So on today’s list of things to look at for the upcoming section hike was the hashing process of how far I will hike. The initial thought of the hike in it’s infancy was to start at Fontana Dam and hike into the GSMNP (Great Smoky Mountains National Park) and exit somewhere from there to meet the family on vacation in the Smokies. Upon learning of the new government regulations requiring I pay for a back country permit, and worse yet, register for space at specific shelter(s) before getting there, I decided to alter the plan and avoid the Smokies and start at the NOC (Nantahala Outdoor Center) and hike into Fontana Dam.
Please understand, I’ve never done a section hike on the AT. I’ve hiked some GSMNP park trails in the past and done a proper share of hiking locally (if you can call three states around me local). So to say I have any experience with sleeping in the shelters would be a gross understatement and an outright lie. My dad would have said, “Boy that’s not just a lie, it’s a dang lie.” Ah, the well turned phaseology of Pops, but I digress. In my present mind, I have no use for shelters. I have extensive experience backwoods camping with my hammock and tarp and feel safer in it than if I were sitting in my own car. I’ve weathered some of the worst that nature can dish out from lightning storms to bitter sub freezing cold. All safe and warm in my hammock and tarp. Did I mention I have no use for shelters? So the thought of being forced to use a shelter against my will grates on my over developed sense of civil liberties.
Now enter the secondary issue I’m struggling with. Mileage. What is reasonable, what is doable and where will I end up. For me the thought of a planned 10 mile +/- hike that may only take me six hours to do then sitting around a shelter for the next four hours until it gets dark and hiker midnight sets in to sleep is abhorrent. I’d rather be hiking. Almost as distasteful is to put in 15 to 17 mile days that may leave me too wasted to enjoy the process.
The AT is a mystery to me. I can read a dozen books, and I have, talk to dozens of people who have hiked it, and I have but at the end of the day this information is based on their experience, planning, fitness level and motivation. They ain’t me, nor am I they.
So here I sit, with a plan A trying to add a plan B in the hip pocket if things turn out far better than I had hoped. From the NOC to Sassafras Gap Shelter is 6.9 miles. Sassafras to Brown Fork Gap Shelter is 9.1 miles. Brown Fork to Cable Gap Shelter is 6.1 miles. Then lastly from Cable Gap to Fontana Dam Shelter is 7.3 miles. That is three days on the trail and plan A. Benefits are shorter hikes, shorter days, less stress on the body and no issues on hanging my hammock in the general vicinity. So what if things go super well the first day? Well then we adjust to plan B which would be NOC to Sassafras Gap Shelter on the first half day and 6.9 miles. Then Sassafras Gap to Cable Gap Shelter for the second day and first full day on the trail and 15.2 miles. Day three would be Cable Gap to Mollies Ridge Shelter and 17.6 miles and probably a desperate plea for a knee transplant. Day four would be from Mollies Ridge to Silers Bald Shelter and another 17.5 mile day. Knocking off that 0.1 of a mile will make me fresh as a daisy although I’ll probably look like a blackeyed susan. Then lastly, Silers Blad to Clingmans Dome; just a mere 4.6 miles to my shuttle pickup to take me to meet my family for vacation, or perhaps a visit to the hospital. Not sure which because as I’ve said, it’s all a mystery. Benefits of plan B are lots more miles on the trail. Definitely full days with no down time for being idle or petulant. Lot more scenery to see and a better brag of what I did on my time off. Petty? Yes. Honest? You bet your sweet bippie. Plan A is 29.4 miles and Plan B is 61.8 miles.
So whatever is a soul to do? Don’t know. Hello!! Sensing a theme here? Mystery? I still have no idea what I will do. All I can think of at this point is see how the first half day goes and make a call from that. I like the idea of taking it one day at a time anyway. I don’t intend to rush. I really want to savor the experience but still do it all at whatever pace I feel, both mentally and physically, is appropriate.
I know I have a deeper respect for those who do thru hike the AT. The level of planning and consideration of mileage is truly amazing if not pathological. And my friends think I’m crazy doing 4 1/2 days alone on the trail. Yea, right. I also have a new found distaste for government regulation. The GSMNP is the only place on the entire 2178 miles of AT trail that this type of reservation domination occurs. Why? I get you want to minimize the impact on the trail in the most visited national park in the U.S.. However, was there no other alternative than to completely screw with every section and thru hiker that goes through the park? Perchance this will go away although I’ve not seen many government regulations turned back and few that were done quickly.
Not to worry. I’m a pantheologist. Not a person who believes in many gods. Rather a believer who just knows it’s all gonna pan out in the end. The one overriding rule of this will be….have fun manerd! Don’t screw that up and it’ll all be good. How much are knee replacement surgeries these days anyway?