Friday, May 10th

We all rose around 9, quietly going about our morning's duties. I had the Power Breakfast, eating quietly while a couple of brave deer munched around our shelter. The day promised rain, but I didn't care -- I was going to Clingman's Dome, only 2.9 miles away.

Clingman's Dome is the highest point on the AT, one of the biggest draws to the Smokies. I was told to expect a lot of tourists, but also that getting a ride should be easy. I say "but" because tourists don't give thru-hikers rides, the locals do. This is obviously something that I'd like to see change, as it can sometimes be difficult to get a lift. So, potential tourists, heed my advice -- pick up the smelly guys with the big backpacks. We'll be glad for it, repaying you with stories of our hike and a scent that will last a lifetime.

It was a short and nice hike up to Clingman's Dome, one that involved passing an awful lot of people. The closer that I got to Clingman's, the more dayhikers that I encountered. I paused on the North Carolina / Tennessee border (something that I'd been straddling for some time) for a photo, and arrived up at Clingman's shortly afterwards. It was a mob scene.

There were well over fifty people there, mostly teenage girls there, it seemed. (No objections here!) I carried my pack up to the observation deck that tops Clingman's, trying to find an available space to look off the side to the surrounding Smokies. I fought my way through the noisy crowd (I think my smell helped) and claimed a space at the edge. People were staring at me. It seems that a lot of people aren't aware of the AT, or that it goes over Clingman's Dome. I looked ahead at the mountains rising out of the trees, lifted my head, and let out a scream.

Conversations stopped. It's a great feeling, knowing that a large crowd of people know that you're absolutely insane. I turned around, feeling the eyes of dozens, and walked down from the tower. I did a bit of club juggling to unwind. It's a great form of relaxation. After a couple of minutes of this, I packed up to hike down to the parking lot and hitch a ride. I was grabbed by a giggling bunch of high school girls for photos, which is yet another thing to which I did not object. I attempted to talk to a couple of them on the way down to the parking lot, but they seemed a bit on the shy side.

I spent about 15 minutes waiting for a ride to Gatlinburg. Every 2 or 3 minutes somebody would pull over, and I'd hop up, thinking that I had a ride. But they always just wanted to know what it was like to thru-hike. I was happy to tell them, but I surely would have appreciated a ride in exchange. A couple of guys finally gave me a ride. They were headed for a day hike down from Newfound Gap, 15 down the road towards Gatlinburg. I hopped out of their car there, finding that the two busloads of high school girls (and some guys...but I didn't pay much mind to them) had beat me there. I later found out that they thought I'd walked the seven miles that quickly. Who was I to argue?

I stuck my thumb out and juggled alternately, hoping that the juggling would attract attention so I'd get a lift. A few of the girls were brave enough to approach me, and we talked for a few minutes. They got a few more photos of me, posing with the smelly thru-hiker. I recall only one of their names -- Winter. (She's the one on the far right in the photo.) They told me that they were in town for the Smoky Mountain Music Festival from Wentzville High School, in Missouri, to compete in the AAA class. They invited me to come that evening, so I figured I'd show up. After all, it would be something to write about one day. I later discovered that they'd tried to convince their teachers to give me a lift into town. Too bad they couldn't.

I spent nearly two hours trying to get a ride into Gatlinburg. I finally got a ride with a retired couple from Florida, who drove me straight to the Visitor's Centre in town. I got a ride on the trolley into downtown, the driver not even requiring that I pay her. She took me straight to The Happy Hiker, a local backpacking store, insisting that I go there and nowhere else. The Happy Hiker took a photo of me to hang on their Wall O' Thru-Hikers. They hung it next to a photo of Dr. Dust and Twinkie the Kid, who had checked in earlier that day.

I walked a block to the nearest motel, The Grand Prix, where I got a room for $20. I took three (yes, 3) showers, put back on my dirty clothes (it's all I had!), and decided to go check out the town. I walked a few blocks, looking for a bank and a spot for a meal. I couldn't find a bank that would accept my Most Card / Visa combo, strangely enough. Yet another reason to carry a Debit Card, since I can use it at any place that takes Visa. I discovered that I lacked money, so I made a call home for money. I sat by the phone, waiting for a call back, for half an hour until I was descended upon by another flock of girls. It grew to about a dozen girls, and we discussed thru- hiking for a bit. They had to get back to their motel, and we walked back together down the main street.

I'd like to take a chance to describe the town of Gatlinburg. Please remember that all of this is merely my opinion, perhaps skewed by the sensory overload resulting from several weeks in the woods. Gatlinburg is, to this hiker, absoutely horrendous. It's a huge eyesore, with easily a dozen Quikee-Luv wedding chapels, several t-shirt Air-Brush While-U-Wait places, Bible stores, trinket shops, and Dollywood in the neighboring town of Pigeon Forge. Perhaps some people find towns and attractions like this to be a draw, but I found it just awful. This seems like a severely lacking community to grow up in, as was demonstrated later that evening. The streets were lined with teenagers just after dark, where they watched other teenagers driving up and down the main street for hours at a time. The kids driving had souped-up cheap cars, with neon license plate covers and glowing lights mounted underneath their cars. Several drove noisy pickup trucks with immense Confederate flags waving from the back of their trucks. Most of these trucks were filled with bare- chested guys who yelled derogatory comments at the high-haired girls on the sides of the roads. The only thing stranger that this was that the girls actually seemed to appreciate this sort of attention. Maybe this is just a slice of a society that I can't relate to. I apologise if I've offended anybody. As a friend of mine taught me to say -- cope.

In any case, I managed to eat large amounts of chicken at Kentucky Fried Chicken, which the employees couldn't help but ask about. They were amazed to find out that the Appalachian Trail went from Georgia to Maine. People often seem to think that it only goes for a few miles.

I went back to my motel room and spent a couple of hours typing in a few days worth of entries, which you read a while back. A little after 8:00 I left for the Gatlinburg Civic Centre, where I was supposed to go to see the band competition. I arrived just in time to watch my friends begin playing. They were actually surprisingly good. I expected a cheesy rendition of "National Emblem March" or some such standby. My favourite part was watching the conductor. He was really very interesting to watch. He looks like I feel when I write, conducting my nouns and adjectives across the page, mentally waving my baton. My favourite part was not knowing the names of the songs they played. It was like reading a book with only the adjectives of the flutes, verbs of the basoons, the punctuation of the drums. No nouns.

When they'd finished, several of them came out to ask me what I thought of their performance. I told them, and said they'd probably have a good shot at winning. (Not that I'd heard their competition, but what the heck.) They were soon called in to watch the other performers for different catagories, so I waited in the cavernous lobby for all of the others to take their turns. The placing was announced an hour later.

There were an awful lot of catagories, so this whole music festival had been going on all day. The poor judges. What I found odd was that some catagories only had one person competing. And even odder than that was how excited the sole school competing was to have won. Just another trophy for the school display cabinet, I suppose.

The winner in Class AAA Concert Band was finally announced, one of the last catagories to be judged. Out of the three competing schools, Wentzville High School was announced as #1. They all cheered, of course, as did I. They deserved to win. I left as soon as the whole deal was finished, making my way through high-haired girls and band-uniform-clad teenagers back to my motel room. I never did see Wentzville High School again.

Congratulations. You done good.

I spent the rest of the evening (until just before 3:00 AM, actually) working on journal entries. When you only get an hour and a half of battery life, it's hard to type things out in the field. This basically amounts to cram sessions at motels as often as I can. I tried to answer as much e-mail as possible and still get in journal entries. It's a tough balance. I may end up having an e-mail address for mail for me to read and another one for mail to be read and responded to. I'd hate to have to stop answering e-mail, but I do have journal entries to make.

I had MTV on the television during the evening, figuring that I could listen to some music. Whatever happened to the "Music" part of "Music Television"? I hardly saw a thing, just Beavis and Butthead. I swear I could feel my IQ drop as that show droned on. I switched to the Weather Channel - it's supposed to be lovely in Rome tomorrow. It's a shame thunderstorms were to hit the next day in Tennessee.

I got a wakeup call for 8:00 AM and went to sleep, a well-deserved slumber.

"If fish can fly, so can I." - Zachary Firkelay

Today's Song Stuck in my Head: Talking Heads, "Burning Down the House"
Miles Today: 2.9

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