Dawn was a treat, casting light through a wonderfully varied forest. The surrounding mountains gradually sprang into relief as the light grew and they shed layers of fog at their summits.
There's a sense of space and wildness in the Smokies that you don't find in Shenandoah. And the sheer variety of plant, animal life, and forest types is readily apparent. I saw Sarvis trees with brilliant red berries, experienced moss-covered forests, and heard bird calls that were completely outside my experience. A truly awesome place.
The bad side? The trail itself. The soil is thin on the mountain tops, and erosion often leaves the trail a mass of rocks and roots. After 20 miles, my feet and psyche had taken a beating. A hot meal helped, and fortified with that and (hopefully) a good night's sleep I'll be able settle into a few days of somewhat less mileage.
So what are the main topics of conversation on the trail?
Number 1 is, without a doubt, water. A recent dry spell has put a strain on springs, so it's courtesy for hikers passing by to share intelligence about the reliability of sources.
Number 2 is the bear situation. There were some shelter closures earlier this summer, but the trail telegraph assures me that the rangers have taken out the main problem bear, and tagged and relocated others. So all the shelters are open and everyone is breathing a little easier.
And that's the news from the trail - you AT correspondent, signing off.