Friday, May 1, 2015

Day 19: Clingmans Dome!

March 26: Somewhat surprisingly, I was the last person to leave the shelter this morning. Usually, I’m among the first to leave, and I did leave at 8:30 which is pretty normal for me. Everyone else, however, was out of there before 8:00. A bunch of early risers!
The top of Clingmans Dome is in view!

Despite the predictions for heavy rains today, none of it actually happened. It was, however, extremely foggy and misty with absolutely no views from the highest point of the Appalachian Trail. I wasn’t too upset over that, however. I had grand views the last time I passed through and frankly, an unobstructed view from anywhere at these elevations was going to be good. Being a couple of hundred feet higher on this particular mountain wasn’t going to make the views a couple of hundred times better or anything.

Unlike my last visit by Clingmans Dome, however, there was absolutely nobody else on the observation deck. Which wasn’t a surprise—the road to Clingmans Dome hadn’t opened yet, so the only way for tourists to get up here was to make a long hike up one of the trails to the top, and most people aren’t prepared to do that. There were two NPS personnel doing some work near the bottom, Although it wasn’t readily obvious to me exactly what they were doing in the brush around the observation deck. I also thought a bit about the 1,200-mile Mountains To Sea Trail through North Carolina. It starts at Clingmans Dome. If I wanted to, I could follow it all the way to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I wasn’t going to do that—not this year, at least, but it felt like a decision point in a sense. Although I had planned to hike to Maine, I could still change my mind. Right now. I could start hiking to the Outer Banks instead.
Yeah, but the view in that photo definitely didn’t match the view I was actually seeing…

The rest of the day’s hiking was fairly uneventful. Once I reached Clingmans Dome, the trail generally headed downhill and I sped along quickly. I was surprised at the number of people I passed going in the opposite direction—I didn’t really expect to see much of anyone—especially given the dire snow predictions for tomorrow—but I probably passed about 10 hikers headed up towards Clingmans Dome.

Then the trail dumped me out at Newfound Gap, which is something of a culture shock because there’s a giant parking lot with what seemed like hundreds of cars milling around or parked. There’s not even any real “civilization” at this location to speak of except a couple of rest rooms, but the road is a major artery across the Smoky Mountains and happens to be the highest point for the road and directly on the Tennessee/North Carolina state line. It seemed like everyone driving through had to stop for some photo ops! And wow, were there a lot of people! (Unlike at Clingmans Dome, Newfound Gap was a bit below the cloud level so there actually were views to be seen.)

I took a few photos myself, then walked to the exit of the parking lot looking to hitch a ride down with anyone headed towards Gatlinburg a mere 15 miles away. The first few cars that drove past were obviously stuffed full or headed in the wrong direction, but it didn’t take more than 5 minutes before a vehicle stopped and the window came down.

“Where are you headed?” he asked me.

“Gatlinburg,” I answered, pointing to the right.

“Is that north or south of here?” he asked me.

That’s an interesting question… I wasn’t sure. I thought it was west. The AT, generally speaking, I think of as a north/south trail, and everything off of it is either east or west depending on which side of the trail it is. Technically, the trail runs all sorts of different directions, but it’s always “trail north” and directions are based on that. Clearly, I must have been at a place where the trail wasn’t actually heading due north.

“West?” I answered. “Where are you headed?” I asked him.

He pulled out a map to figure out if we were headed in the same direction or not and finally decided that we were going in the same direction and I jumped into the vehicle.

He introduced himself as Jay and he was currently on a 50-state, 8-month long driving adventure. He was now on his 13th state or so. I told him that I was thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail and on my own long-term adventure, though at a slower pace than a vehicle could cover, and he wanted to know all sorts of stuff about the trail.

When we arrived in Gatlinburg, he pulled over and I jumped out. The nearest hotel I saw was the Days Inn, so I meandered over there to inquire about a room. I checked in, but it was still before the official check-in time and I was told that the rooms weren’t ready yet. No problem… I left my pack with them in the lobby and decided to take a long walk through Gatlinburg. I’d heard a lot about this town, and it’s finally time I saw it! Anyhow, there was a maildrop at the post office I needed to pick up, which according to my guidebook, was a few miles outside of town. By walking to it, I’d see most of town and kill enough time for my room to be ready.

Walking through the main area of Gatlinburg was an adventure in itself. Haunted houses, putt putt courses everywhere, buildings that looked like they had been damaged in earthquakes and even a miniature Space Needle of sorts. Once I got out of the main tourist district, the sights became a bit more mundane, but there were still a heck of a lot of wedding chapels dotting the area.

Eventually, I reached the post office where I picked up my maildrop. The main thing it included was my laptop so I could start writing more of these blog entries before anyone noticed they stopped. =)

Given the long walk out of town to pick up the maildrop, I wasn’t inclined to do the full walk back into town and instead waited for a  trolley that would whisk me back into town for a mere 50 cents. The trolley seemed like it took forever to arrive—I heard they ran about every 30 minutes, and I must have just missed the last one! Eventually one did come by, however, and it carried me back to town as far as the aquarium. Then I walked back through the main tourist area to the Days Inn and picked up my room key.

First things first… I showered. Then I tried to get online to do some work, but blast it, I wasn’t able to connect to the Internet. Seemed that the signal was too weak. I headed back to the lobby to try logging in from there, but it didn’t work there either and now I was really getting ticked. I thought this hotel was supposed to have wifi—it said so right on the sign in front! I asked the desk clerk where I could get on wifi, and he didn’t know. Seriously? There’s nowhere in this whole damn motel I could get online? There’s not even a nearby restaurant where I could eat dinner and get on their wifi?

Frustrated, I went back to my room and washed my clothes in the bathtub. I would have preferred a real washer, but they didn’t have laundry machines available here and told me that the closest place where I could do laundry wasn’t in “walking distance.” I might normally scoff at that assessment, but truthfully, I was done walking. Between the 11 miles of trail I covered and the several mile walk to the post office, I was done for the day. I made a real mess of the bathtub too, but I didn’t care. I was pissed at the hotel for not having wifi. Take that, bathtub!

The rest of the evening, I tried to catch up on as much email as I could with my smartphone (so slow to type on!) and processed the photos I had taken to date making copies, backup copies and rotating the images so they were all right-side up.
Trees in these parts can be awfully hairy!


This was one of the most interesting springs I’d ever seen. The water is coming out of a crack in the rock, and when I went to fill my water bottle from it, the spring suddenly went “limp” and came to a trickle. About five second later, it started gushing at twice the volume that it had when I first saw it, eventually settling back to it’s “normal” flow rate that I first saw. It’s the only time I’ve ever seen the flow rate of a spring actually changing before my very eyes! None of which, of course, shows up in a photo at all. But something had happened to that water underground causing that flow rate to change!

Just in case you forgot which way was north, they marked it here!

This gate was designed to keep out wild hogs (non-native) from this area while allowing hikers through.

This large wall certainly suggested we were getting near a road!

Newfound Gap, at the Tennessee/North Carolina state line.

Just look at the size of that parking lot! There’s gotta be at least a hundred cars parked up here, which is pretty amazing when you consider that there’s actually not anything for people to do here except admire the view of other tourists. =)

Well, okay, there might have been a few views in other directions as well.

Jay, who gave me a ride into town. (You can read about his 50-state, 8-month tour at He also blogs about me at

They call that tall structure a Space Needle! Can you believe it? *shaking head* Lest you’ve forgotten, I live in Seattle with the real Space Needle! =)

A couple of shady-looking characters I crossed paths with in Gatlinburg.

On my walk to the post office, I discovered that Gatlinburg was also home the world’s only museum of salt and pepper shakers. The banner across the front says so. As if anyone would have guessed there was another one of these kinds of places somewhere…

Also on the walk to the post office, my hat was attacked by this bee. I flicked it off my hat where it fell to the ground and strangely, decided to stay there long enough for me take its photo.

Well, welcome to you too! =)

This building looks like it just suffered through an earthquake!


Anonymous said...

Dang, when I went to his page about you, I was surprised he didn't say anything about AQ as well as your hiking website. Seeing he is on a multi-state tour, I hope you had a quick minute to tell him about letterboxing and even some rest stops have boxing plants if he didn't want to jump in to boxing like the rest of us that share this addiction!

Enjoying your blogging as usual!!! Thanks, Wendy

Wise Old Owl said...

Love the misty pictures--they're absolutely magical! Quite a contrast with Newfound Gap.

Honey Bear Clan said...

Hey Ryan, I just wanted to take a second to thank you for your posts. They're interesting and fun to read. I know that taking a bunch of pictures and writing all this content is time-consuming, on top of a day's hiking. It's very much appreciated.

Unknown said...

Hey Ryan, Jay here. Hope your hike is still going as planned. I'm out in Kansas now and I missing the mountains back east for sure. Happy Trails!