The storm fizzled out with not quite a whimper but not too much bang and I head for a hotel to avoid Round 2.
I was aware of lots of lightning as I was falling asleep last night, patches of heavy rain and some admittedly impressive claps of thunder, but my ability to fall asleep under most circumstances – and Macks Slim Fit Ear Plugs – stood me in good stead for a surprisingly good nights sleep.
I woke around 6am to find my tent dry and intact – and not in Kansas. It was raining so I debated whether to get up or lie in. I got up and went to see what was happening at the shelter. Word was that the storms overnight definitely happened (several people were killed in nearby regions) but weren’t quite the end of the world here. Spike had mouse-related problems also so hadn’t slept much. But she had figured out how to catch them when they ran across her face and throw them out. So that’s all good.
Weather.com promised another storm after 1pm and then overnight which chimed well with my plan to hotfoot it to Fontana and take a zero to ride out the rest of the storm. So I went back to my tent to pack up and head out. I was impressed to find the leaf bed under my tent to be completely dry despite the rest of the world being saturated overnight.
I left camp at 07:30 and started the 11.6 miles to Fontana. The trail was treacherous because of the overnight rain and the ongoing rain. Every rock and root was like a ice rink, you couldn’t ‘smear’ all day (meaning to place your shoe rubber on an angled rock) and you couldn’t step on the top angle of a root or rock either as you would just slip sideways. Smooth parts of the trail meanwhile were down mudslides if downhill (I could see slide marks from earlier hikers all down the trail) and soft parts were now deep mush. I missed my Goretex boots today. You couldn’t – as always – put any real weight on your trekking poles as they would often go out from under you and if you leant on them you would fall. But at the same time trekking poles in today’s conditions are almost essential – I would meet one girl at the end of today who hyperextended her knee because she wasn’t using poles and her hike is likely over.
It was slow going. What I call ‘old man walking’ where almost every step had to be carefully considered, often tested first and then taken with caution. And it rained for the first 5 hours. I still thought a big storm was coming at 1 so pushed on. But in the end the weather calmed down around 12:30pm and I reached Fontana at 1:30pm in sunlight.
I was very tired by then. New shoes made my feet ache all over like crazy. Whatever is at the front of the leg between the shin and ankle hurt like crazy all today and really limited my stride.
I called the free number for a shuttle to the hotel and was very happy to put my feet up by 2:30pm. I eventually got up and did laundry and bought some resupplies before joining Preacher and Brittany, thru-hikers from Cumberland, Maine, for dinner and then afterwards we played pool and ping-pong with other thrus like Chosen One and Bart.
There is a Mini Cooper convention here starting either tomorrow or the next day so the whole place is already flooded with Mini cars, their enthusiastic owners and related businesses. Apparently this is the 12th year and the hotel (which sleeps 1100) is sold out for a week. Go figure.
More thunderstorms predicted for tomorrow but clear after that. Apparently the Fontana Hilton (the nickname given to the 20-man shelter down near the dam) was overflowing today as nobody has set out into the Smokies due to the weather.
Not too many photos today due to being in my pocketless rain gear all day. Here they are:
This little fella was on the only rock I could stand on so I had to wait for him to scuttle off before carrying on.