Soon after I started I saw a side trail to a place called Charlie’s Bunion. I had read that this was a nice view and popular place for day hikes. So, despite the name, I took the trail. It was early and there was only one couple up there already. I stopped and enjoyed the spot for a while—resting on the so-called bunion.
A little later in the morning I crossed paths with a hiker who stopped to talk. He asked about my hike, I think as a ploy to get me stopped, then proceeded to share the following details about himself: his trail name is “Blaze of Glory” and he is 63. This is his third time hiking the Appalachian Trail. The first time he took something like 15 years to finish everything. The second time he took seven years. Now he wants to accomplish the whole thing in 12 months. He is still working full time, but his boss lets him work three 10-hour days a week, so he gets a four-day weekend every week. He lives in Pennsylvania and goes hiking each weekend. He has already completed 1100 miles since November, so he is on track to finish in the 12-month period. His brother in law shuttled him down to Newfound Gap this time, about an 11-hour drive, and he started hiking this morning at 4:30am. After being regaled by his storytelling for some minutes that seemed like hours, I wished him luck and continued on.
Just a little further on I was not paying much attention, probably still reveling in Blaze of Glory’s monologue, and stepped on a slippery log. I slipped, half fell, and my right leg made contact with some some sharp gravely rocks below the log. My leg had a few good scratches but thankfully it wasn’t more than that.
Heading downhill, I started passing a lot of day hikers, maybe around 100 total, coming up from Newfound Gap. My freshly scratched leg did raise a few eyebrows on the way.
Highway 441 toward Gatlinburg crosses at Newfound Gap and it is a popular place for a visit to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Then a few miles further I took a short side trip to the lookout on Clingmans Dome, the highest peak on the trail.
I continued on to the shelter. The shelters in this park are large and well built with fireplaces, benches, and table-like spaces. There were only two people there when I arrived. I didn’t figure I could set up my hammock and claim the shelter was “too full” so I chose a spot inside. But by the time I went to bed at least 8 others had arrived. And a couple more arrived even later. So, in the end, the shelter did fill up…