Monthly Archives: April 2013

Iron Mountain Gap to Carvers Gap

This was perhaps the most enjoyable day I’ve had hiking the AT since I began the venture four weeks ago today. Cool, sunny conditions prevailed throughout the day; I hiked the entire 14.8 miles with Molar Man; and the 2000 foot climb up Roan Mountain was exhilarating. With plentiful views and good company, the day zipped by.

After I partook of a waffle and coffee breakfast at the motel, Diane drove Molar Man and me up to Iron Mountain Gap. At the gap we met Food Walker, who was waiting for his wife, Tracy McG, who was completing a section south of us. Also there was Pete, a weekender who was packing in a steak to cook over the campfire tonight. Pete walked with Molar Man and me for a while before we pulled away. He pointed out patches of ramps, a type of wild onion along the trail. Having hiked this part of the trail many times before, Pete identified mountains in the distance and offered information on other aspects of the trail between Iron Mountain and Roan.

With the beautiful weather Molar Man and I hiked briskly throughout the morning. Just about the time we reached Little Rock Knob, Risk It, a young lady from NY, and Salad Days from Maine, passed by. Salad Days wears the same trail runners that I’m hiking in, Brooks Cascadias, so I took a picture of our shoes as we stood side by side. Risk It hiked with MM (Molar Man) and me for a while, leading the way while we momentarily picked up our pace.

When we reached Hughes Gap, Becky and Dan, from Atlanta, were providing trail magic. They also have a home on Roan Mountain and were up for a visit. Dan, a marathon runner as well, plans to thru hike next year. The Dr. Pepper, crackers, and candy were greatly appreciated.
Diane had also parked at the gap to bring some lunch for Molar Man. Risk It, Salad Days, and Woodman also showed up to participate in the magic.

Immediately after leaving Hughes Gap, we began the ascent of Roan Mountain with an elevation of 6194 feet. Since switchbacks were plentiful and Molar Man and I were tandem hiking, the first of the two climbs did not prove to be too difficult. With a couple of rest stops, we made good time reaching the top of the mountain. At the higher elevation, ice again appeared, along with ice crystals on the trees. The Fraser Firs seemed Christmas-like. We failed to notice a sign indicating Roan Mountain Shelter, which is the highest shelter on the entire AT.

On the way down from Roan, we met three section hikers from Lexington, NC. Graham, Randy, and Michael listened compassionately as I told them about Don. Michael said he regularly followed thru hikers as they made their north and vowed to make my journal one that he read. After walking away from the three, Molar Man and I had to deal with an extremely rocky descent as we made our way down Roan Mountain. Still, we made good time, arriving at Carvers Gap around 3:00. Diane was waiting for the return trip to Erwin.

It was definitely a privilege to be able to hike all day with Molar Man. A retired dentist from Ohio, MM also has an engineering degree. We seem to hike about the same pace, so I’m looking forward to joining him on tomorrow’s hike as well. It’s days like today, with picture perfect weather, great company, and an array of hikers and trail angels alike, that make my thru hiking adventure such a rewarding one. Thanks to all who made today a special one on the Appalachian Trail.











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Erwin, TN to Iron Mountain Gap

So much for $3.00 dollar store, drawstring, nylon, (made for elementary school kids) day packs. What was supposed to be another slack pack day turned out to be a no pack day for the final 19 miles of today’s 20.6 mile hike. The undoing occurred when I tried to overstuff the sack with my rain gear. Then I spent at least ten minutes trying to rethread the strings before giving up. At first I attempted carrying the bag, by alternating hands and awkwardly balancing my trekking poles. Finally, however, I arrived at the perfect makeshift solution. First I put all my food, including two burgers I had bought at McDonalds last night, in one of my jacket pockets. I also put a water bottle in my shorts pocket and another in my other jacket pocket. Then I unfastened the hood of the jacket and placed the zip lock bag containing dry gloves, socks, and shirt in it. Finally, I pinned the hood to the back of my jacket. So off I went, with no pack, but a very heavy jacket.

For the entire morning I saw no other hikers except two young men who were taking down their tents. They had camped just past the train tracks across the river when leaving Erwin. I said good morning but didn’t stop to chat. Afterwards I hiked without seeing anyone until around noon when crossing Beauty Spot. 51-61, a section hiker from Luxembourg, was covering the same distance as myself, but headed southbound. The 53 year old said he had started the trail when he was 51 and hopes to finish when he turns 61, thus his trail name.

Up until this beautiful bald, the trail, like yesterday’s, continued to be rather non-descript. All morning the cloudy sky had threatened rain, but none came. Then at about 1:00, to use another colloquialism, the bottom fell out. The rain quickly turned the trail into a river. And with the deluge came dropping temperatures. As I hiked through the downpour, I felt increasingly colder. Wading through water, dodging slick roots, and trying my best to sidestep unending black mud, made for a challenging three hours despite the almost level trail. On a clear day this section would have been cruise city.

As the uncomfortable afternoon continued, I met several thru hikers who were slack packing south today. Among them were Hobo and Trouble from trailjournals. Hobo immediately asked about my cap. When I told him about Don and the purpose of my hike, he responded like so many others by telling me that he had lost a good friend to ALS. Before we headed in opposite directions, Hobo thanked me for telling him about my brother. I sure hope I have a chance to hike with Hobo later up the trail.

By the time I reached the Cherry Gap Shelter, the rain had temporarily subsided. One lone hiker had built a fire and was trying to divert water away from his tent site. For just a brief moment I thought that I might like to be staying in the shelter by the fire. Then I remembered the words, “hot shower,” and thought, “not tonight.” As I walked on I did see a couple with two German Shepherds and a single older man who said he was hiking on to the next hostel.

When I reached Iron Mountain Gap at 4:15 Tom was waiting. I couldn’t have been happier to see that silver truck. Since I was completely drenched and cold, Tom turned on the heater for a few minutes to warm me up. When we arrived back at the motel, I had to say goodbye to 10K. He has been by far the most reliable and congenial of all the shuttlers I’ve used on this thru hike as well as my previous section hikes. Thanks, Tom!

As I was entering the building, Diane, Molar Man’s wife, offered to drive me to the laundry. I graciously accepted the offer, not wanting to walk the approximate mile after a plus 20 mile day on the trail. At the Country Scrubboard I again got to chat with Judy. Just after she commented that not many hikers had been in today, in strolled Oxy and Bojangles who I had not seen in over two weeks. They are about four days behind me but had come into Erwin for a meal and laundry. I also met Yukon and Jabberwocky, who were with them.

Before leaving the laundromat, I said goodbye to Judy. Even though I had only met her earlier in the week, she seems like an old friend. I was sorry that I has not had the opportunity to say farewell to her friend Melissa. So with clean clothes once again, I’m ready to begin the next segment of trail. Even with the rain, it was again a good day to hike. My life continues to be enriched by all the wonderful hikers and townspeople alike that I meet as I journey northward. I’m a little tired, but I still want to look over my options for the next three or four days before calling it a night. Tomorrow’s forecast calls for cooler temps and lots of sunshine. Sounds like another good day to take a hike on the Appalachian Trail.






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Spivey Gap to Erwin, TN

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.







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Devil Fork Gap to Spivey Gap

Booming thunder awakened me at 5:30. When I looked out the window of my motel room, rain glistened on the pavement at the pre-dawn hour. I lay in bed until my phone alarm announced that 6:00 had arrived. When I walked into the lobby to have breakfast, other hikers were surveying the weather, trying to decide whether to hike or not to hike. I called 10K to get his take on the forecast. Tom said that he was “hard core,” and therefore, would hike. Taking the local’s advice, I asked him to go ahead and pick me up at 7:00. Molar Man and Candy Pants both said they were going back to bed.

By the time I arrived at the trail, the rain was coming down pretty good. Still, since I would only be carrying water and food in my slack pack today, I figured I could hike the planned 21.9 despite the weather. Before Tom drove away at Devil Fork Gap, however, I asked him to be on the alert to come get me at Sam’s Gap if the weather proved too much. He agreed.

So off I walked into a steady rain, not seeing a soul for the first couple of hours. Then just as the sun made a feeble effort to peek through the clouds, I came upon Oaks and Sweet Pea, sitting in front of their tent having some breakfast. In fact, I passed several tents throughout the morning with their occupants still inside I presumed. At some point I noticed the Germans, Restless Cowboy and Fresh Coke taking down their tent. “Hey, Don’s Brother!” Restless Cowboy greeted me. I only paused briefly and then headed on up the trail.

A little later I met my only southbound hiker of the day, Grand Puba, who had thru hiked last year. This year he was out for a short section hike. Then I spotted Nick, the young man from Washington state whose picture I had taken on the exposed ridge line on Monday. We hiked together for a while before he pulled away. Later I passed Nick when he was taking a break and I didn’t see him again after that. I also passed Bulldog just before Big Bald.

The rain returned at around noon and was relentless for about three hours. Even though I was wearing rain gear, I was soaked. I also fell on muddy sections twice. Both were quite comical. I could hear my brother shouting, “safe,” as I went down in a position that resembled a hook slide. The other time I literally hydroplaned for several yards before crashing into some small trees. If anyone had gotten that trick on video, he would have a YouTube sensation. That fall occurred as I hiked down from Big Bald, another open area with I’m sure great views. Today, of course, all I saw was fog. At times the wind and rain almost knocked me over. As the rain pelted me mercilessly, I hiked with one pole, trying to use my other hand to keep my rain jacket hood on.

Then just as suddenly as the downpour had begun, it ceased. By the time I reached High Rock, it was clear enough to enjoy a view and take some pics. Realizing that I had fifty minutes to cover the last two miles, I began the final descent to Spivey Gap, arriving just a few minutes after Tom. It felt good to know that once again I had accomplished big miles, but that I also had a hot shower and bed awaiting. Before he drove away from the motel parking lot, good old 10K made arrangements to shuttle me back to the trail in the morning. I’m planning two more days of slack packing with Erwin as my base before returning to a night in the woods with some of my fellow pilgrims as we continue our journey on the Appalachian Trail.






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Resting in Erwin, TN

Even though I didn’t go to bed until around midnight last night, I awoke at 6:00. When I remembered that today was a rest day, however, I went back to sleep until 9:00. At that time I got on the phone to set up a shuttle back to the trail for tomorrow. My first try was the legendary Miss Janet, a wonderful lady who has been helping out hikers for many years in the Erwin area. Even though she was booked for the early morning, she said she could drive me at around 11:00. Wanting to do another 20 plus mile day, I took her advice and called Tom “10-K” Bradford instead. Tom said that he would be more than happy to pick me up at 7:00 in the morning for the shuttle back to Devil Fork Gap. Still, it was truly an honor speaking with Miss Janet.

With my shuttle set, I walked back to McDonald’s for a hotcakes, sausage, and coffee breakfast. Then I meandered up the Main Street of Erwin to a Dollar Store and Food Lion. Since I’m going to be doing some slack packing over the next two or three days, I decided to invest $3.00 in a very light day pack. Also since I’m only carrying about 15 lbs. in my ULA Circuit, the 3 or 4 oz. extra weight will be negligible. Then as I was walking back toward my motel, I noticed two hikers of about my age on the sidewalk headed toward me. They asked how far it was to the grocery store, so I gave them directions.

While we were talking, a gentleman in a pick-up stopped and rolled down the window (it was an old truck). Noticing that we were hikers, he asked if we needed a ride anywhere. I too advantage and accepted his offer of a ride back to the motel. In the brief span of 5 minutes I quickly discovered much about trail angel, Robin Sullins. Having originally been from Detroit, Robin rattled off the starting line up for the Tigers of the late 60’s just as easily as if he had been doing play by play. When I told him I had seen my very first major league game at the old Briggs stadium, we immediately established a rapport.

But then as Robin pulled into the Super 8 parking lot something else happened. Before departing his truck, I told Robin about Don. When I mentioned ALS, Robin removed his sunglasses, revealing the beginning of a tear in his eye. Almost choking up, Robin stated, “My mother died of ALS.” So for another ten minutes or so Robin shared how he had taken care of his mom after she was diagnosed at the age of 68. Here was a man who truly understood the horrendous conditions of the disease. Robin gave me his cell number, offering to help me in any way he could while I’m in the Erwin area. As my new friend drove away, I sensed that each of us had helped the other in a small way. We never know what person might appear in our lives who brings with him some degree of understanding and comfort.

For much of the afternoon I simply rested in my room. I did plan out the next five days tentatively. It’s always good to have a plan, but it’s also wise to be flexible. Well, I think I’ll walk over to town for some supper before a little TV and hopefully another comfortable night’s sleep in a bed before I resume my hike northward tomorrow on the good ole Appalachian Trail.

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Log Cabin Dr. to Devil Fork Gap

I’m finding it extremely difficult to write about my hike today because my thoughts are on the Boston Marathon, a race I have had the privilege of running nine times. This was the 117th running of the oldest marathon in the US. Oddly, I thought about running often while hiking today and had already thought about alluding to Boston in today’s post. Of course, out in the woods I had no idea of what had happened until I noticed a text message from my sister-in-law, Lisa, as I finished my hike today.

Not only had I thought about Boston, but I also reminisced about my first sub 3:00 marathon at Callaway Gardens in 1982. What made that marathon even more special was that Don was there to share in the excitement with me. He is even in the background of my finish line photo. So for much of the hike today I thought about running, a sport that has been an integral part of my life for over thirty years. Come to think of it, I miss running.

Getting back to the hike, for most of the morning I literally walked in a fog, at times so thick that I could only see a few feet in front of me. For the first two hours or so I saw no other thru hikers. I did meet a group of southbound section hikers from Florida, including Mayor who sported a top hat. Then I came across a hiker I had seen yesterday but not met. Pigpen is another 20 something hiker from near Dalton, GA. He proved to be an asset on two occasions today. First, he happened along when I was staring down about a ten foot rock face, trying to figure out how I was going to get down it. Pigpen managed easily and then held my poles as I followed the path he had taken. Later in the day he topped off my nearly empty water bottle with his Sawyer squeeze filter, which saved me a trip down a path to a spring. There are some really fine young folks hiking the trail.

The highlight of the day was a climb up an exposed section of trail to Big Firescald Knob. The sun had come out by the time I reached this section of trail, which made for some more spectacular views. This is one section that even offers a blue blazed alternative trail for bad weather or for those uncomfortable with exposed ridges ( where there are severe drop offs on both sides). The 360 views along the ridge definitely made the challenging navigation of the rocks worthwhile. At the best vantage point for views, I came upon Nick, another young hiker who was taking a break on a ledge. I took his pic before moving on up the trail.

Before leaving the rocky area, I had lunch myself on a rock outcrop. After lunch I passed Say What for a second time today and met City Slicker, a young man from South Boston, when I stopped briefly at Jerry Cabin Shelter. We talked about today being the Marathon, oblivious to the events which were unfolding. City Slicker, a runner himself, said he had completed
Boston in 1992.

Later in the afternoon I again stopped briefly at Flint Mountain Shelter where a large group of hikers, that I had not met before, were taking a break. Among them was Candy Pants, a young lady from Tuscaloosa, AL, who hiked with me for the next couple of miles. I introduced myself to the group and told them about Don and the reason for my hike. Again my words were met with compassion by all.

When I reached Devil Fork Gap I ended today’s hike at 18.7 miles. I had arranged for Hattie’s son to shuttle me into Erwin where I plan to take a day off tomorrow. On Wednesday I’ll shuttle back to where I left off and walk the remaining 32 miles back to Erwin. I’ve been on the trail for 24 days and have hiked 23 of them, so I felt I owed my body a day of rest.

When I got to Erwin I checked into the Super 8 motel. After a hot shower, I walked approximately a mile to the Country Scrub board Laundry where I enjoyed chatting with Judy, the proprietor, and Melissa as my clothes washed and dried. Judy commented that many hikers had stopped by the past few weeks. So I told the ladies about my hike and shared my web page with them. I also showed them some of my pictures on my phone. Again, it’s always fun talking to the locals. After leaving the laundry I stopped by McDonald’s, one of only two restaurants nearby, for a bite to eat. Today was a tiring one in many respects, but all in all it was another beautiful day to hike on the Appalachian Trail.







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Hot Springs to Log Cabin Dr.

This is my journal entry for April 14. I didn’t have cell service last night; therefore, I could not post. I’ll post today’s entry later this evening, probably after ten.

For the past ten minutes I have written and deleted four opening sentences for today’s journal entry. Nothing seems to want to flow. I’m physically tired, probably more so from cumulative mileage than from the 16.3 miles I hiked today. I think, in fact, that second day off is a bit overdue. So after tomorrow’s hike, I think it will be time to regroup. After all, I can’t continue to do the big mileage days without occasional rest. That settles it. Tuesday will be a zero day.

In many ways today proved to be a carbon copy of yesterday with a couple of exceptions. The trail out of Hot Springs took an immediate right after crossing the French Broad River. For about half a mile the trail ran parallel to the river before heading back up the mountain toward Lovers Leap Rock. I saw no lovers as I passed the outcrop. The trail leveled briefly before becoming a roller coaster for much of the day. None of the climbs were particularly difficult; however, every uphill preceded a downhill with the scenario continuing for many miles. Rarely did I walk on level ground.

Early in the hike I passed a female thru hiker whose name escapes me, but I did remember her little dog Koko. Every time I see a dog on the trail I think of my brother. Shortly after, Buffalo, a young man who was also staying at Elmer’s last night, shot by. Buffalo, from Buffalo, hiked around 1200 miles two years ago before having to leave the trail with an injury. Now he’s back giving a thru hike another try.

At some time in the late morning I came upon the first pond I’ve seen on the hike. I don’t know if there were any fish dwelling there, but just the thought also brought Don to mind. He would not only have been able to tell if there were fish, but he also would have speculated on what breed. Since there was also a bench by the pond, I took a brief rest before moving on up the trail. While sitting on the bench, Rocket and Whiskers passed by. I shared with Rocket, a native of Minnesota, that I was listening to last night’s re-broadcast of “A Prairie Home Companion.” Just like last Sunday, the folks of Lake Wobegon accompanied me up the trail.

With my radio as my only companion, I again hiked alone throughout the day. Twice I took breaks to eat pizza that I had left over from last night. I even brought a coke in my pack today to better enjoy it. As I’ve said before, my philosophy is to always bring along some town food if it’s available. Since I had had a pancake and fresh granola breakfast at Elmer’s, I maintained my calories well throughout the day.

Having seen very few hikers all day, I finally passed some late in the afternoon. One was Bulldog from Dawsonville, GA. Bulldog had a fire going at his stealth campsite. I saw two other hikers tenting alone but didn’t stop to chat. I merely said hello and kept on walking. It seemed like there were more single tent sites today than at any other time since I started. And other than Buffalo, Rocket, and Whiskers, I saw no other hikers that I had seen before.

When I reached Log Cabin Rd., I left the trail to walk about a mile down a gravel road to Hemlock Hollow Inn. Both a cafe and hostel with a quite comfortable bunkhouse, the establishment has become a popular destination for hikers between Hot Springs and Erwin. After registering with Hattie, I walked through the cafe to see Rocket, Whiskers, and Say What, a hiker who had been at the last shelter I stayed at in the Smokies. After settling in and showering, I returned to the cafe for a chef salad and grill cheese sandwich. The last one in the cafe, I sat and chatted for a while with Hattie, who owns the property and business with her husband. She filled me in on the history of the place. I always enjoy talking with the locals.

So even though it’s only 9:00, I think I’ll turn in. Like today, I need to do one more big mileage day in order to take Tuesday off. Even though I’m indoors tonight, I can hear the stream that runs behind the bunkhouse. There’s not a much better sound to go to sleep by after another tiring day on the Appalachian Trail.








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Lemon Gap to Hot Springs, NC

When I’ve section hiked on the AT with my good friend Alton, we have often talked about the sameness of the trail at times. Alton has said on such occasions, “If you didn’t know what state you were in, what state would you say you were in?” Today was one of those days when the trail was a path through the woods of ups and downs with not much variety until the town of Hot Springs first came into view. Still, the sun shone throughout the day, a cool breeze appeared just when it was needed, and the difficulty level of today’s 14.4 mile section would probably be classified as a 2 or 3 on the old 1-10 scale, with 10 being the most challenging.

It was tough to say goodbye to my good friend Brad when he dropped me back at Lemon Gap around 8:30. I will be forever grateful for the time we had to spend together over the last two days. Parting, however, was a little less sad because just as I was embarking from Brad’s SUV, who should be hiking up the trail toward us but Rocket and Whiskers. I had not seen my two Cambridge friends since the night before Newfound Gap. They had begun their hike early today from near Max Patch in order to log big miles with a slack pack. The timing could not have been more perfect because Whiskers was able to take a couple of pics of Brad and me.

Brad wished me well as I headed up the trail in the footsteps of the two. Within a mile, however, they began to pull away, hiking at a faster pace than I was able to maintain. So again for the remainder of the day I hiked solo. But unlike yesterday, I saw few thru hikers today. I did notice Waffles and Enoch, that I had seen late yesterday, breaking down their campsite. Just before I stopped for lunch, I paused to chat with an older gentleman, Where’d He Go, from Baltimore. After that I only saw three other hikers all afternoon. For some reason I didn’t feel very social today, so I didn’t even ask their trail names.

I’m not sure why, but early in today’s hike I reminisced about watching Saturday morning television with my brother when we were little. Donald and I would rise early enough to watch Roy Rogers on Western Theater and follow up the cowboys with cartoons. Somewhere in between we would join our parents at the dining room table for a large country breakfast. Then we would head to the backyard for an afternoon of play. Times were so simple then.

As the afternoon waned, I finally spotted Hot Springs from the ridge line. When towns are first sited, however, it’s usually at least an hour before the trail winds down to the road. Hot Springs is the first trail town where the trail actually goes down Main St., or in the case of Hot Springs, Bridge St. As I walked into the town I headed straight to Elmer’s Sunnybank Inn, built in 1840 and the oldest house in town, according to Elmer. A thru hiker back in 1976, Elmer returned to Hot Springs in 1978. A B &B of sorts, the inn caters to thru hikers, offering clean accommodations at a nominal cost. Elmer even offers work for stay options.

So once again I’ll be sleeping in a bed tonight. I’ve showered and plan to go out in a short while for a meal at Smokey Mountain Diner, which is located across the street. I had originally planned to take a zero day tomorrow; however, I think I’m going to wait for Erwin, which I should reach in four or five days. Someone is playing the piano in the music room, so I think I’ll mosey on down the stairs and share some camaraderie with others who each day take another stride toward Maine on their journeys along the Appalachian Trail.








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Davenport Gap to Lemon Gap

It would only seem appropriate that my good running friend , Brad Dodson, would play a major role in my first 20 mile day (21.4, to be exact). After all, during the four years I had the privilege to coach Brad in cross-country and track at Shaw High School, we logged at least a couple of thousand training miles together. So when Brad offered to let me slack pack today by driving me back to the trail this morning at Davenport Gap and then picking me up in the afternoon at Lemon Gap, I knew from the outset that big miles were on today’s agenda.

After a hearty breakfast at Bojangles, we headed up I-40 shortly after 8:00. By a little after nine I was hiking. What I had not anticipated about the early part of today’s hike were the water crossings. During the first two miles they occurred often. Since the rushing water required a concerted effort to cross, the beginning of the walk was a bit tedious. Taking my time for fear of slipping on a wet rock or taking a tumble in the chilly streams, I managed to stay upright for each of the crossings; however, I did slightly lose my balance once, which resulted in a wet shoe.

Bu the time I finally reached the I-40 underpass, I was beginning to move. While walking across the bridge, I noticed a car headed toward me at a very slow pace. Looking through the driver’s side window was Piddling Around. All cleaned up after finishing his section hike from Springer to the northern terminus of the Smokies, he looked excited to be going home to Alabama. It was a pleasure to meet Piddling and hike with him for the past five days. He wished me well as I hiked away in a light rain that would continue all morning.

Just before beginning the climb that would extend for over six miles, with a gain of about 3000 feet of elevation, I met two German hikers, Restless Cowboy and Fresh Coke, who had been treated to a stay at a cabin by Joe and Debra (or Deborah), a couple from Florida. We took some pics before I began the ascent. On the way up I passed several thru hikers, including Mustard Plug, Oops, Private Snowman, and Chicago. Chicago was wearing a shirt with Wrigley Field pictured on its front. The reference to the “Friendly Confines” immediately brought my brother to mind. Twice Don and I had the opportunity to watch games at Wrigley. On the second occasion we were joined by Don’s son, Brent and my son, Sam. I wrote about the first trip on my web page under the heading, “Don Loved Baseball.” I told Chicago how much Don and I had enjoyed Wrigley.

As the climb continued I met and hiked with for a short while, Twix, a young lady from Phoenix, who is sharing the experience with her mom, Salsa. Having corresponded with Salsa on TJ, I told Twix I was looking forward to meeting her mom, who was a few miles up the trail. Sure enough, a couple of hours later I came upon Salsa who had stopped for a break and was talking to Twigs. It was good to meet someone from trail journals on the trail.

When I finally reached the apex of the ascent, the hike became one of the less demanding of the first three weeks. At times I was practically running on the level and mildly downhill portions. Even though I was hiking at a very good pace, I still regularly paused to introduce myself to other thru hikers that I had not met previously. Among them were Red Knees and Guru, and later on in the day, Wooden Spoon and her dog, Gaia. Just before wrapping up the day’s hike, I stopped to chat with Waffles and Enoch, who were cooking up some chow by a stream before heading on up the trail to find a campsite.

The highlight of today’s hike by far was crossing Max Patch, a bald that affords 360 vistas. With plentiful sunlight that had arrived in the early afternoon, the views were again…. well, OK, they were breathtaking. I just can’t think of a more appropriate adjective right now. With the wind practically blowing me horizontal, I remembered last fall when Linda and I had visited Max Patch by car. It was especially poignant to be hiking up today.

When I finally reached Lemon Gap where Brad was scheduled to pick me up, I was a full hour ahead of when I had expected to arrive. For the half hour I had to wait, I began journaling in the rather isolated area. Since I was getting a little cold, it was good to see Brad pull up. Today’s hike was indeed special, but not as special as the quality time I was able to share with my old friend on the ride to and from the trail. On the return trip it was especially meaningful to discuss how some of Brad’s former high school teammates are doing these days. It seems hard to believe it’s been 25 years since I coached them. In fact, I couldn’t have asked for a better ending to another beautiful day on the Appalachian Trail.








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Tri-Corner Knob Shelter to Davenport Gap

When the first hint of daylight crept through the skylight of the shelter, I quietly exited my top floor accommodations as rapidly as possible. Piddling Around was having some breakfast before being the first out of camp. I ate two oatmeal pies and drank as much water as I could hold before following Piddling on up the trail. Having perused today’s terrain in my Thru Hiker’s AT Guide last night, I was looking forward to a very comfortable last day in the Smokies.

Like the Guide had indicated, today’s trail was among the easiest. What I was not expecting, however, was more ice. Although not for any long stretches, on several occasions I had to slow down considerably and navigate around or over very dangerous areas. I fell once when I stepped on what I thought was a safe place to step, that proved otherwise. Still, I quickly recovered, paying even more attention to where I stepped. Many times I was able to step on the footfall of a previous hiker, which allowed me to get a good pace going.

As I hiked throughout the morning, I saw only one southbound section hiker, 8 iron, from Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Breeze and Windy passed me before noon as did the trio of Gumby, Riley (now Wiki), and Ryan. These young men all hike at a faster pace than the “old guy.” When Breeze and Windy came by, I was stopped at the site of an old airplane crash. A small piece of twisted metal is still visible just off the trail.

Hiking strongly, I arrived at the Crosby Knob shelter, where I planned to stop for lunch, at around 11:30. All the hikers who had passed me were there having lunch as well. I only stayed briefly, wanting to get to Davenport Gap before 3:00 where one of my old cross-country runners from Shaw was going to pick me up.

So after a brief climb of about 800 feet after the shelter, the remainder of today’s hike was downhill. I met one other hiker heading south in the afternoon, Nick, who had recently moved to the area from Montana. Just after passing Say What, a hiker about my age who apparently had left the shelter this morning even before Piddling, I spotted a runner in a gold T-shirt headed up the trail toward me. “Hey, Coach!” my former student athlete and now good friend Brad Dodson shouted. Brad lives outside Waynesville, NC and often runs with friends on the AT. Today, however, he was combining a run with driving a weary hiker to a room at Lake Junaluska for the night. A very talented potter, Brad has a pottery studio, Muddabbers, just off the parkway and also does a little cross-country and track coaching himself.

As I reached Davenport Gap I could officially say goodbye to the Smokies. The views have been spectacular, and I could not have had better weather for enjoying them. So now I’m about to partake of dinner with Brad and his oldest daughter Cora, before getting a restful night’s sleep. Tomorrow I plan to slack pack to Max Patch where Brad will again meet me.

Today was another day when I paused often to think about my brother and just how much enjoyment he too would be getting from these mountains. It was again a day that allowed me hours of solitude for memories and reflection. And it was also yet another day on the Appalachian Trail when I thought again how much I loved my brother and how much Don loved the woods.





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