Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Day 11: Fontana

5/1: Stecoah Gap - the top of a climb near a lovely rhododendron tree
mile 150.8 - 170.1 (19.2 miles)

It rained overnight but other than threatening clouds still hovering in the mountains it was already sunny with humidity at 99%, thanks weather channel seeing it in black and white hurts. We got outed town without too much dilly dallying and thankfully with slow Sunday morning traffic it only took 25 minutes to catch a local heading up to the gap.

The people you meet out here are such a great part of the experience. Our ride was awesome, a local retired FBI agent who every summer has trouble with something killing his chickens. He sets humane traps trying to catch the chicken killer but mostly just gets opossums. He says he averages 30 opossums every summer that he then relocates up the mountain. Last year he even painted one of the opossums tails green, it only took him 3 days to come back. And why the long opossum story? Why yes I did ride in fact ride in the back of a pick up with a opossum. Certainly a first.

There was trail magic at the gap, woohoo!

Thanks trail magic! I've now officially tried birch beer, which I'm pretty sure is cream soda and delicious

View from the gap

The climb out of Stecoah Gap was called Jacobs Ladder. I'll admit I was expecting a crazy rock filled gauntlet. But no, just a very steep 800 ft plus climb. I'm starting to have some achilles tenderness which means more breaks and a slower pace. No big hassle today, the birds were loving life and everything seemed extra bright and full of life. I never knew how much I would enjoy staring at centipedes and snails right along with the flowers and trees.

How can it not seem magical out here, when the wind gusts it rains flower petals, my feet are literally glittering from all the mica out here (fun fact North Carolina leads the nation in mica production) and soon my shirt will have enough salty sweat in it to stand up on its own. Okay so mostly magical, whatever I'm loving trail life. Humidity is sure a beast.

Lady slippers

Mystery fuzz balls

The rest of the day is rollers, 200-400 ft of ups and downs but the trail is in great shape and I'm in a good mood. Lunch is at cable gap shelter where all anyone can talk about is the Smokies. It's our first national park on this trail and tumors of bears and norovirus are already rampant. It's hot and humid and after we get glimpses of Fontana it's a nice descent towards the dam. There's a nice parking lot with flush toilets but we push on to the shelter at Fontana Dam. It's called the Fontana Hilton and sleeps 20 with running water, flush toilets and showers!

There's quite the crowd and we almost stay but Rest Stop turns out to be the restless one this time around and sometime after 6 it's once again back to the trail accompanied by ominous clouds and endless predictions of rain.

Fontana Dam is pretty impressive but soon enough we're officially entering Great Smoky National Park, dropping of our permits and reading more warning about norovirus. Yikes even the national park service is warning of outbreaks, yay...
It's a long climb up and we had hoped to get to the ridge but the thunder is getting more persistent and the sky is beyond dark so we end up throwing up the tent right in time. It's pouring within 20 minutes, let's see what tomorrow brings.

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