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Honest -- I was NOT trying to prove my thesis! (Part 2)

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The mere seven miles I had planned for Day Three were, I THOUGHT, going to be all downhill. I should have checked Guthook, as it was a 1400 foot climb to start my day. But it was at the START of another day with high dew points, so I survived the climb and began the trek downhill, back to Standing Bear. That went fine UNTIL I heard the thunder, followed by some rain (a little of that is actually refreshing BUT it was), followed by a downpour, and then followed by lightning flashes. It never ceases to be un-nerving when, while you out on the trail, your see a flash and start to count and hear a roar of thunder at three. In comparison, the fact that it rained buckets for the last two hours of my hike was almost a minor concern. Blessedly (still again!) I was going downhill on a well-maintained trail while wearing a rain poncho that covered my pack. For the record, this was NOT the worst rain Ive hiked through!
After dumping my pack in my car at Standing Bear, I walked to the hostel while the rain was still coming down and noted, ‟Im aware of the irony of this request, but I could really use a shower right now. Washing off four days of sweat definitely restored some vigor, and adding (1) a drive to Newport to get some good, old-fashioned junk food and (2) the end of the rain didnt hurt.

My original plan for this day was to drive from Standing Bear into Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP), camp the night at Cosby Campground (which is FAR from the commercialism at both major entrances to the park), park my car there, climb from Cosby to the AT via the Low Gap Trail with only a day pack, hike the AT back to Standing Bear, get a ride from there back to Cosby, and then begin my drive home. I was aware that it would be impossible to specify WHEN I would be back at Standing Bear after a twelve-mile hike, but they said they could handle the ambiguity. I also knew that twelve miles in one day would not be easy for me, but I figured that only carrying a day pack would allow me to speed up.
What changed my mind was (1) feeling drained from all the hiking in the heat, (2) being told that the climb to the AT via the Low Gap Trail was as vertical as anything in the White Mountains, and (3) the threat of more thunderstorms the next day. The LAST place you want to be during a storm is on an exposed ridgeline, like the AT in GSMNP!
So I just cancelled my ride for the next day, I decided to just spend a day at Cosby Campground.

The drive towards Cosby along the Foothills Parkway is nothing short of spectacular, particularly after a heavy rain clears the air. The campground there is perfect for getting away from the noise of places like Gatlinburg, and I had no problem setting up our car-camp tent, one that is much roomier than my one for backpacking. For some reason, however, I had the worst night sleep of my four nights in the back-country go figure.

My day at Cosby featured a walk around trails nearby, and a hike to Henwallow Falls. The skies darkened soon after I arrived at the latter in mid-afternoon, and I knew ALL TOO WELL what that meant. I made faster time coming back, and heard the first thunder just as I was near the parking area. I then met two people, dressed in cotton, who were just BEGINNING the three hour hike to the falls. ‟I just heard the first thunder. I dont want to tell you what to do, I began, but immediately followed this with, ‟Well, actually, I do with what youre wearing, and lacking any rain gear, I suggest you walk five minutes to the bridge, get some photos there, and then rush back to your car. Their response: ‟He seems to know whats talking about.
I guess I did the rain began not ONE MINUTE after I got back to my car. It wasnt anywhere near as nasty as what I had the day before, and MAYBE I could have made the trek on the ridge line but there was NO WAY I was going to take that chance!
There was also a group of about twenty grade-school kids, escorted by park rangers and volunteers, that I passed while coming back from the falls. I know they got rained on as they walked back to their school bus, but I hope they STILL develop the love of national parks I got at age eight. Note that my first time in a national park/monument (Badlands, to be exact) ALSO featured a nasty rainstorm but seeing a double rainbow afterwards made a nice follow-up.

Because I avoided the worst of hiking dangers driving a car to the trail, hear exhaustion, a storm while exposed on a ridge line, and (worst danger of all!) arrogance about my abilities I have to consider this a good hike. No mosquito or tick bites, no falls, and no forgetting anything; I guess Im learning how to backpack the Appalachian Trail.
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