Days: 16-17 Finding My People

For most who start the AT they stay in close proximity with the people who started around the same time as them. This forms distinct groups and a community; we called this a bubble. From Springer to Davenport Gap I must have jumped through 2 bubbles, and therefore did not have a community. Geronimo being the only hiker I hiked with for multiple days. Due to my Zero in Ashville I had lost all chance of catching back up with him.

It was around 10:30 when I was dropped back on the trail. Physically I was rested but I was bitter which made me feel tierd. It is not my Aunt and Uncle’s fault; they treated me well, but the conversations about plans and my future regarding: family, work, and education were not welcoming. They could not have known this or that I had dropped out of school. I answered vaguely and faked my way through the day. So at Davenport Gap I was exhausted from this, but angry and hiked angry for the 3 miles to Standing Bear Hostel making it in less than an hour.

I was making lunch were the road to Standing Bear intersected with the AT, when I noticed a tall man and woman leaving Standing Bear. I knew I had seen them before but couldn’t remember Then. The man call out, “Is that Joedirt?” His voice bought back the memory of meeting the couple at Fontana. It was Quiet and Twister.

“Quiet and Twister!” I greeted them.

“We thought we lost you at Fontana, what happened?”

“Oh, I went 10 miles down the Bartman Trail after leaving Fontana.”

“Oh no, but you caught back up! Did you just leave the Smokey’s.”

“No just got back from a day in Ashville.”

“Then how did you catch back up?” Twister asked.

“I unintentionally did a 34 mile day.”

They both bust out in laughter. “We thought you were full of shit when you didn’t show up at Mollies!”

“How was it unintentional?” Asked Twister between catching her breath.

“I got kicked out of Cosby after doing the 27 miles from Mt. Collins.”

“That sucks.”

“It all worked out in the end.”

The two went on ahead, and I finished lunch. I passed the two again somewhere halfway up Snowbird Mountain, there was a third hiker with then called Happy Feet. Then at the summit of Snowbird all four of us meet. They introduced me to Happy Feet a short hiker who would hike with me to the end.

We all made plans to make it to Max Patch and camp on the bald. I didn’t think this was possible but I wanted to stay with Quiet and Twister, and had also surprised myself with how fast I made it up Snowbird. A hike two of my friends said was hell in the winter when they went from Davenport Gap to Max Patch.

The trail from the summit of Snowbird to Max Patch was smooth, and covered just enough to not let the sun bake you but let you know it was present. It was sunny that day and I knew it would be perfect to see Max Patch at sun set.

I leaped frogged with the three of them from Snowbird to the Patch. This would be how I would hike with my group; instead of single filed lines all at once. I would pass them when they would stop and take a smoke breaks and they would pass me when I had a snack. Seeing them enjoying cigarettes made me miss the habit, and I started to reason with myself on buying a pack in Hot Springs.

At Brown Gap both me and Happy Feet lost Quiet and Twister. They were very fast hikers. It was here that I started to get to know Happy Feet. How he had attempted the trail back in 2014 but had similar fate as Geronimo when he caught Nero in New York. I regret to say that I judged him that afternoon. I thought his pack was too big, and thought he hiked too slow; not in pace, but in distance. Because up to just a week earlier Happy Feet had not gone over 12 miles a day. In my pride, I felt this to be mediocre compared to my plus 18 average. But as it would be Happy Feet would be the better hiker. He was consistent and more importantly loved the trail. He also surprised me on how he keep up with my pace, since he was short.

“I might go slow but that doesn’t bother me, I love it out here.” He said as we jumped a stream just before reaching Max Patch.

We found Quiet and Twister setting up camp not at the summit of the bald but just off. At the top I found that people could drive up to the Summit, so Max Patch had become very popular for car campers. There was a tent city of its own on the summit so I was glad to have set up around Quiet, Twister and Happy Feet.

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Joedirt

 

There is a 360 view from Max Patch and we had arrived with enough time to set camp before the sun began to set. There were small clusters of clouds on the horizon that were turned hues of red as the light inched away. We cooked our meals beside us as we sat on our beds. The smell of cannabis mixed with the fresh notes of grass and a cold breeze. It was pleasant.

max patch
Max Patch

 

In the night under my tent I sleep comfortably until I woke just 30min before the sun rise. It was cold. In that 30min I fought to stay and enjoy the sunrise. When it came I was very under whelmed and began packing my camp with it as a back drop. Changing exposed on all four sides was unpleasant. It is only now that I can look back in memory and enjoy the sensory of that moment.

As I left, my companions were just waking up, they were all laughing at me because they could tell I was cold.

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Max Patch in the Morning

 

I waved to them saying, “I’ll see y’all in Hot Springs.” (We had all agreed to do the 20 to Hot Springs.)

It was an easy 20. The first 5 miles were an easy decent, four miles of two climbs, and the last 11 a fast decent. Quiet and Twister caught me at Taylors Hollow Gap. Happy Feet was not with them and I thought I had seen the last of him. (He had been unsure if he would be able to make it.)

Twister lagged behind me and Quiet, as I struggled to keep up with him. For the 3 miles I jogged while he walked.

The trail opened up to a paved road with a steady stream of cars. Me and Quiet waited for Twister only for about 5min before she caught up. It was 2:30 p.m. The hostel was near the trail but we went in town to find a soda and junk food. Then it was to the post office so Quiet and Twister could pick up their mail drops. I split from them at the post office to find the outfitter and buy a hiker’s Spork. (I had earlier lost mine.)

Hot Springs was not as I expected. A river ran around the east end of the town, and on the other side you could see a fire line on the bluff left over from April. I had pictured a mid-class resort town. What Hot Springs was, was a standard small southern town with jacked up trucks supporting rebel flags, and small flea motels. Hot Springs reminded me of Water Valley MS; a town that had started a arts and cultural revival just south of Oxford MS, the home of Ole Miss. So much of Hot Springs was old and plain with only local use. But sprinkled in were some new life in neat eats that put trendy and delicious twists on traditional meals. Hot Springs would make a perfect zero that I wish I had taken.

Quiet and Twister were sitting under a tree with there mail drops spread out talking with a woman. She was a hiker and was attractive, with olive skin tone and smooth face. Her name was Gypsy.

“Where are Dirty Mike and the Boy’s?” Twister asked Gypsy.

“They are around we’re all staying at Alpine Court.”

“Cool.” Twister and Quiet nodded then introduced me. “This is Joedirt.”

“Hi,” I said and extended my hand.

Gypsy puffed her cigarette and shook my hand and said, “Good to meet you, when did you start?”

“little over 2 weeks ago.” This got her to raise her expression in surprise.

“Wow, you’ve been putting up some big miles. I was getting some big miles too but like beer too much so I stop too much.”

“Where’s the best place to buy?” Asked Quiet.

“Over there,” Gypsy pointed to a store across the street right beside the Alpine Court. “But you can’t buy hard liquor here, you got to get a hitch to a nearby town, Which I got earlier.” Gypsy said with a wide smile.

Gypsy split off and Quiet and Twister suggested that we split a room at the Alpine Court. It would come out cheaper than staying in the hostel. I accepted and we went to book the room which turned out to be at the beer store. While purchasing the room I added on two 24 ounce beers, and a cigar.

Despite the run down look of the motel from the outside the room was nice. I volunteered to go last in the shower, and sat in a plastic lawn chair outside and watched the cars go by. I drank my beer slow, but puffed too hard on the cigar. It started to make me sick so I put out the half for latter. I saw the Hatchet Brothers unload from a truck at the gas station across the street. Quiet and Twister didn’t want them to stay at the Alpine Court; but I didn’t mind. The Hatchet Brothers did however, and claimed to us that they had just walked 40 miles down I-40 for a burger. I knew this to be false just as everybody else. (No town on I-40 in that area had 40 miles of separation.) At this same time three of Dirty Mike and the Boys showed up, The Stallion, Gator, and Big Foot. At this point all I did was meet them I had now idea that two of these hikers would accept me into their group, for the rest of my journey.

Quiet, Twister, and I were about to go eat when Happy Feet came walking past the Court. We called him over and found out he planned to camp on the river. It was late and we felt sorry for leaving him behind, so we offered him the second spot on my bed. He accepted but decided against eating with us at Iron Horse Station.

I ordered the AT Hiker Burger, and can only remember that I enjoyed it. I got plastered that night but didn’t realize it. I didn’t act a fool; in fact Quiet and Twister said later “you were in control of yourself.” However when I got back to the room I swan dived onto the bed and passed out cold on impact. I would awake in the exact same position in the morning.

So day 17 ended and I had found my people, and to some degree my routine. Up too Front Royal VA, I would take every opportunity given to get drunk. My time on the trail would become one of drinking and companionship. I don’t deny that much of my behavior was wrong, but I cannot honestly say I regret being a part of The Boys, and all it meant to be true hiker trash.

 

In starting this blog I never knew what approach I would take to this part of my thru-hike. Early on I thought I would write a-tell all showing in detail all my actions. If I was to do that I would find myself glorifying all my behavior, because as I said, truly have no regrets to any part of it. This however would not be at all helpful to anyone, so I have decided to write in a less detailed format combining multiple days.

I will never be one of those Christians to say I am better to have gone through my sins or pains. I believe I would be much more helpful to the Kingdom without these. For all sin destroys. But God does not build his Kingdom with our usefulness, but through his perfect power, stitching us back together in his plan, to his kingdom and to the tree of eternal life.

“[I]t is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.” Romans 11:18.

Day 15: Blue Grass Sunday

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.

Day 14: Triumph

“How far are you going Joedirt?” Red asked me as he looked over my AWOL while I ate breakfast.

“I’m doing the 25 out; all the way to Davenport Gap.”

I was packed, expect for my cook pot and Spork. The rain was trickling and the Danish couple had already left. It must have been past 8 a.m, just us thru-hikers were left.

“Joedirt I think you mean 34 miles.” Red said and I turned to see what he meant.

He handed me my AWOL and I found Mt. Collins Shelter, mile 202.8, then turned the page and found Davenport Gap mile 237. I crunched the numbers mentally at the speed of first grader learning his arithmetic. Red was right it was a little further than 34 miles.

“Ok well that’s not going to work, I guess I’ll go to Cosby Knob at mile 229.9.”

“That’s still 27 miles.” Red said solemnly.

“Where are you going to today?” I asked.

“I think Pecks Corner Shelter. I’ll do that today then 12 to Crosby, then the next day I’ll get to I-40 there’s a hostel there I can resupply at. I’ve only got 2 days of food left.”

I looked over at Red’s food. He had it out of the bag and spread in two piles that I guessed was each days ration. In one pile there was a can of chili and a granola bar. In the other pile there was two packs of Top Raman.

“You know you can get a ride into Gatlinburg at Newfound Gap just 4 miles away.”

“I can’t do that I’ve got to commit.”

Red’s tone let me know I couldn’t convince him to hitch into Gatlinburg. I knew I had two dinners, some peanut butter and tortillas, and a mix of granola bars fruit chews and chocolate. So I pulled my food sack out and departed one dinner, the peanut butter with the three tortillas, and my fruit chews and two granola bars. Leaving me with just the one dinner, one granola, and two chocolate bars.

“Here, if I’m going to do 27 today I’ve got to be as light as possible.”

“But what about the next day?” Red asked.

“I’ve just got a few miles in the morning then it’s good home cooked meals at my Aunt and Uncles house.” Red looked as if he wanted to decline my food but after his pause he replied “Thanks Joedirt.”

I then went to the Lieutenant and offered my fire starters but he turned them down.

I got on the trail at 8:30 and felt well rested and fast. Newfound Gap came quick with just over an hour’s work, and I emerged from the trail to school busses and church busses.

I found a trash can to dump all my garbage, and sat to study the elevation in the AWOL. While doing this I had three different families want pictures taken with the dirty thru-hiker. One church group approached me and wanted to hand out some pamphlets.

“No thanks, I’ve got a bible, you’re better off giving them to another hiker.” I said.

“But these will help you interpret your bible.”

“That’s what the Holy Spirits for.” I said with a smile and the man dropped his smile and his eyes looked frustrated.

“I think you will benefit from these brother.” And he began to set the pamphlets down beside me.

“I’m not bringing them with me.” I said a little more stern. He picked up the material and walked off and I began to type a message for my aunt letting them know my plans.

There was then an odd looking skinny man, with camo pants and sports shirt that approached. I didn’t like the look of him and was irritated because he interrupted my message.

“These church groups are always harassing everyone.” He said.

“I’m sure they mean well.” I replied, then asked for a cigarette.

He pulled his pack out of his breast pocket in a rush like answering a request from an idol. The cigarettes were menthols. (Not my preferred, but they helped clear the damp phlegm feeling in the back of my throat.)

I will not try to recreate the man’s rant on organized religion. It was long, and I payed little attention. The only part that stuck out to me was his worship of hikers. Saying we were on a spiritual journey.

“Maybe some of us are?” I replied. Then stopped my cigarette out and added it to the trash. I was back on the trail after that and away from the only stardom I had experienced in my life. I’m sure if I had been in a different mood, then I was in those early days of the trail I would have enjoyed the attention. But truly I found it frustrating and too late. (After the smoky I was never asked for another photograph.)

The trail after Newfound Gape flowed well with me. I would hear latter that this section was hard for others, but for me I believe I made my best time. I had to have because I made lunch at Pecks Corner before 1 p.m.

It was rocky but the rocks mimicked stairs in a way. They felt like spring boards to me catapulting me forward around multiple groups I watch start the trail before me at Newfound Gap all heading to Charlies Bunion.

It was raining at this time so I skipped the side trail to this destination. I could barely see out from the trail over any view due the clouds. I stopped at the unmarked trail leading to the original Charlies Bunion. There, a woman who had section hiked to Damascus VA last year, gave me a Stinger Honey Gel pack. I was thankful for the gift and enjoyed her company for the 5 to 10 minutes we rested.

Nobody was at Pecks Corner Shelter when I ate my lunch. The wind blew but the rain stopped. It was not a hard wind but peaceful like wind blowing over the ocean. I was proud of the time I made but still focused and not arrogant.

The sky cleared before I reached Tri-Corner Knob Shelter. I was going slower but was still going to make Cosby Knob Shelter before sundown. The descent down from Deer Creek Gape hurt some when I started to cramp. I took the Stinger and mixed a electrolyte tablet in my water. The Stinger kicked in and gave me a good buzz. (It was a pity I could never find a place to buy them on the trail.)

As the trail descended under 5000 feet the landscape became familiar to the normal eastern woods. It lost the conifers and ferns for hardwoods. The soil turned from firm clay to dirt.

Cosby’s Knob came out of now where with shouts, and the sound of two pots being banged together. When I made it to the shelter I found it full of gear. The residents were coming away from where the bear hangs were located. They all looked 50 plus in years, and not too happy to see me. I recognized a ridge runner uniform from one of them and saw she was young.

“Hi” I greeted the group I did a head count to see if the shelter was full. I only counted nine. Some mumbled hellos in return but most just ignored me.

“What was the shouting for,” I asked the ridge runner who I would later find out her name was Chloe.

“A bear has been trying to come into camp.” She said with a tiered or frustrated voice.

“Whoa, is there any room in the shelter?”

“You can see.” She shrugged.

I still only counted nine and the shelter was to hold 12. I found a spot that was the most bare and began to make room for my bed. (I would hang my whole pack on the bear chains.)

“Excuses me sir.” A lady said with a shrill. “That’s my stuff.”

“I’m sorry but can I make some room we have to stay in the shelter till it’s full.”

“It is full!”

“Are their 12, I only counted 9?” I raised my voice possibly sounding disrespectful.

“There’s no room can you not see that!” The woman shouted with frustration; she knew I was right.

I ignored the woman and rolled my bed out on the shelter floor in the bare spot I had made. I unpacked my cook pot and meal and sat them on the bed then took the rest of my pack to hang on the bear chain. I expected to find my gear out of the shelter when I returned. I could hear the lady make a gasp in irritation, and the eyes of the others I could feel locked on me.

A man went to the woman and I figured he was going to move my stuff. They chatted behind my back and I could not catch their words as I continued to the bear hang.

The chain was littered with many bags of brightly colored stuff sacks and compressions. I had started to unload my stuff sacks from my pack, but then remembered hearing that it was more correct to the rules to hang your whole pack. So I strung my pack up on the only open loop present.

“Look you’re going to have to leave.” I heard the voice of the ridge runner say.

“What why?” I asked with some of the same tone left over from arguing with the woman.

“You’ve only been here 10 min and you’re already causing trouble, plus you’re not even hanging your bags up right. You’re taking too much space.”

I was stunned and didn’t answer back initially.

“Go ahead now pack up!” The ridge runner said with some attitude.

“Can I not just tent; I did 27 to get here?”

“It’s too late, besides I can’t let anyone tent with the bear activity.”

“I dropped the chain and let all the bags crash to the ground including my own. “Fuck it,” I said and went to collect the rest of my gear.

As I packed I could hear snickers from the group. The woman I had argued with stood under the shelter with a wide grin.

“Well bye.” I hear her say behind my back as I walked away.

I threw up a middle finger to them all, and hear a few gasps, and a clap. I expected to hear at least one of the old men stomping after me but I guess they were not part of my grandpa’s generation.

At Low gap I started to cook and oddly was not angry any more about being kicked out of the shelter. In fact I found myself thankful that I was forced to get out of the Smokey’s this day. The light was fading fast but at the moment it was its brightest red. The smell of my food brought on paranoia when I remembered a bear had just been run off a mile back. So I paced around the pot hyping myself for the last 7 miles in prayer. My prayers were both in thanks for the opportunity as well for help.

I had one mountain to climb which I attacked fast and became tied. I was in total darkness now and had walked into a deep fog. This fog was thick, and it scattered my headlamp’s light to where I had less visibility with it on. Spots on the trail were narrow, and with the blinding of my head lamp I couldn’t even make out the ground, or edge of the trail that fell off the mountain. So I turned it to off, and grabbed trees on the side of the trail to guide me. One step at a time is all I could focus on, just a little over a yards distance. I became anxious but was in too deep to stop; camping in this fog’s encasement was much more frightening than being on the move.

The foliage was thick lining the trail and I pictured faces looking out from it, hands reaching out to grab mine. In my own paranoia I mistake my own footsteps as being a stalker’s 3 to 5 steps behind. I had seen this all before in a reoccurring nightmare I had had from childhood. The trail looked just like it, with the heavy fog only reviling a small narrow path lined by the same leafy foliage. It only lacked cloaked men, (sometimes in the nightmare) and the drum.

I stopped soon after forgoing the headlamp to put away my trekking poll, and unstrap my machete from my pack to my side. The machete then soon wound up in my hand and this brought some comfort. However in my mind I waited for the drums.

I was not frightened, trembling, or begging and pleading a way out. As I said I was only anxious, and perhaps creeped out with a since of Déjà vu. The physical feeling was unpleasant, but in many ways emotionally I was excited and heightened. It’s not every day you can live through a dream and overcome a nightmare. From the smiles that was on my face, I murmured a mixture of prayers, (both for encouragement and praise), and hype phrases, full of profanity and crudeness, mocking the demons in my mind.

In the nightmare I always made it to the source of the drums, at the top of the summit, where I would be attacked. So when I saw the side trail leading to the summit, I laughed saying,

“Not today Satan!”

Then the trail started its descent and dropped out of the fog.

For the next 4 miles I slipped and tripped through mud and run off from the rain earlier. I scattered birds with my crashing but they wouldn’t startle me. My mind and body were tired and I felt nauseous. My eyes stung while I tried to focus, and I almost walked past the shelter.

The shelter had a cage in front of the door but I could see there were people in it. Although I attempted to be quiet I awoke and started one man, who raised quick with a gasp.

“Not a bear, I’ll be asleep soon, sorry.” I said to the man and got the door open. My voice felt raspy. I then heard him say, “That’s cool man,” and he laid back down.

When I lay down I knew I needed one last prayer of thanksgiving. So I thanked God for the day and the experience in the fog. I was grateful for being kicked out of the shelter. But didn’t have any special thoughts or feeling for the fact that I did 34 miles in the Smokey’s. I knew I had triumphed in some way but was too tired to pinpoint that I had accomplished a goal ahead of schedule. Not even I had felt that 30 plus miles were possible till VA, but I had done it.

Day 12: A Condemned Bear

I was crossing the dam for the third time at 5:30am. Crossing in the bleak morning light produced a much different feeling in me than in the heat of the day. It pumped me as if walking out to a hard base line as an athlete.

I was loose and ready to climb after a quick stretch at the permeant box. (I had borrowed a pen from the local who showed me where the shower room was and had finished my permeant.) I had not eaten and planned on eating once I summited the first climb. I had 2 miles.

I ate plenty of spider webs along the way; a negative to an early start on the trail. I finished the 2 miles at a 3min pace and set up my burner to prepare 2 oatmeal packets. While cooking I flipped to a random chapter in my bible, which happened to be James 3. On that day I’m sure I spaced this reading and only took a note of it out of habit. (Now, while reviewing my journal for this post I see its relevance to that day, especially verse 14, even more so for the day before.)

“But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart do not boast and be false to the truth.” James 3:14 ESV

James 3 is more famously known for warning us about the power of the “tongue.” But also has much to say on pride. Since pride often leads to misusing our words, to tear others down, or lead others in a wrong direction. Confidence can make people follow, and with pride comes confidence. When we forget that our accomplishments come from the Lord and boast from our own “selfish ambitions;” we do not lead to God, this I believe is why God humbles us so that we do not lead others into wrong. Jesus warns us in Luke 17:1 that it is a terrible sin to lead others into sin, and threatens those who do with punishment worse than drowning. God protects others by humbling the prideful but also protects the prideful by this humbling them since teachers and leaders are held to a higher standard and will face judgment for the faults of their followers.

I wish I could say I quite being haughty and judging towards others but still on this day, just as my first day on the AT, I was putting all my self-worth and pride in my pace and not in the Lord. It would be on week 3; one stress fractured foot and ill-nourished body later that I would lose my pride and view myself not superior to every other hiker.

Not long after breakfast I saw my first bear on the trail. I was hiking to the tune of some song in my head when I heard a grunt followed by some thumps crashing through brush going up a steep incline. I looked up to see the black bear, it was large in the 250 to 300 range. It stopped at the top of the hill, then sat down as if winded from ascending too fast. (I’m sure it wasn’t.) I stopped to focus my eyes on it and it avoided eye contact. I thought cool and then moved on.

After Birch Spring gap, (a camp ground,) but before Mollies Ridge Shelter I saw 2 hikers going south bond.

“Hey you guy keep your eyes out for a bear I saw one not too long ago.” I greeted the two.

“Do you think it’s the bear that attacked that guy?”

“Someone got attacked?”

“Yeah just the other night, the rangers are closing down a lot of the shelters.”

“Shit, do you know if Derrick Knob is closed I’m trying to get there for the night.”

“Could be but we don’t know.”

“Well alright. Y’all have a good hike.”

“You do the same.”

The day got increasingly cloudy and mist started to form. It was easy to see how the Smokys got there name. The trail was also slick it had obviously been raining in these mountains for a few days.

Just after passing Mollies I saw my first park ranger she greeted me by asking for my AT permeant and I was glad I had filled it out.

“You know about the bear right?” She asked.

“Yeah just heard. Do you know if Derrick Knob shelter is closed?”

“Could be but I’m not sure, Spence Field Shelter is closed, that’s where the attack happened.”

“Thanks.”

“This kind of stuff wouldn’t happen if you AT hikers took responsibility and stored y’alls food correctly.”

This was the attitude of most Rangers in the park. They were all on edge and upset about having to kill the bear. AT thru-hikers probably were the culprit but I knew it wasn’t me I never left trash, I wasn’t even burning trash at that time. But too many hikers were beyond ill prepared for a thru-hiking. But by the end of the Smoky’s these would be weeded out.

I believe I ran into the aggressive bear between Mollies, and Russell Field Shelter. I came around a corner to a bear the size of the one I saw earlier. Instead of crashing away It squared up, and then began bluff charging, making a sprint to 10 yards away from me then lunging away again. I somehow was able to smoothly roll my pack from my shoulders, unsheathe my machete, and hold my pack to the side with one hand and the machete in the other all the while yelling the guarantied bear deterrent phrase. “Hey bear fuck you, fuck off bear!” After 2 to 3 more bluff charges the bear darted off the trail and I could hear it crashing through the woods out of sight. I then felt accomplished and didn’t mind the rain trickling down through the canopy.

I went up and down on a mini roller coaster till I reached Derrick Knob Shelter. I found it to be full so I was forced into overflow camping. The rain had stopped so I set my tarp up in the dry and with little problem.

Talk about the bear attack circled with everyone at the camp. A ridge runner was there and she tried to dismiss many of the rumors with truth. But most wanted to believe the most sensational stories about what happened.

The most popular being that the man was dragged out of this shelter and almost died. I would find out the truth latter that it was a man in over flow camping that was bit once on the foot after waking up to the bear sniffing around in his tent for the coconut sunscreen that he was wearing.

Also at this Shelter were the Hatchet brothers. A notorious trail group of two who rumor had it carried 80 pound packs. I had heard of them since before the NOC, but didn’t realize I was eating with them since they had there packs stored in the shelter minus there food. I heard the Wolf Pack was also close by, but they planned on zeroing in Gatlinburg the next day. I had wanted to meet both these groups.

Before going to my tent I checked the trail log and found that Geronimo was 2 day ahead. And I still hoped to catch him. I also found that Quiet and Twister ate lunch at this shelter.

Day 11: Pride Check

I was up early and organized, ready to go in less than an hour. The air was thick with humidity. This air chilled me; it being early morning with the sun still hiding behind the mountains.

The shelter still did not stir but I saw six pairs of feet tucked away in mummy bags as I left Cable Gap Shelter.

The landscape of the 7 miles of trail stood out to me with its ruggedness. Grey stone rock covered the trail in spots and outcropping of the same color lined the trail. These 7 miles to Fontana went by quick, but were slick and near technical. I tripped and nearly fell flat to my face if I had not caught myself with both hands as if engaging a push up position. Also I remember an instant of having to shimmy sideways along one rock wall to stay on trail or tumble off. I have had people ask me what physical requirements are needed to hike the AT and the only two I would say is balance and the ability do a burpee. If you don’t have these physical traits it is unsafe to hike the AT.

IMG_0235At NC 28 there was a vending machine as well as a phone to call a shuttle to the general store. I needed to resupply because I didn’t at the NOC. First I walked in to the bait shop at Fontana Lake, got a snack, and tried to resupply but the bait shop didn’t have enough. So I called the shuttle to take me to Fontana Village (2 miles off trail.)

While waiting I noticed a lot of Z-Cars traveling down the road and would latter find out that Fontana is a driving destination, and holds many driving club events. The week before was a Mini Cooper convention.

My shuttle driver was a young man of 19 who worked seasonally at Fontana on the yard crew. I could relate, being a seasonal resort worker myself. I tipped him well when dropped off at the General store and he returned to weed whacking.

The general store at Fontana had everything I needed. I bought up 5 days’ worth of food to get me through the Smokys which I planned to enter after my resupply. I was going to make it to Davenport Gap 4 day that way I could meet up with my Aunt and Uncle for a day in Ashville NC. I had agreed to this earlier and would let them know my exact plan of arrival at Newfound Gap, so I bought the extra day’s worth of food so if our schedules didn’t match I would be able to camp an extra day.

On top of my resupply I bought some bananas and ice cream to enjoy on the porch of the general store. I later planed on getting pizza at the Fontana Pit Stop (a gas station that sold food) after I found the ATM at the Fontana Lodge.

A couple came to the porch hauling 2 packs they were too clean to be thru-hikers I thought, and assumed them to be day-hikers over packing for their outing from a hotel room. (I was feeling arrogant this day.) They ignored me and went in the general store, but were soon to come out and joined me on the porch with their own ice cream.

“You a thru-hiker?” the man asked he was really tall (6’4) and had a full blondish beard and his smile showed in his voice.

“Yeah, how about y’all” I said smirking.

“Sure are I’m Quiet.”

“And I’m Twister.” The Woman said.

“Cool, I guess I’m Joedirt but just got that at the NOC, not sure if it’s going to stick.”

“Awesome, Joedirt, how many days ago was that?”

I was hoping and waiting for this question.

“Just the other day. I went from the NOC to Cable Gap shelter and now I’m hear about to go into the Smokys.”

“Sweet we just finished zeroing here today, It’s good to meet someone at our pace.” Twister said in a way to congratulate. And I felt a little humbled.

“Hell yeah we’ve been passing hikers like crazy, kind of made it a challenge, but it’ll be good to have someone around for a while.” Quiet said still with a smile.

“Yeah, I plan to make it to Mollies today. Then just three more days to Davenport Gap.”

“Nice, we plan to go through the Smokys pretty quick too, they can be pretty miserable.”

“That’s what I heard, also been told that it takes more than a week to get through.”

“To do 80miles, who told you that?” Twister asked.

“Sir Packs a’lot.”

“The guy at the Top of Georgia? He’s full of shit.” Quiet said.

I was glad to find someone who shared my dislike for Sir Packs A’lot, and looked forward to seeing them at Mollies. By the time they headed for the trail I learned that Quiet had previously hiked the AT and that both him and Twister had hiked the PCT and Arizona Trail. (They meet on the PCT.)

After they left I headed to the lodge to find the ATM passing a parking lot full of Z-cars fully decked out and surrounded by pin-ups. I attracted my share of attention and my ego was stroked more and more with each question and remark. I came away feeling overly confident in myself and proud, and I left Fontana Village with a full belly some cash and needing a good ass kicking. I wouldn’t get the ass kicking but by the end of the day I would be reminded of how inexperienced I was.

IMG_0236The Dam itself was bigger than I was expecting and the trail went right over it. (it is the biggest Dam on the Eastern sea board.) Some where there was a shower room that I planned on using but did not see it at first glance so I passed on un-showered. Across the dam I saw the sign that welcomed me into the Smokys. I was smiling with confidence ready to prove Sir Packs a’lot wrong. I saw a white mark ahead of me, (not a white blaze.) This led me down the BMT.

I zoned out for 3-5 miles assuming I was still on the AT. I don’t know how I assumed this, (there was not near enough elevation gain,) just pride that would be shattered when I stopped and reviewed my AWOL.

When I realized I had gone the wrong way I threw my AWOL to the ground snarled curses to myself. All I could do though was shoulder my pack again and back track. An hour of seeing the same uninteresting wooded surroundings of the BMT made my pride limp but I hustled physically.

At the actual internes to the Smokys I was knocked back even further when I realized a pen was not provided to fill out the permit, and that I had dropped mine. So there was more back tracking this time back over the dam exposed in the baking sun over the asphalt.

I could see a hiker coming towards me through the heat haze and recognized him as the guy I meet on Cheoah Bald.

“Hope, you got a pen,” I greeted him.

“Why.” He answered with the same confident smile I had had going northbound over this dam.

“There’s not one provided.”

“Well alright.”

Neither of us let off from our strides and passed each other. I murmured under my breath, “Fucking Prick” and was angry that he was entering the Smokys before me. Between the sun my anger and the sound of the rushing water going through the dam I lost the will to continue hiking that day. And when I found that the visitor center was closed and I would not be able to barrow a pen I decided to stop and stay the night at the Fontana Hilton an AT shelter at the dam.

It was 4pm and only a mother and daughter were at the shelter. The mother said there were more coming but they went to the village to get supplies for a party. When the party showed up I found out it was a getting off trail party as everyone at the shelter was calling it quits. They all talked of how hard the trail was, some were depressed being away from loved ones; they all missed feeling clean. So this was a big celebration for them all. I didn’t like it and it was upsetting to me. I now realized that there was nothing wrong with this since they all had happy lives to live off the trail and hiking these 166 miles lead them to appreciate it.

I drank with them accepting two lite beers, which got me buzzed. Then out of the trail came 4 Europeans with one local. The Europeans were hikers and had just finished a 20 mile day the local was showing them where the shower room was at the dam and I went with them. The shower room was one big communal shower that offered no privacy like a high school locker room. The Europeans were comfortable with this, me being American It was a little weird, but being on the trail you learn to lose a little modesty.

Once clean we all dried in the sun. (Clothed!) The local passed around a bowl, as the sun was setting. I watched Old Glory fly in the red hues of the fading light, and could faintly hear the rushing water. I was not angry or prideful I enjoyed the company around me, and answered questions the Europeans had about America, but feed them lies about myself and the reasons for being on the trail.

Storms where building over the Smokys but it was a clear night at the Fontana Hilton. I had no trouble falling asleep with the laughter of the party. I set my alarm of 5 and had everything organized for easy packing in the morning. I knew the next day I would get wet but was ready for it. I said a prayer for strength before falling asleep, and this prayer led into a prayer for humility and to live for actions not words or thoughts.