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Thanksgiving in the Smokies 2001

The trip started on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, although the story begins with the obtaining of maps. I ordered a topo online, but the one they sent cut off approximately 3 miles of the trail, and there was not enough time to order more maps. I would have preferred to have this section, since it showed where the trail we started hiking on meets up with the one we planned to finish on, but after talking to some people that had backpacked in that area and downloading some maps off of topozone.com (very helpful site; many thanks to Randy and Jim for recommending it to me), we were on our way.
We spent the first (and last) nights at a friendly little campground in Daniel Boone National Forest in KY to break up the drive (navigating the back roads of KY is a story in and of itself). We were the only people at the campground, so we decided to stay in a little shelter with a fireplace. It was quite a toasty night, and we woke up on Thanksgiving morning to sunny skies and in high spirits. The rest of the drive down there was quick and uneventful until we got to the hateful little town of Bristol, where the signs for the highway we wanted led us into a maze that crossed the TN and VA lines several times, until we finally decided that we were getting no where and stopped for directions. Some super nice locals advised us to just drive to Damascus, VA and then go from there. Since our trail supposedly passed through Damascus (this was the section of the trail that was missing from the map), we decided to attempt to locate the trailhead and make that our new starting point. In spite of it being Thanksgiving Day, we found a gas station that was open and got directions from some extremely friendly road bikers. This led us to the parking lot of a Baptist Church and an ATV road leading up to the trail. There was no one to ask if we could leave the car there for a few days, so we decided that towing a car from a church parking lot at least gets you some extra time in Purgatory, and without any further ado we were on our way.
This trip report is already quite long, so I will spare you a day-by-day synopsis and just give you the highlights. On the drive down I pointed out what I thought was a really cute dog. Everyone looked over, and after a brief pause someone said, “that’s a kid.” So it was decided that I should just never have children. Once we got onto the ridge there was a snowball fight. We miraculously avoided rain for the first four days of the trip (Day 5 was just driving, so we didn’t really care that it was raining), although temperatures were quite chilly. The first night was definitely the coldest. Since we were hiking a ridge and a cold front was blowing in, it was impossible to find a spot out of the wind to set up camp. We built a makeshift wind block around our tent, which helped quite a bit. We couldn’t find two trees with branches at the right height to toss a rope over and set up a bear hang, so Marko entertained us by climbing a couple trees and pulling a rope up with him.
Thanksgiving dinner consisted of couscous (this was my suggestion and I accept full responsibility), tuna, nuts, and craisins, which sounds much tastier than it was considering we had forgotten salt and pepper. Much of the couscous became campfire fuel, and Mike made sure to remind us on numerous occasions (basically every time he farted). That is, until someone got the idea of trying to light his farts on fire, which apparently works, as long as you don’t mind having the seat of your pants charred (or potentially other “equipment”).
In the morning my contacts were frozen in their saline solution, and all the water from Marko’s tent had frozen. Although when the sun came up over the mountains it turned out to be a beautiful day, and it warmed up a bit for the rest of the trip. We ended up having to melt snow for water later that day when the streams we intended to fill up at were dry. The only other people we saw were hunters (making us really wish we were wearing something orange and wonder how many times we almost got shot at).
Before beginning our journey back to wonderful Lafayette, we had some quite tasty calzones at Sicily’s (per recommendation of Mike Magan). I snuck some parmesan cheese and salt into a Ziploc baggie (hey, we left a good tip) for another dinner of couscous that evening, as I was determined to change everyone’s minds about this savory Moroccan dish. We spent the last night by the fireplace again at our friendly shelter in KY, and it was agreed that couscous are actually pretty good as long as they have some flavor.
So in summary: beautiful scenery, clear skies, good times, lots of laughs, and all in all a great trip.   

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