On Mar 27, 2015, at 9:00 AM
This trail log is for Thursday, March 26th.
My day began in the silent rhododendron glade of Spivey Gap. The night brought rain and the morning brought clear skies. As I packed my camp, “Dow” and “K2” came walking through headed for Erwin, TN, and Uncle Johnnie’s Hiker Hostel and Outfitter. The world seemed to be converging on that place. I had the same plans. I smelled bad and needed a bath something awful.
The morning began with a brief hard climb, always a tough thing to do on a full stomach and with old legs that have been immobile for 12 hours. Soon I was on top of another leafy ridge and racing along. At least, racing myself. At mid-morning, “One Shot” and “HilBix” passed me, two bankers from Wells Fargo in Charlotte. Nice guys.
I played leapfrog with “One Shot” and “HilBix” all day. I passed them whenever they stopped. They passed me whenever I walked. I was not amused. But we had lots of chances to talk. Their knees hurt, too, so that was some consolation.
Our path took us through woodlands that had been burned over years ago and many of the dead trees were falling over. It was as if a huge storm had leveled most of the forest, or a logger had cut everything down and then decided to go home before collecting the wood. The topography shifted from deadfall desolation to rhododendron glade to desolation to glade. Later, as the spine of the ridge descended toward the Nolichucky River and Erwin, TN, we traipsed through cool forests of towering fir trees and burbling mossy brooks. It was amazing how one bend in the trail could move you from desolation to delight so quickly.
The ridge came to a point that overlooked Erwin and the Nolichucky Gorge. It was so steep here that you had the sense that you could jump and fall 600 feet directly into the river. I could hear my wife screaming (in my mind), “Get away from the edge!”
The descent was gradual and, although painful for me going downhill (my knees), it was fun. I saw “Contented” again, the interesting fellow from my first day out of Hot Springs. I am sad to say he was not contented today. He wore a huge set of earphones with an embedded radio, hollering four-letter words at the mountain as he climbed the mountain in the opposite direction. He charged past me cursing the climb and talking aloud to himself, or to the radio. My how people do change.
Approaching a town after days in the wilderness is an auditory joy. I keep track of the sounds as they first become audible, each step bringing a new revelation. It’s almost always the same, but no less fun to listen for the changes as you get closer to civilization. For days, silence is your only companion. Whispering winds in treetops, rain on the tent, birds singing, and the rustle of leaves are the few noises of the forest. But when approaching a town, new sounds emerge. The first two are train whistles and the singing of truck tires on an interstate highway. You can hear those from miles away. Closer to town you hear diesel engines but never the cars. Then it’s dogs barking. You pick those up about two miles out sometimes. Then the river rapids, particularly when peering over the edge of the cliff as I was. Finally it’s voices and sounds of cars and doors slamming and kids yelling. And then you’re there.
I stepped on the asphalt only fifty feet from Uncle Johnnie’s Hiker Hostel and Outfitter. “One Shot” and “HilBix” were there and waved. “K2” and “Dow” were there, too, sitting at a worn camp table swapping hiker lies. “K2” yelled my name. “Hawkeye! You made it!” Other hikers I had not ever met joined in the greeting and waved me over. I was home. With family.
My trail name should be “Turtle.” Thank goodness it’s not. Nevertheless, in the fellowship of AT hikers I was an equal. It’s not about the speed or the distance. Sure… we focus on all those things and more… like who can manage to stink the worst or eat the most or pack the least. But at the end of the day, we are all a fellowship of stinky tired aching men and women gathered about the old table at Uncle Johnnie’s, celebrating the love of the woods and the adventure of this amazing trail.
Thirteen of us piled into Los Jalapeños for an amazing Mexican meal that night, and the fellowship carried on late as many sat around a campfire in the middle of the cabin area. A light rain at 11 PM put everyone to bed. Full of tamales and tacos and tall tales, this band of new friends went peacefully into another night.
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