Gatlinburg is open for business and business is booming! Despite the horrific fire that everyone watched on the media, downtown Gatlinburg was miraculously spared. In fact, if you were to drive through the main part of Gatlinburg that everyone is familiar with, you might not even realize that there had been a fire. But once you get to the outskirts of town, the devastation becomes much more apparent.
Grey Wolf and I needed to go grocery shopping, and the main grocery store is about three miles from the motel. Since it is the off-season, the trolley doesn’t start running until 10:30 am, so we decided to walk. Stretching out a little and walking without a pack actually felt pretty good, so we made it there in no time. Along the way, however, we passed many burned out homes and businesses. Apparently, the embers from the forest fire fell from the sky and would set a structure on fire and leave the surrounding structures unscathed. This left random pockets of burned buildings or, in many cases, empty foundations. It is very sad, but they look like they are well on their way to recovery.
After our grocery shopping was finished, we caught the first trolley back to town, and I went to the NOC Outdoors Outfitters to pick out a few freeze dried meals to round out my resupply. After depositing my purchases at the motel room, and having a lovely conversation with my wife, I departed to have lunch with Cotton, the other thru-hiker from Pensacola.
Cotton and I met at a nearby deli for lunch sandwiches. And while my Philly Cheesesteak was delicious, my conversation with Cotton was disheartening. He has decided to quit the trail and go home. The word grueling had crept into his vocabulary for the past week or so, and that is usually a bad sign. But he has a sore back, his knees are hurting, and most importantly, he is no longer having fun. I believe he made the right decision, but he is an amazing individual and I hate to see him go. The old saying is “It is better to try and fail than to fail to try,” but, in Cotton’s case I don’t see any failure at all. At age 69, he hiked 207.1 miles carrying everything he needed on his back. That must put him in the top .01 percentile of men on earth.
After saying goodbye to Cotton, I completed some chores and headed out to explore the town with Boo Boo and Chuckles. We decided to join in on the very popular Gatlinburg tradition of Moonshine sampling. There are a couple of distilleries in town, and in order to advertise their products, they offer samples. The way it works is that for $5, you get to sample 12 different flavors from apple pie to coffee. The samples are ironically served in communion cups, so you don’t actually get very much moonshine, but the people doing the presentation are an absolute hoot. It was a lot of fun, and is probably the best entertainment value in Gatlinburg.
After playing in downtown, and eating some food, we returned to our room to start packing for tomorrow. It is time to return to the trail, and it looks like the weather will be perfect.