Standing on Fontana Dam
May 8th, 2007 was a pretty damn good day. I had survived my first 163 miles of the A.T. and found myself in my first soft bed in over 8 days. Somewhere in the past week, it finally set in just what I was setting out to do, and just how massive an undertaking I had begun. Up until this point, it was all more or less "on paper" and the reality was finally setting in. I arrived at the road junction outside Fontana Dam about 1 pm where there was a shuttle van waiting to take me into town along with a few others waiting nearby. The driver said that they generally send a shuttle every couple of hours to check for hikers. I decided to hold off on the shuttle ride and instead hike the 1+ mile all the way up to the dam itself so that I wouldn't have to do it tomorrow morning. Right by the shuttle stop there were some public restrooms with a soda vending machine out front. I remember thumbing through my homemade, duct-tape inspired wallet for a single....only find 2 twenties. God was playing a mean trick on me I think. I remember plodding the next mile up to the dam, and not being happy about it. It was a feisty little section, and it was the hottest part of the day. Once I reached the dam, I called the shuttle company from inside the visitor's center and said, "do you remember that guy that turned down the ride about a half an hour ago?...Well I need a ride now from the dam into town." I was hoping to get to town before 2 so that I could pick up my first post office drop box and bounce box, sort through them, and still have time to resend my bounce box up ahead to Hot Springs before the PO closed at 4:00. Maybe even send a few postcards if I could. Before I left, I had made a small notecard with the names and addresses of over 10 people/families. My plan was to send a slew of postcards to every name on that list, every time I hit a trail town or made it to a post office drop.
A lot of fellow hikers were staying at the free shelter near the dam, affectionately dubbed the "Fontana Hilton" due to the fact that there were free-for-use showers. Somewhat of a luxury after 163 miles. I opted to pay up and stay some place a little nicer. I had been dreaming of taking a long bath for days.
By the time the shuttle picked me up and got me to town, it was well after 2. I quickly got a room at the Fontana Lodge, pulled everything out of my pack to air it out, and hung my tent outside. After a quick shower (the bath would come later), I set off to find the laundromat and Post Office. Fontana Village was a strange little "town". It kind of had a feeling like it was out of a "Tales from the Crypt" episode. Everyone was a little strange, and people drove around in golf carts. It was a bit odd.
The laundromat and PO were right near each other so I threw in my dirties (after sporting my rain gear), and picked up my drop box and bounce box. I spent the next 30 minutes back in my hotel room sorting my new food out, and taking what I needed out of my bounce box. I had it sealed back up and ready to send with just enough time to make it back to the PO before it closed. I quickly scrambled and frantically wrote out a couple of postcards before the clerk closed the window. I figured that I would send cards to everyone (including those that I missed in Fontana) in Hot Springs.
After finishing up the laundry, I made my way to the town store to hop on their free internet terminal to post my first blog updates and to pay a couple of bills I had forgotten to before I left. I made a couple of phone calls, bought a pair of waldies camp shoes (similar to crocs), and made my way back to my hotel room. The rest of the night consisted of some more phone calls, TV watching, and a long bath. I organized all of my gear once it had aired out, cleaned out my Katadyn filter, and packed everything up for the morning. I also decided to start making some video blogs about my hike and recorded my first update from my hotel room.
Before going to sleep, I spent a lot of time going back over the events of the first 8 days. The flight from Rochester went well, and my shuttle driver (Gil from North Georgia Outfitters) picked me up promptly from the MARTA station. I remembered how quick of a reality check it was to climb the approach trail in 80+ degree weather with swarms of bugs hovering around my sweaty and out-of-shape body. I remembered standing on top of Springer trying to find a place to mount my camera for a timer shot, only to have them all come out pretty badly. I remembered sitting on the grass in front of the terminus plaque watching the sun get low on the horizon and thinking about how my dad would probably think I had gone crazy. I remembered how those first few miles just seemed like any other walk in the metropark...and, was I really in Georgia on the AT? The first two nights on the trail I had decided to tent and I remembered, just how awful it was in that first shelter to hear some of the most obnoxious snoring I've ever heard. Waking up in the middle of the night and asking the hiker next to me if she also thought that the guy at the other end of the shelter was dying of sleep apnea. I tossed around fresh memories of my first full day of rain-hiking and meeting some really good people.... the likes of, Atomic, Stitch, Figgy, and Duffy. I smiled myself to bed thinking of my first sensation of hiker appetite as I came into the NOC and ordered all sorts of crazy food at the cafe'. For the first time in 8 days, I began to realize that it wasn't going to be 100 days of solid hiking without any breaks. I would get nights like these where I would feel I had actually earned the nights stay in a soft, cushy bed.
Just before falling to sleep I started what would be come a nightly ritual of glimpsing in to my thru-hikers companion and flipping through maps to make a rough plan for the next day. I knew I had 3-4 tough days of Great Smoky Mountain hiking ahead of me and it wouldn't be easy.
...more to come...