A new year, a new plan for the AT. After working 30 years for AT&T they decided to move my job to Birmingham, AL.
I have nothing against the place mind you, I just didn’t want to move. Besides, AT&T offers full retirement with
benefits once you reach 30 years and if they move your job they toss in a couple years of pay on top of it. It looks like
the perfect storm for a through hike. However, at age 49 I am way too young and spend way too much money to retire. I also
have an 8 and 11 year old at home that I would not leave for that long of a time. Alas I found a new job with a great company
and I went from having 7 weeks off to none, at least none till December. If I am going to stay on course to complete my hike
by age 99… I’ll have to become a weekend warrior. The 4th of July weekend is a perfect time to do just that. The
plan: leave from work Thursday July 2, at 5:00pm. Then drive about 5 hours to Erwin, TN (Uncle Johnny’s) sleep and get
shuttled to Carvers Gap and hike back to Johnny’s over the next 3 days and be back to work on Monday.
little thing called a traffic jam on I-75 on the way down delayed me about 50 minutes. When I got to Johnny’s it was
about 10:50 and I was greeted by a thru hiker staying on to work named Free bird. He was a pleasant guy who is a real asset
to Johnny’s. Also there were 2 other hikers who happened to land at Johnny’s and stay on to work: Mohawk and Fox
Fire. Mohawk was stoked when he found out I was from Kentucky. He hails from Bowling Green so instantly he put a Cold Bud
Light in my hand. He and Foxfire were already partying at a whole nutha level. Also in presence were 2 husband and wife team
of paddlers staying there for the weekend. I only remember their wives “trail names”… Shit for Brains and Wildflower. Sorry folks I don’t make these up. Besides, with a name like “Flyingfishman”
who am I to judge? Mohawk and Fox Fire pulled out a guitar and a mandolin and they got a little crazy. Add in some fireworks
and you get the idea… “Ain’t no party like a Johnny’s party, cause a Johnny’s party never ends”.
It’s after 1:00 am so I hit the hay while they are still going strong because I have a 7:00 am shuttle tomorrow and
I’m sure I’m going to pay for tonight then. After all this is July and it has to be hot.
July 3, 2009 today's miles 9.8
It is 7:00am and I am taking my shuttle ride to Carvers Gap. It is a pleasant trip up Roan Mountain and into
the Gap. I say my farewell to my ride and step out of the truck to “Oh my God it is cold”. This is July and a
thermometer at the gap reads 45 degrees and I am in shorts and short sleeves. Quickly I pull out the jacket to my Frogg Toggs
and just as quickly I put it on. Scott my cousin advised if the day was clear to go north first and climb up to Round Bald.
It was worth the trip. The view was a wee bit obstructed by some thin clouds and the wind was howling. The views were spectacular
in between the clouds. I’m back down into Carvers Gap and starting to climb to the summit of Roan. The cooler temperatures
make this a perfect summer day of hiking. As I am making my way to Roan High Shelter it dawns on me that I am walking on some
very old rock…1.8 billion years old. These rocks were pushed up as a result of South America colliding with North America.
I have some 350 million year old Crinoid Columns (Devonian period fossilized Coral) at home that I found in Kentucky. Those
are just puppies compared to these ancient rocks. I reach the shelter to find some guys inside this enclosed shelter reluctant
to leave their sleeping bags while they eat their breakfasts. They tell me that was the coldest night they ever experienced.
At the summit of Roan the views
were a bit misty. The trip down the other side was pleasant and it felt great to be back on my AT adventure once again. Some of the best views today were from Little Rock Knob. The day went slowly as I took
time to talk to every hiker coming and going. The theme of this year’s hike seems to be people who have lost their jobs.
As fate would have it, I could relate to all of them. I feel very fortunate to have found a job as quickly as I did. I attribute
that to the fact that as soon as I learned my job was moving…I started looking.
I stopped off at Clyde Smith Shelter and took a snack/lunch break. I met a young man headed north from Springer who
was in great shape. He was carrying a ton of equipment and was doing 25 miles a day. He
was followed up by a nice older guy who…you guessed it…lost his job and was taking the opportunity to hike some
of the AT. He was suffering knee pain and we helped him plan his escape from the trail.
Tonight I am headed to Greasy Creek Friendly. At Greasy Creek Gap you head down an old jeep road for about .6 miles
to a wonderful place ran by the friendly proprietor Connie. As I walked up to the “Friendly” the neighbor’s
dog ran up to the fence to “Great me”. Suddenly country music, which I do like, was blasted from a speaker aimed
at the Hostel. As I walked into the yard of the Hostel I was greeted by Lou “Paul with Bunions”. I asked him if
the music always played and he said “No, he only does that for hikers”. Alas, I have had my first encounter with
“Crazy Bill”. Lou advised me Bill gets up at 4:30 am every morning and runs his lawn tractor full out for 2 hours
to try and drive hikers away. He proceeded to give me the rules of the Hostel and soon after I was stowing my gear and taking
a nice hot shower. Later a young hiker named “Wrong Way” came in
for the evening.
Connie came home from the grocery and we all helped her haul her wares into the house. For $2.98 I had one of the best
Angus burgers I had ever tasted. Later we all sat on the porch and talked and laughed about Crazy Bill. I offered to get up
early in the morning and plunk him with a BB gun as he rode his mower up and down the road.
I told them he’ll think he was being stung by a bee. After meeting these nice people I can’t imagine why
Bill is such a monster. He must truly be a sad and lonely individual to go to such lengths to try to make others miserable.
Connie gave us earplugs that I popped in as soon as he fired up the mower and I slept like a baby. Sorry Crazy Bill…you
Saturday, July 4, 2009 (Happy Birthday USA!) - today's miles 23.3
As I climbed
out of Greasy Creek Gap I thought of how patient Connie was and how she talked about Bill. I am here to hike so I put it out
of my head quickly. I am more concerned about the weather forecast for the next two days. My thoughts also wander to the party
that is sure to be going on at Johnny’s tonight to celebrate the 4th. What the hell… instead of doing
this in 3 days I’ll shorten it to 2 by doing a 23 miler today. I am moving along pretty fast and before you know it
I am at Iron Mountain Gap, I stop at Cherry Gap Shelter for some rest and lunch. I have this keen sense of urgency not to
stop for too long. The highlight of the trip was the steep climb up Unaka Mountain. When I reached the top I was treated to
one of the more beautiful places on the AT. I am hiking in an older evergreen forest. It may not be old growth but it has
that feel. Only pine needles and ferns scatter on the forest floor. It smells like Christmas. I did stop for a while to take
in the sheer beauty. I thought to myself “God may not live here…but I bet he visits this place frequently.”
Soon after I found myself down the mountain and gazing upon “Beauty Spot”. This place has one of the best panoramic
views on the trail. Looking over my shoulder I still gaze upon the wonder of Unaka. To the left I see for miles into North
Carolina…to my right Tennessee. Today’s trip is full of wondrous sights.
As I was traveling
fast I discovered I was out of water in my Camelback. It wasn’t until I was 6 miles from my destination that I found
a stream running across the trail. I filtered 2 Liters and drank one of those with a lemon aide mix. As I approached Curley
Gap Shelter I thought about collapsing there in a heap. I didn’t even stop to sit. I knew I wouldn’t get up. Someone
told me I must be a heck of a hiker to go this many miles today. I said “no, I’m just stubborn as hell.”
I felt like I walked at a snail’s pace into Erwin. 4th of July revelers were partying all along the Nolichucky
into town. All I wanted to see was the bridge leading into Johnny’s. At last I was there. On the bridge to greet me
was Shit for Brains, Wildflower and their husbands. Soon after, I saw Mohawk deep into alcohol and fireworks. It is fun to
witness “reckless craziness”. Free Bird set me up with a hotdog and hamburger on the house and a bed for the night.
After my shower I started to shiver. I crawled in bed for an hour and woke up feverish. Yes I’m stubborn and I stepped
over my limitations today. I drove into town and bought a huge sugary cherry slushy at the store and went back to bed full
of ice and Aleve. Sorry, no 4th of July party for the Fishman tonight. I was out cold (pun intended) by 11:00pm.
July 5th, 2009
I wake up
and I feel great! To boot it is raining outside. As I checked out I felt sad to leave Johnny’s. Everyone there has always
gone out of their way to accommodate me. He is a huge asset to anyone traveling the AT. It is easy to see how hikers stop
here and stay on to work a while before picking up their hikes. Free Bird tells me he will finish his southbound hike soon.
I wish him luck. Soon I am on my way back home to Ole Kentucky!
To all my
fellow hikers this year, I hope you find your dream jobs. The economy stinks so the good news is there is only one way to
go from here…UP!