AT thru-hikers, stalled by wildfires, share Thanksgiving meal
Dozens of southbound Appalachian Trail thru-hikers are stalled by wildfires on Thanksgiving, just shy of completing their trek.
(WBIR) - As wildfires continue to burn throughout the Southeast, dozens of southbound Appalachian Trail thru-hikers are stalled on Thanksgiving, just shy of completing their trek.
Fire restrictions are in place on much of the southern leg of the Appalachian Trail.
READ MORE | Appalachian Trail fire updates
The burn ban means no campfires for warmth on cold nights, as hikers are not allowed to light any kind of open flame. The only heat sources allowed are pressurized gas fuel camp stoves and backpacking stoves. Ongoing drought conditions are drying up water sources, and wildfires have closed more than 75 miles of the AT across several states.
NBC affiliate WBIR first met hiker Andrew Feeney earlier this month. All of the above has kept him camping out in Hot Springs, N.C.
That's where, on Thanksgiving Day, more than 50 hikers gathered in the town's Bill Whitten Community Center.
Many of those hikers were shuttled in from elsewhere on the trail by volunteers called trail angels.
On a day centered on family and food, Feeney is surrounded by both.
"The hiker community is unbelievable," the 24-year-old Connecticut native said. "There's been, like, a huge reunion today because there's people that I met in New Hampshire and Maine, saying good, and now they're here in Hot Springs because I've been here for 12 days."
"There's hikers here from all over the trail," hiker Leah Pelz agreed.
She started her southbound journey along the AT in mid-July.
"I'm in the middle of the Smoky Mountains right now, and the last couple days have been really smoky," Pelz said. "Like, smoky enough that it affects your breathing or it makes you a little sick to your stomach."
She would be less than a week out from the finish, if it weren't for the trail closures.
"When I first found out about the forest fires, it was rough," Pelz said. "At that point I had hiked 1,800 miles or something, and the idea that I wasn't going to be able to do that little chunk, like - I came here from Maine and now those 70 or 80 miles were going to be taken away from me?"
She plans on hiking up to the closure, shuttling around it and then hiking the rest.
Read more from our news partners at WBIR.