‘The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.’ -Robert Burns
You may not have guessed that’s where Steinbeck coined his famous title from. You may also not have guessed that this post in fact has nothing to do with mice nor men nor classic American literature. What it does have to do with is my plans gone awry in a place I (well, most people) like to call, the Smoky Mountains.
I left Fontana Dam feeling good: I had enough food to last me until Standing Bear hostel, 74 miles away; I was going to skip Gatlinburg, the alleged touristy money pit; I wasn’t going to take a zero day until Hot Springs; and naturally, I was going to stay healthy.
Spoiler: none of these things happened.
I suppose the first domino in the cause and effect would be the weather. I guess being from Maine I should know that such circumstances can be very unpredictable. Our third day in the Smokies, we got absolutely rained in, and 17 of us made like sardines in a 12 person shelter for the duration of the day. We passed the time reading, talking, and listening to music, but also by eating, which leads me to my next unplanned event. It turns out that my supply didn’t cushion for an unexpected day off, so Gatlinburg it was the next day. The Wisconsin brothers and I hitched from Newfound Gap, the only car stopping for us being a couple in tiny red Punch Buggy with polka dots and eyelashes on the headlights. The three of us piled into the back seat with our packs. Have I mentioned they’re both 6 feet tall?
For the record, Gatlinburg was great. I even got to indulge in Dunkin’ Donuts for the first time in weeks, though they didn’t recommend that I fill my camelback with butter pecan iced coffee. After a fantastic unplanned stay, we returned to the trail, but not without stuffing ourselves with honey buns and cookies from some trail angels.
Maybe the law of physics should be whatever goes down must come up, because that night I woke at 10:30 violently throwing up everything I could have possibly consumed in my entire lifetime. Think of the scene from The Exorcist. Too much information? (I don’t think TMI is a thing in the hiker world).
I’m not sure if it was the dreaded norovirus, the plethora of donuts and pizza and moonshine I consumed in Gatlinburg, or the 5-day-old cheddar cheese I ate from my food bag for lunch. Nonetheless, the next day I was exhausted and flirting with dehydration. But because my trail name isn’t Brains, I still decided the hike 8 miles to the next shelter.
You can imagine that I was struggling, and to make matters even worse, I had no phone service to call my mom. Plans go awry, but one thing that’s for certain is needing my mom when I’m sick, no matter what the circumstances. Two older men passed me and were concerned, probably because I was sprawled across my pack in the middle of the trail, flies swarming me, crying into my electrolyte water. Just kidding. Kind of.
When I finally made it within a mile of the shelter, one of the gentleman was waiting for me to make sure I made it. His friend had gone ahead to claim a spot in camp for my tent. At the shelter, someone offered me Pepto-Bismol, and another gave me Propel packets. I had never met any of these people before.
If I have permission to be cliche, I guess that’s the one thing you can plan on with the trail; complete strangers being outrageously generous, helpful, and kind. Oh, and the fact that no matter how much you organize, estimate, and assume, things won’t always go according to plan. That’s half the fun and magic of the trail.