11-1-09 day 152
start: Grand Prix Motel @ Gatlinburg, TN
end: Silers Bald Shelter, GSMNP
daily mileage: 12.5
total mileage: 1986.1
Well, we really felt like we should leave Gatlinburg this morning but had a latish start, and Daylight Savings Time means that it now gets dark around 6:00 (ugh) so we settled on doing just 13 miles. We walked out to the road leading up to Newfound Gap and waited for quite a while to get a hitch (I don't think most of the tourists want to give rides to such scruffy bearded men) but we eventually jumped into the back of some guys pickup truck and started the long ride back to the gap (the traffic was awful out of Gatlinburg on a Sunday). When we finally got there we made the easy climb up Clingman's Dome. Clingman's Dome is the highest point on the Appalachian Trail at 6,643 feet, and though it isn't bald, had an observation tower with a spectacular view. The tower itself was pretty cool, first of all: it is a giant concrete structure that is only accessible by a huge, wide, gently sloping concrete on-ramp for people. There were a lot of people up there, but the view really was cool: to the east all was clear and you could see for dozens of miles, but to the west low clouds blanketed the entire landscape all the way to the horizon, with mountaintops peeking through like islands.
At lunch, we hit the 200-mile-to-go mark (awesome!) and just afterward I impaled my face into a fallen tree branch about a centimeter above my right eye. It punctured the skin just above my eyebrow, which bled freely for a few minutes... I'm very glad it didn't poke my eye out, as it definitely would have destroyed it. Just as we were approaching the shelter we hit a really great sunset, which is now easily visible most nights as the tree cover is thinning considerably with autumn. The whole western horizon was a burning orange color for almost 180 degrees, while there was a full moon rising over the cloud-filled valley in the east. We finally got to the shelter where we met with our friend Nexus and three completely crazy airline pilots.
These guys were awesome, though not necessarily the spitting image of airline pilots. They pulled out entire, giant glass bottles of Scotch, Tequila, and red wine. They shared well, but while we drank in moderation they proceeded to get completely wasted. Falling down, they told stories of their adventures with airline stewardesses and sounded shocked when we mentioned that we didn't know that they spent much of their time in the cockpit sleeping and watching movies. Remind me not to fly Delta in the future! Nexus, Sea Monster and I went to bed a few hours after dark but they stayed up drinking and falling and yelling joyfully at one another until well into the morning...