A Walk in the Smokies

The first and most delicious brew. Only Guiness can quench a 4 month thirst. My mountain man kudzu beard came in nicely. I wouldn’t be in the woods long enough to grow one on the trail so I decided to start ahead of time for ambiance.
Baby-Cake! Genius!
Mom taught him too well. It took a solid 10 minutes to coax him into a messy choco-storm.
Then a quick drive home to start packing for the trip.
“I want all of that….in there”
Ahh the open road.
This field is FULL of these I promise.
About 10 hours later after some amazing switchback mountain driving in the middle of the night on the edge of starvation we managed to find a last breakfast before we hit the trail.
Back to where “lost road” intersected the highway. Honestly, not really lost. We knew where we were. We just didn’t know where food was.
This just might be worth it.
Fat, Happy, Fresh Legs, Clean Clothes, Full Packs, and wearing every scrap of clothing that would go on. It was roughly 40F at the trail head. It was over 100 when I left work just shy of a week before this. This could take some adjustment.
GPS….Yeah…that came in handy.
Pointing the way into the future!
Lost a few layers…
And if two points make a line. Then two photos make a tradition. The signs became ours.
Yes that is a Jayne Hat…because a Mother’s love can keep you warm in Space or on the trail.
I really don’t know how to explain that we only covered 3 miles all day except to say that we couldn’t make it 10 feet without being overtaken with the majesty of the scenic vistas.
I had never seen the like of the forests. Just one giant rotting compost heap. Everything constantly growing and decaying right in and out of each other. No real “floor” to speak of. More like a dry bog about a foot thick.
This next one is for my boys at work.
Look Familiar?
Read the Instructions…
Ice Spring “So Cold I Can’t Count to 20 Anymore” Gap Shelter.
Looks great but I challenge the idea of a 3 sided shelter to protect you from the elements.
Luckily a gaggle of much more savvy and boisterous hikers joined us for the evening.
Toting saws and numbers they felled whole trees and grabbed everything that would burn within half a mile and piled it all into one of the worst fires I could ever imagine someone burning. Roughly enough energy to take a rocket halfway to the moon barely kept a square foot in front of the chimney warm. But watching the drunken calamity that ensued as the night went on kept the laughter up and the cold at bay.
Above is one of the few pictures of the mysterious “Patagonia”. A multi thru-hiker who carries less into the woods than I carry to work. But that won’t stop him from bumming some TP from us short-timers.
…yeah…it was that good…
…yeah…it was that cold…
The eldest wise-men among our camp…let’s listen in on their sage conversation…
“Yep…” “Uh Huh…”
Ahhh Immortal and Timeless words.
The single greatest Idea in camping history. Sleeping pad into a chair in less than half a pound.
Oh sure I look happy…but that’s just because I’m told if I get moving I will regain feeling in my extremities.
Yep…still can’t feel my feet…and the hat won’t stop shedding…
I am fairly certain I can see the ocean from here…
..and there is a Tyrannosaur head sticking out of the rocks.
I couldn’t help but take a minute…
Ok…break is over…back into the woods.
Best not to wake the napping woodsman too suddenly…lest you learn the taste of axe.
Yes…my panoramas need work….I promise I have improved much since.
Where I learned the very valuable lesson that Fire FIGHTERS are not Fire STARTERS.  Dad was happy to sit back, be cold, and laugh. Having been unable to wiggle anything in my boots in the last 24 hours, this IT guy decided to show them how to get warm in a hurry.
The first lift of the day is always the hardest.
I’m fairly certain the beard is the only thing that saved my face.
Even these half shaded areas drop 10 degrees and hurried me along nicely.
Sunnin and Snackin.
“Danger! Bears are active in this area. Attacks on humans have occured inflicting serious injuries and death.”
“Meh” – Dad
The top bunks cost extra.
Home sweet home.
The wildest animal we saw that day.
Probably would have roasted him good if Dad hadn’t talked me out of it.
I still don’t understand how my fingers can be charred from the fire but still frozen.
Dad’s fingers worked well enough to make a journal entry.
Floridians always look like polar explorers.
I’ve gone Ninja in an attempt to save my nose.
The cover for our next album.
Apparently a very famous tunnel o’ sticks. Remnants of a crashed Cessna litter the slope below this area.
Still terrible mileage for all of you serious folk but on target for our plan.
The problem with the GPS was that we really always knew where we were. The only thing we ever wanted to know was how much further we had to go and it only served to confuse our trail hypnotized minds.
Yep still says we’re in the woods.
Had to get some pics with the blazes.
“YOGI!” – Me
“What?” – Dad
“Bear!” – Me
We were very lucky. We had a pretty steady wind blowing straight at us concealing our scent and out noise from the little cutie.
“How close is he gonna get!”
It dawned on my that we should probably have a plan. I had this cartoon image in my head of dad and I knocking each other out by running into each other attempting to flee should he decide to come cuddle.
“So….What do we do when he gets here?” – Me
“Meh….make some noise he’ll go away” – Dad
“How much you think he weighs?” – Me
“300…350 maybe? good and fat for winter” – Dad
“I can take em!” – Me
“You go ahead…it’ll give me time to run” – Dad
I laughed so hard it spooked him.
But seriously….it was amazing how he just slipped off that saddle and down through the underbrush without a sounds. No leaves rustling, no twigs snapping, absolutely eerie.
I was happiest to see the privy. I had no idea how much till we came in site of the camp. My system had been keeping secrets from me all day apparently.
The last night on the trail we had the shelter to ourselves. I found a stick someone had lovingly whittled for what must have been ages. I don’t know how they managed to find such a perfect stick and then leave it behind but the knobby top formed to my hand so perfectly I decided against good taste to take it as my souvenir.
The area had been picked clean of good burning material by previous hikers. So I stumbled my way down the slope and grabbed the best of what I could find.
The pictures can’t do justice to the slope. Dragging even those meager sitcks back up to the shelter on that insane incline was nearly the end of me. Perhaps the altitude and the last few days of hiking had robbed me of my reserves but by the time it was over I wouldn’t need a fire that night.
Our last night called for a celebration. I unveiled my surprise that I had been lugging for the last few days. A nice flask of fine Kentucky sippin bourbon. I have to tell you. The added warmth and tingle of a few good swigs was a welcome addition to the evening. It must be added however that I could have carried a gallon of the hooch for the weight of that flask! I managed to make a pretty light pack and it was probably half of it!
Dad’s dinner kit. His favorite part of the day had to be the gadgets.
Awakened by mice skittering across my face and down my bag I decided to catch t he little buggers in action. I failed.
This is supposed to protect your bags from the mice. It only seemed to give them a central location to find everything. I liked one theory I heard from a hiker a few days back. He would set out a net back of toilet tissue each night. He said he gave the mice something to tear at instead of his stuff and swore it kept them off his stuff.
Our last morning…and a beaut it was!
Ready for the last few miles.
Honestly I have to say that the best part of the trail is the simple certainty of your days. The customary saying when parting a friend in King’s “Gunslinger” series “Long Days and Pleasant Nights” never really made sense till I had the absolute certainty of my purpose upon waking each day for a few days. The utter calm that comes from knowing without thinking every moment that you are doing exactly what is the best possible thing to be doing that moment had to be the closest feeling of Zen I’ve ever experienced. There is no “rushing through the day” to get to anything.
At first it’s a need based decision. You have to walk or you will run out of food. But walking also keeps you warm. Walking makes the pain from the previous days walking go away. Walking brings you to the new sights. Eventually the answer to everything is “keep walking”. If we all just took one step in front of the other kept moving we would all be so much further ahead in every aspect of life. So simple, but so hard to remember sometimes.
The last few miles were downhill. Halfway down the mountain and I am in just my base-layer for the first time since the drive up.
I can’t shake the quiet. The roar of even this meager little stream fills all the recently silenced corners of my mind.
I had to get out there.
“Smells like….VICTORY!” Sticks held aloft with what little migth we could muster. We poured into the truck and headed southward to home.
I thought I had a happy face on. Apparently I lost it somewhere.
Dad left his in the truck apparently.
Dad, Thanks again for letting me tag along. My first multi-day trip into the woods without a canoe planted the seeds of what I hope to be a new hobby of mine. This taste of the AT gave me wonderful delusions of actually thru-hiking it one day. The big question now is how can I make money from hiking and scuba diving? There isn’t enough time for a job in between the two.





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