thing's for sure, my experience of The Great Smoky Mountains will be ingrained in my mind for a while.
My spirits were raised as the weather improved and my body was feeling strong. But my mind was on an endless loop of, "I'm an idiot for letting my phone get wet. Where's the next water? Where's the next shelter? Should I get a prepaid phone so I can contact someone back home? Do I know anyone's phone numbers?..."
Unable to do anything about anything I kept putting one foot in front of the other. I figured I'd be able to to access some resource in Hot Springs, NC and work through the situation. T'was the case. Finding the library in town, I purchased a new phone where a friend could pick it up on her way to meet me in Hot Springs.
I have been through some of the toughest days of backpacking and made it out the other side. A special thanks to all the hikers who lent me their trail guides or told me where the next water source and shelters were. It made all the difference. The biggest downside for me is that I have zero pictures to post here from anything pre Hot Springs, NC. I have some pictures that I should be able to salvage, which I'll add to this post when I get home, but there isn't anything I can do here on trail.