Fontana Dam to Damascus
North Carolina-Tennessee

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The journal of Andy Linger ... thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in 1997

Back to April 26

April 27—Mollies Ridge Shelter (Day 15 ~ milepoint 173.5)
It's my birthday today! And it's raining out! And the visibilityis down to 50 feet! Actually, the weather isn't that bad. It started raining a little after I arrived at the shelter and was still going steady at sunset. There's a trail crewman and an ATC field Rep. that are working on a trail relocation for this fall (they need volunteers too!). There's also nine more of us in the shelter desperately trying to cook dinner before the wind picks up and starts blowing the rain in. The weather may be lousy, but it feels great to have made it to the Smokies.—Andy

April 28—Derrick Knob Shelter (Day 16 ~ milepoint 184.9)
Today was another day of fog and rain. Wore my raingear for the first time until about half an hour into the hike - then the fog rolled in and the rain subsided. There were several times when I had trouble seeing the ground in front of me. Anyways, that night turned out to be much better - well, in a way. There were 18 people in the shelter built for 14, and another 11 tenting. It started to rain, then thunder, then hail. The sound was deafening, and the shelter quickly swelled to 29 people. That night, however, turned out to be a trail magic experience. Ladder, Hair Bear and Shaman cooked up a secret concoction of coffee, hot chocolate, irish cream, and other special herbs and spices to create a drink that relaxed the soul and eased the mind (no, alcohol wasn't used). That night ended with Jiffy Pop for a bedtime snack.—Andy

April 29—Mt. Collins Shelter (Day 17 ~ milepoint 198.4)
After entering the Smokies in the rain, several days later Mother Nature opened the skies up for us. As the weather finally cleared today, the results were some spectacular views at the top of Clingman's Dome, Fontana Dam and Cheoah Bald could be seen in the distance. To the west, everything was shrouded in clouds (2,500 feet below us), and to the east, nothing but clear skies.—Andy

April 30—Icewater Spring Shelter (Day 18 ~ milepoint 205.9)
Made it to Newfound Gap today. Decided at the last minute (along with everyone else) to head into Gatlinburg for a food resupply (our appetites are going out of control) and an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet. Two hours later at the shelter, I was desperate for dinner.—Andy

May 1—Tri-Corner Knob Shelter (Day 19 ~ milepoint 218.5)
This morning it rained for a couple hours, and by 9 am, the rain stopped and the sun came out. The views from Charlie's Bunion were spectacular. The clouds could be seen rolling over the mountains with the valley floor and Gatlinburg clearly visible off in the distance.—Andy

May 2—Davenport Gap Shelter (Day 20 ~ milepoint 233.4)
Went up to Mt. Cammerer Fire Tower on the way thru. Great views. Could see Pigeon Forge (and even Dollywood!) off in the distance to the west. Arrived at the shelter at 3:30, and the only thing on my mind was the Mountain Momma's HUGE cheeseburger and grilled cheese. So, I ditched my pack, ran (yes, ran) a mile to the road, got a ride to the store, and feasted. Chris, Marge, Maverick, and Japly decided to tent for the night. I couldn't get a ride back, so I had to walk 2.3 miles back to the shelter (didn't want to tent because of the thunderstorms expected) - BUT IT WAS WORTH IT! Oh yeah, I'm going back there for the waffles and eggs for breakfast.—Andy

May 3—Groundhog Creek Shelter (Day 21 ~ milepoint 244.0)
Woke up to some rain this morning which quickly subsided as I left camp. There was no traffic heading down the road, so No Agenda and I hiked down to Mounain Mamma's for breakfast. Had a nice fat plate of pancakes (yes, I was hungry a half hour later), took the shuttle back to the trailhead, and headed up Snowbird Moutain. The hike today was one of the most tiring in quite a while. My guess is it was the greasy burgers and full stomach that morning. Scat Man, Caterpillar, and the Blister Sisters told me they felt the same way. Anyways, the ten miles may have felt like thirty (and it was all uphill), but the weather was nice, and I'm one day closer to Hot Springs.—Andy

May 4—Walnut Mountain Shelter (Day 22 ~ milepoint 257.0)
This morning I woke up to some small hail (every morning since Fontana Dam has yielded rain - usually followed by sunny afternoons) and a temperature in the high 30's. The view from atop Max Patch was great, full 360 degree views, and 30 mph winds - which almost blew me over a couple of times. It's 7:30, and so far I've got the shelter all to myself. Guess I'll go to bed early, rise with the sun, and make an early start to Hot Springs.—Andy

May 5—Hot Springs, NC (Day 23 ~ milepoint 269.8)
Today was another beautiful day. I woke up at 7 am, and left camp fifteen minutes later. The only thing on my mind right now was Hot Springs. I arrived in town at noon, and my first plan of attack was to visit Wingfoot. I arrived at his house, rang the bell, and he answered with an exhausted look on his face (he spends 15-20 hours a day providing hiker services and working on this website, I discovered). We talked a little, and went out to lunch for a little trail talk. It was great to finally meet the person that I have been talking to over the phone for the last seven months. I arrived at the Sunnybrook Inn later that day. The place was booked for the day except for a little bunk in the greenhouse. The dinner was wonderful. It consisted of a huge soup, salad, and vegetable stir fry, followed by pecan pie for desert. After dinner, everyone went to their rooms to crash for the night, and I stumbled out to the greenhouse feeling 50 pounds heavier.—Andy

May 6—Hot Springs, NC (Day 24 ~ milepoint 269.8)
Today I decided to take the day off. By the time I was done talking to Wingfoot and other hikers coming into town I met along the way, it was almost 5 pm. Wingfoot let me crash at his place that night. He gave me a brief history of the AT and the people responsible for its existence (and told me that I've already taken about 750,000 steps). That night I did a little partying in town, ate tons of food, and headed back to Wingfoot's. I checked out my webpage and made a few changes you may or may not notice. At midnight after he was done working, we watched a movie (wow! First time watching TV in over three weeks).—Andy

May 7—Campsite near Hurricane Gap (Day 25 ~ milepoint 279.9)
Today I saw several people coming into town that I haven't seen in quite awhile. Screaming Knee, Alien, Fire Marshall and Flying Outchman arrived today eagerly awaiting the hot springs and dinner. Upon their arrival, we had a cheese and cracker party. At 4 pm, with 17 pounds of food on my back, it was time to hit the trail. The climb out of the valley was great. The steep climb offered excellent views of the town below. About three hours into my hike, I saw my first bear! It wasn't much, but seeing the cub run up to the ridge in full view was great. At 8 pm, and still a good 1-2 hours away, I decided to tent. I tied the rainfly up, and gazed at the millions of stars as I fell asleep.—Andy

May 8—Jerry Cabin Shelter (Day 26 ~ milepoint 296.1)
Woke up to some clouds this morning, but fortunately no rain. Hit the trail at 7:30 and headed to Spring Mountain Shelter. I was told there were 9 people there last night. It's a good thing I stayed where I was, or I would have been setting up my tent and dining in the dark. At 4:30, I arrived at Jerry Cabin Shelter and four other hikers arrived for the night.—Andy

May 9—Hogback Ridge Shelter (Day 27 ~ milepoint 310.8)
More clouds today, which made for some nice, cool weather hiking. Made it to the shelter at 5:30. There were eight people in the shelter when I arrived, with just enough room for me to fit in. That night's discussion was on some of the lesser known music bands from the '80s (remember Mollis Day and the Time, Escape Club, or ChiliWhack?).—Andy

May 10—Bald Mtn. Shelter (Day 28 ~ milepoint 320.5)
Today I did something different, in fact, very different! I had my head shaved (photo will be up shortly!)! Pippi brought the idea up after Tortise was mentioning how his hair was shaved in town. The only thing going through my mind at that point was - well, I've always thought getting my head shaved once in my life would be cool (especially considering many of my friends in college did it), and what better place to do it than on the trial? After she asked me, I thought about it for awhile, taking into consideration the sun's effect on a bare head, sleeping in cold weather, etc. Finally everyone in the shelter cheered me on and said go for it. I sat down in front of the shelter while she got the razor and another hiker's scissors ready. Two hours later, the hair on my head was reduced to a small patch of fuzz. It was an instant hit. Tortise took his cap off and we compared hour "hair styles". The sun was quickly setting, and the two hours of sitting made me really cold. The topic of conversation that night was hiking related flatulence. Tortise brought up that subject after hearing another hiker blowing it in the wind).—Andy

May 11—No Business Knob Shelter (Day 29 ~ milepoint 330.6)
Before leaving Bald Mtn. Shelter that day, I had a trail magic experience. Feral Snowman (of '94) who is the host at the Haven Farm Hostel, came in with a gallon of homemade Salsa and chips. Everyone immediately stopped what they were doing and fought like mice to get the salsa! That night at the shelter I met up with Shaman and Hair Bear who I hiked with through much of the Smokies, Ladder, his dog Hook, and Rambleon got in at 10:30 pm after doing a 20 miler.—Andy

May 12—Curley Maple Gap Shelter (Day 30 ~ milepoint 340.7)
This mornign everyone was up at 7 am, readying themselves for the city of Erwin and some all-you-can-eat grub. In less than 2 hours, the 6.3 miles to the river was hiked, hitched into town, and arrived at the KFC for the lunch buffet. The next hour and a half of eating was one of the best sensations the five of us have had during the entire trip. After the hour and a half that sensation was now one of the worse food hangovers of my life! We sat for the next 30 minutes with our hands on our stomachs, and our voices moaning. After crawling out of the joint, I found a ride back to teh trailhead and attempted to hike with 15 additional pounds of foot in my pack, and 10 pounds in my stomach. The first hour was nightmarish. My pace was less than a mile per hour, and every step felt like it took forever. Fortunately, this lasted only for an hour, and the rest of the climb up to the shelter became easier. The word has also spread about my little haircut at Bald Mtn. Shelter. People I haven't met before refer to me now as "the guy Pippi shaved". They suggested I put a pink robe on and hand out flowers to motorists at the stoplight.—Andy

May 13—Cherry Gap Shelter (Day 31 ~ milepoint 352.8)
Today marks the first time since day one I haven't been insanely hungry. Yesterday, the lunch buffet was followed by a mac and cheese dinner and a half pound of peanut butter to shave weight off my pack. After this, Meltdown (tailname comes from a tent-related incident) was pleading for us to eat her hotdogs, marshmellows, and cheese. Today I was "forcing" myself to eat more than normal to compensate for the fact that I had a week's worth of food for only four days until my next maildrop (it's amazing what happens when you see a real grocery store for the first time in 31 days).—Andy

May 14—Roan High Knob Shelter (Day 32 ~ milepoint 366.8)
Today it's official. Summer has been cancelled! The last few weeks - actually since I've started, the weather has been a bit cooler than normal. Getting up in the morning means a mad dash to get out of the sleeping bag, put warm clothes on, eat, and start hiking before your body parts freeze. Actually, it's not quite that bad (well, there's been a few really cold mornings). I prefer hiking in the cool weather. I know the couple of months when the temperatures are over 100 degrees, I'll be looking back and wishing for April and May's weather. Today when I reached the shelter at the summit of Roan Mountain (highest shelter on the AT at 6,285 feet) there was on and off drizzle, hail and sleet (will it snow tonight?). Making it a good night to get in my sleeping bag early.—Andy

May 15—Apple House Shelter (Day 33 ~ milepoint 380.8)
Roan Mountain was shrouded in a thick layer of fog when I woke up. As I descended off the mountain, the clouds and fog started to burn off. The next few mountain summits I crossed here the Hump Mountains. The summits and ridges leading up to them were treeless, offering magnificent 360 degree views. Tomorrow it's off to Trail Days!—Andy

May 16—US19E (Day 34 ~ milepoint 381.3)
This morning I woke up and headed the half mile from the shelter to the road and began my hitchhiking marathon. First I hitched a ride into Elk Park, NC to shower and find out how Meltdown was getting to Trail Days. She ended up getting a ride with four hikers. Fortunately, the one other person there had a ride coming to get to the trailhead. I arrived at the trailhead and then had to hitch a ride to the city of Roan Mountain, TN to pick up my maildrop and do laundry. My next step was finding a ride into Damascus. A couple guys on their way to Johnson City drove me 8 miles down the road to the middle of nowhere where they headed in a different direction. Next, I got a ride in the wrong direction from someone going to get a haircut. Finally, a man on his way to Hot Springs (Trailhopper) to do some hiking gave me a ride straight to Damascus! The great sucking sound of Trail Days has pulled me in.—Andy

May 17 thru 18—Break for Trail Days; Damascus, VA (Days 35-36)
When I first arrived in Damascus Friday afternoon, I could see the large mass of hikers converging on "tent city" - the place on the river where most hikers go to set up for the weekend. Tent city consisted of a sea of different colored tents, awnings, tarps, teepees, and anything else that could house a hiker for the weekend. Trail Days is an annual festival originated by Wingfoot in 1987 to celebrate the AT's fiftieth anniversary. The town has continued the event ever since. Some of the more popular events that take place over the weekend include the backpacker's parade, hiker talent show, slideshows and presentations of past thru-hikes, church and fire department sponsored breakfasts and dinners, and of course the free chili dinner put on by some of the manufacturers reps. I set up my tent near Red, a hiker I met on the trail, and Dancing Bear, another "victim" of Pippi who's head was shaved bald by her. After setting up camp, I headed towards the other side of tent city to see who I recognized. Tehre was a quarter mile strip along the river of nothing but tents. Dinner that night consisted of chili, served by some of the vendors. It was free and it was filling. The long line forming went in circles. As one had their cup or bowl filled, it was back to the end of the line for more. It wasn't until 3:30 a.m. that I went to bed. The night consisted of trail stories and plenty of beer. Day 2 started out with a pancake breakfast at the local church. The rest of the morning was one of the most gratifying experiences on the whole trip. It consisted of a bunch of us getting lazy and doing absolutely nothing! I hit the post office that morning and then headed past the Methodist Church where Warren Doyle (thru-hiked the AT at least 10 times) was giving a presentation. It was more of a storytelling presentation, sharing some of the unique experiences he has had on the trail. Later that afternoon it was off to the backpacker's parade. The highlight of this was the former thru-hiker spectators pitching water balloons at us poor hikers parading down the street. The next major event - the hiker talent show - I unfortunately (well, actually fortunately, heard it was a bust) missed. Flying Dutchman, Fire Marshall, Screaming Knee, Alien and I decided to get food instead. We headed to Dot's Restaurant for some appetizers and followed that with some beer and pizza at Quincey's (known for their huge family size calzone which is popular with hikers). We headed towards the vendor area where there was a pack weighing contest and sleeping bag stuffing contest (the backpack and sleeping bad were the prizes). It was followed by a slide show presentation of a former thru-hiker. Tonight I got another great night's sleep after going to bed at 4:30 a.m. Today was the last official day of the three day event (some people have been here for more than one week). Sunday morning marked the day when everyone gave their goodbyes to each other and headed back to the trail where they left off. I was able to get a ride from Hound Dog, who thru-hiked in '95. We shared our hiking experiences and memories of the trail. During the ride back we drove through Banner Elk, a town he used to live in, which has a ski area and a condo complex on the summit of Sugar Mountain (kind of reminds me of all the touristy junk in Gatlinburg). We arrived at the trail at 1 p.m., said our goodbyes, and I headed north, and he headed back to southern Georgia where he goes to school.—Andy

May 18—Moreland Gap Shelter (Day 36 ~ milepoint 394.8)
The next 13.5 miles of trail wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I was told it was tons of ups and downs, it was like a roller coaster, etc. This, and the fact that I became fatter and lazier over the last 3 days wasn't making me look forward to it (oh, yeah, it was also actually warm out today!). My sweat glands did indeed get a workout, but the hike was just small ups and downs. Got into camp at 8:30 and struggled to cook dinner and get everything squared away before dark.—Andy

May 19—Braemar Castle; Hampton, TN (Day 37 ~ milepoint 409.7)
Today's hike took me through Laurel Fork Gorge. The gorge was a large waterfall, with rhododendrons lining either side. As I hiked out of the gorge, a sudden thunderstorm passed through. The warm front brought with it torturous humidity levels that made me sweat like a faucet going up Pond Mountain (absolutely no views at the summit!). During my descent, the sky blackened and I ran into a hiker going the other way. He told me there was a group of 14 youth (the same ones I saw at Apple House Shelter) sprawled out in the shelter. I knew getting a shelter spot now was probably out of the question. As I descended the ridge, I could hear the thunder get louder and louder. The only thing on my mind was to get off the stupid ridge! About 10 minutes from the road it started to rain. I was under tree cover, but I could hear rain pattering above. I approached the road and saw a couple college students from Johnson City putting a canoe on their car. Fortunately, they offered to drive me to the hostel. As I put my pack in the car, the downpour started. The front lawn of the hostel looked like a lake, and the thunder was deafening. While I wasn't planning on staying there, I'm glad I did.—Andy

May 20—Vandeventer Shelter (Day 38 ~ milepoint 417.5)
Got a real late start today. Then morning was spent catching up on journal entries (what, do you think I had time to write journals in Damascus?), backpack "housecleaning", restocking the food keg, and watching it rain like crazy outside. The rain stopped at about 2 p.m., and I decided to head out. It was overcast with on and off drizzle, but it wasn't enough to turn my cotton t-shirt into a 4 pound wet rag. I had trouble sleeping that night (probably from the mice I had to swat off my pack), so I climbed on the rocks behind the shelter for a wonderful view of the moonlit valley and Watauga Lake below. There was no noise to be heard, and across the valley the cloud shadows could be seen crossing the valley floor.—Andy

May 21—Double Springs Shelter (Day 39 ~ milepoint 432.3)
Woke up this morning to see a great sunrise over the valley below. It was another great hiking day with cool temps and lots of sun. I met several slackers - oops, I mean slackpackers (thru-hikers hiking without their packs) hiking south from Trail Days to where they left off. If my calculations are correct, this shelter marks the 20% mark, or one millionth step. Yep, I've taken about a million steps to get here from Springer Mtn. Only four million to go. Tomorrow it's off to Damascus ... again.—Andy

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