The woods seemed thicker and the greens more vibrant when we crossed the dam and entered the Smokies. The first thing we noticed was the large animal trap just off the Trail. Bears! We’d heard the stories of the Smoky Mountain bears and the sight of the trap brought up the anxiety level a notch. In fact, the trap was for wild boar, a destructive alien in the park, but we didn’t find that out until later. We started to see many deer, also, a sure sign that we were in a protected area.
A fine day of hiking ended in lock-up. The shelters in the Smokies have fences across the face to keep out the bears. It was a precaution that made sense but still added that feeling of being part of the food chain. The fact is, the bears will destroy your equipment looking for food and leave you alone. Just keep that fence shut, thank you. Having to go shelter to shelter was a drag and made for some crowded nights but I was thankful for the protection.
The terrain was giving Mark ankle problems again and my blisters flaired up anew but we seemed to be used to these discomforts. We were both taking aspirin in the evenings to ease the pain. We averaged 10 miles a day and both of us were sore in the evenings. All hikers we met suffered the same aches and pains as ourselves no matter what pre-trip physical training they did. The only way to prepare for the physical rigors of living with a backpack on your back is to live with a backpack on your back. The body starts to adapt but most of aclimation is in the head. Before long your Trail damaged brain convinces your body that walking everyday with a pack on your back, smelling like a goat and eating like a pig is perfectly normal.
It was up and over Clingman’s Dome, the highest elevation on the Appalachian Trail. Clingmans is a treed summit and the spectacular views are from an elevated walkway at the summit. Mark and I fired up a huge haebar and headed for the top not realizing it was going to be packed with gomers* wearing cameras. After answering all the standard gomer questions (Where are you hiking? See any bears? What do you eat? All the way to Maine? When was the last time you showered? ) we bailed the summit and hiked down to Mt. Collins Shelter. We planned to go into Gatlinburg from there to finally retrieve new boots for Mark and pick up a maildrop.
* a gomer is anyone that should not be in the woods for any reason.
…continue the expedition, read: New Boots and Pancakes [link]