Holy Smokies: 72 Miles of Pure Bliss

So we find ourselves in Gatlinburg, TN. The journey so far has been great, and we are really enjoying ourselves. We’ve experienced easy miles and rough climbs, some warm days and a bit of snow, some unforeseen obstacles and, best of all, trail magic.

Trail magic is a real thing with many different incarnations. It can be simple, like soda left at a road crossing, or elegant, like a stocked buffet table. It doesn’t always involve food, either; it could be a ride into town or a bit of shelter from the rain. We’re always grateful.

It was at Wayah Bald that Fresh Ground filled us with hot dogs and chicken soup. He talked constantly in his sweet southern drawl, imploring us to eat more and take whatever we wanted for later. Through my food-induced delirium, I remember Fresh Ground saying, “…and then you get to the smokies, and that’s 72 miles of pure bliss.”

This line ran through my head many times as we entered the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. When we took a zero day at Fontana Dam to avoid a night in the low teens. When we reached elevation and found the trail was covered with ice and mud. When we passed over summits and hiked along ridges and could see nothing but an unending wall of fog. When we retreated down to Gatlinburg to get out of the cold rain and snow, and again when we couldn’t get back up to Newfound Gap because of road closures.

We’ve quickly internalized the danger of getting wet while hiking in the wind and chill of early spring. Getting sweaty can be just as bad as getting caught in the rain, so we adjust our clothing to suit both the weather and our pace. This makes layering more practical than having extra warm clothing. Sometimes this comes at the expense of fashion, as in Pat’s layering of shorts over long underwear, a move I foresaw and he resisted. His ego survived.

We ran into another wonderful bit of trail magic yesterday morning at Newfound Gap. Godspeed and Magic Mama gave us sodas, hot chocolate, and cider while they heated up chili for us and gave us shelter. We huddled under a makeshift tarp above Godspeed’s truck and shared stories for a minute while we filled our bellies. They come feed hikers every weekend, and have been doing so for over three years. It was a welcome respite from the weather and a preview of all the comforts of town. They offered us a ride down to Gatlingburg, but we jumped on the NOC shuttle when another round of hikers showed up. Much gratitude for their generosity and kindness.

And now we’re stuck here in Gatlinburg, taking a sort of mandatory zero. It doesn’t look like we’ll be able to get to the trail tomorrow, as they’re expecting a foot of snow tonight. I hope we can get a ride up there later, at least, since I’m getting cabin fever. It’s nice to indulge in pizza, beer, and ice cream, but this town is nuts. It’s like the boardwalk in Ocean City, without the beach. Quite a change from the peace, simplicity, and generosity of the trail.

At least we are warm and cozy for another night. Hope we start hiking soon after that. Fresh Ground set up his next buffet around Davenport Gap, and we wouldn’t want to miss that.


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