I woke up to chatter, the smell of Oatmeal and a ray of sunlight poking at my ankle. My body was sore all over like being bruised. Just by opening my eyes and staring at the old wood of the shelter I could tell it was going to be a sunny day from how I could make out the green of the old paint covering the shelter.
There were 5 others at the shelter, 4 friends in their late 20’s or early 30’s, and then the young hiker from Cheoah Bald who said he was going make Katahdin in 3 months. Just as I felt possible at that moment.
This hiker was now being called Fireball, as of the night before. Not for his short red hair, but for kicking his exploding camp stove down the mountain. A burnt path was scared in the grass giving proof to this incident.
“The bear is awake.” One of the friends said with a smile. They all turned to face me; curious to know who I was arriving at 12 in the dark.
I explained to the group that I had been kicked out of Cosby, and how I had come 34 miles from Collins shelter. They were all impressed except for Fireball who made a comment about how foolish it was to go over 25 miles a day, (some knowledge from attending West Point). I shrugged his comment off knowing what ever damage I had done to myself didn’t matter since I was going into Ashville this afternoon.
On my way out of the park, probably 500 feet from the boarder I meet a park ranger who was hiking in. He asked for my AT permit, which I was able to produce because I had wasted a day at Fontana Dam looking for a pen. I was then out of the Smokys and to say its farewell the park had a sign showing the bear that was shot and asked, “Did you kill this bear!”
No I followed the rules perfectly. I thought.
It was just a mile to Davenport gap, NC 284, where my aunt and uncle were to pick me up. The road looked like a logging road and was shaded and cool. I wanted sun and didn’t look forward spending the morning waiting hungry for my pickup. And then looking down the road I saw a wood sign with white paint that advertised food just a mile away. So I went. The road wound down the mountain very steep, and narrow. It hurt my legs and it was a long mile. But at the bottom the woods opened up and I could feel the warmth of the sun on my still damp clothes. The sun was still partially behind clouds but I could tell they were going to be blown away because of a dry breeze that only cooled one side of my body.
Where the road lead was a small community with two houses, an antique store, and the gas station that I assumed had the food. Chickens ran all over the road and goats were in the yard of one of the houses. I noticed a sign that said closed, but there was a woman walking up the road quickly. I figured she was coming to open the store it was just turning 9. I was right and once inside I purchased a muffin, chocolate milk, a bag of Funyuns, and two candy bars. I had till 1 to wait for my family. I took my food outside to eat and sat in a lawn chair near the fence line that kept the goats. All the goats came close to the fence, and some chickens pecked the ground around me. Blue Grass music played over speakers and it fit the scenery perfect. The sun was fully out now and the breeze had stopped, I could feel my body loosening up and relaxing, and my mind was at peace and not merely distracted.
I had noticed when coming into the community that the road split and at that split a sign signaled I-40, which is where I knew my family was going to be coming from. I figured I’d just meet them closer to I-40 and not on the logging road. I also thought I could find cell service closer to I-40 so I decided to follow the road.
I could start to hear traffic from I-40 when I came upon a park with a pavilion. I noticed there was cell service so I decided to wait there. I unloaded my pack and spread all my gear out to thoroughly dry. I sent a message giving my aunt and uncle with new direction on where to pick me up. Then I laid down and dried myself out.
A birthday party started to show up at the pavilion 30 min after I was laid out in the park. After another half hour all of their guests were there and they had blown out candles and cut up the cake. Then they brought out instruments, banjoes, fiddles, guitars, and mandolins and began to play music. And it was Blue Grass, praising God in a natural country twang.
My eyes were closed but I felt I could see them; in the picture projected in my mind the sun was even brighter and felt warmer. The grass I laid on was a sheet of green, not slightly patched with bare spots. The stream flowing around the park was a fifth instrument from God and heightened my peace even more. I praised God in my heart along with the band, singing with my soul as I imagined King David doing while composing psalms.
My mind then wondered to memories of Carrolton MS, from my early childhood. When my brother and I were still close and I easily made friends with all the other boys at homeschool parties. We played in church play grounds, much like this park near a creek, climbing trees and chasing each other with sticks. I was happy then, but only in ignorance of what can and does go wrong. At this moment I was happy despite what all goes wrong in life. I know now that The Lord gives this happiness in a promise. The promise: that all will be renewed, to God’s way, when we were ignorant to sin and only knowledgeable to our created purpose; to glorify God and love him. And as God saw of his creation, “It [is] very good.”
The End of part one.