Waking up in the early morning darkness I heard Frank in his tent organizing gear. Today would take us 7 or 8 miles to Hot Springs and the end of my planned test hikes. The threat of bad weather passed with the storm, leaving potentially the best hiking conditions I’ve yet experienced. I lingered comfortably in my bag contemplating all I’d learned and experienced. Switching on my lamp I looked around the tent. All my equipment was right here.I was comfortable and pleased with my choices. My pack,tent, everything had served me well instilling confidence. My Zpacks duo tent especially , despite several storms performed perfectly. It will be my home for many nights. Inside I feel comfortable and protected from the outside elements.
Frank was out of his tent so I too began preparations. First light was beginning as each of us independently ate and disassembled camp. Frank was ready first and headed north on he trail. I filtered the last of the water and followed maybe 15 minutes later. It was still cold despite a bright sky but the sun hadn’t made an appearance over the surrounding hills. Warmer temps were still a couple of hours away. Today’s hike started with a slow downhill warmup. Frank waited for me at a parking lot at Garenflo Gap just before a 500 ft. climb. There would be several views of surrounding hills that mirrored our climb. Sometimes that can be discouraging as you can see whats left to climb. Other times the same view can be encouraging. It depends on your mental and physical state at the time. Personally I’m always amazed that I can do it at all. The large trees and steep mountainsides command respect especially when one considers the scale and vastness of nature with that of a single man.
The sun followed us up the hill the cold forgotten. Sweat now ran down my forehead burning my eyes. I stopped to wipe it away and thought of removing one of my two shirts I started with in the morning. I didn’t for now. When the trail took a turn to the right the effect was like day into night. Stepping into total shade with a stiff breeze blowing head on the temperature dropped 5 degrees instantly, I was exhilarated yet happy to still be layered. I love those moments! Except for a few small ups and downs it was downhill to Hot Springs. 1300 feet down.
Normally I pick up the pace downhill but today my knee hurt again. It’s something I’ll have to deal with and seems to be related to pack weight. I changed my gait and attempted to shift the weight to my shoulders. With only two miles to go I kept moving. Descending toward Hot Springs I could see buildings from up high. Stopping for a second I heard a chainsaw and some cars. It’s always exciting to approach a town with expectations of food and rest. The two of us spilled out of the woods at Laughing Heart Hostel, a place I may stop for the night on my way back home next year. We unloaded the packs in the truck and had lunch at the Smoky Mountain Diner. I had a bleu cheese bacon burger, large fries and sweet tea.A perfect ending to this leg of the adventure.