AT 2016: Erwin, TN to Standing Bear Farm – Day 3

We got an 8 AM start as we had 15.2 miles to put under our feet to get to Jerry Cabin Shelter in order to try to maintain some semblance of a schedule – one thing I dislike about section hiking for sure!  I wish we could just do whatever miles we chose to do, went at whatever pace we wished, took as much time as we wanted.  Afterall, we only get out here for a week one time each year so we need to make the most of it, right?  On the other hand, all of this drive to make certain miles and reach certain destinations each day was self-imposed.  Each year, towards the end of a trip, Deep Woods and I would say to each other that next year we would back off a bit on the miles…slow down a bit and take more time to actually experience the trail.  Stop driving ourselves so hard.  Great!  We would get back home and as the months wore on, winter came along and I would settle into this deep melancholy funk, thinking of nothing but being back on the trail, back in the mountains, the wildflowers, the fascinating people from far-flung places…but I was SO far away.  And I was getting another year older and not seeing anymore of those miles.  So, as each month passed leading up to the next trip, I kept adding a mile here and mile there, hoping to beat Father Time.  I suppose I just need to let go and be grateful for what time I have on the trail and stop beating myself into the ground!  I don’t think Deep Woods would mind either.

Anyway, on we marched and once again it was a beautiful day.  TONS of Large Flowered White Trillium lined the trail.  There were more of the pale colored ones as well.

Large Flowered White Trillium

Large Flowered White Trillium

Thankfully, the grade much of the day was gentle enough that, even with the longer miles, we would have just enough in the tank to make it to our destination.

Got some excellent views early and ran across a grave stone right along side the trail of a woman who was two days shy of turning 100 when she passed.

It was a much different experience going Southbound this year, as we were constantly being passed by thru-hikers heading North and now we were starting to run into a lot of them that Loonie and I had met in the Smokies the week before.  It was nice seeing them again and hearing about how their hikes were going.

We were also getting more details concerning the forest fires.  It turned out that the forest service had now closed the 15 mile section from Hot Springs, NC north to Allen Gap.  Hikers were getting bottled up in Hot Springs waiting for shuttles.  We heard all kinds of crazy stories.  Some hikers said “Screw It!” and hiked on.  Some got arrested.  Some were fined.  Some had to be evacuated.  Our dilemma was that we were due in Hot Springs day after tomorrow.  Loonie and her sister, who and had come to hang out with Loonie while Deep Woods and I were on the AT, were to meet us at Laughing Heart Hostel in Hot Springs where we could cleanup, wash our clothes, resupply, etc and then move on to finish the hike.  Now we’re scratching our heads wondering what our next move is going to be.  The only thing to do for now was to hike on, see if we get a cell signal to let Loonie know what’s up, and get to our destination for the day, Jerry Cabin Shelter.  We would figure out the rest tomorrow.

So, we marched on.  Came upon a pretty meadow which led us down to Devil’s Fork Gap, NC 212, where a couple of former thru-hikers had their camper parked and were doing trail magic.  A large group of young thru-hikers were already hanging out, waiting for the grill to fire up.  We two lowly, old section hikers slipped in and kindly begged for a couple of cold sodas and I for an ice cream sandwich.  Our hosts graciously obliged.  Hung out there for a few minutes and then moved on again but not before thanking our trail angels once more.

Crossed the road and climbed back up into the forest.  Over the course of the next twenty minutes or so, we made sure to let any NOBO’s (NOrth-BOunder’s) know that trail magic was just up ahead and you could immediately see them light up!  They would say thanks and start flying down the trail.  That’s when we ran across “The Oracle”.

We’re hiking along and here comes this young guy, maybe early twenties.  He’s tall…probably a bit over 6 feet…and skinny, has shoulder length brown hair with a little ponytail sticking straight up in the air and he’s got a peach-fuzz goatee.  He’s wearing shorts and something like a tank top and he’s carrying a long wooden staff, sorta like what Gandalf, from Lord of the Rings, carried.  He walks up with a big grin on his face and here’s pretty much how the conversation went:

Oracle: “Why greetings my fellow travelers!  And what are your names?”

Deep Woods: “I’m Deep Woods.  This is Bulldog.”

Me: “Hey man.  How bout you?”

Oracle: “They call me the Oracle.  The Oracle of the Mountains!”  (while spreading his arms out wide)

Me: “Dude, it’s a beautiful day for a hike, isn’t it?”

Oracle: “Oh it is glorious out my friends!  Just glorious!  Like the mountains are singing!” (again, while spreading his arms out wide)

Deep Woods: “Hey man, there’s trail magic up ahead.  They were just breaking out the grills.  There’s cold drinks, snacks, ice cream.  All sorts of stuff.”

Oracle:  “Oh my.  Oh my.  This is good  A happy day indeed!  I must tell my friend of this!  Yes.  Yes.  My friend will be so happy to hear of this.  This is good news indeed.  Farewell my friends.  Farewell and have a nice hike!”

Us:  “You too, Oracle!”

And off he went, happy as a lark.  Interesting guy.  We moved on, stopping yet again at Flint Mountain Shelter for another short break.  After about three miles we ran across the Shelton grave site, which appeared to have been tended to recently.  When I have a chance, I’ll have to look into the story behind these graves and memorials.  Should be pretty interesting.

Flint Mountain Shelter

Flint Mountain Shelter

Shelton Grave Site

Bit further on we crossed another meadow and then made our way up and over Big Butt Mountain.  Yes, Big Butt Mountain.

Marker on Big Butt Mountain

Marker on Big Butt

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On Big Butt

Ran across yet another memorial, this one to Howard C. Bassette, who apparently hiked the whole AT back in 1968.  Had to be a lot more difficult back then.  Not so well marked, no elaborate guides or apps, few trail towns.  I bet you had to be tough and persistent.  Pretty touching tribute and I wish I could be more like that.  I’m not sure I would fare so well.  Mr Bassette was a man.  I have a LONG way to go.

20160425_165306

We were closing in now, down to about a mile, and the hike over Bald Ridge was a nice way to cap off the day’s hike.

Came crawling into Jerry Cabin Shelter around 7 PM.  This was definitely getting to be a pattern.  I’m not the type that likes to stop early and spend hours sitting around camp.  I would rather move on and see new things while I can.  But you have to allow time for setting up camp, collecting water, cooking, eating, etc. and preferably without having to do any of that by the aid of your headlamp.  Deep Woods had joked that I seemed to have a knack for “nailing it”, stretching ourselves out to the last drop of energy and then “BAM” we’re in camp and done for the day.  Personally, I don’t think I had anything to do with it.  We just keep pushing each other along and we get there when we get there.  Or maybe the hand of God is dragging us along.  I’m thinking that’s the most logical explanation.

Anyway, we went through the aforementioned camp chores.  I spent some time talking to a thru-hiker from New Hampshire while collecting water.  He had spent a lot of time hiking in the White Mountains.  Seemed to really know his stuff and we talked for some time about how so few hikers know how to properly crap in the woods.  We were both shocked about the conditions we saw in the “Toilet Areas” at the shelters in the Smokies.  They looked like mine fields, excrement and paper lying openly on the ground all over the place.  One of OUR National Parks!!!  What is wrong with people?  THIS IS A NATIONAL TREASURE, PEOPLE!!!  Note to self: Post about how to properly crap in the woods as soon as I get a chance!

On that note, I ate my freeze dried meal of Chili Mac & Beef, changed clothes and got a text off to Loonie that we had to get off the trail at Allen Gap tomorrow.  Not sure how yet or what we were gonna do after that but at least she knew we were stopping at Allen Gap.  Once again, we were exhausted but we had seen and experienced so many amazing things and that’s what it’s all about.  Slipped into our shelters and called it a day.

Jerry Cabin Shelter

Jerry Cabin Shelter

Campsite at Jerry Cabin Shelter

My youngest son was back home visiting a few months ago and we had a chance to talk about many things.  I’m not proud to admit that I’ve become very cynical and narrow-minded….maybe even worse….and I confessed as much to him.  I had been chewing on some of the things I had said during our time together, not feeling so good about myself.

Someone passed this quote along to me after we got back home from the hike:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.  Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”  ~ Mark Twain

I’ve been thinkin’ about the Oracle lately.  I’ll admit, I thought the guy was just plain weird.  Then again, he’s probably just a very imaginative, happy-go-lucky guy out enjoying a hike on the Appalachian Trail.  He certainly didn’t appear to be under the influence of anything…that’s just who he is and maybe if more people were like the Oracle, the world wouldn’t be such an ugly place.  I wish him nothing but the best and I sure hope he got that trail magic.

I should probably go for more walks.

More to come…

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