A weather-based zero that became more about a new injury.
After a great night’s sleep, even with my foot up on a pillow, I found Bart and Chosen One hanging out in the lobby. They are stealth camping in the grounds and make use of the hotel facilities as they need them. They are here for the same couple days as me and for the same reason of waiting out the weather, just on a lower budget. They tagged along with me for breakfast. Chosen One is very well-built but is a gentle person in reality. He has dreads and wears some Rasta colors so that might explain that. He did the PCT last year and had to cope with some over-use injuries himself at the start so he gave me some good advice on pacing myself. Bart is also a really nice guy and although we have very different life stories we find a lot we have in common too. So, two more people that were kind, supportive and helpful on my trip.
It is so refreshing to hang out with men here, in stark contrast to the culture back in the UK where men under 40 or so are always taking the mickey out of each other’s mistakes and weaknesses and treat drinking alcohol like a competition. I’m a bit tired of it to be honest. It’s easy here, at least inside the AT community who understand how tough this is, to let your guard down and be more honest. Maybe the trail name concept helps but I think it’s more that you share the same experience without being in competition with each other for promotions or pay rises or anything really (except the one flat tent pitch!). People are sharing intimate and vulnerable time – eating and sleeping next to virtual strangers in the backcountry – and you have to make judgements on others purely based on their actions and words (appearance means nothing). The best situation for you and the group is if each of you is nice. There’s no advantage to being clever or superior or unkind. People avoid topics that are controversial or divisive and instead bond over food, mileage, trail stories and injuries. It wouldn’t be enough to sustain an ongoing community but it works like heck for a few weeks on the AT.
That was deep! You can tell I’m taking a zero and have time in my hands.
After breakfast I picked up a bucket of ice and went back to bed with my left foot elevated and iced. The area immediately to the right of the ankle bone is red and swollen to twice the size of the ankle bone itself. I believe it to be a high ankle sprain but hopefully only a very mild one. I can only limp heavily around the hotel so the 3000′ straight climb out of Fontana to start the remote Smokies section is not at all feasible right now. I will need another zero tomorrow. Ping pong last night was a 3-beer-fuelled mistake! But it was fun.
In other news I just wrote this to Nicole who is supporting my hike with gear and resupply drops: Have switched my opinion from ‘amazing how 80% of thru-hike attempts fail’ to ‘amazing how 20% succeed’!
The afternoon was mostly spent icing my ankle while watching The Rock in Snitch (weird casting – he doesn’t beat anybody up and no-one notices this mild-mannered business man is built like, well, a rock.
I did however have the reasonably bright idea of ordering an ankle brave from a company who offer overnight shopping (for more money than the brace costs but never mind). I ‘live chatted’ with Coleen from BraceShop.com throughout and she was able to check stock and expedite shipping for me. As I ordered mid-afternoon it might not arrive until Friday but there’s a chance it will be here tomorrow. It seems amazing that a product I only thought of at 2pm could arrive to this remote enclave in the mountains tomorrow from Florida but apparently it could!
I skipped lunch to avoid walking the steep slope down to the restaurant but by 5pm I was hungry enough to limp down for dinner. Just as I was settling the check about 6pm in walk Yogi Bear (Don) and Birdy! They had just finished the same NOC-Fontana section I finished yesterday lunchtime and stopped in for dinner before going to the campground to tent. They will zero here tomorrow as well.
We caught up and they had encountered a big rattlesnake and a big copperhead within an hour the day before which got their adrenaline going! I saw photos and the rattler was a chunky one for sure. They also told me one guy lost all his stakes to the wind in the storm 2 nights ago and his tent only stayed put due to his body weight inside holding it down! Fun times.
Don was surprised to see me, assuming I’d be in the Smokies by now. He said it was like the story of the hare and the tortoise. I laughed because it’s true. But I also cried a little inside, frustrated now by my (mostly) perceived slow progress. In fact the website of the Hike Inn, a hostel 7 miles from here, says the average number of days to reach Fontana is 19-21. With 4 days lost to my arm injury I got here in 15 so maybe it’s not so bad overall.
Yogi Bear and Birdy have a cabin booked tomorrow night and offered for me to stay there if I can’t sort out an extension with the hotel tomorrow.