Saturday, April 7, 2012

Day Ten: Gatlinburg Craziness, Clingmon’s Dome, First Hitchhiker, and Great Burgers

I realize this post is late my friends, but I went 24 hours with no cell towers; I was starting to get the shakes from withdrawal!

We made our way to the Great Smoky Mountains (GSM). We were expecting tranquility and peacefulness when we sadly came into … Gatlinburg. What a tourist trap! Branson used to be our ‘Tourist Trap Capital of the World’ but we are adding Gatlinburg to that title.

We stopped at the GSM Visitor Center and picked up some maps. GSM is the #1 visited park in our country, and we were feeling it. They were experiencing record numbers for April, similar to a typical day in July. Crazy.

The Wal-Mart near Gatlinburg wouldn’t allow overnight parking, so we decided to stay at a campground in the GSM. We drove to Elkmont Campground and snatched up the last spot. There wasn’t a Ranger on duty, so we drove around until we found an empty spot, and secured it with a piece of paper clipped to a board on our site. We were so anxious that we would return that evening to find someone else at our site, Scott took a picture of our registration, to document the time!

We drove to Clingman’s Dome, which is the highest point in the GSM. It was absolutely beautiful. And cold! We had to pull out our sweatshirts. As we were heading back down the mountain, we saw our first hitchhiker, so we pulled over and picked him up. We could only bring him five miles down the hill before we pulled over to hike the Appalachian Trail, and dropped him off.

Fifteen years ago Scott and I celebrated our 2nd Anniversary in North Carolina, and spent time on the Appalachian Trail. At that time we dreamed about hiking the trail with our kids. So we got on the Appalachian and hiked to the Mount Collins shelter. We met a couple hikers that were settling in for the night. It was fun to talk about ‘life on the trail’.

After the shelter visit, we drove to Newfound Gap and took some photos. Amazing. As we were leaving Newfound Gap, guess who we saw? The same hitchhiker! So we picked him up again. We agreed to bring him to the grocery store in Gatlinburg; on the 30 minute drive we shared our Cheetos & Gatorade and he shared his stories. We were fascinated with his life. His trail name was Strider, and last summer he hiked the entire Appalachian Trail (2,184 miles). This summer he was simply walking 130 miles of it with his ex-girlfriend. His occupation? Hitchhiker. I didn’t dare take a photo, because he said it is frustrating to ‘get off the trail’ and have people ask for a picture as if he was some sort of ‘creature’. But I wanted to!

We arrived back at our campsite, which no one had taken, around 9:00pm. We are confident most campers were sleeping, as this was a rustic campground – no electricity or water. We didn’t pack camping stuff, but Scott and the girls insisted on cooking hamburgers on an open fire. Without any kindling or paper, Scott and Annelies were determined to get the fire started. Scott kept saying, “Wish I had some gas!” By 10:30 we all enjoyed what Annelies said was the best hamburger she ever tasted. The two of them had a great time facing the challenge, while Paradis and I took showers and played Farkle.

We had a wonderful day in the Great Smoky Mountains ...

Day Ten: 159 miles (2,953 total); $242.29 on gas ($1,641.21 total); 1 states (12 total); $17 Lodging  ($52 total); $73.70 Souvenirs ($344.87 total); $0 Tourist Traps ($698.81 total); $0 Redbox ($22 total); 0 fights (0 total); 1 injuries (1 total)

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