Day 26 (May 2): With our bags already packed from the day before you would think we would have been able to get on the trail early. This was not the case. We dragged our feet and slowly made our way out of town to snap a picture at the Great Smoky Mountain National Park sign before hitching a ride back to Newfound Gap.
Even with the slow start and getting on the trail around noon, we had high hopes of hiking fifteen miles to Tri-Corner Knob Shelter.
Our first break along the trail came when we reached the Charlies Bunion overlook. We enjoyed the views and snacked before quickly heading back on the trail.
The next three miles trail followed the ridge line of the mountain and had great views both East and West of the trail. We arrived at the Tri-Corner Knob Shelter (mile 222.2) after the rest of our group but were able to snag the last two spots in the shelter. Nadine barely had time to fill up on water before it began raining cats and dogs which continued through the night. That night we met Mickey and Miss Mass, an older couple from Boston who were planning a flip flop, as well as Simon, who came into the shelter soaking wet. Of course, Team Mobile showed up and didn’t get off his phone even after crawling into his sleeping bag.
Day 27 (May 3): It down poured all night long but the sound of the rain thundering on the shelter roof helped to lull us to sleep. When we woke the shelter seemed to be surrounded by a river of water coming off the hill. There would be no staying dry today. We ran into Mickey and Miss Mass near Cosby Knob Shelter and they let us know they spotted a bear following the trail nearby. About 100 feet down the trail from them we spotted the bear up on the ridge to our right, digging up roots and sniffing about for some grub. He paid little attention to us and we continued down the trail toward the next shelter for lunch. The rain died out during lunch but it was hard to tell the difference since the water dripping off the trees kept us uncomfortably wet. We were later told that the bear visited the shelter after we left, hunting for hiker leftovers. The rest of our hike for the day was a long downhill that hurt my knees as we progressed. I was happy to crawl into the caged up Davenport Gap Shelter (mile 237.0) when we arrived.
Derek spotted a mother bear and cubs near the shelter soon after we arrived and we all joined in to help scare them off by throwing rocks and yelling. Nadine and I were happy that we finally got to see some bears on our last day in the Smoky Mountains. We slept well in the shelter after our second long day in a row.
Day 28 (May 4): We woke early to hike the last few miles out of the Smokies and meet up with Charlie Dog, who was getting dropped off at the Standing Bear Hostel, three miles down the trail. The trail took us down a steep ravine with a loud, wide creek cascading over the rocks.
Soon enough we reached the bottom, crossed under I-40, and climbed back up to where the hostel was situated. We arrived early, so enjoyed the sunshine and grabbed some snacks (and beers) from the hostel store while we waited. Jonny also had a package sent to the hostel which contained a bottle of Jameson whiskey. Not wanting to carry the weight, we passed around the whiskey and lighten his load as we waiting. A few more beers later and Charlie finally arrived, greeting each of us.
By the time we were finally ready to depart, we had each had about three beers and a few shots of whiskey. Smartly, someone suggested that we each bring a beer for the trail. This quickly turned into a six pack and a game to see who could hike the six miles to the next shelter and drink all six of their beers first. Derek, Sam, Johnny, and I each chugged a beer and set off. Thankfully, Nadine decided not to participate and instead acted as chaperone to our crazy crew. Not more than a mile into our hike we were sitting by the side of the trail finishing our third beer and not wanting to move forward. It became very clear that we wouldn’t be making our goal of six miles, especially Johnny who had the majority of the whiskey. About a mile further up the trail we found an excellent set of campsites at Painter Branch (mile 242.7) where we stopped for the night. An hour later Pyro surprised us and explained that he was told by a group of South bounders that “we weren’t going to far”. Not more than a hour later it began to rain and we all crawled into our tents after a campfire and polishing off the beer we were carrying. I’m not sure what we expected by drinking and hiking, but I guess we can plan for a short day next time we stop for lunch beers.