Wednesday–May 19, 2021
Location–Vandeventer Shelter, AT Mile 437.7
Just like years ago, “Who wants to go to town? Be ready at five.” Bob’s heads-up to us last evening. And right at five, we’re off. And just as in the past (after winding the six hairpin turns one more time) Bob has us down off the mountain to town–there to wait patiently as I go for Little Caesars and the others hit the local grocery. On the ride down and back I sat the front passenger seat; lots to chat with Bob about, much catching up to do. Just a great evening with a dear friend. Thanks, Bob, for your kindness, your friendship!
Today, this morning I’ll hike one of the most spectacular sections anywhere along the entire Appalachian Trail, Laurel Fork Gorge/Laurel Fork Falls. And seeing the falls again? It has more (and special) meaning to me this time. I wasn’t aware that the little branch (Upper Laurel Fork) that I hiked beside to get to Scotty’s hostel the other evening, and which begins in the mountain meadows just above his place, is the origin of the incredible cascade that comes crashing down from the brink of Laurel Fork Falls. This morning, as on previous occasions, after carefully descending the incredible stone, (say boulder) stairway, I stand gazing up at the falls in total bewilderment. To add depth and meaning to my feelings about this place, I’ll post here a quote from my book, Ten Million Steps:
“As I turn at the very depths of the gorge to face the falls, the sun casts its perfect radiance in exact alignment through the gorge, to lift and bounce prismatic light from the millions of water droplets propelled into space above the upper, main cascading cataract. I must don my Oakleys to reduce the brilliance. And as I try adjusting to this visual impact, the crashing bombardment caused by the tumult creates such a trembling roar that I must brace against its crescendo of overwhelming sound. My senses of sight and of sound are in total overload—kicks in now the emotional shudder that leaves one in paralyzed, captivated awe. As I manage to lift my eyes from the visual clutches of the falls, to peer more heavenward—above the falls now comes into focus the overhanging precipices, bouldered ledges and cliffs, towering into the open blue! The majesty of this, the impact, the might and power in such grand excitement and perfusion create a scene never before experienced in my memory.”
During past climbs up and out of Laurel Fork Gorge I don’t recall the effort being so strenuous. Ahh, but that was many years ago and I was younger then.
With many miles behind me now (in just a few days I’ll pass Mile 862.5 – 1/3 of Odyssey 2021 completed), my balance and reflexes have improved considerably. So, today, during the long, steady descent off the mountain to Hampton, I kick in “Nomad’s Neutral” for a three-plus mph pace. Risky? Sure! But I just couldn’t resist. Hey, not one misstep for the entire 1,800-foot down bail-off!
A short stop at Boots Off Hostel (lunch provided by Ozzy), and I’m soon around Watauga Lake, over Wilbur Dam and into the climb to the ridge and Vandeventer Shelter.
It’s been a long energy-sapping day, but I’m most content and happy with it…
Collect moments. Not things.