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The Flyingfishman
Newfound Gap to Hot Springs, NC June 27- July 1, 2007
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A Creek Runs through it

ERIC CLAPTON - WALKIN' BLUES

Appalachian Trail table of contents- click here

Pictures from this section-click here

June 26th, 2007

I leave Louisville at 8:30 pm for my last leg of this year’s AT journey. The plan is to drive to the Best Western Hotel in Newport, TN. My two cousins, Richard and Scott, and Scott’s friend Travis are already there. They leave me a key card at the desk. I get there at 12:30am. This is nice for I have slept in my car the last two trips.

June, 27th, 2007: AT miles hiked 15.6

Six full hours of sleep and we are up and at em. Richard takes advantage of the free continental breakfast as Scott, Travis and I venture across the street to the Waffle House. We drive our cars to Hot Springs, NC and I park my car at the trail head. We then pile into Scott’s SUV and head to Newfound Gap. We reach the Gap and it is almost 12:00 noon before we hit the trail. We pull our gear out of the SUV and begin to prepare ourselves to hike. It looks like a scene in a war movie as paratroopers prepare their gear for a jump. We take lots of pictures and field some questions from curious onlookers.

I stop to marvel at the 60 LB (at least it looked that way) pack that my older cousin Richard is carrying. I figure he knows what he is doing because Richard is a seasoned and experienced back packer. He has hiked just about every part of the Smokys. He took my cousins on a trail in October known as a "Manway". It was a trail from the 1930’s that no longer "exists" except for rock cairns that mark the way. It basically went straight up the mountain to Charles Bunion. Richard also has been at this a lot longer than I so who am I to question his abilities. What I did not know is that he had a problem in his footwear. He had tried to break in some new boots that did not work out so he settled on trail shoes instead. Like I, he had never had blisters until he got onto the AT. The cards were stacked against him.

The climb out of Newfound was a long one. We had gotten a late start and kept up a, excuse the pun, blistering pace. We paused for lunch at Charles Bunion. WOW! You really feel like you are high in the mountains here. Richard showed me what looked like a water runoff that went straight down the mountain from the AT. It was the Manway they had traveled in the fall. No thanks.

The AT has a saying that goes "Hike Your Own Hike". I plodded ahead of Travis and Scott so they could have some time alone to talk. Travis now lives in Atlanta and he and Scott have been friends for some time. I arrived at Tri-Corner Knob Shelter which was a large shelter with a Plastic Tarp across the front. At the shelter were a couple of brothers from North Carolina. The older one had graduated from Appalachian St. and his younger brother still attended there. They had started at Springer 3 days after I had started. They were in a bit of dire straights. They were out of fuel for their stove. Fortunately they used the same type as I and I had a brand new one that I couldn’t possibly use up this week. They were very grateful for the use of the fuel that night and the next morning. They planned to get fuel tomorrow at Standing Bear Farm Hiker Hostel.

Scott and Travis came in shortly after I did. Richard was not far behind them. The spring at Tri-Corner was top notch. It was 50 feet from the shelter. We all ate and prepared for bed. It was a long day and tomorrow would be tougher.

I am pretty sure the Earth’s axis shifted a little tonight. The brothers from NC were split in their loyalties. One was a North Carolina fan and the other pulled for Duke. I am a Kentucky fan and my cousins pull for Louisville. We all 4 slept on the same platform. Which answered the question that Rodney King once put to America… "Can’t we all just get along". The answer Rodney is "Yes we can."  Only one bad thing about the shelter. A frog did his best to keep us up all night.

 

June 28th, 2007: AT miles hiked 18.1 (+ 1.2 to Mt Cammerer Tower)

Richard was up at the Butt crack of dawn and hit the trail at 6:30am. The rest of us made it out at 7:30am. This was to be a tough day with the promise of a Hostel stay at the end. Hostels are usually very Spartan in nature. Yet they do carry items you can’t have on the trail. Usually they have Soft drinks, food, laundry, and showers. Standing Bear Hostel had a reputation as an oasis in the wilderness. I was on a mission. Don’t get me wrong. I love the trail and the outdoors but the Hostels are an AT tradition and I came to experience the AT and all that entails.

As we left the shelter I yelled in the direction of the Frog "Hey frog...you awake?" The frog woke up and croaked. I then yelled again "Hey frog...how do you like me now?" Scott and Travis looked at me as if I were nuts.

It was tough hiking till we reached the 10 mile mark and the side trail to Mt. Cammerer tower. That trail was 1.2 round trip to a rustic Forest tower with a spectacular view. I got there a little bit before Scott and Travis. Scott had stashed his backpack at the trail head. Travis saw the first Rattlesnake on a rock climbing up to the tower. The snake crawled into his hole right away. Richard showed up and said he was heading out almost as soon as he showed up. I woofed down my lunch and stretched out on the tower to take a nap.

As we got up to leave I told the guys I was going to "Hot Foot" it to the hostel to make sure we all had a place for the evening in the bunkhouse. I passed Richard on the trail. He was treating some blisters that he had acquired today. It started to rain a bit so I donned my rain gear for about 3 miles down into Davenport Gap. I soon had to remove it when the sun reappeared. The exit out of the Smokys was un-ceremonial at best. There were no large park signs you would expect to see at a park entrance. You are still straddling the NC and TN state lines. The Road at the gap is paved on the TN side and gravel on the NC side.

The first stretch, into the woods, beyond the Gap were a stark contrast to the Lush Smokys. The ground was dry and hard and the trees looked skimpy. Soon after I was treated to a series of cascades on a creek which I crossed several times on my way down to the Pigeon River. As I exited the woods I was a little confused on which way to go. When I discovered where to go I marked the road for my crew with sticks and stones and anything that would help.

I went over the bridge that crossed the Pigeon River and was out of water. I did stop a moment to watch the rafters go down the river. I wheeled into Standing Bear Farm, which is 200 yards from the trail, dry and thirsty. The first thing I said to Curtis, the proprietor of the Hostel, was…"water". I had covered 8 miles in 2.5 hours. I secured a spot for all 4 of us then I got busy doing the "Hostel" thing.

I re-hydrated and downed a couple of soft drinks right away. I started my laundry then took a shower. I also cooked a frozen pizza in the toaster oven and ate the whole thing.

Soon after that it started to rain very hard. Just as it started Travis and Scott came into the farm. They had been sparred the rain. I was worried about Richard. He had been having a tough day and now he was stuck in a downpour. A bit later he came into camp looking worse for the wear. He told us he was calling it quits.

The guys got settled into the hostel, ate and started to relax. I walked over to Curtis with Richard and we arranged a shuttle for him back to Scott’s SUV in the morning. For me this sucked because the best part of this hike was yet to come and I wanted Richard to experience it. I believe that Richard could have carried on even with the 60lb pack. It was those damn shoes that did him in. That combo of weight and shoes can put a hurtin’ on the best of em.

We met Chuck and J.T. from Lynchburg, VA at the hostel that night. The brothers from NC are also here. I found them an almost full fuel canister that someone had left in the "Hiker Box". Hikers leave things there they don’t want to carry anymore for other hikers to use.

I’m lying in a bunk with a full belly and clean clothes. All should be right with the world but I dreaded Richard’s departure in the morning. I felt responsible because I had laid out my hiking agenda months before not knowing they would be joining me. I had three weeks of the trail under my belt and this was 35 miles of tough hiking in their first two days out.

It has been an eventful day.

June 29th, 2007: AT miles hiked 7.2

At 7:00am Richard left for Newfound Gap. He had no regrets and we said our goodbyes. The 3 of us went back to bed because we had a short 7.3 mile day today. We finally left the hostel at 12 noon. Chuck and J.T. left before us and the brothers are still there when we leave. I suspect we will run into them all the way to Hot Springs.

That climb up to Snowbird Mountain was long and painful. For the most part we were silent on the way up. No one would say it but we missed Richard. As we reached the top of Snowbird I saw something I had been missing…The Sun. It was a bald on top. Scott and Travis immediately pulled out their cell phones because it was the first time in a while they were able to get any reception. Also on the top of this mountain is a F.A.A. tower. It looks like a space capsule from the 1970’s set up on its wide end. There is a fence around it with a warning of no trespassing. We laughed and said that we would go inside the fence and dance around so they would arrest us and take us to jail. That way we could sleep in a bed and have 3 squares. Lots of pictures were taken up there that day. We ate our lunch and had a grand time. You could see the Smokys behind us and you could also make out where the tower at Mt. Cammerer was.

Not long after we left the bald we rolled into Groundhog Creek Shelter. Already there were Chuck and J.T. the brothers-in-law from Lynchburg, VA. Chuck was retired. He designed reactors for nuclear subs and J.T. was teaching for the R.O.T.C. at North Alabama. He had retired after 20 years as an Army Ranger. A real bad ass if you ask me. It is incredible the training those guys go through.

I no longer find bear cables at the shelters past the Smokys so I hang our food in a tree. The NC brothers came by for water and planned to tent it just up the trail. A short day and a good meal and Max Patch Bald awaits tomorrow. No bad…not bad at all.

June 30th, 2007: AT miles hiked 13.1

Up early but not as early as Chuck and J.T. were. They were out of the shelter before 7:00am. We made it out a little past 7:00. Today’s highlight is Max Patch Bald. Picture if you will Julie Andrews spinning on a mountain top meadow in the Sound of Music and you have Max Patch. The climb up to the meadow was long but not as steep as yesterday’s climb. Right before the last climb to the top we ran into Chuck and J.T coming towards us. I asked if something was wrong and Chuck said "Were stopping for water". We made it onto the open bald and the weather was perfect. The skies clear and the grasses were dancing in the gentle wind. No picture taken today will match the images we’ll have in our memories. We make it to the summit and crash land on the trail. I laid out my Tyvek sheet and lay on the ground. I had noticed a parking lot another 1/8th mile away and people were parking there to visit the bald. I heard some of those people coming up the trail and Lo and behold they were wearing University of Kentucky shirts. My people! One of the guys was toting a canvas cooler and I joked "If those are cokes you are my new best friend". He smiled and said "No, we have fried chicken in here". I said "Then you are really my new best friend". In the same group were Buster and Bluebird. I had read their SOBO journal last year on trailjournals.com. They had to abandon their hike due to an injury and had picked it back up. This was her family meeting her on the trail for a picnic. I told the guys to hold off eating because they were going to bring us some food. Scott and Travis were already chowing down. Besides this is only their 4th day on the trail and their appetites are still pretty suppressed from the exhertion. Bluebird brought us 3 Chicken breasts and biscuits and potato salad were offered as well. I had to eat all three. I felt like a glutton...a very full glutton indeed. I tried to return the favor by taking a group photo of them. They were a very close family and I felt richer for having met them. OK this could be called a YOGI moment but it felt more like trail magic. After all I did not have to ask yet it was offered. My best wishes go out to Buster and Bluebird not only on the impending completion of their trip but also their upcoming wedding later this year.

Down from the mountain we stop for water at Roaring fork for we have heard that the water source at Walnut Mtn. is unreliable. We then rolled into the Hell hole known as Walnut Mountain Shelter. We find a group of hikers there as well as a note from Chuck and J.T. ?!? It read "David, Scott & Travis, we decided to push on to Hot Springs because there are just too many mice here." What the? How did these guys walk OVER us as we lay on the trail and pass us? I laughed and hollered out "Yellow Blazers!" That is the term for those who hitch hike the AT and claim they hiked it. It was either that or they took a Blue Blaze bypass trail of the bald and it that is true they are truly the loser here. The bald was the best of all the Southern AT. Back to the shelter. It is old. it is so old that Earl Schaeffer, The first to walk the entire AT, stayed here. The sleep platform did not have one single flat place on it. It was also built for short people like me. Scott and Travis both around 6 ft tall opted to tent it. A wise move on their part. Scott and I were able to have a good talk before bed. I was really glad to share some of this trip with family.

The water was there…it just wasn’t that good.

July 1st, 2007: AT miles hiked 13.1

Wow, I can’t believe that this year’s section is almost over. Scott and Travis are raring to get back home today. We hike like champions making really good time. Scott has been planning a picture sequence at the end of the hike that keeps us in stitches the whole hike. Let’s just say it ends up with him running around at the trail head in his boots and underwear. 3 miles to go and I see my first Rattlesnake. The Timber Rattler doesn’t want to move. We tossed some rocks at it and finally I just took a long stick and moved him. I got a couple of nice pictures of him. Scott and Travis said the frog back at Tri-Corner Shelter sent him to get back at me ... ala Tony Soprano. We reach the trail head and the pictures of Scott begin. I almost pissed my pants laughing so hard.

We make our way to Elmer’s Hostel in Hot Springs to see if we can pay for some showers and are denied. We make our way to a nearby campground in town and pay $5 each for showers and shaving. All cleaned up we head to the Paddler’s Pub for lunch. After lunch we go across the street to look around the Bluff Mountain Outfitters. Soon after we are on the road to Knoxville where Travis is parked.

We bid Travis farewell and Scott and I head to Louisville. It was nice not driving that stretch by myself. We make plans to meet as we do every month with Richard and another cousin Greg. We usually dine at the Irish Rover in Louisville, KY on the 2nd Wednesday of the month for lunch. Scott will be in Reno, NV that day so we back it up a week. I can’t wait to relive some of the moments we share because as you know when guys get together past events tend to be embellished. Embellished indeed! 

My trip is over for now. Or should I say on pause. I tallied two lost toenails and tons of experiences. I’m not sure if my method made me a better hiker or a driver. I was never away from home long enough to really get homesick. I’m sure I learned a lot about long distance hiking from this experience. I also learned that the journey is more important than the amount of miles hiked. If you see me out on the trail…say Hey.

The Flyingfishman


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