Tellico Plains to Fontana Dam

11/21 9.3 miles (plus 3 miles not on BMT)

We woke up covered in condensation for the second morning in a row. And, for the second or third day in a row, we slept through our alarm. Although we were carrying two sleeping bags each, they are all down, and do not perform when wet. We needed to do something about our wet sleeping bags urgently before it became dangerous.

We had about 10 miles to hike to get to Joe Brown Hwy. From there, the Coker Creek Welcome Center was 3 miles away, and we had a mail drop there. The 10 miles were easy, and we got to Joe Brown Hwy in a timely fashion. It turns out that this “highway” is actually a dirt road, and there were no cars in sight. Oh well, 3 more miles of walking won’t kill us.

The sun was shining, and with the easy road walk, we decided to take our our sleeping bags and drape them over ourselves in hopes that they would dry. This proved very effective, and within an hour, we shoved them back in our backpacks happy to have averted a painfully cold night. Hopefully we won’t be forced to sleep by a stream again soon.

At the Welcome Center, we quickly noticed that our phone charger was missing. We had left it at the Reliance Fly and Tackle shop. We weren’t planning to spend more than an hour at or so at the Welcome Center before heading back to the trail, but a kind gentleman named Bill offered us a ride to town (Tellico Plains) where we could get a new charger cord. We quickly also found a place that offered cabins for less than $40 a night, and there were hot showers to be had. We gave in to temptation and spent the night in Tellico Plains after two Subway Sandwiches each. We washed some of our dirty clothes in the sink and left them out to dry while we slept. I don’t think we’ll be doing a real load of laundry for the entire trail. Hand washing seems to work fine.

11/22 11.3 Miles

Today we made it to a campsite 11.3 miles from Joe Brown Highway. We got a ride in the morning with Bill who dropped us off right at the trail, saving us the road walk back.

It was very tough going because we had to climb significantly to get to higher elevations. We’re currently walking the NC/TN border, and the North Carolina side of the mountain was the side that the sun was hitting, and the Tennessee side was the cold and windy side. We kept having to take off and put on clothes.

We found the ruin of an old military ambulance, and soon thereafter we came across the ruins of an old two story stone house. There was water flowing through the house, and we actually collected water there.

The trail has also worsened in condition and often goes straight up the hillsides making the travel slow and arduous.

My right hip is really hurting me today, and in a similar fashion to how it felt on our PCT hike. Since then I’ve has had corrective surgeries to fix the so called underlying problem of my pain- Hip Dysplasia. As you can imagine to be in similar pain is very frustrating and demoralizing. My heart sank each time I felt the pain return to my hip, which was each time I pushed off particularly hard with my right foot, mostly on the up hills.

At some point we scared up a flock of turkeys, and chuckled at the fact that it was the day before Thanksgiving. “There’s tomorrow’s dinner!” John said jokingly. I was impressed, these turkeys could really fly when they wanted to. Probably nothing like the fattened birds that actually get cooked up.

Instead of making it about 15 miles in, which was the original plan, we decided to cut the day short to give my hip a rest.

I’m pretty sure the pain I’m feeling is muscular pain, which means that perhaps some more physical therapy may actually help me. I haven’t been doing much PT for my hips recently since I’ve been so wrapped up with my shoulder issues. I’m suddenly feeling old again.

11/23 16.2 miles

We managed to wake up with our alarm at 6:15 am and we were hiking by 7. By 7:30 I took two Advil because my right hip hurt quite badly. I sat down and cried, but the temperature was still in the 30’s so we quickly got cold and had to move on. I wanted to talk to John, but as usual, the leaves beneath our feet were too noisy for us to be able to communicate. Plus we were both wearing hats.

Soon I stopped again. “I think we need to consider the possibility of quitting.” I told John. He looked at me and nodded. Again, we had to move on because of the cold. I normally don’t get frustrated with trails, but I have to admit, the trail here sucked. I’m not convinced anyone maintains it. It was covered in greenbriers and black berry bushes, and there were blow downs, both trees and large branches all over the place. Sometimes there wasn’t a place to step besides on fallen branches. Then there were cobble stone sized rocks waiting to trip you under a deep layer of slippery dead leaves. At the same time, the trail went straight up and down. I kept getting my feet caught in branches, tripping over rocks and getting all my clothes snagged on brambles. Meanwhile, I was feeling tremendous sadness and despair due to my hip pain.

We looked at the map, and the first bailout point was Tellico River Road, an intersection that we would hit today. We slowly made our way towards it, and the trail got very gradually slightly better.

When we saw the road from a series of switch backs, I could tell we would need a miracle in order to get a ride. There wasn’t a single car driving past, and it was the middle of the afternoon on Thanksgiving Day.

We got to the road, and walked down it very slightly, following the BMT. To my great surprise, there was a vehicle parked in the parking lot, and three people were peering over a map at the trailhead. We walked up to them and I asked them if they needed any help finding anything– hoping to yogi a ride from them. They were trying to get to the Fish Hatchery, but it was gated shut. They told us they were from Tellico Plains, and I was quick to let them know that in fact that was exactly where we were trying to go. They wandered off towards the gated road to take a look, and John and I sat at a picnic table. I sensed that they didn’t get my hint, or if they did, they weren’t in the mood to take a couple of hikers in their vehicle all the way back to town. I wasn’t about to beg. I sighed when I saw them walk back to their truck and get in, and finally drive away.

We sat there for another half an hour, not saying much of anything to each other. There was nothing to say.

“I guess it’s time to hike” I said after a while.

We continued on, up along a stream to find a place to camp. The next road crossing was in 12 miles, and it looked slightly more promising on the map. In any case, tomorrow wouldn’t be Thanksgiving day.

As we hiked on another 4 or 5 miles, my hip stopped hurting so much. I wondered whether I was dumb to want to quit, or dumb not to want to quit. What I do know is that I was dumb not to continue PT on my hips for the last few months while I was concentrating on my shoulder. My shoulder problem has made everything else extremely difficult.

I really don’t know how to make this decision, but at least I have another day to think about it. I’ve never been a quitter, I’ve always been stubborn and determined, but now that seems pointless.

If this were just a sore hip, I wouldn’t be so sad, but it’s the history of my hip issues, and the pain and surgeries that I’ve been through, and my hopes for hiking in the future that have me really down.

I wish Thanksgiving could have been a happier day for both of us, but life is full of unpredictable twists. I wonder what tomorrow will bring.

11/23 15.9 miles

Ok, so here’s the thing about quitting on a long distance hike. When you decide to quit, you’re 10 or 20 miles from the nearest road which leads to somewhere random where you have no idea how to get anywhere from, let alone home.

I woke up feeling pretty good, and we headed up the mountain. At the top of the mountain there was a small bald with stunning views, quite frankly the first we had seen the whole trail. We sat down and ate breakfast, taking in the landscape.

My hip was feeling fine. Maybe it was the more gentle terrain, maybe it was going slightly fewer miles over the last couple of days, I don’t know, but in my mind I was already devising strategies for getting through the Smokey Mountains.

We got to the road that we had anticipated would have more traffic, and I told John I wanted to keep going. I had one more bail out point in a day’s time if things went badly today.

We soon entered into the Joyce Kilmer/ Slick Rock area, and the views continued to amaze us. We sat down at Bob Bald to take in another view and have lunch. There was another group of hikers enjoying a picnic there, and we struck up a conversation. Before we knew it, another group of hikers showed up too. This was obviously a busy day and a popular place to come hiking. We saw more day hikers today than on any other day so far.

I stepped aside to let a group of 4 hikers pass, when I realized that I recognized one of the women. Then, when I looked at another woman, I recognized her too. They were Betty and Ellen, a couple of women that John and I had taken on a Beginner Backpacking trip with Blue Ridge Hiking Company two years ago. They of course remembered us too, and before we could even exchange pleasantries, they were pulling out extra food that they had from their backpacks and offering it to us. We were delighted to accept this unexpected trail magic. We took a few pictures before heading our separate ways. For the next hour, I couldn’t get over the fact that we had just run into these people out here in the woods. I do have to admit, we tend to run into people we know more often in the woods than elsewhere.

Ellen had given us half of a BLT sandwich, and I pulled it out when we got to “The Hangover”, one of the most beautiful spots in Joyce Kilmer. We sat on the rocks, enjoying the sandwich along with the stunning view. “That was a borderline religious experience” John said, licking his lips.

I was so thankful that I hadn’t quit at the road. They say to take things one day at a time, and I think sometimes it’s hard to take that to heart. I couldn’t have asked for a better day of hiking.

From the Hang Over, the trail dropped steeply and became very strenuous. There was barely a trail, and it traversed an entirely too steep slope covered in wet rocks and downed trees. I’m not sure we were able to cover more than about a mile an hour, often using our hands, and our butts to maneuver down rocks or over or around trees and their massive roots.

As the sun was setting we found a campsite at a gap that seemed quite adequate for the night. We sat outside eating our dinner and watching the sun set in marvelous oranges and pinks behind the mountains.

Tomorrow we will stop by Topoco Lodge, where we hope to poach some internet to secure our permits for the Smokies as well as post this blog. Because of our slightly reduced mileage, it’s taking us longer than anticipated to arrive at Fontana Dam, which is where our next mail drop is. Thankfully, with the extra food that we got from Betty and Ellen today, we will have no trouble stretching our food an extra half day.

As we lay in our tent, we heard what sounded like a bear tearing through the undergrowth down the mountain next to us. Hopefully he doesn’t visit us in the night.

11/24 14 miles

With the thought of a bear coming into camp, John didn’t get much sleep.

The sunrise was just as spectacular as the sunset the previous night, and we were able to enjoy it before leaving the ridge.

The trail down to Topoco Lodge was barely a foot wide over strenuous terrain. We weren’t walking so much as taking cautionary steps, trying not to slip and fall. As we were both trying to scramble over a particularly large blow down, I heard John start to fall off, and I gasped as he caught himself on a branch. Had he fallen there, I have no idea how we would have gotten him out with a serious injury. I was so thankful he had good reflexes.

The leaves sometimes felt like we were trudging through snow, and at points I really wished I had microspikes on so I wouldn’t slip. I often would kick steps through the leaves, searching for ground underneath, and occasionally I would completely post hole into a gigantic pile of leaves several feet deep, where the ground was much lower than I had imagined.

Along the way, there were several really impressive beeches trees that were some of the biggest we’ve seen without much sign of beech bark disease. They could easily have been two or three hundred years old.

Our map showed the route for the old Benton Mackaye Trail, but in this section, it was recently rerouted, and we were basically flying blind since there were entire trails that were missing form our Nat Geo map. Luckily the section was well marked, except for the intersection around Yellow Hammer Gap, which was very confusing (there are actually three junctions and to follow the BMT, you have to go through all three)

We finally made it to Topoco Lodge, and they were kind enough to let us use a guest computer in order to secure our permits for the Smokies. I would have liked to post my blog, but they wanted to charge $9 for wifi, so I figured it could wait.

We did indulge in the food at their restaurant, though, and ordered a gigantic margarita pizza for $20 plus tax and tip, and consumed the whole thing in a matter of minutes. It was one of the best pizza’s I’ve had in a long time, and I’m not just saying that because we were hungry.

The Topoco Lodge was beautiful, and had some historical relics, like an old post office area, with old post office boxes.

From the Topoco Lodge, the new trail was fairly well marked, and we followed it straight up a mountain (Benton Mackaye obviously didn’t believe in switch backs). I mean the trail before now has also been steep, but this was even more steep! The kind of steep where if you don’t plant your foot properly, it may just slide right back down again.

But, the trail was better maintained, which made things easier and slightly less cumbersome. The trail went up and down what I soon decided to name the “hill repeats” of the day. It was like the roller coaster on the Appalachian Trail, only harder. We were walking on this ridge and just going up and down each little peak – straight up and straight down.

Finally we reached a microwave tower. Who the heck knows what a microwave tower is!? I certainly don’t, but we’re camped not too far from it, right in the middle of the trail. That’s because there is otherwise no flat ground, nor any ground not covered in black berry bushes or green briers. So let’s just hope we don’t get cooked tonight… maybe this is all just a big joke on the part of the bears.

Tomorrow we reach Fontana Dam! Another place we haven’t seen in 7 years.

7 thoughts on “Tellico Plains to Fontana Dam

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