After the unscheduled stop in Robinsville, I had a pretty strong day - did my first 14 mile day. It started with a climb up Jacob's Ladder and ended with dinner at the Fontana Dam Village. That took a while and ended with setting up camp at the 'Fontana Hilton' - the big shelter on the trail south of the Fontana Dam. The next morning started with a walk across the dam itself and then the climb up Shuckstack Mtn. It's the same trail my son Jonathan and I had done southbound a coule of years ago. So up I went and it started to rain. Then it didn't and then it did. It was another day of putting the pack cover on and the rainsuit on only to get overheated and take it off. Stopped at a beautiful campsite at Birch Spring Gap. Got to know some other hikers and caught up with some others that I thought were way ahead. It really rained that night as we all packed up to head for the next shelters. The rain turned to sleet and then snow as the wind howled all day. Now everything is wet and I am freezing. I stopped at Mollie's Ridge Shelter at mile marker 176.8 nearly frozen. I was really concerned about hypothermia. I immediately got out of my wet clothes, but had no dry ones to put on (big mistake). So, the next best thing - get into the sleeping bag in the shelter. That was the second problem of the day: In the smokies, you have to stay in the shelter instead of camping ouside. My hammock and sleep system work great when doing what they are supposed to do. But they suck when used on a hard plank floor in a wooden shelter. I never could get warm and barely got any sleep at all. There was a Ridge Runner (employee of the ATC) at the shelter that night. He advised everyone that the nasty weather would continue for a couple of days - to make sure we all slept warm and had dry clothes for the days ahead. Two strikes right there. So I had to do some real soul searching. Do I stay another night just to try to dry my clothes in a wet cold environment.....or try something else. The quick way down off the freezing mountain was a side trail to Cades Cove, Tn - and close to where Jonathan lives in Knoxville. A text, a phone call, and he agreed to pick me up and take me to Gatlinburg for some gear changes and then home for dinner and ice cream. The trail down was nice once I was off the ridge and out of the wind. Cades Cove is a beautiful place that I visited only a couple of times before. I must go back again soon - there's some great trout water in there.
Jon picked me up at the park entrance. We stopped at the NOC in Gatlinburg to see about so new gear changes and clothing. Bill, one of the elder-statesmen in the hiking department had a few gear suggestions but also a big job of counseling a fellow elder-stateman. He basically told me to act my age - and enjoy the ride - that I am doing just fine - and not to try to compare myself to others. And there's some stuff I am leaving behind.
So here I am at Jon's house - showered clean again, clothes are in the washer and some new gear is going in the bag. Tomorrow I catch a hiker shuttle back to the trail. It will cause me to miss a short section of the trail, but most of which I have already hiked. I wanted to be a purist and do the whole trail without skipping anything, but this is just the way it's working out.
Now for the changes.
I have spent too much time trying to keep up with hikers that are younger or already more physically fit than I am. Yesterday that kind of thinking cost me a day of hiking and might have been much more serious. So, from now on I am really going to simply hike my own hike. If I lose contact with my trail friends, so be it. No more trying to keep up and no more comparing my hiking skills and styles and pace to anyone else - that's stinkin' thinkin'. I have cautioned others against being a slave to the 'mileage monster' and now in my own way I have to follow my own advice. Besides - if someone else speeds ahead and finished in 125 days and I take 165 days, that only means that I get to spend 40 more days hiking and camping on the trail than those speed demons. I will no longer worry about the low miles and the huffing and puffing up the hills. I will hike my own hike and take it as it comes at my own pace and my own time - after all, this is my hike and it belongs to me.