|Monday—April 20, 1998
Location—Springer Mountain, Southern Terminus, Appalachian Trail
I find it almost impossible, getting all the things done that need to be done in the “real world,” things that inevitably must go on in my absence for the next five or six months. It’s already 2:30 p.m. as I work feverishly, getting my little place here at the Nimblewill straightened up and mothballed so I can depart. I should have been out of here at least an hour ago. The bushwhack to the summit of Springer Mountain takes at least six hours, with the last three-quarter-mile leg being most difficult, near straight up. I don’t want to be tackling that in the dark.
I finally have my pack on and I’m out the door. I guess it’s normal to have misgivings, especially when faced with a challenge the magnitude of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. This is something I have been looking forward to and planning for years, and now that moment is here. I have faith that the Good Lord will provide me safe and successful passage, but the doubt and fear, those feelings, are there none-the-less. The fact that I’ve been on the trail 94 days and have logged over 1,400 miles in the process is no guarantee, no assurance that I will make it one more mile. The longest ECT segment of this incredible “Odyssey of ‘98” lies ahead, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. I’ve read many an account, and have many friends told me about this grand affair, what a far-reaching adventure it will be. The AT stretches for over 2,100 miles, from Springer Mountain above me here in Georgia, through countless mountains and valleys, across fourteen states, to “The Greatest Mountain” in Maine, Mount Katahdin.
I’ve descended now to Nimblewill Creek, where my good friend and fellow backpacker, Robert Seaton waits to greet me and send me off. I linger and we talk. His is a sense of excitement too, knowing we will shake hands in a moment, and then I’ll be gone. I know he would like to come with me. I know I would like him to journey along. We’ll get to do some backpacking together I’m sure, one of these days. We bid farewell and I’m off for Springer Mountain and that far horizon that lies out there, that mysterious beyond that beckons the wanderlust in all of us.
The hike and bushwhack from my little place covers over nine miles. In that distance I will climb in excess of 2,000 feet—nearly half a mile. I’ve a short bushwhack to start with, then a walk along paved and woodsroads. From here I head up the horsy-bike trail around Bull Mountain and up Lance Creek watershed. First there is cove, then the upper ravine, then along by the creek to the springhead near the summit of Springer Mountain. Then comes the final ascent straight up the mountain to the blue-blaze approach trail from Amicalola Falls State Park.
There are many different ways to gain notoriety, some which are planned, some which simply happen. It’s hard to believe there would be much notoriety in how one arrives at Springer Mountain, but if you mention the name Robie Hensley, you will realize fame can indeed come in strange and unusual ways. For Robie is best known for how he reached Springer to begin his Appalachian Trail thru-hike. He parachuted onto the summit! There was no problem tagging Robie with his trail name. He immediately became known as Jumpstart! And so it is that I am probably the first to walk from home to the summit of Springer Mountain, to begin an Appalachian Trail thru-hike, but you’re not likely to read about Walkstart in the evening paper! I arrive and pitch on the summit of Springer Mountain just as the sun is setting.
“This day be bread and peace my lot;
All else beneath the sun,
Thou know’st if best bestowed or not,
And let thy will be done.”
[Alexander Pope, The Universal Prayer]
Tuesday—April 21, 1998
Location—Gooch Gap Shelter
I stand here now by the old plaque on the summit of Springer Mountain, my heart in my throat, my mind in the mist. I have stood here countless times before…but my presence here now, this moment, is somehow different. For all of the intrepid who have stood here, each has a story to tell. For from this very spot does there begin a marvelous and incredible adventure, what many have described as, “The journey of a lifetime.” But for me, the old Nomad, from this point does there just continue an odyssey that began many days and many miles to the south. So the feelings and emotions that are flooding over me must be a jumble compared to those experienced by others who have passed this way.
Five sections of the Eastern Continental Trail have been completed, 825 miles of the Florida National Scenic Trail, 250 miles of the Florida/Alabama Roadwalk, 125 miles of the Alabama Pinhoti Trail, 140 miles of the Georgia Pinhoti Trail, and 60 miles of the Benton MacKaye Trail. As I look at the first white blaze leading north, marking the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, knowing that over 2100 miles remain; emotions flood over me. For, by the Grace of God am I here, am I at this shrine. Tears well in my eyes, tears of sadness, tears of joy and tears of pride, emotions I’ve never before experienced and cannot fully describe. My obituary could have been written at least three times since beginning this journey on New Years Day. But the Good Lord has seen fit to open a path for me and I have had safe passage.
I am literally living Psalm 23. For I did lie down in green pastures, I have walked beside still waters, and my soul, indeed is being restored. For it is that the path o’er which I trek is directing me toward the paths of righteousness. Slowly my countenance is beginning to reflect that of a man at peace…at peace with himself, at peace with the world, and at peace with the Lord. The anger, hatred, resentment, envy, the vain pride, all of which consumed me over the last many years, a burden carried heavy on my mind and in my heart onto the trail in the Everglades, a burden every bit as heavy as the physical burden of the pack on my back is slowly going out of my body, down to the trail beneath my feet and onto the path behind me. In a moment, I will take that first step north—into the unknown, to continue toward the paths of righteousness, for his name’s sake. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me…
Within the swirling mist passing over this summit do spirits also reside and pass, for I feel their presence. And of these do I remember. William Bartram, John Muir, Henry David Thoreau, Benton MacKaye, Myron Avery, Percival Baxter, Walter Greene, Healon Taylor, George Outerbridge, Orville Crowder, George Miller, Emma Gatewood, and Murray Chism, God willing, I will reach Mount Katahdin, and then too, will there be a place here for my spirit to dwell someday.A scant three miles north by trail from Springer Mountain is found one of the most awe-inspiring places along the entire Appalachian Range. Here exists a most-proud community. Its residents make up the oldest virgin stand of hemlock in the eastern United States. As I descend the cove at Stover Creek I sense there are grand sky-hinged cathedral doors opening before me, as if I am entering Nature’s very own place of worship. I stand now among majestic, towering monarchs, ancient, almost everlasting, their places taken here long before this land was a civilized nation, magnificent still. How could they possibly have endured the ravages of time and survived the encroachment of man! Their presence is humbling, overpowering. I stand and gaze in silence and awe. Three of us with our arms outreaching could not encircle the girth of these giant statesmen. It is impossible to adequately describe these proud towers to you—you must come and rest your eyes on them. For you too will not believe! Here is a true legacy of the forest primeval, this small swatch that man has somehow passed over, to remain, and to be cradled in the bosom of Nature…by time.
It seems El Nino has chosen to continue this journey with me. I arrive at Gooch Gap Shelter in the hail. There were many hard pulls today and I am very tired. A fire is going and I prepare a warm meal. And so ends my most remarkable first day on the Appalachian Trail. Sleep comes soon!
“Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.”
Wednesday—April 22, 1998
Location—Neels Gap, US19, Goose Creek Cabins
We had an international gathering at the shelter last night. Frank Sneakers Clarkeston from Detroit, Michigan, Eric Pure Joy from Marietta, Georgia; and EricVoyager Schmidt from Woodstock, Ontario, Canada. The rain pounded most of the night. What a blessing to be in a shelter and out of it for a change! This morning the rain has backed off but the sky remains gray and threatening. The four of us enjoy hiking together into Woody Gap. What a fine experience having company on the trail. But at Woody Gap I bid farewell to these new friends for it is my desire to reach Neels Gap by nightfall.
It is noon now and the sun is trying to burn away the higher elevation mush. Down below, the valleys and mountainsides are adrift in white, streaming clouds, the sun occasionally dodging through, creating brilliant contrast and relief across the fresh light-green fabric of spring. The shadows from the traveling banners visit, to linger and dance the pockets and coves all along. But alas, the sun will have no luck with the gray swirl as it descends again bringing an ever-darkening blanket of gray-black clouds. First the summits are embraced and encircled roundabout, then the saddles and spurs, and finally the ravines below. I hike on and into it through the mist, then through the rain, then into the driving cold wind…and finally, through the sleet! So it seems the weather and I have gone full circle. Let’s see; searing sun burning my arms, face, and neck in South Florida; cold, relentless rain in central and northern Florida and into Alabama; ditto for subfreezing temperatures; snow and freezing rain in the Cheaha Wilderness, and the incredible rain, wind and lightning on Flagpole Mountain near the Alabama/Georgia state line—the storm that spawned the tornadoes that devastated Hall County, Georgia. Then yesterday, hail and today sleet! Oh, did I forget to mention the month and a half of flooding!
As the rain and sleet continue, the treadway deteriorates. The hundreds and hundreds of backpackers that have tramped through before me have widened and deepened the trail to a highway-wide quagmire in many spots, making progress slow and difficult, reminiscent of many a day in Florida. But with age comes patience, a true virtue. I know this trail will get better by-and-by. Everybody is still hammering on this thing…but that will change soon. The attrition rate for those bound for the “Greatest Mountain” is between 80-90%. That is a staggering statistic, a number to put fear in the heart and doubt in the mind of the most seasoned intrepid. The Appalachian Trail tends to takes its toll, and in that regard it doesn’t seem as patient as me. But I believe that I’ll be there, God willing, when the snows descent on Baxter.
I reach Walasi-Yi, Neels Gap, at 3:00 p.m., and am greeted with a grand smile by Dorothy Hansen. Dorothy makes the call and I wait for the free shuttle to Goose Creek Cabins. Goose Creek is a neat place with kind and gracious hosts.
The trail leaves Springer Mountain,
Six lanes wide, deep-trodden.
But narrower it will become,
Before I reach Katahdin.
Thursday—April 23, 1998
Location—Blue Mountain Shelter
Permit me just another word about the Baileys, the good folks that run Goose Creek Cabins. Keith is out of town so Claude, his father now has the job of driving the shuttle to and from Neels Gap. Claude also drove 20 miles round trip to Blairsville for pizza and subs for all of us staying at the Cabins last evening—no charge for delivery! I meet two other thru-hikers as Claude delivers us back to the Gap, Mary Mary-Go-Round Blewitt from Connecticut and Dave Chambers from Indiana. Had a great time at your place Claude, thanks!
Back at Walasi-Yi Center I go in again for a few minutes to gab a little more with Dorothy before heading on north. I remember a comment in one of Wingfoot’searlier editions of the Thru-Hiker Handbook where he mentioned that the Hansens, Jeff and Dorothy, put in long, hard days, especially Dorothy who also had to care for their two small children. We chuckle as Dorothy mentions that the 13 year-old now helps at the Center and can run the cash register! Looks like I’m northbound thru-hiker #992 to sign in at Walasi, heading for Katahdin!
The sun is trying to play its bright warm glow as I look from Cowrock Mountain. Before descending to Tesnatee Gap, I witness the sun now and again striking the Cliffs of Raven, transforming the stark gray vertical walls of granite, iced now from endless rain, into brilliant shimmering jewels, as if so many reflections from a crystal palace. Ahh, the constant, ever-changing magic, collectively known as the wonders of nature, revealed to those of us who have chosen to pass this way on this grand Appalachian National Scenic Trail!
As I stand here now in Tesnatee Gap, I am at the spot where it is believed John Muir passed on his 1000-mile walk to the sea. Might I pause and ask you something, and permit me please. Do you find it perhaps strange, as do I, this time capsule in which we are enclosed, as if so many passengers traveling along? For indeed, we are most-definitely slaves and servants to captor time, a medium the most brilliant of our minds have been unable to understand or fathom. So it is now that I extend my hand in greeting to that intrepid of many decades past, for both of us have made our journey here. But alas, as I wait…the greeting is not returned. I will depart this place in a moment and my presence here will become, as did Muir’s presence here, just another of the countless entries in the logbook of time.
I arrive at Blue Mountain Shelter in a driving sleet storm.
“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.
Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows
into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness
into you, and the storms their energy, while cares
will drop like autumn leaves.”
Friday—April 24, 1998
Location—Dick’s Creek Gap, US76, Blueberry Patch
We had another international crowd at the shelter last night, Chick Mitten with her Australian Shepherd, Ilsa; Cheerio Kid, Montreal, Canada; Robert and Benjamin, Columbus, Ohio; Alex from Kansas City; and EZ1, from Shelby, North Carolina. A bit more about Lee Barry, this gentleman who goes by the trail name EZ1. Lee will celebrate his 75th birthday here on the trail this coming Sunday. He’s been hiking for 25 years, belongs to the Carolina Mountain Club and is twice a 2,000 miler, not including a thru-hiked in 1996 at age 73! I am talking with him here on the trail as we hike along this morning. Folks, this EZ1 makes the trail look EZ! This is a marvelous thing, a proud and energetic man still going strong at the age of 75, and having a blast! Here’s to you Lee, and as the kid from Montreal would say, Cheerio!
As I descend into Unicoi Gap, I am thinking about the three original AT plaques cast in bronze in 1938. They show a hiker, pack shouldered and on the trail, the likeness of Warner Hall, second Georgia Appalachian Trail Club president. On these plaques are engraved the famous lines coined by members of GATC and believed to have gained the joyful approval of Benton MacKaye, “A pathway for those who seek fellowship with the wilderness.” One of these plaques marks the southern AT terminus on the summit of Springer Mountain. It is embedded in the granite monolith at the overlook vista. The second rests at the trail junction in Neels Gap, across from Walasi-Yi right beside the busy road shoulder of US19, where thousands pass each day. And the third is fixed to a boulder here beside SR75 at Unicoi Gap. If you haven’t seen one of these beautiful (original) historical AT monuments–by all means, go! I would urge you to visit Springer Mountain to see the one there and at the same time, enjoy one of the most beautiful vistas anywhere in the southern Appalachians. Having seen all three of these beautiful bronze memorials in the span of the last four days goes far to restore my faith in humankind. For to me, it seems that for all three of these plaques to have survived without being stolen or molested is most-near a miracle. Count the years they have graced this trail…yes, it’s been 60 years! This year these beautiful memorials celebrate their 60th anniversary!
It is a delight to have such a simple and useful wildflower guide as has been published in the 1998 Edition of The Thru-Hiker’s Handbook. Finally I have a way to identify these fragile, mysterious little wonders of nature! From Blue Mountain to Powell Mountain the following spring wildflowers, many in profusion, grace the trail today; bluet, toadshade trillium, common blue violet, crested dwarf iris, toothwort, great chickweed, bloodroot, pearly everlasting, daisy fleabane, wood anemone, dandelion, and large flowered bellwort. As if this show bordering the trail is not enough; bright green garlands of grass dress the pathway, almost uninterrupted, and in their way, say—“follow us!” And follow I do, down and through the spectacular “Swag of the Blue Ridge.” As I observe the patience of Mother Nature, I too can learn to practice patience in order to enjoy all that she reveals to me.
There could not have been a more perfect day to hike the “Swag,” sunny, bright and warm…the kind of day I’ve waited and longed for and patience has brought forth. I’ve looked forward to visiting and passing here again with high anticipation and I literally skip on through as if on the “yellow brick road.” How soon we forget. For it wasn’t that many years ago a battle raged, a virtual tug-of-war. It involved a proposal brought by the road builders to lay down a road right over the “Swag.” Thanks to the Good Lord, the ATC and its staunch supporters and allies, those that opposed this road plan prevailed. If any of you reading this, or perhaps by now your parents or even grandparents, were involved in that valiant, successful effort, you have my deepest and most sincere heart-felt thanks! Earl, looks like this beautiful showy maiden, the “Spring of ‘98″ is going to delight us all, on this the 50th anniversary of your first AT thru-hike—your first “walk with spring.”
“Flowers were blooming everywhere. Sometimes
one patch extended for miles, so thick they couldn’t
be avoided, even on the footpath.”
[Shaffer, Walking With Spring]
Saturday—April 25, 1998
Location—Wateroak Gap, North Carolina
Professionalism always shines through. When you’ve got your act together and know what you’re doing it makes all the difference in the world. And that describes the Blueberry Patch, three and one-half miles west at Dicks Creek Gap, on US76 towards Hiawassee. Gary Trail Chef ‘91 Poteat and his petite wife, Lennie, run this delightful little hiker hostel. First class accommodations, great pizza, fine prayer-led breakfast; food for both body and soul. And the word apparently got out early, as over one-third of the “Class of ‘98″ has stayed here so far. These are kind, God-fearing folks. Thanks Gary and Lennie for your friendship and hospitality.
I met two more members of the “Class of ‘98″ here last night, The Fence from south Florida and Phoenix (like the one that rose from ashes) who just had a liver transplant. I manage a ride back to the trail with Free who has stopped by the Patch, thus saving Gary the shuttle, which otherwise would have been graciously provided.
I have a couple of hard pulls coming out of Dicks Creek Gap first thing this morning. It reminds me of Ramrock Mountain last Wednesday. During that long demanding climb I had stopped for a moment to catch my breath, when Voyager, the gentleman from Canada, who since has become my good friend, passed by cursing the ever-increasing difficulty of climbing these rugged mountains. I later talked to Voyager about how I once, too, had that same reaction to the difficult conditions the trail often dishes out—and how something I once heard Warren Doyle, Jr. say turned it all around for me. Succinct, and penetrating as an arrow, Warren said, “The trail is not here for you, you are here for the trail.” Being mindful of this little trail proverb for just a short while, came to me then a total change in attitude, a whole ‘nother mindset about the trail. So now, as a result of this inspiring revelation—with each mountain I must climb—I say to myself, “When I reach this summit I will be a better person, I will be a stronger person; this mountain I am climbing will teach me tolerance, patience and a deeper appreciation and understanding for the meaning of the words humility and humbleness.” And so, indeed, with this attitude are coming all of these virtues to penetrate the very core of my being. Thank you, Warren, for the revelation; and thank you Lord for your grace!
So, as I near Bly Gap, I have mixed emotions. I am indeed a better person, that I know; the result of climbing these Georgia Mountains! But at the same time I am leaving the beautiful Blue Ridge, my home. As I enter Bly Gap, and to my amazement and joy, do I find it still here. The old kneeling oak…still alive. It’s been 15 years since I was here last, since I set eyes upon this remarkable tree. But it is as if yesterday, for the old oak thrives in such a grand and glorious fashion. As the family of man has its physically challenged, so, too, does the tree family have theirs also, members with less than perfect physical abilities and features. This old oak, so unusual it is the subject for many a photographer and painter that I doubt few who pass this way do not recognize and know it. I have found that if one observes this old knot casually, it looks entirely grotesque. As many of its human counterpart, it appears beat down, broken and defeated. But how many of our own do we know with this sort of disability that are fighters, survivors—vibrant and vital, living life to the fullest possible! And so, too, this old oak!
Upon closer observation I see a strange transformation occur right before my eyes. For I see now a radiance and beauty which must surely come from deep within. No longer do I see the beat down and broken. I see instead, tenacity, strength, courage, inner dignity and humble pride. These virtues, these traits have made it a survivor, with the unshakable will to live, to grow and flourish another year. I know that soon it will bud and be beautiful, full of life, green again—and many more will come, to photograph and to paint…this beat down and broken old knot of an oak. And all will marvel in disbelief at such a grotesque thing so wrought by nature. Ahh, but dear old oak, though we appear beat down and defeated do we not know each other! Thanks for letting me truly see you, and through your inspiration, take a moment to look deeper within myself, to see myself from this new perspective, and to see us both for what we really are…survivors!
I am blessed with yet another day of perfect weather, and this being Saturday many are out enjoying the AT, either for the day or packing in to their favorite spot for the weekend. I suspect that for each of the relatively few of us who are thru-hiking the AT this year, there are a thousand more up and down the trail, out for a shorter stay. Such is the case for the young couple I chance to meet as I near Wateroak Gap. These two are most surely the epitome of the weekend folks, at their favorite sport on the trail, camp set up, each in their own hammock, rocking gently without a care in the world, reading their favorite book! “Locals” they are, so with evening descending, I inquire as to perhaps another spot so delightful nearby where I might pitch for the night. With glad smiles I am promptly directed to a piped spring and a small level spot near the gap, just off the trail! Oh, and I promised I wouldn’t tell! A gorgeous sunset, campfire, supper…day!
“There is no simpler lesson in courage and
tenacity than a strong oak.”
[Clyde Ormond, Complete Book of Outdoor Lore]
Sunday—April 26, 1998
Location—Wallace Gap, Old US64, Rainbow Springs Campground
Looks like today is going to be another clear and glorious day, a perfect day to celebrate ones 75th birthday…Happy Birthday EZ1! The trail has been very muddy, but conditions are improving. A few more days without rain will help considerably. As I descend into Deep Gap I can look across to Standing Indian Mountain. This is a big mountain! Oh, I’m going to be a much better person in just a little while! This old warrior is standing tall indeed, the first climb above 5,000 feet. And a proud warrior he is this morning—dressed in full ceremonial regalia, complete with a war bonnet of clouds. As I reach the summit and stand atop his white crown of quartz I have total command of the high ground and the wide and expansive skies hereabouts and for a brief moment do I share the heaven-reaching dominance this old Indian has claimed his own for near eternity.
As I hike along today, 100 days into the “Odyssey of ‘98″ my thoughts turn to that AT thru-hike in 1948, this year being the 50th Anniversary; and to Earl Shaffer, known on the trail as Crazy One, who set out on that trek, now known as “The Lone Expedition.” Our hikes are separated by 50 years in this mysterious capsule of time, but the similarities of our two hikes cannot be separated. For we share a common understanding of the days, weeks and months, which began in peaceful, enjoyable solitude, but which slowly through time gave way to the loneliness that prevailed. For to walk alone, for days and weeks and months with no one beside you and no one to talk to becomes a truly lonely affair.
So, as was the solitary adventure for Crazy One during “The Lone Expedition,” so, too, the long, lonely trail for the Nomad during the “Odyssey of ’98,” from the Everglades in south Florida to the literal trail of hikers at Springer Mountain. The paths over which we passed were often obscure and at times nonexistent, with instinct and compass leading the search for any faint sign that the trail might be beneath our feet, signs that often belonged more appropriately in the locker of the lost and found.
“The Lone Expedition” adrift in the clouds.
The “Odyssey” lost in the glade.
Half a century apart, the intrepid move on,
Joined through time by spring’s gay parade.
Monday—April 27, 1998
Location—Siler Bald Shelter
What a neat old bunkhouse at Rainbow Springs Campground, all rough-cut butted boards, door too, with bread wrappers and newspapers stuffed in the cracks. I had the place to myself, fired up the old wood stove, read and caught up on my journals.
I came in last night in the rain and it doesn’t look too hot this morning, the forecast being for rain again today. So it looks like I’m in for another slamming. Days and weeks like this in the mist and rain, hiking along in a near-hypnotic state caused by constant rhythmic striding gives one lots of time to think. In fact, it becomes a process impossible to suppress. The day-to-day static, confusion, preoccupation, and racket in our normal lives prevent us from ever really delving into deep thought, but out here in the seclusion and quiet it becomes easy and natural. And so it is as I hike along today, my feet in the mud and my mind in the mist, my thoughts turn to yesteryear. Now seems as though, as a cloud lifts before my mind’s eye, is there revealed a door which swings open wide. Oh, and what a view, for here is a room full of all kinds of things from the past! And, as I gaze with wonder and glee into this beautiful chamber…comes a flood of wonderful memories. Ahh, for isn’t it true, just as we’ve been told, that we really do remember the good times!
And so I have noticed from time to time, as my senses become keenly attuned, when it is quiet and these thought processes are in motion, will I see something, hear something, smell something, touch something, that I am suddenly transported back to those wonderful days. My first encounter with this experience occurred while passing through a beautiful grove of cedar, their aromatic, fresh, and most delightful fragrance pervading. Suddenly I was eight years old again, hatchet in hand, my father by my side, crunching through the snow, searching for that perfect cedar for our beautiful Yule tree!
As I near Siler Bald Shelter, the sky looks more and more ominous and though it is only 2:00 p.m. I decided, since the next shelter is 12 miles ahead, to pull up at Siler. And is this ever the right decision, for in only moments the rain comes hard and steady. What a luxury to be out of it, not to be faced with getting soaked making and breaking camp in its presence. Warm and dry is such a better choice!
“I thought as I sat there this was the quiet we knew in our distant past,
when it was part of our minds and spirits. We have not forgotten and never will,
though the scream and roar of jet engines, the grinding vibrations of cities,
and the constant bombardment of electronic noise may seem to have blunted our senses forever.
We can live with such clamor, it is true, but we pay a price and do so at our peril.
The loss of quiet in our lives is one of the great tragedies of civilization,
and to have known even for a moment the silence of the wilderness
is one of our most precious memories.”
Tuesday—April 28, 1998
Location—Wesser Bald Shelter
I spent an enjoyable evening last with Jon Leuschel, a Citadel graduate and river guide for Appalachian Rivers Raft Co. at Wesser, Dan U-Turn Glenn, Osierfield, GA and Allison Wonderland Fuleky from Ann Arbor, MI.
It’s cloudy this morning with a light mist off and on, but I sense a good day in the making. At about five miles out, the AT treadway is shared, as the Bartram Trail joins and comes along for a little over a mile. This trail is named in honor of William Bartram, a mid 18th century botanist from Philadelphia. He was a wanderlust, traveling far and wide and is probably best known for his canoe adventures to the upper reaches of the St. Johns River in Florida. In the early stages of this odyssey my son, Jay and I traveled that same river, as did Bartram over 250 years ago. William and his father, John were renowned botanists of that era. John established the first U.S. botanical gardens in Philadelphia. Quite remarkably, these gardens exist and flourish to this day. Through my family genealogy, a voluminous book that has been published and is periodically updated, I know that my ancestors lived in Philadelphia during the mid 1700’s and would have known not only the Bartrams, but would have been acquaintances with and would have probably bartered with Benjamin Franklin!
Younger Bartram’s colleagues in Europe, Linnaeus being one, constantly marveled as they opened packages from Bartram, filled with buds, leaves and flowers from plants they had never seen before pressed between the pages of books. All discovered, named and cataloged by Bartram. Bartram indeed traveled extensively, for besides the many exotic Florida plants that he named and catalogued, he also journeyed to these mountains, discovering and naming many of the beautiful plants that it is such a joy to see along the AT.
The daily entries from Bartram’s journal of travels were published in a book entitled The Travels of William Bartram. His writings were in classic style for the time, being composed in a delightful, lilting, poetic prose! It is available in paperback and I highly recommend it. If you like John Muir’s style, you will be delighted with the writings of Bartram, who it appears, Muir read and studies extensively.
I was right on with my prediction for a good day, for I am awarded sweeping, panoramic views today from Wayah (pronounced War-ya) and Wesser Balds. Even with the ever-present blue haze over these timeless mountains it is possible to see into Georgia to the south and Tennessee to the north.
I had the pleasure of meeting Bob McCormick popping along the trail today. Bob is a spry 72-year-old from Melbourne, Florida. He is a member of the Florida Trial Association, Indian River Chapter, also my home FTA Chapter. We shared a most enjoyable time talking trail.
“On approaching these shades, between the stately columns
of the superb forest trees, presented to view, rushing from
rocky precipices under the shade of the pensile hills, the
unparalleled cascade of Falling Creek
[William Bartram, Western North Carolina,1775]
Wednesday—April 29, 1998
Location—Wesser, US19, Appalachian Rivers Raft Co.
The trail contour map shows a roller coaster downhill from Wesser Bald Shelter, across Jumpup Lookout all the way to Wesser. Sections of this descent are over precipitous ledges and outcroppings with breathtaking vistas. Seen below is the dramatic demarcation line marking the upward advancing reaches of spring. Here Jon, U-Turn and I pause to stare in wonder. For below us, undulating the mountainside, lies the battle line between old man winter and fair maiden spring, a line separating the dark green valleys and coves, lower spurs and ridges, ravines and gaps, where the lighter green of her advancing troops leap the budding trees to ever climb, freeing the bare, still-gray forest, captive to the clutches of winter here at these higher elevations. From the level in Nature’s hand is this battlefront line scribed, being surprisingly abrupt and evident.
Every time I see this rule about climate/vegetation regions, and the influence elevation has on them, I tell myself I’m going to remember it this time, but it seems I never do. However, if memory serves me halfway, I believe the general rule for vegetation types and seasonal occurrences is approximately this: For every thousand foot increase in elevation the conditions are equivalent to being 200 miles further north. I have read with interest, the presence of certain species of conifer in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the more-northern climatic conditions associated with them, a fascinating variant, as if they’ve been displaced from a region hundreds and hundreds of miles to the north, yet their grand communities established, thriving none-the-less. So it is that this fair maiden, “Spring of ‘98” is not only moving north…but moving up and onto these displaced elevation islands, bypassed so it seems in her haste, as together we travel on.
Jon, U-Turn and I arrive at the Nantahala River in Wesser at 11:00 a.m. Here we head for Rivers End Restaurant to load up on the famous Wesser Burger. U-Turn orders the Wesser Burger/Chili Burger combo, a gargantuan open-faced platter, heaped high with bun, hamburger and mounds of chili. I have not a clue how this skinny little rail-of-a-friend manages to get on the outside of this…somehow he does. But after being audience to his mournful moaning and groaning, then to later witness his most dramatic and highly acclaimed passing out ceremony, I’m sure glad that better judgment prevailed on my part!
The guests of gracious host Jon, the river raft guide, now and henceforth to be known on the trail as Class Five, we lounge and rest in the grand bunkroom at Appalachian Rivers Raft Co. Outpost. Oh, the wonders of a luxurious hot shower and a warm, soft bed. The rain comes hard and stays all night. What a remarkable day this has been. Thank you Lord for your bountiful blessing!
“Let us remember to give thanks for air still clean enough
to get us to the top of the hill, water still pure enough
to drink (with a little iodine), and friends still friendly
enough to share their ice cream at the end of the day.”
[Dan U-Turn Glenn, GA2ME ‘98]
Thursday—April 30, 1998
Location—Sassafras Gap Shelter
It’s been raining hard all morning, so we get out late. Class Five treats U-Turn and me to breakfast, then drives us down to where the trail leaves Wesser. Here we linger and linger. Class Five, thanks for all your kindness and generosity. Hope to see you on the trail again. U-Turn and I cross the railroad tracks and head toward Wright Gap at 1:00 p.m.
Climbing from the Nantahala River I pause at a beautiful stone monument upon which is affixed a plaque in memory of Wade A. Sutton, a North Carolina Forest Service Ranger who lost his life while fighting a forest fire near here. Standing now, reading these few short words about this man’s life gives me pause to reflect. I have found it so easy to take for granted these grand mountains and broad forests. These are national treasures that belong to all of us. People dedicate their lives to the protection and care of these priceless resources. So too, this Appalachian National Scenic Trail, this footpath through time. For it is no less a national treasure that can also be taken for granted. Lest we forget, it is this remarkable footpath that provides us access to and passage through these verdant mountains. So, to the thousands of men and women who have dedicated and who this day dedicate their lives to the task of managing all of these vast national treasures—and to individuals like Wade A. Sutton, who have made the ultimate sacrifice, permit me to extend my thanks and deepest gratitude.
There are two tough pulls from Wesser today—the climb from Wright Gap and the ascent to Swim Bald. So comes to mind now a subject I would like to discuss. To wit: Contour maps are such grand, impressive documents. Oh, what fun to pour over them and study them. And so, certainly it should be that beautiful contour maps have been created and painstakingly prepared for the AT showing all the ups and downs for the entire trail. I have talked about them briefly in other entries. I carry none with me, however I very much enjoy taking a glance over the shoulders of other hikers while they’ve got theirs out. The reason I mention this has to do with an observation, one which I’ve made over the past ten days. During this period I have observed, that by looking at a particular spike as shown on the trail contour grid, then fixing that image in my mind—that impressive little spike being stored here in the muscles between my ears—then comparing the actual degree of difficulty involved as explained to me by the muscles in my back and in my legs…I have found surprisingly, that there is no relationship between the two whatsoever, they simply don’t jibe! For it is that a climb which shows on the map to be formidable, turns out to be so much a cruise, while yet another which is totally overlooked because of its apparent ease, more than not turns out to be the real hump-buster! On more than one occasion have I watched with amusement as hiking companions pull their contour maps back out while exclaiming, “Where to h— did this one come from!”
And so it is that the old Nimblewill Nomad has arrived at the most scientific solution thus to deal with this whole perplexing dilemma. For you see, there now has been devised a method to quiet all of this confusion…a rating system if you will, based on what the muscles in our backs and our legs tell us we are dealing with…disregarding as totally irrelevant what the muscles between our ears have picked up from our gazing the contour maps! And the scientific basis for this grand rating system? Ahh, dear folks this is flawless, for the system is based entirely on the finite amount of atomic energy that is stored within the confines of the lowly little Snickers bar! Simple systems are always the best, and this is a very simple system based on an ascending scale of difficulty, with the least difficult with which we’ll trouble ourselves being rated as a three Snickers pull, and the most difficult nearing a ten Snickers pull. Initially now, I simply beg your patience and indulgence, as this revolutionary new system is inaugurated. For most assuredly you will come to trust, respect and appreciate the uncanny accuracy of Nomad’s judgment!
U-Turn and I spend a very entertaining evening at Sassafras Gap Shelter with section hikers, Bob Smilin’ Bob Nelson and Pete Broken-Spoke Fornof, both from Edwardsville, Illinois.
“Make no little plans: They have no magic to stir men’s blood.”
Friday—May 1, 1998
Location—Fontana Dam, SR28, Fontana Inn
The sun teases us this morning after hard-pounding rain all night, but the gray, swirling mist so common to these high lofty places will have none of it and soon the eerie cloud curtain descends to darken our path and visit us along.
From my hike through here in the early 80’s I can remember the section from Wesser, across the Stecoahs, to Fontana as being one of the most difficult. There were many, many uninterrupted five Snickers pulls. The climb from Wright Gap and Grassy Gap, over Swim Bald and Cheoah Bald, these are all still here, but for all the rest of the knobs in the Stecoahs, where the trail went up and over, has their ruggedness for the most part since been tamed by sideslabbing or switchbacking. Looking close as I pass the short deep gaps, I can see where the old trail went straight up, that treadway concealed now by piled up brush and years of overgrowth. So the old knee-numbing, ankle-mushing, back-bowing, reserve-tank-sapping pulls are pretty much gone. Though the hike through here is still technically difficult this section has been tamed considerably. I guess this saddens me a little as I think about it, for more than likely Myron Avery laid out that old treadway originally. For Avery was noted for taking the trail up and over, straight up…always!
I ran into toe-stubbing territory yesterday afternoon. I assumed it was due to late-day fatigue, but here we go right away again this morning, toe-stubbing territory. Aww! There’s another one. Pitches me right out there. I’ve gotta run to catch up with myself. I’m sure not going to see any bear making this kind a racket!
As we descend to Fontana Dam, spring is all around. The dogwoods are about to the end of their near-exclusive show. In some small coves here, and blooming very early, are the flame azalea and the pinxter flower (purple honeysuckle). Other spring wildflowers that I pass are nodding trillium, white trillium, rue anemone, false Solomon’s seal, spring beauty and pink lady’s-slipper. We manage to get off the trail just before the rain returns.
I catch up with Pack Mule today at Fontana Dam Shelter. Though I was glad to get on my own way back in Cave Spring, GA it’s great to see him again. Pack Mule, U-Turn and I get the shuttle into the village of Fontana Dam and Fontana Inn. Here we share a room, make an effort to get presentable, then head straight for the AYCE buffet at the Peppercorn Restaurant.
It’s been a long, hard but memorable day!
“Remote for detachment.
Narrow for chosen company.
Winding for leisure.
Lonely for contemplation.
The trail leads not merely north and south
But upward to the body, mind and soul of man.”
Saturday—May 2, 1998
Location—Russell Field Shelter
As the trail goes, Fontana Inn is a solid Five Star facility, hot tub, sauna, phone in the room…warm and dry no less! There is a large and well-maintained shelter on the trail just above the dam affectionately known by Hiker Trash as the Fontana Hilton. We arrived last evening however, to find the facility filled to the rafters, so heading for town and the Fontana Inn was certainly the right decision. Splitting a room three ways made for a very affordable and luxurious stay. At the Hiker Hilton I was able to meet many thru-hikers whose entries I’ve been reading all along in the shelter registers. Among the intrepids here last evening were Trumpet Call, Grym, P.O.D. (for path of destruction), Yogi and Boo Boo (brothers), In-Between, Dogfish, Moon Doggie, Hobo Rob, Gypsy, and Mighty Mouse.
After a fine breakfast in the most leisure and decadent fashion we pack out and head for the village store and post office. I buy a few provisions and mail some cards and letters. Fontana Dam is a popular maildrop and the place is buzzing this morning, hikers lined up at the counter and milling around on the covered walkway outside, food boxes open and packages scattered and stacked along the railing and all around. Here I meet David Spirit of ’48 Donaldson, a trail moniker chosen to commemorate Earl Shaffer’s thru-hike, the first known or recorded fifty years ago. Thousands and thousands have since made this seemingly endless journey since Earl proved in 1948 that it could actually be done, and Spirit of ’48 is one of well over a thousand of us that will attempt it again this year.
U-Turn has decided to hang a little longer here at Fontana so Mule and I get the shuttle and head back up to the dam. By now it’s nearly 1:30 p.m. We won’t get far today but head on out anyway. Crossing the dam we lean into it against Shuckstack. It rained all night and into the morning, but it’s beginning to fair-up. On the ascent we soon overtake and pass Moon Doggie (a smoker). The hike to Russell Field Shelter is a relatively short distance, but getting out late from Fontana puts us in late at Russell, near 7:00 p.m. Down at the dam we entered the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This national park is one of our most popular, a source of pride for all Americans. Annual visitations run consistently in the ten million range. So, I’m not surprised, and especially this being a weekend, to find the shelter full to capacity. Appropriately named, Russell Field does indeed have a small grassy field, and thru-hikers are permitted to pitch around the meadow if the shelter is full. Mule and I find a most comfortable spot and are just setting camp when U-Turn and In-Between come cruising in from Fontana.
Folks, aren’t these trail names a pure hoot! And here’s a good example…Tween. For you see, In-Between has been blessed with this novel and happy little name by fellow hikers who’ve noticed the mud in-between her toes as she hikes along from day-to-day in her customary foot attire…sandals! We’ve also been hiking off and on with Sam, who is here this evening, lounging comfortably by the fire with his nose in a book, as usual. I’m still working on Sam’s trail name. Bookworm just doesn’t fit…There’s something else here. I’ll figure it out soon.
The evening is passed in pleasant conversation with some fellows who are out on a short section-hike. One offers me free grabs from his trove of goodies. He’ll be leaving the Smokies tomorrow and doesn’t want to lug the stuff any further. I go for the pop tarts, coffee, pepperoni, lemonade mix and a Moon Pie. Yes, the guy lets me take his Moon Pie! Made a complete hog of myself. I’ll be toting a load till I down this grub! Aww, but gee-whiz folks, no self-respecting member of the Hiker Trash Clan could even, ever, pass up a treasure trove like this.
The day did indeed turn warm and beautiful, a fine afternoon for hiking back and forth, first from North Carolina into Tennessee and then back again into North Carolina, following the AT as it meanders along this grand high ridge in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
“As I wander these mountain paths and relish their
grand vistas, I found myself in a quandary. When I
was in Tennessee, I said: This is exactly what I’ve
been seeking; but when I crossed over into North
Carolina I found it equally rewarding and cried with
vigor: This has got to be it. I can see it now. Soon
I shall have to choose between them.”
Sunday—May 3, 1998
Location—Double Spring Gap Shelter
This is my first full day in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. As I get rolling this morning the sun teases and plays with me—for the better part of 15 minutes—then the dark, gray-swirling mist engulfs me once more. At these high elevations, I am literally in the clouds. Shortly comes the cold rain, lasting the entire day, first in gentle greeting, then at times in hard-pelting waves mixed with sleet and hail. Many of the pulls and pushes range in the four to four and one-half Snickers category. Thus now I bring forth and debut Nomad’s new trail profile rating system. The grid spikes I describe here are Rocky Top, Thunderhead and Derrick Knob. There are also many three and three and one-half Snickers pulls today, the trail being basically up or down. I find the treadway rough and rugged, choked with mud, the bottom literally blown out in many places. The incessant rain is making progress slow and treacherous.
Some sections of the trail here in the Park are shared with the horsy-back folks. Where there has also been heavy horse traffic, the dreadful treadway deterioration is ever evident. Equine tend to cut and groove the treadway narrow and deep compared to the wider eroding effect of excessive human use. These very narrow, deep grooves, some only a foot or so wide and just as deep make it difficult if not impossible to stay the track. The purpose for this note in passing and to make my point…It is my opinion horses and humans on the same trail just don’t mix!
The rain-filled cloud-swirl breaks and lifts occasionally, providing spectacular views o’er this majestic, seemingly heaven-bound path. Towards evening and in the cold mist I reach Double Spring Gap Shelter. Here I spend the night in this very leaky-but-welcome den with Turtle and Bear, Goback, Sam, 100#Stormcloud, Joyful Girl and Monkey Boy. We share a most enjoyable evening of conversation, neither heavy nor heady. As I managed along this afternoon, I noticed skid marks in the downhill mud, some extending for great distances, perhaps 8-12 feet. In the course of conversation this evening I find out the likes of how Monkey Boy is capable of performing uninterrupted, almost vertical downhill mud slaloms. Says he, “It’s kinda like riding a skateboard.” Ookey Dokey! The steady rain softly serenades us most all night.
In the next number of days, as we hike along and as the opportunity presents, I will be profiling some of the remarkably friendly folks that it’s been my pleasure and good fortune to meet out here on the AT, folks that are now my very good friends. For the most part they’re younger people that I would find occasion to give only a nod if met on the street or in public places, folks with whom I would have but passing concern…and for that matter, their response and take on me being likely the same. In the “real world” we would have no common bond, no shared interests, very little if anything to discuss for long. However, here on the trail the age and generation gap, culture differences, and the influence of career and educational backgrounds have little play in the mix. One glaring variant, which is immediately evident, is our usual difference in age, for I am old enough to be father or for that matter, grandfather to many of these younger hikers. But I’ve found it such an interesting puzzlement. That, by simply setting foot on the trail I immediately become attuned with them, their interests, their lives, as if we’re almost instantly bound together by some mysterious, invisible sort of glue! I am totally mystified by it. Is it the wanderlust that dwells deep within each of us coming forth, or perhaps the love for the outdoors, for wilderness, for nature and the sheer joy that stirs right down to our heart and soul, is that what’s mixing and binding us together? Whatever it is, it is very real, a force which cannot be denied, the result being a happy, joy-filled and very tightly knit family!
This newborn community, a subculture if you will, is continually forming, much as the links in a continuous chain are formed, as the folks leaving Springer Mountain mingle, take trail names and move north toward Mt. Katahdin. A community, that for such a short time it would seem would be as fleeting as the passing mist, but within this short timeframe and within this family are created bonds and friendships that last a lifetime. I hope you will revel and take joy, as am I, in getting to know these fellow intrepids, who along with the old Nomad, and this rag-tag family, journey on.
“At night, when the lights go on, there seems to be a
great hole in North America—a dark place, fifty-five
miles long and by almost twenty miles broad, where
the glare of civilization does not shine up at the sky.
Man has imposed this area of darkness, as he has
imposed the lights around it, by his own will. He has
set aside this vast area of mountain and wood and
falling water in the valleys, to preserve his own sanity,
to refresh his body and his mind.
[Nicholas Harman, The Magnificent Continent]
Monday—May 4, 1998
Location—Icewater Spring Shelter
The sun makes a show again this morning for about twenty minutes, then the gray swirling mist engulfs me once again, embracing the mountain peaks and slopes all about. The treadway today seems not the least bit forgiving but the relentless rain mostly proceeds along by another way.
Spring Beauties form a blanket of white and green rising and descending to embrace the trail from the slopes and intimate little glades all around, creating the perfect pathway for the finest formal bridal procession. Trout lilies add just a touch of yellow while the ubiquitous common violet graces the very trail fringe adding its formal gesture to greet the grand procession. I literally skip along as I weave my way through this gala of pureness. You could not bedeck a hall for the most grand occasion with any more beauty or fineness than that which nature has decorated these ridges and coves, for here is the ultimate creation of beauty in the most tender and exquisite form. Today is not a hike on the AT but rather a remarkable journey through fairyland.
The mist-filled clouds seem ever-present over Clingmans Dome, as if it their permanent residence. Of the many visits I’ve made to Clingmans only one has ever provided me the panorama for which the dome is famous. While standing now at the side trail to the summit, the highest point on the AT, deciding whether to move on or take the tour to the tower, the eerie presence of the old balsam monarchs, embraced by the chilling swirl, their bark shed, crowns gone, reduced to naked snags by the balsam woolly aphid, forms the most ruthless and macabre scene. Here were once such beautiful old sentinels, standing tall, so proud, so strong. As I close my eyes, I can see them still. But now can they but stand, bowing in such a sad and pitiful way, testimony to the ravages of nature and of time, for there has been no favor. But as I look down now into the mass of moldering old hulks lying defeated all around, springing forth anew with bold vigor, do I see the next generation of fir, lush and green, determined to withstand the destructive atmospheric acidity and the seemingly harmless little insects which destroyed all but precious few of their ancestors.
I have been witness to and have gazed upon nature’s full spectrum of talent today, her most exquisite tender touch, contrasted by her seemingly unconscionable, ruthless wrath. I find that I cannot comprehend the least bit of this. Indeed it has been both a spiritual and humbling experience.
I arrive at Icewater Spring Shelter around 3:00 p.m., just as the rain begins anew…with focused vengeance. But I hurry in to escape its anger. Somehow today we have taken mostly separate paths to arrive at this evening’s destination. At 4:00 p.m. 100#Stormcloud comes in, soaked to the bone, at 5:00 p.m., ditto for Sam and at 7:00 p.m., incredibly, after hiking all day in 40 degree bone-chilling rain, ankle deep mud and feet-numbing rock, In Between arrives, clad in her sandals! The shelter, though dark and dank, proves a true blessing, for the rain stays, driving cold and hard all night. Snickers rated high today—four plus for Clingmans, Mt. Love and Mt. Collins, and there were more than a few threes.
“However much you knock at nature’s door, she
will never answer you in comprehensible words.”
Tuesday—May 5, 1998
Location—Tri-Corner Knob Shelter
I do manage to get out and going this morning, but it’s already 9:00 a.m. The sun and wind finally emerge victorious in their battle to burn and sweep the ethereal-like mist from Charlies Bunion. And here I stand now to get a glimpse of the far off day. For as the skies around and the ravines and stark spires and walls of granite below are revealed to me I begin reeling as if hanging to the rail of a pitching ship. I must move back away from the precipice, crouch and clutch the rock around me until my head quits spinning. If you’ve ever clung to the railing at a circle vision theater…then you know the feeling. It’s most near the same reaction as the last time I stood at this spot some 15 years ago. I will just say this, once you’ve gazed over this hulking precipice at this mind-slamming vista and felt the surge of emotion and raw fear that being here evokes you will never, ever forget it! I simply cannot adequately describe this place to you. Until you come here, stand here, and gaze out at these crags and upon this place can you ever possibly understand.
The Sawteeth. What an appropriate name! Bare veined rock, leaning, weather-beaten, splintered spires, ever reaching toward the heavens. These sheer rock faces are all that remain from what must have been an incredible inferno that raged and swept clean these high places decades ago. Now, only scant, scattered evergreen, clutching and clinging to the walls and towers of granite, manage somehow to exist and survive. As I stare down and past the shards of the Sawteeth, the warm, welcome sun is lifting the remaining shroud of mist from the coves and ravines below. Revealed now is the ever-climbing line of spring, true to each spur and ridge weaving its gentle pastel-green lifeline, as if fine stitches to silk, separating the lush dark greenness of the fully-leafed forest below from the gray, forbidding harsh clutches of winter above. There is only the contrasting serviceberry indicating any life in these mile-high reaches.
A blessed clear day is forming. I did not complain, but took what joy and happiness there was to be found in the rains of the yesterdays, my patience rewarded now with these grand vistas, this grand day…and the high of these high places. Oh, how we take all that is around us, and indeed, our very existence, as ordinary commonplace, looking every day for that one grand miracle—when every day and everything we see and do are true miracles. Unquestionably, one of the most brilliant minds of our time, perhaps of the ages, Albert Einstein, said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. As for me I choose the latter.” As to God’s mysterious miracles, consider the mist that I have described this morning. A wall of vapor, engulfing, permeating all, limiting my visibility, from miles and miles to no more than the distance of my arms outstretched, this wall created by a gadzillion moisture particles, infinite—a number not described by any number we know or can conceive in our mind, much as the sands of all the seas. And yet I have watched the gentle warmth of the sun, and the winds, and in just moments it is all taken away and it is gone! What is such as this, if not a miracle? So, too, I consider this beautiful day and all that it brings me here on this path in the sky, along this Appalachian Trail…it is all a miracle.
“For look! Within my hollow hand,
While round the earth careens,
I hold a single grain of sand
And wonder what it means.”
[Robert W. Service, A Grain of Sand]
Wednesday—May 6, 1998
Location—Davenport Gap, SR32, Mountain Moma’s Kuntry Store & Bunkhouse
I am heading out of Great Smoky Mountains National Park today. I have mixed feelings about leaving. I have tried to describe the splendor and majesty of the Park, an awe-inspiring place to see and visit, one of the most popular of all our national parks. And therein lies the rub, for the park is literally being loved to death, the sheer number, degrading the hiking experience. The treadway in many places has the bottom literally blown out, which has made progress slow and treacherous.
The history of the Park, like most any story, has two sides—one usually good, one usually not so good. And so it is with Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Park is unquestionably one of the Crown Jewels in our national parks system. Acquiring the land, protecting the resources for all generations was farsighted, and it was right. Yet, in a wonderful book entitled Cataloochee Valley, Vanished Settlements of the Great Smoky Mountains, written by Hattie Caldwell Davis, are the sad stories told, the consequences of creating the park. For in this book are the heartbreaking stories of families that were uprooted and moved from their land. A few brief passages from this book reveal the disbelief and suffering during that time:
“In the 1830’s the Cataloochee Valley was opened up to development.
Terms of the purchase from the U. S. government specified that the land
must be settled, so the call sent out for families willing to “prove” the land.
Many answered that call. They came to make the wilderness into a place
called home. After 100 years the community was informed that the beautiful
land that surrounded them was to be shared by all. The government has decided
to form GSM, with Cataloochee Valley at its heart—the families had to leave.”
Folks likened the forced exodus to the infamous Trail of Tears, where the Cherokee were driven from their lands and relocated to Oklahoma.
“The Rev. Pat Davis was preaching at the Palmer’s Chapel in 1928, and
announced that the government would buy all the land in the area to establish
GMS, saying ‘you will be here no more.’ The people could not believe this,
but, the preacher had said it, so it must be true. They expressed their utter
amazement, then fell into depression and anger. First, there was a lot of talking
and then worry. Some started to cry. Some were sitting on the porch, on the
steps and in the grass. They were so sad, saying, ‘Where will we go, what will
we do. We can’t bare to give up our homes, our land and our good neighbors…
Oh Lord, what in the world will we do? We can’t leave here’.”
Signs of these old homesteads exist to this day all through these lush high ridges and valleys. An old wagon path here, a row of stately old boxwood there. The carefully placed rocks forming an old spring box, sour apple trees, a cluster of clover or dandelions, little time capsules from the past, all that remain of another time. The pioneers have long since passed, driven from their land, but I find this not an unhappy place, for that brave, independent frontier spirit that brought them to these beautifully rugged places remains and has not been driven from the land. Indeed it is here, adding to the radiance and beauty and I feel it as I pass.
As I descend into Davenport Gap I am thinking about the hard three and four Snickers pulls over the last two days: Charlies Bunion, Mt. Sequoyah, Mt. Chapman, Mt. Guyot, Cosby Knob, Mt. Cammerer. This has been a tough, hard hike. At this lower elevation I find to my delight, the beautiful flame azaleas beginning to bloom. These lush and radiantly blooming plants were discovered and named by William Bartram. I no sooner reach the road than a whiz-bang new Ford pickup truck pulls off and I’m offered a ride down to Mountain Mama’s by none other than Edsel Ford. Oh, and would you believe that Edsel has a brother named Henry? Folks, there’s just no way I could make this stuff up!
”The epithet ‘fiery’ I annex to this most celebrated species of azalea, as being
expressive of the appearance of its flowers, which are in general of color of the
finest red-lead, orange and bright gold…The clusters of the blossoms cover the
shrubs in such incredible profusion on the hillsides that suddenly opening to view
from dark shades, we are alarmed with apprehension of the hills being set of fire.”
Thursday—May 7, 1998
Location—Max Patch Summit
Fifteen years ago, on a rainy summer’s day, and as fate would have it, I became the first backpacker coming through from Springer Mountain to stand in total awe on the summit of Max Patch. The excitement of that memorable day was recorded in an article published in the Appalachian Trailway News, March/April 1986 issue.
Returning again to this magnificent summit has been a very emotional experience. Thousands have come since I was first here, but none could possibly have felt the intensity of the moment, then or now as I relive that memory. That article as published will be my journal entry for today:
“It rained off and on all night, and sleep was fretful at Groundhog Creek Shelter. I was up at daybreak. While putting on my wet pants, wet socks and wet boots, my blisters reminded me of the miserable mistakes I had made in planning this journey.I was 250 miles and 16 days out of Springer Mountain, Georgia, with only one pairof wool socks and boots that lacked a tongue web. It had rained almost every day,and the wet trail was really taking its toll on my feet.”
“As I left the shelter it began raining again and my spirits really dropped. There had been heavy horse traffic through this section, and I was having difficulty keeping my footing through the mud and rocks. As the rain became more intense, the trail deteriorated, and the thought crossed my mind for the first time since leaving Springer, that I might not make it, that I might have to give up and quit. Burkes Garden, Virginia, my planned destination, was still more than 300 miles ahead.
As on other occasions, I prayed for the weather to break and for the trail to dry. But I knew that on days when the clouds would break and the sun would come out, the trail often stayed wet, due to the heavy canopy above. It seemed hopeless as I slogged, soaked to the bone, through the mud and rain.”
“I had fought off depression for the past two days. To lift my spirits, I sang and made up silly poems, like:”
“When it’s dismal and dreary,
When you feel there’s no hope,
When your heart’s filled with naught but regret.
May your thoughts all be heady,
Your pack feather-light,
And the trail six lanes wide when it’s wet!”
“But, there was no singing, no catchy poem to lift me up, just the swirling gray, dismal, dreary, damnable rain. My pack was wet and heavy and cut deep into my shoulders, and I could no longer fight off the pain and depression engulfing me. As the trail seemed to close around me, I prayed I could just make it to Hot Springs”.
“Looking back now, I realize that I had reached my mental ‘low’ for the journey. Little did I know that I had not only ‘passed through the valley’ but, in the short span of less than two hours, would be swept to the highest ‘high’ I was to experience for the entire 32-day trip!
As I entered the open at Max Patch Road, the rain stopped, and it looked like the clouds were going to break. I gazed toward the sky and a feeling of renewed strength and hope came over me. To the right across the road men were working, and even though my trail guide read, ‘trail continues N (to left) on road 3.8 miles to Lemon Gap,’ I crossed the road to see what was going on and for a little welcome conversation. It was here I met Arch Nichols, Carolina Mountain Club trails supervisor. Arch and fellow Carolina Club members Dwight Allen, Perry Rudnick, Ed Dunn, and Jack Trump were busy setting posts at the edge of the road. They continued working as they enthusiastically talked about the new Max Patch section. As I listened, I became caught up in their enthusiasm.”
“ In a few short moments I learned that Max Patch was a towering, 4,600-foot-high grassy bald, part of a 392 acre Forest Service acquisition purchased to protect and enhance the Appalachian Trail for the enjoyment of all. I learned that the view from the summit of Max Patch provided a panorama of some of the highest ranges in the eastern United States. And, I also learned that through the cooperative effort of the Carolina Mountain Club, the AT Conference, the U. S. Forest Service, the Konnarock crew, a chapter of the Sierra Club, a Boy Scout troop and the Appalachian Long Distance Hiker’s Association, the 6.2 mile relocation work on Max Patch was almost completed.”
“I was swept up with their enthusiasm completely and I wanted to hike this new section. I asked if the new trail was blazed and was told that it was marked only with orange flags and orange, red, and blue ribbons. Without further question, the five of them began mulling whether the new section was marked well enough for someone unfamiliar with it to follow without getting lost. After a few minutes of discussion about how to get across a road and where to get over two or three fences (the stiles were not yet made), Dwight Allen looked at me and said, “You know, if you get through there by yourself, you’ll be the first hiker to traverse this new section, the first to reap the rewards of our efforts over the past 14 months.”
“That did it! They asked me if I wanted to try. After a few more minutes of directions and instructions, I was off! The new trail dropped off Max Patch road and back into the woods on a newly graded path, crossed a graded road and climbed into an open field. The sky was clearing now, and I could see the graded and widely mowed trail above me, leading to the summit of Max Patch. As I climbed, I realized that my feet were still as wet as before, but they didn’t hurt anymore. My pack had become feather-light and I could feel my spirit soaring up the mountain ahead of me. I was living that silly poem, line by line, written only two days previous, as I went from the depths of depression to the heights of exhilaration.”
“As I reached the U. S. Geological Survey marker on the summit, I felt ‘higher’ than any kite could fly over the beautiful meadows of Max Patch. The clouds would break momentarily here, then there. The views were spectacular: what a truly beautiful place!
And now, for all AT hikers to enjoy.”
The Maker’s countenance ‘round,
Seen from these mountains high.
Fills us with peace…Profound!
Until the day we die.
Friday—May 8, 1998
Location—Hot Springs, Sunnybank Inn
As I break camp and prepare to move on, I pause to gaze, to try and comprehend the mystery of such a place. These are rugged, timeless mountains, their legions stretching to the horizon in all directions. Why does all this exist—what does it all mean? Perhaps, someday I will know the answer. For now I must be content to feel the Master’s presence and to know that all is right.
Each day reveals new wildflowers to identify. The variety and abundance of these bright, cheerful spring children offers both delight and astonishment. To pause at every turn in the trail would not suffice to fully appreciate their glorious presence! Along with others already seen, and generally in great abundance, are the birdsfoot violet, mayapple, yellow violet and trout lily.
The hike into Hot Springs is long but enjoyable. These downhills give me the opportunity to practice perfecting “Nomad’s Neutral,” a downhill hiking technique that relieves stress on the toes, shins, knees and hips, permitting in the progress, progress at the rate of near four miles per hour. I arrive at Hot Springs just before 3:00 p.m. It’s time to hurry for mail, then head for Elmer’s Sunnybank Inn, a lovely old bed and breakfast. Here at the old Victorian mansion I am greeted at the kitchen door by Elmer Hall, much in the same fashion as Elmer greeted me at this very spot 15 years ago. For Elmer has been the proprietor and host extraordinary here at the Inn, catering to thru-hikers for over 20 years. I am treated to a wonderful supper and a bed for royalty! This has been a very satisfying day.
“Someday He’ll make it plain to me,
Someday when I His face shall see;
Someday from tears I shall be free,
For someday I shall understand.”
[Linda Shivers Leech]
Saturday—May 9, 1998
Location—Hot Springs, Sunnybank Inn
I’ve decided to spend a couple of days here in Hot Springs for a much-needed rest. Elmer has a wonderful library full of hiking/wilderness-related books. I have a very enjoyable time entertaining myself as I spend the day reading two great ones. First is David Brill’s As Far As the Eye Can See, and the other, Ed Garvey’s latest book, Appalachian Hiker III: The New Appalachian Trail. I’m also able to catch up on my journal entries. I’m meeting many folks hiking the AT and am delighted to run into Tim Long Distance Man Anderson from Winchester, Virginia. Tim is a friend of my good friend Thunder Chicken, from Rockledge, Florida, who thru-hiked the AT last year.
”Being taken by its narrowness for chosen company is indeed
one delightful aspect of the AT. One easily recognizes those
whom the trail has chosen. One senses kindred spirit. Some
folk say the chosen are a special breed; I mean if you enjoy,
if you can really get into going up mountains where you can
stand up straight and bite the ground or can thrill in downhill
descent where a person wants hobnails in the seat of his pants;
I mean you be a special breed! Mountain wilderness lovers are
[Bruce Otto, GAME ‘74]
Sunday—May 10, 1998
Location—Hot Springs, French Broad Hostel
Hot Springs has a way of making you want to linger. So I will stay the day and another night. Elmer is fully reserved for the evening, but he tells me he’ll make room. I know that a place will be found, but at the same time I feel that to stay would be taking advantage of Elmer’s soft spot for smelly, dirty hikers, so I move on to the French Broad Hostel. Here I relax the day and work some more on my journal entries.
“Little did I dream more than fifty years ago when I sat down
with two men in the New Jersey Highlands and outlined to them
my idea of a footway through the Appalachians that such plans
would be translated into the institution that has now come to pass.
I did little more than suggest the notion: I set the match to the fuse
and set the chain reaction that has come about.”
[Benton MacKaye, ATC Meeting, Boone, North Carolina, 1975]
Monday—May 11, 1998
Location—One gap north of Spring Mountain Shelter
This is going to be a grand day, warm and party cloudy, perfect for hiking. The ruggedness of these mountains through which I’ve been hiking most assuredly discouraged early settlement, save the most determined of the pioneers. Only scant and scattered remains give hint of their presence long ago. But now the hills have become gentler, the treadway and the lands traversed more friendly. Hiking along now the trail winds from below an old impoundment. Gaining the headwall I am greeted by a placid, picturesque lake embraced by grassy fields and lush meadows all around. As I look across these gently rolling pastures I can visualize where old log dwellings and out buildings might have stood. Ahh, but there are no shadows now from those settlements of frontier times nor from the brave who cleared these lands. All are gone, all long forgotten. This is such a quiet and peaceful place. But alas, shortly the trail passes over US25/70 and I am jolted by the noise and grind as 18-wheelers rumble below, jake-braking the downhill grade.
The trail soon presents another four Snickers pull up Rich Mountain thence to descend into Hurricane Gap. Here is the Rex Pulform Memorial, erected in memory of Dorothy Hansen’s father who died here attempting to thru-hike the AT in 1983. As I stand before this marker, flood over me memories…fond memories of my father and how he loved the forest woodlands. For he passed away in similar fashion. Dad had just completed loading his old rickety ‘64 Ford Pickup with hickory and oak firewood, when he sat down on the running board to rest—and the Good Lord took him then to his final rest. I suspect Dorothy’s thoughts were much as mine during that heartbreaking time, a whirling confusion of sorrow and gladness—sorrow in suffering our loss, but gladness in knowing our fathers were where they loved to be.
I soon reach Spring Mountain Shelter, one of the old round-log structures. If this classic little shelter is not an original, it certainly dates back many years. And here it remains, providing comfort and safety to countless AT hikers. I want to get a few more miles in today so I push on to the next small gap, where is located a fine campsite and a small spring. I build a delightful evening campfire, prepare my hot meal, then relax for awhile before rolling in to quickly drift into restful sleep.
“Sometimes when you’re in the middle of business
and life as usual, you think, ‘What’s it all about?’
You’re born, you live, you die…But when you’re out
there, you know why you’re there, and you feel
[Dorothy Hansen, GAME ‘79]
Tuesday—May 12, 1998
Location—Flint Mountain Shelter
I’m out and going this morning about 8:30 a.m. as I hustle along toward State Line Gas Station at Devil Fork Gap. Here I hope to get a pint of ice cream and a resupply on Snickers bars. But alas, they’re closed on Tuesday. Old places like these are fascinating, not built in any fashion nor for that matter, with much of any thought to looks or design. I sit down on the old gas-pump island and lean against one of the rickety, rusty old pumps. No gas here, just weeds. I linger and work on my journal entries as I look the place over and take it all in. I suppose seedy best describes the sight before me. It is certainly not unpleasant however, more just a hodgepodge, how structures that are needed get built. Adorning the grand old facade is a rusty Coca-Cola sign; broken windows are simply boarded up. The front door is secured with double-hasp/padlocks, more to hold the door up than to keep folks out. Inside the dingy window near the door is posted a cracked and faded flier, “Upper Paint Creek Church, happy to announce Pastor Jerry Boles, starting a Revival on May 14th at 7:00 p.m.” Doesn’t say what year. Cigarettes are the reason the old store has survived. Staring into the dreary darkness I can see racks and racks of cigarettes…I guess they’ll be back to rotate the stock tomorrow.
Now in gentle and more rolling terrain, I’m not far from the daily din—the whirring sound of a lawnmower, the rasping buzz of a chain saw, the grinding whine of 18- wheelers; all remind me that this treadway is no longer a quiet, secluded footpath. But over the last few days I have been hearing many more songbirds, their happy cheerful voices giving me a smiling face and a lighter heart.
Well, so much for the gentler mountains—no sooner said than I’m faced with the ascent out of Allen Gap, for the better part of six miles, all the way to Camp Creek Bald firetower which proves to be a hard, nearly uninterrupted four Snickers pull. I soon arrive at Blackstack Cliffs, a rugged and beautiful sight to see. The cliffs are home to nesting Peregrine Falcons. This section quickly turns to rough, muddy, boulder-strewn treadway. It’s hard to believe that the top of a mountain could be a bog–but here it is for the better part of a mile! Much of the trail along this high ridgeline passes within the Pisgah National Forest before crossing into the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee.
It’s time to rest and take in the sun so I stop for a welcome lunch break at Jerry Cabin Shelter. My puppies enjoy the break and an airing before being rewarded with some dry socks. This place is really Sam’s Cabin, honoring Sam Waddle, the shelter caretaker for the past 26 years. The “cabin” will soon have all the modern conveniences, being prewired as it is for electric lights and telephone. Hopefully someday, Sam will get around to hooking things up!
“When the Lord led Moses out of the desert, He took
His servant to the top of a mountain and showed the
Promised Land spread out below. The mountain was
Pisgah. Moses never entered the land of his people,
but he came down from Pisgah and died content.”
[Nicholas Harman, The Magnificent Continent]
Wednesday—May 13, 1998
Location—Campsite north of Bald Mountain Shelter
What a grand and sociable evening last at Flint Mountain Shelter. I arrived just behind 100#Stormcloud to meet Tumbleweed, and then Tween and U-Turn came in just before dark. We had a very fine cooking and warming fire.
It looks to be another clear, cool, glorious hiking day as I cross SR212 to enter a lively meadow. A couple of stiles help the trail in then out. There must be a hundred different ways to build a stile—these have steps straight up and over. Above the meadow I reach a small, old, family cemetery plot on the edge of the mountain spur. One grave gets my attention, that of a Dorothy Hensley, May 2, 1865–April 30, 1965. Testimony to the longevity of these mountain folks, Dorothy lived to within two days of her 100th birthday!
And just above the family gravesite, at the upper reaches of this lovely little cove, and beside the clear mountain brook, molders the remains of an old settler’s homestead. The log cabin is pitifully broken down, the earth reclaiming its remains. But the old weatherworn logs seem to be waiting, hoping to be put to use once again. Above the cabin, the trail climbs a high-reaching ravine, then to pass tumbled remains of three old log out-buildings, sliding and decaying into the rocks…a spot so steep as Otto would say, “A man could might nigh stand straight up and bite the dirt.” And as I ascend into still higher reaches is there a cool, shaded waterfall.
Today I am not far from the trappings of civilization, but it is not unpleasant. The treadway follows an old fenceline along the ridge for miles, zigging first into Tennessee, then zagging back into North Carolina. The old woven barbs of wire which once bound the line have long since gone to dust, but the old locust posts stand straight and tall, solid and seemingly invincible, much as ranks of infantry, standing ready to spring to action at the first call, patient, ever faithful. As we struggle with our meager packweight over these rocky ridges and knobs; I can’t but consider what must have seemed endless backbreaking toil to the settlers who cleared and set these fencelines. First a path had to be opened, then trees found, felled, bucked and split into posts. Then the near-impossible task of prying holes between the rocks to set the posts…post after gap, after mile! Certainly we hikers move along effortlessly as if on wings, in comparison to the progress of those pioneers!
As I descend a wide, high meadow the trail now passes beautiful flowing communities of wildflowers not before observed. I am able to identify false Solomon seal, pure clusters of little white flowers, and in the meadow all about, golden ragwort, a bright and cheerful yellow-gold flower standing, waving tall in the gentle breeze. It is all so peaceful, so serene. All that I see and marvel hereabouts, “toil not, neither do they spin,” but reside in pure peace and harmony. Oh, the bountiful, gracious love of the creator of it all!
There’s a five Snickers pull up the approach and final ascent to Big Bald. Sweating and bone- weary I pull myself the last few steps to the summit—to find a small child skipping about, only yards from her parent’s BMW! The car is parked square on the highest ground, right on the summit. Will someone who can make some sense of this please explain it to me! The evening is most pleasant. I am still not used to the luxury of company on the trail or during the evening. What a pleasure sharing an off-camber campsite with 100#Stormcloud. Great campfire, wonderful conversation!
“Along the eastern line of Tennessee,
High in a gap with vistas either way,
The old log cabin fascinates me,
While passing by one sunlit April day.
One end is tumbledown. The chimney stands
Half sundered from the once snug-fitting wall
Long since neglected of its builder’s hands,
An aura of decay pervading all.
Who built this lofty home along the Trail
So long ago and chose the site so well?
If these old logs could speak what rustic tale
Of plans and hopes and toil would they tell?
Reluctantly, I leave for here there seems
To be fulfillment of somebody’s dreams.”
Thursday—May 14, 1998
Location—Uncle Johnny’s Nolichucky Hostel, Erwin, Tennessee
The trail is mostly downhill today into Erwin. Time to get Nomad’s neutral working again. I’ve been hiking with Tulie and her shep, Tenaya since Spivey Gap. Skookum and his shep, Baxter meet us part way up Temple Hill as we are descending to the Nolichucky River. Skookum greets us with a big smile and ice cold, fresh strawberries. What a fitting way to celebrate the halfway point of this “Odyssey of ‘98”—1750 miles down, 1750 to go!
We reach Uncle Johnny’s great new Nolichucky Hostel on Chestoa Pike around 3:00 p.m. I get to the phone right away to call my friend, Pat Garcia Jackson who lives here in Erwin, hoping to get a ride north to Damascus for Trail Days this weekend, but, alas, I am told Pat “left-out” this morning. However, as this odyssey goes, I’ve been offered a ride up and back with Skookum!
This has been another memorable hiking day. I pitch in the cool, lush grass behind the hostel along with many thru-hiker friends: U-Turn, Tween, Sam, T-Bone Walker, Long Distance Man, Fletch, Joliet Joe, Joyful Girl, Dave and Innkeeper. Johnny had the grill going for burgers. Beer is permitted on the premises in cups—great bunch, great evening!
“There’s a race of men that don’t fit in,
A race that can’t stand still.
So, they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain’s crest.
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
And they don’t know how to rest.”
[Robert W. Service]
Friday—May 15, 1998
Location—Tent City, Front Street near Laurel Creek, Damascus, VA
Tenting out last night on the lush, green, lawn behind Nolichucky Hostel was the right thing to do as those who chose the bunkhouse found it a little too warm. I slept cool and comfortable with the fly rolled back on my little Slumberjack.
As I work on my journal entries here at Nolichucky Hostel, two groups of thru-hikers load up and head for Trial Days in Damascus. About 11:00 a.m. one load departs in an old VW bus, the back end squatting and the old air-cooled engine wheezing. I hope they make it okay! My ride to Damascus will be with Skookum and Tulie and their dogs Baxter and Tenaya. They arrive about three and we load up—three people, three packs and two dogs in his little Ford!
We’re faced with a couple of tough pulls thru the mountains, but what a welcome break, sitting back and letting the little Ford do the work! We arrive in Damascus about 6:00 p.m. I dearly love trail towns and Damascus is probably the ultimate in trail towns. The folks here profess to have the friendliest stopover along the AT, and to my knowledge, that statement has never been questioned or challenged. Damascus indeed, is a hiker-friendly place.
I head right for Tent City down by the river. Here is a grassy expanse, most nearly a lawn, but the size of a meadow, stretching all along Laurel Creek. The entire area is completely filled with tents for the better part of a quarter-mile. The waves of brilliance throw my color vision into overload as I attempt to fix some mental order to this confusion. The large six to eight pound dome tents like Eureka and North Face seem to be popular with the couples, many being here just for the weekend. The thru-hikers preference is evident—smaller tents—the Clip Flashlights standing out predominantly. I probably have the smallest and lightest one-man tent in the meadow, the little Slumberjack. But, it has served me well so far these past 119 days. Although I am now on my second one, the folks at Slumberjack have provided for me and have kept me going.
The atmosphere here is not “carnival,” that description having a certain detractive connotation, but there is certainly plenty of excitement and revelry all around. The vendors and manufacturers have their booths and tables set up all along the way. Every conceivable kind of item or product even remotely associated with hiking and the trail experience is on display and for sale. Over in one corner, near Mountain Smith, two fellows have their large commercial-style sewing machine set up with piles of packs and other gear lying in a heap, awaiting repair. And food, even the insatiable appetite of the thru-hiker can surely be satisfied here!
The meadow by the river, the expanse that it is with hundreds of tents, is not the only camping area within the city of Damascus. The Methodist Hostel, known as “The Place,” a lovely two-story residence converted years ago, first to accommodate bicyclists on the Transcontinental Bike Trail and now, also host to AT thru-hikers, is filled and the lawn and yard jammed with tents clear around. Up by the community swimming pool, just off the Virginia Creeper Trail, and in a lovely place called “The Island,” countless more tents are set up, row after row.
Ahh folks, this is it! It’s Friday night in Damascus, the excitement and fun just beginning. The “Class of ‘98″ is here along with the classes of countless years past, each with their reunion, members greeting each other, mingling and sharing the joy of being together again. “Trail Days,” the wheels are up, the flaps are in and this thing is flying! Ya gotta be here—you just gotta be here!
This is the first in what I hope you will find a delightful series of profiles. Each will tell a little about the kind and friendly people I have met and will meet during the “Odyssey of ‘98.”
I got to know David Skookum Irving on the summit of Springer Mountain last fall. Dave is a happy lad with an infectious excitement about the AT. He is 24 years old, single and hails from Salisbury, NH. He has a degree in Wildlife Ecology with a minor in Conservation Biology from the University of Maine at Orono. He is currently employed by the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club, The Appalachian Trail Conference and the U.S. Forest Service as the “Ridge Runner” for the 72 miles of AT in Georgia, along with some 20 plus miles of side trails. Dave logged over 2000 miles in fulfilling this responsibility in 1997. What a joy seeing Dave back again in this same capacity for ‘98! He is not only the current expert on the Georgia section of the AT, but also knows the entire AT well, having thru-hiked as a member of the “Class of ’96.”
Dave’s reflections on the trail: “A lot of little things that made the big thing great. My sister, Susan August, age 15 hiked with me for a third of the way. She helped me escape the Virginia blues. I met a lot of good people, both on and off the trail. The daily news gives us such a bad impression of everything. It’s good to know that people are still nice.” Dave’s future plans: “Goals? Have fun! Been thinking about it…Thought maybe I’d figure it out on my thru-hike. That didn’t happen. Then I thought maybe I’d figure it out last year as ridge runner. That didn’t happen. Maybe I’ll figure it out some time in the next decade or so!” A final quote: “Alaska would be a good place to end up. I like it in northern New England. I’ve never experienced the west, northwest, the southwest—lots of places to check out, lots of places to go!”
Tell me this young chap isn’t full of wanderlust to the soul…like Muir and Bartram. It’s always a highlight of the day when I meet Skookum and his pal Baxter on the trail. I hope our paths cross again, my friend!
Nature’s splendor, the great outdoors,
God’s glorious wonders to see.
No finer place to enjoy this peace,
Than along the old AT.
A life akin to the mist on the wind,
This, the wanderlust’s way.
As he roams about to his heart’s delight,
A calling he must obey.
Saturday—May 16, 1998
Location—Tent City, Front Street, Damascus, VA
A sit-in jam session, mostly guitars, continued by the bonfire right next to my tent until 2:00 a.m. After that I managed to sleep fine. I awake with a ravenous appetite, so I skip breakfast and head straight for the BBQ chicken dinner at Damascus V.F.D. Oh yes, was this the right choice!
What a grand day to rest and visit again with a number of trail friends. One, a young man that I had met leaving Springer, bound for Katahdin. While backtracking the AT from Three Forks to Springer on my odyssey from Florida to connect with the AT I met this young lad. Here in Damascus he walks up to me and asks if I remember giving him his trail name. He’s from Hawaii and Hawaiian Hoofer just seemed natural…and it stuck. We have a grand time “benchhiking” as we talk about his experiences so far since leaving Springer. I also catch up again with Garcia. I’d met him while on the roadwalk through Alabama. And oh, so many other great friends—to name a few; Tween, U-Turn, Yogi and Boo Boo, Sam (now Chaser), Chris, Selky, Saint, Hobo Rob, Pack Mule and many others.
I relax most of the day while taking in all the Trail Days sights and activities. I really enjoy attending most all the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association (ALDHA) meetings and programs at the Methodist Church. Warren Doyle, Jr.’s famous, inspirational and hysterically funny presentations are held here. One never tires of listening to the accounts, yarns and “lies” so eloquently woven by this raconteur extraordinary. I also attend as many other great slide shows and presentations as is possibly in so short a time. Later in the day I have the notable privilege and pleasure in meeting and shaking hands with Ed Garvey, Warren Doyle, Jr., Bill O’Brien, Larry Luxenberg and Sam Waddle. Everyone is disappointed that Earl Shaffer is not here this year. But Earl, as it seems, is a bit preoccupied as he thru-hikes the AT once again on the fiftieth anniversary of his legendary first thru-hike accomplished in ‘48…this time at the age of 79!
Back to The Place I sit and chat with friends. Selky is busy doing some sewing. Watching her as the needle flies with fine precision, soon flashes on in my head the little idea lightbulb. It is time to polish my Yogi-ing a tad. I’m the only hiker in town still hiking in long pants; everybody has switched to shorts weeks ago. My problem? I have no shorts. So it is that I appeal to Selky to cut the legs off my pants and hem them into shorts. “No problem!” She says, so I hunt around for a pair of scissors to accomplish the legectomy. In no time the task is done, pantlegs cut off and my new shorts hemmed and ready to go. Thanks, Selky!
In the evening, and to cap a perfect day I head to Quincey’s for calzone and pizza with U-Turn and Tween. Later I spend time with good friend, Jim Thunder Chicken Pitts from Rockledge, Florida who thru-hiked the AT last year, and also with his good friend Poppasan, retired Navy fighter pilot, age 64, who also thru-hiked the AT in ‘97.
Well, the huge bonfire is roaring again and what they’ve got going here tonight is whooping and dancing to bongos! This raucous goings-on continues until after 2:00 a.m. again, but I manage again, to sleep soundly into the morning.
“When I die, bury me well,
Six foot under the Appalachian Trail.
Lay my pack frame upon my chest,
And tell Ed Garvey I did my best!”
[Unknown West Virginia Poet]
Sunday—May 17, 1998
Location—Chuck & Lenore Parham’s Home, Mars Hill, NC
I haven’t mentioned the problem with my tooth. I have a tooth problem. The reason I haven’t talked about my tooth problem is because I have been blessed with perfect teeth all my life. I’ve never had the least trouble, though I’ve listened to countless friends relate their woes about their dental pains. I have not a filling in my head…and to this day do I proudly possess a single remaining baby tooth at the age of near 60! So I guess denial is a natural reaction to this whole ordeal. But my toothache is not going to be ignored this day. My jaw is hurting and I must get some relief. Along the midway yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting a wonderful lady, Elizabeth McKee. Elizabeth is the mayor of Damascus. Getting her aside I ask if she would be kind enough to refer me to a local dentist, with my pain and all, the day being a Saturday and the dentists all out. She said, “You won’t be finding any dentist today” and that my best bet would be to head over to the drugstore and get myself some Anbesol. That I did. But I still couldn’t bring myself to face the reality of it, so I just shoved the bottle in my pocket, telling myself in the process that all would be fine real soon. But real soon has passed and all is not fine so this morning I pull the little bottle back out and slather the stuff across my gums. Oh, glory be, what a relief! The stuff helps immediately and immensely. I suspect this molar is going to have to come out pretty soon.
I have been invited to visit and spend the evening with dear friends Chuck and Lenore Parham in Mars Hill, NC. Chuck was a colleague for years. We hit it right off and have been great friends. He’s retired now and living the good life up here in the mountains. It is intriguing how this odyssey continues to thread its way. I have been offered a ride out of Damascus with Thunder Chicken; all the way it seems, to Mars Hill, as his path home passes nearby. So I am delivered straight to the Parham’s front door. Thanks Thunder Chicken. Didn’t we have a grand time at Trail Days! I’m no sooner greeted by Chuck and Lenore than Chuck cranks up the grill. Dining in the most genteel and lavish fashion in trail lingo is called Garveying, for Ed is well known far and about for enjoying the finest full course cuisine right on the trail. Oh, did I ever Garvey out! Indeed, I did the clan proud!
“If I had my life to live over, I’d try to make more mistakes.
I would relax, I would limber up, I would be sillier than I have
been on this trip. I would be less hygienic, take more chances;
take more trips. I would climb more mountains, swim more
rivers and watch more sunsets. I would eat more ice cream
and less beans. If I had it to do over again, I would go places
and do things and travel lighter. If I had my life to live over,
I would start barefooted earlier in the spring and stay that way
later in the fall. I would play hooky more. I wouldn’t make
such good grades, except by accident. I would ride on more
merry-go-rounds—I would pick more daisies!”
[A Friar, Atonement Friars, Graymoor]
Monday—May 18, 1998
Location—Cherry Gap Shelter
Mars Hill is about 15 miles south of Rufus Sams Gap on US23, so we cross the AT by road, where I had passed five days ago by trail, as Chuck and Lenore deliver me back to Nolichucky Hostel at Erwin. We say farewell and I’m off towards Damascus again, this time by the AT. Thanks Chuck and Lenore for your kindness and hospitality.
The first day back on the trial after a couple days off is always a tough day, especially when you’re out late. There has been an absolute explosion of bugs and insects since the latter part of last week. There are crickets, grasshoppers, flies of every color and size, tics, gnats, spiders—and butterflies, beautiful butterflies! At the lower elevations coming out of Erwin I see the lovely, early blooming Catawba (red) rhododendron, also mountain laurel, flame azalea, purple honeysuckle and the more rare yellow azalea.
I dearly need to get in a full hiking day, so I stick with it until after 7:00 p.m. There were some tough pulls today–four Snickers to reach both Beauty Spot and Unaka.
Dusk arrives as I arrive at Cherry Gap Shelter. Back County has a great cooking fire going, so I’m able to prepare a nourishing hot meal—a real blessing. I soon drift into a deep and restful sleep.
“ . . . the spring wildflowers are something to see
and walk among. We saw acre-size fields of trillium,
mayapple, bloodroot, bluets, violets and buttercups . . .
fields upon fields of ferns rise out of the forest floor
in the shade of newly leafed trees”
[James and Hertha Flack]
Tuesday—May 19, 1998
Location—Roan High Knob Shelter
I had the pleasure of hiking some yesterday with Little Sippi, Grym, P.O.D, Otherwise, Half-Pint, Starburst, Tulie and Tenaya, and Skookum and Baxter. Today I’ll be with Second Chance, Holly Hobbie, Scrabble, Bald Eagle, Alfredo, Long Distance Man, and Quarter-Pounder. A day-hiker/trail angel hangs with me all the way up Roan. Once on the summit he asks me to wait a few minutes near the parking area while he goes to his car for an ice-cold Coca-Cola. What a surprising and refreshing treat…I simply can’t remember a Coke tasting so good!
As I sit here sipping and savoring my cold Coke, before me is the most splendid scene. Roan is famous for the Catawba (red) rhododendron, considered by many to be among the most beautiful sights in nature. Near Roan High Bluff are found the remains of the former Cloudland Hotel. The Tennessee/North Carolina State line ran right through the center of the majestic ballroom. Cloudland was a thriving resort during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. A few steps and part of the old ballroom floor are all that remain. If one were to take a notion however, I suppose it would still be possible to Tennessee Waltz your partner clear into North Carolina across the old ballroom floor! My Coke and I take the stroll.
I had two difficult ascents today, one being the hardest so far—first, a four Snickers pull up and over Little Rock Knob, and second, still in my memory from 15 years ago, the ascent up and onto Roan High Bluff, this one a steep, hard five plus Snickers pull. Both of these have all the attributes of a higher degree—that being represented by the Four R’s: ruts, rocks, roots, and rough! I am blessed with two more absolutely beautiful days of hiking complete with panoramic vistas; yesterday from Beauty Spot, and today, seemingly the top of the world, the view from Roan Massif.
I arrive at Roan High Knob Shelter around 4:00 p.m. and quickly get a fine cooking fire going for my evening meal and some hot coffee. The water source here is a lovely little seep coming from the rocks under the red spruce about 50 yards below the cabin/shelter, a wonderfully preserved old log structure once used as a fire warden’s cabin. Roan High Shelter is the highest shelter on the AT, standing at 6,285 feet.
In awhile some section hikers arrive, then Alfredo, Quarter-Pounder, Long Distance Man, and finally Hollie Hobbie. After preparing our evening meal, the fire gets built back for warmth, as the chill at this high elevation comes in right along with sunset. What an enjoyable and most pleasant evening of lighthearted conversation and jollity. I pitch my tent on a bed of evergreen needles under the red spruce and roll in for a warm and most restful night.
“Strange that so few ever come to the woods
to see how the pine lives and grows and spires,
lifting its evergreen arms to the light, to see its
perfect success, but most are content to behold
it in the shape of many broad boards, brought to
market and deem that its true success!”
Wednesday—May 20, 1998
Location—Campsite past Campbell Hollow Road
I manage to get out from Roan High Knob Shelter about 8:30 a.m. to be greeted by yet another beautiful, clear, sunny day. From the shelter the trail descends along an old woodsroad most near the distance to Carvers Gap. The treadway appears to be descending a dry creek bed, for by simply adding rushing water it would appear as a mountain brook. But alas, where there was once earth and duff, now remain only rocks, the final and most unpleasant result of erosion caused by the army of hikers who have trod this path. One only need stop and look where the trail bails off the old roadbed to descend on down the mountain to see the sad reality of it. For at this juncture an interesting comparison can be made between where the old woodsroad continues, complete with earth, duff and a narrow, grassy pathway, and the incredible erosion of the turning treadway. Here the trail is beaten down to hip-deep bare rock, testimony to the cumulative effect, the ravages if you will, from the constant beating and pounding we who love the trail deliver, and that this old trail has endured over the decades.
Oh, what a perfect day to ascend the Balds and to look out from their lofty heights. Though it has been 15 years, I remember all of this as if yesterday. It is all so vivid, the sights and sounds from Round Bald, especially the sounds of that day so long ago. That day was also clear and beautiful, much as is this day. I remember lying back on these rocks, at this very spot, enjoying the warm sun, relaxing, half daydreaming, half in slumber. And then from far off it came, drifting across the highlands from above and descending all around, the unmistakably clear, melodic ring of a banjo. Oh, the happy sound it was, so crisp, so pure, so clear. The music seemed to be like the air, as if broadcast across the skies, lifted from a glorious amphitheater. From the lower slopes all around reverberated the chime of nostalgic, old banjo bluegrass—Rocky Top, Arkansas Traveler, Reuben, Cripple Creek, Cherokee, Foggy Mountain Breakdown. For most an hour this recital to the Roan Highlands continued, the notes so perfect, so clear as to bring joyful glee to the ear and to the heart, touching my very being, to the depths of my soul. Oh, the sense of sound, it is such an incredible sense.
And then it ended as abruptly as it began, leaving a perfect stillness and a perfect clearness. I stand here now, looking at the very spot atop the boulder where I lay. I recline again, close my eyes and I am transported back to that time so long ago and I hear those pure clear notes ring perfect in my memory. This place is ageless, never changing, and my memory not failing those precious fixed moments in time. Now, as then, I linger for one last look from this heavenly highland, before traveling ever onward. As I hike the path off Round Bald my mind constructs and idyllic little cabin, nestled peacefully in a lush, green cove just below. And on the porch swing, a young man picks away to his hearts content, as the possessor of his heart rests content in the cool shade of the old sycamore by the well. I used to sit each evening in the comfort and security of our little home in a manner most content, to listen as my young son, Jon, practiced and perfected those very bluegrass banjo songs. But alas, time sweeps us along and we must go, and all that was, is no more.
The sideslabbing along the trail today is so typical of the AT treadway in the Southern Appalachians. For it seems, and the appearance is as though the tree trunks are literally holding the trail up on the side of the mountain. For the trail drapes around these trees as does garland on the boughs of a Christmas Tree, the trail looping and lifting from one tree trunk to the next, much as the garland loops o’er the boughs in similar fashion. As I drape my way along this trail-garland I am wondering if it has occurred to the trail maintenance folks, that if they would just take hold of one end of this thing and give it a good hard tug, they could pull all of this slack on through. Just think, all of this perfectly good treadway that could then be put to use elsewhere!
As we tread the pathway along the AT, we are literally treading on history, for the route of the Overmountain Men intersects the AT. I stand now in the Pisgah National Forest at the Overmountain National Historic Trail monument, on which is inscribed,
“September 25, 1780, down yonder at Sycamore Shoals they gathered, a 1000 men
from the militias of Virginia, North Carolina and what is now Tennessee, joined forced
to resist the British. They provided their own horses, rations and guns. They rode up
this mountain as the weather turned bitter. Through this gap they trudged without benefit
of supplies, surgeons or chaplains. The Overmountain Men continued the 170 miles to
Kings Mountain. There they defeated the British-led Loyalists in bloody battle. They won
a significant victory in the Revolutionary War.”
On the top of Hump Mountain is (was) a beautiful bronze memorial in memory of Stanley A. Murray, who led a fundraising campaign years ago to purchase the “humps.” He was ATC Chairman at the time and hiked this very trail with Ed Garvey when Ed passed this way on his thru-hike in 1970. Mr. Murray died in 1990. As a result of this man’s unflagging dedication and effort and the successful result thereof, the trail was moved onto Houston Ridge and to the Balds and Highlands of Roan. The memorial was beautiful but is no more because, sadly, it has been vandalized—battered and bent as a result of the fury and rage vented by someone who wielded a very large rock with incredible might. I absolutely cannot comprehend this senseless, wanton destruction. It is indeed, a sad scene.
The Southern Balds are treeless summits below treeline, a baffling mystery to investigators. Balds such as Roan Massif, Hump, Jane, Pump, Beauty Spot, Max Patch are all examples. Some believe native Americans cleared the Balds, others blame overgrazing, too much wind, lightning. Still others point to UFOs! I like Wingfoot’s explanation, for his may be the most plausible. He says, “Perhaps the baldness is hereditary!”
I don’t get far onto Doll Flats, than I meet Tom, the Coke-toting trail angel from yesterday. He’s section-hiking south today and guess what? Trail angel true-to-form, he offers me another ice cold Coca-Cola—said it would be waiting for me at US19E. Sure enough, when I reach the highway there’s Tom with the Coke. It’s amazing how nice these things go down on a hot day! It was also my pleasure to meet and hike some with his friend, Richard. Richard was good for a bag of GORP! It’s always good to see trail angels.
As the trail went today, I am reminded of the old truism, “What goes up must come down.” The AT corollary to that being, “What comes down must go up”—like the pull out of Carvers Gap and the one from US19E, both earning four Snickers!
Passing Campbell Hollow Road I pitch in a small camping area complete with fire ring and I get a respectable fire going to prepare supper. It has been a clear, glorious, fun-filled hiking day!
“Out on the blue horizon,
Under an aerial sky,
With aspect always sylvan,
The days go strolling by.”
Thursday—May 21, 1998
Location—Dennis Cove, Kincorra Hostel
There came a short thunderstorm during the night, but I slept soundly on both sides of it. I break camp and am on the trial by 8:30 a.m. The sky clears before noon making for a very nice hiking day. Slowly but surely the hiking days are getting longer, warmer and generally drier! What a blessing to have warm hands and warm feet!
I arrive at Kincorra Hostel around 3:00 p.m. to meet Bob Peoples, the owner. This facility comes highly recommended by Thunder Chicken, who has since become good friends with Bob. The hostel is a newer log structure attached to the older log main dwelling, which dates to the time of the civil war. The stay here is most comfortable. I wash some clothes, even do a little cooking. As he showed Thunder Chicken last year, Bob showed Fletch and I how to identify, dig and prepare ramps, sharing the while, a most humorous story about how Thunder Chicken dug up some ramps, brushed them off, then popped the whole bundle of little breath-fresheners in his mouth…with Bob standing by, wide-eyed, in total astonishment! The area behind Bob’s house where the ramps grow is now known as the Thunder Chicken Memorial Ramp Patch!
Bob drives some of us to Hampton for provisions and a stop at Down Home Lakeside Restaurant for their famous wagon wheel hamburger. It’s a 20oz monster on five combined large burger buns, a massive thing filling an entire large carryout container. This giant also comes with another large container of potatoes, and impossible amount of food to consume, but I did try. Bad idea. Nightmares? Oh, yes!
“Awoke drenched with mountain mist, which made
a grand show as it moved away before the hot sun.
Crossed a wide, cool stream. There is nothing more
eloquent in Nature than a mountain stream—its banks
are luxuriantly peopled with rare and lovely flowers
and overarching trees, making one of Nature’s coolest
and most hospitable places. Every tree, every flower,
every ripple and body of this lovely stream seems
solemnly to feel the presence of the great Creator.
Lingered in this sanctuary a long time thanking the
Lord with all my heart for his goodness in allowing
me to enter.”
Friday—May 22, 1998
Watauga Dam is a very large earthen (rock) impoundment that has created a lake with a remarkably long and circuitous shoreline. This result of man’s intrusion into the grand scheme of things runs for miles and can be seen for the better part of two hiking days. So today’s hike will no doubt prove to be excitement-filled, what with Laurel Fork Gorge, the falls, the flats and the bluff walk above Watauga Lake.
The trail north out of Kincorra enters Laurel Fork Gorge as it descends gradually to follow along an old narrow-gauge railroad bed. During its day, the engineering genius to accomplish the construction for a railroad through this precipitous gorge was, I am sure, considered an incredible accomplishment. The main trestle long since gone, which spanned the gorge, must have been a pretty impressive sight indeed. In latter day Disney World lingo, I’m sure a trip across that trestle, atop a rocking-and-rolling railcar would surely have been considered an “E-ticket” ride!
On my hike through here 15 years ago, the AT followed the railroad grade all the way to Laurel Fork Shelter, bypassing Laurel Fork Falls. To reach the falls, one had to descend the wall of the gorge by a blue-blazed loop trail. I chose at that time to continue on, as looking down the blue-blaze into the gorge appeared a formidable, time and energy-consuming side trip—a decision I’ve regretted ever since. For since then, one of the questions always asked by others when we discuss the AT has been, “What did you think of Laurel Fork Falls?” Many folks have since tried to describe these beautiful falls. So, now I will close this loop, literally, as I descend the neatly placed boulders that form the steps (now the AT treadway) down into the gorge…and to Laurel Fork Falls.
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.
Does this even begin to describe what I am now trying to comprehend? I tell you, it does not! For, just as with that mysterious swirl of emotions experienced as I stood to gawk and peer from the summit of Max Patch do such raw and vibrating emotions descend on me now—you must come here, you must stand ‘midst this cacophony and brilliance to really understand. You too, must someday come to the falls in Laurel Fork Gorge.
As I lean into the four Snickers pull up Pond Flats I’m thinking about all the great thru-hikers that I found pleasure staying with at Kincorra. Fletch, Joliet Joe, Hawaii, Weatherman and Boyscout, Pianobloke, Wanderer, Grateful Granddad and Yodi, Wylie Coyote, Buddha Boy, Dutchie, T-Bone Walker, Redness Rushing,Innkeeper and Redneck Rye. The home fries, leftovers from last evening, I prepared along with three eggs, compliments of Weatherman—aided by a little bacon fat from the mason jar on the counter, and in the best-cured old cast-iron frying pan I’ve ever seen. I split this grand creation with Joliet Joe and we both had our fill.
What a delight reaching the lovely park and beach at Watauga Lake. I drop my pack and jump right in! The warm sun feels so good as I “drip-dry” while fixing a light lunch. The place is packed to overflowing and I am lucky to have found this little picnic table here on the end. Kids are playing and laughing, but I find it not the least bit distracting as they scamper about…and as I lounge about on the lush lawn. Watauga Lake is set against a tall, lush mountain backdrop. Ahh, what a beautiful, peaceful place!
I’m faced right away with another steady four Snickers pull to Vandeventer Shelter. The climb is more than worth it as the views from the remarkably uniform bluff and ridgeline are many and varied, first back and down into Watauga Valley and then the beautiful meandering lake. The high-pitched whine from motorboats way off and down the distant lake can be heard most all afternoon from this high-mountain vantage.
As I journey on, the sun bids bye and the day soon turns to steady rain; so I hasten my arrival at the shelter. I am able to get a warming and cooking fire going under the shelter eaves. The rain, never slacking, decides to stay, setting in hard to finally become the evening sentinel, standing guard throughout the night. Over these past 125 days I have learned to get by with few trappings, little of the worldly things if you will, and I have been more content with the independence so attended such lifestyle perhaps than during any other period in my entire life. Living in this manner has been so vibrant. Offered me and joyfully received have been bountiful loving gifts of pure invigorating vitality—being close to the grit and grind has brought me closer to His face, through His Grace! But oh, isn’t the luxury offered up by these cozy shelters along this grand old AT so very comforting to find at the end of a long, tiring day! It is but sheer indulgence to accept their warm and inviting hospitality. Lest I become softened to these ways, must I now keep in mind the wise words of two of my very dear friends:
“He who needs nothing, has everything.”
“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things
which we can afford to let alone.”
Saturday—May 23, 1998
Location—Double Springs Shelter, Holston Mountain Trail
A very uncanny and unsettling thing happened this morning…and apparently if here, one could witness this each and every morning. At precisely 5:30 a.m. I am rudely and abruptly awakened by the shrill hyper-call of a whippoorwill. He is so close I can hear him sucking wind between each escalating and succeeding blast as he cranks his siren up to full tilt. Indeed he would now be a poor-will if I could have gotten my hands on him, but alas, before I’ve one eye part way open and before I can gather my wits he has accomplished his task and has vanished. U-Turn also reported encountering the scoundrel at precisely the same time during his stay here. Later I learn that the spirit of a dearly departed hiker comes to the fire ring in front of the shelter at precisely 5:30 a.m. every morning, alighting in the form of a whippoorwill, to greet the intrepid who are unfortunate enough to have spent the night!
After nature’s little alarm clock, to which I halfheartedly saluted the day, and now influenced by not only the drear from companion rain but the not terribly pleasant aspect of standing now before the Grindstaff grave again, this day is weaving a fairly formidable funk. For it is that I look upon old “Uncle Nick’s” grave with pensive melancholy and heart-struck sadness. Here is an interesting, perhaps one-of-a-kind headstone marking the grave of a most interesting and one-of-a-kind man, for Nick’s grave is marked by his old stone fireplace and chimney, all that remain of the cabin where he lived by himself for 46 years. You see, Nick was a hermit. The story goes that Nick, following the wanderlust in his heart and of his youth, was driven to venture and journey west, there to seek his fortune. It is reported that while there he was robbed of all his earthly possessions and as a result, soon became much the loner, withdrawing from society, never again to place the least bit of trust in all of humankind. He returned to this very place to become one of the south’s most famous hermits, his only friend, a rattlesnake that frequented the cabin. Nick is buried here close by his fireplace hearth, near where he most surely sat alone for decades in the glow from the only warmth that he ever knew or trusted on this earth. The firebox is now filled with his headstone. I wonder how many have ever really stopped to think or contemplate this sad depressing association and the irony of it.
My memory is vivid—standing here 15 years ago trying to fathom the least bit of this, to make any sense of it. I remember trying to understand how any man could become so embittered by all of life as to isolate himself from family, friends, and indeed from all of society, to live the remaining days of his entire existence in self-imposed exile. I stand here now once more, reading these cold words chiseled into the cold gray stone, “Lived alone, suffered alone, died alone.” Who has ever read these words, indeed who among us with the least of compassion could read these words and not feel the slightest bit of a lump in their throat, the least bit of a tear in their eye.
In a moment, Nick, I will turn to leave your grave yet again, but this time I want you to know that departing from this place will be kindred. I’m a little late, but I’m here. And before I go, there’s something else I want you to know—I want you to know Nick, that now I understand, I truly do understand. I want you to know that I know who you were and what you were as a man. It has taken a long while, but I have come to realize that there is nothing wrong, there is nothing to be ashamed of, for a man to be so full of love and full of trust that in his mind it would be impossible for even the least of it to ever be destroyed or taken away. I also know now that a man is none-the-less a man to live with that fullness of heart and to wear that vulnerability on his sleeve for all to see.
We both stood one day, shattered, destroyed, at the end of our bright horizons, past the darkest reaches of hell-on-earth imaginable. I know the path that led you here Nick, for I too was on that path. But I have chosen another path now, and though I am here at this same place as you I will make it on by, for the path on which I now journey is the path towards peace…true peace in my life. For along this path is being cast aside all the bitterness that you and I have brought here, all the hopelessness, all the forlorn despair. Nick, I dearly wish we could continue now, along this path…together. This has been such a sad day. Ahh, but this too, has been a most joyful day.
“If you’ll go with me to the mountains,
And sleep on the leaf carpeted floors.
And enjoy the bigness of nature,
And the beauty of all out-of-doors.
You will find your troubles all fading,
And feel the Creator was not man.
That made lovely mountains and forests,
Which only a supreme power can.
When we trust in the power above,
And with the realm of nature hold fast,
We will have a jewel of great price,
To brighten our lives till the last.
For the love of nature is healing,
If we will only give it a try.
And our reward will be forthcoming,
If we go deeper than what meets the eye.
[Emma “Grandma” Gatewood, GAME ‘55]
Sunday—May 24, 1998
Location—Damascus, VA, The Place
The weather has cleared nicely and I have another lovely hiking day. There’s a short pull over McQueens Knob, then it’s downhill, full bore all the way to Damascus. Nomad’s neutral is kickin’ today! Where do you head when you get to Damascus? Oh yes, Quincey’s! Calzone and sweet tea, that’s the ticket.
Amanda In-Between Schaffer, age 23 is from Hayward, (Frisco Bay) California. Tween, as she is affectionately known is an enthusiastic and energetic young lady. She is a fourth generation Californian, raised in Castro Valley, a graduate of Castro Valley High. Tween has attended Humboldt State University in Redwood where she has studied Sociology and Community Development.
The common thread linking us all here on the AT is the wanderlust within us. Tween has been blessed with a very generous portion indeed! She has long been drawn to the wilds, having spent three summers in Alaska with friends, working on a cable-run ferryboat on the Kenai River.
Says Tween, “I had been dreaming about the AT after being told about it by friends in Massachusetts. We hiked on Stratton Mountain and I knew then that the AT was where I wanted to be. I sold my car and headed for Springer Mountain!”
An interesting distinction, Tween is hiking in Chaco Sandals! Impossible, you say? Well, she banged one toe up a bit, but she’s getting along just fine. She plans to clip-clop it all the way to Maine!
After the AT, Tween plans to return and complete her education in Community Development, directed towards Psychiatric Rehabilitation. She feels the understanding she is gaining about the AT “family” and her knowledge of the outdoors will benefit her as she pursues her career goals.
To your parents, Tween, to Phyllis and Fred—You can be proud, for you have raised a wonderful daughter! Being a lady in the woods has proven no challenge for Tween. Being in her company is both a pleasure and a joy.
“The air is like a butterfly
With frail blue wings.
The happy earth looks at the sky
Monday—May 25, 1998
Location—Damascus, VA, The Place
This is Memorial Day, so the Post Office is closed. Just as well, I need the rest and at least one full day, perhaps two to get caught up on my journal entries. Hiking is hard, writing is hard…hiking and writing is real hard.
It is just most-nigh impossible to tote enough food on the trail to properly provide for the energy demand to propel even the most efficient backpacker along. I hear and keep reading 5000 calories a day. That’s not a high number in my opinion. It takes a lot of energy to hike these mountains and the further you hike day-to-day and the more you tote the more it takes. I don’t know the most lightweight, compact foods or the equivalent weights thereof required to consistently provide 5000 calories a day. Finicky figuring and me don’t mix, but I suspect whatever it would take is way more than I want to carry, especially when packing for 5-7days, which is not an unusually long period of time considering the trails I’ve been and will be hiking. It seems to me the point of diminishing return can be reached, perhaps even exceeded real fast. It’s kind of like what Warren Doyle, Jr. says, “In your avoidance of discomfort, you may become more uncomfortable.” I liken it to “The House That Jack Built,” the house being the pack on our back. Another analogy would also fit very well…”the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
So what to do? Well, follow along and you’ll quickly see my solution…you may even like it, for it involves a very simple skill, one that must first be fully perfected and mastered before ever applying for membership in the least of the Hiker Trash Fratorities. It’s called, “piggin’ out.” You’ve heard of it. Come, I’ll show you. We’re going to make up the deficit for last week, then work on getting at least two days ahead. We’re bound for CJs and breakfast! Biscuits, sausage gravy, bacon and eggs, home fries, the works…and watch me put in my order for the second round when they call me for pick-up. Wait, we’re not done…oh no! Now it’s back to Quincey’s for supper and a grand time with plenty of friends and plenty of pizza, calzone, stromboli, oh…and a few tall frosties to wash it all down and settle it in just right! Staying over another night? Catch me in the morning for breakfast at CJs!
Damascus, you folks are great! This is such an interesting little town. Brushing up on your history a little, I’ve learned that Damascus reached its heyday back in the early half of this century. The dreamers had a grand vision to create another Damascus of old, the steel city of America. The plan seemed reasonable enough, what with the iron ore, manganese, plenty of water and the coalfields nearby. But those dreams never materialized. Damascus had its glory-day anyway though, during the grand logging boom from 1910-1930. Today Damascus is probably best known far and wide for its arms-open policy to hikers, for the little berg is know everywhere as the trail town. Damascus is indeed one of the friendliest little bergs along the entire trail. Nomad loves trail towns and Damascus is on Nomad’s five-star list!
You squirrel in the food,
‘N load your pack.
To tote it along
O’er the boundless track.
The more you haul,
The more you eat.
To get the juice
To’rd your screamin’ feet.
But the more you tote,
The worse you wilt.
To finally toss “The House
(Off your back)
That Jack Built!”
Tuesday—May 26, 1998
Location—Damascus, VA, The Place
Today I’m able to get my mail, my cards and letters from friends and family, and bottles of vitamins, coated aspirin, Osteo-Bi-Flex, other goodies sent from Nimblewill Creek by my very good friend Frank. Thoughtful as always, Frank has sent along a 500 unit Sam’s Calling Card…Thanks, Frank! I’ve been in and out of Mt. Rogers Outfitters a dozen times and I finally pick up a couple of items. This little store, right downtown in one of the old streetfront establishments, is well stocked. Great outfitter, great folks!
The trail really takes its toll on those heading north from Springer, and a goodly number that make up that staggering statistic of near 80-90% occurs right here in Damascus. Fletch and Tumbleweed Walt both went to the clinic today. Both were diagnosed with Giardia Lamblia. It is reported through the grapevine thatFreeMan is heading in with the same symptoms. We figure they got into some bad water down in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. That was about a week or so ago and the Boars had definitely been rooting in some of the springs. I don’t filter or otherwise treat my water and I gathered water from those very same springs, but I am immune to Giardia, having built up resistance to the cysts over the many years I’ve been in the woods. Fletch is a strong, strapping young kid, but when he came stumbling into The Place Sunday evening he looked like death warmed over. The kid was totally emaciated, in a fever and near delirious. There is nothing OTC that will kill this bug. You’ve got to see the doc. Fletch will rest here a few days, get his strength back and continue on. Tumbleweed Walt, a most-kind and gentle gent, and being toward the back of the train like the old Nomad (age), his sap clear gone, will leave the trail here to return to his home in Dallas.
And so it is with so many that are set with that grand vision, that dream of thru-hiking the AT. All have pounded it out the best they can, they’ve given it their all, every fiber of their being to accomplish that goal, that dream. But somehow it seems, for the overwhelming majority, that extra bit of something, that elusive ingredient that it takes just isn’t there. So leaving the trail here along with Tumbleweed Walt are Otherwise, 2ndChance, Saint and many others. Dear friends, I will miss you. Please know that your leaving is not a sign of failure, but rather your accomplishments should be celebrated triumphantly now as a remarkable success in your lives. For each of us who have dared there are thousands who want to go but will never make the sacrifice, never take the risk for fear of failure. They are the failures. We are the winners, for we alone have risked it all on just one roll. We’re out here giving it all we’ve got…our best shot. Go in Peace, and God Bless!
The hostel here in Damascus is the property of and is maintained and managed by the Damascus Methodist Church. The Place, as it is known, is an old two-story residence; little changed since I first stayed here 15 years ago. The church is—as it seems are all the folks and all the institutions here in Damascus—a true friend to hikers, opening their main sanctuary of worship for the purpose of lectures and slide and other presentations during Trail Days…and managing the hostel for our use and convenience, relying all the while on nothing more that donations placed in a wooden box on the wall in the dining room. It does my heart good to see the respect that hikers have for this fine and traditional institution, the support given. My deep appreciation and gratitude is extended to all of you, the congregation of the Damascus Methodist Church…Thanks!
As I lay here in my bunk this evening, the rain pounding on the old roof, and before I drift to restful contented sleep, aware in my mind and do I know that I must leave (this) The Place tomorrow. Many dear friends—this incredible rag-tag trail family that we are—take shelter here with me this night.
We are such a dynamic and vibrant family. I know most all of them so well. We have spent peaceful days in each others company hiking this grand old AT, and have sought shelter and lounged under the same roof many-a-night. I take joy in their company and am saddened when they or I must go. Some it will be my pleasure to rejoin on up the trail, many I will never see again. Here with me tonight are dear friends and family, U-Turn, Joliet Joe, Jingle, Greg, Long Distance Man, Alfredo, Redneck Rye, Kevin, Weatherman and Boyscout, Fletch, Walrus and Roots, Nathan, Hootie, Brian, Birch, Flint, Skitz, Desperado, Saint, Tumbleweed Walt, Shelter Monkey, Hawaii, Hollie Hobbie, Buddha Boy, Dutchie, Slim, Minstrel, Lion Tamer, Lightweight, SG, Gideon, Wildflower, Shrn Love, Redness Rushing,Wanda, Trail Gimp, Geronimo, Deacon, Ozone, Tony-V, and the church helper and volunteer, Trashman.
|“Now hollow fires burn out to black,
And lights are guttering low:
Square your shoulders, lift your pack,
And leave your friends and go.”
[A. E. Housman]
Wednesday—May 27, 1998I sort out a week’s supply of coated aspirin and my supplements and repack the rest to “bounce box” ahead to my good friends, Alex and Carol, in Burkes Garden. I have managed to catch up on my journal entries and these I mail to Debbie, who transcribes for me in Dahlonega. I’m finally able to get back on the trail and out of Damascus at 4:30 p.m. It’s oh-so-easy to linger in these grand trail towns, and oh-so-hard to leave!
Location—Virginia Creeper Trail
The two hikers I chanced to meet at the little mom-n-pop greasy spoon in Alabama, Tric and Garcia, both highly recommended I stay on the Creeper out of Damascus. Ed drew me a map showing me how the Creeper went along and how to get back to the AT at the other end. I’ve carried this little pencil sketch with me ever since. Pat said I would miss nothing noteworthy by bypassing the AT through here, to the contrary, by staying on the Creeper to hike up through Whitetop-Laurel Gorge I would be provided some most memorable and breathtaking scenery…so stay on the Creeper I do.
The Virginia Creeper Trail is one of the finest examples of “Rails-to-Trails” in the U.S. It runs from Abington, through Damascus, to Whitetop Station, a distance of 34 miles. Whitetop Station was once the highest passenger-rail-station east of the Rockies, standing at nearly 3600 feet. This railbed was put to good use again in the latter part of the last decade. It was then, in 1987 that the Virginia Creeper Rails-to-Trails trail was dedicated by Congress as a National Recreation Trail. As the trail enters Whitetop-Laurel Gorge just out of Damascus, this old narrow-gauge railbed begins a two to three percent climb that continues the entire distance of the gorge. In many places the grade has been literally blasted from the sheer vertical rock walls that form the gorge. The nearly continuous creek-crossing trestlework is an engineering marvel, the old trestles still intact, still standing in such proud fashion. I quit counting them at 25! When the old steam locomotives were still chugging up through the gorge, this train ride was considered by railroad buffs to be one of the most scenic in Eastern North America. The designated AT route follows this old railbed for a short distance through Feathercamp Crossing and Creek Junction. Whitetop-Laurel Creek is the only stream between the New River in Virginia and the Watauga River in Tennessee to cut through Iron Mountain. This beautiful stream is a steady, continuous cascade of rapids and falls for near the entire distance of the gorge, the accessibility to which provides prime fishing for the native brook trout and the imported rainbow and brown.
It was at the main 500-foot-long trestle that I met Del Loyless a decade and a half ago. We had a most enjoyable time hiking the gorge as we literally gorged ourselves (no pun intended) on huge thumb-sized blackberries. Come to find out, Del’s daughter and son-in-law are my good friends! I recently saw a letter-to-the-editor in Appalachian Trailway News written by Del. Hope you’re doing well my good friend!
In one of the high coves, and along the Creeper on trail not shared by the AT the old railbed leads not only forward, but back…to go back in time past fields and meadows and old log cabins, none restored as we would perceive in our mind’s eye, but continually cared for over the countless decades by tireless, constant love and attention. Here also, are old log sheds and out buildings tumbledown, rusted old plows, harvesters and other ancient farming implements and machinery put out to pasture…all sitting quietly now, their work long since completed. Ahh, do I hearken back to a simpler, and most surely in my mind…a better time. Oh, how could you not want to see all of this for yourself? But you can! For the thought occurred to me, why not rent a bike, get a shuttle and put in at Whitetop Station, from there to coast and glide back down through the wonders of this glorious gorge, through its delightful and inspiring time capsule…all the way to Damascus!
I find a soft, grassy spot beside the Creeper to pitch for the night, here to listen to the peaceful lullaby played by the cascading waters tumbling down Whitetop-Laurel Creek…for only a very short time.
“De railroad bridges
A sad song in de air.
Ever’ time de trains pass
I want to go somewhere.”
[Langston Hughes, Homesick Blues]
Thursday—May 28, 1998
Location—Grayson Highlands State Park, Wise Shelter
Hiking for awhile up the Creeper this morning and by a side road I see an old fellow sitting on his porch swing, so I venture over to make sure I’ve got my directions figured for getting back to the AT. “Sure,” he says, “Take Walnut Mountain Road up to that 58, then left to the gummint trail, you can’t hardly miss it.” I couldn’t believe my ears; the old fellow called the AT the government trail! I remember Earl Shaffer mentioned this in his book, Walking With Spring, how the mountain folks referred to the trail as “the government trail.” That was fifty years ago, and I’m hearing it here today!
I’m soon back on the AT to be greeted right off with a long four Snickers pull up to Buzzard Rock, thence to Whitetop Mountain, the second highest peak in Virginia. Here are alpine-like meadows and all around, wide expanses providing grand and picturesque views to the horizon. Whitetop is considered to be a true Appalachian bald with resident red spruce, a glacial remnant of 20,000 years ago. Here is a whole new forest scene, Fraser fir and spruce at the crown. And below, the northern hardwood, birch, beech and sugar maple, all much more common to New England and Canada. As I enter this zone above 4000 feet, which includes Whitetop Mountain, Mt. Rogers, Wilburn Ridge and Grayson Highlands State Park, I am in what is considered The High Country Crest Zone. The Crest Zone is renowned for its scenic quality; a combination of fir/spruce stands, northern hardwood forests, rocky pinnacles and mountain meadows…the whole landscape often likened to “A bit of Montana dropped on the rooftop of Virginia.”
I’m in early at Wise Shelter and get a fine warming and cooking fire going first thing. Oh, this grand hand-warmer feels so good!
“We passed away the remaining part of the day
in observing the beauties of the place. As I was
wandering about embosomed in the woods and
mountains, I could not but reflect what an
insignificant creature I appeared, among these
magnificent works of the Divine Creator.”
[Francis Baily, 1796]
Friday—May 29, 1998
What a remarkable trail—this AT today. All my senses are flooded anew with overwhelming experiences, from the touch of the treadway beneath my feet, to the aromatic fragrance of the conifers, to the sound of the gentle wind through their boughs, and finally to this absolutely stunning landscape. Each bald, each open highland area offers something different to behold. The closely woven grass may be unusually lush, the distant outcroppings and jutting pinnacles of volcanic rhyolite more dramatic and striking, or the alpine conifers and hardwoods more bold. The trail this morning leads me through constantly varying mixes…constantly dazzling my already reeling senses. The highlands—they’re everything I remember them to be—so amazingly diverse. It all seems so new and strange, sights not seen to the south or below these sky-high elevations…and to be here on such a bright, sun-drenched day. The Lord lifts up his countenance upon me and gives me peace.
Oh look, here are my little friends again! The first time I’ve seen them in many-a-day, beds of just-blooming bluets, and when I thought for sure these little children were all through with their joyful scampering about for this year. But here they are again, as fresh and as new as the breeze that now arrives to sets them dancing, as if they’re happy to see me too! I have seen many other wildflowers in the last few days that I have not yet mentioned, buttercup, squawroot, yellow stargrass, fire pink, wild lily-of-the-valley, sweet white violet, clintonia and white baneberry. Just when I’m convinced the show is over, there’s more to behold anew!
I have some tough, hard pulls today, in the 3-4 Snickers range. Somehow, I know not how, I have injured my left knee and lower leg tackling the highland rocks. I’ve heard folks tell about the sheer pain and discomfort suffered with shin splints. Now I’m getting a dose of what it’s all about. So the pull up Stone, up Pine and Iron Mountain, and the climb up to High Point have proven particularly arduous and difficult today, most-near agonizing.
I have estimated the remaining distance to Trimpi Shelter perfectly, 1000 yards. Approaching camp I like to find a couple of nice solid old blowdown limbs to drag along, because it’s certain there won’t be anything worth trying to burn anywhere nearby. But I don’t like dragging and lugging these lifeless bodies any further than I have to. 1000 yards, that’s the outside limit. Trimpi shelter has a fireplace, yes a fireplace! This is a grand affair. I remembered this fine arrangement from my last journey through, so I’ve lugged a good load of firewood along this evening. In moments I have a delightful glowing and warming fire going. What a most pleasant and cozy little den. As the shadows lengthen, the gentle light from the crackling fire casts its warm glow full within the little shelter. Soon comes family…Redneck Rye, Weatherman and Boyscout, Buddha Boy and Dutchie. Oh, this is grand! Redneck Rye will be seeing his folks tomorrow afternoon at Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area Headquarters. He’s apparently given them ample instruction, for they will be bringing coolers chock full of food and refreshments; and guess what? We’re all invited! Looks like a fine day shaping up. Hope I can hobble fast enough to get there.
“Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.”
[Wordsworth, Tintern Abbey]
Saturday—May 30, 1998
Location—Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area Headquarters, Partnership Shelter
I manage only eleven very difficult, painful miles today. The downhills are excruciating. I have had to set a slow and most deliberate pace. Everyone passes me. But I make it in time to share in the grand “Tailgate Party.” Good food, great folks. Thanks Redneck Rye!
Partnership Shelter, what a place! I must tell you about Partnership Shelter, for this dwelling is an architectural work of art, pure and simple. It’s all whiz-bang brand new, constructed from milled logs. It’s a two-story affair with spacious sleeping quarters below and a full loft with windows above. The shelter is reached by terraced steps no less, with mulched landscaping and walkways all around. There’s a fire pit and a dandy new picnic table. Behind the shelter and on the rear wall is a laundry tub with piped in hot and cold running water, and here’s the kicker…this is going to be hard to believe, but it’s a fact; built in and integral to the shelter is a spacious shower stall, complete with hot water, paved floor and benches! And it can’t be 150 yards by a level gravel path to Mt. Rogers NRA Headquarters, here to find flush toilets—his and hers with sinks and mirrors, along with telephone, pop machine and snacks! Remember what Nessmuk said? “I go to the woods to smooth it, not to rough it…” Tell me if this isn’t about as smooth as it gets! Members of the family here tonight to help celebrate the up-and-running, fully operational new shelter and to join in the unofficial dedication are, Turtle, Pirate, Red Wolf, Nathan, Teaberry and Double Cup, Kevin, Jingle, Hootie and Desperado.
We share a fun-filled and exciting evening. Pizza is ordered up from the pay phone and delivered right to our table along with jugs of pop. My tummy is full and I am with great friends. I’ve doubled up on my coated aspirin and the leg pain is easing off. I’m going to sleep just fine.
“For all the happiness mankind can gain
Is not in pleasure, but in rest from pain.”
Sunday—May 31, 1998
Location—Knot Maul Branch Shelter
Mother Nature has rolled out her red carpet for me today…literally. I am going to suppress my pain and concentrate on this glorious gift, for it will become the ultimate gift to treasure forever, the reward for my unrelenting and unflagging faithfulness. For is there now such a bountiful offering being placed before me and heaped upon me. All along this morning is the treadway fit for the finest formal bridal procession, more splendid even, if that is possible, than that path previously trod, that having been festooned with the dainty and most feminine of Mother Nature’s own, her spring beauties. That well may have been the first amorous advance of Fair-Maiden-Spring, a most-loving gesture perhaps, of her affection for me. And did I not blunder straight through, with only the least and most pitiful acknowledgment? How cold, and what uncaring fashion did I spurn her presence and gentle advance.
The path before me now is unquestionably set for our grand union, for it is adorned with a carpet of scarlet Catawba rhododendron petals, placed with such care and in such fashion as if the only task of countless angel fairies…and the old Nomad is here again, totally enamored and infatuated, in the presence of Fair-Maiden-Spring. I have been her most faithful suitor, courting her from the moment she first set foot on the pathway with me far to the south and many, many months ago. I have been her constant companion, and she, mine. We have had such a grand courtship, and here, today will she accept and take my hand as her most faithful and adoring follower. With Father Time attending as the Lord’s Minister, and in the presence of all Mother Nature’s own is this communion and ceremony held. Indeed do we now dwell most-near the House of the Lord.
Also to remain in my memory today, two numerous manmade structures—fence stiles and bog puncheons. I even pass one stile where no fence is seen for miles! As for the puncheons, these are boards, split trees or ties placed in low areas to aid passage and reduce erosion. There are many puncheons today, with the grand old venerable railroad crosstie working remarkably well.
I dearly want to get into Burkes Garden, so I hike the last mile in the dark to reach Knot Maul Shelter, 25 miles for the day. Remarkably, my knee and shin seem none-the-worse for wear. The day’s hike however is slow, long and deliberate. I arrive at Knot Maul to find family member, Kevin, and we enjoy a most pleasant evening together. As I make my place to rest, the rain begins anew, soon sending me away into the most deep and contented sleep.
“See! The mountains kiss high heaven,
And the waves clasp one another;
No sister flower would be forgiven
If it disdained its brother;
And the sunlight clasps the earth,
And the moonbeams kiss the sea: —
What are all these kissings worth,
If thou kiss not me?”
[Percy Bysshe Shelley]
Monday—June 1, 1998
Location—VA623, The Chamberlain Home in Burkes Garden
Kevin fixes coffee for both of us, then he’s out and gone. The sky is dark and overcast, but the rain has ceased sometime during the night. I’m stiff but moving and manage to get on my way. After two long four Snickers yesterday, over Little Brushy and then up Big Walker Mountain, today should be relatively easy. The clouds and haze have burned away as I enter the open fields along Chestnut Ridge. Here opens a long, gradually sloping high bluegrass meadow. A short way along I come to an oasis-like spring-fed pond, built in a small cut beside the meadow. Sour apple trees bear witness to an old homestead long since gone and forgotten.
Chestnut Knob Shelter is an improved old rock building having four sides, paved floor, snug door and tight, weatherproof windows. This old building was once most likely a homestead or bunkhouse for high meadow laborers. It now sports a new roof and the fireplace has been blocked off. The renovation is fine work—but somehow I much preferred the way it was fifteen years ago. The fireplace was functional then and the mantle looked like it belonged; and the low, shed-of-a-roof made it seem much more inviting. The old out buildings and machinery have long since been removed, but remaining as testimony, a hint to the long ago use of this high-meadow stead is an old rusty six-volt generator housing, still being put to use as a door-closing weight.
To the side of the cabin, at the edge of the meadow I can peer down into the Garden for the first time. Standing here taking in the view of this lush high valley I am reminded of similar views from the ridgetops overlooking the beautiful Shenandoah and from above the rich Amish farmlands of Pennsylvania. Looking across Burkes Garden, walled in by mountains all around, it becomes evident that it has been aptly named, “God’s Thumbprint.”
As I enter Walker Gap and ascend Garden Mountain I am literally walking on the edge of the bowl—the upper rim of Burkes Garden. Overlooks are few, but the rocky overhangs and jutting ledges up which one may scamper offer breathtaking panoramas into the Garden patchwork of farms. Below and behind me stands Big Walker Mountain, a seemingly endless ridge merging with the far-off haze, unbroken in both directions.
As I near the high rocks, is there another splendid overlook just above VA623, the “back door” to the Garden. As I approach the precipice I hear voices. Here I meet four young men, one a direct descendent of the original settlers in this area. They have come up from their homes near Marion to enjoy this perfect afternoon atop Garden Mountain. I linger to enjoy their company as the sun begins casting shadows behind the ridge. Fitch, one of the young fellows then offers me a ride down and into Burkes Garden, directly by the Chamberlain’s front door!
From a recent telephone conversation with Alex, I know that they will not be home, having gone to visit their daughter and family for the week, but they insisted I stop for a rest just the same and to make myself at home, which I promptly do! Theirs is a modest home, built probably sometime during the first half of this century. It is well kept, warm and cozy, a necessity up here at 3,500 feet. I have counted 23 windows in this delightful dwelling, each offering a slightly varied but unobstructed view of the mountains and the peaceful, pastoral valley all around. Here I will linger for healing and a much-needed rest until Wednesday.
“Beyond the last horizon’s rim,
Beyond adventure’s farthest quest,
Somewhere they rise, serene and dim,
The happy, happy hills of rest.”
[A. B. Paine]
Tuesday—June 2, 1998
Location—VA623, The Chamberlain Home in Burkes Garden
Rest comes easy in a restful place! I took a luxurious hot bath last evening, prepared a warm supper on a kitchen range and enjoyed ice cold orange juice from the frige.
I’ll spend the day catching up on my journal entries as I sit on the sun porch at Alex and Carol’s, with the windows open and the gentle cool breeze, which brings to me the fresh clean scent of newly mown bluegrass. Looking out the sun porch windows, I watch the Black Angus quietly grazing, their dark frames in bold contrast to the bright sheen of the bluegrass pasture—and beyond, set against the mountain up the meadow a ways:
Leaning, yet to time defiant,
Seems it never had a care.
Carol’s cabin up the meadow,
Like a loved one standing there.
Oh, what glad and joyful memories,
Pray it speak to me this day.
Those to whom it offered shelter,
Since to pass and go their way.
Likened mist cast o’er the Garden,
Soon now lifted by the sun;
There are those who’ll come to linger,
Passing by here one-by-one.
Bringing memories cherished, ever;
To return unto her care.
Carol’s cabin up the meadow,
Like a loved one standing there.
Wednesday—June 3, 1998
Last night was a most restful night at the Chamberlain home. I’ve eaten about everything in their refrigerator and cupboard, ditto for the refrigerator downstairs! I’ve spent the morning and half the afternoon trying to get out and back up the mountain. Washed and dried clothes and packed up my sleeping bag for Alex and Carol to send back home for me. My bounce box awaited my arrival and I now take out a week’s supply of vitamins/meds and close it back up to bounce along to my next mail drop in Daleville. I’ve also borrowed a blanket and towel from Carol to take with me—they said “make yourself at home,” and have I ever!
The weather has been looking real troublesome this afternoon, and sure enough, just as I’m preparing to head back out the wind comes strong, the sky “darks over” and the thunder, lightning, and hard rain come stampeding across the Garden. I drop my pack and sit back patiently to wait it out. As I relax again on the sun porch I see one of the most incredible acts of nature that I’ve witnessed, ever! Lightning has been mostly cloud-to-cloud, but as chance would have it, I am looking out the side window, and just at this instant a blinding bolt of lightning strikes the ground in the pasture not more than 75-100 feet away. The brilliance of it seems to last forever and the report, which is from a thousand shotgun blasts comes right along with it. The ozone is so heavy I can near cut it. My heart is up in my throat and the hair on my arms is standing straight up! Even with the pounding rain, dark, gray-black smoke swirls and drifts from the strike site for minutes. If this storm is looking for some attention, it sure has mine.
The torrent soon passes, clearing out across the Garden almost as quickly as it came and I am able to head back up the mountain before evening. I dearly regret that the timing has been such that I’ve missed seeing my good friends of many years.
“Friendships that have stood the test—
Time and change—are surely best;
Brow may wrinkle, hair grow gray,
Friendship never knows decay.”
Thursday—June 4, 1998
Location—Helveys Mill Shelter
The day-and-a-half rest at the Chamberlain’s has done little if anything to alleviate the knee and shin splint discomfort that seems no worse but is no better, and to make matters worse I manage to take a hard, jolting header at the third-to-last crossing at Little Wolf Creek. At each of the crossings, large rocks have been placed to provide stepping stones, the creek being somewhat deep and of fair width. I have been hiking in hard rain on and off today and the rocks are wet and slippery. While jumping from one to the next, I slip and down I go headfirst into the cold creek, pack and all. It happens so fast that I’m barely able to get my hands out to prevent a total face-plant, but I still manage to whack my head and chin pretty hard. As I pull myself up, my body and pack totally soaked, I feel a sharp, hot pain in my right side. My left hand also feels funny. Holding it up, palm facing me and staring at it in disbelief, do I see my thumb facing west, index, second and ring finger are facing north…but my little finger is facing east! Comes now a gut wrenching feeling, knowing full well what I must do and knowing best not to ponder long. Closing my eyes and gritting my teeth, I grip the finger with my right hand, giving it a mighty, arching jerk! A loud “pop” ensues and as I glint with one eye I see the finger properly set back in its joint. Oh, thank you Lord!
I drag myself from the creek and dry off as best I can with my wet towel. I manage to splint-tape my little finger to my ring finger, not an easy task with my wedding band in the way, but I’m not about to remove the ring, it having been right there since 1959. Accessing the damage, I conclude I’ve taken on both a sore chin and noggin, a banged-up knee (the same one that’s already sore), a dislocated finger and probably three or four cracked ribs. Ho boy! It’s time to “suck it up” and prepare myself for some hard, difficult days.
Mine is a deep, inner contentment, a constant feeling and reinforcement that the Lord will lead me on a path toward timely completion of this odyssey—but I know and have just been informed again by a calm, gentle inner voice that I must be prepared to meet adversity. How I wind this path now that I am facing and must deal with adversity will test my faith and provide deeper meaning and understanding to what life has taught over these many years.
From the constant grind of this old AT,
Comes the grist to try a man’s soul.
But from the Lord’s mill
Grind the strength and the will,
To carry me on to my goal.
Friday—June 5, 1998
Location—VA606 Trent Store and Campground
This is a tough, painful 16 mile day, cold and rainy. The mind is compelling a body rebelling! My knee and ribs are very troublesome. I’m having much difficulty breathing, what with the cracked ribs, but then again, I’m not moving all that fast so I don’t have to breathe too hard. We all know what pain is, so I’ll keep this short. Trent Store is a neat place. Fine pizza. I move over to their campground for a hot shower, picnic tables and clover under my tent.
“Five hundred miles behind us lie,
As many more ahead,
Through mud and mire on mountain high,
Our weary feet must tread.”
[Hamlin Garland, Line Up, Brave Boys]
Saturday—June 6, 1998
Location—Sugar Run Gap, Sugar Run Road, Woodshole Hostel
Another tough, “grind-it-out” day. The mountain laurel is now in almost full bloom, trying to cheer me along. I am very glad to get down the gravel road to Tillies!
Tulie Tulie Kaschub is 25, single and lives in Maine. She is a graduate of Wooster, Mass. To further her education, she plans to attend Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO where she intends to pursue further study in English and Creative Writing. “A career in writing, especially writing children’s books would be a great career,” says Tulie.
“I hiked a lot with my family in Maine when I was little. There were a lot of trails close by my home. I remember seeing the white blazes of the Appalachian Trail and the people hiking by…looking and smelling the way I do now! That intrigued me 15 years ago. It left quite an impression on me, so here I am!”
Tulie’s hiking companion is a shepherd/lab named Tenaya. Tenaya was the last Indian Chief of the Yosemite Valley. They hope to reach Katahdin the first or second week in October.
“Who can tell, when he sets forth to wander,
whither he may be driven by the uncertain
currents of existence; or when he may return;
or whether it may ever be his lot to revisit the
scenes of his childhood?”
[Washington Irving, The Voyage]
Sunday—June 7, 1998
Location—Spring and Campsite North of VA641
Most of the folks I’ve been hiking with have elected to go into Pearisburg today. I remember from my last trip through here that much time was spent walking to get around Pearisburg. There are great folks in this trail town and the Holy Family Hospice is a grand place indeed, but with the way I’ve been hobbling and the pitiful mileage I’ve been working and hammering to grind out—going with them is really not an option. I’ve got to stay to the task and keep heading north.
I do manage to treat myself though, as I stop at Wades Market just off the trail for fried chicken, ice cream and some provisions. I’ve heard there may not be water at Rice Creek Shelter, or for the next stretch into Pine Swamp Branch Shelter, so I pull up at the spring/campsite by trailside just up the ridge and call it a day. I manage a good cooking and warming fire and am glad for the success of this day. I am finding no relief from the painful knee/rib condition but I have managed to stay of good cheer.
An earthbound mystery…
The strangest thing;
Backpack up, the closer we
To sprouting wing.
Monday—June 8, 1998
Location—Pine Swamp Branch Shelter
The day is bright and sunny with great views from Symms Gap Meadow, a great hiking day. I am trying to keep a good attitude, but alas, lots of rocks and rough treadway late in the day leave me pain-wracked, wobbly and exhausted. I am ready to reach the shelter and log this day’s entry.
The Pine Swamp Branch Shelter is a “Trimpi” design with internal fireplace built into the rear rock wall. I really like this layout with the internal fireplace. I get a good cooking and heating fire going but spend little time before rolling in. I am having difficulty finding a comfortable sleeping position because of the rib discomfort.
Melissa Mae Selky Sumpter, age 22 is from Hemet CA. She is a graduate of Hemet High and is currently a student at the University of California at Santa Cruz. Her major is Community Studies with focus on outdoor education with children.
Selky’s interests and hobbies include crafts, especially sewing, quilting, beading and weaving. Her passion is the great out-of-doors. She especially enjoys swimming, running, bird watching, sailing, rock climbing and above all, hiking and backpacking.
Selky was drawn to the AT through reading about this grand old trail, especially the writings of the Watermans and their book, Backwoods Ethics. “From reading this book, the AT experience sounded like something I would enjoy. I didn’t know anything about the East Coast but I had the time and the 59 bucks for a Greyhound ticket, so why not! I saw this opportunity as a great way to spend time outdoors learning about the mountains and the trail. Once I was on the trail I became part of the AT family and that has made it easy to continue on. The love and friendship I am experiencing is amazing.”
We’ll all remember Selky as the cute kid in cateye glasses with that bright shiny-faced smile. Says Selky, “I’m the blonde dreaded girl hiking in a skirt, but otherwise I’m looking and feeling just like everyone else—dirty, stinky, tired and wet!”
Selky, it is a joy knowing you and calling you friend. The hiking shorts you crafted for me are working just great! I know you’ll be standing on Katahdin come fall. It would be great to be there with you.
“People and creatures and worrisome miles,
Storm camps and pinnacles…How will it end?
Somehow the joys seem to balance the trials,
Found in the future around the next bend.”
Tuesday—June 9, 1998
Location—War Spur Shelter
I’m faced with lots of rocks and lots of rain and a tough, hard four Snickers pull up over Wind Rock. The knee is stable—no change in the constant pain level, but the downhills are really difficult and trying with the shin splints. I hate to admit, but I must admit, as many of my friends on the trail have admitted…the Virginia blues are here:
The Ginny blues they git ya,
Make ye grumble, make ye groan.
But life be much more toler’ble,
To find yer not alone.
Wednesday—June 10, 1998
I must deal with a number of three and one-half Snickers pulls today, ups and downs. I manage much better than anticipated. The pink and white of the mountain laurel are a delight to behold. It seems there’s always something exciting along the trail, something to attract my attention, pique my interest. Pulling into the shelter for the evening I meet a southbounder, Sister Smiles, and her dog Sky. She’s from Orlando, Florida, Sister Smiles hiked from Baxter Peak to Waynesboro last year and she’s back on the trail this year to complete her hike from Rockfish Gap to Springer Mountain. Turns out she’s a part-time employee at the outfitters in Altamonte Springs where I purchased most of my gear at the beginning of this journey—small world for sure! Sister Smiles says, “Say ‘hi’ to Mark and all at Travel Country Outdoors!”
I’ve been hiking the past few days with a very nice young man from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Greg Barnes. I’ve stuck him with the trail name Dusty, don’t know why, the name just seems to fit. I’ll bet it’s dusty around Albuquerque! I know barns are dusty. I usually get out a little ahead of him, and limping along as I’ve been, he soon catches me. I know he’s kind of keeping an eye on me to see how I’m getting along, and he lets me know where he’s headed for in the evening. His cheerful company has uplifted me, a real delight!
“To the edge of the wood I am drawn, I am drawn.”
Thursday—June 11, 1998
Location—VA624, Catawba Valley General Store, Their Backyard
A little patience, and in only a little while I am blessed again with a very enjoyable hiking day, much less pain, much less strain. The trail soon leads up Brushy Mountain to the Audie Leon Murphy Memorial, a very simple but most dignified granite stonepiece on the highest point of the mountain. How befitting a location to honor the combat soldier who fought repeatedly and so fiercely, successfully capturing and securing the high ground time and again. Audie is a true American hero…my kind of hero, for this man was America’s most decorated WWII veteran. He received every decoration for Valor this country had to offer…24 decorations, including the Medal of Honor, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Service Cross and three Purple Hearts. A poll was taken recently wherein one of the questions ask was, “What does Memorial Day mean to you.” Sadly, many answered with, “It means I don’t have to go to work.”
The AT no longer passes Dragons Tooth to continue down the mountain spur, but is reached now by a blue-blaze trail, with the AT bailing off the side of the mountain through precipitous rocks. Fearing I would be tempted, as I was fifteen years ago, to climb out to the very point of the inclining precipice that is Dragons Tooth, thus scaring the wits out of myself; I continued down the AT. Dragons Tooth can now be seen from the trail below, presenting a most impressive angle of view up and into space.
Coming down off Rawies Rest I’m calculating how much time it’s going to take me to get from VA624 to VA311. I want to be there in time to hitch the mile into Catawba, Virginia, to go for the AYCE special (BBQ Pork) at the Home Place. Hiking along in a daze and as I approach VA 624, lo and behold, here’s a blue cooler setting right in the middle of the trail! Peering in, I find a trove of treasures the likes of which might adorn the finest treasure chest—pop, water, sandwiches and a large Tupperware container full of the tastiest brownies I’ve ever sunk my teeth into. All under ice! I’m thinking to myself…as I help myself, “Now here’s no ordinary trail angel.” Turns out it’s the doings of Southpaw, GAHF ’95. Inscribed on the cooler lid is “If you started in Georgia at Springer Mountain you have hiked 681 miles. Take a load off and enjoy some trail magic! Get your fill, good luck, and thanks for letting me be part of your journey. Jeff Williams,”
While sitting on the cooler having my second pop and second brownie—Oh yes, Hiker Trash sho don’t pass this stuff up!—I hear a car door slam below and up the trail comes Southpaw himself. Seems he not only lugs this cooler up here each day, chock full of all kinds of delightful treats, but he returns to check and keep it filled during the day (good thing). He not only offers me a ride to Home Place, but suggests letting him introduce me to the Sauls, for I will probably be offered a spot to pitch my tent in their backyard right behind the General Store…which he points out, is right across the street from the restaurant. The offer also includes picking me back up in the morning and delivering me right back here to VA624. Now here’s a man who knows how to make an offer that can’t be refused! I’ve seen some trail angels, and have been the benefactor of some mighty fine trail magic these past 146 days, but Southpaw is strictly pro.
At Catawba Valley General Store, Southpaw introduces me to Marie and Billie Saul who immediately and most graciously offer me free tent space on their lush-mown lawn. Glancing over to Southpaw I get that one-brow-up “what did I tell you” nod! At the Home Place Restaurant I have supper with Dusty, Fletch and Jak. The Sauls are kind, hospitable folks, their accommodations most grand. Thanks friends, and thanks Southpaw! I am so stuffed I can hardly move, I roll in for a very enjoyable night in the clover behind the general store.
“With mountains of green all around me
And mountains of white up above
And mountains of blue down the skyline,
I follow the trail that I love.”
[Charles Badger Clark]
Friday—June 12, 1998
Location—Lamberts Meadow Shelter
The morning starts out “iffy” but clears nicely for a slow but enjoyable hike to McAfee Knob. This section of trail is heavily traveled and all the soil and duff have long-since disappeared, leaving a continuous trail of rocks. The knob offers a breathtaking view down into the valley. This overlook is one of the most photographed spots on the entire Appalachian Trail, for here projects a cliff-hung precipice, shaped much like the head of an eagle, jutting into space. From a side vantage and standing on top the eagle’s beak it is possible to have your picture taken with sky most-near around you…even beneath you! I have this remarkable overlook all to myself.
I don’t know why the Tinker Cliffs area is not more popular. Perhaps the difficulty in getting up here is a factor, but in my book, the cliffs are much more impressive than the knob, what with the trail literally tracking the very edge of the cliffs for the better part of half a mile. Picture this if you will and you’ll see what I mean—here to my right as I head north, the trail is populated with beautiful blooming mountain laurel, crowding the treadway toward the precipice, and on my left, only occasional winged population as the trail edge drops uninterrupted for hundreds of feet. Here is not the place to be daydreaming!
I am tired, my energy spent, but at the same time this has been a day well spent. I have little problem getting a fine cooking and warming fire going at Lambert Meadow Shelter.
“Without weariness there can be no real appreciation of rest,
without the ancient responses to the harsh simplicities of the
kind of environment that shaped mankind, a man cannot know
the urges within him.”
Saturday—June 13, 1998
Location—US220, Daleville, Best Western, Coachman Inn
I’m up and out early ahead of Dusty. He gives me a head start every morning so he can check on me as he comes by. He soon catches and passes me on his way to Daleville. I also meet and hike some with Bud and Vicky Hogan, section hikers who are heading north. The morning is very fine with great views from both sides of the ridgeline. Down below I see a high dam and reservoir on one side, and the lush, fertile valley on the other. I arrive at the Best Western before 1:00 p.m. and Dusty and I head straight for Pizza Hut!
Dan U-Turn Glenn is single, age 24, from Osierfield, Georgia. He attended Irwin County High School, Ocilla, Georgia and is a graduate of the University of Georgia, with degrees in English and journalism. His plans—after his AT thru hike—are to pursue a career in writing, especially about rural living and sustained agriculture.
Dan’s hobbies include photography, photo developing, reading and playing ultimate Frisbee.
Dan says, “I’m hiking the AT as a spiritual, a mental and a physical challenge, as a process of moving from childhood to adulthood. A right-of-passage to develop the characteristics and qualities I may use to shape the rest of my life.”
Dan is planning to move back to Athens, Georgia as a bartender/chef at one of the finer restaurants while doing some writing for one of the local alternative publications, and hopefully, some successful freelance work for a magazine or two.
“My goal is to pursue my bliss, while developing and nurturing a moral foundation which brings happiness to my life and the lives of others with whom I interact. I wish to envision and create a living community that is self-sustaining and harmonious with the natural order of life, focused upon growth and the ability to adapt to an ever-changing planet. I believe that improved family relations and more enlightened educational standards can empower humanity to overcome the forces that threaten our welfare and very existence: greed, fear, and narrow-mindedness.”
I simply cannot pass on this. I’ve got to tell you how Dan came by his trail name. Here’s how the whole funny thing came about…It seems, Dan departed Cross-Trails parking lot near Springer Mountain and from his very first step he was headed the wrong way. He took off north following the white AT blazes instead of south to Springer, where the AT begins. Somewhere, perhaps after the second mile or so he apparently realized that something wasn’t quite right and he got to thinking about how he was supposed to be climbing Springer Mountain. But he kept on going anyway until it finally dawned on him that he was going downhill, and that he had been going downhill for a long time! Realizing his plight, presented then two choices. One, to hike the entire trail to Mt. Katahdin in Maine, a distance of some 2150 miles, having missed the first three-quarters of a mile, or make a U-Turn and go back! Well, I guess from his trail handle you can figure what he did! Way to go, U-Turn! Aww, but what a great kid! He’s way out ahead of most of us in dealing with all that life dishes out, for Dan has no problem seeing the humor in this and having a good laugh on himself about it. Dan, it’s surely a blast knowing you and hiking with you, my good friend!
“Walking the entire Appalachian Trail is not recreation.
It is an education and a job…[It] is not “going on a hike.”
It is a challenging task—a journey with deeper ramifications.”
[Warren Doyle, Jr.]
Sunday—June 14, 1998
Location—US220, Daleville, Best Western, Coachman Inn
Last night Dusty and I split a room with Skitz and Quest (Nathan) making our stay at this fine motel very economical. Skitz is up and out about eight. Dusty and Quest decide to rest another day. Oh yes, me too! I’m able to catch up on journal entries and make a number of phone calls. In the evening, Dusty, Quest, Flint, Birch, Joliet Joe and I head for the AYCE multi bar right across the street at Western Sizzlin. It’s Dusty’s 26th birthday and time to celebrate.
Joseph Eugene Joliet Joe Nemensky is single, age 32, from Romeoville, Illinois, near Joliet. JJ, as I call him, is a graduate of Romeoville High School, and Western and Eastern Illinois Universities with degrees in Computational Mathematics and Mathematics with Teacher Certification. He is currently employed as a Systems Administrator with Electronic Data Service (EDS).
Interests include archaeology, paleontology, anthropology, physics, flying (has his license), music (guitar and drums), reading, medicine (homeopathic, naturopathic), computers (fractile designs), the science of recycling, bike riding and hiking…Whew!
Joe says we’ll probably remember him as just being there…the “average Joe.” But that is not how I will remember him. He’s a great conversationalist, knowledgeable in a remarkably diverse array of subjects and topics. Joe has fun being with people and is fun to be with.
Joe says, “one interest that brought me here is to learn to be more self-sufficient. I have a need to rely less on other people and more on my own abilities. So I wanted to come out here and find out what I have inside me—to be in tune with my body—and for the peace of mind that comes when mind and body are in sync.”
Future plans include bicycling across the US, sailing down to Australia, going on a dig with the Smithsonian, volunteering for Peace Corps work and building his own home. The biggest future plan is to retire, and at only 32 he’s now into the seventh year of a ten year plan!
“I want to live life, experience it and have fun. I tried to listen to my Dad when I wasn’t being too stubborn. I’ve tried to work smarter, not harder. I hope the future holds great things for me because I have high expectations.”
“But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start to sing as you tackle the thing
That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.”
[Edgar A. Guest]
Monday—June 15, 1998
Location—Fullhardt Knob Shelter
I ended up in a room-split again last night with Dusty, Quest, and Joliet Joe. Another day of R&R was such a luxury! The breakfast this morning at Coachman Inn is a real fine spread. Motel continental breakfast deals usually consists of little more than a dried up donut or Danish and a pot of warm coffee in the lobby, but not here at Coachman Inn. These folks have a room with tables and a fine, help-yourself breakfast; from hot coffee, tea, milk, orange and apple juice to a variety of cereals, fresh fruit and just about everything that can possibly fit into a toaster or microwave—filled me up and that’s saying something!
Around noon, our good hiking friend T-Bone Walker comes by sporting his wheels to pick us up. He lives nearby in Roanoke and has also taken a couple of days off. Joliet Joe, Flint, Birch, and I pile in and we head to the post office and then to Super Wal-Mart where Joliet buys a Walkman and I pick up another mini recorder to replace the one I dunked one-too-many times.
We finally get back on the trail about 4:30 p.m. after picking up a few provisions. Joliet Joe and I manage to make it to the great Fullhardt Knob Shelter. This shelter is right on top of the ridge…and there really is water from a spigot behind the shelter! Here is a neat cistern setup with water diverted from the shelter roof via a slick gutter/downspout system!
“The tops of the mountains are among the unfinished
parts of the globe. Wither, it is a slight insult to the
Gods to climb and pry into their secrets and try their
effect on our humanity.”
Tuesday—June 16, 1998
Location—Bobblets Gap Shelter
A couple of days off should have helped my knee and shin splints, but I found a tough time of it yesterday for the short pull up to Fullhardt Knob, and this morning my knee and ankle are stiff, swollen and sore. I hope to make the 13+ miles into Bobletts Gap Shelter. I’ll be happy with that. Joliet Joe and I are late getting out and before we get going Roo arrives from Coachman Inn. Rx, his hiking partner, has gotten off the trail but Roo is continuing on.
Today we meet the Blue Ridge Parkway and for the next 100 miles into Rockfish Gap the trail crosses the parkway many times, sharing the same ridgeline as we go. At the Montvale Overlook we see Roo again. Here he also decides to get off the trail. Flagging a passing motorist, he loads his pack in the trunk and is gone!
I manage to make the three-plus Snickers pulls up Taylors Mountain and Harveys Knob without too much difficulty, but the downhills are a dear lesson in pain tolerance. Towards evening the knee seems to settle down and I make it into Bobblets Gap Shelter okay. I meet Wolfhound here and spend an enjoyable evening with he and Joliet Joe.
“The silence of the forest, the peace of the early morning
wind moving through the branches of the trees, the solitude
and isolation of the house of God: These are good because it
is in silence, and not in commotion, in solitude, and not in
crowds, that God best likes to reveal himself intimately to man.”
Wednesday—June 17, 1998
Location—Bryant Ridge Shelter
I have been looking forward with childish anticipation for days to standing again at the Peaks of Otter overlook, because I truly believe this vantage to be one of the most magnificent anywhere. These majestic peaks are commanding indeed, with two of the most prominent being formed from Sharptop and Flattop Mountains. They give such a remarkably glad and exciting impression of extending—as if reaching upward all the while one continues to gaze—towards a sky that presents to be so heavenly blue, even moreso than any such scene in my memory. This morning is there before me pure ether, not a cloud, not a wisp of mist or haze, thus it seems are these peaks draw nigh unto me. The little sign before me here however fixes their grand and striking presence at more than six miles distant. No one knows for certain how this mystic storyland came by its name. Perhaps it’s from the Cherokee word, “Ottari,” meaning “high places.” Early settlers might have named the Peaks after Scotland’s Ben Otter Mountain, which resembles Sharptop. And then again the name may have derived from the abundance of otter that inhabited the nearby rivers and streams long ago. Ahh, but indeed, it is all the better for the mystery of it!
It is in times of perfect stillness and calm, as is the ethereal-like vastness before me this morning, that far-off sounds can sometimes be ever-so-faintly heard, melodic sounds, neither cheerful nor sad, but more pensively melancholy. Sounds that call from afar, not only in distance but seemingly, also from back in time; as if from some other day long past, stirring the fire, the wanderlust deep within, to the core of one’s very soul. For a brief, fleeting moment this morning I hear the Pipes, drifting on the still silence across the vast expanse and o’er the distant peaks. The voyagers of the far north heard these mysterious and beckoning sounds over a century ago. Sounds likened to the “Pipes of Pan,” spoken about with near reverence by Sigurd Olson in his delightful books, Wilderness Days and Open Horizons. The old men of the great north woods surely heard these sounds and were attuned to their far-off call. To read of this mystery provokes such grand imaginings, thoughts that leave one in pure puzzlement and disbelief. “That night I thought I heard them too…Wilderness music? Imagination? I may never know…but for a moment the Pipes had sounded…and a sense of the old fantasy of long ago was mine. While I stood there I was one with all adventurers, all explorers, and those who had ever looked into the unknown, part of a forgotten world of glory and romance, where things cannot be seen unless there is belief.” Could the Pipes be no more than the wind in the hardwood and the pine, or the joyful tunes echoed and reverberated across the distant stillness from the waterfalls and cascading brooks? Who’s to say? Perhaps down through the ages, we’ve all just been hearing things…but then again, perhaps not.
I enjoy a most pleasant evening at the spacious, three-decker Bryant Ridge Shelter. Trail angel Jackleg brings in a two-gallon container of chocolate trail magic! I am ashamed to report that those of us here this evening, all members of that grand Hiker Trash Fratority are guilty of casting disrepute and total disgrace upon our grand name. For, though each of us try, using all talent, all training, all diligence…that in the end, Jackleg is left to tote a fair portion of that delightful cream-for-the-Gods back out! The knee is definitely improving, but the shin splints are incredibly painful.
Far o’er the Peaks of Otter,
Across the Meadows of Dan.
Hark! From afar they beckon…
The mysterious Pipes of Pan.
Thursday—June 18, 1998
Location—Matts Creek Shelter
The day starts right out with a four Snickers pull up Floyd followed by a dandy full five Snickers up Apple Orchard Mountain. I manage to survive the guillotine, two close vertical rock walls with a large boulder lodged near the top. The trail goes right under the boulder, which is wedged precariously above, the whole natural phenomenon resembling a guillotine. Should this thing ever come crashing down on an unwary hiker however, decapitation will certainly be the least obvious of the terminal complications. There is a noticeable briskness to my pace as I pass.
Breaking off Hickory Stand I get an immediate and spectacular view down onto the James. The impact of the abrupt change from relative darkness within the wood’s canopy to the blinding brightness of open space is a visual jolt. Add then, as if needed, the emphasis from the auditory impact created by the hissing blast from an F-15 passing so tightly tucked to the mountain that I can near touch him. For that split second, and as the pilot uses the mountain terminus as a pylon we are looking directly at each other! I have got to blink and re-shutter the frame…and it is then that I can see through his canopy, right into the cockpit! As I sit to regain a modicum of composure and enjoy the panorama I’m thinking, now wasn’t that an interesting occurrence, the most spectacular form of speed, and the most ancient form of travel simultaneously enjoying the same view all around and below for thousands of feet! Folks, life is never dull on the AT, maybe a little trying at times, but never dull!
Matts Creek Shelter is a great spot. The little brook has a couple of natural and invigorating pools just below the footbridge, right by the shelter. I quickly manage a fine fire, then head for the natural tub. The remainder of the evening is enjoyed most casually then in the company of Joliet Joe, Florida Guy, and Wolfhound.
Friendship and frolic, pain and fear,
In the wilderness, footloose and free.
Stir them all up and brimfill your cup,
For a “trip” on the ol’ AT.
Friday—June 19, 1998
Location—Punch Bowl Shelter
I need a few provisions and could sure use a nourishing hot breakfast, so on crossing the James River I stick out my thumb towards Glasgow. In just a few moments and just as the rain begins, and as luck would have it I get a ride. Tossing my pack in the back seat and moving right up front, I’m greeted by this grand smiling old gentleman. He says, “I’m John Taylor. I stopped to pick you up because I recognized you from the other day.” I look with some puzzlement, and then, “Oh, yes! I remember you, you were ‘running’ the loppers with the trail maintenance crew near the parkway!” John lives in Boonesboro and is a member of the Natural Bridge Trail Club. They maintain about 90 miles of the AT south of the Tye River. As we head towards Glasgow John tells me all about the damage done along and to the treadway by last February’s ice storm, the blowdowns alone making the trail totally impassable. He relates with an expression of pride how it had taken over 2,000 man-hours during February and March to get the trail back open.
John had been planning a short day hike and was headed that way before stopping to pick me up. The rain changes his plans, so we enjoy a relaxing breakfast together. John waits as I get a few provision, then he drives me back to the trailhead. So it is that the first time I see John he has on his trail maintenance hat, and now today it’s his trail angel hat. John, I hope you’re able to get your hiking hat on soon. Thanks friend! And thank you, all of you who labor so hard, with such commitment and dedication to keeping the trail open for all of us to use and enjoy!
Up from the James, the storm is moving across the mountain. Just as well as I’m faced right away with a solid five Snickers pull up and over the combined Fullers Rocks, Little Rocky Row and Big Rocky Row. These ascents are not at all unpleasant however, as my knee is much stronger now, my ribs not griping nearly as badly and my shin splints much more tolerable. At Little Rocky Row there is another breathtaking panorama down into the James. Here the James River is a wide, expansive river with countless rapids that create miles and miles of whitewater…disappearing into the haze on the horizon. The river is in constant motion, as the sun now at perfect angle reflects the pure white glistening light from the watery turmoil. But so strange the sight, for not a whisper of all this violence can be heard over this lofty precipice. I stand and gaze into the silence, at this pure majesty, at the expansive beauty and at the awesome power below.
Gazing in wonder down on the James,
From Little Rocky Row.
The manes of a million galloping steeds,
Blaze white in the noonday glow.
Such splendor and beauty viewed from above,
From above, ‘tis a gift to me.
A sign of our Maker’s steadfast love,
Through time…till eternity.
Saturday—June 20, 1998
Location—USFS48, Hog Camp Gap Meadow Campsite
Oh what kind and beneficent trail angels! Last night to Punch Bowl Shelter came Ed and Mary Ann Williams, bringing much food and cool refreshments for Joliet Joe and I to enjoy! And did they not revel and share in that pleasure with JJ and I!
I am faced soon today with yet another five Snickers pull, the second in two days, up and over Bald Knob. This section of Virginia is rough, rugged country with seemingly endless near-vertical rocky treadway. But, ruggedness makes for raw beauty at its finest, and the view out o’er these granite walls, knobs, sky-high temples and lush green valleys below afforded me here on Bald Knob brings an abrupt halt to my forward progress. I am dizzy from the demanding ascent and now do I become more spin-headed as I turn and turn and yet turn again, trying to take it all in, and as Benton MacKaye would most assuredly say, “…to see what we truly see.”
The meadow at Hog Camp Gap is a setting straight from a picture book! I pitch in the shade of an old sour apple tree. And to provide such luxury as nature is often known to do, is there all around a soft green carpet of clover to welcome my tired aching feet. The water source is a spring below the upper meadow a short distance by winding path. I must tell you about this idyllic little spot, this little pocket in time where I am greeted by the most joyful voices. For here, within this hospitable little glen springs forth the happiest brook I have ever met. And from where it makes its presence, flow the finest, cool-clear waters it has been my fortune to lift to my parched lips. The spring is at the verge of an intimate forest-bordered meadow, walled in a grove against the rugged mountainside and resting in the shadowed carpet of lush green grass. Here, from within this cove emerges this glad little fellow, to run, meandering, into and through the narrow meadow, skipping and jumping o’er the moss-covered pebbles and rocks that set it to murmuring in lilting, melodic tones, beckoning in the most mysteriously pleasing way, much as do the Pipes. There is no landscape architect with such talent or skill, nor any sum one could possibly pay such a person might he or she exist, to create the likes of this…save the Divine Architect and Creator of it all!
Ed Williams had told me about this very special place last evening at Punch Bowl Shelter. And lo and behold who comes up the meadow just before sunset? Ed and Mary Ann Williams, and oh yes! With more great food and cool refreshments. Thanks again dear friends for your kindness and for sharing your knowledge of these majestic mountains. It’s my good fortune to have met you both!
Up from the peaceful meadow,
Here drift the Pipes of Pan.
In peaceful medley mellow,
Unlike the din of man.
Unto me now in calm repose,
They hearken days of yore.
Dear family, friends and all of those,
Who’ve passed to Heaven’s door.
And so my prayer; a path this day,
From harm and travails be.
Then lead me safely to’rd Thy way,
Till pure the light I see.
Sunday—June 21, 1998
Location—The Priest Shelter
Sunday’s are great days to be out hiking, especially if they’re pleasant, for that’s when you see the most day hikers it seems. Today is such a Sunday and folks are on the trail in numbers. I meet Wahoo and Mountain Laurie, and Penny Wise and Pound Foolish. This latter young, bright-eyed, shiny-faced couple stop me and asked my name. When I tell them I’m the Nomad, Penny Wise asked, “Are you the Nimblewill Nomad?” Oh my, what a surprise! Time to don the bigger shades again, it appears! They’d become familiar with my hike and knew about me from the Internet. So young folks, should you read this journal entry, I would encourage you to move to the next level of trail names. You’ve done—I’m sure, as all of us who will admit have done—the penny wise/pound foolish “thing” with all the hiking gear! You’re past that point now. You’re out here enjoying this grand and glorious scheme that is nature’s cornucopia of treasure. So to me, and from this day forth, you’ll always be known as Footloose and Fancy Free! Great meeting you and good luck!
I arrive to find family and spend a great evening at the Priest Shelter with U-Turn, the Soft-Shoe Banditos, (Flint and Birch), Hopalong, Wolfhound, Florida Guy, and a great bunch of scout kids and their leaders.
“Again the freshness and the odors,
Again Virginia’s summer sky, pellucid blue and silver,
Again the forenoon purple of the hills,
Again the deathless grass, so noiseless, soft and green.”
Monday—June 22, 1998
Location—Campsite near Humpback Rocks
Oh, what a joy to have a near pain-free day of hiking again. I am able to get in a 24-mile day with only minor rib, knee and shin splint discomfort. I’m almost back up to speed—I would say near 90 percent. I know that the caring concern and prayers from all my friends both at home and here on the trail have played a most important role in this miraculous recovery. I was told that I could not continue with the knee, rib and shin splint problems I was suffering…but I did continue. And I have also been told that a dear friend here on the trail has said, “I very much want to finish this journey, but I want Nomad to finish too. Should it be that only one of us will make it, I would will that it be Nomad.” This having been said by a young man who has dedicated nearly two months of his life to the trail and has hiked over 800 miles. This humbles me greatly and brings deep and emotional meaning to the word “friend!”
I relax for the evening in the late-day glow from a crimson sunset o’er the heavens…and o’er the bluffs atop Humpback Rocks. As I lounge, content in the warmth of this waning day, do I realize that spring is nearly gone and summer has arrived. There are a few lingering mountain laurel yet blooming at these higher elevations and yesterday did I see the most beautiful red columbine still flourishing. But oh my dear sweet maiden, “Spring of ’98,” have you aged so quickly. Ahh, but have you also aged so gracefully! Soon you will be no more and I will be left with but a memory of your loving presence and your glad and most joyful company. Have we not had such a frolicking grand time together!
“…for me, Virginia is memorable because it is beautiful
in landscape and in ways of life. There is an atmosphere
of repose and maturity, a grace that comes only with age.”
[Pearl S. Buck]
Tuesday—June 23, 1998
Location—Rockfish Gap, Waynesboro, Loft Springs Camping Area
I arrive at Humpback Rocks parking area about 8:00 a.m. This place holds many memories for me, as it was from here that I hiked south to Burkes Garden fifteen years ago with my former brother-in-law. The following year, my older son, Jay, and I departed from this very same spot to hike north together through the Shenandoahs to Harpers Ferry. I linger here for the longest while with these most pleasant memories.
I reach Rockfish Gap a little after eleven and head straight for HoJo’s and breakfast. Then it’s up to the Inn at Afton for my mail. What an interesting coincidence to be picked up instantly as I stick out my thumb to hitch into Waynesboro. I hear a familiar voice as I hurry towards the truck, “Come on Nomad!” As I look into the truck cab the driver says, “Come on Nomad, get in!” Oh my, it’s Wahoo; he has recognized me standing along the road! Our paths crossed a couple of days ago on the trail. Wahoo waits for me at Graham’s Shoe Service while I drop off my boots with Dave Young for much needed repair, then he takes me straight to the Loft Springs Camping Area across from the YMCA, thanks Wahoo! Was this ever a lucky break, wahoo! The YMCA here is a top-notch facility, and after I set camp in their park, a grand little spring-neighbored meadow just for thru-hikers, I head for the showers…where towel and soap and plenty of hot water are provided!
U-turn, Flint, Birch, Fletch, Dusty, and I get a taxi to Western Sizzlin for the AYCE “works.” Don’t think I’ve ever eaten so much at one time in my whole life. This grand evening of dining starts out innocent enough in a sociable, dignified and most genteel manner, but in only a short while does it degenerate into a disgusting, vulgar pig-out. Braggadocio challenges and counterchallenges fly full circles-round the banquet table. Bets are bantered about as to who can pack in the most grub. The event no sooner begins than the waitress is kept busy bringing stack after stack of clean plates. The whole thing quickly becomes an undignified and most uncivilized affair. As the royal banquet continues I am confident no one at the table can possibly pack grub the likes of the old Nomad, but alas, I’m quickly made out the piker. The feast continues for nearly two hours without interruption, the only break coming when the soft ice cream machine gets blitzed and then fails.
During this most welcome respite and as all respectfully bow to acknowledge Fletch, the “King of Pig,” is he then asked to reveal his secret. In the most humble fashion does he point out that he has finished only the first course and that all are invited to remain to witness the continuation of his royal feast. Reluctantly, and only because we are family does he agree to divulge the secret to his remarkable and uncanny ability to get on the outside of heaping plates of food. He asks that we observe his most graceful posture, that being a semi-reclined position with a hard lean to the right. He then asks if we might recall seeing the old painting of King Arthur and his Court, the one showing the full assemblage feasting with zest and gusto at that historic and famous “Round Table,” and can we think what might appear unusual about that picture. All nod the affirmative to the recollection but none can recall the least unusual thing about it. Fletch then suggests that if we visualize the scene for just a moment do we not recall that all there are sitting way back and leaning hard to the right just as he is now sitting way back and leaning hard to the right? “Sit way back and lean hard to the right,” he says. So we all sit way back and lean hard to the right! Holding this King Arthur’s Round Table pose for only moments does then each of us, one by one, heave the most pleasant sigh of relief! “Ahh,” says he, “Now you know the secret.” Fletch then politely excuses himself while picking up a clean plate, and as we all groan in total disbelief, does he then return to the food bar for yet another heaping plateful.
The Loft Springs Camping Area next to South River is a lovely spot, and even with much mournful groaning from adjacent tents, I manage to sleep very soundly.
“The mission of the YMCA is to build strong communities, strong families and strong youth through programs that promote Christian principles and values…” It’s a joy to see this institution surviving and thriving.
|YMCA HOUSE RULES
1. Speak for yourself not for anybody else.
2. Listen to others then they’ll listen to you.
3. Avoid put-downs…who needs ‘em?
4. Take charge of yourself, you are responsible for you.
5. Show respect, every person is important.
Wednesday—June 24, 1998
Location—Rockfish Gap, Waynesboro, Loft Springs Camping Area
I am not interested in nor do I need any breakfast this morning, hard to believe, but true! I am greeted by a beautiful sunny, warm morning. Here in the meadow I survey all the tents around. Camped with me are U-turn, Dusty, Quest, Nathan, the Soft Shoe Banditos, (Flint and Birch), Lightweight, Fletch, Redneck Rye, French Phry, Weatherman and Boyscout, Yertle, G. I. Jane, Hojo, Indy, Easy Go, Bump, Oasis, Mitch, Blue Eyes, Jeffe, Hopalong, Joliet Joe and Phoenix, all “seasoned” thru-hikers; all bound and destined for Katahdin.
What a pleasant coincidence this morning. For camped here also are Richard and Maria Nicholl from Florida. They came in and camped just down from me. I first met them at Clearwater Lake, the southern entrance to the Ocala National Forest. They were camping as I passed by on the Florida Trail. They were doing a shake-down hike for their planned AT thru-hike. I recall mentioning at the time that I hoped our trails would cross and that we would meet again somewhere on up the trail this summer…and here they are! This young couple is now hiking by the trail names of Running Ribcage and Rosie, but I think I’ll always remember them as Lucky Boy and Pretty Girl!
A second very pleasant coincidence this afternoon occurred at the spacious, beautiful Waynesboro Public Library. I got a chance to chat for awhile with Warren Doyle, Jr.! He is the support crew for a young man by the name of Sam, trail name, Poet Warrior, who is attempting to break David Horton’s record AT thru-trek of 52 days. Here at Waynesboro, Sam is 19 days out of Springer! He is hiking, not running 20+ hours a day. According to Warren, he seems to be doing okay but may be suffering from perceived sleep deprivation! Trail Dog who had been running the trail in an attempt to break Horton’s record is reported to be off the trail in Vermont. Here at Waynesboro, Sam is 88 hours ahead of Horton’s time to here…but it’s still a long way to Katahdin!
Folks, this ain’t no stroll in the park,
And sure ‘tis not a picknickin’ lark.
‘Cause gettin’ out hikin’ this ol’ AT,
There’s a price to pay, believe you me!
Thursday—June 25, 1998
Location—Calf Mountain Shelter
Well it’s time to “get out of Dodge.” Two days in any Trailtown is long enough and these two days are up today at high noon. I’ve got to break camp, go to the library for a couple of hours, get some provisions, hit an ATM and the post office, then get some lunch and I’m on my way. U-Turn suggests we hit the AYCE buffet at the Chinese Restaurant next to Kroger. What a great idea! U-Turn, Redneck Rye, Joliet Joe, Fletch, Flint, Birch and I stuff ourselves again. What a variety and we load it all…everything from frog legs to watermelon. There’s not much of anything left when we get up from the table!
Nearing the post office, an old gentleman, probably in his late seventies, pulls up to the curb on the wrong side of the street and asks if we need a ride back up the mountain. I tell him we sure do, but that there’s a slight problem—we have about an hour’s worth of errands to run yet. He says, “Fine, here’s my phone number and my name, call me when you’re ready and I’ll come back and pick you up.” As I reach for the piece of paper I can’t believe it, but manage to stutter, “Sure mister sure, thanks!” Now, how’s that for trail angel hospitality? Waynesboro is a great trail town with some mighty fine people.
In about an hour we’re ready to go so I give the old gent a call and in only moments he’s “Johnny on the spot.” I’ve noticed recently that things are tending to happen and occur in runs; rainy days, fair days, trail angels with trail magic popping up…and the run now it seems, is on coincidences. John Taylor picked me up (who had seen me before), Wahoo picked me up (who had seen me before), and then the young couple (who had seen me before) months ago in Florida. But folks, this coincidence I’m about to relate to you is an absolute charmer! There’s no way I can make this stuff up! Let me set the stage for this one by quoting an excerpt from Earl Shaffer’s classic book, Walking With Spring, an exciting account of his AT thru-hike fifty years ago:
“A government car stopped and the driver looked over at me hunchbacked under my dripping
poncho and rain hat, then offered a ride. My refusal brought a quiet question: ‘What’s the story?’
He was an…engineer on the parkway project and a personal friend of Ross Hersey, Editor of The
News Virginian in Waynesboro. He said that Ross was very keen about such things and would
surely be happy to see me. Since Waynesboro has been designated as a mailing point, I said, ‘I
would think about it.’ He said he would call Mr. Hersey in the meantime…In the morning I hid
my pack in the blueberry bushes near the parkway beyond Rockfish Gap, then hitched a ride to
town. The girl at the post office handed me some letters, the first received on the trip, then said,
‘Mr. Hersey called and said to come right over.’ Says I to myself: ‘Why not?’ Mr. Hersey acted
something like a kid on a picnic…the resulting article and picture appeared the following day on
the front page of The News Virginian.”
Well folks, I suspect you’ve guessed it by now…the kind old gentlemen driving us back up to Rockfish Gap. Yup! None other than Ross Hersey, the Editor of The News Virginian fifty years ago! Okay, you’re thinking, “So what.” So what! Folks, there’s 20,000 people living in Waynesboro, Virginia now, and this thing with Earl and Ross happened 50 years ago! And to add even more interest and spice, it is my hope that Earl and Ross can get together again soon, for it is now fairly common knowledge that Earl Shaffer is on the trail again, thru-hiking the AT again, on this, the 50th anniversary of his first thru-hike back in ‘48. As I understand, he’s only about five days South of Waynesboro as I write this! What a wonderful coincidence. Thanks Ross for stopping and giving us a ride…and even though not a word of this has been spoken; we know who you are! Thanks for giving us the opportunity to peek into this exciting little fragment of trail history.
It has cooled off nicely from what was becoming a scorcher afternoon. We check in at the Shenandoah National Park office and then head on out for the seven-mile hike to Calf Mountain Shelter. The shelter is packed with tents all around, but no problem. A very enjoyable evening is had by all, including Joliet Joe, Flint, Birch, U-Turn, Redneck Rye, Weatherman and Boyscout, Fletch, Bump, Cloudwalker, Purple Puerto Rican and Pete MacAdams, the PATC Ridgerunner.
“The charms of the Shenandoah,
Are its foaming waterfalls;
Its legends and its vistas,
And its geologic walls.”
Friday—June 26, 1998
Location—Loft Mountain Campground
I’m up at 6:00 a.m. and on the trail a little before 7:00. I want to get in 20 miles today, as the treadway here in the park is much friendlier to feet and body. There are some ups and downs, but nothing like the treadway just south of here along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Twenty-mile days can be relatively easy if one can carve out a 10×12. This kind of 10×12 is not a large beam you are having hewn at your local mill for your fireplace mantle, but rather this 10×12 refers to getting in ten miles by noon. One then has all afternoon to knock out the other ten, making the day much more enjoyable and the hike so much easier.
I don’t get far this morning till there’s plenty of excitement, for I have just made the acquaintance of a not-so-happy bunch of yellowjackets. They’re nesting in the ground right by the trail and they get pretty darn mad when I come tramping through. I’m able to outrun all but one of the little flying hypodermic needles. He catches and drills me right in the calf. I realize now however that he did me a favor for it was with his assistance that I moved smartly on up the trail and away from the rest of his little vespid cousins. So much for the daydreaming mode I was just sliding into!
Here in Shenandoah National Park the trail shares the same ridge with Skyline Drive for most of its distance, crossing it frequently, usually at scenic overlooks. The first such crossing this morning presents wide, sweeping views across the ridges, to the horizon. On this overlook information marker is discussed Shenandoah’s patchwork forest:
“…pine trees climb the slope, to crown the mountain crest. In the drainage below, other pines
huddle among hardwood neighbors. These pines illustrate the patchy, quilt-like nature of
Shenandoah’s forests, with each patch offering a clue to the forest’s past. Many forest sites were
once cleared for tilling, grazing, and home sites. Natural and human-caused fires opened other
areas…whenever you notice a forest difference you can suspect an underlying cause: A former
homestead, a fire, a climate or soil difference.”
Looking down, as I am this morning, into this patchy mosaic; not having this information, would I be presented with a quandary, indeed! I arrive at Loft Mountain Campground where I’m invited to pitch right at the campground host’s campsite. I have the picnic table and grill to myself. I set my little tent right on the manicured grass. This has been a very fine hiking day and I am please with meeting my goal. Other than the momentary discomfort from the yellowjacket sting, this has been a glorious pain-free day!
You can keep your wine and your bourbon and your beer.
Hang onto your scotch and gin and other forms of cheer.
Don’t offer me your sody pop, your coffee or your tea,
Fer I am high on Shenandoah’s pure sweet majesty.
Saturday—June 27, 1998
Location—Lewis Mountain Campground
I’m out early for a 26-mile day into Lewis Mountain Campground. Sure glad I’m hitting this section early and in the cool of the morning because the gypsy moths have managed to defoliate thousands of acres of the Shenandoah National Park leaving an open canopy along the trail for miles. In the afternoon sun this trail would be a real scorcher. Standing deadwood, known as snags, are everywhere. Looking down into the coves and ravines from most any vista, the stark gray vertical slashes, which are the snags, add a coarse and eerie weaving to the otherwise lush green landscape. It is truly hard to believe that little “wiggly worms” could cause such incredible widespread destruction, but in their countless armies they are a force to be reckoned with. The forest service has introducing a form of fungus, which apparently destroys the gypsy moth larva, and their count is down significantly. But don’t we all hope and pray that there won’t be some unforeseen side effect from the introduction of the fungus?
I arrived at Pinefield Hut around 9:30 a.m. to find Fletch still breaking camp. He shows me the profile for our planned day’s hike. It appears there are a number of three and one-half Snickers pulls ahead but I wouldn’t bet on it. The old Snickers rating system seems to be much more reliable. There’s just no use fretting about all of this until I get there! There’s also a lot more to this whole degree of difficulty thing, much of which has to do with the actual treadway conditions. Here in the Shenandoah the treadway is so much kinder to a hiker’s feet. There is more duff and not so many rocks, a pleasant surprise, since the trail here gets heavy use.
Mother Nature’s most amazing life form south of here was the incredible variety and array of wildflowers. Here in the Shenandoah do the fauna reign! Don’t try counting the deer for you will quickly lose count, they are so friendly and tame and so numerous. It is a pleasure to see them up close, as they peer at you with obvious curiosity. Yesterday, at Mondo Campground one came up to me as I was sitting in a shady spot having lunch. He was happy with a little of my bread, which he took from my hand. This morning I see squirrels, numerous bunny hoppers and chipmunks. A wide variety of birds are abundant here also and I am awakened now shortly after dawn each morning by the joyful, melodic songs of these songbirds.
There’s a large population of black bear in the Park and I’ve heard numerous stories of bear sightings from my hiking friends, but I’ve not had the good fortune of seeing one yet and more than likely will not. My older son, Jay, pointed out the only bear I’ve ever seen in the wild. He saw numerous black bear when we hiked the Shenandoah together years ago. He would say, “There’s one dad, over there in the laurel. Can’t you hear him?” Ahh, and therein lies the rub. You would expect an old fellow like me nearing his 60th birthday not to have the keenest hearing in the world, but I have suffered from serious hearing impairment for many, many years. It all started when I was in the Coast Guard stationed on the icebreaker Mackinaw (WAGB-83) commissioned out of Cheboygan, Michigan. Our job was to break the ice and keep the shipping lanes open so ore carriers could run out of Lake Superior. I was an engineman and my station was in the engine room on a little narrow catwalk between two huge Fairbanks-Morse opposed-piston engines. Air was forced into these huge engines by blowers the size of washing machines. And when we were breaking and plowing ice these engines were revving, the blowers literally screaming. No one thought of wearing hearing protection back in those days and as a result of months of exposure to these high pitched and high decibel sounds, I’ve since suffered with a condition called tinnitus, an incessant and annoying ringing in my ears. So those with keen hearing will probably be keener on bear. I’ll just keep an eye out so I don’t trip over one along the way!
The pulls up and over Little Roundtop and Hightop Mountains aren’t all that big a deal and I arrive at Lewis Mountain Campground in time to enjoy orange juice and ice cream at the camp store. I have a grand evening sharing a campsite with Wolfhound, Flint, Birch and U-turn. There is wind and rain most of the night, but I sleep comfortably in my little Slumberjack.
“Something lost behind the ranges,
Something hidden, go and find it.
Go and look behind the ranges,
Something lost behind the ranges,
Lost and waiting for you. Go.”
Sunday—June 28, 1998
The rain lets up and I’m able to break camp by 7:30 a.m., then to move off into the cloudy mist. I figured on finding Fletch at Bearfence Mountain Hut but no luck. I suspect he’s moved on ahead. I arrive at Big Meadows Lodge just in time for a fine lunch with Cloudwalker. Flint, Birch and U-Turn come in shortly and we hike out together, for a little while. I’m old enough to be grandpa to these young fellows and with a full stomach trying to digest, I don’t stay with them long. These “power hikers” have incredibly long, smooth strides and to maintain the pace they keep I literally have to jog, so I slow to my 2 ½-3 mph pace to enjoy my hike on into Skyland. There are numerous overlooks today, but the rain prevails and I am in the clouds. Skyland is appropriately named. I meet Stagecoach this afternoon. He’ll become a 2,000 miler when he reaches Rockfish Gap. Congratulations, Stagecoach!
Shenandoah National Park has a history not unlike Great Smoky Mountains National Park as relating to the vast area taken by the government in order to create the park. The following is a quote from Shenandoah National Park Interpretive Guide, written by John A. Conners:
“By 1936 the year SNP was dedicated, only 432 families…were known to have been living in the
park area. When the state government moved in to claim the land that became SNP, most
mountain folk appreciated the opportunity to sell their land and relocate. Many bought land
elsewhere or took advantage of government loan aid to move into one of the seven settlement
communities located not far outside the park boundary. A few individuals became wards of the
Virginia Welfare Department and 13 were allowed to remain and live their lives inside the park
because of ‘hardship or meritorious service.’ The last inhabitant, Annie Shenk died in January,
And a final, interesting quote from Shenandoah, The Story Behind the Scenery, by Hugh Crandall and Reed Engle:
“Shenandoah is many things to many people. For some it is their heritage, the green lichens
slowly growing on the ancient grave stones tell of their past. For others, it is a chance to escape
the heat and humidity of the city and picnic happily in a shelter erected by the men of the CCC.
The more rigorous and adventurous find peace and strength in walking isolated trails and
sleeping under the stars. And for many it is simply a Sunday drive, a view from an overlook, the
wonder of placid deer grazing on a road shoulder, or familiar sites revisited. Shenandoah
National Park has become part of the collective consciousness and memories of generations who
have shared in her riches.”
I arrive at Skyland Lodge around 4:00 p.m. to share a room with Wolfhound, Flint, Birch and U-Turn. I enjoy a great meal at the lodge restaurant and relax later in the pub in the company of Mitten Chic, Moe, Yorkie (from Yorkshire, England) and Redneck Rye. I am saddened to hear that Redneck Rye is leaving the trail. We have hiked together off and on over the recent weeks and have become such good friends. I will never forget the “tailgate banquet,” compliments of Redneck Rye and his parents at Mt. Rogers Visitors Center. He has extended me much kindness. I will truly miss you son!
This *pack O’ young hounds can burn the trail,
They’ve been taught to bear the torch.
While this old dog, tucked in tail,
Watches quietly from the porch.
* Skitz, Fletch, Hopalong, U-Turn, Flint and Birch, all 4 MPH “power hikers.”
Monday—June 29, 1998
Location—Range View Cabin
I sat in Skyland lobby last night until about midnight reading and catching up on my journal entries. Just as I was preparing to return to my room the sky opened up. Came then a hard steady thunderstorm that persisted for two and one-half hours. I had to remain in the lobby until 2:30 a.m. since I hadn’t sense to carry my raingear, my room being a ten-minute walk away.
So this morning I’m not in any hurry to get up or get out. Just as well, what the heck…I go for breakfast at the lodge, and with this being the peak tourist season, am I not only fortunate to have gotten a room last night, but also a table for breakfast this morning. I’ve had a grand time here at Skyland!
By noon the skies have cleared and at Stony Man Mountain Overlook I am awarded one of the most remarkable views to be seen or enjoyed anywhere along the ridge, down into the lush, green Shenandoah Valley. The soft-settled haze aligns the distant ranges, creating relief as if to display so many towering sentinels standing in rows to the horizon. The result is a creation of perfect order, each ridge, gap, spur and ravine made important by its presence. And now this heavenly majesty provides such a grand backdrop for the colorful puzzle of mosaic that is the landscape across this rich, historic valley below. The roads, farms, fields and streams all offer their undivided attention, combining to present a precious moment in time, a moment to be enjoyed only by me and the hawks free-sailing the thermals above.
I have been hiking this morning with a delightful gentleman from England; Brian Nicholls, trail name Yorkie, for Yorkshire. My chest swells with pride as Yorkiecomes to stand here on Stony Man with me. We talk about this glorious spot and the remarkable abundance of natural beauty that is America. It never ceases to amaze me; the people from other countries who have studied our history and that know so much about our country. Yorkie says, “I have read much about your Civil War and have always wanted to see the Shenandoah. I am not disappointed.” And is there yet another great view from Marys Rock…360 degrees, and the day has turned perfect! As the “Pack O’ Young Hounds” passes us, I tell Yorkie how I must break into a jog to keep up with them, not a good idea with a pack on. Yorkie is moving along well so I suggest he hike out with them. He looks at me with that shiny and polished Englishman’s smile and says, “I’ll give it a go!” Last I see, he’s right with them as they disappear up the ridge.
At Thornton Gap is Panorama Wayside, a fine restaurant and gift shop. It’s only a stone’s throw off the trail so everyone goes in. Great burgers, fries and wild blackberry milkshakes! We see Fletch and T-Bone Walker’s packs outside against the building. We decide they are slackpacking as they are nowhere in sight. Sooo, when they shoulder their packs in awhile they may or may not notice how much heavier they are, as some select rocks will be moving north with them!
At Elkwallow Wayside parking area I meet Mark and his sister Ann. They have come to the USA from South Africa to see the Shenandoah and to do some backpacking. When they find that I have come into the wayside for a few provisions, the Wayside being closed, they offer me food from their supplies. I am given an apple, a banana, a can of lasagna, fresh sausage links and a liter of apple juice! This has got to be some kind of record for the furthest trail angels! I enjoy a very good supper, compliments of Mark and Ann, cooked in the quaint old fireplace on the porch at Range View Cabin.
“The wonder of the world, the beauty and the power.
The shapes of things, their colors, lights and shades.
These I saw. Look ye, also, while life lasts!”
[Epitaph, Tombstone in England]
Tuesday—June 30, 1998
Location US522, Front Royal, Front Royal Motel
I’m out from the little rock porch at Range View Cabin at 7:00 a.m. as the wind kicks up, boosting me along. But the looks and makings are for another beautiful day. As I hike today, does the trail weaves back and back again over Skyline Drive as the braid forms its crisscross between the motorway and the treadway. Hearing the constant drone and grind from the automobiles and motorcycles is neither annoying nor distracting, but I believe that I am near ready for a change to a more serene path. I’m faced with some three and one-half to four Snickers pulls along and over the Hogbacks, Marshalls, and Compton Peak. Bump and Redbeard come by and hike with me for awhile.
The feet have been, and I guess will remain, a day-to-day concern. Early on in this odyssey I suffered the not-so-pleasant experience of shedding the nails off both my feet, the final result of the constant soaking and pounding dealt by the Florida swamps. I have since suffered blisters, sore toes and pads and other assorted foot aches and pains. Now I’m in the process of losing the nails (which have tried growing back!) off my great toes and both second toes again. So I can occupy my concern now with these ailments; the sore knee, cracked ribs, dislocated finger, shin splints and tender noggin having become secondary discomforts.
I finish this 19-mile day at 3:00 p.m. and hitch a ride into Front Royal to share a room with Wolfhound and Yorkie. Yorkie leaves the trail tomorrow after completing his planned hike through this mystical paradise, the glorious Shenandoah. A good friend for such a short time. Keep in touch Yorkie!
“At this discovery, the stars were so overjoyed that
again each of them took the brightest jewel from his crown and
cast it into the long winding river. There all of these same jewels
still lie and sparkle and ever since that day the river…and the
valley, too—has been called Shenandoah.”
[The Legend of Shenandoah]
Wednesday—July 1, 1998
Location—US50, Ashby Gap, Winchester, Super 8 Motel
I made arrangements last night for the innkeeper to shuttle me back to the trail this morning. Yorkie and Wolfhound want some pictures so they follow me out to the truck. As the innkeeper snaps us, we put on the best faces possible at 7:30 a.m. I say good-bye to Yorkie and Wolfhound and manage to get back on the trail by 8:00 a.m.
On my way this morning I cruise in to see the Jim and Molly Denton Shelter. I’ve heard much about this spot. And oh what a place! This is a hiker’s fairyland. If we could ever have a gingerbread house, the Jim and Molly Denton Shelter would be it! The shelter is complete with windows, a large deck and benches and there’s a covered pavilion complete with BBQ pit right next. And get this; the whole compound is tied together with herringbone pavers! Redbeard and Bump are in residence and I can hear their happy chatter long before arriving. I linger and we have a grand time. The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, chartered years ago by Myron Avery, is the keystone Appalachian Trail Conference chapter. What a history and what a grand tradition. You folks do a super job, thanks!
There are plenty of ups and downs and more than enough rocks today. I again hike for awhile with Redbeard, thence to hitch a ride into Winchester with a fellow who drives all the way to Washington, DC to work every day. He’s on the road twenty hours a week. Cheez, sure didn’t take long to get jolted back into the real world again! The fellow’s a union plumber working on a parking garage. Even with the great pay this is as close as he feels he can afford to live. He gets home around 7:00 p.m.—to start the whole grueling, grinding daily ordeal all over again at 4:00 a.m. As he calmly relates all this to me, I’m thinking, “This is insane!” But he seems to be perfectly content and happy! I recall how just the occasional drive around the perimeter of Atlanta, where perchance I get tangled in the rush hour traffic, all eight lanes moving slowly or not at all, the commuters, their hands glued to their steering wheels staring into space as if in some kind of hypnotic trance…And I wonder, “How in God’s name can these folks stand this day in and day out!”
I splurge, lavishing myself on my own private room at Super 8 Motel. I take a long, soothing warm bath, then hit the AYCE Chinese buffet across the way. Tim Anderson, Long Distance Man, a good friend of Thunder Chicken, and now also my good friend had extended an invitation to me while at Roan High Knob Shelter. Tim said, “Give my wife Ruth a call and stay at our place when you pass by Winchester.” But, once reaching Winchester, and standing with pay phone in hand, I thought about how a dirty, stinky, ratty-looking thru-hiker such as I could dearly strain the very best of southern hospitality. So better judgment prevailed as I reluctantly hung up the receiver. Thanks Tim! True, sincere, southern hospitality at its best. I dearly hope our paths meet again on up this trail.
“The simplicity in all things is the secret of the
wilderness and one of its most valuable lessons.
It is what we leave behind that is important. I
think the matter of simplicity goes further than
just food, equipment and unnecessary gadgets;
it goes into the matter of thoughts and objectives
as well. When in the wilds we must not carry our
problems with us, or the joy is lost.”
Thursday—July 2, 1998
Location—Blackburn Trail Center
Right next to the motel is a Hardees and I head there in the dark at 4:45 a.m. for coffee, eggs and biscuits. They’re open all night for the truckers who are already running hard and steady this morning. I’m able to hitch a ride back to Ashby Gap with a young fellow who also drives all the way to DC every day. He too, seems content and happy! This whole thing is so baffling, yet as we travel east there’s a constant and steady stream of vehicles heading for DC in the dark this morning. It seems inevitable I suppose, that we will all be heading towards the bosom of that grand provider of all things to all people eventually—that all-knowing, all-loving, all-providing federal bureaucracy that is Washington, DC. I hope that getting back to the trail this morning is as close as I’ll ever have to go.
I’m back on the trail by 6:15 a.m. as I prepare myself for difficult and slow going today. I have been told that the trail that lies ahead and into Blackburn Trail Center is a series of rugged and constant ups and downs with total vertical elevation change in excess of 5000 feet. Here is a fine example of the peaceful, smug and secure feeling one can get lulled into by perusing the profile maps, for on the maps these contours appear most benign! Oh, but do they conceal the truth of the matter, for I am getting an incredible workout! This section proves one of the most technically challenging so far. Tough ups and downs through rocks and roots…and more rocks and roots! Coupled with the heat and humidity, I really have my hands full.
The opportunity for a much-needed break presents and I head up the short side trail to Bears Den Hostel. Here I lounge and take lunch at the picnic table on the clover-carpeted lawn. What a welcome and very needed respite. The hostel is an old castle-like granite structure now under total restoration by the Appalachian Trail Conference. I meet Dave Appel and am given the grand tour. My son and I stayed here years ago and we found it in serious disrepair then. This proud old structure will be in its glory once more when this restoration is completed. What a pleasure to see this work being done! ATC, don’t you folks ever rest!
The treadway becomes even more challenging as the day wears on. Negotiating Devils Racecourse, an incredible jumble of rocks, requires jumping and leaping from boulder to boulder, demanding every bit of strength, balance and concentration that I can muster. Four miles still remain to reach Blackburn Trail Center and I can feel the stress and tension from the day’s constant exertion and pounding having its effect and taking its toll on my knees. My balance is becoming a serious problem due to the heat, exertion and fatigue. I recall being told by Poppasan and Thunder Chicken who thru-hiked the AT last year that the time would come that I would relent and resort to using hiking sticks. I never disputed these words of wisdom but at the same time I held the opinion that if I didn’t want to use sticks, that I wouldn’t have to. Today, and as a result of the past few hours hiking through this incredible jumble, I have made a reassessment and have arrived at a different opinion! Realistic, oh yes! Fatalistic, oooh yes!
So now it appears the time has arrived to start “stickin’ it” and what an incredible coincidence, for as I’m cogitating getting some sticks presents now the perfect opportunity, for at this very moment am I hiking through a young poplar stand with hundreds and hundreds of tall, straight, closely crowded saplings! So, I pull up, drop my pack, and finding two identical poplars perfect for trekking poles, I spend the next hour on my knees with my dull pocket knife whittling out a pair of walking companions…much-needed bodyguards that will no doubt accompany me the remainder of this odyssey.
I arrive at Blackburn Trail Center around 4:00 p.m. and make myself at home on the screened-in porch. The Center is a quaint old hostel owned and operated by PATC. These facilities, located at the verge, the very upper reaches of a cove, consist of an old hand-hewn log cabin complete with screened porches on three sides, porch swing, tables and benches; a small bunkhouse with privy, a garage with bunks in the studio above with privy, the neatest “Barney Oldfield” solar shower (which will scald your tail) and a spacious, level, manicured lawn complete with enough picnic tables for the community Fourth of July cookout. The resident caretakers, Laura Poole and Morgan Lane, GAME‘95 greet me with a smile…and a cold frosty! In return for their kindness and hospitality, and with the aid of my “Little-Dandy” wood-burning cook stove, do I manage to burn a big hole in one their fine picnic tables! All is forgiven however, and I relax to enjoy a very pleasant evening with these kind folks and with Redbeard, Easy Rider, Farther, Old Fhart and Turtle.
“Each part of the Appalachian Trail presented a new kind of
challenge. Sometimes the trail felt like a stern taskmaster saying,
‘Well you dealt with the steep ups and downs, now I’ll
throw in a little rain and see if you can take that. Okay,
so, you handled the rain; let’s try 95 degrees and 90 percent
humidity. Thought that was tough? How about some mosquitoes
and gnats? Hmmm, now I’ll add ticks and deer flies. You still
here? Well, let’s add a dose of rocks and throw in some hand-
over-hand climbing. Rest? No, you can rest when it’s over.”
[Jean Deeds, There Are Mountains To Climb]
Friday—July 3, 1998
Location—Harpers Ferry, Hilltop House Hotel
The 13 miles into Harpers Ferry is a cruise, mostly downhill, a couple of little blips with “Nomad’s neutral” kickin’ and I’m in! It’s a jolt coming to US340 and the bridge over the Shenandoah River. The traffic is roaring along, and down below the 4th weekend fun is underway with swimming, tubing, canoeing, and kayaking. The Shenandoah is a rocky, rolling river here. Looks like rollicking fun!
A blue-blaze side trail leads a short distance to the Appalachian Trail Conference Headquarters on Washington Street. I am very excited and full with anticipation as I arrive at the Center, for here is the psychological halfway point on the AT. My reward is a grand smile and a cheerful greeting from John Peter Pan Tatara, GAME’94&’97. John is a member of the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club, volunteering time here at the Center. Before I can greet him, John says, “I know you, we’ve met before; you’re the Nomad and you’re hiking from Florida.” Indeed we had met a couple of weeks ago on the trail, where at that time, John was swinging a Pulaski with a work crew doing trail relocation. He said, “I’m here giving back to the trail after hiking and enjoying the trial for two years.” Also volunteering time here is Dave Appel, age 74, from Wisconsin. I met Dave yesterday back at Bears Den. Dave is hiking sections of the trail south from Harpers Ferry. Dave relates that this particular section of trail brings many memories as he hikes it again, for his family maintained trail here in the late 30’s. Dave is also helping on the renovation of Bears Den Hostel, getting the old windows in tip-top condition again. Many years ago, when my son and I entered the front door here at AT headquarters we were greeted with a “Hello!” and that grand smile from Jean Cashen. It’s so good to see the tradition continuing. Thanks, John and Dave for your kindness and your hospitality!
I was supposed to meet family at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park headquarters. They made a two-hour trip here from Maryland to pick me up for the weekend, but since I was last here the park headquarters have been moved from downtown, which I didn’t realize, and I waited for them at the wrong place. I will try to see them when this odyssey is over. While waiting I passed the time talking with Skitz. He’s getting ready to do the 4/40/24 (four states, forty miles in twenty-four hours). While Skitz and I lounge on the lawn by the old park headquarters, Joliet Joe comes in. We decide to share a room at Hilltop House Hotel. We’re able to get a room and have a grand evening meal. Then we “Garvey out” in the finest Hiker Trash Fratority fashion as we dine in luxury, enjoying the stupendous scene of the Potomac below.
“The passage of the Potomac through the Blue Ridge
is perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in nature.
You stand on a very high point of land, on your right
comes up the Shenandoah, having ranged along the
mountain a hundred miles to seek a vent. On your left
approaches the Potomac in quest of a passage also.
In the moment of their junction they rush together
against the mountain, rend it asunder and pass off to
Saturday—July 4, 1998
Location—Harpers Ferry, Hilltop House Hotel
This will be a well-earned day of rest and relaxation. I head over to ATC headquarters to do a little research and study…yes the Conference is open on Saturday, the Fourth of July! These folks absolutely never rest! While reading, I hear the front door open and as I look up, in comes Wolfhound. I invite him to stay with Joliet Joe and me at Hilltop. He says he doesn’t mind pitching on the floor and would help split the room cost. We’ve had to change rooms at the hotel and when JJ, Wolfhound and I open the door, we can’t believe what we see. Oh yes, three beds. As Wolfhound would say, “Life is good!” We head right down to Garvey up the AYCE lunch buffet in the grand old hotel dining room.
“He who rides and keeps the beaten track studies
the fences chiefly.”
Sunday—July 5, 1998
Location—Harpers Ferry, Hilltop House Hotel
This is another day to keep my feet up and try to rest my knees. The breakfast buffet here at the hotel is a fine spread. By arriving late, it is possible for one to overlap into the dinner buffet! I spend most of the day again reading and studying at the Conference center.
There has been much attrition since Springer Mountain. The first heavy dropout occurred at Hot Springs and the second at Damascus. I was #992 to sign in at Walasi-Yi and here at ATC headquarters I am #397. Historically, another big dropout occurs here at Harpers Ferry and it’s sure understandable considering the difficulty of the treadway just to the south. The trail is slowly and steadily taking its toll.
“Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to go,” said the cat.
“I don’t much care where,” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the cat!
[Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland]
Monday—July 6, 1998
Location—Crampton Gap, Gathland State Park
I’m up at 6:00 a.m. in order to catch the bus to Charlestown and the Super Wal-Mart. I need to get some medication to aid these old bones and joints as they endure the pounding dished out by the AT. I have been taking combination tabs of Glucosamine HCL 250 mg and Chondroitin Sulfate 200 mg. This nutritional OTC medication commonly known as Osteo-Bi-Flex helps to maintain healthy, mobile joints and cartilage and aids in connective tissue building and repair. I am also taking a multi-vitamin along with coated aspirin. I feel I am getting considerable beneficial effect from these medications. In addition, now that the heat of summer is upon me I am constantly perspiring, which is depleting my electrolytes. I have ordered Succeed Electrolytic caps, developed by Karl King, from Ultrafit. They should be waiting at my next mail drop in Duncannon. In the shelters, eyebrows always raise as my young thru-hiker friends watch me open my meds bag and pop all this stuff. I just tell them what my grandfather used to say to me, “We get too soon olt and too late schmardt.”
Many good friends have come in since I arrived here at Harpers Ferry Saturday morning: Fletch is now here, so for Easy Rider, Weatherman and Boyscout, Buddha Boy, Dutchie, Yertle, Saint and Tulie.
When I return to Hilltop House Hotel to get my pack, Joliet Joe and Wolfhound have already departed. The personnel here at the Hilltop House Hotel have been most gracious, from the desk clerks, waitresses, housekeepers and the chef and all who help on the food line, all dedicated to making the guests stay an enjoyable and memorable one. My stay certainly was, and will remain in my memory. Thanks folks!
At the post office I receive a package from Slumberjack. They’ve sent me new aluminum tent hoops to replace the fiberglass ones I’ve been having problems with. I was so looking forward to getting a package from home, sent days ago, priority mail. But it is not here. Upon returning to the ATC center, John Tatara informs me that a local resident just called and said they have my package and would bring it right over. I’m thinking, “What’s going on here.” Sure enough, in just a few minutes the door to the center opens and a young man and his mother enter. John directs them to me and the young man comes over and hands me my priority mail package! He says, “My name is M. J. Eberhart, and this package was delivered to me by mistake!” My mouth gapes open and I look at the youngster in total disbelief, then I look at his mother. She looks at me most quizzically…and while shrugging, says, “This is my son, his name is M. J. Eberhart.” Somehow I manage, “Pleased to meet you M. J. Eberhart, I’m M. J. Eberhart!” Folks please believe me, there’s just no way that I can make this kind of stuff up!
While here at Harpers Ferry, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting most of the staff at ATC, the volunteers, John Tatara and Dave Appel; and the professional staff, Dave Startzell, Brian King, Laurie Potteiger and Kisha. I was able to sit down with Dave for a few minutes and talk about the progress being made in the final stages of land acquisition to protect the AT corridor. We also talked for a few minutes about what I anticipate will be the up-and-coming popularity of the Appalachian Mountains Trail (AMT) and the Eastern Continental Trail (ECT). I am but one of hundreds and hundreds who pass through the ATC center on a regular basis, but I was certainly made to feel at home. Thanks, John, the Daves, Kisha, Laurie and Brian! I’m disappointed not to personally meet Sue Ellen Weinkopf, who I have corresponded with and talked with on numerous occasions, but alas, she is out today, so I’ve left a note for her.
Back to the post office to get my “bounce box” off and mail a few postcards, comes in now a huge van with two canoes lashed on top, and piling out are Flint,Birch, U-Turn and Shelter Monkey. They have just completed their 60-mile canoe trip from Front Royal to Harpers Ferry on the beautiful Shenandoah! They all yack at once, totally giddy with excitement about their adventure.
I finally manage to get back on the AT a little before 5:00 p.m., cross the hiker bridge over the Potomac, then onto the historic C &O Towpath, finally to climb Weaverton. This has been such a grand weekend and a most interesting and memorable day. It’s good to be back on the trail as I arrive in the dark at Gathland State Park. I know that Fletch will be coming through soon doing the 4/40/24. I roll out my pad and blanket on one of the picnic tables under the pavilion and quickly fall into deep restful sleep, not hearing him pass.
“In about forty miles the Appalatchin Trail
becomes the Appalashun Trail.”
[ATC toilet wall]
Tuesday—July 7, 1998
Location—Hemlock Hill Shelter
I’m out about 7:30 a.m. on a beautiful morning to arrive shortly at Crampton Gap Shelter. I want to look in the shelter register to see who’s been through recently so I head on over. As I stand here now reading these words for the second time, I’m wishing I’d kept right on going, for on this last page and in this most recent entry is there revealed the bitter reality; for written here is harsh testament to the attrition this trail has taken. I knew that many more friends would leave the trail at Harpers Ferry, but now I am faced with it, I must look at it straight on, for I know and realize now there are many dear friends I will never see again. And so it appears from this entry that I am not the only one who has departed Harpers Ferry with a heavy heart and a similar burden of sadness. I read the following entry again, written from-the-heart, by a thru-hiker named Ender, as I brush tears from my eyes and from the page,
“Feels good to be back on the trial, but sad to be leaving friends. So many people are pulling off
the trail; a lot of people I’ve gotten to know out here and who I feel honored to call friends. I am
sad to see my friends leaving, maybe to be never seen again, I hope not. But who knows what
roads they will take, what paths may lead them where? I hope those paths will lead back to me, at
least for a short while. It would be a shame, a sin, to never see these friends again. So, I will look
forward to the day when I may see my friends again. Until that day when our trails may cross
again—I will miss them.”
Let’s just push on Ender and try not to think about it anymore this day.
I arrive about lunchtime at the Washington Monument, the first such memorial constructed in his honor. The citizens of nearby Boonesboro erected it in 1827. It stands at 30 feet in height and from this vantage can be seen lands surveyed by Washington and Fairfax. The towns of Harpers Ferry and Winchester are visible. Also seen from atop the monument is the Antietam National Cemetery at Sharpsburg where Lee and McClellan fought. The architecture it seems is not the most appealing. One hiker, as the story goes, stopped to stare at it, then turning is purported to have said, “What a crock.” Folks, it is shaped kind of funny!
There’s some really rough, rocky going this afternoon near Annapolis Rocks and along Black Rock Cliffs. I have heard much about, and today I have the pleasure hiking for awhile with the Allen family from Festus, Missouri, better know on the trail as simply, The Family. They are a mother and her five children and they are thru-hiking the AT! What a great and fun group. The mom is Suzy Suches ’75, and the kids are Sara Rosey, Martha The Artist, Jesse Sport, Annie Appy Anne and Casey 4×4. I manage to get into Hemlock Hill Shelter around 7:00 p.m. to spent an enjoyable evening with Birch and Caterpillar and his daughter. Rain begins about 8:00 p.m. and continues intermittently throughout the night.
“The mountains of Maryland, even quite near,
are blue—the color of clouds and of memory.”
[Paula M. Strain, The Blue Hills of Maryland]
Wednesday—July 8, 1998
Location—Tumbling Run Shelters
My waste management system awakens me about 6:00 a.m. After a brief duty cycle I return to kill time the good old-fashioned way…three more hours of sleep. For this morning it is pounding hard, the whole scene casting a no-nonsense appearance of dreary permanence. The downpour finally relents and the day manages to “fair-up” a little…and I finally manage to get out and on my way again. I am afforded the luxury now of burning a couple-three hours from day-to-day while still managing respectable mileage, as daylight is lingering much longer now. Up here on the ridge—which is where the trail usually leads—the twilight hours extend remarkably far into what is usually nocturnal domain. The fog and rain finally manage to rebound, shutting the brightness down…and a muddly kind of funk comes with it as my mind returns to the thought of never seeing so many friends (certainly the smarter ones), ever again. To brighten my spirit I try to be mindful of the ever-positive attitude of Warren Doyle, Jr., who under such circumstances would surely be skipping along singing, “Ho! Ha! Who cares? This is the song of the trail!” At least there are no flies or gnats! How’s that, Warren?
I arrive at Pen Mar State Park around 2:00 p.m. after an extended and very difficult up-and-down, mud and rock scramble…just in time to catch Birch leaving on a grub run with the park ranger. I manage to get my order in for a foot-long combo sub and jumbo coke! Fletch is also here at the park pavilion…not looking too hot again. He did manage the 4/40/24, but he did it last night in the pitch black, in the mud and rocks and rain! The four states are Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. The distance is forty miles, beginning at the last stretch of trail in Virginia and ending here at Pen Mar at the Mason-Dixon Line, where the Appalatchin trail becomes the Appalashun Trail. Fletch is in a funk too, for it seems the duration of his incredible jaunt exceeded the twenty-four hour limit by forty-five minutes! This is so incredible! How on God’s green earth did he get through that maze and mush in a pitch-black downpour? I’m just trying, with all my energy and determination, and with good fortune and the Grace of God, to get these miles behind me, and these young kids are out here making games of it! We talk for quite awhile, while waiting for Birch to return. Fletch continues to be hard on himself, for in his mind the whole ordeal during the last twenty-four hours (and forty-five minutes) has been a total failure. I finally say, “Look Fletch, you’ve heard of leap year, right? That’s where Father Time throws in an extra day. Okay, well I’ve just had a conference with both Mother Nature and Father Time, and after explaining the circumstances of your situation, they’ve both agreed…and just for you, that yesterday was leap day, there being an extra hour!” This cheers him up as we both have a good laugh and he seems to feel a little better. Birch returns and we all have a grand (Garveying in the woods) feast, out of the cold murk, right on the stage apron.
It’s 4:00 p.m. before I finally reach the Mason-Dixon Line. Eight states behind me, eight more to go. Alas, but do I know that this state line pretty much marks the end of sweet tea, biscuits and gravy, grits, good old corn fritters, BBQ and hush puppies, but I’ve still got my GORP and glue stew! The treadway finally settles into flat terrain, many roads and barking dogs. Birch and I had talked about staying at Deer Lick Shelters but a large church group occupies both, so I read the shelter journal and push on. Hiking through ahead of me today are Weatherman, Joliet Joe and Wolfhound. Boyscout was one of those getting off at Harpers Ferry. Saying goodbye to Weatherman and all of us, she hopped a commuter back to NYC and was gone. Gonna miss you, dear friend! I soon pass the picturesque old log shelters of Antietam, built years ago on a flat spit of land next to a clear-rushing brook. In a short while I arrive at Tumbling Run Shelters. Here are two log lean-tos, a privy, a lovely spring, picnic tables, clotheslines, a water gauge and a thermometer! There’s no one around, so I have my pick. Birchcomes in shortly and we spend a relaxing, enjoyable evening together…capping off a great hiking day!
Whitcomb “Wick” Fletch Fairbanks, IV is 24, single and hails from Marco Island, FL, more recently, Dublin, Georgia. He attended high school in Saratoga Springs, New York and Laley, Florida. Fletch is a graduate of Georgia Southern University with a degree in Natural and Cultural Resource Management. His pre-graduate employment included working winters in south Florida. Beachside jobs were hotel, restaurant, fitness center and gift shop employment. His post-graduate plans were to return to hotel work but after his first resume, first job application, first interview, he landed his first job! He was hired by Boy Scouts of America in Macon, Georgia. With the Scouts he served as District Director for eight Georgia counties. The position involved recruiting, speaking engagements, program management and, oh yes—fund raising. Fletch beams with pride as he relates one successful event that raised $17,000 in one night! He had the AT in the back of his mind all along, something he dearly wanted to do, but alas, with the new job the trail would have to wait.
His interest and hobbies include reading, golf, fishing, roller blading, and any and all outdoor sports. “In the spring of ‘97 and as I settled into my new job I knew that my plans were to be on the AT at that time, but I really liked my work and I wanted to hold onto the job for at least three years. When the spring of ‘98 rolled around it became unbearable. I knew I needed to get this trail thing out of my system once and for all…before settling down and dedicating myself to a career. So on February 22, 1998 I took that fateful step…I walked into my boss’s office and explained that they needed to start looking for someone to take my place.” Ahh, and here that fateful step has led him today, for he is living his dream!
Fletch’s future plans: “I could go back with BSA, but I’d like to get into the sales field, such as a rep for a pharmaceutical company or perhaps one of these outdoor firms. The trail experience could help me get a job like that. I like sales because it is incentive driven—the harder you work the better you do. I’ve been thinking while here on the trail just how important work is to me. Everyone should, and indeed everyone needs to be an active part of society. For the next 20-25 years in my life I’m looking forward to working extremely hard.”
Fletch, you’re a positive and upbeat young man. Your vitality, the ethics and moral standards that I see in you, that I thought were lost to the young in our society today, I am finding to be a most common thread throughout this family of young folks here on the trail. How refreshing to see this over and over again. You and all of our friends out here laboring in this journey have gone far in restoring my faith in the future of this great country of ours. There actually are young people around today who can still think and act and do for themselves. What a joy to see! You’re a self-starter Fletch, a go-getter. I predict a very successful future for you. Never lose your magnetic smile and your positive attitude. It’s truly a blessing to call you, and to be called…friend. See you on Katahdin!
“The sunrise was a precious time for me as I watched
the sun slowly rise over the horizon; and felt God’s
awesome peace descend upon the mountains.”
[Kenneth Wadness, Sojourn in the Wilderness]
Thursday—July 9, 1998
Location—Birch Run Shelters
I get out a little after 9:00 a.m. to be greeted by the makings for a great day. Birch will be going into the village of South Mountain for a mail drop so I probably won’t see him again until this evening. Hopalong is ahead of me, having already passed through Deer Lick Shelters early this morning. The trail into Caledonia State Park is over smooth, flat, treadway and I make very good time. Once in the Park I find Hopalong sitting at one of the picnic tables reading a book. Not far is a swimming pool, complete with concession stand, so we head for the food. Great burger and fries plus another order of fries, then to polish it all off comes lemonade and a huge bowl of the most incredible Hershey Dairy Moose Track ice cream. I absolutely cannot understand how any self-respecting member of the Hiker Trash Fratority would ever shell out the incredible bucks for a pint of that other brand when these local dairies are scooping up this kind of stuff!
While here at the concession stand, comes up a thru-hiker, Two Showers. She holds up an object and asks if we might know to whom it belongs. I can’t believe my eyes! I clutch my chest, look at Two Showers, then clutch my chest again…indeed it is gone, and she has it, dangling there from her fingers—my medicine pouch given me by Mountain Man clear down in Hatchet Creek, Alabama. I didn’t even know it had fallen from my neck. Two Showers says she picked it up right in the middle of the trail! What a miracle to have it returned to me, and what a joy not to have suffered the loss, even for one moment! The pouch itself now means much to me but of even more value, sentimental though it might be, within the pouch have I placed a priceless touchstone, a bridge to the past, to all of nature if you will, and to my grandfather who I loved dearly. Fifty years ago we found it together, in a freshly plowed field where we would often while away hours searching together for Indian artifacts. This, a perfect point, the smallest and most beautifully shaped I’ve ever seen—flawless! Less than an inch in length and a quarter inch wide, near as thin as a wafer, perfectly barbed and tapered, delicately crafted thousands of years ago from pure gray-white flint found only along the Osage in Missouri. I have seen many fine Indian artifact collections and have a respectable collection of arrow points, spear points, fulcrum points, scrapers and drills myself, but I have never seen another point so small and perfectly shape as this. And here after losing it is it now handed back to me. Oh, I am so blessed to have it returned. This is a miracle! I must not risk losing this precious link with the past ever again. Two Showers, thank you, oh dear friend, thank you so much!
I’ve had a few days now to get into the swing of using my poplar sapling hiking sticks. I absolutely don’t know how I managed so long without them. They have proven invaluable. The relief to the knee and foot pounding alone is nothing short of miraculous. The knee pain I had been suffering—to the point of becoming increasingly troublesome and chronic—has improved markedly. I now am confident I’ll be over the problem soon. Without the use of sticks I had to concentrate almost constantly on balance and foot placement, but with the sticks, which provide consistent two and three-point contact, foot placement—precise and perfect foot placement—becomes a simple and almost effortless task. Without the sticks, I had been stubbing my toes so often and so hard that I was knocking the soles loose. Re-laminating the front soles amounted to the major repair needed in Waynesboro. With the sticks I’m now getting that extra fraction of an inch lift with each stride, just enough to clear 90 percent of the obstacles I’d been stumbling over. Without the sticks I was suffering pooling and swelling in my hands from constantly swinging and slinging them by my side. With the sticks I have had 100 percent relief from this annoyance and I can now feel development and strength returning to my shoulders, arms and upper body. Without the sticks, foot tracking tended to stagger left and right of the trail centerline as I moved along. With the sticks, and by pushing with each forward stride, progress is stepped up and foot tracking tends to follow closer (and more efficiently) to the treadway centerline! There are many other benefits, such as better downhill control and a ready device to poke rattlesnakes off the trail, but these are the main ones. Yes, I like my sticks a lot…you won’t catch me without them the remainder of this odyssey!
I arrive at Birch Run Shelters around 7:00 p.m. to find Birch and Hopalong already here. We get a cooking and warming (yes-warming) fire going. I borrow some hydrocortisone cream from a group camped down in the lower meadow. We were all hit hard by yellowjackets today and Hopalong has a mean-looking poison ivy rash on his ankles. Oooh does that ever feel good! Fletch comes in just before dark!
“I never imagined that existence could be so simple,
so uncluttered, so Spartan, so free of baggage, so
sublimely gratifying. I have reduced the weight of
my pack to 35 pounds and yet I can’t think of a single
thing I really need that I can’t find, either within myself,
or within my pack.”
[David Brill, As Far As The Eye Can See]
Friday—July 10, 1998
Location—Alec Kennedy Shelter
I’m out early, before 7:00 a.m., as I want to reach Pine Grove Furnace State Park by noon. The store at the Park is home to the thru-hikers “Half-Gallon Club.” All you need do to join is eat a half-gallon of your favorite ice cream as fast as you can! When Fletch, Hopalong and Birch arrive we go at it. I’m able to down a half-gallon of Hershey Dairy peanut butter in 24 minutes, but was easily beaten out by Fletch who downed his butter pecan in 21 minutes!
I see and talk again (after I’m able to move my tongue and lips again) with good trail friends Skitz (who downed his ice cream yesterday in 14 minutes), Weatherman, Moose, Buddha Boy (who’s getting off the trail) and Old Goat.
We’ve been faced with but a few difficult ascents since leaving Virginia. In West Virginia, Maryland and now in Pennsylvania there have been only a handful of anywhere near respectable pulls, most being in or below the three Snickers category. Here in Pennsylvania the treadway is just very rough, filled with miles of loosely piled and jutting rocks. When I try explaining this to folks, how difficult this sort of treadway can be, I simply make this analogy, “Have you ever seen brick masons building a house or an office building, and below the scaffolding where they’re working there’s this pile of rubble made up of broken block and brick? Well, just imagine mile after mile and day after day of piles of this stuff…that’s the trail.” I hit more rubble this afternoon and progress again becomes slow and deliberate. It’s almost dark as I arrive at Alec Kennedy Shelter. Finding the shelter full I pitch in a small clearing near the stream. During the night I put on every stitch of clothing I have as the mercury drops to 44 degrees.
A few days back I alluded to the inevitable impending loss of nails from both great toes and second toes…again. The nails on my second toes have grown back and those on my great toes have almost grown back since losing them after emerging from 50 days in the swamps of Florida. Why I’m having this problem again this late in the game beats me, but the entire intact nail on my right second toe comes completely off this evening, leaving an indented horseshoe-shaped area where it used to be! This will sure make for some tenderness for the next few days. It seems like there’s always something. I’m tending to become weary now at times…but I’m still here.
“If you’ll pick ‘em up, O Lord, I’ll put ‘em down.”
[Anon., Prayer of A Tired Hiker]
Saturday—July 11, 1998
The “Cumberland Valley Roadwalk” is history, the trail having been removed from the secondary county roads and busy US11 some ten years now. No more Bonnie Shipe, “The Ice Cream Lady” or tenting in the Messer yard. The trail now zigzags through hay and wheat fields and along the lower valley ridges. This relocation has added a delightful new trail town for all to enjoy. As trail towns go, Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania is classic; a small, quaint setting, more rural than urban; historic, neat old homes, churches, shops and businesses; and a beautiful, spring-fed lake complete with Canadian geese. This trail town has it in spades! And there is an ATC regional office here, where hikers are welcome to use the porch to congregate. The trail now crosses the Pennsylvania Turnpike over a secondary road overpass, ditto for I-81 and is completely off US11, crossing it via a great new pedestrian bridge. Guess I’m set in my ways, but the nostalgic old roadwalk? I found that much more to my liking.
Just before entering Boiling Springs, near the railroad crossing and sitting beside the trail, I am greeted by a young hiker with the largest food-drop box that I believe I’ve ever seen. I stop to find out what gives and it is here I meet Pan. Pan is the last remaining of a foursome that departed Springer Mountain months ago with high hopes and grand dreams of thru-hiking the AT. They were known as the Fabulous Four. Making up the foursome were Pan, her younger sister, her older brother and her brother-in-law. As we sit together now, and with tear-filled eyes, Pan relates her story to me. It seems their odyssey started out so well, with such wonder and anticipation. But once the grand excitement of hiking together wore off and as the day-to-day grind of it all descended upon them, they became discouraged and disheartened. Pan, who was the slowest and weakest of the group often delayed their progress. Finally, sensing the mounting impatience and frustration, she did the only thing she knew to do, she urged them to go on ahead, and leave her to plod along alone. So it was that they all decided to go their separate ways, to enjoy their separate days on up the trail, leaving Pan to bring up the rear. Well, so it seems, and as her family all hastened north ahead of her, that one by one each of them gave it up, got off the trail and went home…all that is, except Pan. And here she sits today, over 1100 miles north of Springer Mountain, all alone. And here, this day does this not-so-happy story also end, for this is Pan’s last day on the Appalachian Trail. Today, she too, will be leaving the trail, going home. So here she sits now with this huge box of food, sent with so much love-filled anticipation to Boiling Springs…for the Fabulous Four. With the saddest expression and as she looks over to me now, Pan says, “Please take some of this food Nomad, I won’t be needing any of it, anymore.”
In Boiling Springs today congregate many thru-hiking trail friends, Two Showers, Joliet Joe, Pan, Wild Gess and Mountain Laurel, Jelly Bean and Cuppa-Joe (his daughter), Turtle, Yo-Yo, Fletch, Bump, Birch, Moose, Hopalong, Skitz, Little Mac and Flutterby. A grand lunch seems the thing to do, so Pan, Two Showers, Joliet Joe and I head to Anile’s Italian Restaurant for pizza. My poplar sapling hiking sticks usually draw a fair amount of attention and as we’re enjoying our pizza the topic turns to the subject of trekking poles. We talk about how much easier it is to hike with poles and I relate my recent learning experience using the poplar saplings and how they’re already wearing shorter…and how it would be great to someday own a fine pair of well-built professional poles.
Back now at the ATC regional office and as I shoulder my pack and prepare to leave, Pan comes to me and holds out her beautiful Leki Super Makalu Trekking Poles. “Nomad, I want you to have these, please take them.” I look at her in astonishment. I am totally flabbergasted. I don’t know what to say. In a moment, I manage, “Pan, I can’t take your poles. Oh, thank you so much, but I can’t take your poles. You need them.” Continuing to hold the poles out to me, Pan says, “I won’t be needing them any longer. I really want you to have them. Please take them.” I persist, “Pan, please, I just can’t take your beautiful hiking poles.” Reaching now for my old saplings, she says, “Okay, then trade me, you take these and give me yours.” Sensing now her never-take-no insistence, I relent. Accepting her wonderful generosity and with tears in my eyes, I reply, “Okay Pan, okay, it’s a deal, I’ll trade.” As I turn to go, Pan gives me a big hug. “Just one more thing, Nomad,” she says, “ Send me a picture of you and my poles by the old sign on Katahdin.” And so I will Pan, and so I will. What a remarkable example of the unity, the bonds, the incredible and unexplainable ties, and the from-the-heart caring that is this thru-hiker community. I have known Pan for less than three hours…I’d have to look back in my notepad to even remember her name.
Ascending to Darlington Shelter I’m afforded a grand view across the entire breadth and a great width of this beautiful, rolling, lush-green Cumberland Valley. I arrive to share Darlington Shelter with Joliet Joe, and Wild Gess and Mountain Laurel. The cooking, turned warming fire feels very good. Nice old shelter, water way, way down. What an incredible, emotional day.
Come look o’er this Eden, the Cumberland.
Come walk through this valley of time.
On a crisp, clear Sunday morning,
Hear the peal of the church bells chime.
Through the waving fields of golden grain,
Past the springs of Conodoguinet.
The trail, the boroughs and quaint old farms;
Tis a journey you won’t forget.
Sunday—July 12, 1998
Location—Duncannon, The Doyle Hotel
It’s only eleven miles to Duncannon and I would like to be there by late morning, so I’m up and out shortly after dawn. There is much rough and rocky treadway along the ridge but the view from Hawk Rock down onto the beautiful Susquehanna River and the little town of Duncannon is picture perfect, making the hike most rewarding. I am able to literally glide over the rocks and boulders with the Leki trekking poles. My old saplings bounced, quivered and skipped off of everything, but these puppies stick no matter where I jam them. I arrive and check in at the Doyle Hotel at 11:00 a.m. It’s been a blue-perfect hiking morning.
I have lunch at the Doyle and lounge most of the day with my feet up. I manage to work on my journal entries, do some laundry and make a few calls. In the evening I go for pizza at Sorrento’s Italian Restaurant and I’m in the sack by nine.
“When the thought first occurred that the Lord might
want me to hike the trail, I put it out of my mind, When
the idea kept coming back I told God He had the wrong
Bill Irwin, I’m the blind guy, remember?”
[Bill Irwin, Blind Courage]
Monday—July 13, 1998
Location—PA325, Clarks Valley Campsite
I slept great last night here at the old Doyle in room #112, third floor, same room I stayed in 15 years ago. I do believe the dresser, chair and bed are the same. And I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if the little concave mattress and old gray pillow are the same ones too! I’m up and down to the bar at 7:30 a.m. for a fine breakfast. I notice the outside door to the bar still sticks badly, just like as it did 15 years ago. About the only thing I can tell that’s changed around here is the ceiling’s gone now out of the upstairs bathroom. I know that every day this old relic continues to stand increase the odds that it won’t be here in the morning, but I really like the old palace and I’m willing to take that chance. I bet Crazy One would’ve stayed here had he passed this way in ’48. The trail crossed the Susquehanna down river at Harrisburg back then. But it’s passed through here now for many a year and this section, plus much of the trail north of here was relocated because of Earl’s effort.
My pack straps have really been creeping the last few weeks and the problem is getting worse and worse, to the point of becoming downright annoying. I contacted the folks at Kelty awhile back and they said I needed some new buckles. They’re waiting for me general delivery here at the post office this morning along with lots of mail from family and friends…also waiting patiently, my old friend, the bounce box. I pick up a few items at the drug store, head over to the convenience store and then it’s back to the Doyle to get what I need from my bounce box, then to get it sealed and ready to bounce on to Bear Mountain, NY. I get my pack organized and check out of the grand old Doyle a little after 11:00 a.m. Back at the post office to mail my bounce box and some post cards I see Skitz, Birch, and Hopalong getting their mail drops. I don’t envy Skitz. He’s got a new pair of boots to break in. I manage to get out of Duncannon a little after noon. Duncannon is a neat trail town and I feel a little smug for not getting stuck here as I head across the Juniata Bridge.
The trail crosses the Susquehanna on the Clarks Ferry Bridge, then it’s over the railroad tracks for the first respectable pull in quite awhile up and onto Peters Mountain. Even with liberal switchbacks I still give it three Snickers. As I climb I’m looking at how people have been cutting the switchbacks all along, creating washouts and much erosion. The problem with switchbacks seem to be that somebody’s always cutting them, hand-over-hand straight up, or butt-slidin’ straight down, don’t matter; somebody’s always cutting ‘em! Once I gain Peters Mountain to arrive at Table Rock I’m afforded a grand and sweeping view of the Juniata and the Susquehanna. Both are emerging from the far mountain haze to tumble along to where they finally merge here just below. It’s been a tough climb to gain the view here from Table Rock, but it’s been well worth it!
From Table Rock on and for the remainder of this day my thoughts are about my last hike up Peters Mountain many years ago with my dear sister Salle Anne. We were visiting family just over Peters Mountain in the beautiful little mountain village of Elizabethville. I can remember as a child, the summers we would spend there with our grandparents. They’ve since gone to their final rest, high on a hill, as has our mother…across the valley here and most near in the shadow of Peters Mountain. It is a bittersweet hike today as I tread this path again—alone.
Well, I cut the last switchback, skid-tumbled and fell,
And got wracked like I knowed that I would.
But in 4000 miles I saved 94 feet,
And that really made me feel good.
[N. Nomad, Now Cut that Out!]
Tuesday—July 14, 1998
Location—William Penn Shelter
The evening last was very enjoyable as I relaxed with Flutterby, Little Mac and Truly Blessed. Truly Blessed is up early this morning to greet her brother who has come to visit. I break camp and am on my way before 8:00 a.m.
On Stony Mountain, where the Horse-Shoe Trail begins, thence from here to lead to Valley Forge, I see Moose again. We tarry as he talks about how Horse-Shoe Trail was the first he’d hiked many years ago as a scout. Moose is from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I enjoy sharing his joy as he recalls, with that far-away glint of reminiscence, those fond memories. Moose takes a picture of the bronze plaque marking the trail’s beginning, and after a brief and final glance over our packs, we move on north on the AT.
The old AT coasts along pretty good today, mostly flat terrain, but on the ridgeline and as it narrows, comes up the rocks and boulders. But, that doesn’t stop the trail and through this helter-skelter we go! The likes of it will surely slow you down, wear you down, and if you don’t concentrate every second, it will finally take you down!
I reach William Penn Shelter around 6:00 p.m. Two Showers comes in shortly after. With the shelter down the dark side of the mountain I’ve decided to pitch on the ridge near the trail to enjoy the evening breeze, the view, and the morning sunrise. As I relax here this evening in quiet repose, gazing out across this lush, fertile valley and countryside, settled now centuries ago, do I think of those brave and adventurous settlers. For I am one of those adventurers just as surely as I am one of their descendants. What a proud heritage, what a remarkable ancestry. My parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and all of theirs were born and raised near this place. I am an 8th generation descendent of the Enders family who immigrated to the New World in the 1700’s. There is a quaint little village, Enders, PA, close-by in a quiet, picturesque high valley up from Harrisburg. In a shady, five-acre grove by the rolling countryside near Enders is found the family picnic grounds, complete with croquet lawn, horseshoe pits and covered and enclosed pavilions. Here each August, family members come from most every state and many foreign countries to attend the family reunion. It’s such a grand affair with much fine celebration and fun…and much-too-much good eating!
The ribs of Pennsyltucky
Form backbones straight and rough.
And here the trekker’s lucky
To make it through this stuff.
Wednesday—July 15, 1998
Location—Port Clinton, Port Clinton Hotel
I manage to get up at dawn and back on the trail shortly after 6:00 a.m. I’ll be doing 27 miles today over rough rock and boulder-strewn treadway. I’m anxious to get on through Pennsylvania and get this continuous rocky trail behind me. There’s about 70 miles of this mentally taxing and difficult going remaining. I stop at the 501 Shelter, arriving around 8:00 a.m., to find Joliet Joe, Plush, Weary Pilgrim and Lollipop. Townsman and Wolfhound have just gone out. About noon I find Wolfhound relaxing along the trail and we discuss sharing a room at the Port Clinton Hotel. There’s not much water along the trail up here on these ridges so I must conserve, but it’s a mild, overcast day and my strength and stamina remain high. I’ve been taking the electrolyte caps Succeed, which help me maintain a more constant energy level. Negotiating the rocks and boulders for hours on end becomes both physically demanding and mentally taxing. I have a few bumps and bruises but the feet seem to be holding up pretty well. I’m wearing a sturdy three-pound boot with Vibram lug soles and steel shanks. They’re called Danner Lights made by Danner out in Oregon. I’ve had to have them resoled and the soles re-laminated once, but they’re working very well. This is an absolute and certain blessing, as many, if not most thru-hikers are starting to have boot problems.
There’s poison ivy everywhere in the rocks and boulders so I have my gaiters hiked up as far as they will go. The ivy presents no problem for me but avoiding it is prudent. Neighbors used to have me come over, dig the vines up, then rip them down from their trees.
I reach Port Clinton by 5:00 p.m. and shortly thereafter I arrive at the Port Clinton Hotel. After spending eleven long and stressful hours in the rocks and boulders I reward myself for a successful injury-free day by hoisting a couple of tall Yuengling frosties. Yuengling is America’s oldest brewery, famous for its fine premium beer. Ahhh, yes, this is fine…“here’s to ya’, Yuengling! And here’s to you too, Nomad, ya’ done good today!” The Port Clinton Hotel is clean, neat and well maintained, a modest but most-proud establishment hosted by its proud owners, Billie Ann Russell and Paul Engle. Wolfhound makes it to join me and we share a room. After getting cleaned up best we can we head down for supper and a few more tall ones. I’ll sleep well tonight!
The rocks of ol’ Blue Mountain
Strike brutal and relentless.
Lord on your help we’re countin’
‘Cause…we are near defenseless.
Thursday—July 16, 1998
Location—Allentown Hiking Club Shelter
I had a memorable stay at the very fine old Port Clinton Hotel. Billie Ann is an innkeeper and bartender par excellence and Paul is a great cook. So the stay, the meals and the hospitality were really grand. These folks truly care about and cater to hikers. And what a wonderful family gathering here last evening. Some good old friends and some new faces. Coming and going were Kodiac, Soul Sharer, Townsman, Walkabout, Caretaker, and Wolfhound. Billie Ann insists on getting her picture with me by their front door, so with my pack on and ready to go, she and Paul follow me out and Paul snaps our picture while we both stand with tears running down our faces. Folks don’t ask me to explain this. I know, I know, I only met these folks yesterday. Believe me, I don’t understand it either! Thanks dear friends for you kindness and for you caring.
The trail down into Port Clinton was a slider, no switchbacks, just straight down, so too, for the climb back out…a strong three Snickers pull. I pass three old boxed, swift-flowing springs today. A tin of cold, clear water from one of these springs and a little lemonade mix and you couldn’t prepare a better refreshment for a tired, thirsty, hiker…and the names just add to their appeal, Pocahontas, Minnehaha and Gold Spring! Of course, those who must care for us and feel we need constant direction, lest we perish, have posted these beautiful springs, “Water source not tested for potability, boil or treat all water.” If this water is going to makes us sick, God help us if we must drink the water from New York City, Boston, of Philly!
“Now this is what we believe. The mother of us all is earth, the
father is the sun, the grandfather is the creator, who bathed us with his mind
and gave life to all things. The brother is the beasts and the trees. The sister
is that with wings. We are the children of earth and do it no harm in any way,
nor do we offend the sun by not greeting it at dawn. We praise our grandfather
for his creation. We share the same breath together, the beasts, the trees, the
birds, the man.”
[Nancy Wood, Taos Indian]
Friday—July 17, 1998
Location—Palmerton, Palmerton Hotel
I finally catch up with my good friend 100# Stormcloud. He was at Allentown Hiking Club Shelter when I arrived and we shared a most enjoyable evening talking trail. We had hiked the Smokies and most of Tennessee together. I got off and went to Trail Days in Damascus and Stormy stayed the trail getting ahead of me. It’s taken me over two months to catch up and finally see him again. He’s still lugging a helluva load, but he and his pack have both slimmed down. Stormy got tagged right off the bat with his trail name…had to do with the incredible load he lugged off Springer and the accompanying stormcloud that seemed to hover above him. I also enjoyed the evening with Ender, D and D Rose, Canucklehead, Ringbearer, King Cheese and Walkabout.
The hike today offers one of the most exciting boulder scrambles ever, along the ridge at Bear Rocks—boulders the size of boxcars with smaller boulders (automobile size) lodged helter-skelter in between! It’s hop, skip and jump time, a great adrenaline pump. Then it’s back to the tedium and monotony of miles of rocks and slow, hard going. Along the way today I meet and hike some with Rascal, Frank’n Pops, Nomad (another Nomad), Hippie, Tim, and Puck. I’m meeting all these new folks as I catch and pass them.
As luck would have it and as I stick my thumb out at PA248 I’m given a ride right away clear to the front door at the Palmerton Hotel. I can’t believe it, but I’m in at 2:30 p.m. The main floor in most of these old hotels is mainly bar. And the Palmerton Hotel has a fine bar. Checking in and cleaning up a bit, I’m right back down to belly-up for a couple more premium Yuengling frosties! 100# Stormcloud, Ringbearer, Bump (yup, Bump is back again) and Canucklehead make it in about 4:00 p.m. They were unable to get a ride and had to walk the two miles into town. Stormy moves in to split the room with me and Canuckle, Ringbearer and Bump head for the police station where they’ll spend the night in the basement—yup, free lodging for thru-hikers in the police station basement! Palmerton is another neat, friendly, trail town.
“In town, stay at the hostel, the church, the hospice,
the monastery, the fire house, the community center,
the fraternity house, the mountain inn, the boarding
house, the hotel, the motel or the home of a former
Georgia-to-Mainer.” (Don’t forget the police station!)
[Darrell The Philosopher Maret, GAME ‘80]
Saturday—July 18, 1998
Location—PA33, Wind Gap, Gateway Motel
There’s a fine little mom-n-pop right across the street from the hotel where we all congregate for a hiker kind of breakfast. Last evening I’d called Dr. Howard Cyr. Doc Cyr is a retired Palmerton dentist, a local trail angel who offers free shuttles. He said he’d be glad to give us a ride. He’d also recommended this café and he’s right here curbside at 8:00 a.m. to shuttle us back to the trail at Lehigh River Bridge. Thanks for the lift, Doc!
We all begin the climb from the valley at 8:30 a.m. and what an incredible climb it is, near straight up over sheer ledges, rock faces and boulders. At times the blazes seem to go straight up. I finally get my mind better set and can handle the ascent much easier by convincing myself, as I stare up at the rocks jutting into space, that if the trail crew made it up there with a paintbrush and a bucket of paint, surely I can get up there with my pack. This silly little mental game pays off and I make it up just fine! Once on the ridge the environs turn almost alpine, with rocks and stunted, wind whipped conifers. And what far-sweeping views into the lush, green Lehigh Valley and the mountain ranges beyond. And what a joy to be blessed again with perfect weather, clear and cool, with a light, refreshing breeze, the kind hawks rest their outstretched wings on, to glide and soar for hours.
There is much more incredibly rocky, rough and rugged treadway today. I hear many complaints of bruised feet and ankle pain. But my feet, ankles and knees do fine as I cruise right through, my new poles letting me glide across the rocks. This is definitely hard work and I sweat profusely nearly all day long. The electrolyte capsules have proven to be a great help and I’m handling the heat okay.
Hiking along and alone through the rocks, and in a daze-like trance, a mental state that I have found not only unavoidable, but at times very welcome, do I come upon a large eastern diamondback rattlesnake—right on the trail. Whoa! It’s time to shake it off and haul ‘er down! Gaining my composure from this rude interruption does it become apparent that this fellow is in no hurry to relinquish his fine spot in the sun. It’s time for a break anyway, so I decide to relax on a boulder next to him and enjoy his company. What a gorgeous serpent. His skin just glistens in the rays of the bright sun, radiating all the remarkably rich and colorful shades of royalty, much as the luminance reflected from the undulating movement of oil on water. He finally tires of my company and decides to move on. A gentle tap from my pole on his large pitted and arrow-pointed head discourages him and brings him to coil, rattle and hiss at me. “It’s okay, don’t get upset now,” I say, “ I just want you to stick around awhile so the others can see your most impressive size and alluring beauty.” Settling back down and while we continue in each other’s company, soon comes Ringbearer, Stormy and Canucklehead. All must get his picture, for they, too, are impressed by the serpents size and strikingly beautiful color. As snakes go, three feet is not a great length, but rattlesnakes can be incredibly large…and very short. This fellow is pushing three feet, is as big around as the business end of a baseball bat, and is sporting 13 rattles. I finally usher him off the trail and into the woods where he and other unwary hikers can both be out of harm’s way.
We arrive at Wind Gap around 4:00 p.m. to hike the short distance to Gateway Motel. I manage to Yogi a hiker deal out of Pete, the proprietor, and, as if in choreographed unison, we all sigh and drop our packs. Stormy and I split a room and Canuckle, Ringbearer and Bump pile into another. Part of the special deal…Pete agrees to fetch a case of premium Yuengling right away and then drive us into Wind Gap later for supper. The longneck Yuenglings, as usual, are most refreshing—in a way only tired hikers would know—with plenty left over for Pete. And the stromboli at Sal’s Pizza? Ahh, simply out of this world! Thanks, Pete!
“The woods are made for the hunters of dreams,
the brooks for the fishers of song.”
[Sam Walter Foss]
Sunday—July 19, 1998
Location—PA611, Delaware Water Gap, Presbyterian Church of the Mountain Hostel
Stormy and I manage to get out at 8:30 a.m. to be greeted to another perfect hiking day. There’s only 15 more miles of Pennsylvania rocks and we’re into New Jersey! These long, straight Pennsylvania mountains are not only tough going but dry. Up here on the ridge there is no water, so what a pleasant surprise at Fox Gap to meet Fanny Pack GAME ’95. Fanny Pack is thru-hiker-turned-trail-angel of the highest order. As Stormy and I approach we are greeted by the biggest smile, larger, if that is possible, than the huge cooler Fanny Pack has lugged to the trail! And what is this magic? Oh yes, cold pop, donuts and the finest of the finest of all trail magic, PBJs…good old peanut butter and jelly sandwiches! We enjoy the break, the good food and refreshments, and the lively and exhilarating trail-talk with Fanny Pack. This is Christmas in July…thanks Fanny Pack!
Our thirst quenched, Stormy and I continue on to marvel in disbelief at the remarkable views down into the Delaware Water Gap, first from Lookout Rock thence from Council Rock. The angular granite strata on the mountainous wall across the gap is such an unusual and interesting sight. As I gaze, and in the most impressive and near-realistic fashion does this rugged mass of rock appear to lift and slide away right before my eyes. I must blink and then try to fix a reference to convince myself that what I see is indeed no more than a very fascinating optical illusion.
Stormy and I reach Delaware Water Gap around 3:30 p.m. and as he waits for his sister to pick him up for a much deserved day or two rest at her place in the Poconos I check into the hostel. What a joy seeing so many friends. I haven’t crossed paths with Long Distance Man since way back in the Smokies. Here also are Easy Rider, Frank‘n Pops, Thirty Seconds, Son Ray, Wood Butcher, Sunburn, Model-T, and Walkabout. Fanny Pack also comes by for awhile. In the evening, and with tears welling up in me and a lump in my throat I bid farewell to 100# Stormcloud. Mayhaps I’ll see him again, but not likely.
Model-T and I spend the remainder of the evening lounging on our bunks talking about many things. We first met on Springer Mountain in early April. He was standing at the first AT white blaze preparing to depart on his third AT thru-hike at age 62 and I was just arriving from my long and lonely journey from Florida. We hit it right off but it’s taken nearly three months now for our paths to finally cross again.
“[The Delaware Water Gap]…lies within a couple
of hours’ driving of almost thirty million people in
the great cities of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and
even New York, itself. It seems some sort of miracle
that it should have remained so unspoiled.”
[Nicholas Harman, The Magnificent Continent]
Monday—July 20, 1998
Location—Brink Road Shelter
A quick trip to the post office and I’m back on the trail by 9:00 a.m. It’s a long walk across the bridge over the Delaware River to New Jersey and there’s heavy truck traffic pushing hard through the Gap on I-80. But I’m thinking as I get buffeted along, “Nomad, you really are making progress. You started almost seven months ago with I-4 way down in Florida and now you’ve worked your way up to I-80 clear up here in New Jersey…that’s a lot of ‘I’s!”
The terrain is changing in New Jersey, but the rocks are still here. Instead of Pennsylvania rocks, now they’re New Jersey rocks. I reach Sunfish Pond around 9:30 a.m., the first glacial pond the trail passes. Yes, the terrain is definitely changing…this is a calendar-picture setting! There’s a tough pull over the rocks up Rattlesnake Mountain. I am very glad to get to the shelter. This has been an incredibly rugged 25-mile day.
Robert Clayton 100# Stormcloud Peterman is 44, divorced with no children and hails from Hummelstown, Pennsylvania. Stormy is a graduate of Bishop McDivitt High School, Harrisburg, PA. He has a BS degree from the US Naval Academy and his MA from Georgetown University. He is a retired commissioned officer, U. S. Navy, 22 years. Stormy was a Navy Seal, the first Commanding Officer of Seal Team 8, a highly respected team that’s still going strong.
“I was in Lebanon from July ‘83 to July ‘84. If you remember your history, you will recall that the American Embassy was bombed in June of 1983. So I arrived during one major incident and was there during another. For on January 1, 1984, and by the grace of God, I avoided becoming the first American hostage in Lebanon, my guardian angel protected me! In 1990 I helped Americans and many others from other countries escape from Liberia by negotiating with the rebels that were holding these people. On one expedition our team managed to bring out the Spanish Ambassador, the Papal Nuncio and the Swiss Charge d’affaires along with their entourage, a total of 103 people.”
“I am most proud of being a Boy Scout/Eagle Scout. Back when I was about 14, we were on a Boy Scout trip in the Pine Grove Furnace/Caledonia area. Here I met my first AT thru-hiker. Listening to his stories and tales about the trail I decided right then and there—one of these days I’m going to do that—I’m going to hike the Appalachian Trail. So here I am, finally, after 30 years, after retiring as a Commander in the US Navy, and before getting involved in anything else…I’m finally hiking the AT.”
Stormy’s future plans? “Two of my many options are: one, to study Chinese Oriental Medicine and two, to expand a family security business overseas. I really want to travel, visit and see other countries.”
“I look at the trail as a microcosm of life. You start at Springer Mountain and your final goal is Mount Katahdin, and on the trail as in life you go through many challenges, many trials to get there. You learn things that will help you throughout life. Too many people are looking for that shortcut to success, the easy way, rather than setting their goals and taking the steps, one step at a time to get there. This approach, one step at a time is the true path to success. This approach makes the accomplishment that much more worthwhile.”
As you can see from the profiles so far, it is simply amazing, the vast spectrum that makes up this thru-hiker family…the folks who have come to hike the AT. Rob certainly has been one of the most interesting to know, to talk with and to now consider a true friend. It is a joy that our paths have met, but it is with sadness now that I realize our paths must cross. I hope and pray that time and destiny will treat us kindly and that our paths may come together again. Until then, God Speed my dear friend!
“We never know how high we are
Till we are called to rise;
And then, if we are true to plan,
Our statures touch the skies.”
Tuesday—July 21, 1998
Location—High Point Shelter
These are absolutely perfect days for hiking; clear skies, cool breezes. Summertime is the hiker’s true friend. It is upon us and we must enjoy it, but try as I may, today will not be one of those joyful summer days.
The pathway of broken brick has not ended here in New Jersey. The brickyard goes on and the trail goes directly through it…on and on, mile after treacherous mile. I must deliberate intently with every step, exercising total concentration hour after hour. One miscue and it’s all over, instantly, wrecking not only my day, but my hike, for good. So I plod along, head down, oblivious to all that is around me. And with the fatigue, which cannot be avoided, does progress become so slow, so agonizingly slow, more of a staggering on than a hiking on, over, around and through the jumble and maze of never-ending rock.
Another grand challenge from day to day now is finding water. I have had to resort to taking water where I find it, even from puddles and tracks and other uninviting places. Not only is getting thirsty no fun but it’s also an invitation to a variety of very nasty things. But I have learned an important lesson here on the trail, and that lesson is about patience, not patience as we know it in ordinary life, but patience to a higher magnitude, to a higher degree. Having this form of patience now do I know that in awhile the treadway will smooth out and water will again become abundant. So with a heightened resolve do I now trudge on…exercising patience!
I arrive at High Point Shelter at a surprisingly decent hour, to spend the evening with Buzzy.
J. R. Model-T Tate is 62, married (Judith), with four children and six grandchildren. He’s from Woodlawn, TN. Model-T graduated from Springfield High, Springfield, and from Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green. He is a retired USMC Lieutenant Colonel.
Model-T enjoys gardening, fishing, backpacking and loafing. But a loafer he is not, for he is now on his third journey thru-hiking the AT, the first being in ’90 and the second in’94. Model-T professes to be a master Yogi-er. Say’s he, “You should see the old Model-T in action!”
And why hike the AT…three times? According to Model-T, “The first time it was the challenge—to be that one in ten. After that it was the call of the trail—that strong, undeniable pull. There was also a need for renewal, spiritual, mental and physical that I seem to require every few years—just to shrug off those bloated trappings of civilization, of modern-day living. I get that renewal from the rigors of hiking the AT.” Pausing now, with that far-away glint, he says, “I got my eye on some trails out west!”
On completion of this third thru-hike, Model-T plans to write a book about his adventures (and misadventures) along the AT, also a video presentation about this ’98 hike. Model-T considers the human body likened to a sponge. What an interesting analogy. Says Model-T, “The human body is a sponge—it soaks up all the drippings of civilization, to the point where nothing else can be sucked up. When the body and mind get to that point, something needs to be done to squeeze it, to get it back to manageable levels, otherwise everything becomes distorted, overloaded, overstimulated…even insane. There are many ways to wring the sponge, exercise, proper diet—a shrink. I’ve found my sponge can be squeezed by shouldering a backpack and taking to the woods and the trail…the longer, the better.”
And finally a little of what this USMC veteran has gleaned from life. According to Model-T, “There’s no such thing as a ‘free lunch,’ that is unless you’re a great Yogi-er! Even then it’s quid pro quo, for the giver expects to be remembered through trail stories and in the ways one recalls experiences on the trail. So if you’re a couch vagrant, expect to pay for it somewhere down the pike. If you use people; if you take more than you give; if you hog more than your share (like shelter space); it will all come back like a big crow to roost on your head—you’ll have bird poop to remind you of your transgressions.”
Folks, are you starting to get just a taste of the true flavor of this, for the joy that comes through the stimulation and intrigue offered by the day-to-day challenge, for the shared excitement and friendship of the remarkable people met along the way, for the memorable experience that just being out here brings, and finally…for what hiking this grand old AT is all about?
“When I was just a lad, my dad brought me up here
one Sunday afternoon, and pointing to a sign on a tree
said, ‘That sign marks a solitary foot trail that runs all
the way from Georgia to Maine.’ I was just so intrigued
by it, that there could be such a thing. I never got over
it. I’m still not over it.”
[Sam Waddle, Caretaker, Jerry Cabin]
Wednesday—July 22, 1998
Location—NJ94, Vernon, Firemans Pavilion
I was disappointed yesterday to arrive at Culvers Gap to find Worthington’s Bakery closed. It was no fun having to hike back into the woods with no pastries, pies, cinnamon rolls or coffee. They take Tuesdays off. Today, after hiking the half-mile down Lott Road, I am looking forward to a good meal at the Side Road Kitchen in Unionville. Yup, closed on Wednesdays! But, as luck would have it, just across the street is Horler’s General Store. They’re open, so I beat a path right in. Well now, this is fine. A well-stocked store, complete with deli and a picnic table to enjoy such delights in their spacious back yard. Okay, this’ll work! I order a sub and just as I’m picking up chips, pop and ice cream, I glance up to notice another hiker across the aisle. The face looks familiar but I can’t quite place him, yet I have a strong feeling we’ve met somewhere before.
So now with joy, will I relate to you another wonderful coincidence—more rather—a matter of destiny. For it seems, that for some strange reason was I drawn this day into Unionville, New York, 93 days and over 1,300 trail miles north of Springer Mountain, Georgia. I’ve got plenty of food in my pack and seldom do I walk off-trail this far for much of any reason, choosing rather to continue on north and on course toward Katahdin. So today, there is something else about this diversion to Unionville, some purpose other than a break for a pop and a submarine sandwich.
As the clerk wraps my sub he tells me I’m welcome to enjoy my meal at the picnic table behind the store where the other hiker has gone. So approaching the table with my bag of food, I find the old fellow sitting there reading the paper. He glances up, then continues reading as I sit down across from him. “What’s your name, pop?” I say. As he looks back up do I know immediately who he is. He replies in a soft, gentle voice, Just An Echo. I say, “You know we’ve met before, don’t you?” Again in a low, yet penetrating voice he replies, “Yes, on Springer Mountain, you’re the Nimblewill Nomad.”
And so it goes, for when I arrived from Alabama at the beginning of April, Just An Echo was at the Springer Mountain Shelter preparing to depart on the AT. We talked for quite awhile on that cold and rainy day. When I came on the trail a couple of weeks later I began seeing his brief but thought-provoking entries in the shelter registers. They were all short sentences, written in a very light, small hand, barely, but with some effort, always legible. His entries roamed the spectrum, always brief, always succinct, like hammer set to nail—wham! His short comments were about the very most important things in life: honesty, integrity, friendship, truthfulness, love, patience, tolerance, an ear to listen, and on and on. Prime example: “Speak the truth, then let it be.” Signed, Just An Echo.
What an incredibly appropriate trail name—Just An Echo. For what he penned in register after register spoke of the echo deep within all of us, that still, small voice, that when heeded propels us along the paths of goodness and righteousness. And so, I popped into shelter after shelter, looking into register after register, hoping to find another of his entries, and to keep track of his progress. Nearing the Smokies I came within two days of catching him. I very much wanted to talk with him again and to thank him for the inspiration I had gained and the enjoyment I had derived from his writings. But alas, his entries stopped abruptly and he just seemed to vanish. Many thru-hikers I met along the trail for the next few weeks knew of him but none had seen him recently, nor could any of they tell me what may have happened to him.
And so, now you know and understand what a wonderful day this is for me. We sit and talk for a very long time, about many things. And in the course of conversation, as if it should be a surprise at all to me, Just An Echo explains “what I wrote in those registers was for one purpose and one purpose only, and that purpose was to constantly remind me of the truly important matters in life.” Just An Echo you’re a remarkable inspiration. You speak softly yet with such assured conviction. You listen with patience and sincere interest and understanding. Your countenance radiates the unmistakable peace that only glows with such brightness when a man is truly at peace with himself, with his fellow man and with God. I now know that Just An Echo is working on becoming a 2,000 miler for the second time. Today, through this section, he’s southbound and our paths meet again, here at the picnic table behind Horler’s General Store in Unionville, New York, such a brief flicker out of boundless time. It seems such an incredible coincidence, but then again, I wonder. God Speed, Just An Echo, and God Bless!
I’m having increasing difficulty with my jaw. It has become unbearably painful and I can no longer chew on my right side. The poison in my system is really sapping my strength and I’ve been pooping out fast at the least demand and exertion. Something has got to be done. So arriving in Vernon early I beat it to the dentist’s office. He takes x-rays and says he can’t help me and that I need to see an oral surgeon. I was afraid of this. I tell him to set me up. He gives me the name of a surgeon in Monroe, New York and he also gives me a script for penicillin, which I promptly fill. I’m determined to follow through so I plan on rising early and hitching into Monroe.
I have the pleasure today of hiking some, then spending the evening at the pavilion with Long Distance Man, Enlightened Rogue, Son Ray, Woodbutcher and Buzzy.
“The virtuous man is happy in this world, and he is
happy in the next; he is happy in both. He is happy
when he thinks of the good he has done; he is still
more happy when going on the good path.”
[Buddha from The Dhammapada]
Thursday—July 23, 1998
Location—Eastern Pinnacles in New York
I call the surgeon’s office first thing this morning. The answering service says he’ll be in. The cook at the local mom-n-pop restaurant says he knows exactly where the surgeon’s office is located and he takes a moment and writes down specific directions to the doctor’s office in the 800 building.
So after breakfast I hitch out, getting a ride right away, right to the 800 building, arriving at 9:30 a.m. As I look, the doctor’s name isn’t on the office directory, but I figure that isn’t unusual and I thank my hitch for the ride. Entering the building and looking for the information desk, I am informed by a passing nurse that the oral surgeon’s office that I’m looking for is in the 800 building in Monroe and that I’m in the 800 building in Goshen, over ten miles from where I need to be. So much for the helpful handwritten directions!
So back out to the street I go to hitch a ride to the 800 building in Monroe. I stand here for over two hours as thousands of vehicles pass, not one driver paying me even the least of a nod. Finally, an old fellow in a beat-up pickup with his dog right up, stops. I toss my pack on top the pile of trash in the sagging old bed and climb in with the two of them. The kind old gent takes me straight to the doctor’s office even though it’s about five miles out of his way. He says, “If I drop you off here where I turn, you’ll still be standing right here when I come by in the morning!” Im thinking as we wobble and lurch along to Monroe how this kind old gent doesn’t fit in at all with this New York bunch, but I’m sure he already knows that. Arriving finally at Monroe I thank the old fellow for the ride. Climbing the stairs at the 800 building that lead to the surgeon’s office I find his door locked. It’s now a little after noon. Yup! Their office closes at noon on Thursday.
I have a devil of a time getting back to the trail where I came off yesterday, but I finally manage a ride. Thanking the young lady I cross the road and enter a field. I’m finally back on the trail at 3:30 p.m. I’m learning slowly-but-surely to roll with the punches, go with the circumstances as they come along, not an easy trick for this old dog to learn. A lot of things happen, sometimes day-to-day that we just can’t control or perhaps ever even understand, and this day has been chock full of them. Thinking this whole day over I conclude that for some reason I just wasn’t supposed to get my jaw operated on.
I manage to make it to The Pinnacles and pitch on a bed of needles under a tall, slender fir. As I drift off I set my mind to letting the penicillin do its thing and worry about getting my jaw fixed later.
“Thou great First Cause, least understood,
Who all my sense confined
To know but this, that thou art good,
And that myself am blind.”
Friday—July 24, 1998
Location—William Brien Memorial Shelter
I’m out early, hiking into another clear, cool day. I catch up with Son Ray and Woodbutcher at Mombasha High Point, Sun Ray gets his compass out and we try locating the New York City Skyline. Through a low gap on the far-most ridge at approximately 160 degrees we all agree that we can see two mirage-like spires appearing and disappearing as they float and dance on the horizon.
Descending from Mombasha High Point we decide to do the roadwalk down West Mombasha Road to Pappy’s Deli. This is the right decision! Great subs, potato salad, chips, and oh yes, Hershey Dairy ice cream by the pint! Uncapping our Sprite, Sun Ray and I both hit it big…another 20 ounce Sprite, free! Also here at the deli are Just Playin’ Jane, Coke and Buzzy.
A car is parked where the trail intersects the Orange Turnpike. As I cross, the driver comes forth and offers me a lift down to the spring. The section through here is very dry but I have adequate water so I politely thank him just the same. However, I suggest he wait for Just Playin’ Jane who should be coming through shortly.
Just across the New York State Thruway I see another car parked just off the road with some hikers gathered ‘round the open trunk. They motion me over. Here, trail angel Johnson is handing out ice cold Mountain Dew, apples and Snickers bars! Free Spirit, Confucius and Lars are already enjoying the trail magic.
I am dealt many tiring, rocky ups and downs today. The penicillin is definitely helping but my jaw hurts terribly and my energy is running low. I arrive none-to-soon at the shelter. It is dusk, no one else is about, so it looks like I’ll have this amazing rock-structure shelter to myself.
“My only regret is that I started late in life
(in my later fifties) to plumb the depths, riches
and peace which a walk into nature provides.”
[Fr. Fred Alvarez, S. A., Graymoor]
Saturday—July 25, 1998
Location—Old West Point Road, Graymoor Monastery
The treadway now is certainly no cakewalk but the rocks have settled down. Today there are a number of three to three and one-half Snickers pulls with some leading to really breathtaking vistas into the wide, lush New York valleys below. Hopefully I’ll be able to chalk up some miles now as I look with more anticipation with each passing day to reaching the mountains of New England.
I’ve been hiking off and on the past few days with Twilight, an energetic and delightfully talkative young lady who has discovered a hidden talent while here on the trail. She has a most gentle and pleasant vibrato voice and has composed the lyrics and melody to a beautiful song about the Appalachian Trail and her months spent here. She performed this lovely melody at the talent contest at Trail Days in Damascus and walked away a winner with a new $300 backpack.
I have a mail drop waiting at Bear Mountain, New York, so I hike out early this morning to cover the eight miles before the post office closes at 11:15 a.m. I make it just in time. Then it’s over to the Bear Mountain Inn Cafeteria for a slice of pizza and a tall glass of Mountain Dew. I first considered dining at the Wildflower Restaurant on the second floor, but perusing their menu I found it a little rich for my blood, so I settled for the pizza and moved on. Bear Mountain State Park is packed, every picnic table and patch of grass by the lake is taken. The trail goes right down the lakeside path, the very first treadway built in 1922-23. Here was truly the beginning of the Appalachian Trail. Within the Trailside Museum and Wildlife Center, constructed in 1927 at the urging of Benton MacKaye is the nation’s oldest nature trail. And indeed it was here the term “nature trail” was coined and first used. Thru-hikers are permitted through the turnstiles at no cost (I wonder how they can tell) to hike the trailside museum and zoo. As I study the cages and all the signs, plants and other features, dawns on me that now is my chance to finally see a bear on the trail. But alas, the bruins have retreated to the darks of their inner dens and are not to be seen. Here near the Hudson River, which I will cross in just awhile, is the lowest point on the AT, a mere 124 feet above sea level.
Twilight, Buzzy and I arrive at Graymoor, home of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement (at-one-ment) a little after 3:00 p.m. We are promptly greeted by Father Fred, who shows us to our private rooms in the old friary. The monastery is a quiet and spiritual place. Excerpts, written by the Reverend Peter Taran, S. A., Director, Graymoor Christian Unity Center, and quoted from the Putnam Reporter Dispatch describes this place that is Graymoor, much better than can I, “Today, [we] are bombarded by levels of noise, distractions and pressures unknown by previous generations. Our lives are pulling us outwardly in every direction. In our modern technological age, there is little time for slowing down, little space to just be. So how do we renew ourselves, find a haven, get away from it all? Places do exist where one can take a respite from the world…slow down, have a space apart, get in touch with and look for the spirit in our lives. The Graymoor Christian Unity Center is one of them.” The registry entry by Easy Rider, a strong, young thru-hiker I have gotten to know also sums it up pretty well, “The comforts provided here go far beyond a meal, a bed, and a shower. I feel refreshed in body and in spirit. Be sure to look around while you are here. Just like on the trail, there are many “treasures” to be discovered…if you only look.” After the evening meal Father Fred gives us the tour and shows us the grounds. And from the upper garden, this quiet and serene summit, is there such a remarkable view across the Hudson—all the way to the shimmering spires of Gotham City, the grand skyline of New York.
From this spiritual summit at Graymoor,
O’er the Hudson far away.
See the bright-lit twilight skyline,
The towering spires by day.
What is the meaning of all of this
Majestic earthly show?
Only our Savior, the Son of God
And the Friars at Graymoor know.
Sunday—July 26, 1998
Location—Hortontown Road, RPH Shelter
Today my journal entry contains the text of an open letter to Father Fred. I have known this man for less than half a day and yet I know that a bond has been formed that will last the remainder of our lives.
Father Fred, the time spent with you, our evening walk to the summit, your prayer for me, have given me renewed strength and an inner peace and contentment. I now have an unshakable confidence, like a rock, that the Lord will provide for my continued safe passage as I near the end of this incredible odyssey. I have been living and will continue to live Psalm 23, day-by-day with an intensity few could appreciate, for the Lord has not failed to provide my wants. The key to knowing and appreciating this comes from the ability to separate true need from want. One hundred and ninety-one days on the trail has helped me make that distinction, for now my wants and needs are basically the same and I am thankful for the unfailing fulfillment of them.
I did lie down in green pastures and I have walked with the Lord beside still waters. One must experience this to truly understand the meaning. Your quote at the end of this day’s entry gives us a glimpse, for from this comes the beginning of the restoration of the soul. When I suffered the knee pain and the excruciating shin splints to the point of tears; when I fell in Little Wolf Creek on that dreary, cold rainy day and hit my head, cracked my ribs and dislocated my finger, I had reached my mental and physical low. It was then that I doubted the Lord, that I felt a terrible feeling of loss and that I suffered the fear of being forsaken. But, a near-still and hushed inner voice quickly and quietly calmed me, “There will be adversity, which you will endure and overcome.” Now I truly understand, “Though I walk through the valley…thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” Without fail, a table has been prepared before me, my cup indeed runneth over. Goodness and mercy have followed me—from all of the places I’ve been to all of the kind and generous folks that I’ve met. I now enjoy an inner peace and contentment in knowing that goodness and mercy will follow me for all the days of my life, and I know without question, that I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Thank you, Father Fred, for being such a caring and gracious host, not only to me but also to all the intrepids whose paths meet yours at Graymoor. I will close now with one of your spiritually inspiring quotes:
“All of nature blends and fits together and is good.
Scientists call it the ecosystem. Religiously, we refer
to it as Gods wonderful creation…The greatest good
which nature offers us is when God speaks through it,
not vocally, but in the depths of our soul, and tells us
that it all comes from him.”
[Fr. Fred Alvarez, S.A.]
Monday—July 27, 1998
What a great breakfast at Graymoor. Platters of scrambled eggs, bacon and country fries, along with plenty of coffee and orange juice. And this entire, glorious feast prepared just for Buzzy, Twilight and me! Father Fred joins us and after breakfast I ask him to say another prayer for my continued safe passage. Then we bid farewell.
The following is a quote from The Story of Hikers in Graymoor.
“It was in the summer of 1972 that the first Appalachian
Hiker literally stumbled into the Graymoor Friary and asked
the Superior if he could stay overnight. The request was
granted and of course notice of it went up and down the trail
with lightning speed. In short time, numbers of hikers were
lodging at Graymoor. The year 1998 marks our 26th year of
lodging the hikers at Graymoor. We are happy to have you.”
The pleasure and joy of it is all ours! Thanks again, Father Fred.
The trail now skirts, passes and winds around and through populated areas to end (for this day) at Wiley Shelter. There are many roads to cross and the people up here literally fly their cars. The Taconic State Parkway could just as well be an Indy 500 training track, for getting across this road is a hair-raising experience. You’ll be wishing your mommy were here to hold your hand for this one!
I have been really trying to improve my hiking technique, as to foot placement, stride and overall efficiency, and I’ve made considerable progress, especially with the benefit of the Leki Trekking Poles. Roots, however, continue to give me much trouble, and today it seem is the day to finally have my grand run-in with these uncoiled and unyielding little snakes. For this day do I finally perform an absolutely classic flying “W”. During a particularly steep downhill, and while partially in “Nomad’s Neutral,” I hang my toe on a root and out into space I go, fully propelled, to finally land back on earth, spread-eagle with my pack shoving full force, providing the traction needed to finally dig me in and bring me to a not-so-graceful screeching and grinding halt. The term flying “W” comes from my old motorcycle racing days and describes the silhouette appearance one presents while doing the spectacular over-the-handle-bars crash and burn! I am able somehow however, with agility never before possessed, to pick myself up, dusts myself off, and start all over again…none-the-worse for wear!
Relos certainly offer variety to the hiking experience and I have the pleasure of hiking one today. Fresh new trail has treadway not anything like the old “3-R’s,” of the usual track—roots, rocks, and ruts. The new sections are more like what Earl Shaffer must have hiked for his entire journey in 1948 before the mass of human plows started packing the trail and beating it to a pulp.
I have the pleasure today of hiking some with Buzzy, Twilight, Landscape (with her dog Kip), Flow Easy (with his dog Linville), Woodpecker and Sightseer. I also, have the distinct pleasure of meeting Bullfrog who thru-hiked the trail last year, and Kuviac, who just became a 2,000 miler, having climbed Katahdin yesterday. They’ve parked where the trail crosses NY22, giving back some trail magic…yours truly being the happy recipient!
I arrive at Wiley Shelter at dusk, just in time to meet and talk for awhile with Bob Wooden, the shelter caretaker who’s come up to check things out. And I spend an enjoyable evening with Mark and his son, Mark, age 8, and his daughter, Jessica, age 10. Mark insists I use his stove to prepare my evening meal, the offer which I decline only halfheartedly, and as he insists, to quickly accept.
“I learned a very important lesson on that journey…
I need people, I can’t make it in this world alone
and I don’t want to try.”
[Cindy Ross, Journey on the Crest]
Tuesday—July 28, 1998
Location—Silver Hill Campsite
I’ve put another state behind me today. I cross the New York/Connecticut state line early this morning to beat a path to the Country Mart just off the trail. On the way, the road passes through an old covered bridge. Covered bridges have always fascinated me and I have read and studied much about them, the different methods of truss construction, and about the craftsmen who built them. Unfortunately, like the thousands who depart Springer for Katahdin and never make it, there were once over eleven-thousand covered bridges all over this great country, and most have not made it, for their numbers have now dwindled to a little over 800, being all that remain. This particular old bridge on Bulls Bridge Road is of sound, strong construction and its longevity is testimony to the fine craftsmanship common in that day. The truss design is Town Lattice, patented by Ithiel Town in 1820. This truss design has a most pleasing appearance, much like the latticed rose trellis, familiar and so appealing. Inside this old bridge is revealed the secret to its longevity and survival, for superimposed internally over the Town Truss is an arch-shaped truss designed and patented by Theodore Burr in 1804. This Burr Truss adds an incredible amount of additional structural integrity and support to the bridge suspension and is protected remarkably well by the roof above. In Nimblewill Creek Community, at the base of Springer Mountain where I live, the roads are private and include a bridge across Nimblewill Creek, a spring-fed trout stream. Don’t be surprised, if in the near future, the homeowner’s association decides to turn this structure into a covered bridge!
I arrive early at Silver Hill Campsite and spend the evening with a very happy and energetic young lad. And does this young fellow have one of the most fascinating, funny and most creative trail names I’ve ever heard, and indeed, as you are reading these accounts along are you reading some very, very funny trail names! And, so now it is finally time to discuss this most interesting and very fascinating subject—trail names. It seems these days that most everyone on the trail has a trail name. Quite often that’s the only name you’ll know them by, never finding out their given name. The trail has its own culture. It’s a society in its own. That’s why friendships made on the trail are very special friendships. On the trail there are no doctors, truck drivers, school teachers, students. All things in the “real world” get distilled out on the trail and everyone is just trail family. There are two basic methods that one may come by in getting a trail name. And to keep things on the lighter side, which is what trail life is truly all about, these methods are, “the easy way” and “the funny way!” The easy way is to choose a trail name before someone else finds one for you, which is usually done the funny way, as the funny way usually relates to something one has done that’s either funny, foolish or just plain stupid!
I’ll give you a few examples. Two very good friends of mine were given their names as a result of getting lost on the AT. The parallel to this would be likened to not finding the centerline on Interstate 95. Dan started out going the wrong way on the AT his very first day. He was never able to live it down. U-Turn has stuck with him all the way. Ha, this second guy’s name is Dan too. Never thought about that. Dans apparently have a problem getting lost. This poor fellow must now live with Go-Back for the remainder of his hike. But this third one, folks, you’re just not going to believe this one, and again, please believe me, there is just no way I can be making this stuff up. This poor, unfortunate fellow apparently has a serious and debilitating social problem. For it is, since we’re family on the AT that we’re together most all the time…even at night in the shelters. And, well, see if you can figure out the trail name for the young fellow who is keeping me company here this evening.
If I told you his name was a multi-part name and I revealed to you that the first part was Ivan, could you figure out the rest? Don’t be disheartened. Nobody else has ever been able to figure out this little riddle either. Everybody comes up with Ivan the Great, Ivan the Horrible and so on. But this poor chap apparently has a problem with BO. I don’t know, there’s no shelter here and we’re tenting out, maybe just as well. Anyway, the trail name they’ve stuck this poor kid with? Ivan Odor! Well I decided early on to choose my own trail name. It comes from where I live and basically my lifestyle. I live in the Nimblewill at the base of Springer Mountain and I guess you can see where the other half comes from!
Silver Hill is a lush little glen, once a shelter site, but the shelter burned in 1991due to a faulty fireplace and has never been rebuilt. The great campsite remains however, complete with covered cooking pavilion, privy, swing (with a view), a large deck with benches and another picnic table…and an old pitcher-pump-topped well punched straight down through the crown of solid rock; the coolest and sweetest well water I’ve ever tasted. What a most serene firefly/starlit evening. I linger for hours in total contentment.
Stars delight, fireflies bright,
Dim shadows from the moon.
Comes now dawn to capture night,
And ends the spell…too soon.
Wednesday—July 29, 1998
The little meadow and the pleasant overlook here at Silver Hill create such a peaceful, serene spot. I linger until mid afternoon enjoying the beauty and solitude, sitting at the picnic table, catching up on my journal entries.
At Old Sharon Road, and just as a gentle rain begins, I meet trail angel, Washboard. He had started at Springer on March 15th but got off at Waynesboro suffering from injuries sustained during a bad fall. He had planned on continuing after recovering from that misfortune, only to contract Lyme disease. So, instead of hiking the AT he’s out mixing a little trail joy with some trail magic. Thanks Washboard for the coke, the apple and some most enjoyable conversation. I dearly hope your fortunes change soon and that you’ll be back on the trail again. I have donned my cheapy poncho but the rain soon ends and the day turns sunny and warm. Even though starting late, this day is turning into another grand and glorious hiking day. At Pine Swamp Brook Lean-to I go in for a moment to check the shelter register. Here I meet Thog, Master of Stix, Mark and dog Rebel, and southbounders Greenleaf, The Duke of Hazzard and Crawdad.
I am confronted with a most annoying hassle as soon as I pull into Belter Campsite, the mosquitoes viciously attacking. I can usually tolerate this nuisance, but these fellows are pure mean. It seems as though they are even pushing me around. I pitch camp, prepared a hasty supper, then roll in to finally evade their relentless attack. The night turns a bit on the chilly side, but I manage to sleep well. I can see that I’ll need my sleeping bag back soon and it’s not yet August!
White Blazes Lead Me On (Chorus)
Oh, white blazes lead me on, lead me on,
Oh, white blazes you’re my guide.
Oh, white blazes, south to north I am bound,
My heart, my mind, my soul you’ve opened wide.
[Lyrics and music, Debbie Twilight Smith]
Thursday—July 30, 1998
Location—Bear Rock Stream Campsite
This morning starts in an interesting and most novel manner. I awake at first light, get my flashlight out and check the time. My watch says 7:30 a.m. Whoa! I know the days are getting noticeably shorter, but this is startling! I hurriedly break camp the best I can in the dim morning light and manage to get on the trail by 8:00 a.m. Once off the mountain I beat a path to the Village Coffee Shop and Restaurant for breakfast. Aww, now what’s this…they’re closed on Thursdays? No, the sign says they’re open Thursdays at 6:30 a.m. I can’t figure this out. The southbounders raved about the great breakfast they had here just yesterday. But here I stand, my watch reading 9:00 a.m. and the place is closed. I loiter around out front in a dither and it’s then I notice a light on in the kitchen. So I saunter around the side of the building and I can see someone in there working. What in the devil is going on here? I go to the open side window and get the lady’s attention. “Why aren’t y’all open today,” I say. She looks a little annoyed as she says, “Well be open at 6:30 just like we’re supposed to be!” Oops, now I see what’s wrong. The day is coming along on time just fine…it’s me that’s all mixed up. No wonder it’s still so dark and nobody is moving around. My one-dollar watch, purchased at the pawnshop in Live Oak, Florida has finally gone on the fritz! Somehow it’s managed to gain two and one-half hours. So at 6:30 a.m. and right on time the Village Coffee Shop and Restaurant opens for business this Thursday morning and I head right in. Before breakfast is over, the display window on my watch goes completely blank. I really can’t complain…don’t need a watch to tell me it’s time for a new dollar watch!
I take the blue-blazed Mohawk trail across the tracks and I’m back on the AT by 8:00 a.m. In a short while today I meet and talk with AMC Ridgerunners, Flyin’ Scotsman and Walking Stomach. I also have the pleasure hiking some with Blue Moon and Townsman. The views, coupled with the luscious, sweet low-bush blueberries taken in from Bear Mountain compliment each other very nicely! I arrive at Bear Rock Stream Campsite around 5:00 p.m. to meet Lake and AT-2with dog, Sheba. What a pleasant surprise as Easy Rider comes rolling in just before dark after a 33-mile day.
“Man is not himself only. He is all that he sees,
all that flows to him from a thousand sources.
He is the land, the lift of its mountain lines, the
reach of its valleys”
Friday—July 31, 1998
Location—Great Barrington, East Mountain Retreat Center
The climb up Race Mountain this morning brings the immediate reward of great views into the lush Massachusetts valley below. I enjoy hiking some with Lake, Sheba, and AT2. Easy Rider and I will be hiking together on into Canada. It is exciting contemplating having company on the remainder of this odyssey.
Southbounders over the past few days have talked about a new hostel that has just opened. It is reached by a faint blue-blazed trail just South of the Tom Leonard Lean-to. I decide to give it a try, and I’m so glad I did. It is an interfaith retreat facility for seekers rooted in a faith tradition, now open to thru-hikers. The Reverend Lois F. Rose is the center director. The buildings are near new and quite nice. Bunks are twin beds with mattresses and linen. There is a full, modern kitchen, two full baths, washer and dryer and a very nice library. Reverend Rose was a delightful host and I would highly recommend the East Mountain Retreat Center.
The evening is spent in grand fashion enjoying the company of friends Jingle, Desperado and Easy Rider. The last we were together was at Partnership Shelter. Also here, and is it my pleasure to meet Professor, Peace Pipe and their friend Snoop who thru-hiked last year.
“What joy awaits you, when the breeze hath found
you out among the trees, and calls you forth again!”
Saturday—August 1, 1998
Location—Upper Goose Pond Cabin
Snoop is very kind to give us a ride into Great Barrington. I want to stop at the outfitters for some socks and a new water bottle belt pouch, but they don’t open until 10:00 a.m., another hour, so I head to the grocery store, get a few provisions and we’re soon headed back to East Mountain Retreat.
I’m able to get on the trail by 10:00 a.m. At the SR23 road crossing I meet Hank and Bob waiting for their wives to pick them up. They’re completing a section hike and have plenty of food left over which they would like to share with me. I end up with lots of good freeze dried stuff that takes a lot of fuel to prepare. Since it doesn’t matter to me how much fuel it takes to prepare a meal, I gladly accepted their offer.
While on the subject of hard-to-cook foods, with interest have I noted the ease with which I can always find uncooked rice. Seems it doesn’t takes folks long to figure out they’re going to need a five gallon can of gas if they want to prepare this stuff on their little gasoline stoves, so the hiker boxes all along are usually full of ziploc bags of rice. I’ve pretty much made it a rule now not to buy any rice, but simply to load up at the hostels and other locations where hiker boxes are in play. Hiker boxes? These boxes, usually cardboard, around a couple of feet square, are found at hostels, post offices and other locations frequented by hikers. They contain useful items, equipment, food, etc., not wanted at the time. The idea is to take something from the box that you can use and leave something you don’t want. The problem is, everybody pretty much wants to get rid of the same stuff…and everybody’s looking for Snickers bars and chocolate pudding! But seldom do I peruse a hiker box and not find something to my liking, usually rice.
And how do I get by so well on foods that others neither want nor have the means to cook? Well the secret is my little home-made wood burning cook stove which weighs only four ounces (fuel not included but always readily available) The small, dead lower limbs of the pine, hemlock, spruce, fir, rhododendron and mountain laurel work great and will usually burn hot even when wet. Nomad’s “Little Dandy” stove folds down flat and can be assembled and disassembled in just a minute. It is made from light gauge sheet metal and consists of a floor and three sides. The top and one end (into which the fuel is fed) are open. The cook pot sits on the serrated top. It’s a neat little creation, one of those Tab “A” into slot “B” contraptions. It really works great…so if my rice isn’t cooked, I don’t need to dig out another bomb canister that I’ve been lugging up and down the mountains. I just add another stick or two and in moments my dinner is ready! Anyway, thanks Hank and Bob. I’d never shell out the bucks for these gourmet delights, but I can sure cook them and I’ll most-definitely enjoy them.
In just awhile I cut through a farmer’s field just past the Shaker Campsite and pick up the old AT, which passes all the lovely summer homes along the shore of Goose Pond. Upon reaching the outfall from Upper Goose Pond into Goose Pond I give a shout towards Upper Goose Pond Cabin. I immediately hail Snoop, Professor and Peace Pipe who jumped in the canoe and come around the point to get me straight away.
At the dock, and before I even head for the cabin, I drop my pack and jump in for a cool, refreshing swim in Upper Goose Pond. Relaxed and reinvigorated I enjoy a most memorable evening with Easy Rider and many new and old friends at Upper Goose Pond Cabin, Nancy (the cabin caretaker), Professor and Peace Pipe, Snoop, Ivan Odor, Bagman, Jingle, Desperado and Thog.
“Sky so bright it makes you wonder
If it’s heaven shining through;
Earth so smiling way out yonder,
Sun so bright it dazzles you.”
[Robert W. Service]
Sunday—August 2, 1998
Location—Tom Levardi’s yard, Dalton
Pancakes, pancakes and more pancakes seem the order for breakfast, compliments of Nancy, made in the quaint old kitchen at Upper Goose Pond. There’s no power to the old cabin, so propane fires the whole operation, stove, lights, the works. I won’t hit the trail hungry today, as I sure have my fill of pancakes…a few more than three, topped with dollops of strawberry jelly, all washed down with cup after cup of great camp coffee. Before I get cranking this morning, I’d like to digress a moment to talk a little about my peregrinations yesterday. There are those who would quickly condemn what I did, in that I strayed from the designated AT treadway to go my own way and to follow a path other than that marked by the familiar white AT blazes. It’s known here on the trail as blue-blazing. And there are other terms, other trail jargon that describes how we all move along in our quest to reach Baxter Peak. I’ll discuss a few.
BLUE-BLAZING is a manner of hiking where one follows a route other than the white-blazed AT. There are many trails marked with blue blazes that lead to and from the AT. Some go to shelters, some to water sources and some to roads, parking areas and other trails, thus the term blue-blazing.
PURISM, or WHITE-BLAZING describes hiking in a manner where all the white blazes on the AT are passed. If there is a blue-blazed trail into a shelter for example, and another one back out, the purist will return by the same route to avoid missing any white blazes.
ULTRA PURISM is also white-blazing and describes a form of hiking wherein not only all of the white blazes are passed but where no deviation from the designated treadway occurs. The difference between the purist and ultra purist, by example: in negotiating a blowdown (a tree across the trail), the purist will take the path beat down around the blow down, just like the rest of us and keep on truckin’, but the ultra purist will walk up to the blow down, touching the treadway beneath, then once around the obstacle, return the short distance back down the trail to touch the spot beneath the blowdown, thence to continue uninterrupted on the exact, official AT treadway.
TRADITIONALISM is a term coined by 100# Stormcloud and describes blue-blazing in the truest sense. For this is a form of hiking wherein one walks the entire distance from Springer to Katahdin, but where the path varies away from the official AT treadway from time to time, the routes to and from shelters being one example. These excursions away from the designated path may or may not be shortcuts. My hikes along the Virginia Creeper and past the beautiful summer homes at Goose Pond are classic examples of blue-blazing in its most traditional sense. One of these excursions involved a shorter distance, the other considerably more. Probably most of us thru-hiking the AT will fit into this category to one degree or another.
YELLOW-BLAZING describes hiking in a manner where a part or parts of the AT are skipped by using some form of transportation other than walking, either by hitch-hiking, taking a bus, hopping a train or some other way. Some of my good friends thru-hiking the AT had a grand time taking a side excursion to continue by canoe down the beautiful Shenandoah River.
SLACK-PACKING describes hiking without a backpack. This is done when a ride is available along the route, the opportunity often presenting at hostels. Using this method the hiker can stay two nights at the hostel. For the second night’s stay the hiker is driven to a point where a road crosses further up the trail, say twelve miles north, thence to hike back south to the hostel without a pack. Then the next morning the hiker is driven back to that same point to continue on.
So, all of us fit into one or perhaps a combination of these categories. One of my very good friends, Bump, is a make-no-apologies yellow-blazer. He’s a great guy, lots of fun to be with. I have dubbed him the “Will Rogers of the trail.” Bump is a war buff and anytime a battlefield or anything historic or even remotely related to a skirmish is nearby, good old Bump blue or yellow-blazes right on over. I don’t know of a single soul out here on the trail having more fun than Bump, for it’s obvious to all that he’s having a blast. It’s been a pleasure seeing him now and again, sometimes at the most unlikely places. I’ll end this day’s journal entry with a little ditty written by Tony Ringbearer Falcone, who’s obviously become a bit frustrated with Bump’s antics!
There are a couple of good pulls today up and over Becket and Bald Top Mountains. Easy Rider and I enjoy a great visit with Roy and Marilyn Cookie LadyWiley. Their lovely, well-kept farm is just off the trail at Washington Mountain Road. Water is available at their home and you’re likely to be treated to fresh-baked cookies! Blueberries are in now and Roy invites Easy Rider and me to help ourselves to the luscious high-bush blueberries in his grove. Roy has 1200 well-kept bushes. We eat our fill—what a great treat, thanks Roy and Cookie Lady!
Easy Rider and I arrive at Tom Levardi’s beautiful home in Dalton around 6:00 p.m. Here we’re greeted most graciously by Tom. “Would you like a little ice cream,” he says. “Sure would,” We reply. Over his shoulder, and as he heads for the back door, he says, “Okay, have a seat at the picnic table and I’ll be right back.” Desperado, who had arrived before us and is now sitting at the table says, “Wait till you see this, you’re in for quite a treat.” Moments later Tom emerges from his back door with this most impressive offering and in the most formal butler-like manner, tray in hand, adorned with huge silver chalices (I don’t know how else to adequately describe these things) filled to the glistening brim with ice cream, topped with whipped cream, the whole concoction coated with colored candies…and to the side, cheese Danish!
Dalton, Massachusetts is a neat, well-kept little berg as it seems are all the quaint little villages throughout New England. Tree-lined streets, cockeyed sidewalks, beautifully kept lawns, all gracing and embracing grand old porch-fronted two-story homes. What memories come flooding back, childhood memories from times long past when mom and dad would take sis and me back east to visit family. It was always such a joy seeing my grandparents again. They lived in a little town much like Dalton, on a street just like Tom’s little street…like a thousand little streets in a thousand little towns, all built over a century ago throughout these grand old mountains. I enjoy the evening talking with Tom and many friends. Later a few of us visit a local pub to lift some cold ones and for the night I share Tom’s yard with Soren, Bagman, Good Times, Planting Flowers, Jingle, Desperado and Easy Rider.
“Now that strange fellow Bump he’s a merry ol’ soul.
Havin’ fun ‘long the trail, not hikin’s his goal.
Just when you think you’ve passed that old cuss,
He’ll stick out his thumb, hop a train or a bus.
When you come into town the first one you’ll see,
Is that merry ol’ Bump as content as can be.
He’ll say with a smile and He’ll say with a grin,
‘I’ve been hangin’ for hours, where the devil you been?’
Yellow-blazin’ is one thing, what Bump does…another!
Come out and be with us, try hikin’ it, brother!”
[Tony Ringbearer Falcone, GA2ME ‘98]
Monday—August 3, 1998
Location—Wilbur Clearing Lean-to
Tom is a hiker and as it goes with hikers, the tendency generally being to get up early, Tom is up with us this morning, so we invite him along for breakfast. He suggests Buff and Dell right down the street. The food is fine, but again, as it goes with hikers…all know there just won’t be enough to eat, so everyone but Tom orders two breakfast specials right off the bat!
This is going to be a cruisin’ good day, I can just tell. We have a near five Snickers pull up to Bascom Lodge and the summit of Mt. Greylock, for views, it seems to the end of the world. Easy Rider and I stop for a bowl of soup at the lodge then gawk at the beautiful mosaic tile artwork in the tower Rotunda before hiking on out to Wilbur Shelter and a memorable 20 mile day. We saw some other hikers today, Berwin, a southbounder who departed Katahdin on June 4th and MotherNature and Father Time, having the time of their lives on this grand old AT. Also, what a joy today to see Innkeeper again. This is the first our paths have crossed since Damascus.
“The whole visible world is only an imperceptible atom in
the ample bosom of nature. No idea approaches it. We may
enlarge our conceptions beyond all imaginable space; we
only produce atoms in comparison with the reality of things.
It is an infinite sphere, the centre of which is everywhere, the
circumference nowhere. In short, it is the greatest sensible
mark of the almighty power of God, that imagination loses
itself in that thought.”
[Blaise Pascal, 1623-1662]
Tuesday—August 4, 1998
Location—Melville Nauheim Shelter
The evening last was cool, no bugs at Wilbur! We relaxed with Good Times, and Voyager and Shutterbug. Another fine hiking day is shaping up as we’re off to a good start. Three miles out at North Adams, Easy Rider and I head west at the light and soon find the Garage Sub Station. They’re open for breakfast, so we head in. This little place used to be a gas station, now it’s a sub station. The bay doors are still here! One rolls up to open a screened area and the other is fixed with a standard entrance door built right in. The grease racks have been removed! The breakfast is fine and the price is right…and there’s a hiker register.
The three Snickers pull up to Eph’s Lookout is well worth it. We bag another state as we leave Massachusetts and enter Vermont. This line and this spot are historic, for here is the beginning of the Long Trail. An old weathered sign attached to a leaning maple states, “A footpath in the Wilderness, the Long Trail, a scenic hiking trail that starts here and follows the Green Mountain Range for approximately 263 miles north to the Canadian border. The AT follows the Long Trail for approximately 97 miles, then at Sherburne Pass turns east.” Of the two trails, the AT is certainly the longest and most well known, so it is interesting to see stated that, “the AT follows the Long Trail.” But it is a fact that though the AT has been around for over sixty years, the Long Trail has been in existence since 1909!
Easy Rider and I hike some today with Nothing Ordinary and have a long talk with southbounder, Amino Acid. We spend the evening at Melville Nauheim Shelter with three women section hikers and Wanderlust, a southbounder. One of the women has sprawled her pack, sleeping bag and a grand array of other assorted gadgets and gear over the entire upper sleeping area, enough room to accommodate three thru-hikers. I roll out my pad and sleeping bag on the narrow, dirt-covered first landing, just under the eaves and just out of the intermittent drizzle, which comes to visit during the night. I chuckle as I prepare my little spot, thinking about what Model-T said, “…if you hog more than your share (like shelter space); it will all come back like a big crow to roost on your head—you’ll have bird poop to remind you of your transgressions.”
“For a moment of night we have a glimpse of ourselves
and of our world islanded in its stream of stars—pilgrims
of mortality, voyaging between horizons across eternal
seas of space and time.”
Wednesday—August 5, 1998
Location—Kelly Stand Road, Easy Rider’s Sister’s Place
The treadway turns into a grinder today. Many elevation changes make for a bumpy ride through countless rocks and bogs. The terrain has really been changing. The Green Mountains are certainly different than the Berkshires, different than anything we’ve seen so far. Slow, steady progress over the last few months has brought us ever north, the conifers gradually but surely dominating. The hardwoods are still present, but the fir and spruce abound, thus the visual and olfactory senses are daily receiving a major jolt—ahh, but all is for the better. These lush, verdant mountains are the most brilliant shade of green, a scene so striking and captivating, the redolent fresh scent of the woods, seeming as though someone must surely be hiking just ahead, spraying the air with pine-scented freshener. We are afforded a “360” o’er these majestic Green Mountains from the Glastenbury Mountain Tower, an old fire tower still safe to climb and enjoy. We linger long in silence and awe. Easy Rider and I stop in for a rest at Story Spring Shelter. Here we meet and talk with southbounders Technical Difficulties from Atlanta and Oobee and Choobee from Montreal.
We arrive at Arlington-West Wardsboro (Kelly Stand) Road just as planned and are soon met and greeted by Easy Rider’s girlfriend, Nikki and his brother-in-law, Rudy. Easy Rider hadn’t expected to see Nikki, so it is most amusing watching him giggle, giddy with delight! Now folks there are brother-in-laws and then there are brother-in-laws if you know what I mean, but I’ll tell you this, if you’ve got to have a brother-in-law, Rudy is definitely the kind you want. He’s a math Professor—but he isn’t the math professor type—that just being what he teaches at Vermont Academy in Saxton’s River, Vermont. Rudy’s married to Easy Rider’s sister, Erika, who is in the third trimester of pregnancy…that vibrant and glowing period of pregnancy. They’ve just moved into one of the dormitory apartments on the academy campus—the job of “Dorm Parents” being one of their additional responsibilities. They’ve managed to make it a homey place already. I sure make myself at home, their warm hospitality naturally making it so. Easy Rider and I have looked forward all day with great anticipation and excitement to this evening, having been told that Erika will be preparing the lasagna of all lasagnas for us. And wow, what a payoff! The biggest gravity-defying platter of lasagna I think I’ve ever seen…so big that two bottomless-pit thru-hikers end up groaning and waddling away from it…neither able, even collectively, to meet the challenge Erika has placed before us. Oh my, and talking about putting a hurtin’ on, who could possibly resist saucer-sized out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies with ice cream for dessert? Great seeing you Nikki and thanks, Rudy and Erika. Your kindness, generosity and down-home hospitality will remain in my memory!
There’s a mystic shade of green…
Sets the rainbow’s show to want,
Seen across these verdant mountains
From the Long Trail in Vermont.
Thursday—August 6, 1998
Location—VT11&30, Manchester Center, Zion Episcopal Church Hostel
Right off the bat we’re dealt a tough four Snickers pull up Stratton Mountain to the tower and the caretaker’s cabin. From the tower are we provided distance-defying vistas south to Mt. Greylock and north to Killington and Pico Peaks and beyond. It’s another blue-magic day as we gaze in wonder o’er these grand, verdant-magic mountains that are the Green Mountains of Vermont. All around and fading to the distant horizon, thence from there does there come a silent beckoning from over the horizon. As if in a sanctuary of worship now, for indeed we are in God’s Cathedral on high, and in a sense of reverence, not wanting to break the spell of peaceful silence, do I whisper to Easy Rider, “We’re definitely amongst ‘em now!”
Coming off Stratton the treadway pretty much becomes a cruise. The view from the trail across Stratton pond is everything I’ve read and have been told it would be, a jigsaw puzzle picture-perfect spot! Where I’m from, ponds and lakes are at the bottom of the mountain. Up here they are on the mountain, sometimes near the very summit, reached only after a strenuous climb. These mountains are all so strange and new to me. All of this is definitely going to take some getting used to! Easy Rider and I get a quick hitch into Manchester Center, right to the hostel. The rain, threatening most of the afternoon, finally sets in as we arrive.
“Long distance hiking is not a vacation, it’s too long for
that. It’s not recreation, too much toil and pain involved.
It is, we decide, a way of life, a very simplified Spartan
way of living…life on the move…heavy packs, sweating
brow; they make you appreciate warm sunshine, companionship,
cool water. The best way to appreciate these things that are
precious and important in life is to take them away.”
[Cindy Ross, Journey on the Crest]
Friday—August 7, 1998
Location—Big Branch Shelter
The narrow line of intrepids moving slowly but surely north on the AT, though seemingly strung out, forms one of the tightest “family circles” you could every imagine. I’ve spoken about this enjoyable and fascinating social relationship on previous occasion. Again last night at Zion the family (new and old alike) got together, sleeping bags on the main hall floor all around, the central attraction being the TV. Present were Easy Rider, Firecracker, Jarhead, No Sox, Brother, Loaves’n Fishes, Abol, Fargo, Squirrel, Just Chris, Spiff, Rhubarb, Hoosier Daddy, Fisher Cat, Ginko, Sundance, LSD, Boscoe, Violet, Sole to Soul, Mtn. Man, Czech’n It Out, Firefly, Crow, Snoar A Saurus, Wonder Girl, Raisin and Tough Hikin-Tim. I’ve never been much for TV so I head for the kitchen where I meet Hugh and Jeanne. They are members of the Green Mountain Club and are the caretakers for Stratton Mountain, and at present call the incredibly neat, snug little cabin atop Stratton their home. I walked all around and marveled at this little cabin while on Stratton yesterday, and now I’ve had the pleasure meeting the folks who stay there. We spend a grand evening talking. From Hugh and Jeanne do I learn that on the summit of Stratton Mountain in 1909, James P. Taylor, founder of the long trail and GMC, got the inspiration for creating a hiking trail spanning the entire breadth of Vermont. Also, atop Stratton Mountain in 1921 after construction of the Long Trail had begun, it was there that Benton MacKaye conceived the idea for a continuous footpath from Maine to Georgia, now known as the AT.
Rain has set in steady and it continues throughout the night and into the morning. Everyone is sticking at Zion as Easy Rider and I move out quietly, off into the dark, gray drizzle. We head first for the post office and hopefully, my mail drop. I hit the jackpot again with many fine letters and cards…and my bounce box. I add and subtract from my bounce box, then bounce it on. Back on the trail and as the day tries to “fair up” we head right into a four Snickers pull up Bromley Mountain. The lower fog and clouds are clearing out now and the view from the tower on Bromley provides a fine show. There is a ski lift to the very summit of Bromley with a large map showing the different runs. This skiing thing is all new to me and I get a chuckle out of some of the names. Havoc, Avalanche, Pabst Peril, Pabst Panic, Corkscrew, Mighty Might, the Glade, and how about this one? The Lord’s Prayer!
The day finally turns quite fair as the rain and clouds clear out. Easy Rider and I both agree that we are probably through the worst of the heat and the bugs. We spend a very pleasant time together hiking on to Big Branch Shelter. Here we enjoy the evening with Rick, Sara, and Bryce, all thru-hiking the Long Trail.
“An’ as it blowed an’ blowed
I often looked up at the sky
An’ assed meself the question,
What is the stars, what is the stars?”
Saturday—August 8, 1998
Location—VT103, Jingle’s Sister’s Boyfriend’s Folk’s Ski Retreat
We’re out into clear skies but muddy treadway. However, I sense this is going to be an incredible day non-the-less. And to the wonder and mystery of it all do we reach Little Rock Pond, another famous landmark along the trail, to stare, as in dream-like disbelief, at the beauty before us. This indeed is a place of unparalleled grandeur. Ahh, but this one I will leave to the mystery of it, for all to wonder what it can be. You simply must come and see. Special places such as this now have resident caretakers to protect these priceless treasures that are America. In residence here are Rick and his sister Ann. They have a “stand-up-and-dance-in” tent set on a large, generous platform, along with a remarkable assortment of civilized amenities. We linger and talk. Folks just cannot believe how long I’ve been on the trail or from whence I came. It’s simply becoming prudent to avoid talking about it.
Well, the coincidences keep rollin’ in—this one involving Easy Rider. Through a mutual friend, he knows that one of his third and fourth grade classmates is also on the trail. They were childhood chums. They haven’t seen each other now for nearly twenty years. Yup! After a tentative exchange with a southbounder, Easy Rider tells me later, “After I saw his face up close and heard his voice, I knew it was him.” What a joy watching and listening to Easy Rider and Dahl-E-Lama play catch-up after nearly two decades…in the remote wilds of Vermont!
We reach VT103 around 3:30 p.m. and hitch a ride to the Inn at Long Trail. Here Easy Rider calls our good hiking friend, Jingle, who has invited us to stay the night at Killington. What a great surprise as Jingle arrives to pick us up, to see Hootie along for the ride. We had hiked together further south, but it’s been weeks and weeks since our paths have crossed, so I’d pretty much figured that was it for Hootie. But as fate would have it, here we are exchanging happy greetings once more. With a big smile, Jingle says. “I thought this might surprise you!”
We have been told that the place here at Killington is a condo, but it’s really a very lavish and spacious home. This lovely abode is skiing headquarters forJingle’s sister Anne, her boyfriend and their friends. There are ski slopes everywhere on Killington and Pico and this grand place is right in the middle of it, so winter is the big time up here. But summers are cool and beautiful here also…Ahh and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to find that every season here is beautiful. Anne and Jingle prepare a feast for us, pork roast, mashed potatoes and gravy, fresh corn-on-the-cob, broccoli and a great tossed salad. This banquet is followed up with nothing less than strawberry shortcake!
Staying the evening, and enjoying this luxury along with yours truly were Anne, Jingle, Hootie, Easy Rider and Desperado. Tonight I’m sleeping in a real bed with a mattress, pillows and linen! Oh, what a luxurious night’s sleep, then to be greeted as I arise by the aroma of freshly brewed coffee, followed up by a full breakfast spread. Thanks Anne and Jingle for your kindness, friendship and hospitality!
“May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rain fall soft upon your fields and,
Until we meet again…
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.
[An Irish Blessing]
Sunday—August 9, 1998
Location—US4, Sherburne Pass, The Inn at Long Trail
After saying farewell to Anne and Desperado, Jingle and Hootie drive Easy Rider and me back to the trailhead at VT103. Just as we’re exchanging sad good-byes with Jingle and Hootie, what perfect timing—for a pleasant uplift, on the trail and crossing the road comes Innkeeper! I hadn’t expected to see him again. We had exchanged tearful good-byes miles south, but now we’ll get to hike together again! What unexpected blessings come with each passing day.
This day is steady, hard hiking into the haze and the clouds. We’re dealing now with the first five Snickers pull for quite awhile, up to Killington Peak. The AT comes short of the peak by two-tenths of a mile, which is virtually straight up through the rocks. But Thunder Chicken and Poppasan had both written in my handbook: “Go to the top–plan on it.” So up we go. And what a spectacle. It’s like standing on the tiptop of a projectile! Just below, I can see the ski lifts and the ski run paths. The haze has cleared now and the “360” seems endless, to the horizon all around. Just standing here makes me dizzy and I must take care as I spin, panning from one breathtaking scene to the next. From this summit, where the state was first christened “Verd-Mont” (French for Green Mountain), it is possible to see south to the ocean and north into Canada. Southbounders have been telling me that it just keeps getting better and the recent experiences are making a believer out of me!
I arrive early evening…again, back at The Inn at Long Trail, to split a room with Easy Rider and Innkeeper.
The trail goes up and over,
Seldom does it lead us down.
And at most treadway junctions,
There’s an easy way around.
Now Warren has been known to ask…
“Which path will you choose?”
The answer? One small clue to life,
Who’ll win and who will lose.
Monday—August 10, 1998
Location—US4, Sherburne Pass, The Inn at Long Trail
After enjoying breakfast with Easy Rider and Innkeeper, they’re out and gone. I’ll be taking a day off to rest and see my son, Jon, who with his girlfriend, Terri, have flown into Boston to take a break between college terms, and to come and be with me! I am sore afraid…what their reaction will be when they see me again. I’m not emaciated, but I’m pretty much muscle and bone and haven’t trimmed my beard or cut my hair since Jon dropped me off at Loop Road way down in Florida back on New Years Day. So I feel most apprehensive about their reaction when we meet again. But not the lease are they taken, neither aback nor hesitant, as I’m greeted with a big hug from both of them! We spend a great day together, beginning with lunch and a brew at the Long Trail Brewery. In the evening we drive into Rutland for pizza. Even with this short time together, Jon and I have one of the best father/son, from-the-heart talks we’ve had in years.
But always, as it seems, the time must come and they must go. Meeting is always such joy, but parting can be such a very sad and emotional time. They’re grown kids now, adults…Ahh, why can’t we face that fact and just let them go? They have their own lives, their own friends. But aren’t they always our children, our little kids…forever! The upstairs room where I’m staying faces the parking lot and the highway below. I stand now, looking out the window, seeing only a veiled blur as I brush away tears…watching them pull from the parking lot and drive away. “Goodbye Jon, goodbye Terri,” I whisper. Oh, this trail can be so lonely at times. I feel such despair, such hopeless emptiness as I catch the last glimpse of their car disappearing down the mountain. Don’t we always hope and pray for the best, then have such doubt and lost heart? I guess it’s just human nature to feel so sad and forlorn when being separated from loved ones…then only to fear constantly for their safety. I find the anxiety of it nearly impossible to suppress. In the worst nightmare could I possibly imagine the experience, the heartbreak and agonizing sorrow of losing a child.
And so, now I will tell you the heart-wrenching story of a child and the beautiful family that lost their child. This is the story of Jacob Gatorboy Cram, 12/6/74—8/20/97. For as it turned, this story is about just one day, and so short were the days of Jacob’s life on this earth. Until that fateful day in August of 1997, Richard and Elizabeth Cram knew their loving son to be a strong, energetic young man of 22, having the time of his life—in the prime of his life—hiking the Appalachian Trail. But on that day did their son Jacob lay dead atop Mt. Lincoln, the victim of a life-snuffing brain tumor. Oh, how we take each day for granted, how we become so complacent, how we complain so much and find so much fault. And yet how dear life is, how fragile, how fleeting. What a lesson, how precious each day, how blessed we are to have our family, our loved ones, whether near or far…each and every day.
I met Jacob’s wonderful and loving parents, Richard and Elizabeth Cram, here at the Inn at Long Trail. I sat and listened with tear-filled eyes as they, also in tears, talked about their son Jacob, recalling with such heart-wrenching emotion the memories of their son as they continued turning the cold pages of an album containing pictures that Jacob had taken on his journey. From the photos, I could see that Gatorboy and Thunder Chicken were good friends during the time they hiked together last year. The Crams are here now, having returned for a small memorial service for Jacob that was held this past Saturday on the mountain. During that service some of Jacob’s ashes where spread…over the path where he last trod.
With kind permission from the Crams, I will close this bittersweet day with a note and card which contains a verse, sent to Jacob’s sister from his good friend, Dirk.
“Life is too short to let even one day,
To be frenzied or frazzled or frittered away.
Life is too short not to take time to do,
The things that will hold the most meaning for you.
So, let yourself float like a leaf on a stream
Relax with your memories and let yourself dream.
Throw out your list that’s impossibly long,
And dance a few steps to a favorite song.
Turn off the news and go find someone real,
Who’ll listen and talk and affirm what you feel.
Life is too short and flies by if you let it,
So, choose what you want every day, and go get it.”
I think Jake embodies the essence of this card. He serves as an inspiration to us all, I will never forget his verve for life…don’t you forget it either. Love, Dirk”
Tuesday—August 11, 1998
Location—Stony Brook Shelter
I split the room last night with Bagman and we had breakfast together. I worked on my journal entries until 3:00 p.m.
Soon I will be seeing no more Long Trail hikers as the AT and Long Trail split just north of Sherburne Pass, the LT going on north and the AT turning east towards New Hampshire. Getting out late makes for a very short trail day, but I’m able to make it to Stony Brook Shelter to spend the evening with: Bagman, Good Times, Chief Frodo, Dr. Daisy G., Firecracker, Jarhead, Konoa and south bounders, Aaron and Sleepy.
Jeff Innkeeper Venuti, is 24, single, from Tewksbury, Massachusetts. Jeff is a graduate of Tewksbery High School, and has a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Cornell University. He is employed by Analog Devices, Wilmington, Mass., a company that designs, manufactures and markets integrated transistor circuits. Jeff designs the circuits for wireless communications, such as cell phones and pagers…“The little chips that go inside those things you use to call people, with no wires attached. Funny, because I’ve never even used a cell phone, but I know how they work and I know how to design the parts that go inside!”
Jeff has been given a six-month leave of absence to hike the AT, an agreement made with Analog. “At the time I interviewed, both the people I talked with slapped their foreheads, exclaiming, ‘Oh no, not this again!’ It turned out the last person they had recruited also wanted to hike the AT. Since they needed someone to start right away, the leave of absence was a promise down the line. But they came through and here I am on the trail. Analog is a great company. They’ve given me the time to achieve one of my personal goals.” In addition to electronics, Jeff is also interested in backpacking, “I’ve always been an avid backpacker since Boy Scouts.”
Jeff will certainly be easy to remember for a number of reasons. One, for spending eight nights and seven days at the “Fontana Hilton” shelter while mending a sore, injured ankle. Thus the well-deserved trail name, Innkeeper! Oh, this is a good one. “I drank a lot of olive oil received in a mail drop. I didn’t want to take it with me and I didn’t want to waste it! I thought, hmm, all these great fat calories, why don’t I just drink it. That was a big mistake, I promptly threw it right back up!” And a final distinction, “People have been somewhat surprised with how much I can eat, even other thru-hikers. I tend to be able to put down the food.”
When Jeff’s AT odyssey is through, he will return to his professional career with Analog Devices. “I really like the job I have, I find it quite rewarding. There are great opportunities with this company.”
Jeff concluded his remarks with: “I’ve always had a profound respect for the wilderness and I love backpacking, and the two go hand-in-hand. Hiking the AT is a personal challenge. I’ve never done anything that requires this amount of motivation and perseverance. It will be a tremendous reward when completed. I’ve spent a lot of time getting rid of things that I don’t need and concentrating on only that which I do need. And, I think I am a happier person for it. I believe greatly in rational thought and I’ve put a lot of effort in trying to be a completely rational person.”
Jeff, you are already a success in all of these things. You are a man with wisdom well beyond your years. Folks will no doubt look back to the beginning of this profile to make sure of your age, thinking it must certainly be a typo. It’s been my good fortune knowing you, hiking with you and having you as a friend. I hope our paths meet again, soon.
“There are no words that can tell of the hidden
spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery,
its melancholy, and its charm.”
Wednesday—August 12, 1998
Location—Thistle Hill Shelter
On the way down to Rick and Tina’s General Store for breakfast this morning I pass this old barn with a sign painted on it. Now we’ve all seen these old barns with sign painted on them…”See Rock City,” “Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco,” “Meramec Caverns” and on and on. But this sign really gets my attention. It reads, “Leslie, Marry Me!” in big faded and weathered letters. As I pull abreast of the old barn on the left, to the right of the road is this lovely picture-book-perfect little bungalow, complete with kiddie play center. I’m thinking, “Could be!” What mystery, what suspense (remember I’m near 60 now, so to me this is suspense). At the General Store, Tina quickly solves the mystery. Leslie said yes! Well now, don’t you just love happy endings? I sure do! This day is going just great, and I get a fine meal at the store, too.
On the trail today I see and talk with Spirit and Grateful, then spend an enjoyable evening with Cool Breeze, Mad Max Mel, Crying Violet and Tweetie.
“When you are close to nature
you can listento the voice of God.”
Thursday—August 13, 1998
Desperado came along and we hiked together into Hanover. It was great to see Innkeeper again while having pizza at C&A Pizzeria. He showed us to Tabard Hall, a Dartmouth fraternity house where hikers are welcome to stay. It’s great to see Selky here again and to finally meet Bush Baby.
I stop on the way out of Hanover for a few provisions at the co-op, then head on up the mountain. Crossing the Connecticut River at Hanover puts another state behind me as I move into New Hampshire. The day is long and steady, a good mileage day. The nights are cooling nicely now and it’s already in the fifties when I roll in.
There is no land discovered,
That can’t be found anew.
So travel on intrepid,
Into the hazy blue.
And as you seek your fortune,
And near your life-long quest.
There’ll still be countless peaks to climb,
Before your final rest.
Friday—August 14, 1998
I usually wake around first light, but I rolled in very tired last night and don’t rouse this morning until 8:30 a.m. I thought my watch was playing tricks again but I’ve just slept in. I never have been the quickest to break camp, so I’m not on the trail until 9:30 a.m., really not good when trying to do a decent mileage day. I am dealt some hard, tough pulls today as the terrain is really becoming rugged and much more alpine-like. I still manage a 20-mile day but I arrive in the near dark at this interesting old hex-shaped shelter. I’m able to get a good fire going in my “Little Dandy” wood-burner to prepare a warm supper. I share the shelter with south bounders, Hard Core, Jayrod and Fade Out.
“In the country it is as if every tree said to me,
“Holy! Holy!” Who can ever express the
ecstasy of the woods?”
[Ludwig van Beethoven]
Saturday—August 15, 1998
Location—NH112, Kinsman Notch, North Woodstock, Cascade Lodge Bed and Breakfast
I’ve been told the going will slow down considerably now, that the elevation changes will become much more extreme and abrupt. I’m out and moving by 7:30 a.m. My goal for today is to reach Kinsman Notch, a 24 mile day, with the formidable Mt. Moosilauke, a near 5,000 foot peak right at the end of the day. I’ve also been told the Snickers rating system I’ve developed will be put to the test in the Whites and Presidents. And indeed, it appears this is going to be true. Mt. Moosilauke has already taken the system into the upper digits of the rating system, coming in somewhere between six and seven on the old Snickers scale. It is evident that I will need to add more Snickers to the pack as I add more Snickers to the pulls.
Folks have tried to describe what lies ahead with little success. After confronting Moosilauke today I understand why! The majesty of these mountains, their beauty revealed, is the reward for the effort and time spent in scaling them. It has been estimated that although 80 percent of the hike is behind us, 50 percent of the work yet remains! I arrive at Kinsman Notch at 7:00 p.m., my energy very near spent. I am able to thumb a ride right away into North Woodstock and Cascade Lodge.
“By maple orchards, belts of pine
And larches climbing darkly
The mountain slopes, and over all,
The great peaks rising starkly.”
[John Greenleaf Whittier]
Sunday—August 16, 1998
Location—NH112, Kinsman Notch, North Woodstock, Cascade Lodge Bed and Breakfast
I’m taking a day off for a much-needed rest. Easy Rider, who I have been hiking with and who will be accompanying me into Canada got off here Friday to attend his grandmother’s birthday party. We have decided not to get back on the trail until tomorrow, so he and his mother will be picking me up here in the morning to take us back to the trailhead at NH112.
Relaxing another day here at the Cascade Lodge is a pleasure. The owners, Bill and Betty Robinson cater to and enjoy having hikers. The place is well kept and very comfortable. Frosties and food on the porch are no problem. I am having a great time visiting with Kevin, Gnat Catcher, Boomerang, Screamin’ Ankle, Lorax, Thorin, Mo’, Ol’ Crawdad, Yahoola, Stoneman, L. W., Red Bz’s (Mike and Bronson) Abandoneer and Eric.
I have been invited to dinner with Grym and POD. We had met at the “Fontana Hilton” and hiked together off and on throughout the southern Appalachians. They’re working here now in North Woodstock, and as soon as POD gets off work we head out. Grym treats me to a steak dinner with all the trimmings! It was a wonderful evening with the best of “trail family.”
“Not many people really get to chase their dreams.
Not many people get to do something no one else
Monday—August 17, 1998
Location—Liberty Spring Tentsite
Easy Rider and his mother, Elaine Dresser, pick me up at Cascade Lodge at 8:00 a.m. and we’re off to the trailhead at NH112. Elaine is very enthusiastic about our planned adventure on into Canada, which pleases me greatly. Her son is a strong, consistent hiker with four-season hiking experience, especially in winter alpine hiking and her pride and confidence show.
The White Mountains of New Hampshire are nothing at all like the Appalachian Mountain south of here. They are incredibly tall, rugged and steep, with a good portion of the treadway in the alpine zone near or above 4,000 feet. The climbs begin abruptly, go almost straight up and never seem to end. The Snickers rating system will be consistently at or above five here in the Whites. The climbs up South and North Kinsman and Mount Wolf are all rated at least a six Snickers or better. We’ve encountered nothing even close to these pulls south of here and here are three in one day!
By the time Easy Rider and I drop into Franconia Notch, then climb back up to Liberty Spring we’re ready to call it a day. Frenchie slack-packed this section, from NH112 into Franconia Notch and Rider and I both enjoyed his company. He had many interesting stories to tell. We arrive at the tent sites at dusk and are fortunate to get the last tent platform. Just as I get my little tent set up and Rider has his tarp strung the rain begins. This exhausting but enjoyable day owes us nothing!
“The land of the great woods, lakes, mountains and
rushing rivers is still mysterious enough to please
anyone who has eyes to see and can understand.”
Tuesday—August 18, 1998
Location—Zealand Falls Hut
The rain has continued into morning as we break camp, but we’re able to get out reasonably early into the gray swirl. Views today from Mt. Lafayette, Mt. Garfield and Mt. Guyot are nonexistent, but we do not complain for we have been so blessed with incredibly good weather. A Canadian front, which has brought cold rain, is forecast to blow this dank weather on out this evening, giving us cloudless, haze-free skies for the remainder of our hike through the Presidential Range.
The hike today, both long and hard, brings us only 17 miles. It is near dusk as Easy Rider and I arrive, tired and weary, at Zealand Falls Hut. But the storm is breaking now and the view down the mountain from the porch here at Zealand, the first for the day is another of God’s mystifying wonders, making for life-long memories. The ditty closing today’s journal entry, having been inspired by such absolute grandeur, gives testimony to the splendor and majesty of it all.
The huts throughout the Whites are operated by the Appalachian Mountain Club. The young folks that manage these huts, prepare and serve the great meals, and otherwise care and provide for the needs of their hiker guests are some of the friendliest and happiest guys and gals you’ll meet anywhere. Rider and I are the only thru-hikers at Zealand this evening (a full house otherwise) and we are greeted with interest and enthusiasm by Anthony Greco, Lila, Jarad and Dawn, a volunteer. Anthony’s in his third season and is now Hut Master here at Zealand.
The AMC’s policy for thru-hikers, an indication of their genuine soft-spot-in-the-heart for us, is to permit a limited number to enjoy the comforts, meals and lodging at the huts in return for work. Rider and I help in the kitchen for awhile this evening and we’ll do some cleaning up for a short time in the morning, but believe you me, the balance in this deal sways well in the thru-hiker’s favor! Totally content, our stomachs full to capacity, we retire and sleep soundly in the warmth and comfort, above the clouds, at little Zealand Falls Hut.
We’re at the hut on Zealand
And from this vantage watch,
The wind blow out the storm clouds
Down in Carrigan Notch.
The sun is dancing ‘long the ridge
In splashing yellow hue,
This show? A restless beckoning,
A’callin’ me and you.
Wednesday—August 19, 1998
Location—Lakes of the Clouds Hut
The Presidentials, we’re really in the thick of them now. The ascents and descents have become near vertical, near endless. The first encounter this morning involves a ricocheting plunge down into Crawford Notch. We no more recoup from this pell-mell off-load than we’re hurtled against it as the treadway recoils to literally block us with boulders and rock, forcing the most desperate struggle up and over Mt. Webster, Mt. Jackson, Mt. Pierce and Mt. Franklin. Here, would it be beneficial, could we simply distill the Snickers bars and go straight to I.V. This treadway contains a boundless and awesome might, radiating it seems, in a manner to grip us in such a strange way, forcing us to pit our limits of strength, energy and resolve against it. This is most surely the path built by Thor and trod by Atlas. For from here, on a pathway we mere mortals attempt to follow, could this mystical god of might have supported all the heavens on his shoulders, much as Zeus commanded.
Easy Rider and I are glad to see the Lakes of the Clouds Hut below as we descend the trail from Mt. Franklin. It is late evening, near dusk, and the large crowd at the hut (another full house) is being served supper. Today we’ve encountered heavy traffic so we’re not surprised to see the hut filled to capacity. We wait patiently for the dining hall to clear, for we’ve been invited to dine later with the hut “croo.” For a small fee, which includes victuals, are we then permitted to roll out our sleeping bags on the dining room tables just before lights out at 9:30 p.m.
“Upon the next bright peak I saw thee kneel,
And heard thy voice upon the billowy blast;
But, climbing, only reached the shrine to feel
The shadow of a Presence which had passed.”
[Henry Timrod, Elusive Nature]
Thursday—August 20, 1998
Location—NH16, Pinkham Notch, Nikki’s Folk’s Retreat in Jackson, NH
Easy Rider and I hike out from Lakes of the Clouds Hut at 6:30 a.m. I’m thinking as we depart that I will long remember the warm hospitality we’ve received from the really great young folks that make up the hut “croo.” You just couldn’t find more kind and friendly hosts! Thanks, Karen Baglini, Hut Master and you too, Steve, Traci, Adrienne and John! The air is crisp and clear this morning and as I climb I soon find that before me this day will be some of the most amazing hiking that I’ve done…ever. The treadway is demanding and indescribably difficult to negotiate, long near-vertical ascents and descents through rock, boulders, up and over ledges and sheer drop-offs. But, once the peaks are reached, the ridges above tree line gained, the unusual alpine landscape inspires the senses, the views overwhelming!
By 7:30 a.m. we’re standing on Mt. Washington. The summit is ours for there’s no one up the auto road yet and the old cog railway steam locomotives are still getting their boilers fired up as the coal smoke rises from great distances down and below that appear miles away. In awhile Gnatcatcher comes and we greet each other with huge ear-to-ear grins. With only a slight haze and no clouds, the view in all directions is grand. It seems that we are on the top of the world. Mt. Washington is notorious for having some of the foulest, most unpredictable weather in the world, but here this morning we are favored with a gentle, cool breeze. The AT goes on to climb a little bump, an elevated rocky projection above the otherwise flat expanse of numerous buildings, towers and other summit ornaments scattered around. Up this last little pop the AT is superimposed on Crawford Path, the oldest mountain hiking trail in America, constructed and first put in use in 1819. I add now to the continuity of it as my name is etched in time along with the millions of others who have passed this way.
On the wall, inside the welcome center is a list of those who have perished on this mountain. At last count they numbered 125. Beside this list of names is this simple but poignant inscription, “This can be a dangerous place. No one on this list planned to die here.” Also at the summit, the highest point in New Hampshire, is this very moving and most befitting memorial, honoring those members of the 10th Mountain Division from New Hampshire, mountaineers who made the supreme sacrifice in WWII.
“Throughout his life he set one goal,
To reach on high a mountain’s soul.
His climbing days now over…past,
He scaled the peak which death had cast.
On top the summit all aglow,
He stands in God’s great light–and so,
He could no lesser life have known,
Than of the one he lived, full blown!
The mountain of the great beyond,
Still beckons with an ice-axe wand.
And mountain men no matter where,
Must meet the challenge that is there.
He was a member of our clan,
A 10th Division mountain man.”
On a sign near one of the summit vantages is written, “The Appalachian Mountains are among the oldest on earth, reaching back more than 500 million years into time. The present chain, which stretches from the Gaspe to Georgia, once may have been higher than the Alps or the Rocky Mountains. Weather and erosion have sculpted them and left them as they are today.” Actually, the Appalachians begin in south-central Alabama and stretch over 3,000 miles by trail north to the Gaspe peninsula in Quebec Province, Canada, where they plunge dramatically to the sea at the Cliffs of Forillon, the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Some even claim these old mountains submerge beneath the sea, only to reemerge again in Europe!
In the course of hiking most-near the breadth of the Eastern North American Continent, and in the process, the old Nomad will hike the entire length of these magnificent Appalachians. Soon, connecting trails will be completed making it possible for others to do the same. In the south, all but a few miles of the Pinhoti Trail through the beautiful Talladega National Forest in Alabama are completed. In western Georgia, connector trails will link the Alabama Pinhoti to the AT on Springer Mountain. These are the Georgia Pinhoti Trail, which is still under construction, and the Benton MacKaye Trail, Georgia section, which is completed. In the north, under construction in Maine, and for the most part completed in Canada, is le Sentier International des Appalaches/International Appalachian Trail. This trail when completed will connect to the AT in Baxter State Park, Maine, making it possible to hike to the northern end of the Appalachian Range in Canada. I predict that thousands who have hiked or who plan to hike the Appalachians will no longer be satisfied with only that section traversed by the AT, but will soon want to experience much more!
As we leave Mt. Washington and begin our descent we enter what is known as the Madison Loop, a treacherously rocky but most magnificent stretch of treadway entirely above tree line. The clear-cool breeze holds and the 360s are spectacular. And as for this seemingly boundless mountain expanse, I can truly say, “we are amongst ‘em.” On our way down to Pinkham Notch and arriving at Madison Springs Hut, we hear voices from within, “Nomad, Easy Rider!” What a perfect day this is now, for what a surprise to arrive and find good friends Wolfhound and Farther. We haven’t seen either of them for weeks and weeks, having said our good-byes way back down the trail, never expecting to meet again…and here we are together once more! They’re slack-packing the Presidentials (a smart move) out of Marianne and Bruno’s Hiker’s Paradise in Gorham. We linger for the longest while sharing the enjoyment of seeing each other again!
As we near Pinkham Notch and scampering up the trail directly toward us are two of the happiest and most gangly looking black labs. I hear Easy Rider call out with excitement, “Albert, Mattie” just as he is literally jumped on, ran over and then totally smothered by the two grown pups. Rider was wondering if they’d recognize and remember him after all these months on the trail. Well, Easy Rider, wonder no more! Both the pups knew the skinny little fellow with the full red beard. But I don’t think he recognized them right away! Coming along a few paces behind is Easy Rider’s girlfriend, Nikki. She’s brought the pups out to scamper along as she hikes part way to meet us. Nikki’s folks have a new home on the mountain above Jackson and I’ve been invited to tag along as their guest. In just a short while we reach Pinkham Notch, load up and are on our way to Jackson. After a few cold ones, a delicious dinner prepared by Nikki, plus the exhilaration of one of the most remarkable hiking days in my life, Im ready to hit the hay!
“Bids me dream and bids me linger—
Joy and beauty are its goal;
On the path that leads to nowhere
I have sometimes found my soul.”
[Corinne Roosevelt Robinson]
Friday—August 21, 1998
Location—US2, Gorham, Nikki’s Folk’s Retreat in Jackson
We are up early, and after a great breakfast prepared by Nikki, she has us back to Pinkham Notch and on the trail by 8:30 a.m. We have a long, hard day with many 6-7 Snickers pulls over the Wildcats, Carter Dome, Middle Carter and Mt. Moriah. Nikki and the pups come in to meet and greet us again from US2 near Gorham. She had met Lorax as she was climbing Mt. Moriah and has invited him to come along for the evening. Easy Rider somehow survives a rerun of yesterday’s knockdown greeting from the pups. This has been another memorable day, countless breathtaking vistas, but oh so tiring!
I meant to do my work today,
But a brown bird sang in the apple tree,
And a butterfly flittered across the field,
And all the leaves were calling me.
And the wind went sighing over the land,
Tossing the grasses to and fro,
And a rainbow held out its shining hand,
So what could I do, but laugh and go?
[Richard Le Gallienne]
Saturday—August 22, 1998
Location—US2, Gorham, Nikki’s Folk’s Retreat in Jackson
We’ve decided to take the morning off, run some errands and get a few provisions. One of the much-needed stops is at the Limmer Boot Shop in Intervale, a short trip from Jackson. Here I meet Carl Limmer and the gentleman who fits their stock boots, Ken Smith. I dearly need some new boots since my Danner Lights, fine boots in their own right, are really coming apart. In all due respect, the Danners were well worn and had already been resoled once before beginning the Odyssey of ’98. They just have no more miles left in them. Easy Rider wears a stock pair of Limmers and I like the way they’re constructed. Ken takes a look at my feet, asked me a couple of questions, then disappears into the back. Moments later he emerges with a shiny new pair of Limmers and I pull them on over a new pair of rag wool socks. Ken checks the fit and I wear them around the shop for awhile and that’s it!
While giving the boots a walk about, in come two young fellows, Doug Connelly and Chris Davis, both members of the AMC Technical Field Crew (professional trail builders). Doug is in to get some boots and to invite the Limmer folks to the work crew year-end bash to be held this very evening at an old cabin just across the Androscoggin River. Upon finding out that Lorax, Easy Rider and I are all thru-hikers; we’re also invited to attend! Since the decision is pretty much a no-brainer—oh yes, we’re going to the party—the day is quickly shaping to be a no-hike day. This is all well and good, as another day’s rest is certainly welcome. The plan now is to have Nikki drop us off at US2, hike the short distance across the river, hitch on in to the party, then pitch somewhere in the woods nearby after the bash is over. This works great and we arrive at the old cabin around 7:30 p.m. to be promptly greeted by Doug and 16 other ‘98-season crewmembers.
The AMC/TFC work year runs from mid May to mid August. Their job is to tackle the really heavy stuff that can’t be handled by the volunteer crews. This backbreaking work mostly entails moving, stacking and building the incredible rock steps and water bars that help us get up and over these rugged mountains. Their axe work in removing huge blowdowns from the treadway is a sight to behold. All this work, almost without exception, takes place on slopes and inclines that make standing upright, let alone doing heavy physically demanding work, next to impossible. And yet, somehow they get it done, steps straight up the mountain, built from rocks and boulders weighing many hundreds of pounds. It’s absolutely baffling, looking up at their masterwork. When I reach one of these remarkable places I just stand, to look and shake my head in amazement!
So, now here we are, enjoying their hospitality and sharing in their joy, the pride that comes with another successful trail building season. We meet some very kind, enthusiastic young folks, lift a few with them in celebration, put away some great grub and watch a very entertaining slide show highlighting their year’s accomplishments. Thanks Doug for inviting us to be part of your special celebration. And most of all; thanks to all of you for making the Appalachian Trail the greatest trail in the world!
Present at the party…for Limmer is a friend to all of these folks is—oh yes—Ken Smith! Ken is going through Jackson and offers us a ride back to Nikki’s…which we promptly accept! So now it’s off for another very enjoyable and relaxing night’s rest in a real bed.
In five-hundred million years
These mountains will be smaller.
Just as five-hundred million past
They were a wee bit taller.
The race of man may race away,
So, we’ll not know for certain.
But chances are these mounts’ll stand
To see the final curtain.
Sunday—August 23, 1998
Location—Carlo Col Shelter
Nikki shuttles us back across the Androscoggin and drops us off with a goodbye…one more time! We’re off to climb into a steady drizzle, which continues until mid afternoon. While resting and taking a lunch break at Gentian Pond Shelter, in comes Desperado! He has been pounding out the miles to catch up with us. We hike the rest of the day as a foursome; what an enjoyable change of pace. Two other thru-hikers we have the pleasure meeting today are Mac n’ Cheese and southbounder, Gots-to-Go.
We arrive at Carlo Col Shelter in good order. I crank up my “Little Dandy” wood stove and prepared a warm evening meal. The shelter is crowded but we’re all able to squeeze in for the night. The rain comes hard at times, but I sleep very soundly.
“I long for wildness, woods where the wood thrush
forever sings. Where the hours are early morning ones
and there is dew on the grass, and the day is forever
unproved. A New Hampshire everlasting and unfallen.”
Monday—August 24, 1998
Location—ME26, Grafton Notch, Easy Rider’s Folk’s Place in Bethel
Well, today is the day to do the “Notch,” the Mahoosuc Notch, that is. The Notch, which is just across the New Hampshire/Maine border, runs for the better part of a mile and entails some of the most technically difficult rock scrambling found anywhere on the AT. Boxcar-size boulders are lodged at incredible angles, heaped in a seemingly impenetrable maze one against and upon the other in a frightful jumble, often in piles, making the going very slow and at times very scary. We have all oft-heard the old axiom, “time is of the essence,” but here the opposite becomes the truism and is much more realistic. Here indeed, “the essence is of time.” For, it is that mysterious medium of the ages, the medium of time that has created and formed this natural wonder, and it is time in great quantity that must be consumed in the task of traversing this most remarkable place. I keep repeating to myself, as did Dan the grand old backpacker repeat to himself in Lynne Whelden’s adventure documentary 27 Days, “Don’t bust it Dan, don’t bust it [Nomad]!” This short yet seemingly endless mile will remain in my memory, one of the most exciting times during the “Odyssey of ’98.” Leaping, scampering and wriggling through this remarkable place has been a truly whacking adrenaline pump! As I emerge from the Notch, my legs so much rubber, my body ceases to respond, as if it is little more than a pile of frameless mush. I collapse in a heap as the trail turns to ascend Mahoosuc Arm. Here I rest as I try to gain some composure and to fix the jumble in my mind caused by this last hour through the incredible jumble of boulders and rock. Yet remaining is the unbelievably demanding eight Snickers pull up Mahoosuc Arm to Old Speck.
Back with Easy Rider and Lorax now and near consumed with anxiety and anticipation do I find great relief in arriving at Grafton Notch, here to be greeted by Nikki and the pups! We wait and wait for over an hour, anxious about Desperado’s arrival from the mountain, but he does not come. I had been hit hard by wind, then pelted by driving rain-turned-to-sleet as I climbed Old Speck. So we assume that Desperado has pulled up at Speck Pond Shelter to get out of it. We finally depart, leaving a note for him at the trailhead. No sooner do we arrive in Bethel than Nikki turns to make the round trip once more to Grafton Notch in hopes of finding Desperado. But she returns with no good news.
The little town of Bethel is a stereotypical quaint New England Village, each street lined with beautiful, well-kept old two-story homes. The Dresser residence is grand indeed, in keeping with tradition and with such pride that folks all around seen to take in maintaining these beautiful old structures. It is the love within that shows through and is so immediately evident. The warmth, enduring care and devotion dedicated to keeping these old places is reflected in the radiant beauty of their grand presence, offering a most joyful and welcome sight to see. Lorax and I are greeted warmly by the Dressers, Dutch and Elaine, and Derek’s younger bother, Chuck, along with the Dresser’s good friends Eric and Lucia. Elaine has prepared a wonderful meal for us and we hurry to get reasonably presentable before joining them at the supper table. The Dresser’s are very happy and full of joy to have their son home again. This evening has been such a very happy time and I feel blessed to have been included and made part of this grand celebration. With a clean body, full stomach, and a fresh bed, I quickly fall into restful sleep, to dream of that “greatest mountain,” Katahdin.
“From the crest of old Speck Mountain,
On the wild Mahoosuc west.
To the summit of Katahdin,
And the ending of the quest.”
Tuesday—August 25, 1998
Location—ME26, Grafton Notch, Easy Rider’s Folk’s Place in Bethel
This is going to be a much-welcome day of rest, time to relax and get caught up on my journal entries. And what a mighty fine start for this day with blueberry pancakes topped with fresh blueberry sauce prepared by Elaine! Easy Rider then cranks up his Harley (now you know how he came by his trail name), and he and Nikki cruise back up to Grafton Notch to look for Desperado. And what great timing, for just as they arrive, Desperado is emerging from the mountain! He’d pulled into Speck Pond Shelter just as we had hoped, to avoid the thunderstorm and sleet that was crossing over Old Speck yesterday afternoon. Easy Rider and Nikki then return, get the car and go back out for Desperado. So turns out, we’re all back together again!
For lunch it’s a short walk to Skidder’s Deli for subs. Then on the way home we stop at the market for a few things. Nikki, Easy Rider and Lorax get all the fixins for burritos for the evening meal. They also pick up the ingredients for brownies. My contribution? Oh yes, the ice cream and chocolate to top off the brownies! Life on the trail is great—life off the trail—Ahh, absolutely superb!
Matt Lorax Pomraning, age 23, is single, from New Cumberland, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Camp Hill High School and has a Degree in Elementary Education with Certification from Shippensburg University.
His hobbies include hiking, cooking, scherenschnitte (German paper cutting), working with children and rugby.
“I never really hiked much before. When I was a Boy Scout there was this kid that said he wanted to hike the AT. That sparked my interest, so I started reading about it. I couldn’t hike during high school or college, but when I found I could graduate from college a semester early and leave in time to hike the AT, that’s what I did. When I was younger I made a list of all the things I wanted to do in my life, and hiking the AT was one of the things at the top. After the trail I hope to get a teaching position eventually, probably away from where I’m living now, travel, have a family.”
“Personally, I wish there were more places in the world, like life here on the trail, where everyone could trust each other, where all were willing to help each other out, do things for each other. This journey is giving me faith in people again. It’s always been a dream of mine to work with little kids. I hope to be remembered as someone who brought something good.”
For those of you who may not remember (including me), Lorax was one of the delightful little characters created by Dr. Seuss. Lorax was the saver of trees. The choice this young man has made for his trail name gives insight into his personality, his sensitivity and vitality for life, which is immediately evident to those of us who’ve had the good fortune to meet and to know Matt. A more upbeat and positive person you will not find. What a great background he’s developing, what a fresh and grand resource to draw from to teach our children. Matt, life will be better for all who know you…Go for it Lorax, my dear young friend!
“Each kindly act is an acorn dropped
In God’s productive soil;
You may not know, but the tree shall grow
With shelter for those who toil.”
[Ella Wheeler Wilcox]
Wednesday—August 26, 1998
Location—Hall Mountain Lean-to
Elaine, Dutch and I are up early. Nikki’s already had the dogs out for a run. Dutch brews the coffee and Nikki gets me set up to make pancakes, a new experience for me. I find that following the directions on the box works great, but I beat the batter a little too hard and the pancakes turn out pretty rubbery, but Elaine’s great blueberry sauce saves the day for me!
I sure hate to leave this great little town of Bethel, Nikki and the Dressers, but the time has come to hit the trail. We get loaded and Elaine drives us back to Grafton Notch and we’re on the trail a little after 9:00 a.m. Thanks Dutch, Elaine, Chuck and Nikki, I had a memorable time.
The going is slow and difficult with long, tough pulls over the Baldpates and Wyman Mountain, especially so for me as I’m trying to break in my new boots. Ken had taken them back with him after he dropped us off from the AMC party to stretch the toe area out a little. We had decided to do this to reduce the break-in time and to make what could have been a difficult, uncomfortable process, much easier. To get the boots back to me in time, Ken made a special trip to Bethel to deliver the boots personally! I couldn’t believe it when Dutch told me Monday that my boots were already there. And just to make sure that I started out right, Ken had filled both boots, toe to top with Snickers bars! Thanks Ken, and thanks Limmer.
“One final paragraph of advice: Do not burn yourself out. Be as I am,
a reluctant enthusiast, a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic.
Save the other half of yourself and your lives for pleasure and adventure.
It is not enough to fight for the land, it is even more important to enjoy it
while you can, while it’s still here, so, get out there and hunt and fish and
mess around with your friends. Ramble out yonder and explore the forests.
Encounter the griz, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers,
breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air. Sit quietly for awhile and
contemplate the precious stillness; that lovely, mysterious, awesome space.
Enjoy yourselves. Keep your brain in your head and your head firmly
attached to your body; the body active and alive and I promise you this much.
I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies—over those desk-bound
people with their hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized to
desk calculators. I promise you this—we’ll outlive the bastards.”
Thursday—August 27, 1998
Location—Bemis Mountain Lean-to
The trail today proves to be some of the most difficult going so far. The first day back after a layover is always difficult, this one especially so. We manage scant few miles. The vertical ascents and descents over Moody, Old Blue and Bemis West are all seven Snickers or better. I arrive late and very tired at Bemis Mountain Lean-to to spend the evening with Easy Rider, Lorax, Loon, Flatlander and Redman.
“To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wildflower.
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.”
Friday—August 28, 1998
Location—Piazza Rock Lean-to
Today I hear the first shrill, alluring call of the loon reverberating and echoing across Moxie Pond. Even from afar it is an eerie, piercing sound. Indeed it is a call in the truest sense, the ancient, everlasting and unchanging call of the north woods. This singular sound, perhaps more than any other sound we have ever heard or could ever hear, stirs in us a sense of restlessness to the bottom of our very soul, a sound that beckons all who hear to venture forth toward that great unknown, that pristine and unspoiled wilderness just over the horizon. Oh, but so elusive do we find this destination and the journey in search of it, for we are uncontrollably drawn, ever onward toward that mysterious and boundless expanse that lies beyond. The call of the loon is a lure, a call to awaken the wanderlust, that basic, instinctive desire that each of us possesses deep within. It is the call to return again to our primal home, to the bosom of nature, and there finally, to be free…truly free.
Today we see some trail family members that we haven’t seen for many a week, Turtle and Bear, and also Florida Guy. They’re hiking south from Katahdin now after flip-flopping to void severe weather here later.
Upon reaching ME4, we meet Spring Chicken GAME ’91. He’s been doing some trail maintenance and is just finishing up, so he gives us a ride into Rangeley. There are two good reasons for going into Rangeley. One, we need to pick up some provisions…and the other? Well, read on! Rangeley is a neat, well-kept little berg thriving on vacationers from the large, coastal metropolitan areas. While here, Easy Rider and I head over to the Red Onion for a pizza and a pitcher. Here we meet Junebug, another flip-flopper. He is really moving, covering many miles per day, and carrying an ultra-light pack. This fellow is what most would label a “gear-head.” His pack is mesh and weighs only seven ounces utilizing his Ridgerest sleeping pad to form the pack frame! He’s fully loaded at twelve pounds (without food or water), the lightest setup I’ve seen so far. With comparable gear my pack weighs in at around twenty-three pounds, almost double Junebugs. Compared to most however, my Kelty Redwing weekend pack is small and very lightweight, less than three pounds. Most lightweight backpackers also use a down bag, but it seems I’m never able to keep anything dry, so I lug along a synthetic bag, paying the price for the “warm-when-wet” benefit in bulk and weight. A wet down bag is a real bummer and I absolutely would not wish this evil method of torture on anyone! Many have commented about my meager pack and how little weight I’m toting…but compared to Junebug, I’m a piker.
While down in North Woodstock awhile back I’d spent some time at Frog Rock Cafe, a local café/pub where my very good hiking friend Grym was working at the time. Here I relaxed, taking an extra and much-needed day off while Easy Rider attended his grandmother’s surprise birthday party. Consequently, while lifting a few at Frog Rock I made the acquaintance of Greydon, Frog Rock owner and bartender. During the course of conversation he asked if I’d be going into Rangeley. I told him I hadn’t planned that far ahead. That’s when he says, “Well, in case you do, give this card to Randy.” Turns out they’re partners, also operating a Frog Rock Café here in Rangeley. On his card Greydon had written, “Randy, buy this man a beer!” Well, I’ll tell you, right then and there I decided that I’d be making a stop in Rangeley! So, here we are, Easy Rider and me, bellied up to the bar at the Hard Rock Café in Rangeley. The bartender comes over; sure enough it’s Randy. “What’ll it be?” he says. That’s when I pull Greydon’s card right out. Well now, I want you to know that I haven’t seen a bartender smile like this in years. Yup! Randy draws us both a free one. Great fellows, great establishments! Thanks Greydon and Randy, we had a hoot!
It is dark when we reach the new lean-to at Piazza Rock. Had the shelter not been occupied and light illuminating the skylights we would have missed the place entirely. Once down the blue-blaze and stumbling into the shelter, we meet Donnabeth Stewart from New York. Come to find out, her goal is not to hike the AT but to climb all the 4,000 footers in the northeast. She says there’s 113 all told, of which she has done about half. They’re in New York, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine. Easy Rider and I really enjoy the short bit of evening remaining, listening to Donnabeth tell about her adventures.
“The Appalachian Trail exerts a primal pull beyond the merely recreational!
…perhaps it beckons to the pioneer spirit buried in us, the desire to strike out
for parts unknown…perhaps it’s the romantic notion of discovering a bit of
America by walking across the country and stumbling upon traces of early
settlers…or maybe it’s the sheer distance, scope and accessibility…regardless,
for many hikers, the storied Appalachian Trail promises adventure and the
opportunity to experience a legend.”
[Elizabeth Lee, Appalachian Adventure]
Saturday—August 29, 1998
Location—Spaulding mountain Lean-to
We head out into a cool gray morning to be confronted with a very long, hard day. We’re in serious Snickers territory now, over Saddleback, The Horn, Saddleback Junior, Oberton, Lone, a chunk of Mt. Abraham and the starting pull up Spaulding. We arrive at Spaulding Mountain Lean-to totally bushed, only to be greeted by a young, giggling, chatty bunch of coeds from Tufts out on an orientation hike.
We have the pleasure this evening in meeting a very nice young man from Providence, RI, Andrew Ryan, who goes by the trail name Groovin’ Moose. Andy is doing what has become known as “yo-yo-ing”. This sashay is done by the more adventuresome who haven’t had enough of the AT when they reach Katahdin, so they just turn around and head back south toward Springer Mountain, their journey now only half completed, hoping to be over the Balds and the higher elevations in the Smokies before the snow flies. Ryan departed Springer on March 19th and climbed Katahdin on August 16th. So here today he’s into his thirteenth day on his southbound odyssey.
“The Appalachian Trail. Those are magic words to
anybody who has ever so much as spent a night in
[Paul Hemphill, Me and the Boy]
Sunday—August 30, 1998
Location—ME27, White Wolf Motel, Stratton
We get out about 7:30 a.m. to complete the pull up Spaulding Mountain. A bronze plaque affixed to a boulder at the summit just off the trail catches my eye. I’ve always been interested in the colorful and sometimes rocky (NPI) history of the AT. This plaque commemorates a joyful occasion.
“In honor of the Men of the Civilian Conservation Corps who, from
1935-1939, contributed greatly to the completion of the Appalachian
Trail in Maine, and who, on August 14, 1937 near this spot completed
the final link of the entire 2054-mile trail.”
We’re faced with another day of tough pulls over Spaulding, Sugarloaf and the Crockers. As I reach ME27 I find Easy Rider sitting by the trail, he’s been waiting here an hour for me next to the road that leads to Stratton. My feet are really tender and sore and I will lose my right big toenail yet again, which had just about grown back. I’m also suffering some nasty blisters on the back of both of my heels. Breaking in these new boots is proving to be quite a chore. They’re a stiff, rugged boot, but I’m getting there.
We manage a ride into Stratton right away, right to the White Wolf Motel. No sooner do we flop than it’s food order-up, room service no less! Easy Rider goes for the pizza and I get their famous “Wolf Burger.” I simply cannot remember a hot shower feeling so luxurious! After supper I soak my feet in a five-gallon bucket of warm Epsom salts solution. There’s no trouble dropping off tonight, to dream of the Mahoosucs and their mystic and mysterious high-held ponds.
“Weird phantom shapes of mist are rising on the pond, figures
that seem to tread out a ghostly measure with bowed heads and
trailing garments before they vanish into the darkness. Perhaps
‘tis the ephemeral life of the human race that nature stages nightly
on the dark water.”
[Pauline Green, Vacation Days 1926]
Monday—August 31, 1998
Location—Little Bigelow Lean-to
We’re up at 7:00 a.m. and hit the Stratton Inn for a great breakfast. I’m at the post office just as they open to get my bounce box while Easy Rider does the laundry. I have a good talk this morning with Dick Anderson, president of the International Appalachian Trail. He will be sending maps to my next mail drop in Monson, Maine, which will help us through northern Maine and on into Canada.
Limmer makes a special “boot grease” which I am now bouncing along in my bounce box, so Easy Rider and I are able to seal our boots. By the time we get provisions, get packed and are ready to go it’s almost noon. We get an easy hitch back to the trailhead and are headed into the Bigelows by noon for a long fifteen-mile day, as there are some six-plus Snickers pulls over South Horn, Bigelow Mountain, Avery Peak and Little Bigelow.
Of all the ranges I’ve seen so far, over all the Appalachians from Alabama to Maine, I truly believe the Bigelows to be, hands-down, the most magnificent! It is easy to see why so many of the old time mountain trekkers, like Walter Green, Healon Taylor, Arthur Perkins, Percival Baxter and Myron Avery, so loved the Bigelows. Bigelow Mountain, a massive sharp-top peak standing at 4088 feet, is now named Avery Peak in honor of Myron Avery, a fitting and well-deserved tribute to the man. On a huge boulder atop Avery is affixed a bronze memorial which reads,
“Myron Haliburton Avery
Whose foresight, leadership and
diligence made possible the Appalachian
Trail, this 2000 mile footpath from
Maine to Georgia.”
Avery was born in Lubec, Maine. He was a navy man, a veteran of two world wars and was awarded The Legion of Merit. He was a graduate of Harvard Law School, and practiced admiralty law with the Arthur Perkins firm in Hartford. Perkins was the first Appalachian Trail Conference chair and enlisted Avery, with his boundless energy and enthusiasm, to assist in the trail-building project. Avery was the founding president of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, to this day the bulwark of ATC chapters, and he was the driving force in organizing many of the ATC clubs from Maine, clear to Georgia. Avery became chair of the ATC at age 31, a position he held until his death in 1952. Pushing his famous measuring wheel over miles of trail he had personally laid out, Avery was the first to hike the entire Appalachian Trail.
At Horns Pond Lean-to, the two new log structures are a sight to behold. They are, without a doubt, two of the most beautiful shelters along the AT, their design most professional, their workmanship impeccable. And the two old lean-tos have been left standing, their fine workmanship tribute to their longevity. Here at the Pond we meet Rob, the caretaker, and thru-hikers Thor, Gray Cloud, Raising Wind, Baltimore and Iron Pan.
Arriving late at Little Bigelow Lean-to we are greeted by yet another giggling gaggle of Tufts’ preppies. And here tonight we also meet thru-hikers Stickman and Mousetrap. The Tufts group shares their pizza with us, which they’ve made in an open frying pan…not bad, not bad at all!
I stand on Little Bigelow
In all its majesty.
While all around, vast wilderness
Is all that I can see.
Once lived a man who loved this more
Than anyone I know.
Tears cloud my view of Avery Peak
From Little Bigelow.
Tuesday—September 1, 1998
Location—Pierce Pond Lean-to
We have left the Bigelows behind, but are able to look back on them from numerous vantages today. They are magnificent from every perspective, bold and majestic beyond description, with wildness all around. Easy Rider and I have been hiking together for many days, and as my pace slows to accustom my feet to my new boots, I have slowed him down. Standing here now, shuffling the dirt and looking pensively and dejectedly into space we reach the decision for him to hike on without me. And so I stand watching, with feelings of anguish and sorrow as he fades to the trail and passes the far bend beyond…but it is the right thing.
Hiking with constant foot pain is a struggle. My toothache is also back with a vengeance, coursing its poison through my system, causing my endurance and energy level to steadily drop. Heavy traffic has taken its toll on the trail in Maine. The treadway is literally a “beaten path” with miles of exposed rocks, roots and bottomless bogs. Total concentration is necessary every step of the way. My head stays down, and each step, each foot placement is a deliberate matter. If I wish to look up, to see the beauty and the remarkable landscape and vistas around, I must first stop, otherwise I risk the dire consequence of tripping and falling…and “bustin’ it.” This AT has been an adventure of a lifetime, but I am ready for some other trail as I near the completion of this stretch of the “Odyssey of ’98.”
The Bigelows of western Maine
Are something to behold,
‘Twill take a chapter in my book,
A story yet untold.
I’ll write about the mountains, lush
With birch and fir and spruce,
You’ll read about the porcupine,
The beaver and the moose.
I’ll write so vivid you will hear,
The calling of the loon.
Across the silent, high-held ponds,
Pure diamonds in the moon.
You’ll understand why *Percival
And **Myron loved this place.
‘ll paint in words—a picture,
Of its majesty and grace.
And when you go to close the book,
And put it on the shelf.
Beware! ‘Twill haunt you till you’ve seen,
The Bigelows, yourself.
*Percival Proctor Baxter
**Myron Haliburton Avery
Wednesday—September 2, 1998
Location—Bald Mountain Brook Lean-to
In just a short distance from Pierce Pond Lean-to goes off a blue-blazed side trail to Harrison’s Pierce Pond Camps. This trail leads to an old log lodge owned and managed by Tim and Fran Harrison. As I approach this remarkable place, o’er the wooden walkway constructed in such an interesting fashion all along, I am immediately taken by the lodge’s most-pleasing and natural presence. Here is an old log structure with more “character” than any I believe I’ve ever seen. The walls of this old place were built up many years ago from site-cut fir and spruce, stacked in a manner according to how the logs came, with not-so-much-care be they straight nor so neat—to age and lean—and to age and lean some more. And here this stately old place stands in such proud fashion, posing before me now with a stature that only time in years could possibly create. A shed porch of aged, knotty-bent posts and planking goes full around. As I casually stroll the porch do I hear the happy song of the little brook, and is there immediately such a stunning and breathtaking view down and onto the cascading and tumbling outfall from Pierce Pond. Here the lush-green fir and spruce, backdrop sentinels that frame this spellbinding scene, do I find cause to tarry, to sit and rest…and look.
It is here that Stickman, Mousetrap and I await the call to breakfast, a full-spread massive, fruit-filled pancake-stacked affair, prepared with obvious pride by Tim and Fran Harrison. The Harrison’s—kind and generous in their offering, are obviously not in this endeavor for what it might provide for them, the purpose being more it seems, for the time-honored tradition, a dedication, an expression if you will, of their caring and friendship they’ve extended and continue to extended to thru-hikes. What a way to begin this day! ‘Twill be long remembered. Thank you Tim and Fran. For all who yearn for the wilds, who seek true freedom; you are our example. In the grand education of life, you both possess the ultimate doctorate!
Before us now lies the last remaining obstacle in our quest for Katahdin, the roaring, raging Kennebec. A hiker perished here years ago and many have been swept away, trying to ford this river. Consequently, the PATC and ATC, in joint effort and support have been providing free ferry service for many years. The gentlemen who operates the service, quite professionally and with contagious enthusiasm might I add, is Steve Longley, now in his 12th year. On a sign near the crossing is posted,
“The Kennebec River is the most formidable, unbridged crossing along the
entire 2100 mile AT. The Kennebec is approximately 70 yards wide with a
swift, powerful current under the best of circumstances. However, as a result
of releases of water from the hydro facilities upstream, the depth and current
of the river surge quickly and unpredictably. You cannot cross faster than the
water level rises. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO FORD THE RIVER. Please use
the ferry service.”
I quickly decide to heed this advice…and take the ferry! I arrived late at Bald Mountain Brook Lean-to, to be greeted by another group of preppies. They seem to be making less commotion and racket and most are tenting out, so there’s room in the shelter for Mousetrap and me. We enjoy the evening with Late Start, a flip-flopper from Pennsylvania. The preppies have a fine fire and a good bed of coals going so I’m able to prepare a hot pot of rice, flavored with canned herring and gravy. I’ve doubled up on my coated aspirin and the pain in my jaw has eased some. Later I make the mistake of downing three strong cups of coffee, which along with the now-giggling guests, jitters me for more than two hours. However, in awhile the hard, pounding rain on the metal shelter roof works its soothing magic to casts its spell and I finally drift into contented sleep.
“…amid the wide waves of green wood there are spots of autumnal
yellow, and the atmosphere, too, has the dawning of autumn in colors
and sounds. The soft light of morning falls upon ripening forests of oak
and elm, walnut and hickory, and all Nature is thoughtful and calm.”
Thursday—September 3, 1998
Location—ME15, Monson, Sydney The Pie Lady Pratt’s
Today proves to be agonizing and slow. I’m enduring the foot pain but I’ve had to reduce my pace considerably. The struggle is wearing on me, causing loss of concentration as I stumble through the roots and rocks. The toothache is now excruciating, almost unbearable, sapping me of much needed strength and stamina. My body is sluggish, my arms and legs rebel at every step, and my pack feels like it’s full of rocks. The pain in my feet and the poison in my system are driving me to tears. I fell hard yesterday, totally dislocating another finger, which I’ve reset and taped off. Pain shoots up my arm with each thrust of my hiking pole. I am down, but not out. Please, dear Lord, this must change.
I have staggered and dragged myself 19 miles today to reach Pleasant Road. I had hoped to hitch a ride from here into Monson. To my dismay, Pleasant Road turns out to be a dead-end gravel road leading to seasonal homes on Lake Hebron. During the two-mile walk to town I see one vehicle—going the other way. When I finally reach Monson I am very tired. I need a quiet place where I can rest, recuperate and write. Southbounders and other thru-hikers over the past few days have told me that The Pie Lady’s place would probably be my best bet, so that’s where I head. Entering this grand old home I am greeted by Sydney The Pie Lady Pratt. I’m in luck as she shows me to a private room in the rear of her lovely home. This is perfect, just what I’ve dreamed of finding. Please, Sydney, my dear friend, don’t be upset with me, for I must tell folks that you would accept hardly any compensation for this beautiful private room.
Mousetrap and Stickman (who wisely tented out last night) have already arrived here hours ahead of me and are in a room upstairs. It is a joy to see them both again. I feel much better after a long, soothing-hot shower and a short nap, so I head over to Shaws to see who’s there. Relaxing in the grand lounge upstairs I find Easy Rider, Lone Wolf and Tinman, all good fiends and fellow northbounders. After exchanging greetings with these fellow trail family members I notice someone else sitting on the couch…with a newspaper held up concealing his face. Someone I know perhaps? Who could it be? Everyone is chuckling and smiling now. Finally, I hear a giggle and then a laugh from behind the newspaper, a dead giveaway! You’ve probably already guessed. He just keeps popping up—Yup! The Will Rogers of the trail, good ol’ Bump! What a pleasant, unexpected surprise. Ahh, this day is turning out just fine, after all.
In the evening, Stickman, Mousetrap and I go for a great pizza at Sal’s Diner. Then back in my snug little room I’m out as soon as my head hit the pillow.
“The trail knows neither prejudice nor discrimination.
Don’t expect any favors from the trail. The trail is
inherently hard. Everything has to be earned. The trail
is a trial.”
[Warren Doyle, Jr.]
Friday—September 4, 1998
Location—ME15, Monson, Sydney The Pie Lady Pratt’s
As it turns out I’ve had a very restless and fretful night. Sometimes, when you’re overly tired and fatigued, as I’m sure you’ve found, it’s almost impossible to sleep. I have really been popping down “Vitamin I” (Ibuprofen) the last number of days, but the toothache is even worse this morning, if that is possible. The right side of my face is badly swollen, from my cheek, past my jaw and clear down into my neck. Even opening my mouth is painful and I’ve had a tough time eating the bountiful breakfast Sydney placed before me, if you can believe that, given the ravenous way I usually eat.
After breakfast I hurry to the post office. Awaiting are letters and cards from home and friends, and the maps from Dick Anderson to help us north into Canada, just as promised. I rush back to Shaws to share this good news and to review the maps with Easy Rider. But to my dismay I find circumstances are now such thatEasy Rider will not be accompanying me on north from Katahdin. This proves a terrible disappointment to both of us. We’ve developed such a great friendship and have become the best of hiking companions, having hiked together so well over such a difficult and long distance. I must tell you now…and I am not ashamed to tell you now, that Easy Rider and I hug much as would father and son during final farewell. Easy Rider, my dear friend, it has been such a joy knowing you and all your wonderful family. God speed to you and Nikki—there’s a wonderful, exciting future before you!
I know that something must be done about this terrible toothache. I have put off the inevitable way to long, so I appeal to Sydney for help. When she sees how I am suffering, she drops everything to come to my assistance. I’ll conclude today with my entry in her ’98 guest register.
“When you first meet Sydney, you may encounter a bit of a crust, not
unlike the crust on her delectable pies, but don’t be fooled. For, as you chip a little
at this enamel, beneath you’ll find a sensitive, caring person…a gal with a heart of
gold. She runs a business, yes. But I know now that the business is truly secondary
to her sincere dedication to, and love for all us hikers—for, try as she might, she cannot
hide that. I’m here today and gone tomorrow, but it’s as if I’m her family. She
befriended me, cared about me, showed deep compassion when I told her of my pain.
She dropped everything in her busy day, drove me far off to her dentist—and
then waited patiently while I had an abscessed molar pulled, giving me God-sent relief.
The Pie Lady’s place is a little chunk of paradise. Though she claims not to
be a cook—her meals, heavenly! Thank you, Sydney, for your help in my time of need.
Your kindness and hospitality will remain in my memory, dear friend.”
Saturday—September 5, 1998
Location—ME15, Monson, Sydney The Pie Lady Pratt’s
Dr. Norman A. Hill and staff in Dover-Foxcroft are all compassionate and caring folks. Even though I had no appointment, they took me right in and attended to me with obvious, genuine concern. What a blessing to have my condition properly diagnosed and treated. The problem was an abscessed molar, not an impacted wisdom tooth…the solution being simple extraction, which the procedure certainly proved to be! So I did not need surgery on my jaw after all. Ahh, so now I understand why I hadn’t make it to the oral surgeon’s office in time! In just 24 hours, the gums at the indenture are already healing and the terrible pain and swelling in my jaw are improving miraculously. Dr. Hill had given me a script for penicillin, which I’ve filled, and as a precaution, am taking. But as he said, “You probably won’t need it.” I have paid these fine people for their time and professional services, but there is no way to truly pay them for what they have done for me and I will remain in their debt. Thank you, Dr. Hill and staff!
Derek Stoddard Easy Rider Dresser is 29, single, and is from Bethel, ME. He attended Gould Academy in Bethel and is a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, with a BS Degree in Philosophy (concentration in literature).
For years Derek’s had a deep desire to hike the AT. His opportunity finally came in 1998. “I left a position as Vice President of Internet Services at New England Internet Services, an ISP company in which I had part ownership. This was a very demanding technical/management position. Prior to that I had taught multiple subjects in private high schools including Biology, Physics, Computer Science, and Math.”
Easy Rider will probably be remember as the little guy with glasses and the big, red beard…and also as a result of his ability to hike long distances, consistently, day after day. “People were generally surprised to find where I was on the trail, given my starting date.” As may be expected, Derek’s interests are hiking, climbing and in addition, Blues/Jazz guitar (at which he is very, very good!) and, of course, motorcycling.
“There were a number of things that contributed to my deciding to hike the AT. The first and most important was that I have always considered doing it. I grew up near the AT and it was sort of in the back of my mind. I always did a lot of hiking. I would run into thru-hikers in the fall in the Whites or the Mahoosucs and was definitely impressed. The event that really triggered it though was paying off my student loans. I graduated from college with a lot of student debt. Even when I was making next to no money, I would pay extra on my loan payments because it bothered me to have that over my head. I made my final payment in January of ’98. A few days later I was hiking a mountain in the Mahoosucs called Sunday River Whitecap when it dawned on me that I was free to do anything I wanted. A few weeks later I made my final decision and told my boss that I would be starting the trail on May 1st. I guess I felt free, and the trail represented an expression of that total freedom.”
Derek says, “I’ve always had a planning deficiency” but it certainly isn’t evident from what we’ve learned about this young man so far! His future plans are “…to find work that is less stressful and more physical. I enjoy mental challenges and learning, but I need consistent physical outdoor time as well. In a lot of ways, I think hiking the AT is sort of a ‘last hurrah’ before settling down and beginning a family. That will probably be my next big adventure.”
In conclusion, Derek says, “I’m a firm believer that action and experience are what are valuable in this world. Mistakes are more productive than successes, and anything that can be broken can be fixed. Doing the AT is a wonderful example of how a person, given enough time and gumption can accomplish
anything. It has also been a great demonstration of the less is more philosophy. I get more true enjoyment and satisfaction out of my first sip of an occasional cup of coffee here on the trail than I got from most
things before. It makes me appreciate the small pleasures. I hope I can carry that with me after the trail.”
Meeting and hiking with you Derek has been a blessing. The times that we’ve shared just enjoying nature and hiking together, then the challenge of tackling the Whites and Mahoosucs have been special, memorable times. Just sitting, talking and laughing in the evenings, these times have added immeasurably to the wonders of my adventure. Thanks, Easy Rider, for your friendship and for sharing the joy of being with your wonderful family! These times will forever remain in my memory.
“The world puts on its robes of glory now;
The very flowers are tinged with deeper dyes;
The waves are bluer, and the angles pitch
Their shining tents along the sunset skies.”
[Albert Laighton, Autumn]
Sunday—September 6, 1998
Location—Wilson Valley Lean-to
What a great time here in Monson! This is a beautiful little trail town. Sydney The Pie Lady Pratt has made my stay a memorable one. It’s late morning before I’m ready to head back to the trail, but Sydney again drops what she’s doing to drive me back to the trailhead on Pleasant Road. Desperado, Stickman, Mousetrap, Ted, Ol’ Crawdad and Ryan and Keirstie have all gone out way ahead of me.
The day remains cool, a most pleasant day for hiking. I am so thankful to have my strength returning. The time at Sydney’s has also given my feet a much-needed rest. The big climbs, save for Katahdin, are behind me. I arrive at Wilson Valley Lean-to in good stead and quickly build a warming and cooking fire for the evening. The remainder of the day is then enjoyed, relaxing and talking with good friends, Desperado, Ryan and Kierstie.
“For age apparently made no difference after a
time—the trail gave the opportunity to be a kid again,
to take the adventure of a lifetime.”
Monday—September 7, 1998
Location—Chairback Gap Lean-to
The brooks and streams in the “100 Mile Wilderness” are like no others. The falls, cascades and rapids seem constant, near endless, giving them rollicking and joyful personalities. The deep, crystal-clear pools are so inviting, but I certainly know better than to venture there! I hike along one of these glad, playful brooks for a great distance today. There is also much climbing and scampering over rocks and through bogs and tree roots. Today I see my first moose and get my first glimpse of Mt. Katahdin. The Barren-Chairbacks are certainly not formidable mountains, but they have their own charm and beauty non-the-less.
An evening fire is a very pleasant thing. I never tire of a good campfire, a necessity for cooking and now for warming if one is interested in linger about, not wanting to get into the sleeping bag as soon as the sun goes down.
how naturally then, when it exists only as a fossil relic,
and unseen at that, may the poet/sculptor invent a fabulous
animal with similar branching and leafy horns—a sort of
fucus of lichen and bone—to be the inhabitant of such a
forest as this!”
Tuesday—September 8, 1998
Location—Logan Brook Lean-to
It’s a cold, drizzly kind of day, and we’re off in the swirling mist. The rocks and roots prevent any fair rate of forward progress. When the trail is wet, like today, the difficulty is manifold. I must avoid off-camber rocks at all cost and hitting a root at anything less than a ninety is inviting close inspection of the ne’er distant mud. I really don’t believe ice is any slicker!
Today I’m hiking with Desperado and he is dearly suffering. He slipped on a large rock a number of days ago, raking and cutting his shin clear to the bone in the process. The wound is not healing well, and struggling now through the mud and rocks, I fear he has gotten it infected, for the wound looks both proud and very sore. I am relieved when he opts to leave the trail and head for Katahdin Iron Works, a small community several miles out a dirt road. Tears well in my eyes as he hails a logging truck, climbs in and is gone. We have known each other for months now and have hiked together for so many, many days. We had planned to climb Katahdin together—but in just moments, and just like that—he’s gone.
Pleasant River is crossed by fording. It’s a deep, wide river with rushing water in great volume. Here is hydraulic force to be reckoned with. I take my boots off and change to my off-road running shoes. The river appears the shallowest at the rapids, which I assume to be the crossing point. Reluctantly I plunge in. The water is ice cold and the force immediately evident, even at ankle depth. I use my poles for stability, one splayed upstream, one down. Progress is dreadfully slow as I inch my way across, moving neither pole nor foot until I again have four points firmly planted. Each step is utter frustration as the riverbed consists totally of what feels like greased bowling balls. As I near the far shore, and celebrating with great relief, suddenly I cannot find the bottom. I thrust my hiking poles down, down, down, and finally there it is. This is scary. There appears no way around—upstream and down look even less inviting. I’m committed now, so forward I go as I pitch into the drop-off. The force of the current is all but overpowering and the greased bowling balls are still here. My legs are as numb as rubber and are becoming uncontrollable…a result of the combined icewater and spent adrenaline. I’ve been in this freezer almost ten minutes now. I can no longer rely on stability and bracing from my poles, they simply quiver and are flushed aside. I’m up to my hips in rushing water, which is pounding against me with powerful force. I have got to get out of here, but fast. Luckily with two more staggering, stumbling lunges I’m out of it and quickly ashore. Oh my, there’s certainly no lack of excitement this day! I rest long, thanking the Lord, drying my feet and putting my dry socks and boots back on. I’m later told that the place I should have forded was further upstream!
Though only a short distance down a blue-blaze, I trudge right on by Gulf Hagas. I know I will later regret this decision, as I have been told by many friends to take the time and see the Gulf. But, the rain is falling in a dreary, increasingly angry rage. It is becoming dreadfully dark and I am tired, wet and cold, a bad combination. I choose to push on, as it is still over ten miles to Logan Brook Lean-to. I finally make it, arriving late, still in the cold storm that has firmly established its presence. I’ll close this entry with a little ditty—If you read this Desperado, here’s to you, wherever you are this day my dear friend.
A trail through Maine’s north wilderness,
Past bogs and ponds of blue.
Beckons the restless wanderlust,
Down deep in me and you.
So, off in the swirling mist we go,
With our boots and raingear on.
While friends at home and folks we love,
Try figurin’ what went wrong.
But we’ll rove these woods and mountainsides,
Awaitin’ that by-and-by.
A perfect dawn, when packs take wing,
And the treadway climbs the sky.
Wednesday—September 9, 1998
Location—Cooper Brook Falls Lean-to
Today is a short day. It dawns cold and dreary, the rain falling in steady drizzle. Comes to mind now an expression that I had heard way back in the Smokies, “No rain, no pain, no Maine.” How true! I see numerous moose again today, but they’re no happier than am I, not wanting to move very far or very fast either. The steady drizzle is incessant and slowly changes to cold rain. The storm continues to build, and as it does the wind comes up, driving the rain directly at me in pelting waves. In the middle of this I’m now faced with another ford, the east branch of Pleasant River, this one mostly a rock-hopper. I slip on the greased rocks and plunge in to my knees, but no matter, I am already soaked from the driving rain.
As the storm persists and the torrent increases I feel the ever-tightening grips of hypothermia descending. It is less than two miles to Cooper Brook Falls Lean-to, not my planned destination, but plans have changed. I reach the shelter greatly relieved and waste no time getting into dry clothes, then into my sleeping bag. A dry shelter has never been so welcome, a warm sleeping bag never such a luxurious place of rest. Shortly comes in Ryan, Kierstie and Sage. Upon my insistence they enter the shelter with me. I am so relieved to see that they have made it here, that they are safe and will stay. As the storm continues to intensify and the day turns even colder and more forbidding, we are all very thankful to have shelter.
“Sometimes I feel discouraged,
And think my works in vain.
But then the Holy Spirit
Revives my soul again.”
Thursday—September 10, 1998
Location—Wadleigh Stream Lean-to
The pounding rain finally stops during the night and dawn arrives bringing a promise of better weather. The continuing tat on the shelter roof proves to be the remaining burden from the soaked over-canopy…and it seems that it has even warmed a bit. The kids are up and gone as I try to roust myself out.
There are numerous road crossings today as I near the end of the “wilderness.” The trail continues over mountains, across streams, around many lovely ponds and past numerous springs, all with strange, seemingly unpronounceable names, like Nesuntabunt Mountain, Pemadumcook Lake, Potaywadjo Spring, Nahmakanta Stream. The loons, once so elusive, are now oft seen and heard, their urgent call breaking the solitude across the still mountain mirrors.
I again see familiar faces, hikers approaching from the north. First, what a joy it is to see Kevin who has just completed his third consecutive thru-hike and has yo-yoed, heading back south through the “wilderness,” on his way to Gorham where he plans to hike the Long Trail. And then comes along Mother Nature and Father Time who have flip-flopped and will complete their thru-hike to the south.
There are countless, delightfully inviting campsites all along and around the many lakes and ponds today, but I push on to my planned destination at Wadleigh Stream Lean-to. This day has proven a blessed relief from the misery and engulfing drear of yesterday and I am taking much pleasure in experiencing the beauty and the calming presence of these north Maine woods.
Kevin Rowe is from Shipman, VA, a high school graduate. He is 42 and divorced. When he isn’t hiking the AT he’s earning his way as a timber-frame log cabin builder. Kevin’s interests are natural history and sports. None of us will have difficulty remembering Kevin, for he is one of the strongest backpackers on the trail, covering incredibly long distances day after day. He is hiking in true *Jardine fashion, ultralight gear, shod only in running shoes. He has just completed his third consecutive AT thru-hike.
Says Kevin, “Anyone can do the trail once, and then say, ‘been there, done that, got that tee-shirt.’ There’s a difference however, between hiking the trail and knowing the trail.” Kevin’s future plans are to head west to take on the Pacific Crest Trail—and then after all is done, perhaps after just one more AT thru-hike, to finally kick back—at home.
“Northward, Katahdin’s chasm’d pile,
Looms through the low, long, leafy aisle.”
[Anna Boynton Averill]
*Ray Jardine, Beyond Backpacking
Friday—September 11, 1998
Location—Hurd Brook Lean-to
Patches of blue are popping through and it’s really “fairin’ up” this morning. Seems I’ve got the makings for another dandy.
There are a couple of small pulls today as I continue passing many lovely streams, springs, ponds and campsites. The last pop is up and over Rainbow Ledges, the summit of which provides a breathtaking view of Mt. Katahdin. It seems that as Katahdin looms before me, more mighty and majestic with each passing day, do the words of Irvin “Buzz” Caverly, Superintendent of Baxter State Park for nearly thirty years, ring so true. For he has said, “Having Katahdin at the end of the trail is almost like it was a plan by the Creator of the universe.”
We have all dreamed about, thought about and talked about this mountain for so long. The reality that it is so near and that I’ll climb it soon is ever-so-slowly sinking in. It will be the end of the quest for all my dear friends, but for me it will be but yet another mountain to get up and over.
“‘Maine is where it’s at,’ I was told by a hiker familiar with
the northern sections of the trail. It is difficult to imagine a
more fitting climax to a long exhausting journey than this
rocky monolith…Katahdin, visible days in advance. The
mountain becomes a bittersweet goal to hikers who have
accepted the trail as home. ‘I looked forward to finishing,’
said Albie Pokrob, ‘But, the closer I got the more reluctant
I was to end the experience.’”
[Noel Grove, National Geographic]
Saturday—September 12, 1998
Location—Daicey Pond Campground, Baxter State Park
The rain is back, and though it’s only a short distance to West Penobscot River it takes near the full morning. The view of Mt. Katahdin from the river here at Abol Bridge is supposed to be one of the finest. But, today the mountain is shrouded in gray, rain-draped clouds and only its flanks are visible. I am not discouraged however, as the forecast is for this storm to move on through, providing a clear day to summit tomorrow.
Just across the river is Abol Bridge Store and Campground. As I turn to enter the parking lot, here huddled under umbrellas are Ryan and Kierstie and their folks, Bill and Linda Kanteres, and Bill and Eve Clark. I no more pull up than an apple and a bag of cookies are handed to me. The rain is showing no sign of letting up, so I soon head for the store. Once inside I meet the owners, Art and Linda Belmont. With Linda’s help I get right to ridding the store of most everything they have to eat. First order is a double cheeseburger, followed by a blueberry-filled Danish, then microwave soup, numerous candy bars, and lots of coffee. As the storm intensifies, I linger and enjoy talking with the kid’s parents. In just awhile, in come Ranger Bob and Moptop, friends I haven’t seen since the Greens. With the day trying to fair a little, Ryan and Kierstie head out for Daicey Pond Campground, but I continue to linger as I haven’t consumed quite all of Linda’s coffee yet. While waiting I put together provisions for three days to get me on over Katahdin and north out of Baxter State Park—kippered herring, elbow macaroni, gravy mix, bread, peanut butter, cheese, pop tarts, and or course more Snickers bars!
The rain finally relents and I head for Daicey Pond Campground. It really is trying to “fair up.” Along the way, my mind is consumed with the events of the past five months, for tomorrow I will climb Mt. Katahdin, “the greatest mountain.” At Daicey Pond Ranger Station I meet Gabriel Williamson and his wife Marcia. Here also today is Brendan Curran. Brendan has hiked the AT extensively and is now a ranger here at Baxter State Park. After registering and talking with these kind folks I head for the lean-to. Here I see Ted again, but only for a moment as he is heading on to Katahdin Stream Campground, at the very base of Katahdin. Ryan and Kierstie have already checked in and shortly comes Ranger Bob and Moptop. Oh, and what a wonderful way to wind down a great day when also comes Selky and Bush Baby, great friends I haven’t seen since Hanover. Tomorrow is shaping to be a grand day, my final day on the Appalachian Trail.
But this exciting day is far from over. Just as twilight descends and we finally get a good warming fire going, the kid’s folks arrive, loaded down with boxes and boxes of pizzas and calzones along with a cooler chock full of cold refreshments! I absolutely cannot remember pizza or calzone tasting so good or the company being any better. What a great day! Thank you Ryan, Kierstie, Bill and Linda, Bill and Eve. Even with all the excitement and anticipation for the morrow I’m going to sleep just fine tonight. I’ve a full tummy and I’m a contented and happy camper!
We all left Springer ‘long ‘bout spring to hike this famous trail.
Now here we are, what’s left of us, the few that didn’t fail.
The end’s in sight, our final quest, we’ll all soon graduate.
‘Tis bittersweet, goodbye dear friends, the “Class of ’98.”
Sunday—September 13, 1998
Location—Roaring Brook Campground, Baxter State Park
The day dawns crisp and clear just as forecast, a Class I day on Mt. Katahdin, the very best! From the little shelter at Daicey Pond I hurry up the road to the Ranger Station, hoping for an unobstructed view of the sunrise over Baxter Peak. I could not have prepared myself for what I was about to see. At the clearing, in the meadow by the little log library, I tried to maintain my fix on the pond before me but it was impossible. My gaze was uncontrollably drawn up, up, up—to the very summit of Katahdin. My God, what a massive mountain! It dominates my entire field of vision. There is no horizon, only this mighty Goliath—and a little bit of sky. The enormity is overwhelming. The mountain’s presence looms with such incredible might as to create a feeling of helplessness—a very real sensation that the pond, the little log building and the meadow where I’m standing are being drawn uncontrollably toward the giant…ultimately to be consumed by it. Then it dawns on me, much as the sun now dawns over Baxter Peak—Lord help me, I’m climbing up there today!
And so begins my final day on the Appalachian Trail. All my dear friends are up and out, headed for Katahdin Stream Campground, the very base of Katahdin. At Katahdin Stream we meet Rangers Bruce White and Christian McGinn who permit us to store our pack gear on their porch. Ryan and Kierstie lighten their packs for the climb, as do I, by placing belongings and provisions in garbage bags. They will be coming back down to the ranger station here at Katahdin Stream but I will be going on north over the summit, across the Knife Edge to Pamola and on down into Roaring Brook. So Ryan’s folks have offered to slack some of my belongings and provisions around on their way out this evening, thus allowing me to reduce my pack weight, which should make for an easier and much more enjoyable climb. Ryan and Kierstie, Selky and Bush Baby and I begin our climb together. But at the edge of the campground, near where the trail enters the woods, I linger to read the bronze plaque mounted on a boulder:
“Man is born to die. His works are short-lived. Buildings
crumble, monuments decay, wealth vanishes. But Katahdin,
in all its glory, forever shall remain the mountain of the
people of Maine.”
[Percival Proctor Baxter]
The climb comes easy as I have prepared for this for months. We are soon above treeline and the ascent slows considerably. Huge boulders, sheer rock ledges and vertical faces present obstacles to climbing not encountered before. My poles dangle from my wrists as I go hand-over-hand through the jumble of near-vertical rock. I thought that I would be scared, if not terrified by the height—but I am not. My concentration is totally fixed on the climb, with no thought given to looking down…just where to get the next handhold or foothold to continue upward. Steel rod is driven into the rock face at strategic points, to clutch or to provide a toehold. Quickly, the ascent through the boulders and ledges becomes natural and the climb turns into a scamper. I am pleased with myself, with my confidence, ability and strength. A man near sixty shouldn’t be able to do this with such ease and enjoyment. I pass Ted in the boulders, and the kids are all somewhere down below—this is now proving to be a high in more ways than one.
But now a transition occurs. The boulders and ledges give way to a rocky incline, more like the rock scrambles over countless other mountains to the south. Soon I come to Thoreau Spring, the highest point, it is believed, that Thoreau ascended, having turned back in the face of a storm. The water is sweet and cold. I drink my fill and then top-off for the remainder of the climb and the descent on over the Knife Edge and down into Roaring Brook.
The old weather-beaten sawhorse marking the end of the Appalachian Trail, seen in countless photos and videos, is soon in sight. I’ve read so many accounts written about the emotional flood experienced at this point—the point of realizing that after months of surviving the seemingly insurmountable odds of enduring the rigors of hiking the mountains and valleys of fourteen states—that in a short, fleeting moment it will all be history. I was confident I would not experience these emotions, as the climb up Katahdin should certainly be just another day on the trail for me as I continue my odyssey onward into Canada. But was I ever wrong! The AT, indeed, winds an emotion-filled and spiritual path, through enchanted and magic lands. To hike it is an experience which can be talked about…but the story; aahhh, the story cannot really be told! And that experience, that journey, in a moment will also be over for me.
Ranger Bob and Moptop are at the summit and I hear their shouts of excited encouragement. I soon reach them. We hug and tears flow freely. The scene is repeated over and over as Ryan and Kierstie arrive, then Selky and Bush Baby, and finally, Ted. Day hikers mull nearby with puzzled expressions as we cry and hoot and hug.
So, on this 13th day of September 1998, on a beautiful Sunday morning, eight of us finish this incredible odyssey together. We pose together…by the old rugged AT sign in traditional fashion, each with a peaceful contentment now of knowing what being here truly means, as a stranger picks up our cameras one-by-one, and snaps our picture.
|Keith David Krejci
|Melissa Mae Sumpter
||Junior at Santa Cruz
|Manchester, New Hampshire
|Dryden, New York
JOY ON THE MOUNTAIN
With tears in my eyes,
And lingering good-byes,
And a slap on the back…or two.
In my journal I wrote
This short entry note,
My hike on the AT is through.
My friends turn to go back down the AT to Katahdin Stream Campground and I continue on, alone, over the Knife Edge. On the descent, a young man from Maine, Eric Jones, catches me and asks if I would mind his company. As we descend through the rocks we talk about many things. He was taken by the show of emotion at the summit and asks many questions about my odyssey. He is staying in a lean-to and invites me to share the space with him for the evening, as I have been able to reserve only a tent site.
At Roaring Brook I meet Ranger Kevin Donnell. Turns out, he has guided north and east of Baxter State Park where I’ll be hiking and he takes time from his busy schedule to review the maps prepared for me by Dick Anderson, President of the International Appalachian Trail (IAT), which proves very helpful.
This day I will remember…this day I will remember!
“I could list a thousand things I saw that I’ll never forget,
a thousand marvels and miracles that pulled at something in
my heart which I could not understand.”