Days become weeks become months

Tomorrow marks one month on the trail. Can you believe it? I hardly can. While the streams trickle and babble with the early splashes of spring, time has whipped past like the shelter-shaking winds of the Smokies. Routines have established themselves for hiking day in and day out. Dawn’s soft early light now ushers in a symphony of avian songs to wake up to which is everything but alarming. We break camp, make breakfast, and start our day swiftly. We hike for a couple hours, stop somewhere fitting for lunch (often times near a water source or a shelter), and continue hiking until an hour or two before sunset where we set camp again, cook an absurd amount of food for dinner, read from our kindles, hang our bear bag, and drift to sleep with a blanket of stars. While hiking, we often talk about what food we can’t wait to eat in town, what amenities we won’t ever take for granted again, and how egregiously bad the leading hiker’s gas is. We snack between sentences and then again during commas. We’ve found an amicable group of hikers that move at about the same pace as us whom we don’t necessarily hike with, but happen to find the company of a couple times per week at shelters and in towns. This strange and beautiful existence that has us hiking some 2,000 miles (which we could just drive, as I’ve been reminded) has actually developed a feeling of normalcy. And I couldn’t be happier.

Since Fontana Dam and the last post, Stumble and I have traversed the Great Smoky Mountains and wound up in the first town that the AT actually walks right through the middle of, Hot Springs, North Carolina. The Smokies treated us like special guests, offering favorable weather and those prime hiking temperatures where you stay cool while you walk and cuddle comfortably warm in your sleeping bag overnight. The wind at times made me cringe for the increasing butterflies we’ve witnessed, however only once did it actually deter our plans (as we set camp the night before hiking over Clingman’s Dome, the highest point on the AT, we contemplated waking up at 4am to try and catch the sunrise from the summit. Unfortunately winds that gusted up towards 50mph all night deterred our desires but still, our afternoon summit was stunning). 

  
The search for a bear continues (no I didn’t mean to say beer, plenty of encounters with those), however we did finally make some deer friends among the forest. On two consecutive days during our hike through the latter half of the Smokies we shared the presence of some deer, as well as a couple run-ins now with lizards and snakes. The bugs are beginning to breed with resolve to take over the earth, however it isn’t all that bad. Ticks are definitely out, though mosquitos haven’t joined the party yet and the butterflies are so wonderfully distracting that they sometimes lead you towards walking off cliffs or into rivers. And with all of this, the flowers are bursting forth in radiating abundance (check out Stumble’s blog for a basket of pictures: runningfrompolarbears.wordpress.com).

To (attempt to) hike the Appalachian Trail is an incredible opportunity that I can’t measure or convey my gratitude for. I want to say thank you to all of our friends and family that support us. We could not do this and would not be here without you all. From food boxes to notes of encouragement, we pulse with gratitude. Thank you.

  Walking across the Fontana Dam

 A lingering snowfriend on the way up to Clingman’s Dome
  Cool Smoky rocks
  Renaissance Man burned his copy of Game of Thrones after he finished it. I don’t think it was for lack of liking.  Trail magic from Bud and Weezy on the north side of the Smokies before Max Patch

 I don’t know  Captain Mountain Morgan

 Finding my dear old friend Rebecca Brees in Hot Springs, NC

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About Ben Stark

My name is Ben Stark, no relation to Tony or the House Stark. B.A. in Sociology from Calvin College Preferred mode of transportation: Bicycle, Ice Skates, Feet Currently pursuing Adventure as Vocation Let's cross paths!
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