Excepting the moderate climb out of Fontana Dam, the miles have passed away quickly. The pleasant weather helps, too. How can I be the only one here right now? I'm cooking dinner, and once that is all done with, will consider moving either 3 or 6 miles to the next shelter. Mainly I'm waiting to see if Lucas shows. We were hiking about the same pace, got along, and aimed for an early August departure. But I don't know if he ever got out of Weser. That would be a shame.
Back at the Fontana Hilton, I left a postcard and my first journal with Bryan to mail out on Monday. An hour later, and Bob the Yankee has finally arrived. I'm pretty much done with dinner and ready to hike for an hour or two.
I just spent my first night alone since Stover Creek Shelter. From the noises I heard last night, I have deduced both bears and mice paid me a visit - and both had to leave empty handed, as all my goodies were strung up on the cable system.
It's obvious the Smokies get a lot more use than any part of the trail south, possibly with the exception of Blood Mountain. There is more litter, and the tramped areas in front of the shelter is huge, and the trails are all wider and more worn or damaged. Still, this abuse and traffic is good for the Smokies, compared to what the timber companies did. In a couple of hundred years we should see some nice big trees here, if the air pollution and non-natural flora and fauna don't hit them first. Due to the US weather patterns, the TN side of the Smokies has air as bad as Los Angeles.
I made excellent time this morning, covering almost three miles an hour. A 20-minute snack break is my reward.
Marie Judy. She comes highly recommended as a masseuse for Hot Springs. Also: Laurel Creek Lodge, off Dennis Code Road.
I have gone from being alone in a shelter to being the last man in a full shelter. There is a SOBO reverse flip-flop husband-wife couple - I have been talking with them extensively, but more on that later. A father has brought 3 kids - at least one is a son, and there are five more people. They are a close-knit group and my best bet is a high school youth group or BSA Venture crew.
The husband-wife team made the recommendation I noted earlier. Among the people staying here tonight, I fit in with them best. We are all through-hikers of a sort, so right there we can talk gear and terrain and injuries and food and technique. There is more. We both have avoided the through-hiking rush - I lag behind and read the registers, and they slammed into and waded through the crowd. Finally, as if I were writing an essay, "There're three things we have in common" - We share the same philosophy when it comes to hiking. We are not here to find ourselves, discover inner strength or peace or some other characteristic, nor are we seeking the answers to any deep or shallow questions. We hike because we can and because we want to. If any deeper or greater or spiritual goal arises, that's a pleasant side effect.
On a pragmatic note, my right shin has begun to bother me. I fear shin splints, but I have now an excuse to slow down - maybe go into Gatlinburg - and see who catches up to me. Come fair of foul weather, I have at least come this far. As I drift off to dream of mountains, food and perhaps elevators, the sprits of those who have gone before me bring comfort. Well, so much for the pragmatic note.
I passes 6 or 7 Girl Scouts on a 4 day outing today. Well, their male leader was sitting on a log, and explained how he was going ahead to empty his pack and return to help the girls, who had found the hike to be a bit more than they planned on. I passed him, and began formulating the advice and consolation I would rescue these girls' spirits with. My final rough draft went something like, "Well, it's ok to be miserable now, but you must look back later and laugh at the pain in muscles you didn't know you could hurt, and the way your socks stank, and how the elevation guide lies, but you must not be bitter, for as long as you are bitter, you will have refused to learn anything, and wasted your time, besides." That was the plan, anyway. I was to be the good Samaritan, that odd stranger to pick their spirits up. Of course, after they passed, all I did say was "Oh, just about a mile." I'm glad I ran into them, because the advice is universal. I know it at least applies to me, and I suspect, Lord, you are a sneaky bastard sometimes, that it was all a setup, which puts a smile on my face.
The sky is clear and the ibuprofen has kicked in, so I feel pretty good. My plan: make the climb to Clingman's dome, trick an unwary tourist into driving me to Gatlinburg, rest up tonight, then hitch a ride to Newfound Gap tomorrow, and sleep in Fle-something Shelter after a 3 mile walk. We'll see what happens.
The chorus to Paradise City was running through my head as I sat in the back of a pickup headed from Clingman's Dome to Gatlinburg. Five minutes previously, I was despondently smiling and waving at all the tourists not picking up a weary through-hiker.
On a side note, there is a movie on TNN, about telepaths called scanners, from which I recognize many F.S.O.L. samples: "I think I'm a bit afraid," and "I can see myself." I hope time will uncover the reason for this coincidence, but for now, back to the story.
How do I introduce and preserve the surprise of an unexpected good omen? In the sky, one small square of the highest and most feather-like clouds there are, the sunlight had created a rainbow segment. Pastel, ephemeral, and colorful are appropriate words. If I could only construct the proper sentence - but perhaps this is a thing that you cannot know without experiencing. Any excuse to avoid the conclusion that I am not the best writer. The important observation to make is that I was in an unexpected good mood, and as the trail wound its way down to Gatlinburg, I saw the trees and clouds and overlooks fly by. Till now, I have not only missed the forest for the trees, but the trees for their bark, their roots and their leaves. A reminder and a glimpse of the big picture I wonder if this is the reason, will be the reason for my town stop. But true to form I have noticed recent paragraphs taking, these are my flights of fancy, and there is actually what happened.
Gatlinburg, like Vegas, has a strip, and I wandered my way, window-shopping and reveling in the culture shock. Gatlinburg is to the Great Smokie Mountains National Park what Silversmith is to Zion, Utah, except that Gatlinburg and the park are a thousand miles more popular, with large splashes of Vegas and Disney for flavor. I have seen art galleries, mountain stream restaurants, candy stores, carnival rides, theaters and arcades. Then there are the hemp shops - selling pipes for tobacco use only - and the magic shop - selling similar pipes - and the tobacco shops, and the curio shop, and the Chinese Bazaar. As an exercise for the reader, guess what they all have in common. I do not think I would have to dig deep to find something to fill those pipes.
The half-forgotten recommendation that a certain Mexican restaurant, whose name I had wholly forgotten, drew me to sit down at the bar on the porch of No Way Jose's. How can you sit at an Mexican bar and not order a margarita? In that heat, how could it not be frozen. And why throw money away on bad tequila? Top Shelf, baby!
Two vodka tonics - the bartender had never heard of Red Ball and vodka if you believe it - a grilled chicken quesadilla, and a final margarita later, Tim - the salesman next to me - and I left as buddies that spending thee hours at a bar will make two guys. Now I know that Don Julio, and another tequila made "100% aguava" puts the rest to shame like a good German beer shames PBR. Among other things, of course, I must note with a grin, which I will keep to myself.
I returned to my room at 10. Coming home, I was sidetracked by a honky-tonk band playing on the street. Grandpa Ken and I sat on the steps for a knee-slapping, foot-stomping rendition of Rocky-Top and Dueling Banjos. Those were the songs I recognized.
From my room, I had a long chat making Paul and Becky jealous. Now I watch this odd movie about Remeal, Cameron and scanners. In the near future I will be asleep, and in the morning I will go down to the office and pay for another night. I have several errands I can run tomorrow.
At this rate, I shall have to pick up more journal notebooks before leaving town.
First errand, breakfast. The Burning Bush is textbook, southern and middle class luxury. Large, heavy silverware and dishes, equally big and delicious portions, all served by politely whispering servers.
Second errand - gear. I filled my fuel bottle, and bought a small pack towel. Next I can go through the pile of stuff on the floor, looking for stuff to send home.
Third errand, laundry. I washed my hiking clothes in the bathroom sink with hot water and camp suds. No matter if it be my shorts or shirt, on the first or third washing, the water always turns brown and oily. I am amazed, but glad that my clothes are a bit cleaner. Hopefully this will help manage the stink. Notice I said manage and not remove. Word choice is very important.
Fourth errand, continue eating all day. Learn that the girl behind the Baskin Robbins counter has studied 14 languages and is fluent in five. Eat a fine burrito and try fried ice cream at No Way Jose's.
The pattern, you see, goes like this. First you wake up and get up a while later because you have decided to take a slow start because you are only doing 6 or 8 or 12 miles. You eat a leisurely breakfast, pack up, move out, and realize that it's not even 8:30. For the next 5 to 8 hours life follows this sub-pattern: hike, rest, eat, drink, repeat. You stop for water and snacks about once an hour. Finally, about an hour after you are ready for it, you reach your destination, and settle down for dinner. While the noodles are pre-soaking to save fuel, you fill up on water. After dinner you consolidate your gear - which is inevitably spread out because your food was on the bottom. Now it's getting dark, and you have just enough time to put about one out of ten things you wanted to say into your journal. Tomorrow I may talk about the mind games and mood swings you have had to be inspired by.
Take yesterday for example. Coming out of Gatlinburg I stood by the road for an hour before J9 and Alex picked me up. I was incredibly bitter watching the tourists - especially the ones in pickups - drive by in droves. But I was dropped off in Newfound Gap, and after waiting in the car for a couple of minutes so the rain might let up, which it didn't, I started off. It was pouring bullets, and for about 10 minutes, hail, as well. The water never got to me; I imagined it would blow over, and better cold and wet on the trail than watching the Cartoon Network back in town. On the way to Icewater Springs Shelter, I passed day-hikers in various moods, but by the time I arrived, the sky had cleared. Stopping long enough to eat - I had been hiking for just over an hour - and wring my socks out, I moved on, hoping to make 7 miles in 3 hours.
In many places here, the trail is the ridge is the trail, so I had incredible views quite often, but as I and my mind wandered, I fell into a black mood, despairing the lack of any real peers - most people I meet are out for a week at the most. This has happened to me before, so I held out hope that, like previously, I would meet interesting people at the shelter and be cheered. Well, I did and I was.
Now I'm in the "wow, it's not even 8 and I'm almost ready to go" portion of the day, so I will go pack up. The sun is out and I want to catch the views while it is still low.
Silver lining, silver lining. Let's see. Those last 5 miles went by fast. I never got very hot on the climb up to Cosby Knob. All my clothes - socks included - got a good washing. The sky poured buckets, soaking me and transforming the trial into the Appalachian River System, complete with rapids, pools, dams, cascades and marsh. My spirits remained undamped as I had the foresight to put them deep in my pack.
True to the form the last three days have taken, brief showers have preceded clear skies. I am here with an old man, two kids from St. Augustine hiking the Smokies and Dan the Ridgerunner. I just gave my nanotech spiel to him, and he took it very well, I think.
Today destroyed the notion that there are only so many things that can happen due to the limited number of hours in a day. I will explain.
About 24 hours ago I was dozing off in Cosby Knob shelter, when a soaked hiker - long distance if the beard, hair and general appearance meant anything. As he unpacked, he pulled out a radio and turned into the Braves playing into Atlanta. Dan the Ridgerunner asked him to turn it off, and kept insisting, despite arguments like "does anyone else mind?" The new guy did turn it off, but was incredibly obnoxious towards Dan while unpacking and eating cold, crushed Ramen. Later he went out into the dark to sit on a light pole and hear his game.
The next morning, Dan left just as I was getting up, so I got to know this rude guy better, and he - not surprisingly - turned out to be very nice. I left the shelter at 8:30.
I almost ran, except where rocks, roots and section hikers slowed me, into Davenport Gap. There I hitched down to Mountain Momas Kountry Story and ate a burger and fries. That wasn't enough, so I followed it with a chili-dog and fries. Stuffed, I made the 1.3-mile walk back up to the trail.
Due to a lack of foresight, the 3,500-foot climb up Snowbird Mountain caught me by surprise. I was getting seriously winded when a big tick hopped on my leg, an event a wasp decided to warn me about by stinging my bad knee. Nearby sailors were seen blushing and some of the more delicate ferns nearby wilted slightly as I passed them, riding a second wind. By the time it wore off I was close enough to the top for regular motivational methods to work.
When I finally pulled into camp - remember that this was a 20-mile day and my record - I found a scout troop occupying the shelter. Now I had an excuse to test my as-yet-unused tent.
I apologize for the brevity and lack of editorial comment, but I am very tired. If you don't mind, I'm going to pass out now.
There are only two clouds in the sky - and I can see for miles in every direction. Coming up the side of Max patch, I met a husband and wife out shooting the wildflowers. We chatted for a bit and then the wife took a few different shots of me, promising to mail them to my parents. Should be a pleasant surprise.
I mentioned wildflowers, right? The patch covered with them, and they are practically glowing in the direct sunshine.
Earlier, at the NC 1182 road crossing, I met the re-supply team waiting for yesterday's scout troop. They gave me one Little Debbie and Mellow Yellow, my first official "Trail Magic" I suppose.
The stomach trouble I was having earlier today seems to have passed, so I am cautiously rewarding myself with a grand dinner: Bow Tie String Cheese, Lipton plus approximately 2 cups of dehydrated spaghetti sauce plus 2 packets of chicken flavored Ramen. The meal is being documented with my camera.
I am staying at one of the oldest shelters on the A/T. Why anyone would sleep 2 miles south at the Roaring Fork Shelter when they can have the comfort of such well-worn wood, I can't say. I took a picture - forgot to set any of the shelters in GA or in GSMNP (Smokies) - and will pawn it off as a "typical shelter."
Wood is amazing stuff. Even after it has been dead for half a century, it's still useful You can't say that about many people. I am alone for the third time in as many weeks, and stuff like this pops into my head and rolls around as I lazily - no hurry, it's not even 8 - drift off to sleepy land.
I am fat, happy, tired and hot. Perhaps I will let down my shield and....oh, I can't even think of the proper metaphor----but perhaps some juicy tidbit that I normally keep to myself will spill out in lines of ink.
Sean and Chad are in the kitchen, keeping themselves amused, and their kitchen duty light, with wandering banter. I am out on the porch on the other side of a screen door. The cats are keeping me company, looking for affection and eventually someone to disobey the paper note that reads, "don't dare let the cats inside." I'm out here because the house has not yet cooled off from the fierce midday heat. Actually, I am out here to fill the last pages with some sort of three week retrospection and the heat inside is too stifling for any sort of - well, anything. Everyone not working in the kitchen is on a porch.
You can read proper introductions to Elmer's Sunnydale Inn in any guidebook or probably even the internet, so it will suffice to say that it is an eccentric antique house and a pleasant place to have a zero day. Today's main labor - mail-drop logistics aside - was choosing between "The Chinese Art of Tea," "The Age of Reason," and the book I chose, "The Tracker" by Tom Brown.
Enough wandering, Tom - time to fill in the last few days to make way for the promised retrospective. I left Walnut Mountain Shelter with Hot Springs on the brain, and a song in my heart. The miles - uphill, downhill and flat alike - flew by at well over two miles an hour. As the morning grew older and the temperature rose with the humidity, the pine and scrub I found myself in reminded me of Florida. I was happy to surprise 2 deer. By the time I had rounded the last ridge and could see glimpses of Hot Springs below me I had already formulated a prayer: Lord, bless this Hot Springs of which I am about to partake. May it strengthen me to your purpose and bring glory to your name. "Let's attack aggressively." Amen. I am documenting this prayer here because I left it out of the last register I passed. Just imagine what else I have put in the registers, which is lost to the journal.
Running off of a memory of a map I had seen of Jackie's - a north bound section hiker I have been around for a few days - I cautiously guessed my way into town and registered at Elmer's, raising my hand in greeting to all the cars I passed. Usually I got back the "what's up" index finger salute.
In this order, I proceeded to unpack into my room, shower, eat and hang out at the outfitter. If you're interested, I bought an Esbit stove with intention of mailing the Whisperlite home when I run out of fuel. Later I paid a visit to Dan Bive a.k.a. Wingfoot at his home called The Center for Appalachian Trail Studies - I think. We sat on his porch and talked for more than 3 hours, starting with the future of trailplace and ending with the future of the human race, and the birds that sat with him every morning. He drove me back into town and picked up a celebratory pizza. He was going on a diet and quitting cigarettes that very day.
I stopped for a burger after chatting with Wingfoot, but otherwise went straight home to bed, careful to tiptoe through the quiet house. The next day I sat around reading and picked up my maildrop. I also met Audrey, a Californian section hiker, and pressed her for news of the people behind me. Several people were confirmed dropouts, but there was no news of some of them. I don't want to wait out another zero day as much as I would like it - I need to be back on the trail, but how tempting!
I went up to my room to read - this is after breakfast - and found myself taking a half-hour nap. With as much as I want to get done today, and the possibility there are several hikers behind me, I think that I'll allow myself another day, with the stipulation that if I can find more Tom Brown in the public library, I'll probably read it. Also, Chad has offered to take me to a swimming hole 10 minutes from here.
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