Today I passed the geographical high point, while physically recovering well from yesterday's rocky 20 miler. And mentally I snapped out of a bit of a funk I'd gotten into over the last couple of days. While I've met many interesting and pleasant people, the lack of familiar faces each day was causing me to feel a bit lonely.
But if I'd lacked for human contact before, I didn't today.
In the course of my first 3 miles I passed at least 75 day hikers, tromping up from Newfound Gap to see some of the sights, particularly Chatlies Bunion / think Humpback Rocks if you're from C-ville.
The crowds at the parking lot were a bit overwhelming, but I had a great opportunity to empty my trash (pack it in, pack it out), and actually use a toilet that flushed.
While at the parking lot I connected with a pack of three hikers heading north and exchanged trail notes. Despite our differences in age and number of tattoos or piercings we clearly identified as part of the same tribe.
Heading north, the crowds thinned, but I still had my pick of day hikers and groups passing by. Notably, I ran into a group from the Friends of the Smokies, a non-profit support group, accompanied by no less than the Asst. Superintendent of GSMNP. The group was supporting three of their members doing a northbound hike of the park. After chatting a while, they took my picture and promised to write about meeting me on their daily update. I promised the same!
I eventually reached Clingman's Dome - packed with tourists - and whiled away a while with Charlie, who was looking forward to a zero in Gatlinburg, watching football and drinking beer. I was jealous.
I finally rolled into Silas Bald Shelter after a stress-free 15 miles, and met a local Tennessee father and son out for the weekend. After a career as an Army Ranger he'd come back home to settle down, and couldn't think of a place he'd rather be.
Gracious, dignified, and thoughtful, I think I'd cast Gary Cooper to play the fatherin the movie version of my trip.
We relaxed by the fire with some sipping whiskey, and I went to bed pleasantly relaxed, turning over the words he'd spoken. "I'm glad you showed up Spike, you bring good karma with you." One of the nicest compliments I've ever received.