Seventeen years ago today, my dad died, exactly eleven weeks after suffering a massive stroke. My mother and I were at Northside Hospital in Atlanta with him. When his condition had become grave, I called my brother. Don and I consoled each other at a difficult time. So today I thought of my dad and my brother often as I hiked alone for all of the day. Remembering special times a father had shared with his two sons seemed appropriate while walking through a majestic forest with vistas as far as the eye could see.
After a home cooked egg and sausage casserole with toast, juice, and coffee, Bennett and Lynda drove me back to the trail at Newfound Gap. Bennett even walked a couple hundred yards up the trail with me before shaking my hand and wishing me well. I felt truly blessed to have been able to spend time with these good Christian friends. It’s definitely the folks who offer their kindness and hospitality that keep the weary hikers moving along.
As I walked away from my friend I immediately noticed the gentle climb out of the gap. Time passed quickly. When I reached the ridge line I was treated to the best views that the hike has afforded thus far. At about the 3 mile mark I filled my small water bottle from Ice Water Springs. The water was the coldest I’ve tasted on the trail. Shortly thereafter I arrived at a 0.1 mile trail to Charlie’s Bunion. I walked out by myself to admire the views and take photos. Them I retraced my steps back to the AT.
So for the entire day I hiked without passing anyone, nor was I passed by any other hikers. I did meet three trios of southbound section hikers. One group was from Cincinnati. They have been making annual visits to the Smokies for 14 years, one said. Another group was from the local area. A sweet lady in the group said she recently lost a good friend to ALS, when I told them about my hike in memory of Don.
As the day wore on I ate and drank often, stopping twice to enjoy the turkey sandwich I had made at the Massey’s this morning. I also took numerous short breaks just to enjoy the views. Late in the afternoon I had to again deal with ice on the trail, although the trail was not as treacherous as yesterday. There I was hiking in short sleeves and shorts, with temperatures in the high 70’s, walking through ice and snow. Many times, however, I was able to walk around the more difficult stretches. Fortunately, I was able to stay vertical all day.
When I finally reached the Tri-Corner Knob shelter, there was only one space remaining. Already there were Piddling Around, Gumby, Riley, Ryan, Breeze (from Lagrange, GA), Windy, Say What, and a group of eight teenage section hikers from Ypsilanti, Michigan. They are part of a hiking club at their high school. Erica, a teacher at their school, and Julian, a former student , are chaperones. And least I forget, my buddies Grinch and Kermit arrived just before dusk.
As I look around at the crowded shelter, I am glad it’s my last night in the Smokies, despite the awesome views and the moderate to easy terrain. If all goes according to plans, I’ll hike to Davenport Gap, the northern boundary of the Great Smokey Mountain National Park, tomorrow. Then I hope to be in Hot Springs by late Saturday or Sunday, if I can do some big miles on Friday. Well, the crackling of the campfire beckons, so I’m about to join the other sojourners for some hiker chat before hunkering into my sleeping bag for another night on the Appalachian Trail.