Bigfoot's Journal -- 2001/Book 3

6/21/01 -- Spring Mountain Shelter (6:10 PM)

Today is the longest day of the year, the day I escaped Hot Springs, they day I succeeded where I failed before. [see 6/26 entry]

For the past three nights, I have been bumming around Hot Springs and Elmer's Sunnydale Inn. All of my creative energy which usually manifests as journal entries was diverted to conversation or spent noodling around with a six-string in the music room

The little bit of skill I retained from my high-school days put serious boundaries on my playing, but as Chesterton said, art consists of drawing the line somewhere. I was satisfied with my litle sandbox, and the melodies and rhythms I found there.

Af for the conversation - Elmer, Sean, Chad, Jackie, Hope and her friend, Crazy Larry, Bill "No Relation" Bryson, and others, including Wingfoot - there was plenty. I was happy to discover the number of hikers behind me.

Now, rather than detail the stiffling and wind-less heat that I climbed out of Hot Springs in, I am lazily watching the bugs in the narrowing space betwwen the tent and the awning. I left the door unzipped while I cooked dinner - an I am very satisfied with the new Esbit stove. I think I spent 10 minutes chasing down all the flied and grasshoppers and mosquitoes in my tent upon my return. The bugs here are so baad that hikers mention them in the shelter register.

When I tire watching the useless, traped, buzzing, crawling, and hoping, I can turn my head to the left and ponder the sunset. Trees and mountains obscure the horizon, but I can still see pink, yellow, and orange reflected off the visible clouds. While not inspiring too much awe, this sky is satisfying like the fading glow of a campfire about to lose its flame.

I am tenting, of course, because Troop 42 has taken over the shelter, although they made room for Bill Bryson. Over dinner, I was chatting with one of their younger scouts, and found the first person on the trail to recognize nanotechnology, someone I dont need to give my entire spiel to.

6/22/01 -- Spring Mountain, campsite (6:16 PM)

Even before I arrived yesterday, the rolling thunder sugegsted rain that finally fell with the darkness. It was a heavy, straight rain, and a good test for my tent. It passed, but not with flying colors. During the storm's peak, the rain smashing into the tent wall was knocking loose condensation on the inside. Nothing here is soaked, but most everything is a little damp. To give the storm some credit, you should know that I see particles of mud more than a foot up the side of the tent - it was not a light rain.

6/22/01 -- Jerry Cabin Shelter (5:48 PM)

Today I took a picture of my feet. That is neither the most intersting, nor the most important event, but my right big toenail is close to falling off, and I think that it is good to document this injury.

The day began with the damp described above. I was the last man out after the scouts and after Bill Bryson. Inspired by two hikers and wanting to avoid a stinky shirt, I left without one. My new strategy worked perfectely through the muggy morning and past lunch at Little Laurel Shelter, where I met a very young-looking troop headed south. My luck changed, and the rolling thunder had me expecting it, as I was coming up on Camp Creek Bald. The wind and the rain both fluctuated in intensity, and soon I was uncomfortably chilled. Inspired by the Tom Brown I had read at Elmer's, and armed with the knowledge that the next shelter was less that two hours away, I pressed forward, stopping long enough just to put my hat on. I really learned how discomfort and unhappiness are unrelated, and without the usual clothing barrier I was into the storm. So as I was passing the cliffs, a college age youth group ran into me. They were decked out in rain gear, hoods up. Their seemingly forced good attitude gave me the idea that they were on straw away from breaking. I hope they learned as much from me as I did from them.

6/23/01 -- Flint Mountain Shelter (12:15 PM)

A pleasant morning hike through the clouds, which lifted by 10:30, led me here. I stopped to eat and let my feet air out. Troop 42 gave me cheese and the noon sun is drying out my shoes and socks - steam is rising off of them as I speak. I've lost all momentum, and the climb out of Devil Fork Gap is intimidating.

6/23/01 -- Hogback Ridge Shelter (7:44 PM)

Because we are up on a ridge, there is still plenty of light, and earlier I was tempted to move on to Low Gap six miles north. That was before my excursion to High Rock looking for a sunset. Trees obscured the horizon, and now my left knee hurts when I walk, but I did spot a deer on my way up. So rather than press for a twenty mile day to No Business Knob Shelter, I may stop after half that - as planned - at Big Bald.

I said goodbye to Troop 42 from Oak Ridge, TN at Flint Mountain Shelter. They are a nice bunch of kids. They go to sleep at eight. They get up with the sun. They give me cheese. I will have to miss them, but not terribly, because I like hiking alone. Later in the day, I was thinking about them, and how I used to hike in a train of boys, boots no more than ten feet from the scout in front of me. Sure you can talk and sing with ease, but you can do that better at camp or shelter, and is there a better way to miss out on the hike? I suppose it is something you are supposed to grow out of.

I just re-read my last entry, and have a few comments on the climb out of Devil Fork Gap to Frozen Knob. Well, just one: it was easy. I took my time by going less than two miles an hour through the initial rise, and the rest was cake. Its good to be in trail shape. Actually, my left knee is killing me when I walk after the jaunt up to High Rock, but that's how the trail works; you hike, you hurt, you sleep, and you do it again. Somewhere along the way you discover your limits where not where you thought they were.

You also discover how very little you need to be happy and comfortable. At the same time you - and by that I mean me - find out that uncomfortable is not unhappy. Well, ten different people will discover twenty diferent truths after hiking for a months, but these are the ones I've found. You senses - hearing especially - are more sensitive than you think. To wake up with the sunrise and sleep with the sunset is a good thing.

6/24/01 -- Hogback Ridge Shelter (7:30 AM)

Twelve hours after getting up I am ready to go back down. Twelve hours and 20.6 miles. I almost went the final seven into Erwin - I was mad at myself for passing up the spring 0.2 miles south due to a miscalculation. But I am weary, these woods are soothing, and the shelter will have a good sunrise - a detail which can make or break a shelter sometimes. The only problem with an east-facing shelter is that my journal entries may suffer in poor weather. This place is too dark to write without using the Photon IIs I have draped over my ear - think ultralight headlamp.

After one afternoon of cold rain, and two days of perfect weather, I love shirtless hiking. Only around people or in the cold will I don the silver Capilene shirt that Ian from Travel Country Outdoors in Orlando gave me. I am comfortable in good weather, there is that much less to stink, and - how to put an appealing, understanble spin on this - I really get to know the rain. Soon my chest and arms will tan to match my forearms. From a farmer's tan to a hiker's tan.

I think, now that I think about it, that I have been taking shelters for granted. Only once, with Troop 42, have I been forced to tent at a full shelter. The normal thru-hiker, about one or two months ahead of me, contends for space with as many as thirty other hikers. What a different hike mine is - so solitary!

6/26/01 -- Uncle Johny's, Erwin (9:16 AM)

At the start, keeping a journal was a pure and spontaneous joy. Now it is also a duty - but there is a pleasure to be found in duty that the uncommitted and irresponsible wanderer will never know. While I am forced to wait here in town, for the shoe repair place to open so I can get measured for a tux, I can hopefully get down some of the journal entries floating around in my head.

Kevin is a tall marine with, I gathered, an english or history degree from Stanford. He was here last night and this morning, trying to decide how much and in what way to cut his 100+ section hike short due to muscle problems. I met him yesterday at the Erwin Burrito, along with another hiker I have been catching up to in the registers - Bayou. He had his section guide, the spread out topo + elevation maps, and a Heineken brought in from down the street. We chatted briefly, and I left to take care of two errands - mailing home my stove and checking my email. Afterwards I came back for another burrito, eaten in solitude while browsing the latest Backpacker. Apparently I am a very trendy hiker - half the magazine at least was devoted to ultralight philosophy, gear, and technique. I consider myself borderlinge ultralight - perhaps very-light or reasonably-so light. Were I to mail away my sleeping bag, half my clothes, and my water filter, I would be entering the realm. As it is, I am tempted to do the first two. Like not wearing a shirt into a rainstorm, fewer luxuries at camp connects me more with God manifest in nature. Which reminds me, I have several more paragraphs to write, so I'd better get back to Kevin.

He had been drinking beer all afternoon in order to gain insight into his dilema, and we sat down after ordering a pizza to the best movie ever - in his estimation - Unforgiven. When that was over we spent the rest of the evening in conversation - covering the marines, acadamia, the tradgedy, and Boyd's works on strategy and conflict. Boyd is the reason I am spending so long on Kevin here. Consider this a "note to self - read Boyd" paragraph.

Next I want to correct myself. The climb out of the Nolichucky Gorge - southbound - is the one that knocked me off the trail several years ago, not the northbound climb out of Hot Springs. Big Bald was the first clue, and the only one I needed. I came up the way that the scouts went down the night we met them and tried to camp at the top. Ask about the 28 second lightning later.

None of the awkward sentimentality you read earlier affected me now. My first thought was the serious consideration that I was in more pain now. After dismissing that silly idea, I went through a brief analysis - could ibuprofen or hiking poles have enabled me to continue? My answer - first, are there more than one or two events which have so shaped the past few years and determined the character of my hike? Second, what other chance have I had to hear Mr. Madson's "war" stories? The original issue lost its importance, or rather, it gained a new importance, one which made my question moot. That, friends, is well enough of that. I have more to write before I go into town, and four other hikers have arrived in the space of this entry. The subsequent socialization is subtracting from my writing, so much so that I am tempted to retreat back to my bed seeking seclusion.

Next on my list - town stops, and a practical lesson in fractal exploration, or, The Further in You Go, the Deeper it Gets. After only a couple of hours in town - long enough for a shower and perhaps something to drink - the trail experience begins a rapid fade. Beer or a night of rest indoors complete the effect. Now the hike is become a series of town stops - Neels Gap to Hiawassee to Bryson City to Hot Springs to Erwin and looking forward to Damascus. The intervening miles and mountains fade to the memory of a view and a rainstorm and that scary night at No Business Knob Shelter where every raindrop became the approaching local in flip-flops, intent of first harming, then injuring and - after enough time alone in the dark - killing me. But just a blur of memories and stories, not a real place, not real work.

Of course, the towns dissapear as quickly. An hour or six on the trail is enough to make me wonder - know actually - that nothing else besides the next hill and the next shelter exist, much less matter. Life's deepest questions and problems become: where do I sleep? How hard is this hike? When do I stop for water and food? Go dig a cathole now, or wait for after dinner? Once living becomes innevitably shallow, you can see how far down life really goes. Or - get around the petty issue of self and the background makes the transition from theatrical backdrop to World.

I am not saying that I do not get lost in my thoughts and my problems at least two or three dozen times an hour, but those are daydreams - and just as unimportant.

So guess what, I am headed into town to eat, mail over a pound of clothes to Damascus, and get measured for a tuxedo. The trail is in sight.

6/26/01 -- Curly Maple Gap Shelter (9:09 PM)

I have been in an incredibly talkative mood, but a few thoughts: Shirtless Hiking is quickly becoming an original philosophy, and may be renamed to Naked Hiking or something else provocative. That's it mainly. Until Streak & Yosef brought themselves in, I was alternating as storyteller with Bayou. You can guess where he is from. Goodnight.

6/27/01 -- Clyde Smith Shelter (6:14 PM)

So I just did twenty miles and my feet hurt. I'm thirsty, hungry, and tired, but what is the first thing I do? Don't expect this entry to be anything but brief.

6/27/01 -- Clyde Smith Shelter (8:13 PM)

Twenty mile days are nice and all, but they sure make keeping a good journal hard. Tomorrow I will make the easy ten miles to the renowned Overmountain Shelter. Streak & Yosef will press ten more, I think.

There's a crowd here tonight: Streak, Yosef, Tim from England, a father-son pair tenting, another couple tenting, and Bigfoot. Makes for good conversation.

There's not much time left - it's getting dark and I am getting sleepy. Should I describe how I've turned my two Photons into a headlamp by hanging them over my ear, or talk about some of the most frustrating sections of trail I've seen yet. Maybe I'll just mention that Streak thought I was 27 - must be the beard - and then go to sleep, telling myself that with a short day tomorrow I will get some good writing done.

6/28/01 -- Clyde Smith Shelter (8:31 AM)

Again, I am off to a slow start, but again, I am ready by 8:30. Tim the southbound Englishman on a six month tour of America is still asleep. Streak and Yosef left half an hour ago - I am afraid that I won't ever catch up to them. There were talking about 20 mile days and doing a 40 mile slackpack into Damascus. Those two brothers - numbers 1 and 3 in a very large and very Catholic family of 7 - have an almost slapstick sense of humor that would not be out of place on a sitcom or sketch comedy act. They also fart a lot.

6/28/01 -- Overmountain Shelter (7:13 PM)

Ten miles in eight hours. I should have specified slow and boring. It began sprinkling half an hour ago - I saw the thunderhead cloud develop, and grow until its top was sheared off and spread out, bringing the rain. Birds are singing, a dear ran by a while back, and it would be an injustice to describe this view with weak words like pleasant and nice. The shelter here is a converted barn, and I have staked out a spot - although so far I am alone - on the lower level that overlooks a nice valley. It's also much more exposed than the loft, so I may get cold tonight, but that will feel good on my sunburns.

Five of those eight hours were spent on the three and a half miles between the Roan bluffs and Grassy Ridge. The open, sunny balds and large, fluffy clouds - very different from their smaller cousins in Arizona - quickened my heart but slowed my pace. This morning, I planned to stop halfway here, pick a spot on Roan Mountain with a view, and do some serious writing. Spotty weather, light crowds, and the lure of Round Bald pulled me forward. Round Bald was nice, but I could see Grassy Ridge, touted as "the only natural 360-degree viewpoint obove 6,000 feet near the trail." I arrived at the spot where Grassy Ridge trail forked off at three o'clock. Knowing that I had three more miles of downhill to Overmountain, I pushed myself up Grassy Ridge to immerse myself in the feel you can only get at the top of a bald on a clear day. That place was too awfully beautiful for words, so that even without the sunburn I felt coming on, even if I had arrived three hours earlier, I do not think I would have been able to sit down and write anything coherent or worth reading later.

When you hike to the top of a mountain without losing steam, there is a strong temptation - especially in the context of long-distance hiking on the AT - to think or say, "I kicked that mountain's ass." I didn't kick Roan Mountain's ass, but then, neither did it kick mine. When the switchbacks were easy, I sped up. When the trail wanted me to slow down, I did. When rock formations invited me, I went over and looked out the overlooks. When I got to the top, I had to sit down and stop.

I won't pretend I am doing a very good job of it, but I am trying to potray the trail as a friend or a song to harmonize with, not an obstacle or challenge or a test - although it is all of those.

Yesterday, Streak was pressing his brother Yosef to consider that the AT could be slackpacked, and that would be a valid thru-hike. Certainly it is an achievment, but if you boil a thru-hike down that far - in cooking terms, reduce it - all the best and most subtle flavors have evaporated off. At the same time, how can yo uspend quality time with the trail in such a trip? How can you get to know the trail when you treat it more like a contract job than home? I am ragging harder than perhaps I should, but it's antithetical to the way I would hike - am hiking. Here is when I introduce and sell you on Naked Hiking.

Naked Hiking should be done with as few clothes as possible, but that doesn't mean you won't find a Naked Hiker with long pants and a wind-breaker. At its core is the assumption that Nature is a good thing and something to try and harmonize with - be careful! I am using that word in a musical sense. Get that picture of hippies out of your head. Maybe that's not the best word choice. Let skip ahead to the practical applications.

Wear less clothes. Use less gear. Take less gear. Distinguish safety and comfort. Sacrifice comfort. Distinguish comfort and happiness. Probe for your limits, but retreat when you are miserable - a bad mood spoils everything it touches. Good moods work retroactively.

Those last points are stretching a bit, but the idea is to immerse yourself in life on the trail, or in the campground. All the luxuries you take put barriers between you and the experience of nature. Then again, I coud really go for a hot cup of tea right about now. Then again, tea is not so invasive as mouse traps, which I could also use, from the sound of it. Maybe I am taking this too far. May it's just about taking your shirt off to feel the rain and the sun and the wind and the shade. Then again - how many times can I change my mind on this - listening to the birds singing, knowing that I could have brought headphones, and glad I did not - maybe there is something to this Naked Hiking after all.

Next door neighboor to the Naked Hiker is the Slow Hiker - and again, this has little to do with speed. His point is that the trail is beautiful. When you are atop a bald or an overlook looking out, you are looking too far, he says. Stare at your feet, or just to you left or right, or twenty feet up the trail. These rocks, those roots, those grasses and trees and leaves and dirt, they are the brushstrokes. You are walking through a painted landscape, if it helps to think of it that way. How the branches hang over the trail, how light filters through the canopy to pattern the underbrush, how the green moss on white rocks contrast with the muddy brown trail cut by so many Slow and Fast hikers - these are the important detail. Revel in their subtlety and unique arrangement. Yesterday they did not look just so, and the afternoon showers will alter them again. That a beautiful thing cannot last forever is not a concept pioneered by the modern and postmodern artist - it is a fact of the universe, and commonplace to boot.

No sooner then I think up the Slow Hiker, then I come ocross Roan mountain and Round Bald and Jane Bald and Greasy Ridge, burning through more film in a day that I sometimes us in a week. A pleasant irony.

6/29/01 -- Overmountain Shelter (5:35 AM)

Up with the birds and the sun, I only wish I had slept better. Still, the fireflies were nice, and I'm happy to get an early start on a long day.

6/29/01 -- Laurel Creek Lodge (11:30 PM)

I'm in the hot tub after a 30 mile day. More tomorrow. Ahhh, it sure is nice to finally test this all-weather paper - get my money's worth. I am afraid this pen will bleed when I hit water, but we haven't come to that bridge yet.

Apparently I need an all-weather pen.

I finally hit the trail this morning at 7:30. The climbs up Little Hump Mountain and Hump Mountain went easily enough, but the grass soaked by shoes and the sun was burning my shoulders, so I draped my shirt across them. I have really, really dug the Roan Highlands, and was sad to see them go, except for the shade on my shoulders. I hit Applehouse Shelter, ate lunch, filled up the Nalgenes, and was out by 11:15 AM, proud of my newfound trail legs. In the Overmountain Shelter register, Baltimore Jack - a well know repeat offender of the AT - warned that the section I was about to enter was a roller coaster. I saw three major climbs and about as many descents on the profile map. Most were in the first five miles after Applehouse, so I worked on building up mental inertia, and set out. Not only was the trail all about ups and downs, but for several hours I was hiking through open pasture - more contact with the sun and a meeting with the cows and horses. I, thinking the last eight miles would be smooth, readily spent all my energy here. But the roller coaster Jack described did not ever stop all day, and I found myself hiking over streams and under rhodedendron bushes. After maybe two hours of this twisting and turning and climbing and slipping, I started loosing my senses. Skipping over the boring details, I became as sure as I was of anything that I had been turned around, and was hiking back over the same muddy creeks. All my incoherent thinking could do was latch on to the trust I had in my previous history of correct blaze-following. I ran out of food. I ran low on water. I ran out of water. When I stopped to pump more, my rationality returned. It left again ten minutes down the trail - or up the trail, I was not quite shure. I suppose I made it to the shelter, because I remember what it looks like and the prior same-day register entries by Streak & Yosef and Treethumper & Bluesman. All were headed six miles to Dennis Cove, a short hike, mostly flat and downhill on the elevation maps. I recall my hurried entry, "No choice but to chase everyone down the mountain. Friggin 30 day. Need ibuprofen."

6/30/01 -- A boulder by Laurel Creek (9:04 AM)

I am on my way back from Kincora's - where I should have stayed with Streak & Yosef, who tried to offload several pounds of food this morning - to the Laurel Creek Lodge - where Treethumper & Bluesman and more importantly, my mail-drop are.

Yesterday did not quite end with the quick and easy - I did not expect painless - jaunt I had hoped. The downhills were steeper and the uphills culminated in a road up to an abandoned fire-tower. I was in pain - after 30 miles my skin was rubbing raw where it met the pack, and I had almost strained a calf muscle climbing over a fence earlier. My next thirty day - into Damascus - will be half as hard I hope.

6/30/01 -- Watauga Lake Shelter (8:08 PM)

I have mixed Gatorade, prepped a cold breakfast, got everything ready to pack, marked water on the topo maps, and set my alarm. If eight hours of sleep and fresh socks will heal my feet enough to carry to Damascus, I will go. It is 40.0 miles from here. Thoughts of slow fifteen mile days after one or two zero days push me, and I in turn push my limits.

Today broke my spirit. Pond Flats tricked me and felt like two brick walls. The walk around Watauga Lake was painful and demoralizing. My water filter needs a new cartridge. I need new feet. Time always tells.

7/01/01 -- Damascus, VA (10:52 PM)

How did I manage a forty mile day, you ask? I am there with you, also asking. Here is some data I collected on my progress today:

Damascathon Data and Calculations

Location Abbr. Arrival Departure
Watuaga Lake Shelter W - 5:40 AM
Vandeventer Shelter V 8:30 AM 8:81 AM
Iron Mountain Shelter I 11:04 AM* 11:56 AM
Double Springs Shelter S 2:30 PM 3:03 PM
Abington Gap Shelter A 6:00 PM 6:20 PM
Damascus, VA D 9:16 PM -
*Adjusted for 15 minutes spent at water source 0.2 mi. south.
Time Data
Per Section Cumulative
hike rest total hike rest total
V 2:50 0:21 3:11 2:50 0:21 3:11
I 2:13 0:52 3:05 5:03 1:12 6:16
S 2:34 0:33 3:07 7:37 1:46 9:23
A 2:57 0:20 3:17 10:34 2:06 15:36
D 2:56 - 2:54 13:30 - 15:36

Rate Calculations
Per Section Cumulative
miles hiking
miles hiking
V 6.7 2.4 3.1 2.1 6.7 2.4 3.1 2.1
I 7.0 3.2 7.4 2.3 13.7 2.7 5.3 2.2
S 8.0 3.1 4.1 2.6 21.7 2.8 4.9 2.3
A 8.3 2.8 2.4 2.5 30.0 2.8 4.2 2.4
D 10.0 3.4 - 3.4 40.0 3.0 - 2.6
** minutes per mile

I know that if I don't relate to the trivial what-happened-today details, they will be lost amidst the shallow babble I love to write. Here goes:

This morning my watch pulled me awake at 4:45 AM, and with the light of a blue Photon, I ate my cold breakfast and packed up. By the time I left at 5:40 AM, it was light enough to put the LED away. By the way, I was wearing my shirt. There is nothing worth talking about - the sunrise was hidden behind clouds and the dam is a pile of rocks - until I saw a bear family around eight o'clock. The momma ran uphill and her two cubs treed themselves about thirty feet up and twenty feet off the trail. Gladly, I saw that the trail would not take me between mother and children.

At the Iron Mountain Shelter I met a SOBO section hiker with his dog. Unlike Hobo's Bo, this puppy was miserable, not in trail shape, and tried as much as possible to stay in the shelter. The guy forced the pack on the dog and drug Pumpkin out. I felt for the dog, and wondered if I was doing the same thing to my obedient-to-the-death feet.

Next, I met Tom Cannon - I'm not sure about his last name, and didn't learn either until 4:00. He is an odd man, either a bit senile, or, more likely, hard of hearing. I got info on a couple of hikers ahead of me, and info on the next shelter. At this point, Streak & Yosef were about three hours in front of me. I don't think - and didn't expect - that I ever gained on them; they only did thirty-three miles.

I met Tom again at Low Gap. He was in a blue rusty pickup blaring country, and drove across the road to where I had all but collapsed on an old broken concrete picnic table. We talked; he offered food, info on the hike to the next shelter and then into town, and advice on my shin splints. It would be impossible to stress how important this encounter was in enabling the forty mile finish. Heaven must have a suite reserved for him - my first real Trail Angel, and I didn't even get a Coke out of it. Hah!

With new strength, new hope, and approximately zero pain, I set out for Abington Gap Shelter, with hopes of a six o'clock arrival. I was under the shelter's overhang at 6:00:57. A northbound weekender was already there, and a group of boys showed up right before I took off for the final fourth of my treck.

I flew down the trail, limping at well over three miles an hour. By the time I was on the final stretch, the sun was setting and a thunderstorm was rolling in. It dumped on me just as the fireflies were appearing and I was descending in the dark into town. Ten minutes later I had dumped my pack, but - and this is important - not put my flip-flops on, and headed to Quincy's for a large supreme pizza.

I was limping very painfully from Quincy's, and could hardly stand the sight of my feet when the shoes finally came off - first time since Iron Mountain Shelter 26.3 miles ago. I could hardly stand at all. Ask to see the pictures if you want detail. I will just highlight the grape-sized blister on my right little toe, and the right big toenail which is almost detached completely. I had never seen anything on my body so sickening as what is under that toenail. I will have to show it off to Streak & Yosef.

Tomorrow or the next day I wil go back and fill in the missing editorial comments. I am crashing now.

7/02/01 -- The Place, Damascus, VA (1:21 PM)

I went down to Mount Rogers Outfitters to do the Damascathon calculations, and stopped on the way home for a pint of cherry vanilla ice cream. Actually, I had to go five minutes out of my way for the ice-cream.

The amount of admiration and amazement I get for my forty-day into Damascus is embarassing. Bigfoot appears to be gaining some notoriety. It's a fun lesson in practical humility.

Last night my feet hurt. Sleep was hard, standing difficult, and walking right there next to a low-level torture session. I could have filled two pages - honest to God - describing all the pain, but overnight the trench-foot has subsided and I am comfortable with a gentle limp. A strained calf, caused by climbing a fence two days ago, seems to be the slowest to heal. It has been a constant background bother since it's happening.

Before time passes enough to blur and dull my recall, I want to get down my thoughts on the fifteen and a half hours of weather I hiked through yesterday. I started below the cloud cover, at the man-made Watauga Lake, and hiked directly into those clouds. My shadow made its first appearance after noon, reasuring me that it had not wandered off into the woods and gotten lost or injured. Most of the day's overlooks were blocked by the same glowing cloud. I was hiking in the clouds, and all morning passed timelessly.

The clouds lifted before one, but the moisture was still in the air - after a couple of sunny hours, the two o'clock showers got everything wet. Notably, this was the last time my feet were dry until after dinner in Damascus, even though the sun was out several hours later.

The unremarkably pleasant weather continued until sunset, when the skies darkened and thunder began rolling around over me. Ten minutes before I hit town, the bottom of the sky dropped on me. Night-hiking downhill in the rain with no light source is fun. It was only a brief dump, however.

All of those details are context for the day's main event. On the final stretch of trail into town, before the AT drops off the ridge, I saw the forest in - heh - a whole new light. Sunset turned the cloud cover gold for a brief eternity. The clouds turned the forest golden for that same moment. It came and went inside of half an hour, but it was there, and it will always have been there, long after the end of time. Every second is forever - it takes a shocking beauty or ugliness for me to connect with it.

Enough of that, I have errands to run.

7/03/01 -- Holston Family Health Center (10:35 AM)

I am waiting for a nurse to call me in. Perhaps before lunch I will know if my hike continues, pauses, or stops in Damascus. I wondered yesterday if I would regret not continuing into Virginia. Then I would have to regret ten thousand places I did not visit, people I never spoke to, and actions I considered and rejected. So there are ten thousand lives I have not lived, but only one that I have.

7/03/01 -- Lorna's Quick & Easy Laundromat (2:35 PM)

The Place pretty much runs itself. Only once have I seen someone from the church there, and he was just emptying the donation box. I'm washing - drying actually - towels from the upstairs shower, and earlier I stocked the place with toilet paper. I like that responsibility.

For the past several days, I have been getting to know Shakey Leggs and Vivi. Both are leaving tomorrow after tonight's fireworks. Shakey began more than two months ago, and has blown out each of his knees, but keeps on hiking after a week or two off. Vivi is an Isrealite with a bright personality. Many times we end up explaining the cultural context of our jokes - and food, and customs - to her, and she to us. Shakey is yellow-blazing up to the Shenandoah National Park, but I will probably catch up to Vivi in a week or so. I doubt I will ever see Streak & Yosef - who left this morning - again, unless Streak makes an appearance in the Olympics. He ran the Chicago marathon in 2:26 I believe.

So you can guess at the outcome of my visit to the clinic. I have a 12 day supply of prescription anti-inflamatory, and an unfilled script for muscle-relaxant. The doctor recommended taking a short break and not pulling any high-mileage stunts again. Oh well. Everyone was very friendly and knew just how to deal with hikers. According to the nurse who has been working for twenty years, the hiker community has been equally kind - she has not had a single incident in those two decades.

I just ate a banana split made with soft serve, and a foot-long hot dog with slaw, chili, cheese, and mustard. Think fat and happy.

7/04/01 -- The Place, Damascus, VA (3:34 PM)

The Independence Day celebration last night was more thrill than spectacle - opposite a larger, more organized, more expensive display such as Disney might host. Without going into the colorful details, it will be enough to say there was an element of danger which first evoked screams from little girls and weak men, and gasps from the rest of the crowd. Later, once we figured that either no one was getting hurt, or there was a long line of willing volunteers with matches or Bics at the ready, then we settled down and seriously enjoyed the show. I, before the light show, partook of the obligatory chili dog & ice-cream. Vivi was excited to share in something so American. In fact, there wereabout ten of us at The Place staying for the fireworks - half have already left.

7/04/01 -- The Place, Damascus, VA (11:30 PM)

Fireworks go off in the distance. Earlier, local kids were shooting rockets over the road and out of cars. Treethumper, Bluesman, and I sat outside the same laundromat Vivi and I did towels in. Treethumper and I battled it out on their Terminator 2 pinball game. Bluesman came up to the Exxon looking for supplies to build a lightweight guitar case.

Three zero days and my body - excepting the toenail I will have to pull out - has healed admirably. Forty miles ago I fought my failing body to keep moving. Either that vitality was spent healing, or I have been bouncing my sugar levels. I can hardly imagine myself hiking now.

7/05/01 -- Post Office, Damascus, VA (9:40 AM)

Most of my errands are done, but I still have phone calls to make. If Treethumper's boots will take half a day or more to fix, I may find myself here tomorrow when I wake.

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