This week I officially left the Smokies, and I hiked from Gatlinburg to Hot Springs. Even though Gatlinburg is a tourist hell-hole, I somehow wound up staying there for two days and was itching to go by the time I left. Hot Springs on the other hand is a beautiful little hiker’s paradise and I’ve loved my time here. In between the two towns I hit a few days of good terrain and a few decent climbs. I also did my first 20-mile day, which I was really proud of.
Spending so much time in town this week has been interesting because everything feels different in town. It’s easy to lose track of time in town, because at this point I’m so used to centering my whole day around hiking and when I’m not hiking I’m not quite sure what to do with myself. Meals in town happen whenever it’s convenient rather than when your body needs food. It’s easy to stay up past 9pm in town, although I’ve found that I’ll still wake up at sunrise. On the trail I lose track of dates and days of the week, so in town I really have to think through when it is to try and find the best way to get things done. Hikers also tend to do a lot of drinking in town, and one of the benefits of unemployment is that we can drink whenever we want, although we’ve been hiking through a lot of dry counties which can get confusing. Luckily for my body and my wallet I haven’t been drinking that much though. Overall, town days turn into a sort of haze. We get things done when we feel like it, and try to get back on trail whenever we’re ready.
It’s really been setting in that the trail is where I live now. I don’t have an apartment, or even a town that I live in anymore. Where I sleep changes every night, but the trail is a constant. In a way it’s a little unsettling, but it’s also amazing that I have the opportunity to just live out here in the woods. Plus it’s kind-of cool that I can carry everything I need to survive in my pack.
My favorite thing about this week has been that it feels like springtime has finally set in. Once we got out of the Smokies we were at a lower elevation, which meant that most of the trees had fully leaved. Springtime in the mountains comes with a particular smell that you can’t really find anywhere else. It’s like dirt and rain and chlorophyll all mixed together into something fresh and light and sweet. I hadn’t realized it before, but it’s one of the smells that I missed the most in New York. The city has lots of smells, but springtime isn’t one of them. I spent most of the week trying to breathe as much of it in as I could, especially in the mornings when everything feels fresh and clean.
Something that I’ve really been struggling with this week is the balance between pushing hard to put lots of miles in and sitting back and enjoying myself. There’s a part of me that gets really competitive and feels like I need to “win” the trail, even though the only thing close to winning would be setting a speed record and I’m definitely not doing that. But when I take an afternoon to sunbathe or I do 14 miles instead of 18, there’s always a part of me that feels guilty or like I’m not doing enough. At the same time, I know that I’m not just out here to put on miles – I’m here to enjoy the experience and I should take advantage of everything I come across. So going forward I’m going to remind myself that it’s okay to be pushing high mile days, but I need to take my time to sit back and enjoy things too.
This week I felt like I really settled into hiking the trail. Now that it’s been almost a month, everything out here has started to feel normal. In a way that makes everything easier, but it also makes it harder to appreciate all of the great things about the trail because they’re starting to feel so commonplace.
Here are some of my favorite pictures from this week: