Very best luck on your coming stroll, Gabrielle. I have much enjoyed your lyrical musings in the blog, and I look forward to seeing you when you pass through the Virginia section of the AT. Patty, Claire, Will, and I have sometimes used the trail in our meanderings in the Shenandoahs, and I suspect we can find a gang to join along for a mile or three. We look forward to seeing you.
If you hike on the AT in the Great Smokies, do carry a bear bell and a harmonica (to blow at the bear) because the last thing you want (this is from my own personal experience) is a causal encounter with a bear. That implies that you just happen to walk up on one. They don’t view it as a casual encounter. Some run off, some stand their ground to make you run off and some charge.
Also, watch out for boars in the Great Smokies. They are far more aggressive than the bears.
Put your food in a bear bag, too, the kind that keep the smell in the bag! If you read Bill B.’s chapter on bears it might scare you off, but considering how many people hike through the Smokies and live, even after multiple bear/boar encounters, you don’t need to worry!