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Kushmans' update from Gatlinburg





Date: 05 Apr 96 08:31:51 EST

Day 29  3/30/96  Saturday  6.2 miles
Partial sun made the early part of this day seem unusually pleasant. The trail was drying up and footing more reliable. We had planned to reach Mollies Ridge Shelter but just could not find the energy. The uphill climb, food laden packs, and the lack of mountain legs were contributing factors. This made Birch Spring Shelter our first taste of the Smoky Mountain hovels. 
Clouds soon covered the sky and the mountain chill descended upon us. Thunder and Lightning were also present and just as impressed with the nights accommodations as we were. Sasquatch had left with us but twisted his sore knee and turned back to Fontana and a two week rest. A fire was started and provided some warmth as the night got colder and rain began to fall. The rules in the Smokies require hikers to sleep in the shelter unless it is full. This shelter was nestled on a good size patch of mud making even tenting here unattractive. Sleep did come as rain fell through the night.

Day 30  3/31/96  Sunday  9.7  miles
We expected rain today. The forecast had warned us but also promised clearing on Monday and continued improvement. We slogged on through heavy fog and intermittent rain and mist. The temperature was going down and we thought some flakes were visible, but certainly no vistas were. Everywhere the trail guide said "splendid views", there were none. The trail was again turned to mud. The grab your boot and yank it off kind in many places and the slick go for a ride kind in others. 
We were passed by four young women, we called them the "Power Hikers", and another young lady named "Swan", all headed for Spence Field Shelter, our destination as well.
The shelter was full and with mostly women. The area was grassy and a night in the tent would be pleasant, after all, clearing weather was expected. Thunder and Lightning are about our age and speed and we have pleasantly found ourselves together at the end of each day. This was no exception and they were soon nearby nestled in their tent. Our food was hung in the shelter and our cold bodies wrapped in sleeping bags. Noxville radio suggested tomorrow in the sixties and clearing. Things were looking up.

Day 31  4/1/96  Monday  6.3 miles
Funny - still raining in the morning. This of course means a wet tent and more weight to carry. We were sure things would get better. Silers Bald Shelter would be 11.8 miles and reachable. Guess again.....
We began the hike in the rain but as the temperature fell ice pellets and snow began to appear. The wind became quite strong and I would use the term blizzard to describe our little Smokies Hell. The ice and snow covered the trail, our packs, and our bodies adding even more weight. Stopping for a break was out of the question, it was simply too cold. Luckily Derrick Knob Shelter was only 6.3 miles and when it came into view we felt saved. "Q", a charming young man thru hiking, was there and a young couple on spring break. We quickly arranged our gear and climbed into the sack hoping the shivering would stop.
More hikers began to arrive. Three South bounders, two high school boys going North, Thunder and Lightning, and the Cheese Girls with their friends Cracklin Rosie and Walking Otter. That gave us seventeen hikers in a shelter made for twelve. Next came Larry and Keith a father and son from Orlando, just out for some fun in the Smokies. Nineteen people, with more hiking gear than found in most EMS stores, were all huddled from the storm.
Outside the howling wind and low temperature were background for this amazing scene as a space was found for each sardine. All arrived covered with ice. Boots, socks, zippers, everything was frozen. Hung clothing was frozen stiff. Nineteen backpacks covered the mud floor. Countless food bags hung above like pendulums. No wood for a fire and no chance to find any. Cooking dinner, changing clothes and settling down for the night all accomplished in some unplanned, unspoken  magic rotation. Calmly, with high spirits and good humor, thanks in part to Liddy (ET) - (Liddy is a real trip).
Everyone was safe and getting warm. Tomorrow would be better, after all the forecast said so.

Day 32  4/2/96  Tuesday  7.2 miles
We lay in our spaces and watched the morning unfold. Nineteen people would have to cook breakfast, put on frozen boots, change into hiking clothes, repack all their gear and begin the icy trail. This all taking place in a space smaller than an average motel room. We waited as each group left and finally hit the trail at 11:00 a.m. just after the Cheese Girls.
The sun was shining and blue sky was a reality. "Q" had blazed the trail so we slushed our way toward Double Spring Gap Shelter as the day got warmer.. 

********** COMMENT - PROFILE MAP ********
When you get the Smoky Mountain Map first take red enamel paint and obliterate the profile section.  You will save yourself much grief. Just know you will be going up and down, up and down, regardless of what the profile implies.
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The shelter was not fit for habitation. The gate was broken the floor was half water and half mud and trash was liberally strewn about. Pretty much average. Not all, but most tented out for the night.
"Q", The Cheese Girls, Thunder & Lightning and some overnight hikers were all mingling around the grass area. One gentleman with his son was having a great time watching the Cheese Girls cook dinner. He said it was better than television. 
Cracklin Rosie thought catching the sunrise on Clingman's Dome would be a great idea. Very much to my surprise at 3:30 a.m. Wednesday morning they along with "Q" filed past our tent with the bright moon above and Nexmo waving goodbye. Hopefully we will catch them again, we miss them already.

Day 33  4/3/96  Wednesday  10.8  miles
Our tent was finally dry and lighter. The sun was shining and vistas were possible The climb to Clingman's Dome was gradual enough and the views splendid. The trail was frozen at first, then muddy, and higher up still covered with snow and ice. We had reached the highest point on the Appalachian Trail. 
Clingman's Dome did not offer that private view for hikers gained through personal sweat. The view needed to be shared by all. Thru hikers and tourists climbed to the tower and could see for miles.
Tourists were clearly interested and enthralled with us thru hikers. They watched and commented. One gentleman offered us orange juice - it was delicious. As Nexmo was putting on her pack to continue we clearly heard from a nearby group - "Oh look, there's a real hiker".

We arrived at Newfound Gap at 4:30 p.m. and our choice was an unscheduled stop at Gatlinburg or continue to the next shelter. Nexmo's and Lightning's stomachs had been queasy, we were all out of toilet paper, and  a kind gentleman with a pickup truck was willing to bring these four weary hikers into town. What choice did we have?

The truth is the Smokies had been tiring. Monday's storm had taken a toll. The trails were a sea of mud and that made for very tedious hiking. A day off would replenish our spirits and brighten our moods.

********** BLUE BLAZE - SPEED **********
You do not have to be a Rocket Scientists to figure out our mileage per day is low. We are over 50 and physically not in shape for the trail. The first time we carried full packs was the approach hike. Honestly, if we had practiced, we may have never begun.
I was 40 pounds overweight and Nexmo smoked. We did nothing to prepare for the trail physically but each day now we grow stronger. 
We are amazed by the mileage some of the young athletes can attain. Most of the hikers we have met are twenty to thirty years younger. Being aware of your own limits is most important. Pushing beyond your bodies abilities, especially at first, will damage the experience. Young hikers like Sasquatch, Dusty, and Blister Sister have already left the trail. Their AT experience over for now. Our goal is to continue and enjoy the whole experience. The love hate of the trail, the rest and relaxation of each new town, and most importantly the wonderful people we have met and will meet.
SO ! - SPEED BE DAMNED - HIKE ON - HIKE ON !
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Next update Hot Springs ...

"Download" & "Nexmo"