6-14-13

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6-14
Cold last night. The “32 Ultralamina” is cold in the high 40’s, but it was damp with a strong, cold north wind. Not much sleep. Everyone cringed at the thought of putting on their wet hiking clothes in the cool morning air. I heard a huge “boom” like a cannon last night that shook the ground. In the morning, there were limbs over the trail and about a 20″ diameter tree snapped in half about thirty feet up exposing fresh green wood. It was an easier 12 mile hike than yesterday’s 11 and with no rain forecasted, Berg, Littlefoot and I are tent camping at Derrick Knob shelter that with a fireplace. While several young kids gathered firewood, I talked to young couple from Hungary on vacation. They describe their country as transitioning to capitalism, but still holding onto traditions, so it makes for a slower paced life than the US. Sounds nice. The AT is a popular place attracting people worldwide.
Easy day.

6-12,13-13

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Last night was a comedy. Berg, I and two others were the only people in the Fontana Dam shelter, so sounds amplified at night. All guys to their own corners (of course). The guy to my right was potentially the loudest sleeper I’ve ever witnessed. When he shifted sides (a side sleeper), it sounded like he was battling a hundred plastic trash bags (or Tyvec if you know what that is) in a wind storm. Loud. Then, once settled, he commenced the most random snore pattern I’ve ever heard. If I didn’t know better, I’d think it was two people. Caddy-corner to Tyvec man was a guy who giggled in his sleep. Must of been a funny night. Creepy. Luckily Berg was out. That good, since he’s phobic of mice getting into his stuff. I distinctly heard a mouse chomp his way into a plastic bag and get lost. Crinkle, crinkle. I was no better. Yesterday, I ate a full lunch, large milk shake, a quart of chocolate milk, a packet of Ramen (raw), a snickers, power bar, two servings of hamburger helper topped off with some chips and two sodas. By 3am, my intestines were dealing with the onslaught rebelling with gurgles, burps and a sound like Drano in a pipe. Lastly, I intently listened to a mouse squeak very near me, sitting up in the dark, for about five minutes until I realized my nose had a whistle in one nostril. It was me. Stupid nose.
This morning I woke up at 7am, to Tyvec man packing up to leave. I was up. I went up to the overlook of Fontana Lake and the morning scene of stillness and distant mountains called for a painting. It was a perfect time to learn how paint the mountains quickly before the light changes the feel of the view. (For artists: I’ll put a link to En Plein Air Blog article here). While painting, I met Brent and his wife, the couple who tent was in a precious painting, Jesus (“hey-zus”) and Chief Loco before walking into the Smokey Mountains and another fellow hiker who turned out to be an art framer. Without knowing it, I’m coming to know the loose network of hikers traveling alongside that forms a “family”. It’s a comfort to know we’re forming into a community.

This is a day of new foods and drinks: Lunch at Bojangles! “All You Can Eat” sign posted up led the way for us, Littlefoot erupting into a small cheer. Two plates later, we sat absolutely stuffed. Next, Cheerwine and Nehi (“knee-high”) sodas. Mmm. Real Cane Sugar. My pancreas is working overtime now. Nearest movie theater with a decent movie? One hour away? We all pitch in for gas and we’re off! Where did we go? Hiawassee, the place where I started this trip. Ha. Ironic. In one hour we can now reach a point without much thought. In a single day on the trail, so much happens its hard to remember all the events. It’s been 12 days. One hour / 12 days, which route would you prefer? Obviously, one is easier; one is fulfilling.

6-13-13
About ten people sat around the campfire at the shelter last nighr swapping stories and laughing. I met a retired english teacher from Pennsylvania and talked about some pretty deep life thoughts. Although he hikes alone most times (20-24 mi/day), he agrees that hiking with another changes the entire experience for the better. We aren’t meant to be alone. We had so much in common that if I could imagine an older me, it would be very much like him: nerdy, happy, independent, and connected with family and friends who he loves and who loves him.

Last in-town check for packages and we’re off to the Smokies. It seems a bit much to have two zero days, but it was great! We plan to do 11 miles up a steep grade today w possible storms in the afternoon.

Fontana Dam scene was impressive being the largest on the east coast, but the rhinoceros beetle Littlefoot found on the dam the highlight for me.  I can now say with scientific certainty, they don’t fly.  I was waiting for the wings to deploy as it headed down a 40 ft drop to soft pillowy grasses below.  I’m sure in bug languages it expresses everything from curses to “MAYDAY-MAYDAY, GOING DOWN!”. We  had a huge thunderstorm (umbrella is perfect) – except for the lightening part.  I ran across a young German couple drenched and tired.  The lady looked like she was in despair, no hope.  Turns out they stopped 100 ft from the shelter, not knowing it was just around the bend tucked away in the trees. I dropped my pack off at the shelter and headed back to help, but they were already on their way, hand up and cheering as I motioned that they were so close. They got to shelter just in time.  The storm turned really ugly with high winds, sideways rain and branches cracking. Littlefoot and Berg annailated, showed up in the middle of it. After getting into dry clothes and eating, I set out to paint the dense, foggy scene outside the shelter. We are IN a cloud –> painting with quick dry acrylics (look half way down the page) .. Won’t dry! It’s around 9pm and everyone’s getting ready for bed.

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6-11-13

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Rained last night, sunny 80+ today

ZERO DAY

About 10 people stayed at the “Hilton”, which basically has four 8′ x 16′ platforms similar to huge bunk beds on opposite sides of the shelter. Outside is a huge gravel “deck” area with picnic tables and a fire pit. people coming off the trail share stories and get aquatinted in front of a spectacular view of the lake and mountains. (pic of painting). Up the hill about 300 yard is a shower with hot water and bathroom. This is also a makeshift camp soap washateria for fly-ridden, dirty socks. The “deck” banisters are perfect drying racks. It looks “dirty”, somewhat like a homeless shelter, but is an outstanding service from our perspective.
Tiffany and Littlefoot drove in and we went to town, laundered, restocked our food, ate and were as lazy as possible. Just what was needed. Berg and I stayed at the shelter again. Quick day that went by in a haze of tiredness.

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6-10-13

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Conditions: rain in the am, a freak cold spell at 11ish, sun in the afternoon

B: Power bar L: trail mix, SPAM single, snickers D: WENDY’S!!

I’m catching up after yesterday. What a day. I took off early thinking I’ll part ways w Littlefoot’s and Berg. It’s disappointing, but my feet/knees feel like lead on the hills. I set out to reach Cable Gap Shelter in 10 miles as they make a sprint to Fontana Dam (an 18+ mile day). Reaching another point of asking if this trip has a point or is worth it, I passed through Stecoah Gap and found a group collecting bananas from a “trail angel”, someone who contributes to the AT hikers in the hopes that they will continue the pay it forward tradition. Always so impressive to witness (and a delicious banana). After 4 more miles of steep hills and sweating like a pig, I turned off the trail at Brownfork Gap for water and a snack. By chance, I look up and Littlefoot’s and Berg are walking down as well! We enjoy good conversation about completely random topics and see a mouse skitter across the beam. It’s Berg’s arch enemy. No matter where, mice find his stuff and chew through his gear. That was enough to make me rethink Cable Gap Shelter.
We hiked on together for the rest of the day, even in the clouds.
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Keeping a steady pace with others makes the miles so much easier. Stopping at Cable Gap for another snack, Berg found a 8′ x 6′ tarp someone left behind, duck taped and patched. Perfect. It now is nested under the bungee cords outside my pack. It probably leaks like crazy, but it the thought that counts, right?
After listing every favorite restaurant over the last three miles, we hit pavement at a Fontana Dam Marina with a coke machine. Berg immediately hovered around the coke machine blessing it for its kindness and concentrated sugars.
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Around 6, we arrived at the Fontana Dam Shelter, showered and got ready for real food.
Tiffany, Littlefoot’s girlfriend, drove in and we rode to town for Wendy’s. The massive piles of food were ridiculous. Littlefoot’s triple-patty Baconator alone could have fed a small family. Chocolate Frosty ice cream is all I could think about. Size large. Don’t be stingy…to the brim, thanks. Plump & happy, we drove back and stayed at the shelter.

6-9-13

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Conditions: overcast and looks like possible rain (maybe from tropical storm Adrea?). 65s/80s

B: Power Bar L: Trail Mix

No rain last night! It’s great to wake up and have a dry area to organize. I’m really considering getting a 10’x10′ tarp to have a dry area. I’m thinking the trail shelter will be full with the upcoming rains.

9:00am : We hike into the NOC and it’s an impressive display of wooden buildings spanning both sides of the river.  We hit the outfitters from some resupply (I got some much needed DEET), they pick up their “drop boxes” (food that they ship ahead to the next town, or packages sent to them from parents).  We decided on a camp site and I’m hoping to get a head start knowing they catch up.
10:30am: 10 miles today w 4000′ gain to the highest point (~6000 total). Here we go.

5pm: Wow. My legs feel like jelly. Luckily I made it to the campsite before it started raining so I can set up my tent. Littlefoot and Berg made it in and it was already raining. They hope to go 18 miles tomorrow to Fontana Dam. I think this is where I’ll bid them farewell and make it to a shelter for a dry night sleep. No doubt everything will be soaked with two days of rain coming. It’s absolutely pouring right now.

At times I forget why I’m here; but I’ve already learned something about myself. I yearn for companionship. It’s great to walk alone some during the day as most do, but to sit and share what happens during the day before it’s over seems to give it a purpose. Almost everyone does this type of hike with a partner. Now I understand this is a need in my life as well. Friends, family … that’s what important to make the days have meaning.
Tough, soggy day.

6-7,8-13: Back on the Trail

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Conditions: overcast w/ some thunderstorms later. 80’s/60’s.

B: almonds L: power bar D: Ramen w/ Spam single (& banana moon pie thanks Littlefoot)

I forgot to add the video clip of what 4-day old hiking sock look like (its not pretty): http://youtu.be/peQsGOrbarc

Stayed in Fraklin 2 days. It’s 11 mi away, so I hitched in, shuttled out($20). Got an “ultralamina 32” sleeping bag, Chacos, deodorant, “Henderson Youth Basketball League (Goodwill)” jersey – swampy armpit freedom (very nice!), $4 mini umbrella (~8″x3″, ~4oz?). Ditched the undersized quilt and silk thermals in an overstuffed flat-rate USPS box hoping the tape job hold its seams. We had moderate rain in the late afternoon, umbrella worked perfect (thanks, Dollar General)! There’s a big deal over having treking poles OR umbrella, but for the hikers reading this, collapse one pole and hold it and the umbrella and just use one. You will love the ventilation rather than perspiring under the rain jacket so much you’re sopping wet anyways. Chacos are awesome. Blisters are healed and heel feels better. Every creek delivers a cool dip for the piggies. Feels great. Getting used to the straps and my heels get cracks from drying, so I’ll probably switch out with my shoes every so often until they adapt. Chacos are definitely the way to go for the shorter wet areas (Thanks Josh!).
I didn’t have time to paint at Wayah Bald (rain), so I sketched, took down color notes & pic as reference for later. Those distant mountains are so mesmerizing. I hope i can find a way to capture that!!

Littlefoot, Berg caught up to me and slept up on the observatory gazebo in the thunderstorm! Crazy. I hike down to the shelter – full. With no other options, I set up tent in rain. It worked out well keeping me dry and sleeping bag was perfect. I wish I had my tarp so I’d have some way to be out of the rain while I pull out my gear to get the tent set up.

6-8: Hiking with Littlefoot and Berg today. It’s so nice to have the company! Didn’t know their agenda, just went with it to hang out. Littlefoot, about ~6′, 210lb. does not resemble his name as he’s the biggest of us. He eats for two, alone. His easygoing nature is inviting to anyone. His companion, Berg, is ~5’11”, 150lb (as skinny as me) and is quiet, but not shy. They both attended Appalachian State in Boone and are awaiting officer training for the Army.
As the day goes, we start together, Berg flies ahead, Littlefoot lags behind and I stop and go putting bandaids on toes and arches. When I think they’ve lost me at their speed, all the sudden they are there and we stop for lunch. It’s a mystery how we keep together, but somehow it works. We had lunch at Cold Springs Shelter, that lives up to its name. The mountain stream alongside chills the air like an AC unit on full blast in just that little nook. Donning out jackets and warm gear, we held vitally important conversations like “What does SPAM tastes like?”, “Can you make two day hiking on only gummi bears?”, and their plans to hike the entire way, flip flop style, continuing north to Damascus (W. Virginia), then taking an Amtrak from Damascus to Maine and heading south riding good weather all the way.
It was a tough decent in the last part of he day, dropping about 2000+ ft miles between miles 10-15. We’re now just outside of the Nantahala Ourdoor Center (NOC), so we’ll pass through there tomorrow. All our knees were hurting and we ate twice as much for dinner. Starving. At the days end, I caught a glimpse of evening sun shining through the forest over a blue tarp tent and painted until the last of the light. I may have inspired a few other campers around us to bring their art gear on the next outing!
It seems that the tropical storm heading our way will make for a lot of rain in the next 7-10 days. I may slow down tucking into shelters, losing my friends as they forge ahead, but it all the reason to savor the sweet moments, and good laughs while they last.
Not much time for editing. This is writing on-the-go. I think it, write it and walk on.

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6-4,5-13 (days 4,5 on the AT)

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Conditions: Cold last night (I’m above 4000 and 1 mile from “the wettest place on the eastern US w/ 93″ annually”. High 40’s now (8am). Sunny skies. Looks like it’ll be a great day!

Meals 4th: B: Power Bar, L: Snickers, almonds and Greenbriar shoots (along the trail) D: spam single, Idahoan mash potatoes, oyster crackers, Snickers

Daily Events:
4th: Last night was cold. I had on everything I could wear, but the problem was the quilt. Due to my expert sewing skills I made both too short and narrow. I hike it up to my neck, my feet stick out. I shift on my side and bend a bit and my butt is hanging out. The one and only position I can be warm in is flopped on my stomach, arms down to my sided and face dug into the air mattress. I believe it’s time to ace my beloved quilt and get to the outfitters in Franklin for a synthetic-filled sleeping bag. Despite the drafty night, it was a new day with sun-lit skies. The trailside views were spectacular looking down onto the clouds like waves rocking against the mountain range.

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The climb up Albert Mountain was about a 30-45 degree angle for 500 feet up log steps and rock like a Stair Master machine on steroids. Quads and calves pumped, I made it into the rocky clearing on top and found a water research tower on top with 360 views. I hope this video clip captures even a part of how impressive it was.

Plus, I had a hint of cell reception.
The rest of the day was a wet decent. I picked up two nice size blisters on the piggy toes and a tweaked tendon in my right heel. It’s impossible to keep dry feet in shoes here, so I switched out to my Walmart camp sandles. Man! What a difference! I now have happy feet. No heel pain, my piggies are free to air out, … this is so much better. I’ll look for hiking sandles in town.
I called to town and they don’t shuttle. Hmm. It’s 11 miles away. Now what? It’s 28 miles to the next town down the trail, or walk the highway tomorrow. This sure puts a damper on things. I made camp just passed Winding Stairs Gap and fought my quilt in indecision.
5th: I started down the trail, but it hit me that I’m not here to rush. I want to chill and savor the moment rather than race the day hikers. I u-turn and hit the highway. A man picked me up and took me into town despite my “earthy smells”. I hit the ATM down the road to pay the motel fee with cash (cheaper), and ran into a Jehovah’s Witness on the way. He stopped to talk, got a whiff of me down wind (the expression was priceless), and quickly moved on. Poor guy. Now I’m here for two nights at The Sapphire Inn showered, with clean clothes and feasting in the luxury of a king-size bed. So nice.

Gear: hiking sandals, and a 30 or 40 degree sleeping bag needed. Walmart sandals rock!

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