The Smoky Mountains
May 1- May 8

These mountains were both breathtaking and unnerving. They afforded us an experience with weather of a more unpredictable nature than even New England has to offer. 

It was an early Monday morning when I awoke at the Fontana Hilton. This was not a Hilton Hotel and Resort, though it might as well have been. The Fontana shelter became known as the "Hilton" because of its large bathrooms complete with sinks, toilets, and showers! We turned a blind eye to the strange, concrete tent sites and focused on the pure ecstasy that was hot, running water. As soon as we were ready to roll out, the weather rolled in.  We took our first steps out onto the Fontana Dam and were hit with 50 mph wind gusts and sideways rain that threatened to send us over the edge. This is when I officially deemed my poncho useless. The wind shifted the thin plastic and the rain pelted my gear with a vengeance. It was like I tried to use a Ziploc bag as a rain jacket. I can't think of a more perfect, "Welcome to the Smoky Mountains." 

The next two days treated us to picture perfect weather. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, allowing the sun to color the back of our necks and tops of our hands. Everyone had a hard tan-line from the straps of their trekking poles. Everyone except Phil, Phil was fair and had to use a lot of sun screen.

There are a ton of amazing sites within the Smokies, but there are many restrictions on the hikers due to the popularity of the park. For example, the shelters had to be full before you were allowed to pitch a tent. It seemed like a punishment to sleep in many of the shelters in the south. No matter how loud the snores droned on, they were never loud enough to drown out the pitter patter of the mice that raced across the bunks. Sometimes we were able to bend the rules by waiting for enough hikers to arrive before we set up camp. 

70 and sunny became 30 and snowy in a matter of days. At this point, we were grateful to have the protection offered by the stone shelter. We were less grateful when more hikers continued to pile in. Nearly 40 hikers ended up crammed into a 12-person shelter. We were packed in like enchiladas in a baking pan, smothered with down, and with gear spilled out on all sides like Mexican toppings. The snoring kept me in a dazed state, balanced in the fog between asleep and awake. I was just aware enough to feel the fur-cockroach (mouse) run across my face. My reflexes were probably too slow, but I like to think I sent it flying across the room.

After our first 20-mile day, we exited the park and celebrated the end of the Smokies with beer permit burning!
                        

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