May 20th 2018
Fontana Hilton – Russell Field Shelter (mile180.4)
15.1 miles
Total miles: 189.2


I fear that if anyone was making a noise in the shelter last night it was me. I felt like I was tossing and turning all night and my mat was being extra noisy. I just couldn’t get comfortable. 

Morning came around way too quickly. My first task was to visit the bathroom and see what the deal with my bowels was. Thankfully it was all good. My right knee on the other hand was reeling pretty sore and it was difficult to straighten it properly. With a 9 mile climb ahead it wasn’t a good sign. 

The first part of the day was crossing over the Fontana Dam, it was pretty on one side and an ugly dam on the other side. It really was just a glorified road walk. Then it was the start of the Smokies. Everyone has been banging on about how great the smokies are and I was part curious and part resigned to the fact it will probably be much the same as what I’ve just been walking through. 

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There is a box to deposit your permit into, which appeared to be very full, and then came the start of the endless uphill. I had three people behind me and I hate the pressure of people being behind me, especially going uphill. But I managed to keep a decent pace upfront where I wasn’t struggling to breathe. 

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I stopped early and demolished a Twix and then plodded on the the first lookout point. The trail was nowhere near as steep as it was yesterday, but it was still a slog. There was a side trial that lead up to Shuckstack fire lookout tower. It was only .1 so I dropped my pack and headed up there. I was glad I did, the views were great even if the tower seemed really dodgy. I’m not really scared of heights but I felt my legs going a bit jelly-like at some points. 

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Back down I was relieved my pack was still there. Jean-Pierre the French-German man came along and so did the three people who were hiking behind me. I can’t remember their names and I’ve been around them all day so I feel I am past the point where I can ask! I ate a bit of a snack and carried on with more uphill to reach Doe Knob which I passed without even realising it. I had nearly run out of water so I made it down the other side to a water source, only to find Jean-Pierre there and he said it was dry. Bugger.

I sat with him for a while and he told me that he had started his travels last year by walking from Germany and through France and joining the Camino through Spain. He continued down to Morocco and he hitched a ride on a boat (in return for his electrician skills) across the Atlantic. He was planning to go up to Canada with the boat but when he was in the Caribbean he saw something about the Appalachian trail and the boat dropped him off in Georgia, he got the greyhound to Atlanta then hitched a ride to the start of the trail. Now here he is. Pretty cool story! 

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The midgies today were next level irritating. They would not leave my face alone. I walked for a bit without my hat because I was overheating, and I must have smooshed about 50 of them into my hair. I have bug guts all over me. They fly into your ears and into the corners of your eyes. They drove me to the edge of madness. 

I crossed paths with a few people coming towards me and one guy asked how I was and I mentioned the bugs. His response was ‘welcome to the Smokies!’. Great! I guess this is my life now. 

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There was another climb up to Mollies Ridge Shelter which we heard was closed but there were no signs saying it was closed, just some signs about bear activity. We did find out that there are two shelters up ahead that are closed and they are ones I was planning to stay at, so that’s really messed up my schedule! I planned to do 18 miles today which would have set me up to get to the next shelter 19 miles from that. But that’s one of the closed shelters. The one after would be 30 miles away and I can’t make that at the moment so I will have to do another 16 miler tomorrow. It’s a pain in the ass but there is nothing I can do about it. You have to stay at the shelters through this section, you can’t just camp anywhere. Plus in the shelters there are generally other people so I feel like there is safety in numbers when it comes to the bears. 

At Mollie Ridge shelter I went down a side trail to get some water and I felt much better after having some rehydration. I didn’t stay there long because the of the bugs. There were just 3 more miles to get to the next shelter and they weren’t hard miles but I was lacking energy and with just .7 to go to the shelter I had to sit down and take a break. Eventually I found the will to carry on and I made it to the shelter at around 4pm. 

Jean-Pierre was there and there were three other guys who had just stopped to eat dinner and then they were hiking on. We got told tales of bears stealing whole packs and running away with tents. My three friends from this morning came up to the shelter, the two girls did so well considering it was their first day hiking. They told me they had seen a bear and two cubs just hanging out on the side of the trail, I must have walked right past them. WHY AM I SO UNOBSERVANT?? I didn’t see any bears, but I did see a massive bear poo. 

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Those three are in hammocks and although you’re not supposed to, they set up their hammocks outside the shelter. So we thought it was just me and Jean-Pierre inside until a group of 4 old guys came along and they are in the shelter too. 

There are cables at this shelter which makes it so simple to hang your food. The old blokes also hung their packs outside on the cables but I have my back next to me and the others have hung theirs inside on the nails. One of them looked disapprovingly at me when I said I wasn’t hanging my pack. My bag smells no differently to how I smell. In fact I’m pretty sure I smell worse. Those old guys probably don’t smell that much better. Spray yourself with bug spray and then put your bug spray in the food bag to hang it?? Bears only like bug spray in bottle, not when it’s on your skin?! 

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Anyway. I’m on the top bunk and I feel the bears will attack the old boys on the bottom first, giving me time to reach for my umbrella or my tent poles and I can give it a whack. 

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We all hung out and chatted until about 8:30 when it was time for bed. Yesterday the mere thought of my sleep clothes made me break out into a sweat but tonight I am glad of them. It feels a bit chilly tonight. Still not cold enough to have the sleeping bag zipped up though. The bugs were so bad at the shelter I got the bug net out. I just couldn’t stand them hanging out around my eyes anymore. 

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We have seen a couple of mice running about over the walls so they are going to be scurrying around in the night. As long as they don’t scurry on me it will be fine. 

Cell service has been pretty minimal out here but when I managed to connect briefly today I had some lovely messages and 2 new Patreons which was a great little boost! 


Watch the video!

For this trip I made a daily video diary which you can watch here: DAY 12

 

 


 

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