Day 24: Newfound Gap-Pecks Corner, 11 Miles
I had another sleepless hotel night- I sleep so much better in my tent than in a bed now! I hit the town at 6 am and watched the sunrise over Gatlinburg- it was beautiful! I walked a few miles to Starbucks and unfortunately encountered more unfriendly people. I walked a little further to Dunkin’ Donuts and got some donut holes for Kenthe shuttle driver and my hotel clerk, as well as a croissant for myself to take up the mountain and enjoy for lunch. I got back about 7:30am and the streets were still empty, the sun was shining, and I felt as though the entire world was giving me a hug.
The hike was absolutely and utterly beautiful. I enjoyed the rolling ups and downs all along the ridges, and decided this was definitely my favorite hike so far. It was very hot, but clouds and wind came on and off to offer shade. Charlie’s Bunyan was a really cool overlook and one of my favorite places so far.
I made it over 8 miles in before my journey took an exciting turn.
All of a sudden, I was falling in slow motion with no way to stop myself. I was going down a very narrow and rocky ridge, feeling light and happy. I caught my toe on a rock as I was going downhill and although it felt slow motion, I went down fast- the turtle shell on my back gave me extra momentum. I was headed face first and managed to turn slightly so that my shoulder and side took the brunt of the impact instead of my face.
I checked my shoulder and upper body and everything seemed in order, so I gathered my poles to stand up. I looked down and saw that my right knee smiling back at me. A gaping, red smile. It was gashed open so far I could see the connective tissue inside my knee. I laid where I was- my body barely fit the walking area without going over the side. I held off my knee with my left hand and started digging through my pack for my soap and a clean cloth with my right hand. I jammed a ton of soap in there and stared trying to remove debris. I held pressure on it with my bandana and tried to decide whether I should hike back down to Newfound Gap (where I came from and over 8 miles), or continue to hike deeper into the Smokys. If I tried to turn back, I would get there about midnight and most likely have a difficult time finding a ride into Gatlinburg for medical treatment. I also wasn’t sure how the wound would act if I hiked 8 miles on it. I was positive that I needed sutures, but there was a good chance by the time I made it to town too much time would pass and I wouldn’t be able to get sutures anyways. The next shelter was only 2 miles further on the trail, and I could clean it and get a better look there- but of course then I would also be 2 miles further from town.
As I was laying across the ridge, several hikers including: Coyote, Derby, Non-Stop, and Ferrari came upon me. They gave me a large bandage to cover it and encouraged me to get to the next shelter because one of their friends was there and he happened to be a nurse.
I wrapped it with the bandana and headed that way. When I arrived I met the Ridgerunner, Chloe and asked her to take a look. She had some medical supplies to clean it, and a short time later the nurse, Orphan, arrived. They both thought it would be ok to just clean it and wrap it up. The other hikers at the shelter grouped together to find enough bandages for me. Chloe scrubbed it with alcohol pads, and then attempted to close it with butterfly bandages, KT tape, and a gauze pad. Orphan was a great nurse, he supervised and stayed nice and calm and patted my back and told me I was doing good as Chloe tortured me with the alcohol swabs.
There was still a lot of debris lodged inside, so I knew I needed to keep watch for infection and just try my best to get out of the Smokys alive and somewhat healthy. I was really upset that I was forced to sleep in the shelter- I really could have used a nice relaxing sleep in my tent with my leg extended.
Day 25: Pecks-TriCorners, 5 miles
It was another stormy day- insane rain and wind, so I laid in the shelter alone reading and resting my knee. My knee looked horrendous and was oozing a lot, but didn’t look infected. Around Noon, hikers began to arrive at the shelter. I was feeling moody and was not tolerating much. About 3 pm, the sun peeked out and I made a dash for the next shelter. I took it slow and arrived right about sunset and just as the temperature plummeted. The shelter was full, so I merrily set up my tent.
I wanted out of the Smokys and planned to do a bigger day to get OUT! I also hoped that I could find a shuttle to take me to an urgent care to have my wound cleaned and evaluated. There isn’t a town near the end of the Smokys, it’s just a hostel so I was hoping they offered shuttle services into town. If they weren’t able to shuttle me, then there was really no point in rushing and doing a big day, and I could take my time (and take it easy in my leg) instead.
I tried several times to call them to make arrangements, but I did not have a phone signal. Eventually, I was able to get through and they said that they would be able to shuttle me to Urgent Care in the next town over if I walked to their location.
There were a ton of climbs and I was feeling really off. I also looked up the Urgent Care and realized I didn’t have much time left to get there, so I called the hostel back to find out if I could be picked up at one of the road Crossings before the hostel, to save myself some pain and to get to the town in time to be seen by the doctor.
I was old that there were not any drivers available, so I walked on and tried to pick up my pace. Shortly after, I was greeted by a SOBO (a hiker that starts in Maine and walks South to Georgia), named Skipper. He said the shuttle driver was at the next road looking for me. I walked down and ran straight into KOG the shuttle driver. He had walked partway up the hill to meet me because he had heard that there was an injured Hiker and he was concerned! He was getting his oil changed when I had last called, and when he was notified he headed out right away to pick me up- the fact that it was an older injury and not exactly an emergency didn’t make it through the telephone exchange.
KOG drove me to the urgent care and I was able to be seen right away. The nurse asked me to remove my bandages and then started to panic when she saw the wound- she said “Nevermind, just leave it Ill be right back”, and then she stepped into the hall. I overheard her talking with someone and they were a little freaked and considering sending me to the ER!
She returned with the Doctor and I again explained that it was a few days old. The doctor took a peek and said “You should have come in sooner so we could stitch it”. I thought to myself, Gee thanks… but was able to restrain my smart mouth and again explain how the situation had occurred. They cleaned my wound, gave me a tetanus shot and prescription for antibiotics. They also gave me over 5lbs of materials to wrap and clean my wound… and all I could think about was that I didn’t want to carry all that extra weight 😂
Kog had already returned and was waiting for me when I finished. He was very accommodating and took me to CVS to collect my prescription- of course there was quite a wait and he was very patient as I waited for it to be filled. Since we were in an actually town, I told him to choose anything he would like for dinner and that it was on me for his patience and kindness. He chose McDonalds- and I had to practically force him to order more than 1 item, so I gave him a nice tip also to show my gratitude for all that he had done.
When we arrived at the hostel Orphan, Derby, NonStop, and Ferrari were all there. They tried to think up a good name for me based on my wound- Gash and Tumbles were their favorites. My new friend Pippy had a really fun name based on Monty Python and The Holy Grail. She wanted to call me The Black Knight, because in that skit he has his leg chopped off and he says “‘Tis but a scratch!”- she said his reminded her of me because I walked into camp with a crazy would and said something “oh I just had a little fall and banged my knee”.
Orphan and Ironwill played guitar and banjo around a fire; it was a very stereotypical camping moment and yet the first it had occurred on the trail! I couldn’t help but think that this is what most people at home picture when they think about this hike.
I was out of the Smokys, my knee was clean, and I was elated!
Readers: Would you have turned around and gone to Gatlinburg or walked further into the Smokys??