My Walk in the Woods, Ch 2

This is the tale of A Lo Hawk’s 132 day, 2200 mile traverse of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in 2008.

My Walk in the Woods, Ch 1

Chapter Two (April 14th-20th)

Day 7: (NC)  4 miles to road, shuttle to Franklin, NC Hiker Haven Hostel

A quick hike in the cold morning down to a road where hikers can catch a shuttle bus to Franklin, North Carolina. As we are waiting, the wind blows flakes of snow in swirling clouds. Nearby there is a pipe coming out of the hillside at shoulder height gushing cold spring water. Being a considerate piece of hiker trash, I want to spruce up before heading to town so I strip off my shirt and have a brisk shower while the other hikers stare at me in disbelief.

The shuttle bus arrives and we get our first look at Ron Haven, owner of the Hiker Haven Hostel. In his slow southern drawl he informs us he is the city mayor and chief promoter as well. We find out on the ride into town Ron is also a blatantly racist comedian.

Ambassador Haven gives us the grand tour of main street identifying the post office, outfitter store, and grocery. He finally stops at his clean, L shaped motel with nicely manicured and landscaped grounds. He ‘invites’ us to unload, check in and he promises to make a shuttle run back to the desired businesses in one hour. It is an offer no one refuses.

UPHILL and I share a room, drop our packs and he pulls out a nearly empty bottle of JD whiskey. We finish the bottle and sit on the grass with the other hikers waiting to do errands. At the grocery I get perishables like fruit; cheese, meat and bread for sandwiches. At the outfitter I buy moist yummy energy bars (I make a mental note to look for them in the future). Our last stop is to the post office where I wait in line to pick up my first mail drop.

SIDETRACK: In the weeks leading up to this trip I filled 14 boxes with dehydrated food, toiletries, trail data, etc. for Sue to drop into the mail at intervals. Three years ago I used the commercial food pouches like Mountain House. This year I prepared my own meals, borrowing a food dehydrator from a friend and sealing the meals in boil safe zip lock freezer bags. I also included into each box a few chapters of the novel Cold Mountain. I got an old paperback and ripped it into pieces. The plan is to read a section whenever I have a few minutes then burn it in a campfire when finished.

For dinner UPHILL and I walk over to country junkyard themed Cody’s Restaurant. Once we get past the old gas pumps and rusty automobilia we are served huge beers and chicken fried steaks. UPHILL tells me stories of his winter gig as a ski instructor to high end clients in Utah.

Day 8: (NC)  Shuttle to trail, 15 miles to Cold Springs Shelter

I can not sleep, the room feels stuffy and claustrophobic after living outside. I get up, walk out to the quiet parking lot and call Sue on my flip phone. Cheap breakfast with UPHILL then aboard the bus for the ride back to the trail. There is a mob of hikers waiting as we pull up, they crowd the door like cattle. I push my way through the herd, adjust straps and belts, then disappear into the foliage.

The walking is a gentle climb until I emerge from the trees onto the first of many grassy balds. Clear sunny skies allow for panoramic views of endless green ridges fading to the horizon. For the rest of the day I climb and descend a series of balds like a giddy roller coaster kid.

The fun ride ends and I camp near a shelter with a cold spring.

Day 9: (NC)  12 miles from Cold Springs Shelter to Nantahala Outdoor Center Hostel

I get the hiking done early in the day and arrive at bare bones Nantahala Outdoor Center Hostel. They service river guide clients and AT hikers. The sterile rooms have abundant bunkbed vacancies. I use vigilance in the shower area, never taking off my camp crocs or touching unnecessary surfaces. A good dinner at a close restaurant, wondering what happened to UPHILL. He is a fast hiker who typically starts late in the morning but catches me by the end of the day.

I scout the sturdy pedestrian bridge over the churning water that leads to the future.

Day 10:  18 miles from N.O.C. to Cody Gap

Journal notes are lost

Day 11:  Cody Gap to Fontana Dam to campsite #113 in Great Smoky Mountains NP

I anxiously approach the massive concrete structure which holds back Fontana Lake and defines the boundary to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The visitor center has showers and vending machines which I take full advantage of. Copious amounts of hot water and cold soda soothe the exterior and interior of the walking machine.

The town of Fontana Dam is compact and convenient. I grab some good local grub and have a picnic on the grass near the post office. I pick up another mail drop (with the next installment of Cold Mountain) and transfer the goodies into my pack.

Because of 9-11 no one is allowed to walk across the god DAM so hikers must make a 2.5 mile detour down stream and across a bridge. Fortunately this leads to an empty picnic area and a great place sit and smoke out. I call Sue before starting the climb into the park. Not five minutes later I see bear #1 rooting his snout in the underbrush on the hillside above me.

It is a long strenuous climb to the first NPS designated campsites. I grab #113 and the rest are claimed quickly. I am amused by the foursome of knuckleheads sorting out brand new gear with the plastic packaging still on. I watch intently while they consider the mystery of the gas canister/stove connection.

During dinner I briefly meet an ultralight, ultra hiking goddess who has miles to go before she sleeps. By humble comparison I calculate 178 miles covered in 11 days.

Day 12: (TN)  17 miles from campsite #113 to Derrick Knob Shelter

It rained last night so everything gets packed up wet. The reward for a sticky morning of climbing is an excellent view of the park from the grassy bald of Thunderhead Mtn. After drying out the gear I am in a better mood to continue hiking into the evening. As I come down a hill I hear shouts from a lively bunch and see the roof of Derrick Knob Shelter. I make the turn off the trail to join the fun ruckus.

Day 13: (TN)  14 miles from Derrick Knob to Mt Collins Shelter

Wind blows crystal moisture through the bitter air. Today is significant because the Appalachian Trail reaches its highest point at 6643 ft Clingman’s Dome. There is a big parking area for tour buses and a paved handicap ramp up to a sheltered overlook. Fog rolls through the empty lot as I unload my hiker trash into a metal can.

SIDETRACK: As a child my parents vacationed to TN and we visited Clingman’s Dome. I have an old photo of me clinging to a boulder, no shoes on, a pathetic sad faced little boy terrified of the boogey man in the woods.

The trail weaves along knife edge ridges with trippy hoar frost ice sculptures carved by the biting wind. At Mt Collins Shelter I look for the campsite with the most wind protection and hunker down for the night.

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