I’ve already gone on at length about how gorgeous the Smokies are, and that was especially true of the views and the trails of the northern Smokies, but I haven’t talked much about the people.
Prior to the Smokies I’d only spent two nights in the shelters (both times in the pouring rain) and tented the rest of the time. In the Smokies, however, camping is discouraged and everyone has to stay in the shelters. Since the Smokies are incredibly popular, and I was there over Memorial Day Weekend, the shelters were packed with 12 to 20 of my new closest friends each night.
In theory each of the shelters is designed to hold 12 people (8 people with reservations and 4 thru-hikers). Often though, extra people were squeezed in that either didn’t have reservations or because a group of thru-hikers converged.
The Scotsman (actually from Ohio) was one of the people that I met in the shelters.The kilt was a bit of character, but when combined with his pipe-smoking and mad lumberjack skills (all demonstrated at once in the picture above) he added warmth (with a toasty fire) and entertainment (some off color jokes) to a chilly evening in the Smokies. He said he liked hiking in the South because there aren’t as many rules down here.
Batman and his girlfriend CryBaby provided a glimpse into yet a different world. Batman wore a batman t-shirt ever day and superman sox, but what really sold the outfit was the full batman latex mask and the bat mobile that he carried with him. As a fellow thru-hiker, I wondered how much his pack must weigh with all of that batty stuff. The downside to this pair of thru-hikers is that they chain-smoked when they got into camp. Just sitting there rolling and then smoking their tobacco cigarettes. They described themselves as hiker hobos… Homeless and hiking in the woods because it sure as heck beat being homeless in the city.
Even the characters that don’t make it to the Smokies get talked about in the shelter, like Real Tree, who was section hiking from Georgia to Hot Springs. I hiked with him for a day, and after I learned to understand his thick southern accent we had some nice conversations. His thick accent, big cowboy hat, canvas backpack, and tin cups and pans rattling off of it made him kind of famous… Even before realizing that the only food he had with him was outmeal and that he was sleeping under a picnic tablecloth instead of a sleeping bag. He’d complained about being cold one morning and i suggested maybe it was because it was damp… He assured me that the lack of sleeping bag and the picnic tablecloth he was using as a substitute was the problem.
I also met a lot of awesome families out with their kids hiking and enjoying the scenery and the fellowship. I especially enjoyed seeing the three generation hikers with father, son, and grandson (not meaning to neglect the uncles).
Ah, I almost forgot the other characters in the shelters… The mice! My first couple of nights in the shelters I tried to pick a nice spot against the wall… With so many people it was nice to be on an end. I learned, however, that this plan has downsides… The mice would scamper on head when they wanted to get around the wall because I was in the way. As you might imagine, waking to the pitter patter of mice feet on your head is no fun! After that I made a point to chose nice middle spots in the shelters.