During the six months leading up to my departure for the AT, I regularly read other hikers’ preparatory entries at trailjournals. So whenTom picked me up this morning at 7:30, and informed me that he had to stop by Uncle Johnny’s for another hiker who was also going to Spivey Gap, I had no idea what surprise was in store for me. The other shuttler turned out to be Susquehanna Slim, someone whose journal I had been reading, but had never met. It was a real treat sharing the ride back to the trail with Slim.
After arriving at Spivey Gap, Slim and I departed ways since he was headed south today to cover part of the section that I had completed yesterday. So with a slack pack on for the second consecutive day, I meandered up today’s rather mundane trail. Other than the views coming into Erwin, it was just an up and down path through the woods with leaves, rocks, minimal mud, and an occasional water crossing. With an easy trail, just about perfect weather, and a short mileage day, I walked the 10.7 miles in just a few minutes over four hours.
Throughout today’s trek, I only saw three other thru hikers, Bulldog, Dano from Hawaii, and Tracy McG, who hails from Wisconsin. I had talked with each one before today. At one point I did see two runners from Johnson City, who were out for a marathon distance trail training run. When I mentioned Don to Andy and Joel, Joel said that he had lost a friend to ALS who was only 38. I continue to be amazed at the number of people that I am meeting who know or knew someone with Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
As I walked throughout the morning my mind wandered incessantly. Today would have been my dad’s 87th birthday, so I naturally thought a lot about things he did with Don and me while we were growing up. I remembered the summer afternoons, when he would take us to King’s Pond fishing, after he had gotten home from work and we had had supper. My dad taught us how to bait a hook with a wiggler. We would fish for breem from the bank. Since most were too small to keep, my brother and I would compete to see who could throw a fish the farthest back into the lake. Don had a good arm, even at five.
In addition to thoughts of my dad and brother, my mind travelled elsewhere. At one time I silently recited Prufrock. Then I thought about James Joyce as my stream of consciousness transported me away from the innocuous trail for lengthy periods of time. I wrote the first page of a James Michener-like novel, thought of people I had met over the past week that Flannery O’Conner could have used in a short story, and remembered my childhood friend Eddie Shaw when I heard the whistle of a locomotive in the distance. A quite adept photographer, Eddie always sends Christmas cards with trains he has photographed on them. So today I hiked and thought and remembered.
After coming in from the woods at the Nolichucky River, I ambled over to Uncle Johnny’s hostel and outfitter, where I met the proprietor, Uncle Johnny himself. When I asked him about a shuttle into town (3.8 miles), he said it would cost me $5. What he didn’t say, until he rang it up, was that there was sales tax. First shuttle I’ve used that charged tax. Still, I found no reason to quibble over the $5.49 fee. Bulldog, who had also arrived, needed a ride as well, so we both rode in with Grim, a former thru hiker in 1996. Bulldog had been in the woods five consecutive nights, so he was in great need of a shower and real food. About an hour before leaving the trail, Bulldog had told me that he was going to buy a dozen cheeseburgers when he got to town. When I saw him headed back toward the motel later in the afternoon, he had the leftovers in a bag in one hand and what appeared to be a 12 pack of Mountain Dew in the other.
Well, it’s still only 4:40 in the afternoon; however, I’m ready to wrap the journal up for the day. Tomorrow is calling for more rain. Still I plan to do another 20 plus mile day and then spend one more night in Erwin before resuming my full pack hiking. Today’s hike was dedicated to a man I loved very much, my dad. Johnnie James Stephens–April 18, 1926-April 10, 1996. He loved his family, baseball, and fishing. The world is a better place because he was here.