Day 39: Mile 243.3 | Painter Branch
We hiked out of the Smokies, finally! It was a beautiful day. We awoke at different times and all hiked alone for the morning. When I caught up to Josh and Tang they were at Davenport Gap with Tina, a trail angel! She brought free Mountain House Meals, cold drinks, snacks, and fruit!! I had 5 strawberries, a banana that I shared with Murdock (Josh's dog), a red Gatorade (I had been CRAVING), and a bag of chips. After our snacks we went on our way up out of the gap.
Our walk from Davenport Gap turned into an interesting part of the trail we went from walking past beautiful water falls (one of which Josh fell into...) and then some road walking:
We stopped next at Standing Bear Farm for a late lunch. We got a frozen pizza that we cooked on site, cold beers, another red Gatorade (electrolytes!!!), and some yogurt for Murdock. Tang and I put our feet in the creek by the fire pit and relaxed. We met some other hikers that were staying there, too.
Standing Bear was adorable and very relaxed. We decided we didn't need to stay, after our long weekend in Gatlinburg. We left late in the afternoon and climbed out toward Hot Springs, NC.
Our bellies full, we took it slow out of Standing Bear. It was so much steeper than we expected. We made it to the first campsite, a triangular sliver of land between two streams. At least 20 people camped there that night. It was a beautiful campsite. Tents and hammocks dotted the hill. I soaked my Achilles and my knee in the cold stream. It was finally warm enough to use the cold streams as ice!
We ate dinner under the Shade of Josh's tarp. After dinner, Skywater brought over his playing cards and we set up Cackles' and Tang's Luci lights on some Trekking poles as it got dark. We played the card game bullshit for a while and chatted around the game. Blade, Cinnabun, Cackles, Skywater, Ghost, and Josh all sat around with me until 'Hiker Midnight' we resigned to our tents after and slept well that night. The sound of the creeks lulled me to sleep.
Day 40: Mile 258 | Camp just past Roaring Fork Shelter
I took my time getting up on this morning. I could hear the folks around me stirring at 7am before the sun had even risen. I was feeling a bit down this day, not sure why. Perhaps too much in introspection.
Josh and I walked together for a bit in the morning but quickly realized we both needed to hike alone for a bit. Frustrated with myself, I put on a podcast. I felt like for the past two days I should have been happier, but I wasn't. Maybe it was my depression? I should have felt relief and joy at finally leaving the difficult Smokies. That I had accomplished something and I couldn't even bask in my achievement. I felt like I should've suddenly been happy now that I wasn't hiking in snow or rain, for once. But I wasn't. I felt like every person around me was annoying me, even though they just wanted to be my friend and support me.
I decided to make a list of the things about myself and my attitude that I wanted to work on on the trail. I stopped and wrote them in my journal. I decided I wanted to be less negative, I would force myself to see the good and change my mental patterns if it was the only thing I accomplished this trip. I wanted to be less selfish, I wanted to recognize the good in people and the way that they care about me because sometimes I feel like people don't like me even when they do, I wanted to accept the love and care I deserved from other people instead of putting myself down all the time.
The little tiff Josh and I had that morning had opened my eyes. This whole time I had been walking with other people nearly every moment of every day: to avoid being alone. I didn't want to face myself, my mental illness, or any of the things I came out here to work through. I was afraid and stubborn as hell. Looking back on this day I am so thankful to have a friend that was straight forward and honest with me, even though it hurt.
I passed a few people on a smaller bald:
I kept walking by myself, a ways behind Josh and Tang. My stubborn anger fueled my walk. Eventually, after making my list, I calmed down a bit. My knee was so sore this day and bending my right leg became a chore. But I kept walking. My hip belt on my pack began slipping and I couldn't get it to stay in place on my waist properly, even when it was all the way tight.
It was a hot day and I was hiking in pants. I passed a shelter where there was water and, thinking I had more than I did and there would be more water later, I passed it. Up the next couple of hills I downed the last of my water. No biggie, I thought, there's more up ahead. I crested the next hill and came upon Josh and Tang having a snack break. They had almost no water, too. I was definitely dehydrated. We looked at the guide, next water was in 2 miles up over Max Patch, according to Guthook. But, I saw a small blue line about 1.5 miles ahead that looked like it might be a viable source, despite it being left off the waypoints list. I chewed a Salt Stick tab (bleck!) and moved on, leaving Josh and Tang behind. A mile later I ran into an older fellow who was also they-hiking. He didn't tell me his name but he saw desperation on my face.
"You looking for water?" He asked.
"Yeah," I replied. "I should've stopped at that shelter when I had the chance. By the time I found out I didn't want to turn around for it."
"Me too," he said. "There's water about a mile ahead though, I think. According to AWOL, anyway."
I thanked him profusely for the tip, assuming he was referring to that stream I saw on the map, and kept walking. He told me to have a blessed day and I passed him. I had a new skip in my step, knowing I'd find water soon! When I finally made it to the stream I was the happiest I had been in days. The water tasted SO GOOD, so cold. I filled a liter and drank it quickly. I filled both my bottles, careful now so I wouldn't run out. It amazed me how much happiness one little stream could bring. How a simple thing like water could get so overlooked in daily life.
I made it up to Max (Mack's) Patch around early afternoon. It was an amazing site. I laid in the sun with both my jackets on, the wind was whipping up there! I sat there for half an hour and ate thousands of calories worth of food. I felt good. Finally hydrated and hungry. The sun felt so nice and the views were incredible. Eventually, Josh and Tang caught up to me and I sat with them while they made their lunch and I ate some more, too.
Apparently I had sat still for too long, though. My legs got stiff and my knee hurt like hell. I couldn't get it to stretch out. I couldn't bend my right leg hardly at all. We walked as fast as we could off the bald and down toward camp. My pain shot from my knee all the way up to my hip. My pack was hurting me, too. Clouds rolled in while we were looking for a place to camp. We finally found some flat sites, after passing a hammocker who took up 3 (YES 3!!) flat tent sites that were closer (seriously, friends, can we please practice proper trail etiquette?!). We set up our tents and looked at the ominous sky, sure it was about to rain any minute.
I got out my food kit and we all ate dinner together. I was tired and in pain and I was having a hard time staying positive. The rain clouds moved in and it started to sprinkle. We packed up our dinner stuff and quickly went to Tang's tent to hang out. We rolled out our legs and backs and relaxed while the rain poured down. It had been a long day but we were close to Hot Springs.