Walking to the Smoky Mountains, Day 8, June 5
US 74- Lost Creek tentsite 13.5 miles
My ride was late leaving Ducktown (I should have gotten Bill’s number when he offered), but no matter. I had resolved to slow down a bit, try to enjoy more the details of the walk and not worry so much over time/distance/resupply. Yes, I’m out in the wilds with bears and snakes, but I’m not that far from civilization. Need to take each day like a long day hike (tell that to my backpack). As it turned out, my more casual pace was actually quicker than a deliberate pace. Amazing what can happen when you let your mind go free.
As I’ve mentioned before, the BMT is well-built and well-maintained, at least in the southern section. Today I crossed paths with a couple about my age with their son and grandsons doing a long dayhike. They are volunteer trail maintainers. Had a wonderful conversation about the the bears up ahead and plenty of good advice, including the strong suggestion that I take a zero day in Tellico Plains which is about three days ahead. It’s very far off the trail so logistics will be difficult, but with some early planning it might work out.
One difference between this stretch and Georgia is the age of the forest. I think much of today was in a designated wilderness area with some magnificent old trees—oak, maple, poplar, and pine with beech as understory (along with lots of others— the biodiversity of this area is legendary). There was a section with huge old pines, so of course the path was a bed of needles—good for my beat-up feet. Crossing one ridge a pair of pileated woodpeckers stirred up a ruckus. I’m guessing they had a brood in a nest somewhere, because they took turns swooping and chattering until I rounded the corner.
This area is under control of TVA, which is why the river rafting business is so good. When I passed the Ocoee this morning it was barely flowing, but the guy driving me said by 10 o’clock, after the water release, it would be raging. All that electricity they make with those power stations has to go somewhere, so the trail often crosses what Bennett always calls “electric meadows”—those trimmed (or even poisoned) fields beneath the high tension lines. It is at those points you learn how fundamental mature forests are to mitigate temperature. Similar to the electric meadows, today brought a few sections of fairly recent burnover (or clear cut), where ten foot saplings mirroring the species in the old forest—maple, oak, poplar—were each doing their best to become a new forest.