Monday, May 22, 2017 (Day 19)
I did get some rest last night. It only gently sprinkled in the early morning. This was good. It led me to rise at about 6:30 and get started at 7. It was a beautiful morning. I stopped and perched on a rock to make coffee and breakfast at a spring just 2 miles from where I camped. At this point I realized that I had not only left my t-shirt behind (soggy and hanging from a nail at the shelter), but my fuel cannister as well. This is the problem with packing up in the night, I thought. Especially with the gear of seven or more other hikers strewn about. Oh well. Standing Bear Hostel was in just ten miles. I should be able to pick one up there, and maybe there will be a shirt in the hiker box.
I exited the Smokies. Part of me felt badly at my relief. The Smokies were beautiful, and I understand that the rules and strict observance of them were for its preservation due to extremely high human traffic, but I was so excited to have the woods as my playground once more.
After crossing a bridge and Interstate 40, then following the road markers that led under an overpass and back up a long stair case into the woods…and then back down and out again, I came to the junction to Standing Bear Hostel.
Standing Bear Hostel was interesting. It had a very backcountry Southern feel. I was greeted by an old man on a stoop. He sported a long grey beard and a cap and was cradled by a wooden rocking chair, feet propped on a stool. He was not smoking a corn-cobbed pipe, however. He was reading a book.
I saw some familiar faces, found some camp shoes in the hiker box (to which my feet exclaimed: Oh, yes, thank you!), purchased some fuel, some crackers (my stomach had been uncomfortably gurgly), and a top (complete with…moth holes?) and shorts at $5 each (the inseam of my previous shorts [the same I wore on the PCT] were ripping and the surrounding fabric was literally disintegrating, it was only a matter of time). I sat and rested my feet and chatted for a couple of hours, and set off once more.
I had travelled but a mile before…I saw a bear! It was not extremely large, as bears go that is, and it moved to the left of the trail as I came towards it. I stopped short. It was very near me. I could see it clearly. It was staring at me. I could not help but stare back. I know you are not supposed to look them in the eye but I could not help myself. What a magnificent beast! Black with brown around the muzzle and deep almond colored eyes. Still, neither of us moved. I backed away slowly. It crossed the trail and stood by a tree to the right. I had not backed away much. I could not take my eyes off of it. I was mesmerized. My trance was broken as it showed signs of aggression, stomping it’s right paw and powerfully digging it in to the dirt as if revving up a motor. I did not want to be charged. I backed up farther, then lifted my trekking poles and banged them together. This worked. The bear moved off trail enough so that I could comfortably pass.
I pressed on, excitement still coarsing through my veins.
I decided I would try to camp at Snowbird Peak. I read that there were amazing views. There were. For a brief moment you exit the woods and are on a fielded hillside with wild flowers and low growing brush and the sight of mountains in the distance.
The summit of Snow Bird was piled wih gravel and an air traffic control tower that hummed with electricity. It, unfortunately, was too unnatural for me to camp there.
I moved on. I heard loud music and talking in the distance. I came to a site that would have made for lovely camping. There was trail magic there. An ice chest full of pink lemonade, and a strange tent described as a storm shelter. There were two hikers there already. They were the source of loud music. One had drinken more than their share of lemonade. Empty cans crumpled beside him. I tried not to be bothered. I continued.
The trail stayed in the fields for but a moment before reentering the woods, where I set up camp for the night.