After our R&R in Knoxville, the Cuddle Puddle wanted to push the 33 miles to Hot Springs for the weekend to make it to the annual Bluegrass Festival there. Those 33 miles still to this day on the trail are the most memorable.
Most of the trail goes through the thick of the forest and you get some pretty stellar views after a climb, or through thinner parts of the forest. Otherwise we are used to being surrounded by trees on both sides all day everyday.
These 2 days we got to experience some awesome balds, my favorite view, meet some former thru hikers that would spice up our next week, and our first night hike.
This was the view from a bald little bit off the trail that had a Federal Aviation Administration tower on it. The views from it and the trail away from it had awesome views of the Smoky Mountains and the mountains surrounding them.
After a lovely mid day nap (gosh, life on trail is so difficult) I hiked through the late afternoon and evening to the much anticipated Max Patch. I didn’t know what to expect on Max Patch, I just had heard it was another great view. However, when I reached the bottom of the bald I didn’t realize the beauty I was about to be surrounded by. It was late evening, just before sunset when the sun has that powerful warm glow that creates a beautiful spectrum of colors in nature and sky around you. When I got to the top of Max Patch, it was literally the most beautiful view I had ever seen in my life. And I did what I think any overly emotional sap would do. I cried my eyeballs out. It was just so gorgeous! Mountains and mountains as far as I could see with the beautiful sun and sky illuminating different parts of the scenery with the posts of white blazes in the distance leading to the unknown north. I was speechless. My hiker family was waiting for me and together bundled up in our sleeping bags (it was flipping freezing and crazy windy) we watched the most glorious sunset. That moment was perfect. Up on Max Patch I realized how lucky I am to be standing where I was. Who was I to deserve to be looking at such beauty and wonder? In my mind I thanked everyone who helped me be where I am now and is continuing to support and encourage me. In that moment I was the happiest I had ever been and I couldn’t imagine the trail possibly getting any better. Everything in that moment was perfect.
On top Max Patch we met 2004 former thru hikers Boo Boo and Mad Scientist who were section hiking and heading to Hot Springs. They were awesome! Amidst my slightly embarrassing tears and sniffles of happiness they promised me that the trail will get even better and what I was feeling in that moment would grow the farther north I got. I couldn’t even begin to imagine that!
After the sunset we headed out for our first night hike. I was in front and really just focused on making sure I didn’t lose sight of the white blazes. At a stream we stopped for a late night dinner before hiking on to a campsite where we stayed the night.
(4/3) The next day before Hot Springs we stopped at a mini cave: