ERIC CLAPTON - WALKIN' BLUES
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Saturday, May 29th, 2010...Todays AT mileage 14.4
back on the trail for my next section hiking odyssey. Today I am starting where I last left off heading Northbound from Carver’s
Gap, TN. I plan to get to Damascus, VA in the next 7 or so days. I park my car in Damascus at Mt. Rogers Outfitters and a
nice fellow named Chip will be driving me to Carver’s Gap but not before dropping off 2 other section hikers from Louisiana
(Pilot & Doc) at US19E. I am excited because the skies are clear and I will be hiking over a section of balds
today. The first up is Round Bald followed by the clear summit of Jane Bald. The views are some of the best on the AT so far.
While hiking up these two balds I meet 3 ladies from Atlanta, GA with two of their boys who plan to stay at the famous
Overmountain Shelter. We all stop at Stan Murray Shelter. I got on the trail at about 11:00 am so this seems like an ideal
place for a lunch. Onward to Overmountain Shelter. When I arrive there a youth group has set up in the shelter. This place
is going to be full tonight. Overmountain is historically significant for its American Revolution connection. Patriot Militia
used that route to surprise and defeat British loyalist in a much needed win at the Battle of Kings Mountain. I stop and talk to the youth director for a while and promise to wave at them once I get up the next hill.
Next up for me are Little Hump and Hump Mountain. As I climb these beauties it seems as if each of these balds is trying to
outdo the others when it comes to spectacular views. Once I reach the summit of Hump after a long and arduous climb, it is
downhill for the rest of today’s hike. My destination today is the Mountain Harbour B & B hiker hostel on US19E.
It has been drizzling the past hour until I reach Apple House Shelter which is just .5 mi. from US19E. The skies open up but
not before I can duck into the shelter. Inside the shelter 3 non hikers are there and their “empties” litter the
ground. They are smoking inside the shelter so I stand in the doorway holding my breath to get my raingear on. These shelters
were made for hikers but in every instance where they are too close to the road you always have some A-holes who think they
are their personal party palace. That is why I never stay in one this close to a road crossing. After a short .2 mi. walk
down the highway I arrive at mountain Harbour B & B/ Hiker Hostel. This is a wonderful oasis. The “bunkhouse”
is above the barn and I am joined there this evening with 4 thru hikers Pale Blue Dot , Wizard, Cricket and Skink. I have
been following Skink’s thru hike on trailjournals.com. He is a tall friendly guy from NC by way of Belgium. I scarf
down some frozen pizza and 4 Mountain Dews. I don’t normally drink those but …hey I’m “roughing it”. Some late night conversation and delight that I have no blisters and I’m ready
to nod off to sleep.
30th, 2010...Todays AT mileage 12.6
evening as I arrived at Mountain Harbour B &B/Hostel I signed up for the breakfast. This was the best move I could have
possibly made. At breakfast the next morning were the aforementioned thru-hikers from last night as well as a young hiker
named Mountain Goat and a couple who have both thru-hiked before Dream Catcher and Kadiddle. The breakfast spread was unreal
and 3rds and 4ths were encouraged. Dream Catcher and Kadiddle were putting together a project where they hike and bike 10,000
miles and collect 10,000 dreams. You can visit their site at http://journeyofdreams.com/ If I recall correctly I was # 113. They have a long way to go on their project.
As we left the Hostel I tried to keep up with the thru-hikers. They were planning a much longer day than my modest 12.6 miles.
I fooled myself for a while and struggled to keep pace. After they led us off the trail and we had to double back to cover
the wrong turn, I decided to fall back and hike my own hike. I figured it would be the last I saw of them. The visual highlight
of the day was Jones Falls. It was a very tall cascading waterfall with a great volume of water going over it. I ran into
a thru-Hiker from Maryland named Duffy there. He was stopping for lunch and I a snack. My destination tonight is Abby’s
Place a rustic Hiker Hostel about .5 mi off the trail. Before I reached my getting off point I passed a utility easement where
a park bench had been erected to the memory of Ron G Frey “Vango”. It was a welcome respite. I could have turned
off to Abby’s place here but I opted to go on to Laurel Fork Creek. As I crossed the bridge a sign stated I had just
crossed the 400 mile mark and that if I turned left I would be headed to Abby’s Place. Wow 400 down and just 1778 to
go! Ok in perspective it doesn’t sound that impressive but I have painfully earned that 400. I arrive at Abby’s
place and it is a small hillside farm overlooking Laurel Fork Creek. As I arrive Pale Blue Dot is there for a short rest.
He plans to catch up to the other Thru Hikers. The shower and Hiker supplies are located in the owner Scott’s house.
The hostel has 2 privies and a very nice and fairly new bunkhouse with a wraparound porch. I
could have opted for frozen pizza again tonight but instead I ate a meal of chicken, stovetop dressing and gravy that I brought
from home. It was delicious. I also enjoyed a couple of liquid refreshments I had obtained and I had the whole place to myself
that evening. I had a very restful evening indeed.
31st, 2010...Todays AT mileage
Today was Memorial Day and boy
was it memorable. I bid my host Scotty a fond ado and head back out to the trail. The day starts off as nothing more than
a peaceful walk in the woods. It was if I had a mission to just get to my destination in Hampton, TN which was Braemar Castle
Hostel. At Moreland Gap Shelter I ran into a group of section Hikers from South Florida. I stop there for my lunch. They are an interesting crew of mostly former college
wrestlers. I advised them of how much I respect their sport and the training it involves. My son Joseph had wrestled on a
Middle school team while in the 5th grade. I remarked how his practices were harder than the two a day football
practices I had endured back in high school. We cut up for a while and I headed out. I reached Dennis Cove Rd where there
is a parking lot for the trip to Laurel Falls. There is also a nearby Hostel called Kincora where AT legend Bob Peoples resides.
Legend has it that Bob summited Everest in shorts and a tank top. I also understand that the Boogieman checks under his bed
every night to make sure Bob Peoples is not hiding there. You get the idea. As I walk into the parking lot sitting on his
truck tailgate is a former thru-hiker and wrestler who offered me a bit of trail magic in the form of a cold PBR. He
was waiting for the aforementioned wrestlers who were finishing their section hike at that spot. He shared some very useful
tips about the upcoming trail. As I finished my second can of trail magic his buddies hiked in. The conversation drifted to
one of the members seriously thinking about starting a thru hike right then and there. He claimed he had no trail name other
than being referred to as “The Other Guy”. When I learned that his former job was at the world renowned strip
club in Ft Lauderdale, FL called The Booby Trap (as discussed on the Bob and Tom radio show numerous times) I told him I had
the perfect trail name. He is now known as “The Utter Guy”. While
there Duffy the hiker I shared lunch with yesterday hikes in. I stayed a little too long in this parking lot but I enjoyed
these guys’s company. They leave and I start the slick and treacherous descent to Laurel Falls. I reach the falls and
WOW what a beautiful site. The cascades are steep and they form a nice swimming pool at their base. The trail then follows
the creek downstream with a small section of wall hugging and rock scrambling on the creek’s edge. I reach the side
trail to Hampton, TN and Braemar Castle. It is a mostly flat one mile walk into town. I trudge my way up to Braemar Castle
and OMG it is closed for Memorial Day. I walk to Brown’s Grocery in town
and guess what? The whole town is closed. Without panicking I sit down and pull out the guide book and start to review my
options. The forecast for tonight is heavy downpours and I just don’t want the hassle of tenting it tonight. I decided
to call Iron Mountain B & B which is listed in the book. I spoke to the owner Vicky who was out of town but arranged to
have her caretaker Carolyn pick me up and take me to their Mountain Chalet, for get this … $40pp a night for hikers
only. After I hang up I was surprised to see Pale Blue Dot stroll in. He was facing my same dilemma and I advised him not
to fret because we had a chalet for the evening. Carolyn pulled up and we loaded our gear in her trunk. She took us to a McDonalds
where I grabbed a burger and salad. She then drove us to the chalet giving us a local genealogy and history lesson as we rode.
I think my jaw and PBD’s dropped to the floor of the car when we first eyeballed the chalet. It was much more than a
hiker was used to on the trail. It was a beautiful log cabin chalet with 3 king sized bedrooms each with their own baths.
It had a full kitchen, living room, a wraparound deck with a hot tub and a laundry. We focused on eating and laundry
and did not have an opportunity to enjoy the hot tub but it sure was comfortable in that king sized bed as I listened to it
storm outside all night long. Life is too good to me.
1st, 2010...Todays AT mileage 8.9
wake up to the sounds of a downpour outside. I am in no hurry to get out of this bed. Pale Blue Dot is already up doing some
more of his laundry. I get up and eat some breakfast and pack up my stuff. We call Carolyn and leave the chalet at 11:00am.
PBD is getting back on the trail where we left off. I decided that I would get on the trail at Watauga Lake and come back
this Friday to make up the part I am skipping. As we drop PBD at the Laurel Falls trailhead, a hiker has emerged from the
woods and wants to be taken where I am going to. I enticed Carolyn to give him a ride. His name is John from San Diego, CA.
He had started his hike with his 80 year old father who recently had to get off of the trail. His dad had thru-hiked years
before. John was an interesting fellow who had a pack that must have weighed 60 lbs. He is also very generous when it comes
to sharing food. We made a brief stop at Watauga Lake shelter and made our way
towards the Watauga Dam. As we were approaching the Dam we ran into a local hiker who told John about a spot where he could
“Cowboy Camp” near the lake. The climb out of the lake valley was long and hot. We made our way to a recreation
area the local had told John about and had lunch. John was begging me to stay there with him that night but my plans were
to climb up to Vandeventer shelter. I bid farewell after a long stay and started my climb. On the way up I ran into 4 section
hikers who warned me of a bear they had seen on the ridge top. For the record
I never saw that bear and that was OK by me. I stop at a spring about 1 mile before the shelter and ran into Pilot & Doc
the 2 guys I rode from Damascus with last Saturday. They were hammock camping near the spring. As my section hiking continues
to run along with more and more section hikers this looks like a great possibility for me. I load up with water because I
was warned the water source at Vandeventer is down a steep hill. I arrive at the shelter and a section hiker named Rocket
Turtle is there. Also there is a tenter and I only partially remember her name as something like Quest Mother? Soon after
I arrive Cricket and Pale Blue Dot stroll in. They did not get water at the spring and had to make the arduous trip to get
water. I enjoyed a delicious meal of ramen noodles mixed with sun dried tomatoes, pepperoni, mozzarella cheese, olive oil
and parmesan…with a touch of dried Italian dressing mix. It is called Ramen Pizza. The night is cool and I crawl all
the way into my mummy bag. Zzzzzzzz.
Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010...Todays AT mileage 14.4
was a little after 6 am when Rocket Turtle got up and started packing. I thought the better of it and stayed in my bag for
another hour. After tossing my contacts in and a quick breakfast cookie I was on the trail around 8:30am. The hike for most
of the day was uneventful. The lot of us kept passing each other with everyone hiking their own hike. That is important yet
it is also nice to know others are on the trail with you headed to the same destination. I said the day was uneventful. To
wrap up an ordinary day on the AT the following thoughts enter your head… thirst, pain, food, shelter, weather, food,
bathrooms, bears, snakes, food, showers, soft drinks, other drinks, sense of accomplishment and of course food. As I was in
my Yoga state of mind (not feeling any pain) the thought of the nearby road got me to thinking about soft drinks. As I approached
highway TN91 I saw an angelic figure next to the trail. I don’t recall having eaten any wild mushrooms so it had to
be real. It was an orange colored steel box that when opened revealed a cooler full of soft drinks (yes they were cold) and
some mini chocolate bars. Ffffft … the first one was open and downed within 15 seconds. These were 24oz bottles too.
These were left by a local youth church group and reminded us we were on Cross Mountain on the trail to Damascus. If the note
I left in the notebook there did not convey my deepest appreciation…Thanks again. I nibbled on chocolate and decided
to wait for the others to bask in the glory. As I waited a southbound hiker from SW Virginia via Romania came by. He was just
getting on the trail. We shared info and he moved on. The others trickled in and if was a drink fest. I couldn’t bear
watching the others drink without having another one for myself. So I did. Have you ever watched Survivor after the contestants
were given a food reward and because they were not used to having certain things they consumed said items in a hurry? You
always see them afterwards heading off into the woods with a handful of leaves. I know how they felt. I drank too fast. I
won’t bore you with details. After the crossing of TN91 there was a wide open pasture walk for around ½ mile. The sun
was bright and all seemed to be great. I hiked ahead of the others and at around .8mi before the Double Springs Shelter I
heard a loud crashing sound coming down from the ridge top. I have heard it before and knew exactly what it was. Yep a big
ole bear was running down the hill in my direction. I blew my sternum whistle three times and he stopped dead in his tracks.
I clapped my hands together and he flew back up the ridge in a speed that would have made Usain Bolt look like me racing in
the Olympics. Note to self…make sure you get a good hang on the food tonight. I got into shelter and secured my spot.
The same crew from last night was there again. It seems we all have the same schedule to get to Damascus. I took a spring
water splash bath (yes it was freezing) and prepared for bed. I was too sick to my stomach from the soft drinks to eat dinner
tonight. Instead it was crackers and Imodium ad and a crawl into my sleeping bag. We have an 18.5 mile hike into Damascus
tomorrow. I’ll be getting up early.
Thursday, June 3rd, 2010...Todays AT mileage 18.5
It is 7:30am and I am back on the trail. It feels like rain is in the air. Today it is about
putting the miles behind me and quickly. I am pretty much on my own for the entire day. I stop for only about 7 or 8 minutes
for a snack around noon. Soon after my snack I cross into Virginia for the first time. Virginia consists of about 550 miles
of the AT. The state I am looking forward to should be a welcome site to leave a few years from now. I am hiking a pretty
good pace today and I cover the 18.5 in 7 hours. It is 2:30 when I walk into Mt Rogers Outfitters. I pay for my parking and
head straight to the Dairy King. BTW when I went to my car I had left it unlocked. Nothing was missing. God, I love hikers.
I met a young man in Dairy King that had tons of questions about the trail. He too was section hiking. We ate lunch together
then I hit the road for Abingdon which is about 9 miles out of Damascus. Before I left I checked in on our crew to make sure
they had made it to town. I also made sure they had a place to stay that evening. I spent the night in Abingdon and all along
felt it was too soon to celebrate because by technicality I still had not reached Damascus. I still had 6.2 miles in Hampton
to do. I must have showered for 30 minutes. When you are bald that is a lot. Then I filled up the tub and soaked my feet.
I will be sleeping well tonight.
June 4th, 2010...Todays AT
the plan today is to drive to Hampton, TN and park at Watauga Lake, walk the 2 highway miles to the Laurel Fork Trail, walk
that trail 1 mile to the AT. OK that is 3 extra miles that I will not get AT credit for. They say you have to pay for your
sins so I can live with that. For the next 4 miles I am climbing up a steep mountain. OK this is NOT a magic AT moment I am
experiencing. I have but one goal today ... to finish. As I complete my climb up Pond Flats I reach the mountaintop spring.
At the spring is the Romanian hiker I met at the trail magic box near TN91. We again share news and trail info and I’m
now headed down the mountain. As I get nearer to my car I start to think about the things that worked and didn’t work
on this trip. I absolutely love my Sawyer (in-line with my Camelback hydro bag) water filter. It made water stops last 3 minutes.
My Big Agnes Ultra light sleep pad was a bit noisy at night. I’ll probably use my older Big Agnes pad next trip and
use my sleeping bag more like a blanket/quilt. My cook system worked like a charm. It consisted of a 24oz beer can on a titanium
Esbit tripod stove. The whole system with a week’s worth of fuel, wind screen, lighter weighed less than 6 ozs. It also
nested together. Ah there is my car. A good night’s sleep followed by a
5-1/2 hour drive tomorrow gets me home in time to pick up our dogs from the vet. The family gets in from St Pete on Sunday.
The Rat Race will pick up where it left off. Oh, but my mind will often drift to a little ribbon of paradise in the wilderness
and that ribbon just happens to be called simply “The AT”.
Hiking … The Flyingfishman