With thoughts of feeling like home abounding in my head, I awoke with grand ideas of making a scrumptious breakfast for my family.  At this point, my disappointment came to a head.  I simply wanted to make breakfast for my family, but the stove did not work, and when Ryan was able to finagle it to working order, the burner only half heated proved insufficient to make pancakes.  It is indeed the little things that can really get under my skin.  But was this a little thing?  I mean, not being able to watch TV because a lightening strike took out the cable is a little thing.  We can live without TV.  BUT, after spending way too much on breakfast items, so that I could feel a little like we were home, providing bacon and pancakes for my family is really not out of the realm of expectation, is it?  

These are the things I miss most about being home.  I love to cook!  I love to feed my family nutritiously balanced meals!  I get a kick out of hearing them ask for seconds and their exclamations of how much they love a certain meal that has been prepared for them.  In the woods, I am limited on what I can provide for my family.  I am reduced to one-pot dehydrated meals.  There is NO creativity expressed in this manner of cooking.  So, here was an opportunity to feel a bit normal, or not. 

We decided to just get going back to the trail.  We had arranged for the Village Shuttle to escort us back to the trail, but had to make a stop at the front desk to pick up our forgotten trekking poles.  I was able to kindly express disappointment in the money wasted and lack of breakfast consumed to the manager.  He quickly made things right by treating our family to breakfast.  I am so thankful that he was so kind.  I am thankful that I was able to keep my composure, state things clearly and kindly, without regret.  I am growing in this area.  The breakfast was delicious… and we headed to the trail with grateful, happy hearts and bellies. 

We crossed over Fontana Dam.  Wow, it was huge!  Very impressive indeed!

The views were spectacular!

Then we came to the border of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park!!!  

The weather was amazing.  So different from the previous weeks wrestle between winter and spring.  The temperature was perfect and no clouds were seen in the bright blue sky. 

We met Matt, the Ridge Runner, shortly after entering the park, where he shared with us the rules of the park, and informed us that we needed to practice extra precautions to insure that we would not contract the noro-virus that apparently is rampidly making its way from hiker to hiker.  He also informed us that if our water filter had ever frozen, it was probably not functioning properly.  Oh NO!  The water sources are where the virus is spread most prevelantly.  Due to the fact that we were hiking in a National Park, special rules apply.  One of these rules is that hikers must sleep in the shelters or in tents close to the shelters in the park.  This means that  many hikers congregate in few locations, spending time in close proximity of eachother.  This is not particularly good if any one of those hikers has the plague.  

***NOTE: As soon as signal was strong enough to do so, I ordered a replacement filter to be sent to Cherokee from Amazon Prime!  Now, I just had it hold my breath and pray we would not get sick!***

We’ve passed a few fire towers over the past weeks, each time arriving to a socked in view, unworthy of the effort to climb the stairs to the top.  Today was different!  Shuckstack Tower, sits atop a mountain at the elevation of 3800 feet.  It is rickety at best.  Our kiddos had jetted ahead of Ryan and I, for which I ended up being so grateful, as I did not have to witness their ascent or decent of the towers dangerous stairs.   The views were really amazing, and worth facing the fear of falling from this rickety old fire tower. 

It was a really great day!  The kids had fun with one another.  The views were amazing.  The weather was perfect.  Here are a few random pictures from throughout the day. 

We were relieved to find a tent site at Birch Spring Gap.  Tent sites mean just a little more space amongst the campers, and we decided to fill our water supply a distance before the tentsite, in hopes that by doing so we would avoid the nasty germs.  

A fire blazed at the center of the camp.  We made our way down to introduce ourselves, and ended up enjoying some great conversation with several people.  It was fun to hear Ryan recount some of the funnies of his military days gone by with another veteran.  There exists amongst veterans a chemistry rare and unique.  I love to witness the interactions.  It is like watching two long-lost tribesmen reunite… finding familiarity in a complete stranger.  Both Ryan, and his new friend, Doug, are in the same boat as they are trying to figure out who they are outside of the Army.  They are both learning and trying to reconcile experiences that they have had in combat.  Locking proverbial arms, a rest washed over each of them as they reminded eachother that they are not alone.  

Not alone… sometimes we hike for hours without seeing a soul… but in this vast wilderness, we are not alone.  Each person out here, from the day hiker to the person attempting to hike the distance, has a reason to hike.  For Ryan and Doug, it is to find their way home by walking off the war. 

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