Friday, April 25, 2003
Once upon a time:
I headed for the big mountains of Tennessee on Sunday with a truck cab full of gear (not as much as last year), a mind full of last years memories, and a sewing machine. Mainly I was thinking "PLEASE DON'T RAIN THIS YEAR!" Nothing even fell out of the truck this time so I started off on a better foot. Lunch was ready when I arrived and a short hike was planned after the meal. [A quick jump back: You know that with a year full of planning, nobody even knew what day we were going to start the hike. I was planning on hiking on Monday, Dad and Steve were starting on Tuesday. A few days before I left to go over, Dad sent me an e-mail and asked what day I was planning on coming. During lunch we decided that we would leave in the morning.]
A small warm up hike it was. We battled the traffic and people to get started. Mom and Kathy stood in a line like they were waiting to vote at the restrooms before we started down the trail. The stories were being told and memories spoke of times in the past as we headed through the woods. After a bit of time we passed a couple coming back down the trail. The man was carrying two walking sticks and offered me one. I quickly said, "no thanks," and then the thought ran through my mind: I am walking with Mom and Steve on either side. Dad and Kathy were ahead of us. Why did he pick me to offer the stick to? Did I look that bad already? I quickly caught up with Dad. If he didn't offer it to him, I was going to have to chase the man down and give him a piece of my mind. Lucky for him, he did ask Dad if he wanted it. On the way back down I had one of those moments. You know the type that you don't want anyone to see. When one boot lace on the left foot got hooked on the hook of the right foot. I went from a regular pace to double time real fast. I did manage to stay on my feet, but not gracefully enough to let it slide by everyone else. The humor began.
Back at the ranch we had a hearty meal and then the packing began. I noticed that Steve's pack was quite small, but said nothing. The big argument was not about the bear spray this year. Besides we never saw one last year. This year it was the amount of Scotch to bring. After an hour I found out that I lost. For the record, Kathy was on my side. After the learning experience of last year, I knew that I wouldn't need all the extra stuff I wanted to bring the year before. Dad said that his pack weighted about 30 pounds. Mine must have been a heavy 30 pounds. I looked at Steve's pack again. After all the packing was done, we settled down for a good nights rest. Kathy and Mom spent more time planning their shopping trip than we did packing for ours.
After a good hearty breakfast we headed out for the trailhead. We were starting out at the highest point in the Smoky Mountains. That should tell you something. It was an hour and a half travel time of pure terror as Dad screamed through the winding roads in the van. The van was impressive as always. We started out with a squeak and ended up with a noise like something was falling off. Of course when we started it that morning it didn't want to start. Dad mentioned something about that happening more often now. You know what I was thinking. After a long hike in the mountains....
When we got to Clingmans Dome (the top) we had a beautiful sight. The sky was clear and you could see for miles and miles. We had a lady take our before picture and headed down the road. We had to hike a mile down the road to the trailhead. We were hiking down one mountain ridge, across another mountain ridge, and then back up a third mountain ridge. A round trip you see. The first wildlife we came across was of course just gas. That happens when you walk a long way; excuse me. After that we flushed some Grouse. That is a game bird for you non-hunters. We came across the lunch spot, which was a campsite by the river--very nice. A siesta was voted on. Steve set up the hammock. This is the new experiment this year. We are sleeping in hammocks that have a bug screen over it. The next animal was a small snake in the path. We had a few river crossings, but all had either logs over them for us to cross or rocks close enough together to keep us from wading. After hiking all day out in the middle of nowhere, we came across bulldozer tracks. What the he...? A little further down the trail we find a bulldozer and a backhoe. Back to nature we went.
We got into camp early. We decided to wash up, something that we never had the opportunity to do last year with the rain. Dad and Steve got out the old washrags. Me, you know I-the-man, just dove on in. There are different kinds of pain, as we all know. You got the soreness pain, the burning pain, and then there is the freezing pain. I came up screaming like a schoolgirl, but quickly regained my composure as I walked across the top of the water to the shore. The next chore was to set up the camp. You know, the hammocks. That first try out you just kinda ease on in with one foot never leaving the ground. I looked over at Dad and he was sitting in his hammock on the ground, a minor misjudgment of the tying-off height. You put your pad in the middle layers of this hammock and then your sleeping bag is put inside. You can get into this set-up in just under 15 minutes. Dad and Steve made dinner while I picked up the firewood. Part of a Ranger's job must be to go to different campsites and lay out wood that looks real good, but doesn't burn. It's a pretty cool thing, literately. We found that of all natural things to get a fire going that gas does the best job. The argument about the amount of Scotch was brought up again. I won this time, but it didn't do any good. After Dad went to bed, Steve and I were standing at the fire. He said that he heard something and looked around with a flashlight. I heard nothing but joined in the search. My brother was worried about a toad. Can you believe this? I was thinking deer, bear, tigers, but never toad. We climbed into the hammocks. You can get seasick on land! 15 minutes later you are in a spot that you think you are supposed to be. It was a clear night with a lot of stars. The sound of the river put you to sleep.
Steve said that he was sniffed. At first I thought that I might have missed out on some fun, but then he said that he got sniffed last night. He had heard something playing in the river. After it got quiet he dozed off to wake up to a loud huff in his ear. He was for sure awake then. He handled this situation a lot better that what I had planned. He cleared his throat and heard the bear walk off. For some reason, he didn't get up even to pee until it got light out. When we got ready to leave camp two trucks pulled up and the men started fueling the backhoe up. They have to clear this trail out every year for a truck to be able to bring a family up to visit a graveyard. That's your tax dollars at work!
The climb out of camp was similar to an elevator shaft. It wasn't long for the puffing to start. Finally the trail started leveling out and along we went. You know the hunter in me, and I am always looking. I knew that this bear poop we had found was very fresh and voiced my concern. Further down the trail we found more of the same. We said that when we came across them they would probably be hungry. Well this is how it goes: Steve was in front, Dad in the rear. The path went along the side of the mountain. One side went up, the other went down. The black blur came from the top at a very high speed. When it hit the trail and started coming at us it focused into a black bear cub. Steve was backing into me and we were both staring at this cub. At the distance of about ten feet the bear cub slid to a stop and reversed directions. The words out of my brother's mouth were not that of a calm man. Actually all that he could say was "cub". The facial expressions where worth a million if caught on tape. I knew what he was thinking as I was thinking the same: Where is Momma bear? I had pictures of poor dad lying on his back with boot and walking stick marks all over him, as he did not know what was going on and my feet were heading his way. At the point of which it was time to panic, out came Momma bear. She came from above and headed the same way that baby bear did. Time to let the stress out. We laughed hysterically. No signs of the bear after that.
We made it to our lunch spot and then to a camp for our siesta. I guess that I was too comfortable with my hammock. I should have tested those knots like the previous day. I found everyone laughing at me as I lay on the ground with my hammock. Further down the trail we came across some wild turkeys. We also found out that the wider the river the less rocks to walk across on. On one such river crossing as I watched Steve going deeper and deeper, I thought that I should start looking for better way across. My legs are not as long as his. With Dad half way across, I found rope tied across the river downstream that you could walk across rocks and hang on to. I rubbed this in after I got across. We passed two other hikers going the other way, the first on this trip. When we got to camp we met another. He was from Chicago and was just starting his four-day trip. He hung out at our campfire that night and then joined us on our hike to Clingmans Dome the next day. The night was calm.
Now there were four. More grouse were kicked up. The trail was not as bad as figured going back to the top. We came across a campsite that had a bunch of trash in a bag hanging on the bear line. (For you non-campers, that is the line that you lift all of your smelly stuff and food off the ground to keep the bear out of it.) As we left the camp we came across two propane bottles and a half full bottle of lighter fluid. I made 60 cents at this point as well. Further down the trail were four sleeping bags, one still in the plastic. Because of the steepness of the trail, we suspect that this was the first and last backpacking trip for four individuals and that they must have lightened their load on the way out of the woods--sissies! Our new buddy had one of those programmable GPS. He spent most of the trip looking at it, but he could tell us that we were turning left before we got to a turn. I guess that is well worth the money!
Soon we came across day hikers and then the top of the mountain. Being the heroes that we were, we added another mile on our trip and went up to the lookout tower on the top. You could really look at different states. We also found out that this little addition would cause a lot of pain to the calves. The van started after a little help, and the only problem was the driver door wouldn't close. As Steve said "you might be a red neck if...." I found a small stick and wedged it in the door where a screw had fallen out. Hey it worked. A one-time door closing followed and he headed home. Over all it was a wonderful trip and everyone had a great time. The tree colors were wonderful and so was the weather.