Monday, June 12, 2006

Appalachian Trail: Part I

Saturday Morning: 12:38am

I get off work and go in search of Nate to begin the final launch sequence of our pre-planned Appalachian Trail excursion. Humorously, I finally found him asleep on his couch, with the unsuccessful cell-phone alarm sitting on the end table thinking about its next move. After a cunning side-step to Walmart, we crept ever and anon toward Newfound Gap at the top of the continental divide, ETA from Walmart: 2 hours.

We stepped out of the car to find out that, at four in the morning, a band of angels comes swinging low above the Smoky Mountains, bring a mighty seraphim-driven wind with them. So toboggans and layers were the order of the day, in mid-June, no less. We had a few miles to go to Icewater Spring Shelter, and the wind died down some during that time. And on the final stretch of that trail, the sun began to yawn above some distant horizon near the sea, and everything around us turned to a silver indigo in the fog. Silhouettes of trees stood like ghostly sentinels around us with silent testimony to things unseen. We arrived at the shelter and set up camp to catch five or six hours of well-appreciated sleep.

Breakfast was Ramen with bread and water and a spicy Thai peanut sauce that ended up being the ketchup for this trip. We set out around lunchtime after meeting a couple of thru-hikers named Jeff and Josie (who proved to have a solid knack for being a bit shameless in their conversation) and a string of day-hikers, a few of whom were eager to assert their knowledge of all things mountainous. We filled empty bottles at the aptly named spring and began the trek toward Peck's Corner shelter, where there awaited dinner and good conversation. On the way, we passed several novelties. Charlie's Bunion seemed to be the last day-hiker destination on the trail before the desert of wilderness walking the tops of the earth - and a good destination it was too. It was a wonderful place to lunch (which we did on the way back) covered with flowering scrub and thick lichens, with a great view of the Sawteeth and the ensuing gorge. Further along, at either Porter's Gap or False Gap (I couldn't say which), we met LoneChair.

Though I don't know his real name, he regaled us with stories of the Appalachian Trail, how he got his trail name, and his job as an editor for one of the AT trail guides. He also runs "the most beautiful liquor store in Hickory" just down toward the Carolina Piedmont. Nate and I have vowed to go one day and shoot the breeze over a good whisky. He carried a lawn chair which bore the name Silver III, and he had one of the best thru-hiker guides I've seen, complete with the location of meals, lodging, and post in every town.

We went along, finally detaching ourselves mentally from our legs. They were merely machines in gear, rolling steadily up the mountains, while we were along for the ride. Passing the 6+ miles to Peck's Corner seemed to take years, but the sound of human voices and water was a welcome sign of light through the nimbus of endless walking. We met the folks and broke out dinner. Again Ramen, but this time with a cream of shrimp soup mixed in, and of course, bread and peanut sauce. Jeff and Josie were there, as well as John, a high school chemistry teacher from Kansas City maybe (my recollection is vague), and a hodge-podge scout group. Barbera, the leading lady of the troup, was the awesome sort of sarcastic person you'd love to have for a mom (kind of like my mom). With her traveled Sarah, Davidson, Carlton, and Ryan (or Bryan, it was an -yan name). They were led my a darkly complexioned man whose name I don't recall. Though I do remember that he looked rather like Rhett Butler while smoking a cigar. It was the debonaire way he stood with his head back and his chest out. LoneChair also joined the group for the evening, along with a fellow named Frank, who was an amiable, but very naked individual. He would announce his intention of changing clothes around the corner, so no womenfolk would walk "in" on him. Unfortunately, I was around the corner, but we're all guys. And having been on the trail for a bit, I would rather congratulate someone for bathing (which he also did on the trail) and changing clothes. He was a great guy to hang around. The shelter that night was a pow-wow of AT stories about fellow hikers, bears, days of plenty, and nights of none. I don't think we could've asked for a better evening. I went to sleep around 10, waking up in the middle of the night to the alarming sounds of wild hogs rooting and crashing around about 30 yards to my right. I was reluctant to sleep, but my body finally refused to let me keep my eyes open, and the hogs left as well.

Here endeth part one of the tale.


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