We're zeroing in Gatlinburg, having hiked out of Hot Springs (at last) and gone through half of the Smokies.
We had a stretch of very nice weather, from Hot Springs to Standing Bear (a hostel just before the Smokies where we stopped for lunch — and were tempted to stay — and then for our first day climbing up to six thousand feet in the Smokies. Then our next day (yesterday) it turned to rain, and we had a very soggy and cold (but thankfully not freezing) day, but hitched into town.
All the shelters in the Smokies have fireplaces; the first night we made a fire (fun but not so necessary); the second we didn't since it was starting to rain, but the higher elevation shelters have tarps to fasten across the openings, so that kept the wind from blowing away all our warm air.
We've also been having footwear adventures. I'm still hiking in Tevas; I just ordered a new pair, since the ones I've been wearing are starting to split under the ball of my foot. (Sadly, Teva is not among the manufacturers that replaces gear for free for A.T. hikers.) I was a bit nervous about the sandal-plus-oversock combination, and my feet did get soaked yesterday, but while hiking they were warm enough. And changing footwear mid-hike seems dangerous — case in point, Jo got waterproof shoes in Hot Springs (her old shoes being mesh and worn very thin), and they chewed up her feet the past few days, so she ended up hiking in Crocks for a while (and being generally unhappy). So, hopefully what we have now (and nice weather, as forecasted) will see us through the last few days of Smokies.
Gatlinburg itself has been rather an experience: it's totally a tourist town, like all the shops in an amusement park went and formed a conglomerate of their own. (The hotel owner here — at the Grand Prix — says there is also a hushed-up dark underbelly, which is sad but fits.) However, as a town for passers-through, it does have what we need: hotels, walkability and trolleys, resupply, buffets.
For me, this section has also been the first time I've been thinking about Springer (the southern terminus): we're finally in range where our plans get that far. So, not only back to the Smokies tomorrow, but — on to Springer!