I don't know what all the complaining was about. This weather is fine, thank you very much. I woke out of my nap to bright shadows and blue skies. Earlier today, two men came through with admittedly "one hundred pounds between us." That included an ax, a pint of tequila, some brand new packs (including an expedition-worthy Osprey) and a GPS. I'm a bit less guilty with my Gregory Makalu Pro and other gear now. At least it's not 50 lbs.
OK, so maybe it hasn't stopped raining since my last entry, and maybe I've been awake since 2 AM due to sleeping too much, but I like it. I enjoy learning here how to use my gear and arrange my pack. It's like an np-hard C.S. problem.
Reading through many bear stories in the register, I look forward to a second night alone. So as it turns out not everyone on the trail this late is middle-aged and decked out in brand new gear. There are hot spots on the back of my heals, and my left knee started to complain yesterday. Oh well. The weather is good finally, and I will have company tonight.
Good omen - butterfly on foot. They say, in the journal, that the privy has an incredible view. These are mostly wide-eyed green A/T through hikers who are used to staring at a bathroom wall. Still, the view is not bad.
"Dreams of changing the world." - me.
"Well, it could sure stand some improvement." - Wayne.
The best way to force yourself to take a break: pull out your journal and make an entry. My knees have started to act up. If this trip follows the pattern of the last, I will be lucky to make it into Neel's Gap, but I did see a butterfly and a good sitting rock, and I think both are good omens. Ask me again in a week.
I'm on track for a knee-induced derailment tomorrow or the next day. I may try to cut the mileage way down, but I will go until I cannot, praying for strength. I've finally met some people more my type - 2 chemical engineers from VPI. One heard a snap in his knee today. The other is concerned about the lack of company he faces on a through-hike starting this late. Nate and Meridith have gone into town, and Nate isn't coming back. He'd "rather be bowling." And if I never hike another mile on the trail, I had today.
Blood Mountain Shelter!?! How, you say? Well, I'll tell. My original plan was to arrive here (or Slaughter's Gap) tomorrow. I made my way fairly easily to Woody Gap to meet up with Magellan and Repack, who said they had seen Bear Bait that very morning. I was pleasantly surprised, but sat down for lunch, as I was hungry. Hot spots were forming on my heals (which later never materialized into blisters), so I cut duct tape, and in the process found out how much fun it can be to cut yourself. My thumb was dripping blood all over my hand and the park bench as I cobbled together a makeshift bandage (involving TORN duct tape). Having made it through all the scouting without any similar injuries, I was quite angry with myself - for some reason, visions of Pipi Longstocking popped into my head. Five minutes later I had gobbled down the rest of my beef jerky, and thrown everything into my pack. I was headed to Woody Hole Shelter, 7 miles north. I ran into day-hikers, passed Magellan and Repack, and caught up with Bear Bait and Hammock Boy at Bird Gap. Bear Bait pressed on to Neel's Gap, and the rest of us decided to head for Slaughter Gap - the shelter was 1/2 mile off (i.e. down) the ridge. At Slaughter Gap we refilled our water - Ha - and Hammock Boy left with me for a Blood Summit Sunset Special, which meant 1.1 more miles. That last mile was hard, but I like the summit. 13 miles today. Wow.
Notes to call Mom: Reroute the Helen package to Hiawassee; less cheese; 2 days to Hiawassee
Adam and Jason have joined me, and we have placed our pizza order. Currently we are submitting to the voluntary brainwashing that is called Zoog TV on the Disney Channel. I hope we all make it now. "There is nothing you can do to hurt me, but there are a million things I can do to hurt you." - the TV.
To do in the morning: ask about knee brace; spoon.
We few stragglers are keenly aware that we walk in washed and eroded footsteps of the 2001 through-hiker community. At first I thought it brought a cloud of doom lurking over the next hill. Really it is an added flavor of Tradition, or The Spirit of Those Who Have Gone Before Us, or Mystery, or some other metaphysical effect, which in my mind, obliterates materialism off this list I keep of Stuff To Believe In. Adam and Jason are cool guys. I am praying that Jason's knee will not take him off the trail in the next few days. As with Bear Bait, I am glad to be hiking with kids my age. This is - not that I don't like them - a step above the middle-aged vacationers I have been around previously.
All that is left to do is decide what food not to take with me to Hiawassee. I hope the weather clears. I will fall asleep wondering what the last hiker to sleep here is doing now. Cotton sheets! Oh, what sweet luxury!
Note to self: no more 20-mile days in a while. I am too exhausted to write more tonight - plus it's dark and I'm using borrowed light. Tomorrow will be slow and full of breaks. Perhaps then...
A short hike but a long day... I am alone again. Bear bait is probably in Hiawassee. Adam and Jason have pushed on to Addis Gap, and the Kennedy Boys have bailed completely. My only company is the large and varied, winged, crawling and stinging insect population here.
Fontana Dam is 107.3 miles north, according to the A/T Data Book. That gives me about one week to make the decision: do I leap-frog over North Carolina and into Damascus, VA? Do I want to join for two months the through-hiker community? Or do I enjoy the solitude of a straggler's hike, broken by encounters with weekend-ers and Boy Scout troops? This is something to think on as I shoo flies off my dinner.
Firechin (Eric) has arrived. He's a talker. (: We tried to mix up some hard lemonade, but ended up with Bacardi Limon. I have 14 oz. Of the stuff, and plan to take it with me to Deep Gap.
I think I'll hitch a ride into Hiawassee this afternoon, so I can call Paul and Becky this evening.
I passed two hikers who told of a good AYCE place down in Hiawassee, which drove me to climb this knob so fast my right foot went numb. On to Deep Gap Shelter for lunch.
I have no desire to hike 0.3 miles down to the shelter, and 0.3 back, just to see some fabled 3-story shelter. I've heard there is another one further down. 7+ miles before lunch - not bad.
An old Three Stooges flick was on and muted for a long phone call home.... "A/T phone home." Logistics for the next week or so - up to Fontana Dam - were worked out, but I'll probably end up with too much food again - consistently I have been exceeding expectations. Getting over the 25-mile/3 day hill was a big booster. Now that I have succeeded where before I failed, there is no visible limit, no Cloud of Doom hanging over me. If I fail, it will be a good failure - better yet, I may succeed.
The most recent mail drop is spread out on one bed, my pack has been disemboweled on another, and my hiking clothes are hanging to dry in the bathroom. I washed them in the sink with my camp suds, and was disgusted at the amount of dirt and filth that came out of them. My surprise gift for Mom is ready for mailing. The nails on my big right toe look like they will fall off soon. I have been stuffed with meat loaf, mashed potatoes, coleslaw, tomato slices, rolls, and a side order of onion rings. Boy do I have it made.
I am falling asleep to the cinematic Replacement Killers. Yep, nothing like a good Chow Yon Fat/John Woo flick. Well, at least it's hip and it looks good. Anything to take that load off my mind - I have very much very heavy food. Gunfight, write, gunfight, write - a soothing pattern. Perhaps it will put me to sleep. It is late after all, and I have miles to hike after I wake. Sweat dreams.
CNN reports that President Bush's daughter has been caught with alcohol violations. I hope Bear Bait - who has met and formed an unfavorable opinion of both of them - gets wind of this. Hah.
Taking a break to let my feet dry. I'm going to pop more ibuprofen and push on to Muscrat Creek Shelter in NC! The rain is slowing and I feel good.
My Kellogg Olympics watch is fogging up due to all the rain. I have been hiking in clouds all day. All the vistas off of Courthouse Bald - which sound very nice after browsing the shelter log - were similarly fogged up. But this ever-present mist and the bird songs have pulled these few miles of the trail into a Tolkein fantasy.
A passing breeze has interrupted my thoughts and reminds me I should go find the privy while there is no rain, because there is no fun like a rainy privy trip. Trust me.
The Happy Surprise Seat Rim notwithstanding, that was certainly a half-decent privy, but I made the mistake of not putting on my wet socks, or my dry ones (less wet, really) which makes walking slow.
That leaves me cold and damp and super happy with how my body feels after a 12-mile day. Maybe my last ibuprofen dosing has just not worn off.
Did I mention that I am in North Carolina now? Did I mention that North Carolina knows how to make a first impression - and by that I mean that there are no switch-backs in this state. Clearly the first 2 miles are a test of all the strength and endurance supposedly gained in Georgia. All I have to do is last 60 miles down to the Nantahala, or 90 to Fontana Dam. Virginia, here I come.
Time to move out.
I have been stuffing myself with Cheese-Its for at least 30 minutes. We will all feast on Firechin's overzealous re-supply. I think I have seen Hobo and Bo for the last time. They were going to stop just north of Mt. Albert. I got pictures of them.
Tomorrow will be a short day, and I will bring this journal up to date then.
You can tell it's going to be a slow day when it's 8 in the morning and you haven't started breakfast. It has been getting noticeably warmer for 3 days in a row, so that now I am lounging around in shorts without being cold. I never get cold sleeping, either, but then again Josh, John, Chad, Eric and Mike (an IBM exec) were sharing the shelter. Mogly was also here, and kept away the bears. Did I say John, I meant Luke.
I'm sitting next to an ex-football player for the NC? SC? Gamecocks, letting my Lipton pre-soak. Mike, the IBM exec, is playing with the fire, and Lucas, the football guy, is snacking on a very fresh-looking bagel. Eric is of course applying peanut butter to Trisqits. This morning I raided his re-supply ammo boxes:
Not that I sit around thinking of food all the time.
After making camp, Eric and I made the trek to Silver Bald, elevation 5,216 feet. Great panorama, and lots of little fluffy clouds. I left a message at home so they know I'm safe, because I didn't do into Franklin with Luke, Chad and Josh. Eric made a call into Atlanta to check the weather, and made the decision to stay at this shelter.
I hiked up Siler Bald again, this time with Lucas, to watch the sun rise. A good view, but too many clouds. Yesterday no longer counts as a short day.
Well, that was a fun how-do-you-do, and the last time I go for 2 and-a-half hours without water. This was also my first hike without ibuprofen. Considering the elevation change, I am quite pleased. My mind is blank now. I'm going to go sit myself down somewhere to enjoy the moment.
Today we will all make the 14 mile hike down to the Nantahala outdoor Center, i.e. pizza, showers, cotton sheets possibly, and mail-drops. The gang is all excited, or at least they were last night. Right now they are still tucked into their sleeping bags. Dataman from IBM is up, and I hope that with one more person, we will achieve critical mass. If that doesn't happen, perhaps direct sunlight in 20 or 30 minutes will rouse them.
I ate a cold breakfast and high-tailed it out of camp at 8:30. Now I'm on top of the lookout tower on Wesser Bald, elevation 4,627. The sun is shining brightly through the thin high clouds, and an occasional breeze is cooling me off. In front of me, a large bird - raven? - has been climbing on the updraft so long I can no longer see him. To my right, another is descending in slow, lazy spirals.
I kept myself entertained on the hike up here by outlining an essay comparing the body mechanics and fighting strategies of taiji, bagua, xing-yi and aikido. I may have to start a regular training program when I get back. It's only been 3 1/2 years since I first wanted to learn a martial art.
Now if only someone would show up - Lucas, I am looking in your direction - to take my picture.
I'm out in the rain, cold and wet and loving tin roofs. Lucas is back at the NOC, I'm sure. If I had started a few hours earlier, I would have pressed on to Brown Fork Gap Shelter - this one sucks.
There is almost too much condensation inside my Kellogg Official Supplier of the Olympics watch to see through. The rain has finally stopped, and a section hiker I met this morning at the NOC has joined me. I would be getting ahead of myself if I told you that I have left behind completely this morning's funk. His name is David West, and he is a recently unemployed tool machinist, funding a section hike with his unemployment. He's a very good cook and rolls his own cigarettes - much smoother than anything store-bought.
Well, the light is fading rapidly, but I want to detail the NOC adventure before too long. Tomorrow is a short day - maybe then.
The staccato sound of the rain on the roof has been waking me up on and off since about 5 this morning, which means I got a good 7 or 8 hours of sleep. Under siege and out of water, perhaps now is a good time for a story.
2 days ago Lucas, Eric, Mike and I made the 12-mile push down to the NOC. Having left before anyone else was really up, I took the lead and did not see any of my companions until Lucas flew past me 3/4 of the way down. He had called in that morning - everyone seems to have a phone out here - and made reservations for 2 at Basecamp. Like I said, he flew past me but I caught up with him taking a picture, and stayed with him for the last, very flat mile.
We poked our heads into the outfitter's, but quickly migrated to the nearest restaurant, and sat down for burgers.
Mike came off the trail just in time for me to give him one of the poppers I had ordered, and he explained how he had twisted his ankle in the mud on the way down - I did mention it was raining very lightly at that point, but had dumped a couple of hours ago, right?
So Mike went off to make some calls, as he was going to cut his week in half and leave the trail, and Lucas and I went to check in. At the office, Lucas found a ride into town, the name of a drug store that did 1-hour photos, and the name of the only bar in Bryson City - KJ.
Our ride was leaving in about 45 minutes, and both of us stunk to high heaven, so we unloaded our gear into our cabin, took brief but amazingly satisfying showers, and rooted around for non-stinky, non-wet clothes to wear into town. We trekked back across the place and arrived at the office just about 5 minutes ahead of on-time.
She dropped us off at the drug store, and Lucas went in looking to develop some film, but found a note instead, "1-hour photo closed 6/8" Dejected, and not willing to hitch the 30 miles - according to the clerk - to Wal-Mart, we set out for KJ's.
KJ's was an old army bunker-looking building - a half cylinder lying down, and was close to empty when we got the first round of beer and headed to the pool table in the back. For the next 4 or 5 hours, we heard a lot of classic rock - early on we were feeding dollars into the jukebox, and when the locals arrived, they made almost the exact same song selections Lucas had. With Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones in the background, Lucas schooled me in the art of pool. Halfway through the evening he was pretty good, and most of my shots elicited a "close" comment from him. Later on, of course, the heavy beer buzz threw us both off: "which cue ball?" We hadn't planned on staying past 8 - our normal bedtime - and every time someone went for beer they would ask the bartender about getting a ride.
At 10:30 we finally gave up on the pool and made our way back to the front, willing at this point to pay money for a ride back to the NOC. An hour later, we left with the owner of Nantahala Rafting. The only obstacle between us and sleep was laundry, which we took care of right quick.
Well, off into the rain for me. Woo!
The rain let up after a couple of hours, making the hike almost fun - well, it was, if you are not counting that last hike out of Sweetwater Gap, I have enough time and energy to push for the next shelter, about 7 miles, but I'm waiting for Lucas. Also, this shelter sucks, not counting that post-modern privy. For now, I will bum around in my new Teva "Mush" sandals, and enjoy the partly cloudy weather. This would be a good time for lunch, now that you mention it.
Will I ever have a lazy, clear day of easy hiking? Once I found that the Fontana Village Resort Post Office closes at noon on ?Saturday? - tomorrow - I pressed on to the next shelter. 7 miles in under 3 hours, and now NC 28 is only 5.5 miles away.
Several minutes after I arrived, a family of 4 made a brief appearance to examine the shelter, privy and me. Why is it that everyone has read Bill Bryson's "A Walk in the Woods," and no one has read Earl Shafer's (?) "Walking with Spring?"
I've picked up my maildrop and am waiting for the cafe across the street to open at 11. On the shuttle ride in, I ran into two hikers who recognized me as Bigfoot and confirmed that Eric was here last night. After lunch here, I am going to go back down to the Fontana Hilton and spend the night there. I hope to run into Lucas.
So I'm sitting, waiting on my burgers, pondering the choice between eating in here, where the a/c has me almost chilly, or out on the porch with the wind and the sun. I think - considering how much I stink, that I'm going to go outside once my order is done. With any luck, I'll be able to get a refill on my Mr. Pibb.
You may not know the significance of a good register entry, but I just made one. On top of that, I am highly pleases with the postcard done up for Paul and Becky. But what a day - I now have enough food for more than a week. I got a surprise second package, which I stupidly signed for rather than bounce up to Davenport Gap
I've probably thrown away five pounds of fuel, and I'm leaving more behind - including some Snickers which are alongside Luke's gloves. 2 boxes of food are already waiting for "Luke, Chad or John."
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