Overcast, chilly w cloud cover, hot w/out

B: Protein Bar L: someplace in Gatlinburg?

Today was a day that happens without explanation. This is living:
We woke up at Collins Shelter and hiked 4 miles to Newfound Gap. This stretch has fir and pines with damp soil yielding huge ferns and mossy logs. it looked like something from an animated film. Occasionally, the fallen trees exposed huge root system, often lifting up entire boulders with it that it grew around (pic).
All plan went awry from the point of getting to Gatlinburg. We went down to the bathroom to “clean up” and hitch a ride or catch the scheduled shuttle from Gatlinburg. With reception at one ten ft area (AT&T hates the AT here), I called and reserved a Motel 6, but found that all the shuttles were either broken down or not answering. Hitching a ride to town is “a sure thing” according to the guide book, the Parks and Wildlife worker, and the shuttle person from Gatlinburg. 2 hours later w easily a hundred people at Newfound Gap, nobody picked us up, even w a “AT Hikers, to Gatlinburg $20” sign. So, we set out to walk 15 miles into town. Not more a quarter mile later, a Volkwagon station wagon passed us, pulled off, looped around and picked us up. Five guys and a girl, all in their 20’s, piled out in an awkward disarray of tie-die shirts and long hair and beards. It was hard to tell what to think, but hey, it’s a ride. Everyone seemed to be in a great mood. So, two guys contort themselves behind the back seat, we cram four people and me and Berg’s two packs in the back seat, and Littlefoot and his pack in the front seat. 8 people and a low riding suspension. The driver said they were river raging guides from Wild Water out of South Carolina with free passes to “DollyWood”, a theme park owned by Dolly Parton. “Hey, want to go to DollyWood? We can get you in as ‘plus ones'”, Keith, the driver said. Trying to assess if this was a good choice, I hear myself say, “Sure!”. As the road sign point to Gatlinburg one way, we go the other. So we’re coasting down the road to DollyWood through Pigeon Forge and a random pigeon flies down from the hillside right in the middle of the road under the car. Smack! There was absolutely no time to even think. The guys contorted facing the back widow shout, “Oooh, DUDE! Feathers just flew up covering the entire lane!”. Keith, Littlefoot, Chloe and I were caught between feeling bad for the bird and laughing so hard we couldn’t speak. By the time we got to DollyWood, we were a group in every sense of the word. Keith said, “I’m a guide, so I tend to make sure everyone is safe and together”. That reassured me a lot that we were not going to get stranded there. These guys were leaders by trade. Opening the door and hatchback, we sort of exploded outward a like a coiled spring released. They got us into this theme park (normally $57 per adult) and we spent the day, from 2pm to 7pm riding every ride we could. Free. Around 4 we piled into an all-you-can-eat buffet at the park. It was amazing. We stuffed our stomached until they were so full it hurt to stand up. By 7, we re-crammed into the car, tired, satisfied and we stunk. Cooper, a kid with long hair, fishnet hat and dark rimmed glasses, said, “Oh, man it’s my socks.” and hung them out of the window as we drove. The faces of people as they passed us by were hilarious. After some time, we arrived in Gatlinburg at the Motel 6, and asked the desk clerk lady to take a pic to prove that a day like this actually happened. We parted ways still bewildered how this was possible. It follows the theme of the trail, take a step and follow your feet. You know you’re living when life happens to you.
Now in a bed, making plans for tomorrow to resupply at the grocery store, outfitters, and possibly launder clothes, I await another day. Another adventure to get back to the AT.
Berg, Littlefoot and I all agree, this day will never be forgotten.




(From left to right: Cody, Littlefoot, Michael, Chloe, Keith, me, Berg, and Cooper). This group was from Wild Water Outdoor Adventures.