June 19th, 2007
I’m leaving Louisville again at 8:30 pm for what promises to be my most challenging section yet. I’ll
start off hiking Southbound from Newfound Gap in the Smokys to Fonatana Dam and then northbound from the Nantahala Outdoor
Center to Fontana. The latter section is notorious for being the toughest section in the south. I am driving again to Fontana
Dam where I will be picked up in the morning by Bill Johnson. Therefore I am again on Highway 28 "The Tail of the Dragon".
This time someone else is on the highway in front of me. It is a Semi truck being towed by a Wrecker. This 9 mile an hour
pace continued for an hour. I pulled into Fontana and again slept in my car.
June 20th, 2007: AT miles hiked 12.5
Bill Johnson picks me up right on time at 8:30am. As we are heading towards Newfound Gap I discover that Bill also runs
a Wolf rescue service. He is an interesting guy who takes his work seriously. About 3 miles from the Gap I see my first Black
Bear in the wild. It went flying across the road in front of us. I was amazed by its speed. As we pull into the Gap parking
lot the park is already crowded. I get swamped by several people with questions about my hike. I try quickly to get on the
trail to not lose anymore time.
The trail in the Smokys is beautiful. It is as if you are hiking in an alpine forest.
I had read many accounts about
the damage that feral hogs are doing in the park. The Park Service has constructed a series of fences to protect sensitive
areas. For hikers to cross these they have constructed ramps to go across.
Off in the distance I get my first clear glimpse of the Clingman’s Dome Tower. It looks like it is miles away but
it is much closer than I thought. The climb up the mountain is beautiful. It is a lush alpine setting and very dense. I reach
the top of the mountain and climb up the wheelchair accessible tower. As I stand on the highest point on the AT I enjoy a
360 degree view. The weather changed quickly and the temperature also dropped. I slipped on my wind jacket and took some pictures.
Again I get swamped by curious yet very nice people with questions about my hike. I enjoy a small snack and take off. I am
headed to Siler’s Bald Shelter. I am running into several hikers today. I meet a very nice German Soldier and his family.
He is training in the US and brought his family with him.
When I arrive at the shelter a Surgeon named Wes is already there. He is also a section hiker. We talk about everything
from hiking to football. Wes graduated from LSU so believe me he knows football. I get my best night of sleep yet because
I have to crawl the entire way into my 40 degree mummy bag and pull the cords shut.
June 21st, 2007: AT miles hiked 14.7
What an awesome day! The first few miles are nice walking but nowhere compared to what lies ahead. The climb up Thunderhead
is long and tall. When you get there you ask yourself "What’s so special about this". Then you walk about 80 yards and
find out. WOW! A field opens up with miles and miles of scenery on either side. Then came Rocky Top. I found myself singing
that annoying twangy song on the summit. But again…what a view! I run into several local hikers who are out because
the day is so clear. I roll into Russell Field Shelter. I am initially disappointed that it still has a cage on front. Later
that night I appreciate that it still does. I meet Hee-Jay (sp?) at the shelter. Her husband Justin is down at the spring
filtering water. I hike down to the spring to meet him and fill my water bag. I come back up and filter my water and Justin
is not far behind. I get what I need out of my water bag and Justin is frustrated because his filter wasn’t working
so well. I offered to pump him some water since he is worn out from his efforts. He and Hee-Jay hiked from Fontana and will
be heading back there in the morning as will I. Justin is from New Jersey and his wife is from Saipan. They met in school
and have been married for about 2 years. They plan to travel to Saipan this year for a wedding ceremony there. They will be
there for 3 months.
We get settled in to our shelter and start to go to sleep. About 8:45 pm Justin whispers "David…we’ve got bears".
I am now glad we are in the people zoo (caged shelter). Three cubs and their mama are going around the camp looking for food.
They look frustrated because our food bags are way out of reach. We try to take pictures but they come out too dark. We slow
the shutter speed and now they are blurred. We enjoyed that show for about 30 minutes till they finally left. This was a great
June 22nd, 2007: AT miles hiked 13.5
I left the shelter before Hee-Jay and Justin. As I walked I wondered how this trip could ever compare to yesterday. About
that time a very large bear stepped out onto the trail about 50 feet in front of me. He looked at me and I slowly started
to reach for my camera. He then took off. I guess I should be glad but I wanted his picture. That’s bear number 6. I
reached Fontana Dam and my car. Inside of it I had clean clothes for hiking and the drive home. I took a nice long shower
and shaved. I put on my traveling clothes and went into the gift shop. I told the lady working there I was headed to the bunkhouse
at the NOC. She said don’t do that. She handed me a card and said take this to Fontana Village. You won’t be sorry.
I woofed down diet cokes and ice cream before I left. I went into Fontana Village and was blown away at the discount I got.
This was surely the trail magic I had waited for. The clerk got a huge grin on his face and told me it was my lucky day. I
said "heck yeah, I’m sleeping between sheets tonight." He said "It gets better…you room will be surrounded by
the NFL’s Carolina Panther Cheerleaders". They were here on a team building trip and were also working with some local
high school teams. I went into my room and took my gear out. I then went to the grill at the resort. The cheerleaders all
piled in there after that. One noticed my AT hat and began to ask questions. The great thing about cheerleaders is that they
travel in groups. OK, I didn’t want to pull myself out of this like I did at Clingman’s Dome and Newfound Gap.
This was either a dream or my best day ever on the AT. For the record the girls are all very nice, and friendly. Not the "I’m
stuck on myself" image that many have of them. Most have other jobs but still enjoy cheering. The Panther organization should
be proud of them.
I took a swim and really relaxed at the village. It was going to be difficult to pull myself away from here in the morning.
Let’s see bears and panthers all in one day. No it can’t get any better than this.
June 23rd, 2007: AT miles hiked 22.1
As predicted it was very tough to drive away today. I headed to the Nantahala Outdoor Center to start the toughest stretch
yet. I had breakfast at the NOC and headed straight for the trail. A 3500 ft climb awaited me up to Cheoah Bald. On the climb
up I passed a plaque in honor of Wade A Sutton a Forest Service ranger who perished near here in 1968. I stopped for a moment
of silence and inspiration.
The mountain was dry and I had traveled to Stecoah Gap waterless for the last two miles. I was lucky to get a couple of
bottles of water from someone who stopped at the gap to take pictures. I started out of the gap up an extremely steep hill.
I bonked. I pulled my pack off and started cramming food in my mouth. I felt better when I made it to Brown Fork Gap Shelter.
I didn’t care much for the place. The water was low there but I did manage to fill up and cook my meal. I decided to
trek on the extra 6.1 to Cable Gap.
I wheeled into camp at about 8:15pm and was greeted by the same "Hoods in the Woods" from my previous section. They were
very nice creating space for me in the shelter. I had done foster care years before and that night I was reminded why I quit
doing that. Tomorrow will be a short hiking day. I’m tired and it’s about to rain.
June 24th, 2007: AT miles hiked 6.9
I woke up early and headed out before the kids were awake. The path to Fontana was uphill but graded well. When I got to
Fontana Crossings I was feeling pretty good. This had been a very eventful week. Fontana Crossings was an oasis. Flush toilets
and a coke machine. OK not quite Fontana Village, but I have had a couple days to get that out of my system. As I got up to
leave two guys from Tupelo, Mississippi (OK I used the song to spell that). They were iron men triathletes who left me in
their dust. I caught up to them again by the dam. The told me that the iron man this year was in my home town, Louisville,
KY, this year but they didn’t want the heat of Louisville in September. I laughed and said "You guys are from Tupelo
where it gets Africa Hot…trust me you will love Louisville in September. It is the best weather of the year there."
Maybe I’ll run into them here at home. It did change their minds a little. Back at the Dam it was another long shower
and ice cream waiting for Bill Johnson to take me back to my car at the NOC. Later I’m back on the road looking forward
to my next section. Two of my cousins and one of their friends is joining me from Newfound Gap to Hot Springs, NC. Adventure