10-28-09 day 148
start: Groundhog Creek Shelter, TN/NC
end: Cosby Knob Shelter, GSMNP
daily mileage: 17.6
total mileage: 1950.3
Today, we enter the Great Smoky Mountain National Park! Awesome!
It rained all night, but by the time we woke up it was sunny and looking like it would be a much better day. We hiked 7 miles in the morning to Standing Bear Hostel, where we had lunch. It's a cool place - composed of at least six or seven separate log-cabin-style buildings for every conceivable purpose. The dining / kitchen building. The bunkroom. The resupply building. The outhouse. The computer building. And so on. It was really pretty charming - everything was decorated very appropriately for the rustic motif he was obviously going for, and there was a neat little stream running through the middle of the property that he'd built a bridge over and everything. The owner, Curtis, was a pretty strange guy. He was cool, but had a very unsettling way of talking (a combination of the way he repeated everything and never broke his gaze, I think). He showed us a neat project he was working on. He's building a wall for his new shower house that is composed of several hundred beer bottles all held in place with some mortar in a perfect grid. The bottles are all facing out, so that the necks stick out of the outside part of the wall about six inches. In this grid, he's used 3 different colors of bottles to create an AT symbol design. A bit hard to accurately describe, but it was a really cool effect, especially in the right lighting.
We met Fiddler back at the trailhead. He's meeting with his dad and his cousin at Davenport Gap (the eastern boundary of the Smokies) to hike a bit with them, so he figured that he'd slow down quite a bit and we might not see him again, though I guess we'll see. We got Davenport Shelter (still 7 miles to go) and dawdled there for quite a while, just reading and relaxing and enjoying our first Smoky Mountain Shelter. It was pretty awesome, actually, as it had a huge chain fence and lockable gate sealing off its unwalled portion, evidently to protect campers from bear attacks! Awesome! By the time we finally left this shelter to get to the shelter we were actually going to spend the night in it was 4:00, and we'd only done 3 miles since lunch at 11:30! But we still managed to pound out the last 7 miles of the day before dark, despite the trail being in pretty bad shape from the horse traffic.
When we got to the shelter, we met a bunch of section hikers who had already started a fire in the in-shelter fireplace (fancy!). We cooked over it to save fuel (and to feel outdoorsy) and enjoyed getting to know the section hikers and regailing them with our adventures. As we went to sleep, I couldn't help but reflect on the fact that we're actually in the smokies now. Just 70 miles or so to the other side of the park, then 80 miles across North Carolina, then a mere 70 miles of Georgia to Springer Mountain. Hard to believe, but we're very close to being done...