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Leaving Erwin

It’s that time again.


The trail is calling.

So far it appears I’ll be hiking from Erwin, Tennessee on Saturday, May 11, 2013. No-Longer-A-Teen Daughter will be accompanying me. The next significant way-point from Erwin is Damascus, Va., but that’s a long, long hike for just a single week. Since Trail Days in Damascus are from May 11 through May 19, it would be nice to show up and maybe catch the end of the party. But after several outings I’ve learned not to fall too deeply in love with a plan. It is good to have a plan, but I always seem to deviate from it at some point.

So this year, we leave Erwin on the 11th, and see how far we can go.

I can’t wait.

Maybe I’ll see you along the way?


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Posted by on April 24, 2013 in Uncategorized


Erwin, TN

May 9, 2012

No-Longer-A-Teen daughter at a trail head

Hostels seem to be a great place for the thru-hikers to catch up on all the gossip concerning the moving party that is the annual migration north. Hiker-knowledge knows the general whereabouts of all recent hikers whom have moved northward, as well as the stragglers whom have still not arrived.

Uncle Johnny’s is no different.

As I walk through the hostel grounds, I see only one familiar face. Der Vunderhiker, who cruised past me en route to a 26 mile day yesterday. That would be a mountainous marathon with 30 pounds on his back; he smiles and gives me a shy acknowledgement. On this rainy afternoon, he is the only one I recognize. Since I have outpaced nearly everyone I started with, it’s no surprise. As the day progresses, I will see more and more familiar faces.

People stop at Uncle Johnny’s for the obvious reasons: shower, laundry, and a ride to town for a massive intake of calories.

Teen daughter leads me to our luxury accommodations: one of the cabins with a double-sized bunk bed and a sofa. I’m soaked, so after smiles, wet hugs, and a few quick stories, I’m ready to get a shower, and then get dry and into some clean clothes.

I’m not overly-impressed with the showers, but at least they’re functional. The warm water in an unheated shower room on a cold-rainy spring day makes for an interesting experience. One must move quickly once the warm water is off in order to get adequately clothed again – and to stay warm.

Showers to the left, cabins to the right

One thing that a carefully planned section hike affords you is the occasional access to an automobile. Ours is here. It only takes one or two section hikes to establish a ritual, and ours is to head to town for a sit-down meal. Today, just for the heck of it, we drive to nearby Johnson City and to a Bob Evans. Thanks, Bob, it was great. Upon returning to the hostel, the rain is easing a bit, leaving everything wet, but at least not getting wetter.

Victory meal at Bob Evans

“Look, there’s Greta. Apparently she’s made it down off the mountain.”

Teen daughter enquires, “Which one?”

“The blonde,” I say, pointing.

“She’s a redhead.”

“No, she’s clearly blonde.”

“No, she’s a readhead.”

There’s no point in arguing with her. I know a blonde when I see one so at least I’m satisfied that I’m right. I let it drop.

Bama and Winkle are there. They skipped a section and rode to Uncle Johnny’s together with my clan yesterday from where the trail intersect I-26. I head to the covered deck area, an area which serves as the major gathering place at the hostel. The place looks like a hundred spoiled kids, all of whom think Mommy should clean up after them, have had a party and just walked away.

Grim, the innkeeper keeping all aspects of the hostel running, emerges from the office and announces that the van is heading into town in 5. Load up or get left. A rough group of hikers dutifully pile into the van and soon they are gone.

Left behind is another familiar hiker, Sarong Man. He’s wearing thin nylon shorts now, which accentuate his parts much the way the sarong did. Somehow he seems a bit proud of his attributes. I wonder if he knows that half the population on earth has the same attributes, and no one is clamoring to see them?

“Aren’t you heading into town?”

“No, Uncle Johnny and I had a disagreement about what I owed him, and I refuse to spend a dollar here.”


Now that the crowd has thinned, I take the opportunity to gather the empty soda cans and take them to the recycle bin. The bin is overflowing. I carefully create a Jenga-type tower with the cans as they pile high. I have no idea why I’m compelled to gather trash and straighten things up. Probably because the area has exceeded my tolerance for trash and chaos.

Uncle Johnny’s

To No-Longer-A-Teen daughter I say, “I heard Greta asking someone when they were checking out. Apparently Uncle Johnny is letting her stay for free on a work-stay plan.”

“Which one is Greta?”

“She’s the blonde, athletic-looking girl.”

No-Longer-A-Teen daughter looks puzzled, “You mean the redhead?”

– – – –

Bama engages me in conversation, “Your daughter sang at the campfire last night, she’s really good.”

Teen daughter loves music and wants to make it her life. She had played guitar and done some fiddling at Standing Bear hostel just last year. This year we didn’t bring a full-sized guitar with us, but she brought a small, thin, trail guitar. Somehow she makes it sound like the real thing. (Since finishing this hike she has released an EP on iTunes. In case anyone is interested, the link to her website is here.)

The cast of characters continues to assemble; I see Brazil and Trekky. We make eye contact, smile, and exchange knowing hiker-waves.

Campfires and singing

As darkness creeps in, someone starts a campfire and Bama is persuading Teen-Daughter to do some more singing. It doesn’t take much coaxing. A group of rough-looking hikers, guys with untrimmed beards and permanently ragged clothes, gather for stories, singing, and the warmth of the fire. The night air is not warm.

– – – –

In the morning we are packing for home. I wouldn’t mind moving further up the trail, but Teen-daughter’s knees aren’t going to allow her to go, and quite frankly, the logistics of the whole thing seem daunting.

After packing the car, I see Greta. She is still looking for rooms to clean to honorably keep her end of the work-stay bargain.

“We’re out of our cabin.”

“Great, thanks. Which one is it?”

I point to the place we have recently vacated.

While in town yesterday, we tracked down an Ace bandage. I walk to the office area where we will pin it with a note to Henry. You may recall that Henry was a hike-saver when he had a bandage and some anti-inflammatories to share after I rather badly sprained my left ankle.

I will never know if he gets it, but the gesture seems mandatory. I sincerely hope that he showed up within a couple of days, saw the bandage and the note, and perhaps smiles at the gratitude with which it was left.

Lovely wife is there and I tell her that I saw Greta and let her know we were out of the room so that she could clean it.

She answers, “Greta? You mean the redhead?”

“She’s blonde.”

Teen daughter is there, Dad, do you know what her trail name is?”

“No. What?”

“Ginger Snap.”


Posted by on September 4, 2012 in Uncategorized


Standing Bear Farm

May 5, 2011


Standing Bear bunk house

Once out of the Smokies and under I-40, you go back into the woods for a mile or so then cross Green Corner Rd. A sign indicates 200 yards to the Standing Bear Farm. I think 200 yards is exaggerated to the short side. It is at least a quarter mile, and maybe slightly further. Perhaps the owners have done a focus group study and found hikers will walk 200 yards off the trail, but 400 yards is right out? One way or the other, it is not a terribly long walk, considering that we’re approaching 20 miles for the day.

Walking directly into the bunkhouse, we throw our packs on a bunk, thus claiming our space.

Standing Bear Farm has a bunkhouse with 7 or 8 up/down bunks. There also is a cabin directly across the driveway. Behind the bunkhouse is a kitchen/laundry/computer room . The bunkhouse and utility buildings form around an outdoor sitting are, the main feature of which is a fire circle.

The cabin has been occupied by a group of hikers we have met along the way over the last day or two. Super-bubba explains that none of them knew each other when starting out in Georgia, but they have become fast friends and intend to hike together as much as possible.

When asked about the most memorable part of the stay at Standing Bear, Teen-Daughter says, “I got a shower.” And indeed, there are two showers adjacent to each other in a shower house immediately behind the cabin. Further back from the shower house is the privy, which is as fancy as restroom facilities get here.

Standing Bear 1

Standing Bear Farm

Down the driveway toward the main house is the store room, an honor-system store with a variety of canned goods, but more importantly, refrigerated items and a freezer full of FROZEN PIZZAS! The temptation is too great. After two days of eating twigs and berries (imagine how thru-hikers must feel), we cannot resist a $10 pizza. The the mini-oven in the kitchen does not cook it perfectly even and I let it get slightly too done on top, it is one of the best pizzas I have ever eaten. Looking up from the table, there is a line out the door of hikers waiting to cook pizzas.

Kitchen and Outdoor gathering area

We staged our hike from Standing Bear and our car is here. In preparation for just such an occasion, I have put four instruments into the trunk of the car; guitar, banjo, mandolin, and violin/fiddle (depends on how the teen daughter plays it.)

Showers taken, pizza eaten, we roll out the instruments in the kitchen and have a little fun. I’m just an amateur, playing some guitar and a little banjo. Teen daughter is more than proficient at all four instruments. She starts on guitar singing songs she likes and gets a little friendly hiker-applause. I talk her into doing a little fiddling (she’d rather play guitar) and it appears from the attention she gets, she is well-received.

No-Longer-a-Teen Daughter and Super-Bubba

No-Longer-a-Teen daughter is happy to call her hike here. She has walked over thirty miles from Newfound Gap, a great accomplishment as far as I’m concerned. She’s doing the Hiker’s Shuffle, which is akin to limping on both legs. Teen daughter has twisted her knee and I’m concerned that she may injure it further if she continues on. She is strong-willed and does not want to miss a day of hiking. She’s ready to crawl if she has to. Eventually I prevail and talk her into taking the day off with her sister. Perhaps they can go into Gatlinburg before travelling to Hot Springs where I will meet them the day after tomorrow.


The Musician

The original plan is to break the next two days up into relatively equal distances. From Standing Bear to Roaring fork is in the neighborhood of 17 miles with another seventeen to go from Roaring Fork to Hot Springs.

“You know Dad, you make pretty good time and could probably get to Walnut Mountain tomorrow. It’s only 21 miles. Then you’d get to Hot Springs a lot earlier on Saturday.”

What I heard: ‘Here take a bite of this apple, you will not surely die.’ To mix metaphors, I know when the Jedi master is attempting to control my mind.


Fontana Dam to Mollies Ridge Shelter

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Conversant and Son have tented a few steps away from the shelter and are the first to launch in the morning. Tomato, Lovely Wife and I are not far behind. I tend to wake up at first light and I find no reason to lay in bed when there’s hiking to be done.

Fontana Dam and Terrain

We enter the Great Smoky National Park today and the rules are a bit different from the rest of the trail. The park service requires section hikers to make reservations for the shelters. I presume they do this to assure there is no overcrowding. Through-hikers get a pass, but by park rule must give up their space in a shelter to someone with reservations if there is not enough room. During the three nights in the Smokies, there was always room-for-one-more at the shelters, though the Mt. Collins shelter ended up being a bit tight.

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Lovely Wife and Tomato

Because we are not allowed to tent in the Smokies, we leave our tents (which we haven’t used so far this trip) in the car and lighten our load a bit. We also leave some wet clothes that we have certained not to wear again. It’s nice to take some things out of the pack, even if it only amounts to a handful of pounds.

We cross the dam with a light fog rolling from the low side of the dam across the road and dissipating before it reaches the lake on the other side. It creates a tunneling effect which is eerie. Once across the dam, the there was a small moment of confusion. There is no obvious sign pointing to the trail. We continue along the road, wondering if we’ve missed something. Eventually we see a blaze on a tree to the right. The hike from the shelter across the dam and along the road ends up being nearly two miles on asphalt. It seems like two free miles.

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Preparing for lunch along the trail

Finally the road ends and there is the familiar Appalachian Trail sign pointing us uphill. We enter the woods.

Today’s hike has us going up 2000 feet, getting back to the ridge-line. There is an occasional vista as we head up. A fire tower has been visible from time to time since we left the dam. Finally, at the top of a climb, there is a brief, point one mile trail leading to the tower. I’m told the view is spectacular and that the tower may be climbed. For some inexplicable reason, we pass on going to the tower. I regret it later. What, are we in a hurry to get somewhere?

At one of the side trails we see Conversant and Son hiking back onto the A.T., having filled with water. It makes for some more interesting conversation as we hike.

Padre and Severance, whom we met at the Fontana Hilton, pass by around the trail to Gregory Bald. There is no way I can keep up with them. That’s when I reason that the conditioning gained from being on the trail continuously from Springer Mountain has put them in better shape than I. One of the drawbacks of only spending a week on the trail is that by the time you’re in great shape again, it’s time to go home.

The day is delightfully sunny and by 3:30 or so we have made Mollies Ridge where we will spend the night.


Sassafras Gap Shelter to Cable Gap Shelter

Monday, May 17, 2010

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Atop Cheoah Bald

Teen Daughter and my journey begins somewhere around 7:00 a.m. Our fear is that it will be another wet and rainy day. My socks and shoes aren’t totally dry, but at least they aren’t so wet that they are uncomfortable.

We climb out of Sassafras Gap heading to the top of Cheoah Bald. We cover the mile and a half quickly in an impressive fog. At the top we see a lone tent off to the side of the small bald. We stop and imagine what an impressive view this would be if we were not in the clouds. Wooden signs identify the location and point in the direction of the nearest water. As we talk softly, the side vent on the tent opens and a head appears.

Cheoah Sign

Cheoah Sign

“Eet eez a lung vay to zee vahter eef you need to get some.”

“Thanks, we’ve got plenty of water for now. We’re just enjoying the view,” said mildly sarcastic.

“Ahh, eet eez very foggy, yes?”

Apparently nothing gets by Gunter.

Shortly after Cheoah Bald, Spoon blazes by. His two weeks of establishing trail legs makes our day-two legs seem feeble. We greet, he moves on. As the day progresses, the weather steadily improves. There is a very brief, very light shower that amounts to nothing. Upon reaching Brown Gap Shelter, we are out of water and ready for a refill. Spoon is there and we share some light conversation. Walking to the bottom of the hill upon which the shelter rests, we fill from the spring that runs there. Spoon packs up and is gone. I use the opportunity to take off my shoes and socks briefly, hoping for a little extra dry-time.


Cheoah Panorama

Sweetwater Gap marks the beginning of an ascent that is somewhere around 750 feet over the length of three quarters of a mile. On the trail profile the climb looks impressive, if somewhat short. The profile doesn’t begin to show just how rigorous a climb that exists northbound from Sweetwater Gap. Slowly, with very small steps, I force my way through the ascent without stopping. It is an incredible, heart-pounding event. In modern vernacular, it struck my hind quarters as with a foot at a high rate of velocity. Or as Gunter might have said, were he here, “eet keeked my azz.”

This is when I first began to appreciate just how strong and buoyant are the legs on Teen Daughter. Bounding ahead, she would look back as if to say are you coming? Later in the day I asked her how the trail matched her expectations? She answered that it was pretty much what she had expected. What she added after that needs context: I fancy myself a true mountain man, unlimited endurance, the strength to scale any mountain and walk forever long after others have tired and fallen by the wayside. She turned to me and said, “Quite frankly, Dad, I’m a little disappointed in you.”

The rest of the day is uneventful. I feel myself dragging a bit. I blame it on Sweetwater Gap. Nonetheless, I trudge on, trying to keep up with Teen Daughter. Soon enough we descend into Cable Gap and the welcome sight of the Shelter and the end of the day’s hike.