We woke up early because we knew bad weather was imminent. There were still four miles to hike before we could hitch into Gatlinburg to resupply. I trotted ahead of the group with pure excitement for the luxuries of town days. Hot showers, hot food and hot water for laundry awaited our arrival. I used these fantasies to distract me from the trees that bowed earnestly to the 75 mph wind gusts. It's always important to be aware of your surroundings, but I felt it was more important to put my head down and get the hell out of there. 

I finally stepped out of the forest onto a welcoming paved and winding road. A scenic mountain view was the backdrop for restroom signage and the Tennessee/ North Carolina border. I sighed with relief at the sight of civilization. It was heavenly. As I was processing the influx of stimuli, the wind storm hit full throttle. A park ranger SUV whipped into the parking lot and the ranger motioned aggressively for me to approach the vehicle. She informed me that there was a serious storm building (shock face) and that the road to town was closed (non-sarcastic shock face). When I told her our group of about 10 was out of food she snapped into action and radioed for backup. When everyone started to emerge from the trail the ranger began shuffling us into cars and sending us down the mountain. It was like a movie scene when the hero says, "come with me if you want to live!" We probably should have been more concerned with the situation at hand, but we were too pleased to have a ride into town without having to hitch!

We finally got to town after stopping many times to remove downed trees from the road. We weren't allowed to be in on the action, so we watched eagerly from the car as the rangers pulled out chainsaws and set to work clearing paths for the vehicles.  Finally, we arrived in town ready to devour the Five Guys burgers we had been describing in detail for the past four days. With nearly full stomachs and shakes in hand, we set out to find lodging. This quest was seriously delayed because half the town had lost power. We waited outside one hotel, while fire trucks raced up the mountains to combat a forest fire. It was more or less a disastrous adventure that continued for the next two days. The road to the trailhead remained closed from Thursday through Saturday morning. Gatlinburg, in a nutshell, was an overpriced, tourist/hiker trap that literally forced us to stay for two nights. We managed to make it economical by squeezing 11 dirty hikers into one honeymoon suite. We even utilized the Jacuzzi as an Epsom salt bath for our aching feet!

Saturday morning arrived, and we were finally allowed to escape. We called a shuttle and piled into a Ford pick-up.  Wind whipped the faces of those in the bed, while those of us in the cab suffered from cramped muscles. As soon as we were delivered to the trail head, the snow drifted in. Large, heavy flakes instantly coated our gear. Away we went, back into the Smoky Mountains, cold, wet, and per usual, hungry.
                        

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