lucky days: days 13-14

Day 13: Mt. Collins Shelter to Pecks Corner Shelter, 14.6 miles
Day 14: Pecks Corner Shelter to Davenport Gap Shelter, 19.6 miles
Total AT mikes hiked: 236.7

Day 13 started off a bit rocky; although it didn’t rain over night, the ground was still soaked from the rain, and everything was wet. Garrett was grumpy too because someone took our food bags off of the bear cables and forgot to string ours back up (the cables operate on a pulley system to lift the food high enough from the ground and away from bear and mice. There are multiple hooks on each line, so multiple people share the same line). Fortunately, our food was still intact and we were able to shake off the bad mood.

Our day only got better from there, too! Shortly after hitting the trail we ran into a hiker who gave us hot chocolate packets when we told him we weren’t going into Gatlinburg. Gatlinburg is a popular spot for hikers, but is rumored to be on the touristy side and more expensive than other trail towns. We’re moving at a good enough pace to not have to resupply there, and planned on just passing through Newfound Gap; a large parking lot in the Smokies that people hitch into town from. When we got there however there was trail magic; sodas, candy, fresh fruit, and other snacks! It was sunny too, so we took the time to dry out our tent and enjoy some food. It was close to lunch time when we left, and we contemplated stopping a couple miles up the trail at Icewater Spring Shelter to have lunch if we were hungry. When we arrived, we saw a sign that said “trail magic” and we found two friendly gentlemen who had hiked up three Dutch ovens and made breakfast casserole in two of them and peach cobbler in the other. It was delicious, and so unexpected, and we were more than happy to take another long break to take advantage of there generosity! Green and red bell peppers upset Garrett’s stomach, and miraculously they had made one with peppers and one without because one of the men said peppers have the same effect on him-what are the chances! There was even ice cream for the cobbler, too! After that, we realized we weren’t going to make it nearly as far as we had planned, and decided to stop at the next shelter six miles away (we had hoped to go 4.8 mikes further). I’m glad we did, it was a beautiful ridge walk, and it would have been a shame to rush it.
When we arrived at Pecks Corner Shelter there were half a dozen tents; never a good sign when hoping for a spot in a shelter. The shelters are first come first serve for AT hikers (with a $20 Smokies permit); however, shelter spots are able to be reserved in advance, too. So if a shelter is full of thru-hikers, and a person with a reservation arrives, the last thru-hiker who arrived has to give up their spot. So when we arrived at the shelter, we assumed it was full. Upon further inquiry though we found there were 8 open spots, and that many of the tents were of thru-hikers afraid to get bumped because they heard a rumor a large group was coming to the shelter. We didn’t see anyone on the trail that day fitting that description, and it was getting late, so we decided to chance it since it felt like it was our lucky day and set-up sleeping bags up inside. Our luck held, and no one else arrived! 
The next morning one of the other hikers gave me a blueberry pancake, and this neat disposable pour-over coffee pouch from Trader Joe’s (we used it the next morning, such a treat compared to instant coffee!). We had one last ridge walk in the Smokies, and then dropped way down into Davenport Gap shelter. This time the downhill came easily, and we made it to the shelter early enough to get two spots. The shelter had a chain-link fence guarding the enterance, to protect its occupants from bears! All the shelters in the Smokies used to be like this, but then people would feed the bears through the fence, causing more bears to congregate around the shelters- upsetting the hikers when they wanted to leave in the morning! So they took most of the fences down, except this one. No bears made an appearance overnight, and we slept soundly through the night.