Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Great Smoky Mountains Days 3 and 4

    The next morning me and the two guys from Clarksville, Tennessee got up at around 7am.  We had breakfast and coffee, and, after they looked over this really detailed trail book one of the guys had and realized they would be hiking uphill all day if they proceeded down their initially determined path (the way I had come from), they decided to change course and hike in the direction I was hiking.  They planned to hike for a few miles, camp and then go back the way they came the next day.
    The first part of the trail that day was on relatively flat terrain which is hard to come by in the Smokeys.  They hiked at a fairly quick pace, but took a break every half hour or so…to smoke.  Before we started, Mr. Map said that we would be crossing a stream seven times.  Seven times!  I could barely see we were going to cross it once on my POS map.  Luckily, we were able to cross the stream without taking our shoes off all times.
    During one of their backwoods smoke breaks, we all had our backs off and were standing on some rocks at the edge of a stream.  I heard a sound something like “RAAAWWWRRR” from about 30-40 yards away.  I looked toward the sound, didn’t see anything, and turned to Mr. Map.  Mr. Map had heard the sound, the other hadn’t.  Mr. Map turned to the other guy and said, “You didn’t hear that?”  “Huh,” says the other.  “I heard this RAWWWRRR sound.  That was definitely a bear.”  We yelled some (human growling) to scare the bear, put on our packs, and got the hell out of there.
    We passed a few campsites on our way and lunched at one of them.  They were taking their time, but I didn’t mind because I enjoyed hiking with people much more than alone.  We moved on after eating, and, at around 1:30pm, got to a campsite where we were going different ways.  They were headed to a campsite half a mile away, and I was headed to a campsite over five miles away.  Seems to be a pattern here.
    As soon as we parted, I started hiking uphill.  I was getting my payback from hiking downhill for four hours the previous day.  I saw one group of people and a teenager in their group said, “It’s a long way up.”  Thanks for the inspiration kid.  About an hour into my hike, I turned onto a trail that started the last five miles of my day.  It started raining soon after I got on it, so I put on my rain jacket (I decided I didn’t need to put on my pants because my feet were already wet – mistake – wetter is indeed worse than wet).  As soon as I put on my pack and started hiking, a large deer with a huge set of antlers bolts around a curve in the trail and heads right for me.  You never know how you’ll react in a situation like that until it happens.  I yelled out, “OHHHHHHHHH.”  Perhaps one would expect an expletive to follow, but just the oh this time.  Guess I didn’t feel there was time for more than one syllable.  When the deer heard/saw me, it slid to a stop and sprinted in the other direction.  Alone in the forest, exhausted, wet in the pouring rain, and a large animal sprinting right for me.  It was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life.
      The rain slowed and eventually stopped. I didn’t see anyone on the rest of my hike.  I was sure there was going to be someone at the campsite.  But there wasn’t.  I got to the site at around 5:30pm and set up my tent.  I made dinner (spaghetti and sauce), hung up my bag, and felt the things one feels when camping in bear country alone and it’s about to get dark.  I decided I need to make some noise as complete silence with the smell of recently cooked dinner didn’t seem like a good combination for keeping bears away.  At first I thought I’d do my usual singing every so often, but that seemed ridiculous, so I started talking to myself.  I told the story of my hiking trip up to that point out loud.  It provided sound and helped me remember details of the trip.  If you’re ever alone in the woods at night, I would recommend this approach (I would not recommend hiking or camping alone though).  Day three start elevation: 3000’.  Day two end elevation: 5000’.  ~12 miles.
    I slept fairly well for the situation I was in.  I woke up a few times and made some noises because I thought I heard something.  In the morning, I made some coffee, ate some breakfast bars, filtered some filthy water, and began hiking downhill.  I thought I was going to be able to make it through the whole trip without going #2.  I was wrong.
    I made it back to my initial camp at around 11am.  I passed some horses at the half mile of the trail, so I officially began and ended my trip staring at a horse’s ass.  I drove to a fast food burger chain (it’s becoming a tradition for me to eat a pile of grease after a backwoods experience).  I thought it was going to be one of the best tasting meals ever for me since I’d been so long eating backwoods mush.  It was good, but not mind blowing.  I reflected on what I had accomplished the last few days.  Usually I don’t give myself credit for anything, but, thinking back on it then, I thought maybe, just maybe, I had accomplished something pretty cool.  And I definitely earned my beard.  Bout time.

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