The next morning I had a lie in as I knew I wasn't going far, I didn't get out of my hammock until 9.30am. My sleeping patterns don't seem to have sorted themselves out, I'd lain awake until well gone midnight even though I was shattered and yet I could have slept longer in the morning, I really don't know what that's all about. It's very frustrating.
So on Thursday the 4.9 miles were done by 3pm although once again the majority of it was uphill. The wind had picked up and the temperature was dropping so I was more than happy with a short day, the next shelter was a way away and I certainly didn't fancy another late night. The sun was still out, my feet were ok and it felt good to have time to sort everything out early for a change. There were already four people in the shelter and gradually throughout the afternoon and evening it filled up but there were only a couple of people outside camping so we'd lost the crowd thankfully. When I say we I mean our group had split again, Brother Blood never came into Gatlinburg at all so he was ahead and Pebbles, Vino, Norway and Scout were now at least one shelter in front. As for Frisbee, Stubbs, Hollywood, Hatchet and Strider they were at least a full day in front by now. So that left me and Cheddar, Refill (not sure if I've mentioned him before) and some new faces Up and Kenwood and Thumper and Texas Hillbilly. The predicted rain came down heavy that night and into the next morning but I'd decided that at some point I was going to get wet so geared up and set off from Tri-Corner Knob shelter earlyish, whether it was down to the rain or not I don't know but by just after midday I'd covered 7.7 miles and reached the next shelter where I took a break. I was already wet and it was very early and I didn't want to waste a good morning so set out again. I was getting cold and knew that hiking would warm me up, it had stopped raining for a while so I was confident of getting to Davenport Gap shelter. As I made the descent I realised that I was coming down into the clouds which was a bit surreal and sure enough it was pouring down again in no time, most of the afternoon was downhill as this was the end of the smoky mountains. I carried on through the rain and after a while I thought I must be near the bottom and I came across a sign, thinking it was to the shelter imagine my disappointment when it said 2.9 miles more! I was gutted so sat down on a log had a drink and ate a snickers bar. When I finally did reach the shelter I had decided that I would stay there for the night, I couldn't face another 3.5 miles to Standing Bear Hostel but it was cold, I was soaked and there was no dry wood for fire. A few people turned up including Sneaky Pete and Stripes and when I overheard them say her mum was coming to pick them up and take them to Hot Springs I couldn't resist asking if there was room to drop me at the hostel! Sure enough Stripes said it wouldn't be a problem and I was happy to be headed somewhere warm and dry. It was nearly two hours later and getting dark when her mum turned up and although it was actually dark when she dropped me off I was eternally grateful for the lift. I'd still covered 15.7 miles that day which wasn't too bad in the rain but I was to pay for it later.
Standing Bear was a hostel with a difference, very rustic, a bit like a sprawling farm with many different shape and sized buildings. It was also very busy so the only available sleeping space was in a large outbuilding where you just picked a space on the floor! Very basic! Also when I retrieved my sleeping bag from the bottom of my bag it was soaked from all the rain. I made a mental note to get a bin liner for future rain, once again I'd learnt a valuable lesson, you're never too old to learn new tricks. I still slept ok thanks to my under quilt and a couple of well earned cans of beer! The next morning I dried my stuff out, restocked and then slack packed the 3.5 miles I'd missed the previous evening. Slack packing is when you do part of the trail without your pack, a perfectly legal thing to do! As Standing Bear wasn't the most salubrious of places I decided to move on that afternoon and at least start the 5 mile climb to Snowbird Mountain with the idea of stopping at a campsite halfway up. That was the good thing about leaving the smokies, you were back to being able to camp where you wanted without restrictions. I set off with Wokman at about 2pm and unexpectedly reached the top without too much effort where there was an Air traffic control tower in the middle of a bald which offered more great views. As I was still feeling good I thought I'd head to Groundhog Creek Shelter a further 2.5 miles away. The only problem was that that downhill started to cause pain in the join of my foot and ankle. At the time I didn't think too much of it, once I got to the shelter I figured I'd be okay in the morning and went to sleep in my hammock happy with the 6.9 miles.
Saturday morning I awoke and gingerly stepped out of my hammock hoping to feel no pain but it still felt uncomfortable. Still I hoped I'd be able to walk it off and as the first part of the day was uphill I managed ok up to a beautiful place called Max Patch Bald. Yet again stunning views from the top for 360 degrees and an added bonus of trail magic twice! Once leading up, a guy who I met in Hiawasee called Cliffhanger was dishing out beers which on a hot day was very welcome and then on top of Max Patch a young couple were giving out sandwiches, fruit and yet more beer! Bonus! I stayed on the top for an hour or so and started down the other side hoping to get as far as possible but as soon as I started going downhill the pain returned with a vengeance. At this point I was hiking with Stonebridge and he slowed down to keep pace with me and throughout the day we managed 11.6 miles and stopped by a stream and camped for the night with a guy called John. As it was a clear night I didn't put up my tarp and lay in my hammock looking at the stars. Although my leg was hurting still it was a nice night, this was what it was all about.
The next day I realised that my ankle was turning into a bit of a problem, a few people had said it sounded like tendonitis and that rest was the best treatment and this sounded about right but I knew I was only 14.6 miles from Hot Springs and a good place to rest so I pushed on on my own hoping to get as close as possible. There were two problems though, one it was all downhill which was the most painful and two Hot Springs was inundated with people because of an out of control fire just north of the town which had closed a 15 mile stretch of the trail and had had to be evacuated so I was unsure whether there were any rooms available in town. By 4.30 I'd only managed 8 miles to Galinfro Gap and I was in absolute agony. I stopped at the gap which had a small road and not long after a couple of other hikers caught up and called me a shuttle into town. I just couldn't do anymore at that stage. A lovely woman called Ruth came and fetched me, took me to town and promised me she would find me somewhere to stay. Luckily because there was no chance of the trail re opening any time soon people had started shuttling 15 miles north to Allen Gap where the trail was open so when Ruth took me to the Laughing Heart hostel there was room for me.
And here I am three days later still at the Laughing Heart, feeling frustrated watching people come and go. To be honest it's a very nice place and there are a lot worse places to be stuck but it is still a bit of a downer.
When I got here Cheddar, Pebbles, Wild Horse and Stonebridge were all here but they have all left today. Scout turned up yesterday as did Sunshine and Purple Bear and then today my old friend Rock Steady turned up and it was great to see him. Giggles and Sneaky Pete have both passed through and i also caught up briefly with Strider, Frisbee, Stubbs and Wokman. A whole new bubble of people have passed through since I've been here aswell. And also yesterday a couple called Brett and Lonnie appeared again, I'd met them a couple of weeks ago at a shelter, then again the morning at Standing Bear and then again here. The unusual thing about that was that they are section hikers and not going in any particular order so to bump into them so often was unusual. Lovely couple who it was a pleasure to spend time with.
On my first day here I hobbled into town to the laundrette and down to the river. Also got a bit of shopping in but since then I've had to sit here with ice on my lower leg whilst elevating it! Miss Janet is another trail legend and she had a look at it the other night and immediately said it was a shin splint. I felt like a naughty schoolboy being told off when she accused me of pushing too hard and not stretching properly! The thing is you are putting your body under so much stress with walking mile after mile everyday that injuries are likely to occur, the amount of knee and foot problems people have is incredible. I'm just hoping this clears up soon and I can get moving again.
The fire was still going when I arrived in town, the smoke was billowing out the mountains, I thought I'd passed the smokies but apparently not! At this point there are many rumours about how it started but it's not for me to speculate. One thing I do know is the other night you could see what looked like the whole mountain ablaze as the firefighters did a controlled burn to try and halt it. It was quite a sight from the hostel and not something I expected to see. There was a rain storm last night and it seems to have put out most of the blazes, the mountain is clear of smoke so who knows, maybe the AT will open again soon.
As for me I've had countless advice about what to do to help the recovery and it does seem slightly less swollen today. I certainly don't think I'll be going anywhere until at least Saturday which is a bit crappy, I'm currently going stir crazy confined to this hostel, I came out here to hike not sit around doing nothing all day. Although it has given me the time to talk to you. So here I am sat on the porch with my foot in the air with an ice pack on it just waiting it out. It is nice and warm here though!
Licensed to Hike! (Hopefully!)