Walking to the Smoky Mountains, Day 16, June 13
Old Road Bed —Fontana Village—Fontana Shelter 12.7 miles
Except for the lack of water, the old road bed was a good campsite. My tent was pitched so I could watch the sun go down, and a light breeze made for good sleeping. I was up early looking forward to hitting a version of civilization again (this is a busy stretch for towns, etc. ) Initially the trail was clear, but very steep. A lot of turkeys stirred as I passed—a day of ridge hiking straight up and over each knob. A few hours in, the maintenance gave out and once again I had to plow through greenbrier, poison ivy, and immature trees. I’ve always loved maple trees, but that affection is being tested. I only had a 1/4 liter of water, so I knew I’d be cutting it close. Compounding that, I made a couple wrong turns at an electric meadow road, which put me back an hour— the trail entrance I kept missing was completely overgrown and not well-marked. That seems a characteristic about this part of the BMT.
Happily there was a spring about a mile from Fontana, so I rehydrated and headed into get my Smoky Mountain hiking permit—a singularly frustrating experience since, even though the lodge provides a computer, the GSNP web site is, to put it mildly, crap. Of course the idea of intuitive understanding is often specious, but the various stages are minimally obvious. It took almost two hours to finally get my pass printed, and it’s not the itinerary I really wanted. (Lots of difficulties including not having cell service compounded all this.). Then I learned there is a shuttle from the lodge to the shelter, so I spent a quiet afternoon at the bistro, eating a big salad and drinking a few beers. Great bartender took care of all my needs, and a couple from north Georgia who just hiked much of the stretch I’m heading into were very helpful with suggestions. It was one of those rare afternoons where relaxation, information, and nutrition came together for a moment.
The shelter is a crossroads for AT hikers. It’s too late in the season for thruhikers this far south, but this crew is definitely AT. The first night since my first that anyone has been in camp with me. There are no grass or dirt tent sites, so I’m going to sleep in the shelter with a bunch of hikers. For now, I’m reading, listening to their intense conversations while they cook. So much talking! The crew in the shelter are older men who clearly prize their comfort sleeping (if not hiking) as they have huge packs, loud inflatable sleeping pads, and sleeping bags that would float a king. An early sleep was not in the cards. Hope for a quick quiet exit in the morning.
T. Hugh Crawford