This page contains journals of two hikes. The first and longest was my attempted thru-hike which began early April and ended earlyJune 1990. The second was a trek from Katahdin to Monson in September of that same year.
Amicalola Falls State Park to Pearisburg, VA 4/5/90 to 6/2/90
CAPTAIN’S LOG 4/2/90 7:30 PM
Awaiting dinner @Nan’s place in Chelmsford: burgers, fries, a nice salad. Have “Dead Poets Society” to watch on the VCR later, and “Stand By Me” if any energy left.
STARDATE 4/3/90, 6:20 AM
Just got loaded onto an airplane headed for Atlanta via Philly. Nan drove us in, came with me to the gate. Lotsa hugs and kisses at the gate. There was a young girl with a backpack waiting in line at the main ticket counter. Could she… ? Watching them load baggage onto our plane – I guess it’ll be a few minutes yet.
Boston is kind of fogged in this AM, but that fact doesn’t seem to have delayed this flight. 6:33, we’re taxi-ing down the runway. Where’s my complementary copy of “USA Today?”
4/3/90 1:10 PM – On bus to Gainesville, GA. Sat around for 1 hour at Greyhound station. Only 3 passengers on this bus! Overcast, 50 in Atlanta. Train ride on MARTA was fantastic – never seen public-trans quite so clean & futuristic.
$9.50 for bus ride.
$0.85 for MARTA token.
VETERAN CAB (404) 534 5355 DF. FARMER ——
Wrote a card to Nan while waiting for the plane in Philly, but never got a chance to mail it.
4/4/90 11 AM – Sitting in bright sun on a grassy knoll, some un-identified grassy summit between Amicalola St. Park campground, and Springer summit. Up at 7:30 this AM, on trail by 9:10. Coffee, cream of rice for b’fast. Met several south-bound hikers. At campground last night: Bruce and Becky (Big-B and Little-B) from Florida. Dave and Vivian (Trekker, Spunk) from Connecticut. Rex, who is “testing” these summits, but not hiking thru. Rex is from southern PA – call him when get there.
Yesterday (April 3) Bus left Atlanta at 12:45, got to Gainesville at 2:15. Got cab right away, but wasted first 45 minutes running other passengers around town. Cab was dilapidated station wagon, filthy inside and out. Got to State Park around 3:30 (?) Spent an hour “packing” the pack, couldn’t get everything in. Must weigh 50 lbs, without water!! Met Rex while packing, he gave me a lift from HQ to campsite – a long 1 ½ mile up hill.
Campgnd fee $8.50
Cab ride $50.00, including tip
Grocs $12.00 (?)
Last night (4/3 4/4) quite cold, 35 at dawn. Windy too. But snug inside tent & sleeping bag. Took 1 ½ hours to break camp, have breakfast, re-arrange pack.
Walking this AM (4/4) has been TIT so far, in spite of excess pack weight. Of course, as of this writing (11 AM) I really have no idea how far I’ve walked. A scoutmaster along the way helped me identify a HOLLY tree & MOUNTAIN LAUREL. Also, DOGWOOD is currently in bloom (smallish tree with white flowers.)
Have encountered no other northbounders since leaving campground*. (*Passed Bruce and Becky about 20 minutes from campground.) Weather this AM is GORGEOUS – about 55-60 in sunlight, but wind is still fierce, & still need hat & wool shirt as I write this.
GUESS: could this be site marked LOOKOUT (1031 M) on map? 3 large stone blocks in ground might have been anchor pts. for tower. ALSO: has been NO H2O on trail this AM; I have 1/3 qt. left…
12:45 Another break. Shortly after last break, met Jimmy; on “practice run,” will start through-hike on 4/15. Last year, he hiked from Amicalola to southern Virginia. Could pass for a Deadhead &/or thru-hiker. Lean, has dark hair in pony-tail. As we talked, Spunky-Sprout & Trekker-Tree caught up with me. This spot HERE looks to be the start of the final ascent of Springer – about 500 vertical feet to go.
Yeah, that last vertical to summit was tough.
1:40 Arrived at Springer summit.
2:05 left, went to shelter. Talked with Phil from Worcester. Also Bruce & Duncan from Toronto. Removed long-johns & wool shirt. Got water!!!
Summit was quite crowded. Many entries in register. Got photos of the mailbox and placque. Weather still gorgeous.
3 PM: Left Springer shelter, should be easy to make Stover Creek shelter. Hit a couple of road crossings 30 minutes later. It’s 3:50 as I write this. I have lemonade to drink; gonna make some cold-cut sandwiches.
4:30 or 5:00 (?) Arrive @ Stover Creek shelter. Spunky & Tree are here, along with trio from Toronto. Nice solid shelter. Picnic table, fire pit. Nice running stream about 50 yds. downhill. The Torontants each had brand-new Whisperlites and spent the evening assembling them and getting them lit (for the first time.) Third Torontan is Duncan Sr., also known as sandy.
Cooking dinner was a challenge – Liptons “Parmesan” noodles & sauce, plus sauteed onions & peppers. Stove couldn’t be simmered low enough – went out when I turned it too low. Then, after turning it back up, I burned the pot.
Cleaning was a chore, but pot came almost 100% clean with help of hot water. We gathered up lotsa wood for a huge campfire, and I wrote postcards to: the folks, and Bob B.
Also, began writing a “fancy” card to the CSG (Analogic) and added some notes to my card for Nan.
Also @ this shelter: Matt. He’s heading S. To Springer to meet a party, then thru-hiking North.
4/5 (Thurs?) Left Stover Creek shelter 9:05. 1st break at Stover Creek falls (10:05) somewhere N. of 3 Forks. Beautiful high falls. Easy walking to this point. Tree & Spunky left camp 5-10 minutes before me; I passed them after ½ hour or so. 10:19 – as I write this, here they come!
FINISHED EKTACHROME – Started Ektar 125.
4/5. 11:43 Stopped for first lunch break, made cold-cut sandwich. Thought I’d see Hawk Mtn. Shelter by now. Did I miss it? Passed by dave & viv, then they passed me 5 minutes ago. Dave’s a nudist – he’s walking bottom-less this morning. Finished up this break around 12:12. Temperature around 67, sky still bright blue & cloudless. Wearing warmups & T-shirt.
The hemlocks this AM were gorgeous! Ditto for walk along Stover creek. Not much vertical yet today.
12:50 – Arrive @ Hightower Gap to write this note. Can hear helicopters in distance. Hawk mtn shelter was 10 minutes from site of last break; Dave & Viv there, Dave now naked. There’s a van from CHRISTIAN ADVENTURES parked on the Gap Road. Helicopters getting MUCH louder. Holy shit – it just flew 100 feet over my head!!!
3:30 (4/5) Short break just south of Cooper Gap. Tough climb over Sassafras Mtn, now on descent. Encountered a dozen or more of the “Christian Adventurers” heading south. Most of ‘em look high-school age. I was passed by Dave & Viv almost an hour ago, haven’t seen ‘em since. It’s HOT today – 73 in the shade as I write this. Helicopter noises have died down over the last hour or so. (Had a short break about an hour ago also.)
8:00 PM (Justus Stream) 4/5 Light’s dying, time to jot some thoughts. Made camp at JUSTUS Stream, along with two older couples (names unknown) and Dave & Viv. Nice stream 30 feet from my tent. Got here at around 5:30. Set up tent (fly is rolled up) and made dinner. Almost the same scene as last night’s. Didn’t burn the pan – at least not as bad as last night.
Last 2-3 miles today were rough! Hump over Sassafras Mtn. was bad enough, but then there was Justus Mtn – almost as bad – plus a 3rd saddle & hump before arriving here. But this spot is really gorgeous!
Weather still A-1. Somewhat hotter today & far less windy. I could have used a short-sleeved T-shirt. Both thermometers were pushing 80. Greenhouse, shmeenhouse. I was quite sore on arrival, more than happy to quit. My left hip was aching, but I’m almost certain that all of my problems are traceable to the excess weight of my pack – running at about 55-60 pounds, in spite of my best-laid plans. After making dinner tonite, I did another major re-sort and re-arrangement. This exercise netted a bag of excess & redundant items that I plan to leave at next shelter (GOOCH GAP shelter.) Feels like this bag weighs almost a pound.
Out of order, but had to be mentioned: a whole flock of hawks soaring on the updrafts on the south side of Justus mountain. Musta been at least a dozen of them. They were also roosting on the rock crags. Puttin’ on a hell of a show.
Dave & Viv definitely moved faster than I this afternoon – they arrived at this campsite at least ½ hour before me.
Shitloads of “Young Christian” hikers on Sassafras Mtn & Justus Mtn this afternoon!
9:50 AM, 4/6 (FRI) Up at 6:45, on trail by 8:30. This is my first break, at steps leading to Gooch Gap shelter. A few drops of rain last night, no problem. Today is somewhat gray and cool, a welcome change from relentless sun. Even now my t-shirt is soaked around my armpits. I can barely tolerate my own odor.
Dave & Viv currently behind me, but that will change, as they aren’t planning to stop at Suches.
B’fast this AM was cold cereal with coffee. Did my usual sponge bath. Felt great. Sleep last night was OK, but not super – everything (including me) felt damp and clammy. Slept naked. Temperature (as I write) is 60. This morning’s walk has been fairly flat, just a few mellow ups and downs.
10:50 AM – walking up the dirt road (blue-blaze) to Suches. Took a couple of photos of farm house with “FIBER OPTIC CABLE” warning sign.
Gooch Gap shelter was a 4 ½ minute jog from site of last break. Dropped off my “care package” at shelter. Trek & Spunky passed me, as did one of the couples from last night’s Campsite.
4/6, 12:06 Very pleasant experience with Steve J–, who offered me a ride in his red subaru wagon as I walked toward Suches. Took me to groc store – got a Dr. Pepper and a cardboard box ($1.00, I bought Steve’s orange juice) then to Post Office where I mailed a parcel and 4 postcards. Parcel contents: large stainless pot, jeans, belt, spare sunglasses, exposed Ektachrome film (finished yesterday @ falls in the AM); A.T. Data book, Audubon book on Trees, some plastic bags. I forgot: to make phone calls & to pick up more postcards.
When we were done with the P.O., Steve took me right back to where I left the trail @ Gooch gap! Turns out Steve was one of the four I met at the shelter. He’s a local, currently unemployed, used to work at Western Electric here in GA.
2:00, just S. of Woody Gap. Walking FAST with light pack. More hawks & beautiful vistas of farmed & wooded valleys down below. Very light raing falling; walking in shorts.
7:10 PM – So this is what they mean about the Appalachian rain. Been raining pretty steadily since 2 PM. Have been in various stages of rain-dress, and amazingly enough, at this moment (inside the tent) I’m still dry. Yes, Virginia, Gore-Tex really works – at least when it’s new. Unfortunately, boots were too muddy to bring inside the tent, so I hope they don’t get completely sopped sitting outside, under the eave of my tent. Where am I? Probably about 2-4 miles S. of Blood Mtn. Shelter. This is a nice “campsite,” but has no water. However, anticipating this fact, I arrived here with a full quart and used only half of that for dinner – Ramen soup, and Vienna sausages. The latter are not very tasty, but hey – it’s five ounces of pseudo-protein.
Actually, I’ve done as well as most folks in the rain. Dave & Viv are camped ~2 mi. behind me, as are another couple from last night’s camp (older folks from Kansas) and the young couple I’ll call Mr. and Mrs. X. The Xs were first spotted @ Hawk Mtn. shelter and then again @ Justus stream, but they moved on. 3rd sighting as I stopped @ Gooch Gap shelter this AM. And finally, they were “spotted” @ same camp where Dave & Viv are spending the night.
MR & MRS X – young guy & GORGEOUS young girl w/long black hair.
Site I’m at tonight (4/6) would be AWESOME in better weather. It’s about 50 ft. From a gorgeous view of the valley below (looking east, I think.) In fact, even with the “gloomy” weather today, the sights were still impressive, all day. The pack got significantly lighter at Suches this morning — probably by 3 or 4 lbs.
SAT 4/7/90 – RECAP
Things got progressively worse yesterday after the last report. Rain got harder & steadier – peaked out at 5 PM or so but didn’t quit till 10 or 11 pm.. Add to that some serious cold (well under 30) and HOWLING, roaring wind. It wasn’t unbearably cold in the tent, but it was tough leaving the tent to honor Mother Nature. We got a shitload of ice-rain, and there was a trace of snow near the summit of Blood Mtn.
Awake at 7:30 this AM. No breakfast at all; stove was frozen, as was the water in my water bottle. Tent musta had a pound of ice-rain & frozen mud stuck to it as I rolled it up.
On the trail by 8:30, and hoofed it. Heavily clothed – almost everything on except the polypro.
Made Blood Mtn. summit at 11:30, after a quick stop at Slaughter Gap, to pick up water and take a dump. Took the opportunity to heat some water for hot chocolate, then made a peanut-butter & jelly sandwich.
Who shows up but Tree & Sprout! Their night ws as rough as mine, and they obvously walked as fast, maybe even faster than I this A.M.
The three of us ended up cleaning up the shelter of beer cans & trash, and walked down the mountain, trash bags in hand.
Fairly easy 2-mile walk from summit down to Neels Gap and Walasi-Yi Center. After last night I decided I could use some R & R. Beautiful place. For $20.00, I got a bunk, dinner, breakfast, and hot shower. Bought a t-shirt (short-sleeve) and nylon shorts; left the Hobie t-shirt (long-sleeve) here at the center, along with one pair of briefs. Lots of interesting people here, including the “famous” WingFoot – Dan Bruce.
The “mystery couple” was also here. The fellow goes by the name of Taro, and the girl is Siobahn. They’re traveling with another guy, Fast Eddie.
4/4 Day 1: A.F.S.P to Stover Creek, 10 mi.
4/5 Day 2: Stover Creek to Justus Creek, 12 mi.
4/6 Day 3: Justus Stream to ~Jarrard Gap, 13 mi.
4/7 Day 4: ~Jarrard Gap to Walasi-Yi, 7 mi.
Expenses @ Walasi-Yi:
$20.00, bunk, meals
$33.82, shorts, t-shirt
$8.12, food (to carry)
4/8 (SUNDAY) 10 AM. Left Walasi-Yi about an hour ago. Called Noemi & mailed postcards before I left (Marion, Dan C., Berta and Clark.) Phenomenal dinner last night and b’fast: cherry cobbler + fruit salad + banana bread + coffee, tea, apple juice.
Sitting atop a nice micro summit. Started alone 10 minutes ago writing this; now there’s a bunch of us: Double Nickels (Carol & Laverne,) Tree & Sprout, and some day hikers. Weather clear & quite cool, but wonderful for hiking. Today’s outfit: polypro + shorts, short t-shirt, wool shirt.
4/9 (MON) 11 AM. Spent last night at a campsite with Ray (Slabber) about 1-2 mi. past Low Gap. Buckeye B’s & Double-Nickels are camped @ Low Gap. Tree & Sprout are lost for the moment, probably just ahead of me. Ray is from Connecticut, a thoroughly seasoned hiker; was on Springer summit 1 day after us. Lost some time yesterday – Ray took us ½ mile up a blue-blaze before we realized we’d lost the A.T. Weather yesterday was awesomely beautiful. Today is almost as nice, but some high thin clouds. About to smoke last bowl of weed!!
4/9, 2 PM – UNICOI GAP, GA. Just got filmed on 8 mm video by the Lagunatic (Carol.) Her toyota pickup is parked here at the gap. How could I refuse her after she handed me an ice-cold beer!! Ray is here, and the Buckeye-Bees arrived ten minutes after I did. The Bees are being interviewed as I write this. Just had a steep descent off Rocky Knob (Blue Mtn.,) a steep ascent awaits me when I leave here. There was a message from Tree & Spunky up at Rocky Knob shelter. So: here: Bees, Ray (Slabber), me. Ahead: Tree & Sprout. Behind: Double-Nickels, Wingfoot, Bruce & Becky, guys from Neels Gap, Trio from Toronto.
Trying to fix the squeak of my pack with Sno-Seal.
Too cool today for shorts.
Lagunatic said she would call Noemi with message about film. I gave her Noemi’s phone # and $2.00 to cover the cost of the call.
4/9, 3 PM: ½ hr. into ascent of Rocky Mtn (?) Sun beating down, had to change into shorts & tee. Thermometer shows 70.
Hey, Lagunatic was wearing Fabiano Trionics! She picked ‘em up last year on her thru-hike, @ Harpers Ferry. Loves them. Says they kept her feet dry all the way to Katahdin.
4/9, 4 PM: Just reached summit of Rocky Mtn. Yet to do today: descend to Indian Grove Gap, then ascend Tray Mtn., then descend to Montray Shelter.
~6:45 Reached shelter. Just before, @ branch (where shelter trail left A.T.) were Buckeyes, puzzling over trail guide. So here we are. In shelter: me, John (Connecticut Yankee) and Tree & Sprout. Slabber is slabbing, and the Buckeye Bees in their tent 50 ft. away.
Can see lights of civilization down below. Awesome – their world and this one up above. Another full moon, deep red this time. Another photo – ½ sec, using John’s tripod. There’s another nice campfire going tonight. Firewood was scarce, as this area is picked over, and main growth is laurel and rhododendron.
4/10 6:40 PM. Lying in the tent in the middle of a ferocious thunderstorm. So far, still somewhat dry; let’s keep our fingers crossed. The Bees are in their tent 50 feet away. Tree & Sprout somewhere between here and Plumorchard Gap. “Here” is about 2 miles north of Dicks Creek Gap; that makes today’s walk about 13 miles (yesterday was about 14, I figure.) Wow! I can’t recall a downpour like this in a long, long time. Amazing, considering how beautiful last night’s weather was.
4/11, WEDNESDAY, 10:45 AM. Sittin’ here at PlumOrchard Shelter. Tree & Sprout are here, recovering from last night. They’re soaked and miserable; had to sleep in their tent last night, shelter was full. Just had me another cup of hot chocolate, plus PB & J sandwich. B’fast was hot choc and Ramen soup. Somehow or other, stayed dry all last night. Guess we made the right decision to camp where we did. No dinner last night, just PB & J. Later on I had a “Tigers Milk” bar. Around 11 PM, a couple of Pop Tarts.
At my camp last night were the Bees and John (Conn. Yankee.) Sorta had a communal breakfast around the fire pit. Heard an owl make a kill last night, almost right above my tent. First, owl noise plus another bird, unnaturally loud. Then, a few seconds later, just owl noise.
So NOW compare our civilization to theirs. Theirs: warm and snug. Ours: cold, wet, uncomfortable. Gotta take the good with the bad, I guess.
The tally so far: 77 miles. (Am. Falls. St. Pk. to last night’s campsite) in 7 days of walking.
7 PM, 4/11 @ Muskrat Shelter in NORTH CAROLINA. Shelter contents: me, Slabber, Cecelia, Carrie, Bees, Tree & Sprout, Randy, Conn. Yankee. Cecelia is from Alaska. Carrie is from Pittsburgh. Randy’s from Indiana.
The walking got INCREDIBLY steep just after we crossed into N.C. Temperature never got over 55, with a stiff wind blowing. For most of the day, I wore polypro top and bottom; nylon shorts, GoreTex top, hat + gloves. There were several times when I pulled the jacket hood up over my hat to deal with the wind.
4/12, 11:53. Extremely cold last night – well below freezing. Had to wear polypro top & bottom & hat inside sleeping bag. Passed Randy @ Deep Gap shelter at about 11 AM, he’s “jumping off” from here. Everyone from shelter is ahead of me @ this moment, except for John. At Deep Gap I threw out some trash and ate the last bite of Halvah. P.S. – the scalloped potatoes don’t burn when you add margarine like yer supposed to! Also finished last of margarine (from Gainesville!!!) last night.
Memories of GA:
- hawks @ Sassafras Mtn.
- people & food at Neels Gap
- freezing rain on ridge S. of Blood Mtn.
- Steve J–, ride into Suches
- tunnels in mountain laurel and rhododendron
- hemlocks at Stover Creek.
This stop (noon) was for much-needed change of underwear and powdering of butt and feet. Talk about hazardous waste!
4/12, 7:30 PM – Carter Shelter. The Bees, Cecelia, John, Field and Matt, two youngsters from Boston. Slabber is slabbing, and I’ve got my tent set up near the shelter. Tree & Sprout are tenting about 200 ft. from here, haven’t been seen or heard from all evening.
It was a truly gorgeous day of hiking. One “serious” hill today, Standing Indian Mtn. The ascent and descent were beautifully graded. In the afternoon there were more of those “tunnels” of mountain laurel and rhododendron. It was sunny, clear and cool – I don’t think it ever got over 55 degrees. But the wind was as fierce as yesterday. In the PM I wore t-shirt, shorts, polypro bottoms. Late in the day I had to put on the wool shirt.
4/13, 10:10 AM – openings in the bushes to a phenomenal view looking SE (right into the sun.) Tree & Sprout were leaving just as I arrived. Last night was another cold one, but not as bad as the night before. A skunk got into my pack, but didn’t get anything of value or do any damage.
Temp already up to 55 today! Another fine day in the making. The “Bees” finally revealed their first names to me – John and Ann.
Fine evening @ the shelter last night; good campfire & conversation. Field & Matt have a dog – a pup named Tubb, part shepherd, part collie. Tubb is going to be sent home from Wesser, however.
5:15 PM, 4/13: Sitting here on the back porch of Cabin #3 at Rainbow Springs campground. There’s a grassy lawn leading down to a rushing river, sun still high above. Slabber is inside, taking a shower. Cabin was $30.00 for the two of us ($15.75 ea., including tax.) There’s a decent little camp store, and laundry facilities right next to the office.
Today’s (4/13) thirteen miles seemed pretty easy. The one serious climb was Albert Mtn. Even that wasn’t very tough, except for the last 400 feet of vertical. The view from the top was absolutely awe-inspiring. Field, Matt, Tree and Sprout, and Slabber were all there, soaking up the rays and the warmth from the rocks.
Large troop of boy scouts encountered on descent. This troop was actually walking together as a group. They arrived at Rock Gap just about the same time as me & slabber, big, “we made it” celebration at the roadside. Turns out we had to walk another 0.6 miles to Wallace Gap. There, I stuck my thumb out and instantly got us a ride – in a van – to Rainbow Springs. Checked in, paid our bucks, and here we are.
4/8 Day 5: Neels Gap Poplar Stamp Gap (camp)
4/9 Day 6: Poplar Stamp Gap Montray Shelter
4/10 Day 7: Montray just past Dicks Creek Gap (camp)
4/11 Day 8: Dicks Creek Muskrat Creek Shelter
4/12 Day 9: Muskrat Creek Carter Gap Shelter (in tent)
4/13 Day 10: Carter Gap Rainbow Springs (cottage)
Ah, the comforts of civilization! Had a LONG shower. My face is all mottled – gotta take better care. Shaved. Bought groceries (~$11.50) Had a bowl of chili. Bought a pack of smokes, had a few. Called Noemi & talked for a while. Tried to call Nan – twice. Left mesages both times. Put another layer of Sno-Seal on the boots. Wrote a couple of postcards (Analogic, Win D–.) Aired out the sleeping bag.
Bowl of chili $2.50
Snacks (AM 4/14) $3.75
4/14, 7:45 PM Lying in tent in a light rain. Camp site is just N of Wayah Bald. Superb dinner: rice, veggies (bought @ camp store) and baby shrimp. (canned, p/o food drop supply.) Tree & Sprout showed up late; hadn’t seen them all day. The Bees are here also. 4th tent is an older fellow, trail name of HighPocket.
Talked to Nan for a while this AM. She’s still willing to meet up in Damascus, as are Noemi and Franz. Rain getting more serious as I write. Today’s hike fairly uneventful & unimpressive, except for the view from Wayah Bald, which was awesome. (Photo: pack, mountains, log fence.) The first bald – Siler Bald – was actually rather ugly: a clear-cut. Yechh! Apparently, Slabber went on ahead to the next campsite – about 1 ½ miles up the road.
Day began with a “shuttle” from Rainbow Springs Campground to the trailhead at Wallace Gap, on a flatbed truck with hikers and packs. There was a trio of hikers with a yappy little suck-dog that kept barking at me. Fortunately, I lost them rather early on. So, two “serious” climbs today: Siler Bald and Wayah Bald. Top of Wayah Bald was a lovely beech-tree woods, first I’ve seen. Spotted several red squirrels. Most of the day was semi-overcast; felt like rain might fall at any moment. Sort of surprising that it waited as long as it did. Amazingly, we stayed dry throughout…
4/16, 3:15 PM – Almost (?) to summit of Swim Bald, which is a mini-summit just below Cheoah Bald. Below me is a fantastic view of the Nantahala River and US 19, and looking SE (?) of Wesser Bald, yesterdays’ climb. Weather quite warm, almost hot. Even at this altitude, my thermometer reads 70. Very eventful day & a-half.
Yesterday’s walk (4/15) was my longest yet: 16 miles. Up over Cooper Ridge Bald, then Wesser Bald, and down to Rufus Morgan Shelter. The morning began misty – fog lifting out of the valleys. But by 1:00 or so, clear and warm.
Stopped by for a long lunch break @ Cold Spring Shelter, met up with Bees, Tree/Sprout, HighPocket (Hugh P–) and the Yoopers. Someone had left some delicious munchies @ the shelter, which we all shared (canned pineapple, mixed nuts, peanut-butter crackers.) Hit Tellico Gap @ 1 PM or so. While stepping off trail for a whiz, stepped in someone’s fresh morning dump. Kind of spoiled my mood for a while. Ascent of Wesser Bald from Tellico was quite fast and easy. At summit, spoke with some Deadheads for a bit. They’d been “primed” for my arrival by tree/sprout, recognized TERRAPIN as a Deadhead trail name.
From that point forward (on 4/15) the hiking was rather miserable. Mostly because I was tired, hot, and dehydrated. But also because of the terrain, which was a roller-coaster: down 100 feet, up 80, down 150 feet, up 120, etc., at least ten times!! In fact, after 2 or 3 miles of this, I could look back at Wesser Bald Summit and see that I’d lost less than 500 feet of altitude! Then, when the roller-coaster ride ended, it was a STEEP descent for another 2-3 miles to the shelter – and NO water anywhere! The only saving grace was the views. Finally got to look at the Smokies! In fact, I could see the southern reaches of Fontana Lake, and the whole ridgeline of the Smokies, including Clingmans Dome.
Arrived @ Rufus Morgan shelter about 6:30. Felt much better after a long swig of cold water. In fact, the rest of the evening ws long and pleasant. This spot seems to have collected numerous thru-hikers that have been ahead of me so far:
Dan (Indiana Dan)
All of those on the list are “youngsters.” Steve is a 20-mile-a-day maniac. Pam and Dan are just hanging out for the moment. … Dan had a 5-lb. bag of grits, a 2-lb. bag of sugar, a stainless steel wok and a bowie knife. The youngsters all exchanged tall tales by the fire until almost midnight. Oh yeah, Slabber was there, too. I unloaded some of my extra food on him, knowing that I’d be picking up a food drop the next morning.
While we camped below Wayah Bald, Slabber had trekked on and made it to Cold Spring Shelter – another 5 miles. So, while I put in a 16-mile day, Slabber had done a mere 11.
This AM (4/16, MON) hit the trail at 8 AM. No b’fast – ate a couple of pop-tarts while walking. Got to Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) at about 8:45 or so. Canoers/Kayaker’s paradise!! Bumper sticker: BORN TO SQUIRT. Picked up my food drop, plus a piece of mail from Noemi, and two cards from Nan.
Had a delightful breakfast with Slabber, in room with a beautiful view of the river. 2 eggs, sausages, home fries, a biscuit, several cups of coffe, and a cup of some house specialty consisting of yogurt, fruit, and granola. While hanging out at NOC, I saw Highpocket, Yoopers, and the Bees arrive. Called Noemi. 1st film developed, not so good. Asked her to ship 50 mm. lens to Fontana Village via US Priority Mail. Tried 4 times to call Nan, no luck. Twice at home, twice at work. The store at NOC carried Camp Trails packs. I got them to exchange my worn shoulder straps for new ones, gratis! Realized that I’d left my water bag at the shelter, so I bought a new one. Also, bought a stuff sack for hanging my food. Before leaving NOC, I downed a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream sandwich, and a Dr. Pepper. Deee-lish!
B’fast: $13.90, including tip (for 2)
Stuff Sack $15.00
H20 bag $7.95
Dr. Pepper $ .60
Ice Cream $1.00
(10% “thru-hiker discount” on all items exc. b’fast)
Ascent from NOC to this point has been long, but not that difficult. It was damned hot at first, but here on the ridge, fairly comfortable..
Wow! What a long break this has been! I really gotta get going…
4/17 10:30 AM, somewhere ~ 1-2 miles N of Cheoah Bald. From the “break” yesterday, still had 1 ½ hours to go to Sassafras Gap Shelter. Arrived there 5:30, it was empty! Did laundry in a great spring. Left long entry in register. Pam & Dan are up ahead… Re-organized pack. Scalloped potatoes for dinner. Phil showed up ~ 7 PM – yeah, the guy I met @ Springer Mtn. Shelter! He’d started @ Cold Gap shelter – an 18 mile day. Lots of talk & chatter about the hikers we’d met. Mule showed up after dark, headlamp ablaze. He moved on when it became clear to him that we were more into sleeping than partying.
This AM (4/17) mostly overcast, but sun has broken thru once or twice during this break. Gotta go…
5:50 PM (4/17) Lying in the tent in a light rain. Absolute location unknown, but most likely Brown Fork Gap, about 4-5 miles shy of Cable Gap Shelter. I can’t decide if I’m smart or stupid to be here. It all has to do with the foolish cameral lens that I asked Noemi to send yesterday. I said, “send it Priority Mail,” and told here I’d be in Fontana in 3-4 days (over-estimated distance from Wesser to Fontana.) Now, it’s anybody’s guess when she sent the lens, or when it will arrive … oh well. So you see, there’s at least one good reason to dilly-dally between here and Fontana.
The other reason is that this terrain is TOUGH. In spite of a decent effort, I made very poor time today, and it was 15 miles from my starting point (Sassafras Gap Shelter) to the next shelter (Cable Gap.) I started out at 9 AM sharp. At 1:15 I made it to Stecoah Gap, a distance of 6.5 miles in 4.25 hours. But then I wasted ½ hour in a fruitless search for water. When I crossed the road to continue the hike, the real fun began. First, a sign telling me that my shelter was still 8 ¾ miles away! A moderately steep climb, then a descent, into Sweetwater Gap [no water there, by the way.] Had a bite to eat, a little water. At the end of this break, I had about 16 oz. of water left, and 7.5 miles left to walk. The straw that broke me was the climb out of Sweetwater gap. Agony! Kinda like the climb out of Bly Gap (a week ago?) but even longer, and maybe even steeper. When that climb ended, the terrain got flatter again, but the search for water got desperate. Finally, I spotted what looked like a camp-able area, along with a blue mark on a tree, along with a gully that looked promising for water. It did indeed lead to a spring (100 ft. from where I currently lie) and thus became my home for the night.
I felt guilty as hell, because it was still around 3 PM. On the other hand, the weather looked kind of threatening, and Phil had heard a prediction (on his radio) for a 40% chance of thunder showers.
At this moment (6:20 PM) the rain is beating steadily down, and I feel a bit better about my decision.
Met Cecelia several times today. She musta camped near us this AM, since she showed up sans pack, looking for water. Saw her once on way to Stecoah Gap, then again @ the gap itself; she was almost out of water, and desperate, talked about hitching a ride into Fontana. I gave her some water out of my squirt bottle, and left her there at the gap. She caught up with me again near the end of my break @ Sweetwater Gap, said she “didn’t feel comfortable” hitching from that location. Saw her one last time shortly after I made camp here. She took some water, but was determined to keep walking for a couple of hours still.
So, here I am, warm & snug [and feeling seriously guilty;] had enough time for a cup of tea and a hot dinner before closing up shop and sliding into my cloth abode. Dinner was a freeze-dried entree: “Spicy Hawaiian Chicken.” As usual, quite good-tasting, but a little light on the chicken.
Phil passed me way back at Cheoah Bald. I hope he’s safe and dry at the shelter…
The bees spent last night @ NOC; [I hear] his cold was getting bad. I think Tree & Sprout stayed there overnight. It’s vaguely possible T & S are ahead of me. Both couples, and Slabber, were last seen yesterday AM at N.O.C. Saw Mule at 10:30 this AM, camped right alongside the trail. His tent was still up and his food bag still up in a very low tree. Apparently, all that late-night hiking left him useless for walking this AM! I’m not sure where he is now, but I don’t recall him passing me on the trail today.
12:45, 4/18 (WED) Just finished lunch break at Cable Gap shelter. Arrived here 12:20 Began walking at 9:00 sharp. A mutt followed me all the way here. Cold last night – had to put on polypro bottom, t-shirt, and hat. 32 when I left the tent; rain froze on the tent; it’s a mess! Saw an owl in flight in the woods – awesome. Musta had a 4 or 5 foot wing span; broad wings. Mostly light brown, specks of white, black, and dark brown.
WILD ROVER was leaving this shelter as I arrived. He’s a fireman from Brooklyn. He was one of three who camped right on the trail, just above me last night. The other 2 are a father-son team, names unknown. TREE’s novel is here at shelter (no register.) They must not have stayed at NOC… No register @ this shelter, a pity. Weather has returned to clear, sunny, 60. Gotta go.
4/19, 12:30 Arrived @ “Fontana Hilton” around 5 PM yesterday. Didn’t have the heart to take the blue-blaze into town. Wonderful views of lake and dam from the ridge. That last mile into here was a tease! Stayed at the shelter last night and tried to forget there was a town next door. Tree, Sprout, Slabber, Sun-In-Face, Moon-In-Face, Wild Rover, Virginia Varmints, Tenderfoot & Indiana Dan were here. Dan split last night, the rest of ‘em split this AM. Took a shower last night at the dam. Wonderful! Talked to Bob, he was home watching the Celtics.
This AM, hitched into town. Had a great breakfast. Bought groceries, did laundry. Washed & dried the sleeping bag – looks like it came out great! My 50 mm lens was waiting for me at the P.O., along with 2 more cards from Nan. Sent home the zoom lens, spare fuel bottle, cotton shorts, assorted paperwork.
Tried to call Noemi @ home, no answer. Called her office and left message. Was told that Dad was home as of 4/17 but was very depressed… not good news… Called Nan, spoke with her for quite a while. While hanging out at the village, Lagunatic showed up!! We spoke, had ice cream, then she drove me back here. Pam is still here, waiting for Geek. Carol went back to town, and is now back here. I’ll be moving on shortly.
6:50 PM, 4/19 At Birch Springs Gap Shelter (southernmost in the Smokies); arrived here around 5:30. The 5 miles from dam to here took well under 3 hrs, in spite of ~1800 ft. verticle rise. Easy walking. Smooth, wide, nicely graded trail. You could drive a buick up some sections… Shelter occupied by 8 or 9 boy scouts, accompanied by 3 adults. Nice folks. Shelter kinda dumpy; not very attractive. But at least has wood surface to sleep on (not wire mesh…) Stopped by at the lookout tower on Shuckstack Mtn. Went about ½ way up the tower. Spooky. But real nice views. Took a couple of pictures.
Before leaving the dam, I called Dan C—at Analogic and talked for a while. Then called [home] and talked to both Noemi and Franz. Franz didn’t sound too bad – I guess the nasty depression was only for a day or so. Then checked into the restroom at the dam and shaved – real sink, real mirror, real hot water, immaculately clean facilities!!
Fontana Village, 4/19
$6.20 Ektar film
$2.10 hot fudge sundae
0.75 to Lagunatic
Saw 3 deer on ridge above shelter!
12:30, 4/20 (FRI) @ Russell Field Shelter – quick stop to catch breath and write notes. Today’s timetable so far:
7:40 on trail
10:20 Molly Ridge Shelter (arrive)
11:00 “ “ depart
12:30 arrive here
Weather cold (53) foggy, gray. Visibility ½ mile, max. Have seen no thru-hikers since entering smokies! (They’re all either ahead or behind me.) But quite a few south-bound day-hikers, both yesterday and today. Saw several white-tailed deer this morning, just off the trail!
Walking has been fairly mellow – I seem to be able to go almost 2 MPH in this park! Walking in polypro + goretex outfit, plus hat & gloves – good wind blowing. Well, gotta go… 8 rather tough miles yet to walk today.
4/20, 8 PM – Hallelujah! Made it to Derrick Knob Shelter, a rough 15 miles today. Arrived here around 7 PM, dead tired, unable to take another step. Had freeze-dried entree (Beef Burgundy) for dinner. There a few deer that have been loitering around this shelter, at least since I arrived. The weather began clearing a bit late in the afternoon – got a few glimpses of sun in the valleys. But I knew that the fog deprived me of several fine views today, particularly (I suspect) from Thunderhead Mtn.
Quite a few folks here @ shelter, tho I can only name a few. Beth & Gina – Beth thru-hiked in ’87. Sun/Moon-In-Face. Norm. A couple from Massachusetts. Cecelia. Jack. Didn’t meet a single thru-hiker all day, until I got here. Met quite a few south-bound day-hikers. In all honesty, today was not a lot of fun – just a LOT of work!
4/21, 6 PM. Easy day. Started at Derrick Knob, ended at Double Springs Gap shelter – a mere 7 miles and 4 hours later. A few reasons: next shelter (Mt. Collins) is still 6 miles ahead, and rumor has it it will be FULL, whereas this shelter still has room, good company, and a warm fire burning. Tree & Sprout are here – they decided to “lay over” for the day. Norm (Wolverine) & Jack are here, as are Cecelia, Sun-In-Face (Bill) and Moon-In-Face (Dan.)
Today’s hiking was quite mellow, except for the time when I lost the trail at Siler Bald summit. I only lost about 30 minutes to that little adventure, and unleashed a major flow of invectives – “If this is the F**CKING trail, I F**CKING quit!!!!” Yesterday’s mist gave way to a downpour at breakfast-time this morning. The folks were VERY slow getting started this A.M. One couple – the “Moseys” (Polly and Steve) – decided to lay over. It continued to rain for a couple of hours, at least, but not quite as hard. Trail was quite muddy, and I had to be quite carefult with my footing.
8 PM – A fellow named John L—rolled in. Hiking 22 miles a day, hopes to make Katahdin by mid-July (!!) He’s putting together a yearbook of thru-hikers – “Class of ‘90”. Took pictures of (almost) all of us, along with addresses, trail names, start dates. Tree & Sprout wouldn’t play along – Tree saying something about “commercialization” of the A.T.
4/14 Day 11 Rainbow Springs N. of Wayah Bald (in tent)
4/15 Day 12 Wayah Bald Rufus Morgan Shelter
4/16 Day 13 Rufus Morgan Sassafras Gap Shelter
4/17 Day 14 Sass. Gap. Browns Fork Gap (in tent)
4/18 Day 15 Brown’s Fork Fontana Hilton
4/19 Day 16 Fontana “Hilton” Birch springs Gap Sh.
4/20 Day 17 Brch Spr Gap Sh Derricks Knob Sh.
4/21 Day 18 Derr. Knob. Sh. Double Spr. Gap Sh.
4/22 Day 19 Dbl. Spr. Gap Newfound Gap (Gatlinburg Motel)
4/22, 7 PM. Gatlinburg – Grand Prix Motel. Have had hot shower, long soak in tub. Shaved, combed hair. Put Dermatone on face. Did laundry in tub. I feel great!
The parking lot @ Newfound Gap was a circus. MANY hundreds of tourists, non-stop traffic on the road. Major culture shock. One by one, all of us collected there: first Norm, then John L–, then me, then Bill & Dan (Sun/Moon), then Jack, then Tree & Sprout, and finally Lagunatic & her friend Steve. Carol had done a day hike with Steve, starting from the observation tower @ Clingmans’ Dome. I met her there, around 10:30 AM, along with most of the afore-mentioned party. Met Carol/Steve again at the trail to Mt. Collins shelter; she shared some tasty tidbits with us as we passed through. Then @ the Newfound Gap pkng lot, more trail magic: Dan/Bill had a local friend Alice, who treated us all to sandwiches and cake! Then, when Carol showed up, cold beer for all! All this time, tourists gawking at us, and a steady stream of muscle cars, motorcycles, tour-buses and mini-vans up & down the road, and thru the parking lot. So this is “the real world?” ?!?!
Weather today: trying real hard to clear up; sunny but still hazy & humid; valleys still covered in fog & mist.
16.00 (AMEX) Happy Hiker, freeze-dried foods
13.50 Dinner: Pizza+Beer
1.50 Ice Cream
24.75 (AMEX) Moccasins
26.95 Motel (AMEX) + 5.00 tip
14.50 Grocery store
10.00 cab fare (back to trail)
4/22 (Continued) Good views in some directions, poor views in others. Spent only a couple of minutes @ Clingmans Dome “observation deck.” Very space-age structure! Most of the gang was having breakfast there.
Trail was still quite muddy & treacherous; I slipped several times, but nothing really serious. Did 10 miles today. OK, but still not good enough! As of yesterday evening, I figured my average to be 11.1 miles/day – 18 days, 201 miles from campground @ Amicalola State Pk.
So… Carol gave me a ride from Gap to town in her pickup. Stopped @ “Happy Hiker;” I got some freeze-dried stuff. Walked from there to Grand Prix motel, met “the Colonel” again – Curtis H—(Irish Eagle.) Got room, got cleaned up. Curtis & I walked into town, had some SUPER pizza, and beer. Met 2 young thru-hikers, Andy & James; they’re camping “semi-legally” in some public park in town, waiting for some parcel to arrive.
After dinner, Curtis went back to the motel; I strolled thru town – a real zoo! Bought some moccasins. Had an ice cream cone. Bought groceries, then headed back to the motel. Wrote some notes, drank lots of FRESH ORANGE JUICE!!! Asked for a wake-up call; the desk clerk handed me an alarm clock!
MON 4/23, 7 AM – Still in motel room. Didn’t sleep too well; up at about 4:30 with upset stomach. Couldn’t get back to sleep. Took another long bath, then another shower. I have a “free” shuttle back to trail with Curtis, but I may pass. I’d really like to get breakfast in town, and I absolutely MUST get some more Colemans’ fuel.
4/23, 3:10 PM: Sitting beside the trail, enjoying a wonderful vista, facing South (?), a mile or two South of Pecks Corner Shelter. Today’s views and weather have been the best so far in the Smokies.
Left motel 7:30 in search of breakfast; didn’t have to go far. For $10.00, including tip, I actually got two breakfasts… Yum. While munching, I wrote postcards to the S—s, Drake & Bonnie, and Bob B–.
4/23, 7:40 PM – Peck’s Corner Shelter. Quite the crowd here. Sun/Moon, the Yoopers, Maine 2-Footers, Pam (Tenderfoot), John (Mr. Pinguin), two weekend hikers, Tim & Bill, and S.O.S (Swing-on-Sister), plus another young couple whose names I can’t recall [Rosehips and Farceur.]
Today’s major excitement: a rattler!!! I was walking in front of S.O.S, about 2 miles N. of Newfound Gap. She said, “Oh my God” and at that same instant I heard the rattle. I simply froze, because I couldn’t see the critter. The rattling continued for several seconds. S.O.S saw it. It was coiled by the side of the trail, with its head raised. She said it was mad, and I can sure believe that, by the sound it made.
Aside from all that, a mellow hike today. About 10.5 miles. Fairly level, no serious climbs. A lot of walking on narrow little ridges – knife-edges at times. I think this is the “Sawtooth” section – narrow knife-edge ridges, mostly running perpendicular to the A.T. Made for some spectacular scenery.
WED 4/25 7 AM. Lying in tent, next to Davenport Gap Shelter, which is full to overflowing. The April 4 and April 5 waves have collided. Norm, Jack, Curtis, Cecelia, Tree, Sprout, plus most of my shelter-mates from Peck’s Corner: Craig and Sondra (Maine 2-Footers), Doug & “Rosehips,” Pam. Plus a few unknown faces. A real zoo.
First 20-miler yesterday. Didn’t really hurt that much; just a long, long walk. Mostly flat, but 3 or 4 700-foot ups and downs. Did it in just under 12 hours, including all my rest stops. Weather quite nice for hiking – sometimes sunny, mostly just a bit overcast; 65-70, a very slight wind blowing. Scenery nice, not really spectacular. Once again, haze limited the views.
WED 4/25 12:30. Halfway up Snowbird Mtn.; crossed I-40 & Pigeon River around 10 AM. Late start – left shelter at 8:50. But now I’m in heaven. Just had a “bath” in a cold, flowing stream; now I’m heating water for tea & soup. YUMM!! Tree & Sprout came & went as I dined. She shampooed her hair in the stream. Tree was walking nude. Warm & humid today. 1:20 – gotta go!!
8:24 PM 4/25. “Browns Gap Campsite.” About 14 miles today. From Pigeon River, we climbed 3000 ft. vertical, then lost 1500 ft. almost immediately, then gained back 700 ft. And no real views, anywhere. There was some kind of FAA facility on top of Snowbird Mtn. VOR? Who knows. I felt almost as ragged after today’s 14 as I did after yesterday’s 20.
Norm, Jack, Cecelia, Tree & Sprout & myself are here. Pam, Doug & Rosehips are down the road a few hundred feet.
A couple of kids on dirt bikes came up the road that runs by here. We stopped them, to try to get them to run into town and buy us some beers. No dice, unfortunately – the nearest town is 15 miles away.
Nice campfire tonight. Me, Jack, Norm, Cecelia shot the bull for a good hour or two. Meaningful stuff: why are we here. I’ve been having some negative thoughts lately, and needed some talking-up. Viv and Dave, as usual, kept to themselves at their own little site.
O.K. – Time to fess up. I know of several hikers that have passed me thus far –
Slabber, last seen aat Fontana.
John L—“ “ “ Double Springs Gap
Galahad “ “ “ Rufus Morgan
Wild Rover “ “ “ Cable Gap Shelter
Loner Boner “ “ “ Sassafras Gap Shelter
Nothing terribly embarassing about being passed by these folks – all quite young & long-legged. But, more worrisome – I can’t pass folks like Norm, Jack, and the Maine 2-Footers – people significantly older than me. As for Tree & Sprout – their age, conditioning & pace seem to match mine almost exactly.
OVERALL impressions of the Smokies: bah, humbug. Mostly because of the weather – limited the views, made the trail boggy and treacherous. The shelters were constantly overcrowded. Rather depressing little structures. Stone, with chainlink fencing across the front. And the “sanitation” around the shelters downright disgusting. The views in the northern part of the park were pretty decent – especially Charlie’s Bunion. But even from Clingmans Dome (further south a bit) the haze kept the views to a minimum. Ho-hum. The crowds at Newfound Gap were an absolute zoo!!
Back to today’s events: Jack, Norm and Cecelia all reported seeing a rather large rattlesnake early in the day, on the way up Snowbird Mtn. All three of them got pictures.
The Colonel and the Maine 2-Footers are probably back at Deep Gap Shelter.
Near end of day I was walking in close vicinity of Tree & Sprout. Aside from being naked, Tree was also singing quite loudly – I recognized only a few snippets. Didn’t have the heart to tell him to shut up, but the tunes I relate to don’t come from “West Side Story.”
12:30 PM (Noon…) 4/26. Passed over Max Patch Mtn. about 1 – 2 hours ago. Nice views, took a 15-min break. Low on snack food, with too many dinners, so I’m having “Italian Beef & Beans” for lunch, with a cup of tea. Day started cool, but is now sunny and warming up rapidly. Terrain has been flat & mellow since Max Patch. Many stream crossings. Rhododendron. Trillium in bloom. Since yesterday, the bugs have been out!! Starting to feel like summer.
6:45 (4/26) Tough day, but satisfactory ending. Camped @ Garenflo Gap (?) in a grove of pines. Level ground! No company! Tent’s pitched (with fly up) and dinner’s cooking. 75, no wind. Bugs are out – it’s time for the DEET. Very quiet. Nice to be alone. The crowds on this A.T. have been getting to me lately. I wonder if there will still be rooms in Hot Springs when I get there tomorrow.
The usual zoo on the trail today – everybody passin’ everybody. Tree & Sprout & most of the gang are up ahead. Pam wanted to try to make the shelter – another 4 miles from here. Indiana Dan appeared out of the blue, walking real fast – he’s trying to catch Pam. Get the picture?
This overcrowding on the trail is a wee bit depressing, actually. It doesn’t affect me during the hiking that much, except the dozen or so people I meet during the day’s walk. But in the evening, at the campsites & shelters, it’s another story. You feel like you gotta hurry, or else that shelter’s gonna be full. Either that, or quit at some ridiculously early hour in order to “reserve” a bunk. Bah, Humbug. Hey, man – I came to the woods to get away from that rat race.
So tonight is a welcome respite. Norm, Jack and Cecelia are camped about 100 yds. from here. It’s nice to be away from even that group. Can’t hear or see ‘em, and that’s fine by me.
I guess the other aspect of the overcrowding that bugs me is the way it makes the hiking seem or feel like a race. These guys just passed me – I must be moving too slow. It’s been tough for me to just let ‘em go, and walk at my own pace.
On the brighter side… Did a solid 15 miles today, only about 7 more to Hot Springs. Shortly after my 12:30 lunch break, I took a 2nd break @ Roaring Fork Shelter. Beautiful place, but couldn’t stay. Slabber had left a note in the register mentioning me, among others; he passed that spot 2 days ago. Loner Boner was there, too, at the same date.
There were two semi-serious climbs late in the day, and one serious descent. First Walnut Mtn., then Bluff Mtn. – about 700 ft. and 1000 ft. respectively, and then about a 1500-2000 ft. drop off Bluff Mtn., to where I’m now camped. Looks like a fairly flat walk into town tomorrow; should arrive in early afternoon.
4/28 (SAT) Yesterday was an eventful day, but not really so much for the walking. After a wonderful night’s seep (thurs. nite) alone in the woods, I booked into town in record time – did those last 8 miles in under 3 hours, including break! Since Wed. noon, I could sense all my cohorts accelerating madly for town, like sharks with the scent of blood.
Managed to get the very last room here at “The Inn at Hot Springs.” What a beautiful place it is!! And what a wonderful, friendly town this is! The in as an old, beautifully kept white Victorian house. Elmer runs the place. Gretchen cooks the meals. Freddie, Jason and Ann keep the place going. The people who work here do so in a “communal” style, and the guests are invited to help out. It’s such a gorgeous, non-commercial kind of place that you really want to lend a hand. The meals here are strictly vegetarian, and DELICIOUS!! Last night’s meal would have rated 5 stars…
4/29 (SUN) 10:50 AM. Sitting on Lover’s Leap, a rocky outpost above and to N. of Hot Springs. This just might be my last view of this lovely town. Left the Trail Cafe at 10:06, walking with Dave (Lone Wolf,) who had been at the inn almost a week.
Breakfast – for $7.50, including tip: 3 eggs, 3 pancakes, bacon, sausage, home fries, toast, and several cups of coffee. Sent several postcards – Doug C–, Analogic, Dr. Ca–, Marvin and Donna. Also mailed the two letters I wrote yesterday: Franz & Noemi, and Nan.
This AM – up at about 7:30, showered. It was raining outside, pretty hard; prepared for a wet day. Greased up the boots. Went to back porch and back-washed the water filter(s). Got data from Campmor catalog. Can’t order today, it’s Sunday.
James and Andy (of “the Schoolboys”) are jumping off; their vacation is over. Last seen just outside Trail Cafe. Jack & Dorothy (“59” and “60”) were also @ the cafe, and are probably just up the trail from me.
Haven’t seen Tree nor Sprout since Friday. I don’t think that they stayed over, I think (~I hope) they’re now at least a day ahead. But the Buckeye Bees never did catch up, and I didn’t want to wait around. Hot Springs is ADDICTIVE!!
So far, fine weather – rain quit at 9 AM, skies clearing nicely. Once again, near-perfect hiking weather; perhaps just a bit humid. Picky, picky! Gonna do a quick bowl and move on…
4/29, 8 PM. Spring Mtn. Shelter. A mere 10 miles today. Didn’t feel a bit more than 15! First, up to Lover’s Leap, then Rich Mtn. (to lookout tower,) then Spring Mtn. A slightly different crowd tonight. Sue, Doug, 59/60, myself & Dave (Lone Wolf) are camped out on a flat rise about 100 ft. away. Tripper tenting out back. Ramblin’ Dan & Philly Lee & Colorado Jack & Sun-In-Face & Moon-In-Face (Allen, Dan) in the shelter.
It feels VERY cool tonight! I’ve got almost everything on, and still shivering. Ole’ Lee is working on a campfire.
Today’s ten miles felt like a lot of work. Combination of forces at work. Late start for almost everyone. Too much to eat & drink in town. Full packs. Bodies gone slack from a full day’s rest.
But, at least the weather and the scenery were both fine. Lover’s Leap had fine views of Hot Springs. Another couple of miles up, Jack & I had a long break next to a lovely (artificial) pond, watching a bullfrog. Got a phot of trees reflected in pond, then another of Jack & Dorothy (59/60) on trail along edge of pond. From there, a short road walk, and then Mill Gap – more photos – vistas with meadows, hardwood trees, and distant mountains. Views then limited, till we got to lookout tower on summit of Rich Mtn. (0.1 mile spur on a blue-blaze to get there.) Another photo. From Rich Mtn. to here took another 2 ¼ hours – an easy 500-600 ft. descent, and then a somewhat more dreary 700-800 ft. ascent.
No rain at all from the time I left the inn. Nice and cool. Mostly overcast, but occasional sunshine.
TUES, MAY 1. 7:08 AM. Lying in tent. It’s been raining on/off all night. Heavy fog all around the tent. Tough to motivate. Yesterday: Spring Mtn. Shelter to Jerry Cabin Shelter, about 14 miles. First 4 miles took us down off Spring Mtn. to Allen Gap. I skipped the “store,” but it was closed anyway. Next 7 miles: a long, long climb of Camp Creek Bald, with Little Laurel shelter half-way up. Finally, cresting over the summit, then about 3-4 miles of fairly flat walking to Jerry Cabin. The usual leapfrog game on the way, mostly with Doug and Sue this time. Jack/Dorothy very slow – probably stayed at Little Laurel Shelter. Hunter (a new face) caught up with me several times, but preferred to stay behind me. Dan, Allen, and Jack – as usual – at least an hour ahead of the rest of the crowd. So, as usual, when I arrived at Jerry Cabin, it was quite full. Indiana Dan, Pam, and Lynn; Dan, Allen, Jack, and Doug and Sue. Lone Wolf (Dave) was hanging out, but sleeping in a tent next to the shelter. I found a nice flat site about 100 yds up the trail. Hunter set up his tent in front of the shelter when he arrived.
No views at all yesterday. Within an hour after ascending from Allen Gap, all was fog, mist, and occasional light rain. Visibility 50 ft, at best. The trail was in decent shape, at least till late in the day. Took one good slip on a wet rock that almost sent me ass-over-teakettle. Nice recovery, tho.
Finally had to remove the inner-sole of my right boot. It’s been falling apart, sliding backwards, causing great pain. Boot feels better (for now) without it. The pack repair [Wesser/NOC] didn’t really do the trick, but hopefully, will ward off catastrophic failure for another few days.
Ah, deary me – almost 7:30. Sometime soon, I’ll have to leave this tent and face up to this dreary day. Or just lie here till the weather improves. Wonder how long that will take?
9:08 AM (5/1) Deliciously, wickedly late start. Two good dumps. Great breakfast. Depart as soon as I finish these notes. Most everyone ahead & gone by now. Dan/Allen/Jack strode by at 7;10 AM, as I wrote first notes. Doug & Sue striding by as I write this, quoting lines from “Truckin’.” Did a bowl. Trying new scheme on boots: both inner soles removed, wearing 2 pr. socks.
10:50 Another dump. Also removed hat & polypro bottoms. All kinds of terrain in this short walk: rocky climbs thru rhodo, foggy meadows (top of bald?) and wide paths thru hemlock. Sun is almost out, so are the bugs. Saw a hare next to the trail a few minutes back. Passed “grave site” (ashes) of Howard Bassett – thru-hike in ’68 (had a story in James Hare’s anthology.) Put on some Muskol, some deoderant. 11:00 – outta here.
5/1, 11:30 – Just passed by the “dueling gravestones” of the brothers Shelton, that I’ve read about so often! More wide paths thru hemlock. Last frame of Ektar 36 & first frame of Ektar 24 are of the Shelton tombstones.
1:30 At Flint Mtn. Shelter, about 20 minutes N. of Flint Gap. Brand new & beautiful, not even on map yet. Hunter met me, moved on. What should I do? Blow off a day, screw up my average, and stay here? Or move on, feel virtuous, walk in the heat, and probably camp in the rain? I haven’t slept in a shelter since Peck’s Corner (2nd-last night in Smokies.) This journal needs work. What shall I do?
2:50 Haven’t budged. A decision has been made: the boy STAYS! Tent is outside drying. Sleeping bag airing and lofting. Water bag as full as it can get. Canteen (nalgene) cleaned up, full of purified water and lemonade mix. Stove & windscreen set up on the “table” in the shelter, just finished a liesurely cup of hot coffee. Also had a cold sponge bath (upper body.) Feeling quite human, a tad bit guilty for indulging in this fuck-off day. But I really wanted to break the cycle of last in camp, tired & pissed off, having to sleep in tent.
Today’s 2-sock experiment a definite failure. Feet overheated and got very painful coming into Flint Gap. Experiment called off @ Flint Gap; powdered & massaged feet, began fresh. With inner soles removed, boots a bit roomier, but steps are a bit more “jarring” since cushioning effect is almost gone.
Just finished an interesting test/exercise: I can still remember, in sequence, each and every camp/shelter I stayed at since this hike began. Also re-computed my daily average walk. Since last computation (a week ago?) it has slipped 0.1 MPD – from 11.1 to 11.0. What does this mean? It means that I better pick it up sometime soon, but that the situation is far from critical yet.
From the physical, even the psychological point of view, I could easily have made today a 12 or even 14 mile day. But I wanted to be FIRST to the shelter, for a change.
As of 4:02, two shelter-mates. Tripper (from 2 nights ago) and Thumper, a new face. Young, red hair. Occasional sunshine has given way to dark overcast, with almost constant (1 or 2 times per minute) distant thunder. Felt a few raindrops, nothing serious. Tent is rolled up, and sleeping bag now spread out inside shelter.
Hunter gave me some disappointing news yesterday: the Buckeye-Bees have dropped out. Happened at Newfound Gap, in the Smokies. Both of them had colds.
So… Tree & Sprout definitely 1 – 1 ½ days ahead, fine by me. Sun-In-Face (Allen,) Moon-In-Face (Dan) and Colorado Jack, I imagine, will stay tonight at Hogback Ridge Shelter. Remember the trio camped above me @ Browns Fork Gap (in rain – night before Fontana?) That was the same, aforementioned trio. They all have a habit of VERY early rising, and walking before breakfast. So, naturally, they’re always first in camp.
As for the kids – Dan, Pam, Lynn – who knows what they’ll do? Lynn (Little Red Riding Hood) is traveling with a young german shepherd dog that barks a lot. Interestingly, this dog (and or another?) caused a flurry of comments in the shelter register at Jerrys Cabin Shelter. What started the flurry was a complaint by Tree about “hikers with dogs.”
6:10 PM. Some serious rain. Thunder and lightning very close. Four more arrivals. Paul and Greg, both new faces, and 59/60. Most likely Philly Lee and Ramblin Dan are caught in the rain somewhere between here & the last shelter. BOOM! Flash and thunder almost simultaneous. Boy, am I happy to be indoors right now.
So… I never had a chance to wax poetic about Hot Springs. My first “zone.” The Inn. What a super place. There’s Elmer, who runs the place. Looks like Jerry Garcia, without the beard. Gretchen: tall, thin, cooks most of the food. Thru-hiked last year, got to Hot Springs, and never left. Freddie “Holiday” & Ann. And Jason. These youngsters basically run the place. An old victorian house, beautifully kept. Books, bookshelves, everywhere, and all fascinating stuff, very literate, left-wing. Trail lit. Political. Environmental. A stereo with records. VCR with tapes, all for use by guests. I used it to listen to American Beauty on the night before I left. (Also, the Buffalo Springfield Retrospective album.) The place has such a wonderful non-commercial feel that the guests just feel like helping out – collecting dishes & washing them, picking up trash, or whatever. I got caught up in it myself. On the back porch is a Public Cooler. It’s help-yourself to beer, and throw in a six-pack or two if you drink a lot. I was offered a beer almost within seconds of arriving.
And the food! All vegetarian. If vegetables could taste that good all the time, I’d be a convert. Served with real taste and elegance, family-style. A full 3-course, 5-star meal. My total bill came to $37.00, for two nights stay, two dinners, and one breakfast.
And the town! Every merchant I talked to was friendly and courteous. Seemed genuinely interested in thru-hikers. People waved at me from passing cars. On the morning of my departure, a real sadness came over me. I stopped immediately to get a couple of pictures of the Inn. Then a couple more photos looking down main street, with the clouds slowly lifting from the hills. Had a final breakfast at the Trail Cafe. Jack & Dorothy (59/60) were just finishing up. It was 10:00 when I left the cafe and mosied back into the hills.
5/2, 10:10 AM. Skies bright and sunny! Partway up Lick Rock. Weather looked pretty dreary 3 hrs. Ago. I was 2nd out of shelter – about 15 minutes behind Paul. Left at 7:35. Been playing leapfrog with Thumper all morning. This is 4th stop. First was to remove parka & hat, and to brush teeth. 2nd stop at Devils Fork Gap, for a couple of photos. 3rd stop @ a wonderful stream with shoulder-high “falls” – washed my whole body, plus my green shorts and gray T-shirt. (Walked into streambed with boots & gaiters.) Since last stop, skies have cleared. Sun is blazing!
12:45. Arrived @ Hogback Ridge shelter.
2:00. Still here!
2:15 Finally left. Thumper & Tripper still here. Gregg came & went.
3:00 Arrive @ Sams Gap. Cross the road & start climbing. Miss the Cafe, I guess…
Long, long walk to water @ Hogback Ridge shelter. Tree/Sprout were there 2 nights ago! 3:45 (as I write) up a few hundred feet from Sams’ Gap; noise of chain saws & logging trucks almost faded. Down to about 10-12 oz. of lemonade mix – hope water doesn’t become a problem in the next couple of hours. This AM – saw a snake, probably a large garter snake – about 3 ft. long and 1 ½ inch in girth. Pale green color. We checked each other out for a long time. Also locusts – thousands of ‘em, along the trail. They make a racket! They move when I move, stop when I stop!
A shamefully long break at Hogback ridge shelter – partly due to the 20-minute round trip walk to get water! Had a bowl with Thumper, and smoked a couple of hand-rolled terbakky cigarrettes. Powdered feet. Washed off the bod. Ate PB & J with crackers.
7:15. Camped alone, somewhere on S. slope (ascent) of Big Bald. Call it a 13-14 mile day, 3-4 miles N. of Allen Gap. Thor and Helios have been battling for control of the sky all afternoon, taking turns. Had a brief, light shower just as I was getting set to eat dinner. No problem. In fact, it caused me to close up shop in a hurry, so – here I am at 7:20, and almost ready to call it a night.
Highly doubtful anyone will show up. Paul & Gregg, from last night’s shelter, are both ahead. Tripper, Thumper, 59 and 60 don’t do 14 mile days yet. Everyone else is safely ½ day ahead: Doug, Sue, Jack, Dan, Allen, and Pam, Dan & Lynn. They could all be a day ahead, for all I know – they would have to put in a LONG day to get to that next shelter.
Passed by a couple of beautiful high meadows on the way up here, late in the afternoon. Almost camped at both, but the little angel said “Keep Walking,” and I really did have enough strength to keep going. So tomorrow should be a straight-forward 13-14 mile walk up over Big Bald, then downhill, ending at No Business Knob Shelter. Then 5 ½ miles on Friday morning into Erwin.
Seasons definitely advancing. Hardwoods blooming & leafing out even at 2000-3000 foot elevations. Bugs coming out, too – flies, no-see-ums, horseflies, locusts. The view outward will start to get closed-in – a pity. As would be expected, today’s views were as good as we’ve had for several days. The mood this morning at about 9:30, at Devils Fork Gap, was very special – rural setting, oak tree and apple tree, sloping green meadow, all draped in mist, with a hot sun just waiting to burn off the mist. And indeed it did, not even an hour later.
10:50. Have been here at Bald Mtn. Shelter (Carolina Condo) for 15-20 minutes. Heating water for tea and soup. Easy walk from last night’s campsite to summit of Big Bald; took less than 1.5 hrs. Only another 10 miles today, so taking an easy pace. Notes from lots of people in the register here. Dan & Allen (5/2), Lone Wolf, Dan and Tenderfoot (5/1), Tree & Sprout (5/1 – passin’ thru), Total Recs (5/1, AM), Hobbit (4/30), Loner Boner & Wild Rover (4/29).
11:30 – (More or less.) Outta here. Pleasant stop. Enjoyed the grub & the conversations in the register. Finish this bowl… and GONE.
PM. Spivey gap. 5.7 miles N. of Big Bald, according to the sign here (photo.) 374.5 miles to Springer Mtn.! Almost exactly 5 more miles to go to No-Biz-Knob Shelter. One 700 ft. climb, then 4 miles of flat, pseudo-downhill walking to the shelter. Haven’t seen a soul all day!!! One or two cars have passed on this road (Rte. 19W) since I’ve stopped. A stream ¼ mile S. of here had “the complete shower.” Feet included this time. Ah feel fine. Around 1:15-1:30, stopped for water & snack at Whistling Gap Campsite. Fine day so far! This AM was gray, 1000 ft. visibility. At the moment, sunny & a tad hazy. Eighty degrees on my mini-thermometer. With wet shirt & shorts, feels just right. Some water & I’m outta here!
6:10 [PM] Arrived here (NoBizKnob Shelter) around 5:30, after 2 hrs of walking in pouring rain & hail & thunder & lightning. Cool enough to make me regret sending home the rain-pants. The sky got cloudy just as I started climbing out of Spivey Gap. Near top of Gap, thunder & a bit of rain, so on went the gaitors, pack cover, and GoreTex parka. Just in time! Downpour began in earnest 10 minutes later, and didn’t quit until about 15 minutes before I got here.
My main concern was the damn bag – praying it would stay dry. It did, somehow. Couple of times while walking in the rain, had to manually “flip” the bottom of the pack cover to release the puddle that was collecting inside it. Fortunately, it’s my tent (not the sleeping bag) that occupies the bottom-most position.
How wet was it? It was so wet that water finally got thru the Fabiano boots. Yep. For the first time EVER, Rafe’s feet got wet. A real tragedy. Fortunately, with wool socks, it’s no big deal. Not even terribly uncomfortable, execept you can hear your toes go “squish.”
So. Got here without major incident. Last 4 – 5 miles in a sort of “glen,” along steep sides, often in rhodo tunnels. Lot of ankle work to stay on the trail & not slide off into rhodo oblivion. Probably as safe a place to be as you could ask for in a t-storm. Better than being on a ridge, or on top of a bald.
7 PM. Raining hard. I HAVEN’T SEEN A SINGLE HIKER ALL DAY – neither N-bound nor S-bound, neither throo-hiker nor day-hiker!!!! In fact, last 2 hikers I’ve seen were Thumper & Tripper – yesterday afternoon, at Hogback ridge shelter.
7:47 Thumper & Tripper have arrived out of the rain. It’s been raining HARD and thundering/lightning for the last hour or so.
In spite of all this gloom, it was a good day on the trail. The view from Big Bald was a bit limited, but the clouds and haze made the place itself feel magical. Then, for the next several miles, walking along a level path, with white flowers on either side, and butterflies & bumblebees all around. The climb down into Spivey Gap, and the climb back out, were both along rushing streams. Lots of hemlock woods, and old, mature, healthy ones!
Even the rain itself was no great tragedy. But here is a “new” element to make things miserable again. As I said, the feet did get wet. This might be considered the first “serious” rain that I’ve encountered on this trip. It’s gonna be tough putting on wet socks and boots tomorrow morning.
5/4, 7:30 PM – Sittin’ on the bench of a picnic table parked just outside the hostel building at Nolichucky Expeditions, the Nolichucky itslef about 100 feet away, rolling away happily.
The gang’s all here, and then some. All the folks I “lost” a few days ago. Doug & Sue. Dan & Allen. Pam, Lynn, and Indiana Dan. Steve (Cruise Control) and Cosmic Charlie. Thumper and Tripper. And a few more that I haven’t been introduced to yet. [Freebird, the Wizard.] [also: Colorado Jack, Lone Wolf.]
Due to rebuilding of Chestoa bridge, ended up doing a long road walk into town, over a “replacement” bridge. Got as far as supermarket – there’s a pickup truck with Dan & Allen inside! They’d been befriended by a local, a Mr. Bill T–. So, Mr. Bill ran me into town to the P.O., to pick up my mail drop, while Dan & Alan shopped. (It was a long ride!) Returned to store; Mr. T—waited around while I shopped & then consumed a pint of chocolate ice cream. Then he drove here, to the hostel, where the gang was hangin’ out, drinking beer, laying in the sun, and “power-lounging.”
This morning’s hike: great views for the last ½ mile coming off the mountain. Narrow ridge, pitch pines. Got a couple of pics, did a bowl. Prior to that, some tough ankle-straining walking, more of what I walked through last night in the rain. Cross-sections drawn below…
Made good time, tho – as I always do, coming into town on a downhill, with an empty pack. Did the 5.7 miles in under 2 ½ hours, including pit stops.
Last night: slept like a baby. The weather put on a major show. Lots of rain, lightning & thunder, on and off all night. Fortunately, it let up before dawn, and – knock wood – no rain at all today (well, OK – we had a 5-minute sprinkle in the afternoon.)
Ah, the comforts of civilization! The youngsters all took the “shuttle” into town to hit up a few bars. Doug just made a call to order up a few pizzas – to be delivered to the hostel.
5/5 (SAT.) 10:30 AM. Sittin @ Dari-Ace waiting for breakfast. Rhett (from Nol. Expeditions) drove me & another hiker into town to visit the cobbler (Tony.) “Other Hiker” is Tom, of the Green Mountain Trio – Tom, Sue, Lincoln. Tom also needed pack repair.
Last night was a treat. For dinner, fried up some cold cuts, with some green pepper, to mix in with my Lipton Rice & Sauce. Then around 10:30, our pizzas arrived. One medium pizza per person, for me, Doug, and Sue. Nice “dessert.” Doug & I finally got to share a couple of bowls. Later on, finished off the bag with the “youngsters,” who had gathered on the porch near the rest rooms to hang out, talk and sing. Ye gads, we had ourselves a real song-fest, from Jim Croce to Harry Chapin to Robert Hunter to Jim Morrison, and back! Cosmic Charlie (yes, quite the Deadhead) entertained us with a Cyalume shower – break the top off, and just sent the stuff flying into thousands of tiny, glowing green droplets. We laughed ourselves silly.
5/5, 4:45. Somewhat of a wasted day. Took the shuttle into town with Tom, dropped off pack straps at cobbler. Took ride back to Dari-Ace. Then walked from there back to hostel, following the ole’ White Blazes, keeping True to the Faith, as it were. Then caught another shuttle back into town to pick up pack straps. Major problems – looks like a good fix, but grommets aren’t properly seated, broke right apart when I tried to reattach straps. Called the cobbler – he agreed to drive here (hostel) and attempt another repair. He showed up around 3:30 and we just used a bigger grommet. Looks OK; let’s keep fingers crossed. Spent an hour discussing religion, etc. With the guy – quite the Born-Again Baptist. Real nice guy, tho.
Been kind of chilly & gray all day – keeps looking like it’s gonna rain any minute, but so far today, it hasn’t.
Aside from the above, not much happening. Just a lot of beer-drinking & cigarette smoking. The go-getters left this morning: Jack, Allan, Dan, Pam & Lynn, Doug & Sue, and Tripper. The rest of us no-accounts still here: Indiana Dan, Cosmic Charlie, Freebird, Thumper and Wizard. (Wizard carries a 4-pound walking stick with a glass globe – a big one – attached to the top, with an ornamental brass fixture holding the globe to the staff.) The place has been crawling with busloads of rafters and kayakers all day (it’s Saturday.)
12.00 Shuttles to town
5.00 boot insides
5.00 beer contribution
6.00 hostel (camping, 2 nights)
6.80 pack repair
9:30 PM – Gonna try to leave tomorrow AM – early. Maybe even skip breakfast… everybody still up and about. The Yoopers showed up around 5 PM. Later that night some LOUD “discussions” over religion & politics. Wizard got the ex-marines – Lone Wolf, Cosmic Charlie and Indy – kinda pissed off.
12:20, 5/7 (MONDAY) Taking a break I can’t afford and don’t deserve, but what the hell. Spent last night @ Cherry Knob Shelter, after walking the previous 2 hours in COLD rain. Ugh. There were 2 pairs of AT section hikers – middle-aged guys – staying in the shelter. Three young thru-hikers, Jim, Kevin and Dennis, were camped nearby. Yesterday’s walk: not too difficult, at first, except for the fording of a few streams just N. of N.O.C. Met the three thru-hikers @ Indian Grave Gap; they are the ONLY thru-hikers I’ve seen since leaving N.O.C. Met them again @ Beauty Spot, where they were having lunch. From that point on, the walk got tougher – particularly up & then down Unaka Mtn. Rain began on descent of Unaka. Fortunately, nothing got wet (except me) and I warmed up quickly once inside the shelter.
This morning – VERY cold when we awoke, under 40 degrees. But very clear, and bright sun. Started the walk wearing polypro + sweat pants; this break was necessary (in part) to change back to shorts & t-shirt. I’m gonna try to get to Roan Mtn. shelter tonight, but not very hopeful. Got a late start this AM (8:45) and Roan looks like a TOUGH 2500 ft. ascent, at the end of a 15-mile day. We’ll see.
5:30 PM (5/7) Sitting atop a rocky peak just N. of Clyde Smith shelter. The view is absolutely awesome (photo, of course.) Best view in days & days, it seems. Sky is clear, not a cloud in sight. This might be our first rain-less day in a long, long time.
Got thoroughly depressed this morning, at the thought of having to climb Roan Mtn. The depression sort of peaked when I arrived at Clyde Smith shelter. The three boys (Jim, Kevin, Dennis) were there, taking a break, along with two of the section-hikers from last night’s shelter, who were in for the night.
But the break (a LONG one) helped a lot, as has this view. At the shelter, I heated water & had tea, and a small hot meal. Then heated some more H2O and gave myself a warm sponge bath. Left a rather heavy entry in the register, along with a verse from “Fish and Whistle,” by John Prine.
That long break made the climb to this spot easier. Looking out over these hills has lifted my spirits considerably. Perhaps I should take some pride & give myself a pat on the back for having come this far – from a place far, far beyond even this vast horizon before me.
Oh well, all things must pass. Hate to leave this gorgeous spot, but it would be nice to make another mile or two today. Gotta go…
8:30 PM: Camped right next to trail, somewhere on ascent (half way?) of Roan Mtn. Just watched a gorgeous sunset over the western hills, not more than 2 minutes ago. And, looking back over my shoulder, a full moon! This evening almost makes up for some of the dismal nights we’ve had for the last week and a half.
One minor problem tonight – no water at this site. Fortunately, the Nalgene bottle was full of purified water, which I turned into lemonade. Had a tasty dinner of sardines & crackers, followed by pop-tarts for dessert.
Very chilly tonight – I’ve got my sweatpants on, plus t-shirt, flannel shirt, and parka, plus hat! I may need to put the tent fly up – not because of rain (looks unlikely) but to keep the inside of the tent a bit warmer. I’ll try without…
10:30 AM, 5/8 Awake at 7:00, out of bed by 7:20, on trail by 7:55. No water, so no breakfast. After 5 minutes of climbing, saw a sign for water; it was a 15-minute round trip. Had breakfast, refilled canteen. An old gentleman stopped by, heading S-bound with a day pack; we chatted for a bit. At the end of the day’s hike (Iron Mtn. Gap,) he will have done the whole A.T. from Pearisburg to the Smokies.
Continued my climb at 9:20. Reached summit of Roan High Knob at 10:00, promptly got lost. Got some photos – superb views. Changed to new film (finished 24-exp, started a 36-exp. roll.) Camera film-speed knob was off again!!! Had a good dump. Changed into shorts, put away flannel & polypro. Gorgeous weather – and looks like it might stay for a while.
2;15 (5/8, TUES) Arrived here @ Roan Highlands Shelter around 1:30. Wasted 20 minutes & a lot of effort looking for water before I found the sign & the right blue trail. Currently heating water for soup & tea. There’s another warning sign in here about the Elk-Park Moreland Shelter section. I’m wondering if I should just skip that whole section entirely. Weather still holding out nicely. No thru-hikers seen today, but if I keep stalling, I just might see those Missouri boys again. Shelter register has reports of SNOW on Roan High Knob 2 nights ago.
5/9 (WED) 9:15 AM Sittin’ on the pavement by the Beer Barrel (package store) waiting for a pick-up to the Roan Mtn. Motel. Spent last night at the Apple House Shelter. Managed to catch up with some folks: the kids (Jim, Kevin, Dennis,) Tripper, the Green Mountain Trio, and Lagunatic, once again!
Never really expected to make it that far yesterday, but an interesting encounter with the infamous asshole W—L—gave me the impetus to walk faster than usual. Even so, I might have camped at Doll Flats, but couldn’t find water.
As for W–. Here I am, walking down Little Hump Mtn., figuring there were no thru-hikers within miles. I hear footsteps behind me, and, “How ya doin?” I pull over, let the guy pass. Met him again 3 minutes later at a small spring just off the trail. I stop, take off my pack, say, “What’s your name?” He looks sideways, the downward, then shakes his head, and says, “What’s yours?” I answered, “Terrapin.” Silence. Then I asked him again for his name. More strange faces, then, “You should know me.” Asked him why I should know him. More strange motions. Then he let on as how he’d left Springer ten days ago, and was “52 miles ahead of the record,” and was about to stop for his lunch break (about 4:30 PM.)
Well, you know, this kind of stuff just doesn’t impress me. I’m sick & tired of this A.T. being used as a track & field competition. I could tell he was annoyed that his fame hadn’t caught up to me. Something about this encounter – maybe my own anger at him – made me walk like a demon from that point on. I still expected him to pass me right quick. I flew up over Big Hump Mtn., then came to Doll Flats. After looking for water and finding none, decided to book on down the mountain to Apple House Shelter.
A half-mile before reaching the shelter, I took a stop to let my feet rest. Sure enough, here comes W–, looking at his watch, saying – with a very pissed-off tone of voice – “Nice try. I can always tell when a hiker’s walking faster than normal.” I tried to ask him a question, but he just kept going, didn’t even acknowledge me.
Got to the shelter ten or fifteen minutes later. W—had been there & gone, after leaving his name & date (no message) in the register. He hadn’t spoken a word to anyone there, except: “Register.” Not a question – just a one-word command. I told the folks there about my encounters with him. Those who had “met” him had all had similar, thoroughly unpleasant reactions. Carol said that he’d been on the trail last year, and that he’d spread hostility wherever he’d been. So … I met my first bona-fide asshole on this trail.
As for yesterday’s walk. In one word: BEAUTIFUL. Finally got to experience these North Carolina balds. The weather was ACE, the walking not too difficult, and the scenery – outrageously awesome. The only thing that might have improved the scenery would have been to see the rhododendrons in bloom. I think I’m still a few weeks too early for that. Took a whole bunch of photos. Even if they come out perfect, they won’t do justice.
The evening at the shelter (Apple House) was also quite pleasant. Dennis (Doober) got a nice fire going. Several of the folks had already been to town & back, and had beers, hamburger, cookies, and other goodies to eat and drink. Tripper gave me one of his beers; Tom gave me a few pecan sandies (cookies.) Played fetch-the-rock with Tom & Sue’s dog, Lincoln. A beautiful, friendly, well-mannered black lab.
5/9, 10:40 PM – Lying in a soft bed at the Roan Mountain Motel. Kind of a wasted day. One of the main purposes of this layover was to make contact with Dr. E—C—(in Beverly, MA) or with his parents, who live in Elizabethton, TN. Failed on both counts. Phones in this town are all rotary-dial (pulse,) so I can’t use my phone credit card. I found the Drs.’ parents phone number in the phone book, but could not get through – must have called a dozen times between 11:00 AM and 10:00 PM. Each time, I got a busy signal.
I did manage to complete two calls. One to Analogic (800 number) and one to home (called collect.) At Analogic, talked at length with Susan, Lori and Gordon. At home, talked to Noemi. Dad’s depressions still out of control. Marion will be flying up to visit some time later this month (after Damascus.)
Other than that, did the usual stuff thru-hikers do in town. Took a bath. Bought some food. Drank beer. Did laundry. Greased up boots. Aired out the tent.
The owners of this motel are a couple of real characters. Real friendly folks. John & Carmen. John is from New York City, recently displaced to Tennessee. A real heavy-duty biker, and looks the part: big, heavy, long hair and beard. Harley parked out front. Carmen is small, speaks with a thick accent (presumably spanish??) and bakes a mean lasagna.
The Yoopers showed up around 5 PM; they had a tough, frightening walk over the balds. (Weather took a turn for the worse around noon; been raining again.) With them were two new faces: Boo-Boo-Bear and Zener (as in diode.) Both are from York, PA. The five of us had dinner together at the motel restaurant, with John sitting in on our conversation. Green salad, garlic bread, lasagna, coffee (decaf for me) and a huge plate of home-made french that John prepared. Good eats, good company. Watched TV for a while this afternoon. First TV I’ve seen since April 3 or so. Weather forecast for tomorrow morning: thunderstorms. Oh, boy…
34.00 Motel room
4.50 beer & cigs
3:45, Friday 5/11 – Sitting at the Big-B restaurant in Hampton, TN. Just finished a cheeseburger, fries, salad and lemonade; writing this with a cup of coffee by my side.
Left the Roan Mtn. Motel yesterday AM at about 9:30, along with Boo-Boo-Bear and Zener. Hit the trailhead of the dreaded “Elk Park Moreland Gap” section at 9:45. Highlight of the day was chasing a herd of cattle off the trail, and avoiding the cow patties. No fish hooks, no inbred locals with shotguns. No real views, either. A lot of small ups & downs; lots of bogs and stream crossings. (Polluted water, however.) Basically a blah day. Walked fast, but couldn’t keep up with Zener & Boo-Boo. Shortly after losing them, I finally met Dead Ahead, and his buddy Wild Bill, taking a break. We talked for a while, walked together for ½ mile or so, and then they sped up and left me behind.
T-storms had been predicted, but never materialized. In fact, we had sunshine during the middle of the day. Around 2:30, clouds rolled in and we had a few light showers. Got a few minutes of heavy rain and hail at about 4:30, just before I got to the shelter.
Moreland Gap shelter was full, of course. The two dudes from Missouri (who I’d last seen several days back at Clyde Smith shelter.) Baseball John. And Ken, an older gentleman, last seen at Apple House shelter. Dead Ahead & Wild Bill were there, but not planning to stay. They moved on to a campsite a couple of miles up. Within the hour another half-dozen folks showed up. (Partial list a couple of pages back.) Mostly very young. Had us a little tent city next to the shelter.
1:30, 5/12: Taking the slow train. Stopped for the day at Watauga Dam shelter. Hanging out with Lone Wolf, Eric, Indiana Dan, Dead Ahead, and Wild Bill. Sasquatch is here for lunch break. Baseball John was here for a bit. He & Sasquatch will be @ Vanderventer shelter tonight.
The walk from Moreland Gap shelter down to Laurel Falls was a piece of cake. Laurel falls was truly beautiful. Trail winds thru rock chasms and parallels a river. The laurels were in bloom. Lost of hikers stopped for lunch at the falls.
Shortly after leaving the falls, I spotted Lone Wolf & Eric sitting by the river drinking beers. They’d hitchiked most of the way from Carver Gap. I’d already decided against climbing Pond Mountain – one of those classic “pointless climbs.” But when I met those two, my plans for the week went up in smoke. It’s PARTY TIME!
Had a beer, put on my pack, and took the blue-blaze out to the road. Walked into Hampton. Had lunch at the Big-B. Hot fudge sundae for dessert. Stopped for beer and cigarettes. Walked back up to the trailhead, then back up the blue-blaze. Lone Wolf and Eric had moved, oh, maybe 100 ft. from where I’d left them. With them were Dead Ahead and Wild Bill and Baseball John. Six-packs all over the place, tents pitched, fire burning. This is where I stay!
Had us a fine party; almost a repeat of the porch party at Nolichucky. One hell of a fart contest, we were all rippin’.
4:40 (5/12) Yup, still here (Watauga Dam Shelter.) Indy is brewing us a huge wok-full of sassafras tea with a root that he and Lone Wolf found & dug up. Three hikers have showed up. Ed and some Englishman, and Ken. All are older folks. Ed’s from New Joysey, says the f-word a lot. Ken’s a real religious dude. Got on Ed’s case for swearing. Now, boys… The Englishman has left, as have Dead Ahead, Wild Bill & Baseball John. Lone Wolf & I are tenting.
Cosmic Charlie and Wizard showed up around 7-ish. They’d been up & over Pond Mtn. Wizard had some weed, so a bunch of us took a little walk into the rhodo jungle and passed around a beer-can pipe.
5/13, 8 PM (Mother’s Day) Walked an easy-sleazy 14 miles today. From Watauga Dam shelter to Iron Mtn. shelter. A moderate uphill in AM, up to Vanderventer shelter – beautiful views there. From there on, just a lot of flat ridge walk, with occasional views.
Cosmic and Wizard went on to Double Springs shelter – another 7 miles. I was hoping to make it there, but realized early on that my pace just wouldn’t take me 21 miles.
So tonight, it’s the Master (Dave) and his three disciples: Indiana Dan, Eric (Freebird) and myself. Dave’s tenting, we three in the shelter. Nice fire going. Lots of real, meaningful conversation about this A.T. and what it is/isn’t doing for us. No beer tonight, out of cigarettes, back to real trail chow.
5/15/90, 12:21 AM (½ PAST MIDNITE.)
Made it to Damascus. Big milestone, but somehow it don’t feel right. Guilt? Maybe. I oughta be sleeping, but my mind is buzzing. This whole blue-blaze issue is coming to a head. For that matter, the whole issue of WHAT THE HELL IS THIS HIKE ALL ABOUT, ANYWAY ?!?!
Today, and the last few days – traveling with Lone Wolf, Eric and Indy – have been three or 4 of the most enjoyable days I’ve spent on this trail. And yet, in that time, we’ve trashed the trail up & down – in the registers, and in our own actions.
It all began with the blue-blaze around Pond Mtn. Simple enough. Then a sort of wasted day to the Dam Shelter. Next day (yesterday,) an easy-sleazy walk to Iron Mtn. Shelter. Today I committed the ultimate crime against the white-blaze: I hitchiked! Yes! We left the trail where it crosses a road, about 4 ½ miles N. of Iron Mtn. shelter.
Started walking down that road toward the town of Shady Valley, N.C. Before we’d gone 2 miles, a pickup truck slowed down next to us, and the driver offered a ride. We accepted. Stopped for 2 hours at McQueen’s – combination grocery, eatery, billiard/arcade hall. Great food, good time. Got back on the road, heading North: 12 miles to Damascus. After walking 20 minutes, the same 2 locals came by again, and ended up taking us all the way into Damascus. We not only got a ride from these guys, but a real nice ganga buzz, too, if you know what I mean…
So what gives here? Why do the best times happen OFF this trail? Why do I feel so guilty, for missing maybe 18 miles out of 450? Why do my so-called friends (Wizard, in particular) make such a big deal of this “heresy?” And what is it that drives us, day after day, to follow this *!#@% white blaze, no matter where the hell it may lead us?
Lone Wolf has planted a seed in my brain. Or, maybe better stated: he has forced me to re-examine my real motives for being on this A.T. And he is so, so right in his observations.
Take this guy Ed, for example – the dude we met 2 days ago at Watauga Dam Shelter. Mid-fifties. A real little guy – even smaller than me. Started at Springer on April 12, so he’s at least 8 days “ahead” of me – I mean, he’s doing some decent mileage. Came into the shelter swearing like a drunken sailor. Didn’t have one good thing to say about the day’s hike or the A.T. in general. Also let on that he hadn’t taken one single day off since leaving Springer. I told him it might be a good idea, that it might help out his attitude a bit. He shook his head and said, “Oh, no, I can’t do that. If you stop, you’ll never get going again.” Well, there was no point arguing with the guy.
But the real moral, or dilemma, or issue here is this: why do we let this here A.T. become an OBSTACLE and/or IMPEDIMENT to our own mental/physical well-being? Why does this guy make himself miserable in pursuit of some impossible dream? I mean, after 15 months of not smoking cigarettes, this trail has caused me to smoke again – heavily. It’s a rare day on this trail when I don’t give some serious thought to quitting this game. The A.T. has turned hiking into a job. We’ve left the White Man’s 9-to-5 routine and jumped into the Through-Hiker’s 6-to-9 routine. Gawd, I wish I could say something positive about the A.T. right now, but it’s difficult. The most positive moments were with people who were willing to share their thoughts & feelings – Indy, Eric, Dave, even Norm and Cecelia, a night or 2 south of Hot Springs. But SO MANY of these thru-hikers strike me as zombies now, in retrospect. Push, push, push – gotta get to Katahdin in time. Dan & Allen even had their finish date all picked out – I mean, to the day! Tree & Sprout are another pair – I don’t think they’ve done one single layover yet. They don’t even know about the Buckeye Bees having left the trail; they’re still sending regards to Bruce & Becky. Is it really necessary to be so obnoxiously single-minded in order to finish this trail? And if so, is this a goal I still want to pursue?
I dunno, I just don’t know. It’s 1:20 AM, and I’m a bit tired. The hostel’s quiet, everybody asleep but me.
So anyway… I do feel a bit guilty about my travesties, particularly about today’s hitch. And I do admit that this “impossible dream” will by necessity involve much pain & discomfort. I also admit that I’ve had more than my share of beers, town meals, and doobers in these last several days. After all, Lone Wolf (in spite of 4 attempts) never did make it to the Big K.
Here I am. I’ve got 3 ½ days left before Nan and my folks arrive here in Damascus. I’m gonna try to get out of town tomorrow by noon or so, and hit the trail – do about 40 miles or so over that time period. I’m gonna travel alone, probably avoid the shelters. No map. No philosophers guide. No Wizard. No Lone Wolf. Try to enjoy the scenery. Sort things out, maybe. And yes, I’m gonna take a blue-blaze out of here – The virginia Creeper Trail. No hitchiking, except to get back to Damascus at the end of the hike. Gonna leave this journal at the hostel. See you on the 18th!!
5/18/90, 9:45 AM DAMASCUS, VA
Quick recap here; it’s been a while since I wrote in a journal. Got into this town originally early afternoon on Monday (5/14.) Did a fair amount of beer drinking. Major argument with Wizard over the blue-blaze/white-blaze thing. Left town Tuesday around 10 AM, after breakfast at Dot’s. Walked up the Creeper Trail with Lone Wolf, Indy and Eric. Left them at a swimming hole about 4 miles N of town. I kept walking, on up to Creek Junction, where the Creeper meets the A.T. Shortly thereafter, met Hoodwink taking a break, and then Wahoola caught up to us. Walked another 4-5 miles (?) to where the A.T. crosses Rte. 601. Camped there with Wahoola and Hoodwink. Had a little rain, just after eating dinner – no big deal.
Next morning, continued on A.T.’ up over White Top Mtn., and then on to Deep Gap Shelter and Mt. Rogers. Met Wahoola & Hoodwink @ the shelter; had a nice long break. After ascent of Mt. Rogers (easy walk,) I took the Pony Trail to Scales, then followed the A.T. to Old Orchard shelter. Taking the Pony Trail lops at least 5 – 6 miles off the A.T. – circumvents Grayson Highlands. Wahoola and Hoodwink did the white blaze, so I didn’t see them again that afternoon.
Big crowd at Old Orchard shelter when I got there. Noreen & the Psych-Hikers (Rick & Shirley,) heading South back to Damascus. (They didn’t stay…) Doug & Sue (Rosehips, Farceur.) Tripper. Wild Bill & Calamity Jane. Just-Plain Bill. Plus another couple whose names I never got. All heading North, planning to skip Trail Days. I was told that I had just missed Tree & Sprout. Nice crowd, stayed up late doing TV/Movie/Rock & Roll Trivia.
Beautiful clear night when we went to bed, but at 5 AM we were greeted with heavy wind and rain. (Thursday AM, 5/17.) Hoodwink and Wahoola showed up at 7:15 AM – they seemed a bit peeved at not having room enough even to make breakfast.
Had pop-tarts for breakfast; skipped the hot chocolate and cream of rice. Put on my rain gear and walked down to Rte. 603. Very tough hitch back to Damascus – it took almost four hours, and three separate rides. On the way, got dropped off at a place called Weavers – had a great cheeseburger, fries, and at least 4 cups of complementary coffee.
Rolled back into Damascus around 1 PM. Rain had cleared & it had turned into a beautiful, warm day. Major tent city at the hostel, and just grew bigger all day. Can’t even begin to name all the new & old faces I met, from ahead & behind. Bruce and Becky are here!! Still on the trail – they hitched from Erwin. Lots of people recognized me from my register entries, and told me they’d enjoyed them. Very gratifying.
Thurs. Night… one unpleasant encounter between hikers (as a group) and an irate official of the Methodist Church – the folks that run the hostel. But the bad karma dissipated rather quickly. The rest of the evening spent in pleasant, meaningful conversations with all sorts of folks. Particularly one dude named Lamont, who was arguing on the side of deep ecology – and I mean Deep!
As the night wore on into the wee hours, a number of locals “crashed” the party. Strangely enough, they were even louder & more drunk than the hikers themselves. The situation made me feel a bit edgy. I decided to call it a night at around 1:30 AM. Oh yeah – forgot to mention the bluegrass music, on the front porch of a home just a block or two from here. Quite a homey scene. Bird in a cage chirping to the tunes. Little kids wrestling and playing tag on the lawn. What a life!
3:15, FRIDAY (5/18) A gorgeous day. This scene reminds me of the the Grateful Dead pre-concert circus (or alternatively, the Saturday-evening Hobie-Regatta scene.) The beer-drinking was called off by the locals, but didn’t seem to bother the hikers much. (Beer-drinking is still OK in Gladys’ yard next door, however.) Folks sitting around in small groups, talking and laughing. Frisbees flying. Folks writing in their journals. A van parked in the driveway playing Dead tunes. Pickup trucks full of hikers coming and going.
Had breakfast at the Corner Cafe with Thumper and Lamont. Around noon, managed to get a hot shower & wash my shorts. Found a wire brush; used some soapy water to wash the last 5 layers of crud off my boots. Went to the bank, got a $300 cash advance from my Mastercard. Stopped in at the P.O. There was an express package from Bob waiting for me (a GD bootleg cassette and a baggie of …)
5/21, 8 PM – Back in Damascus again. The Folks drove me to the trail crossing on Rte. 421 near Shady Valley [south of here,] and I walked the 14 miles in exactly 6 hours – my best time ever on the white blaze.
The last few days have been wonderful. I’ve had the company of my parents, a friend of theirs, and Nan. Nan showed up Friday (5/18) – just after the last diary entry, while I was greasing up my boots. We hung out for a while, then I picked up my stuff & we drove to our bed & breakfast place in Abingdon. Very nice, tho a bit pricey. We got settled, cleaned up a bit, then drove back to Damascus for spaghetti dinner at the elementary school. After dinner, I found Wiz, Cosmic and Indy. The five of us shared a few bowls out by the creek. Then Nan & I headed back to Abingdon for the night. It was heaven.
Saturday AM Nan & I headed to Bristol for some chores; get films processed, do laundry, purchase some odds & ends. This took till about noon. Stopped back at the B & B in Abingdon; the Folks had checked in, had seen our note, and headed out to Damascus.
Nan & I zoomed out to the hostel, and we found the folks right away.
Went to Dairy-King, where we all ordered the “Trailblazer Split.” As we gorged, the [Hiker’s] parade began, and I jumped in as the through-hikers came by. The parade went down Main St., then turned left toward the Gazebo, where it ended. Whew! Tough walk. The “Class of 89” – last year’s thru-hikers – had its own section of the parade.
From there, we mosied past the hostel, to the Yates family home (where I’d been a couple of nights before,) sat on the lawn, drank beers & listened to more bluegrass.
Back in Abingdon. Got cleaned up. Had dinner at the Tavern. I enjoyed my prime rib, but almost everyone else complained about theirs. Oh well. Thru-hikers are easier to please.
Sunday: late start. Took a long drive up Rte. 58, tried to get to Grayson Highlands by never found the access road. We found the White Top Mtn. Ramp Festival instead. Hung out for a while, listened to bluegrass, watched the square dancing. Couldn’t stay for the Ramp Eating contest because of a “schedule conflict” with the Hiker Talent Show in Damascus.
The talent show was super. The “Mental Ward” (Doober, Pathfinder, Nylon Machine, plus Tom & Sue of the Green Mtn. Trio) did a send-up of J. Geils’ “Love Stinks,” with the words changed to “W—Stinks.” Hobbit played guitar and sang some tunes that he wrote. Cruise-Control played flute. There was a riotous “magic act” with Mitch The Magician. Lone Wolf’s wife, Annie, sang Whitney Houston’s tune “Just One Moment.” It made my eyes red and sent goose bumps up & down my arms – it seemed like she sang the tune just for me. Brought the crowd to its feet.
No good eats in town (Sunday evening,) so we ended up at Shoneys in Abingdon. Ironically, everybody raved this time about the food and the portions (free salad/soup/vegetable bar. Yumm!) Spent the evening back @ the B & B, organizing my pack, figuring out what to carry, what to send ahead, and what to send back Rochester-way.
|MO||5/21||Rte 421 to Damascus (N-bound)||14 mi.|
|SU||5/20||Talent show, Ramp Festival||0|
|SAT||5/19||Franz & Noemi arrive. Hiker Parade||0|
|FRI||5/18||Nan arrives. Hang out at The Place||0|
|TH||5/17||Leave Old Orchard shelter, walk to Rte. 603, hitch back to Damascus (7-8 mi. of road walking, tough hitch.)||2 mi.|
|WE||5/16||Rte 601, White Top Mtn., Mt. Rogers, Pony Trail, Arrive @ Old Orchard shelter.||16 mi (?)|
|TU||5/15||Leave The Place. Creeper Trail. Then A.T. to Rte. 601.||18 mi (?)|
|MO||5/14||Leave Iron Mtn. shelter. A.T. to Rte. 91. Hitch into Shady Valley, then into Damascus (~4 mi. road walk.)||4.5 mi.|
|SU||5/13||Watauga Dam shelter to Iron Mtn. Shelter; lunch @ Vandeventer shelter||14 mi.|
|SAT||5/12||Leave campsite near Laurel Falls, roadwalk to Citgo, the A.T. to Watauga Dam shelter (~4 mi. road walk.)||1.5 mi.|
|FRI||5/11||Leave Moreland Gap shelter. A.T. to Laurel Falls. Skip Pond Mtn. Roadwalk to/from Hampton. Campsite near Laurel Falls (~4 mi. road walk.)||~ 9 mi.|
|THUR||5/10||Rte. 19E Moreland Gap shelter. (The BadLands.)||14 mi.|
|WE||5/9||Lv. Apple House Shelter. Walk to Rte 19E. Stay @ Roan Mtn. Motel (Jersey John.)||1 mi.|
|TU||5/8||Finish ascent of Roan. Up & over the balds. Meet W–. Stay at Apple House shelter.||15 mi.|
|MO||5/7||Leave Cherry Gap Shelter. Lunch @ Clyde Smith shelter. Camp ½ way up Roan Mtn.||14 mi.|
|SUN||5/6||Leave Nolichucky, walk to Cherry Gap shelter – last 2 hours in pouring rain.||16 mi.|
5/22 (TU) Up last night @ The Place ‘till 1 AM. Wrote long letter to folks @ Analogic Custom Systems Group, plus a quick one to Bob. Had a pizza & large coke at the “new” pizza joint. Got a Heinekens from Sandy (a.k.a. Duncan Sr., of “Bruce & Sandy”.) Later in eve, had a 7-Up & a pint of O.J. Shared my smoked salmon with a group playing spades inside. A lady named Sylvia was offering rides up North in the A.M., I accepted. Shortly thereafter, a local named Ken (manager of “Cowboys” store/eatery) made a similar offer.
Got up & skipped Breakfast. Sylvia drove me to the town hall, at 8:30 or so, just as it opened. Package from Campmor had arrived. Couldn’t believe how small & light the new bag was! Drove back to the hostel, packed up the old bag, the 2nd Tennessee map, and the 2nd half of “Zen and the Art of…” into a parcel for shipment to Nan. Back to the P.O. to mail the package & the letters from last night. Back to hostel; picked up Colemans & some grocs on the way.
Sylvia & four hikers left the hostel at about 10 AM. I was the first drop-off; back to the intersection of A.T. & VA603, west of Troutdale. It had started to rain as we drove out of Damascus. At the time when I got dropped off, it was pouring. I felt like an idiot leaving the inside of that car.
Hit the trail at around 11 AM, in heavy rain. Rather mellow walking, nothing at all strenuous. The woods seemed alive and well – spring is cooking away. Saw some rhodo in bloom. Lots of streams, even a small waterfall. Met a couple of S-bound day-hikers, but no thru-hikers at all. No views at all, due to fog & rain. Only 3 breaks all day, all of them pretty short. No refuge from the rain – might as well push on.
Got to Racoon Branch shelter at about 4:10. “Strolling Rock” and “Bubba” were the only occupants. Bubba was already in his sleeping bag. The inside of the shelter smelled like farts. I began settling in. Filled up my water bag. When I returned, the shelter smelled even worse.
Decide to move on & reach Trimpi shelter. Even with the wasted half-hour, I made it to Trimpi by about 5:30 PM – a 13 mile-day in 6.5 hours. This is great – I can actually average 2 MPH for a full day at a time. We’re in Virginia now, Dorothy.
Didn’t recognize the faces at Trimpi, either. (By the way, this one & last one both new, beautifully built, very attractive structures, & both on side trails well off the A.T.) Only three folks there. Super – a nice shelter, room to spare, and no farts! There’s a couple, Penny & Dave, thru-hiking. Decent, quiet folks (except they use an XGK stove.) An older fellow from Georgia, doing section hikes (Pierce.)
As I was getting dinner ready, Wild Bill showed up – the first familiar face I’d seen all day (since leaving Sylvia’s car.) He’d been at Old Orchard shelter last night. This morning, he sat there till 11 AM hoping the rain would let up. He left Damascus Sunday afternoon just before the talent show; he’d hoped to have his own act, with the Yates boys as backup, but they backed out & he got bummed. He’d written a song about Ward. We shared a few bowls in the woods near the shelter.
As I said, today’s walk was mellow. In fact, one could say that almost all of Virginia (so far) has been quite mellow, at least compared to the first 3 states we walked through. I suspect today’s vertical gain was less than 500 feet all told!!! There were some challenging blowdowns, several created by Sunday night’s thunderstorm. But in general, the trail was quite wide, well-groomed, nicely graded and extremely well marked.
5/24 8:44 PM – Ike & Lady Slipper, Hobbit & Judy, Wild Bill & me camped at a picnic area a couple of miles south of Knot Mole shelter. Two more 17-mile days, back-to-back! Last night we were at Glade Mtn. Shelter – nice spot. There we had Bill, myself, penny & dave, and Dave & Tom of “The Magnificent Seven.”
Today’s hike: Left the shelter at 8:40. By 10:10 I had covered the 4.5 miles to the Village Restaurant in Groseclose. Bill, Dave, Tom, Penny, Dave & I all had breakfast there. Lots of cow pastures & stiles. Picked up a few items at the grocery store next door. Crossed under I-81, then back into the pastures. Bill & I stopped under an ancient maple tree, did a bowl & enjoyed the views. Shortly thereafter, got to Davis Path shelter. Checked out the register, left some entries and moved on. An hour or so later, in a beautiful little spot in the woods, we came upon Hobbit, Judy, Dave & Tom having lunch. We stopped and joined them. As they were leaving, Penny & Dave appeared; they were planning to camp there for the night. Another couple of bowls. Then Bill & I took off.
Scrambled up Big Walker Mountain – no sweat. After the descent, walked for a while in waist-high grass. Beautiful views, tho. From there, a mile or so of roadwalking, then the trail went over a stream, into the woods and back into pastureland. Another mile or so, and then “home” to O’Lystery Community Picnic area, our home for tonight.
Gorgeous scenery and weather all day today. Attitude, both yesterday and today, has been much improved. The terrain has been mellow and nicely graded (a few rocks to keep things interesting.) Weather quite agreeable, tho the nights a bit nippy. Weed to smoke. Lots of good snacks to munch on. Bill & I seem to travel well together. Today’s breakfast was a real treat. And a staggering 3 MPH pace from shelter to town this AM! Virginia really does look like “God’s country.” Could be the weather, or the particular time of year. I dunno, but I like it so far!
Yesterday’s hike also pleasant enough, but a bit more work, and the scenery not quite so nice. Another 17-miler. I think the most memorable part was our lunch break at Mount Rogers National Recreation Area headquarters. A soda machine! The lady at the desk wouldn’t let me use the phone, however.
Called Campmor today from the restaurant. No problem. A new filter will be waiting for me at the P.O. in Pearisburg. Bill made a call to the postmaster in Bastian & got that situation under control (I hope.) Levi Long will pick up & hold our packages for us. (Problem was that we’d be arriving late Sat. or early Sunday – and Monday is Memorial Day…)
5/25, 8:10 PM – Camped with Bill, right alongside the trail, about ½ mile N (& uphill) of Walker Gap (about 1 ½ mi. N. of Chestnut Knob Shelter.) It was a fairly tough 12 miles we hiked today – the 2000 ft. ascent of Chestnut Knob really took it out of us. We’d have to do a 20-miler tomorrow to make it into Bastian by day-end. But the profile looks fairly flat.
Left the picnic grounds kinda late, around 9:15. It had rained during the dawn hours. Handy to have the pavilion and picnic benches as we ate breakfast and packed up. Bill & I left shortly after Ike & Susan. Haven’t seen Ralph (Hobbit) & Judy since we left the pavilion. We passed Ike & Susan within minutes, then met them again when we took our first break, at Knot Mole shelter. That first ascent (~500 ft.) seemed to go very quickly.
Leaving that shelter, we ran into a steep ascent/descent that appears nowhere on the profile map. After the descent we took another break, by a beautiful campsite next to a stream. It was 12 PM (noon) and we’d only done 4 ½ miles!
From there the serious climb began, up to the shelter at the summit of Chestnut Knob. A good 2000 ft. climb, spread out over five miles of walking. Beautiful views (but no photos) on the ridge, where the trail leaves the woods. The shelter itself was kind of ratty, and easy to pass up. Over the next 1.5 miles, lost 800 ft. altitude, descending into Walker Gap. Filled up water bags at the spring, then whacked thru woods looking for a decent campsite. There was none. The ground was sloped and covered with dead branches. There was a house within view, and dirt roads nearby with fresh tire tracks. Paranoia strikes deep.
At my insistence, we contined N. on the white blaze for a while, until we came across this spot. Not great, but fairly flat and hospitable. It’ll have to do.
Views today so-so; gray weather set in shortly after we reached the summit shelter, and obscured the views. Weather was cool and overcast, with occasional bursts of sun. All in all, tho, not bad hiking weather.
5/27 (SUN) 11 AM – Sitting at the Corner Diner in Bastian VA. Levi Long, “friend to hikers” runs the place, as well as the hostel across the street. The old gang is all here: Pam & Lynn, Eric & Indy. Dandelion (much too fast for the rest of us.) Plus Wild Bill & me. Rolled in here last night at around 8 PM, after 21+ miles on the White Blaze, from Walker Gap. A couple of youngsters in a Pinto gave me a lift into town.
Yesterday’s walk was memorable mostly for its length. We hit the trail at 8 AM sharp – Bill’s earliest start ever. A few climbs, 500-800 ft. each, followed by long mellow downhill walks. The midway point was Jenkins Shelter, where I stopped for a long, liesurely lunch of Ramen soup, tea, plus PB & J on crackers. Bill was walking quite a bit faster than I, and was determined to get into town that night. So we agreed to meet in town the following morning (this AM.) As it turns out, I got to town within a couple of hours of his arrival.
Shortly after lunch, walked thru an area of several dozen stream crossings. The stream was beautiful, but the gnats were driving me crazy. In a way, I have to thank them – they helped me walk fast! The 800 ft. ascent of Brushy Mtn. went really fast. Nicely graded trail, and very fine views. I had planned to camp somewhere in that final stretch, but I misread the map and walked too far. Feet were feeling fine, tho, so I just kept going. Sky got black & the wind came up. Got rained on a bit, but the air was still warm, and it felt just fine.
On arriving here at the Diner, met Eric and Indy sitting at the counter, talking to Levi & looking thru Levi’s scrapbook. Had me a couple of Dr. Peppers and a pint of chocolate ice cream for dinner.
The hostel is somewhat of a pit. No shower, no hot water. A few ratty mattresses. Bugs and mice. Not a very attractive place, but at least it kept us dry in the rain.
Since I’ve started writing this entry, two more waves of hikers have arrived. Hobbit & Judy. Dave & Penny. Wingfoot. Ike & Susan. Scott, Lynn, Chuck. Nancy & Ted (Huff & Puff.)
5/27 8:15 PM – Helvey’s Mill Shelter. After writing last entry, the hikers kept rolling in. Cruise Control. Dead Ahead (tony) with his girlfriend Nancy (drove up from Atkins.) Rosehips and Farceur (drove down from N. of Pearisburg.) The front-porch music began around 1 PM, and it was good. Someone cut up a watermelon and there was a piece for everyone. Meanwhile, I had a large ice cream, followed by a few more Dr. Peppers, followd by a “Trailburger” shortly before we left town.
Doug & Sue were there with Sue’s sister, Sara. Bill & I mooched a ride to the trailhead (and a bit beyond). Boy, that pack felt heavy! Pearisburg is only 2 ½ days from here, but I’ve got enough for at least 5-6 days.
The 2-mile walk up to the shelter went quick enough, though. There’s a section-hiker named Mike; he & I are the only ones in the shelter. Indy, Wild Bill, Chuck, and Ike & Susan are all in tents tonight.
5/30 – “Holy Family Hospice,” Pearisburg VA (11 PM.) Three wet days since last entry. VERY wet. The rain began that night in Helvey’s Mill shelter. Had a good breakfast, and on trail by 8:15. Rained steadily during the 10-mile walk to next shelter (Jenny Knob.) I was first to arrive, but within minutes others poured in: Dave & Penny, Wild Bill, Scarecrow, Ike & Susan, Hobbit & Judy & Ted & Nancy (Huff & Puff.) We sat in the [shelter] for a few hours and waited out the rain. Hobbit ran up the trail to a grocery store at the next road crossing – made the round trip in 58 minutes!
Bill & I decided to move on & make a few more miles. We got to the road crossing, followed the road (which is in fact the A.T.) But at Kimberly Creek, where the A.T. leaves the road and heads up the mountain, we just stayed on the road. Still raining. Took VA 607 to VA 606, to Trent’s Store. Sat there for a while to warm up & dry off. At about 7:30 PM we hit the road again – Forest Service Rte. 201, up to White Pine campsite.
The rain held off, more or less, until we had cooked and eaten dinner. And the skies opened up, and it came down in buckets. Dove into my tent, and just prayed for a dry night. It was a bit frightening.
The next day (actually, yesterday) was more of the same, weather-wise. We decided to continue up USFS Rte. 201, since it paralleled the A.T. It was a long, long, uphill walk, to Little Horse Gap, over Flat Top Mtn., then down a short way to Big Horse Gap, where we picked up the A.T. again. Then 2 miles on the A.T. to Sugar Run (VA 663) and ½ mile down that to Woods Hole.
An interesting night there with Tillie Wood and Juanita as hosts. An interesting log cabin and bunkhouse. The weather was still miserable, and we were all invited into the warm cabin, to sit by the fireplace. Tillie made hot chocolate and popcorn for all of us mangy hikers.
This morning (5/30, WED.) it looked like the weather might be improving, but the wind still howled, and the air was still cold. Bill & I hit the road at 9:15; up Sugar Run & back to the White Blaze. A brief stop at Doc’s Knob Shelter to check the register. Next stop, about 7 miles later, was a beautiful scenic view, just S. of Angels Rest. The descent into town was quick & easy, in spite of all the rocks. I heard dogs barking below, and picke up a stick just in case. Took Stump St. into town, and had a chance to use the stick to fend off a pack of very loud, insistent, [nasty-looking] dogs. (I’m gonna kill one of ‘em, one of these days…) Stopped @ P.O., picked up new water filter from Campmor. Followed the silly map (in the Philosopher’s Guide) to the hostel – an easy 3-mile walk, clear across town, up a hill thru a residential area. I found the Catholic Church, but not the hostel. Knocked on every door of the church; nobody home. I felt like a damned fool. I’d walked clear thru town, passed up my “town chores,” just to get to the damned hostel for a shower. And now, nobody home! Eventually, the church caretaker showed up, and set me straight: the hostel wa a small building about 100 ft away, and not in the church itself. Glory be! That hot shower was fabulous!
5/31 – At a campsite about ¾ of the way up the mountain, just N of Pearisburg (8:50 PM.) A couple of middle-aged gentlemen showed up @ the hostel. Drove down from New England to do some section-hiking. We chatted for a while, just as we were getting ready to leave. (One of them is named Franklin, aka “Toot,” and works @ EMS in N. Conway.) They offered us a ride into town, and we accepted. Gave us some Colemans’ fuel, too. They dropped us off at the P.O., where Bill mailed a package home. From there to the supermarket. Then to Hardees for eats. From there, a hot sweaty walk along a busy highway heading West. The highway took us over the New River. Trailhead near a big factory, which we can hear even now (Hoechst/Celanese.) Flat path thru woods for a couple of miles, then about 1 ½ hours of fairly serious climbing. Got to this site around 6:30 or so. Beautiful spot! Spring is only 40 yds. away. Nice blaze going. Had a big pot of “spaghetti” between us (onion, pepper, tomato paste, seasoning mix, macaroni shells.)
Morning & early PM @ shelter spent re-organizing, writing in registers, drying and greasing up boots. Chuck (“Banjo”) and Scarecrow left before noon. Huff & Puff were gone before I even got up. Cosmic slept ‘till noon. Cos, Wiz, Bill & I passed around a few bowls. Knock on wood – weather today turned out really fine.
Hostel’s gonna be crowded tonight! A white subaru wagon, with Tillie, Juanita & Wingfoot insided (plus about 8 packs) rolled in around 1 PM. The crowd we’ve been seeing a lot of lately: Penny & Dave, Ike & Susan, Hobbit & Judy, plus Lynn & Scott. (Lynn: “the Titless Wonder.”)
After the last few nights, this setting seems fabulous – warm, dry night, blaze going, tent set up with fly rolled up. At moments like this, the hike seems worthwhile (dare I say, even fun?)
Talked to Bob last night on phone @ hostel. Talked to Nan, Dan C–, and Gordo this morning.
Last night: things settled down after last entry. Bill showed up, and he & I walked to Pizza Hut for a major pigout. This turned out to really screw up his digestion, altho my system escaped major damage.
While @ Pizza hut, Cos & Wiz showed up, along with Cool Breeze & his girlfriend. They had walked all the way from Bastian to Woods Hole, and then caught a ride into town. YES – the Mighty Wiz has embraced both the yellow & the blue blaze! What a change from Damascus!
6/1 12:20 (Noonish) Remarkably beautiful day so far, for weather & wildlife. Today’s animals so far: a herd of cattle, a turtle, a large wild turkey flushed right off the trail (scared the shit out of me,) a big old snail, and an orange-colored frog (toad?)
This mountain I’m on is called Peters Mountain. Our camp, it turns out, was only 5-10 minutes’ walk below the ridge. Left camp at 8:25. First break begainn 10:40, ended around 11:20 (this is 2nd break.) View up ahead, along this ridge, shows ridge risiing in several bumps, for next 3-4 miles. Doesn’t quite fit the profile map – so what’s new?
6/2, Midnight (almost 6/3) – Roanoke, VA. The gig is up. The show is over. The fat lady has sung. This hike is done.
The diary so far hasn’t really dealt with the hardship & emotional stress of this thru-hike. I’m not sure why that is, but the hardship has been quite real and persistent. It began many weeks ago – even before I got to Wesser.
It pains me, to the point of tears, to think about “giving up” this hike. So many years of dreaming, so many months of planning. But dreams and plans can’t change the reality. Money or plans can’t buy success on this A.T. Like Wingfoot said, it takes “grit.” I met the trail, and tackled it head-on. It was a close match, but the trail won.
Yesterday’s hike took us from our lovely campsite to Bailey Gap Shelter. Weather and views and wildlife were all fine. But something else was wrong. Wild Bill “found his legs,” it seems, and just zoomed on out ahead of me. He waited up at the first break, and we spent 10 minutes together before he took off. That was the last I saw of him, before reaching the shelter at 7 PM. At Pine Swamp Branch shelter, he’d left a note for me: “Waited from 3 to 4. You no show. I go. See you at Baileys?” I was tired and beat; it was a beautiful shelter (and empty) but I pushed on. When I got the shelter (Baileys,) it was clear that something had changed – for the worse – in this hiking-partner relationship. I was resenting him for being too fast. He was resenting me for being too slow. Turns out yesterday’s walk was close to 19 miles, and I was beat. I was determined to make today (Sat, 6/2) a slow, easy day, with a late start.
This AM (6/2) I left the shelter at 9:40, a good 20 minutes behind Bill. Not much climbing at first, but some tough footwork over big rocks. Still & all, I made the 8 miles to War Spur shelter in a tad over 4 hours – arrived at 2 PM, sharp.
As I approached War Spur shelter, there was Bill, hoisting his pack onto his back. With a somewhat annoyed look, he said to me, “Well, I’ve been waiting an hour. I’m taking off. See you at the next shelter.” I said, “Maybe.”
Took a 45 minute break, then hit the trail again. An easy half-mile down, then began the long climb up toward (what used to be) Big Pond shelter. I was passed by Lynn, Scott & Tibet on the way up.
500 ft. shy of the top, the A.T. crosses VA 601. I stopped for water and a short break. Morale was at an all-time low. Within seconds after I started uphill, I heard a car on the road. I rand back down to the road, stuck out my thumb. The car stopped. The rest is history.
Well, you know, I feel real bad about leaving the trail this way. Never said “good bye” to anyone. Wild Bill might even be worried about me. On the other hand, he knows a bit about what’s been running through my brain, and I’ve left two or three rather heavy, ominous entries in recent shelter registers. Also feel bad about splitting with half of Bill’s mail drop – never got to pay him back (plan was for us to split my next drop in Troutville.) Then, on the other hand, he’s been smoking my weed since the day we re-met at Trimpi shelter…
6/3 (SUNDAY) 8:30 AM. They don’t serve breakfast on Sundays at this motel, so it’s complementary coffee & danish instead. Woke up at 7:10, right on “schedule,” Showered & shaved. Watched MTV while I dressed, then came down here.
No more tears this morning, but my eyes are maybe still a bit red from yesterday. Yeah, it’s sad, but it’s also a new beginning.
In a way, it’s positive. I’ve made a statement: the White Blaze does not own me. I’m a free man again.
Two months ago, today, I arrived at Amicalola State Park in Georgia to begin this hike. Full of hope, doubts kept deep in my pockets. On that first evening I met Tree & Sprout, Bruce and Becky, and Rex. Where are they now? B & B are maybe in Erwin, maybe even Roan Mountain. They’ll never make it to Katahdin on time, but they have each other, and they’re having fun. Tree and Sprout are a week ahead. Not fast walkers, but persistent and consistent as hell. They don’t do layovers, they don’t need friends. They’ve been walking the trail quite oblivious to the people around them. And yes, they have each other.
During those first two weeks, nothing in the world could have dragged me off the trail. It wa fun. It was a new experience, and each day was an adventure. I felt like I was in great shape, and almost nobody passed me. We had rain, extreme heat, and extreme cold. Not a problem.
One of the first cracks in the ice occurred on the day we left Neels Gap. I took a wrong turn while walking with Slabber, and in doing so lost Tree & Sprout. It was very strange not camping with them that night. That’s when I began to realize that this was still like “the real world.” Tree & Sprout weren’t about to wait up. It’s still every man for himself, and screw the rest.
I caught up with Tree & Sprout the very next night, but there was little joy in the reunion. Over the next couple of weeks, this scenario repeated itself several times. Two or three times I suggested a layover night. Vivian would say, “Go ahead, Terrapin, do it,” but it was clear that they were not going to join me. I saw them for the last time on the day we arrived in Hot Springs, where I took my first full layover day of the trip. They pushed on the next morning. Good bye. Turns out I missed them by only a couple of hours on the day I got to Damascus, and missed them again – by hours – when I reached Old Orchard shelter. Good bye. It’s been real.
Near Wesser, more cracks in the ice. I had to leave the Buckeye Bees behind, because John was sick with a cold. They never caught up. Had breakfast there with Slabber. Didn’t see him again ‘till Fontana, and then, no more.
I can’t really fault the “speedsters” for leaving me behind. I did the same to others who were slower than me. Bruce & Becky. The Buckeye Bees. The Double Nickels. Ramblin’ Dan and Philly Lee. Hobbit & Judy. And on and on.
No, I guess that’s just the Way of the White Blaze. If you want to make it to the Big K on time, you gotta keep moving. Those who were slower than me were generally married, retired couples who’d decided that simply doing the trail, at whatever rate, was more important than reaching the end. And they had each other.
Among the young, healthy ones that formed groups early on, there was continual strife. The “Pizza and Beer Crew” was constantly breaking up and re-forming; Tom and Dave had to hitchike in order to catch their group. Boo-Boo Bear and Zener had a loud argument one night about schedules. Pam and Geek split up pretty early on. Wild Bill left Tony behind in Damascus. Now he’s on his own again.
There’s another personality type on this trail. These guys might just make it, but who knows? I’m thinking now of the strong, silent, self-contained folks: Gnome, One-Braid, Hunter, maybe even Slabber & Boner & Wild Rover (tho these last 3 seem to have formed their own group lately.) These guys are doing the hike at their own pace. They don’t do layovers, and they don’t seem to need daily companionship. I dunno. For me, that mode won’t work any more. I need people to talk to, to share my ups and downs. I was that way as a child: oblivious to peer pressure, quite content to be myself. As an adult, the situation has reversed. I still don’t follow the crowd, but I crave and require companionship, from at least one or two people I respect.
10:50 AM (SUN) Here at Gate 5, Roanoke Airport. Flight 1768 to Baltimore, then Flight 1536 to Rochester. Warm, muggy day, with occasional mild drizzle. I can see the outlines of the mountain ranges from the terminal windows. Airport is new & clean & quiet this morning, but still has a melancholy feel to it. Or is it just me?
Why am I still writing in this thing, even though the hike is over? I dunno. Maybe it’s a kind of self-therapy, like the hike itself was supposed to be.
Well, you know, I still don’t “hate” the White Blaze. I still admire those with the strength to push on. I wish I had it in me to continue. A thought has been growing in my brain since this morning. Maybe, in August, I’ll pick it up again. Start at the Big K and walk south. No schedule, no expectations. Was as far and as long as I feel like it. With luck, maybe get to Hanover, maybe even MA, or CT, or NY. That way, I’ll have covered maybe ½ or 2/3 of the A.T. Finish the rest doing section-hikes for the next dozen summers. What the hell – just a thought, for now. Maybe, in the meantime, I could get this hardware pulled outta my leg, and get the second-stage rehabilitation done. Close up that chapter once and for all.
Well, it’s kinda strange and spooky to think how open-ended my life is right now. On the White Blaze, there is no such freedom. Your path is chosen for you. The only “freedom” is to follow it, or leave it, or perhaps to make your own path from Blue Blazes and Yellow Blazes, pieced together.
So what’s left to do to make my life whole again? Here’s the list:
- Find a wife, have a family. HA HA HA!!
- Find a new job, maybe a new career. Teach? Consult? Tech Writing? My own business? HA HA HA HA HA !!!!!
- Learn how to be a happy, content, stable person. HEEE HAW HAR HAR #@*!!!!
- Stop smoking (again.)
- Give up weed.
- Learn card games.
Katahdin to Monson, 9/12 to 9/19/1990
[Entries in ranger’s register @ Baxter park. A.T. completion dates…]
9/5 Loner Boner
9/3 Virginia Varmints
9/2 Warren Doyle
8/31 Damascus Dave
8/31 Maine 2-Footers
8/24 Just Plain Bill
8/20 Santa Claus
8/15 One Braid Paul
8/14 Archer & Polyester
8/6 Inward Bound (Jack L.)
9/12 (WED) 6:54 AM –
Yesterday – first day of hike – was extremely eventful. Bob & I reached the main gate of Baxter State Pk just before 8 AM. It had rained all night, but rain had ceased & it was starting to clear. Drove to Katahdin Stream Campground. At ranger’s house I checked the A.T. register. Several folks I knew had finished up already. Lagunatic is here!! She’d left a note inviting people to come see her at lean-to #12. But when I got there, nobody home.
Got my stuff out of the car. Bob was on his way back home by 8:45 or so. Left my “big” pack at the ranger’s house and began walking the 5.2 miles to [Katahdin] summit. Began walking @ 8:40 AM. I was bookin’! Passed a few couples & trios of day-hikers. By 9:15 or so I ran into Lagunatic’s trio. She was walking with her sister & mother, so they were moving slowly. We walked together and chatted for half hour or so, and then I headed uphill again (on my own.) Very exciting scramble over the rocks & boulders, getting up to the Tableland. Made the summit right around noon – I hadn’t expected to reach it ‘till at least 1:30. About ½ dozen people up there, including two “THROUGH–” hikers, L.A. and Capt. Noah, having a rather subdued celebration. Summit had no views at this time, all socked in. I began heading downhill @ 12:30 or so.
Flew down the mountain. Sky clearing a bit; nice views S & W, but still socked in E & N. Arrived @ ranger’s station ~3 PM. Spent a while reading A.T. register, then emptied day-pack back into big pack. Walked up to Carol’s lean-to. L.A. & Noah were there, quietly talking & drinking beers. But Carol & crew not there yet. We talked for a while & then I decided to move on. Left a mesage for Carol, plus the day-pack, and began 2.4 miles to Daicey Pond. Near end of that short walk, a fella passed me going the other way, moving fast. Didn’t say a word. Red hair, scraggly beard, psycho look in the eyes. (7:55 – to be continued; gotta go.)
9/12 (WED) 5:30 PM — Camped here at a gorgeous spot right on shore of Rainbow lake, eastern end. Left Daicey 8:10, arrived here 5:00 PM. Distance: 14 ½ miles. Weather today: very gray and very humid, about 65 or so. Very light drizzle for about 15 minutes, around 2 PM. It was quite dark in the woods. From Daicey to Abol bridge, trail ran next to a stream & then along Penobscot River. Just before I got to Abol, I met Tree & Sprout! At Abol, bought 2 packs of cigarettes, a can of ginger ale, and 2 ice cream bars. As I sat outside, two hikers showed up: Marco Polo (Mark something-or-other) and Hunger Hiker (Linda T–)
Fatigue began to set in on way to Hurd Brook shelter, which I reached at 2:00. Between 1 PM and this final stopping place, I took a 15-20 minute break about every 75 minutes. While at Hurd Brook shelter, I met Easy Strider (Bruce something) and his hiking partner – but I never got her name.
Except for the water, today’s views & scenery were non-existent. The woods are quite dense, and still lush – no sign yet of autumn. In fact, the flora seem very green, just like they were in June when I left them…
So – six hikers today, not bad. So far, I enjoy the solitude. W—appears to have flown southward on the A.T., so with any luck, I’ll never see him again.
9/13, 10:30, about 2 mi N of Rainbow stream Lean-To. Today’s weather has turned gorgeous – clear, with a nice breeze. Site I’m at is near the dam, I think. There’s a fantastic view of Katahdin looking out over the lake (2 photos.) Summit still in clouds. As I arrived here I met Incline – northbound, of course. He’s out of food, trying to reach Abol bridge by tonight. About 15 minutes ago I saw a young moose, not 20 feet away. He (?) was standing in a swamp to the left of the trail. Only thing between him & me was a thin line of small trees.
Last night I ended up sharing my campsite with a young lady named Alice. Heavy German accent; turns out she’s from Switzerland, currently living in Vancouver, BC. She started from Springer May 18! We shared some tea, and I lit a small campfire. When I awake this morning at 6:25, she was gone.
This morning: up at 6:25, on the trail by 7:40. Decent start, but this is my 3rd break. Haven’t seen much of the lake today – the trail runs at large distances from the shore. But at least I got to see a moose!
9/14 9:52 AM – Sitting along shore of Nahmakanta Lake, south end. Left Wadleigh Stream Lean-to at 8:35 – late start. But good company: Tony (Dead Ahead) plus Wild Bill & Calamity Jane, plus Waver – a southbounder headed for CT. Waver is on his 7th pass thru the Katahdin-Monson “wilderness.”
Yesterday’s hike fairly uneventful. Had lunch @ Rainbow Stream Lean-to. Over next 2-3 hours of hiking, left knee began to ache. I finally gave in & popped a couple of Advil – it helped.
Had dinner @ Crescent pond. As I cooked & dined, 3 N-bound hikers passed by. One was definitely not a thru-hiker, the other two almost definitely were. Turns out one of those 2 was Wingfoot, but I didn’t recognize him. Too bad.
From Crescent pond, began ascent of Nesuntabunt. It was a bit of an effort, but well worth it – spectacular views of Katahdin. On reaching Lean-to, found the aforementioned crew. Forgot to mention – Tony’s traveling with a dog, named “Chomper.” We talked & talked; Tony had a nice fire going, and made his famous fresh coffee for me. There was room in the lean-to but I slept in my tent anyway. Rained overnight, fairly heavy at times. Rain had stopped by the time we got up. As I write this, it’s warm, gray, and very humid. Left knee aching again; I just took 2 more Ibuprofen that I bummed off Tony last night.
9/14 6:34 PM – Antlers Camp on Joe-Mary Lake. Geek & Doc showed up around the same time I did (about 20 minutes ago.) Beautiful site. There’s a big tent here left by L.L. Bean for use by thru-hikers. Another 14+ mile day! (That makes it 2 in a row…) Made it here from Potaywadjo shelter in 1 ½ hours – that’s 3.3 miles, over 2 MPH! Had dinner @ Potaywadjo. While there, Mitch (Breeze) showed up, but stayed only for a short while.
When I arrived @ Potaywadjo, a young guy named Chris was already there. Turns out he started at the K a few days ago and quickly developed a major case of blistered feet. Seemed like a bit of a neophyte, but still a sorry case. He’s planning to jump off tomorrow, on one of those logging roads that crosses the trail. Bob (Waver) showed up there a few minutes after I did, and planned to spend the night there.
9/15, 2 PM Cooper Brook Shelter. Arrived here 11:55 – made great time on the 7.8 miles from Antler’s campsite (left there 8:20 AM.) I had figured on taking a long lunch break here (Ramen soup, coffee, etc.) but this is ridiculous. However: it’s been raining heavily since about 1 PM (my planned departure time) and I’d need to have my head examined if I left this shelter to go walk in the rain. We ain’t talking drizzle here – it’s pouring out.
In fact, if there were another shelter 3-5 miles up the road, I’d go for it. But the next one is 11 miles from here (Logan Brook Lean-to.) Today’s plan was to camp tonight @ Mountain Pond. But that’s no fun in the rain. I may just end up here; I suppose it wouldn’t be the end of the world… On the other hand, it kills the “record” I was shooting for: four successive days of 14+ miles. I made 3 ½ of them… oh well.
The woods have been soaking wet since I began this hike @ Baxter Park. Mushrooms & fungus & moss everywhere. (Some amazing colors on the mushroom; blue-gray, yellow, orange, bright red.) One hiker described it as “almost underwater” (now that I need to, I can’t recall his real words… shit…) Anyway, you get the picture: deep, dark, murky. And Bogs!! All kinds of bogs… about as bad as anything I’ve ever seen on the A.T.
Hey, guess what? It’s 2;15, and I really do think the rain is letting up a bit. Yep, I must be crazy. Yep, I was crazy. This rain looks like it’s here to stay. Damn.
12:30 (1/2 past noon) 9/16 (Sunday.) Arrived here @ Logan Brook shelter about 10 minutes ago. Left my campsite (Mountain Lake) about 8:30. (Yeah – I did make 14 miles!) That walk from Cooper Brook to Mountain Lake was wet and dark. No real rain till I started up Little Boardman Mtn. But lots of wet stuff shaking off the trees. Met Allen & Dan A—(Sun-In-Face/Moon-in-Face) near Crawford Pond – walking about ¼ mile apart. Rain got steadily worse on ascent of Little Boardman; absolutely no view at all – plus, it was getting dark. Arrived @ Mountain Lake with about 20 minutes left before total darkness. Got tent set up & managed to heat up a freeze-dried dinner.
It was a fairly unpleasant night. Rain had stopped, more or less, but it was quite cool & clammy. The wind howled incessantly!! Plus, I was struck with alone-in-the-woods paranoia: this is the heart of bear country! (P.S. – did I mention seeing an otter earlier in the day – 9/15 – a couple of miles N of Cooper Brook?)
So anyway… sleep came slowly. Yesterday’s P.M. walk finally soaked through my boots & socks. Both ankles were worn raw in the same spot. Ouch.
Got up this AM at 7:30, and on-trail by 8:30. Didn’t even fire up the stove; just ate a couple of pop-tarts. Wind had caused the water on this side of the lake to form a disgusting-looking froth. Met a few N-bounders, but they didn’t really look like thru-hikers; true – you can never tell.
Today’s weather has turned gorgeous. Still on the cool side (probably 55-60 in shad) but clear and sunny. First sun I’ve seen in a couple of days, it seems.
12:18 (~noon) 9/17. Sitting here on the W. Branch of the Pleasant River. We have sun!! But it comes & goes – gotta take what you can get. For the first time in 2 ½ days I am not wearing Goretex top & bottom. In fact, almost “normal” – green shorts, tee-shirt, flannel wool shirt (for now) & Thermax bottoms below the shorts.
9/17, 6:20 PM. At Chairback Gap Lean-To, just S of the summit of Chairback Mtn. At this lean-to are Eco-Warrior, Dandelion, John the Baptist, and Scott. Scott & I are the only non-thru-hikers. Today’s weather held out nicely, tho a tad on the cool side. Even climbing up Chairback, I wore my wool flannel over my tee shirt. On Chairback summit, with the wind blowing, it was downright cold.
Guess I never really talked about yesterday’s hike, so here’s a quick recap: After leaving Logan Brook Shelter, it was a fairly quick scramble up to the summit of White Cap Mtn. Phenomenal views from there!! Katahdin could be seen – but not its summit, which has been in clouds all week.
Following WhiteCap summit, it was the typical A.T. roller-coaster –up/down, up/down, etc. I can’t remember the names of the summits right now, but they’re all on the map.
My resting place for the night was a semi-official campsite, between West Mtn. and Gulf Hagas Mtn. Things were quite a bit more “under control” than the night before, that’s for sure. Nice flat spot to pitch tent. Slept reasonably well.
Got up (this AM) at around 7:40 and on-trail by 8:30. One annoyance was having to re-dress both foot blisters after just 15 minutes of walking. Also – changing from sweatpants to goretex @ same time, because the sweatpants were getting soaked by all the dew on the bushes.
Arrived @ Newhall shelter this AM ~9:10. Passed its inhabitants on the way there – all thru-hikers, but none that I recognized. After a short break @ Newhall, I walked on down the moutain with only one break. Easy, meandering walk, kinda boring and very boggy. Highlight was reaching the W. Branch of the Pleasant River, and having a cup of tea while basking in the sun!!
9/20, 10:30 AM – Shaw’s Boarding House, Monson ME. Arrived here yesterday evening at about 5:30, after a 16-mile walk from Long Pond Stream lean-to, out to Maine Hwy 15. Boy did I walk fast (for a terrapin.) 16 miles in 9 ½ hours, over some fairly rugged terrain – including one stream fording. Here’s a recap:
TUES AM (9/18) — after a very cold night at Chairback Gap Lean-to, we awoke with ¼” of snow covering the leaves and the roof of the lean-to. Had a decent breakfast and hit the trail at about 8:10, dressed in polypro & goretex, top-to-bottom, plus wool shirt. It was COLD – probably right around 40. Weather was generally stormy – swirling snow and sleet along the ridge. But every now & then we’d get a minute or two of sunshine.
Near the side trail to Cloud Pond lean-to I met another hiker, N-bound. Clearly not a thru-hiker. Stopped & chatted and had a bite to eat. A few minutes after I began walking again, I met Ramblin’ Dan. Turns out the dude that I’d met just before was one of his “clan,” who are joining him on the hike thru the wilderness. It had taken me about 5 hours to walk the 6.8 miles from Chairback Gap to Cloud Pond. Tough going. Got to the fire tower on Barren Mtn. at about 2 PM. It was windy & raw out; I didn’t stick around, headed straight down the trail. About 45 minutes later I ran into Cosmic Charlie. We had a little reunion – he was almost ready to walk back down the moutain with me, but decided against it.
Down below the treeline, the weather was quite a bit mildr, and at Barren Ledges I stripped off the goretex top & bottom. Real nice views from Barren Ledges. In fact, real nice views from that whole ridgeline, when the weather allowed it [reminded me of the stretch near Vanderventer shelter, just below Damascus – lake views, from the skywalk.]
Arrived at Long Pond Stream shelter around 4:30-ish. There was one other hiker already there, a middle-aged dude – trail name Elijah. Shortly thereafter, four more arrived (six in all, that night.) Some of the names I recall – Happy Valley Hiker, Red (Cosmic’s buddy) and Bruce.
That night turned out to be quite a bit warmer than the night before. Big excitement was a visit from Pepe’ LePew at around 2 AM – the skunk ws inside one of the pockets of Elijah’s pack, all you could see was the black & white tail flailing around.
Morning of 9/19 (yesterday, Wednesday) I had a decision to make: go for broke, out to Highway 15, or just go for Leeman Shelter. I decided to go for brok; I really didn’t want to spend another night in the woods. So… hit the trail at 7:35 and just flew. Pack was really light, so it was easy to make time. Had to ford Big Wilson Stream – it was kinda tricky, and a bit deeper (knee-high in places) than the Pleasant River, a couple of days before. Weather was OK, views just so-so. A lotta ball-breaking ups and downs; the trail almost never ran straight or level. Passed by quite a few small ponds and walked over rock ledges. Had tea & ramen soup for lunch around noon – I’d already walked 8 miles, and it seemed Hwy 15 was “in the bag.” Hit Leeman Shelter at about 3 PM, left a “final” register entry & a Ting-sticker. From there, made Hwy 15 in just under 2 hours. Took about 20 minutes to get a ride into town, then a 2-minute walk up to Shaws.
Arrived to a very full house – 23 inhabitants, by one account. I had just enough time to take a shower before dinner was served. It felt great. My face has a rash again, just like I had this spring down in Georgia and North Carolina. No room inside for me, had to sleep in my tent on the lawn.