28 April – Icewater Spring to Cosby Knob Campsite. (20.3 miles)

Put up some big numbers today!

This is what early morning breakfast disarray looks like:

     We then (traveling with Doodge and Forest Gump) came to Charlie’s Bunion, a well known lookout and fun precipice.  Here’s a short movie, and a picture of me on top (where I’m practicing my Mt. Katahdin pose.  Perhaps a bit premature.) 

     We talked about falling.  We traded stories about parts of the trail that had steep drop-offs.  I read a book last year called ‘Death In [the] Grand Canyon’.  (Thanks for the perfect Christmas present Memory!). In it, they’ve documented that most of the sudden falls from great heights occurred while a person was rising from a sitting to a standing position:  a fact I’ve since reminded a few people of when I saw them sitting precariously!  And I guess it makes sense: we are hard-wired to get up carelessly from the kitchen table, from sitting on the grass in the backyard.  

What has changed in these Grand Canyon death scenarios is that the consequences of a fluke stumble have gone from minimal to maximal the second one sits down on a precipice. It reminds me of the time I was working a cod-fishing trip on George’s Bank; a guy was reeling in a 40+ lb. codfish and had him on the surface and almost to the boat where I was waiting with a 14’ gaff. All was happiness, amazement and celebration. Suddenly, a huge long dark shape rose up underneath the fish; everybody went cold as a 180 degree arc of razor sharp teeth appeared behind the fish, slid up it, and closed cleanly and soundlessly at the shoulders of the 40 lb. cod! The guy reeled in the head, red blood spurting from the hatchet-clean slice, and the fish’s eyes were darting wildly about. Quite a sight in the sunlight!

     Death lurks just below.

27 April – Mt Collins Campsite to Icewater Spring Campsite (8.4 miles)

Well, I believe I have the answer to an age-old question: 

Yes.  Yes, in fact a bear does s#%t in the woods.  And sometimes right on the Trail.  Right after this,I got passed by a guy and he’d seen it too.  Then he says as he’s pulling away…”You know there’s 1900 bears in this park, right?”  OK.  How ‘bout not telling me everything.  Man, it was fresh, too. 

Shortly after this, I hit Trail Magic!  I was the first one there-another great spread-and I had some cold Powerade, hamburger, chips and some fruit…this was another one run by a church group: Baptist this time.  Warm generous people as always.

Interestingly, there were a couple of places where Wild Hog fences were protecting apparently rare and environmentally sensitive Beech groves.

AT 103:  Trail Maintenance people.  I’ve met several Trail maintenance people recently.  These guys do yeoman’s work, voluntarily, for the AT Conservancy.  They make steps, widen the path and clear fallen trees, and spend a lot of time building little structures to divert water off the Trail during rainfall.  Pete, here, is energetic and spent over 1,000 hours last year on maintaining the Trail—that is phenomenal!  Of course I thanked all these guys.

     So, I’ve been thinking about the meaning of life today.  Light fare.  I’m thinking of it as it relates to food, shelter, and (I’m going to nix clothing because hair sufficed for a great while—clothing seems like an evolution rather than an original necessity) water. 

     The release of our energies from the acquisition of these three as evolution permits allows for life to have meaning beyond survival—and that’s the meaning for life we must be talking about.

     First, let’s see how we got here:

     Water:  easy.  Lakes, rivers, streams and rain deliver enough water across enough areas of the globe to support life handily, notwithstanding distribution issues.

     Shelter: shelter has been originally available by construction with plants, mud, stone and largely trees- who knows what else?

     Food:  the evolution of abundant food was a little more hard-won.  Hunter-gathering for a long time, then we figured out how to grow enough food locally to sustain families and have a surplus, and then the agricultural revolution took progress from an arithmetic to a geometric progression.  The world flourished by the trade of necessities, and eventually luxuries and services as most people were able to disengage from directly producing the bare necessities:  food, shelter and water. 

    Secondly, thus disengaged, we must realize that if humans have free time, afloat upon abundance, it must be to do something with it.  Doing versus not doing is the obvious choice; to not do anything is anathema to the dynamics of life that we feel in our hearts and see on this busy little planet every second of every day.  It’s what living things are about:  doing.  So, if we should do something with our time, then what is it that we should do: good things or bad things?  The great majority of people fortunately recoil at the thought that it would be a purpose or a legitimate pastime for anyone to do bad things.  Since we’re not going to do nothing, and we’re not going to do bad things, we must be called to do good things.  And for whom/what?  Probably for everything; for the environment, for animals, and for each other of course.   I have seen this (doing for others) at work on the Trail.   I gave my silk ‘baselayer’undershirt away to a guy who had a severe rash on his skin and nothing to put against the friction his backpack was putting on his skin through his sweat- soaked cotton T-shirt.  Additionally, I’ve been given food on Trail when I’ve underplanned.  That’s how it goes; if we all do good for others, others will be doing good for us.  

Well that’s my take on the meaning of life!  Today.  Anyways! 🤓

Our Own Trails

Side note: Who would have thought that wearing your boyfriend’s socks from time to time and sleeping with his t-shirt would make you feel closer to him?

He mentioned one day last week that the next day would mark his first month on the TRAIL. A month of being out in the wilderness, with just his pack and his own two feet – exactly 7 months sober (virtual chip to you, Boyfriend!), plowing through pulled muscles, an ER visit topped with some morphine, Bojangles Chicken and walking a hell of a lot through some nasty weather, WITH.NO.JACKET. (still)

When I think about what I’ve done in the last month, it certainly wasn’t as physically taxing, but been getting life organized, worked a lot, managed to eek out some miles around the back shore and across the beaches and cried a hell of a lot over about a million different things for many reasons.

When cold, I cover myself with an electric blanket and crank the heat up to 75. When hungry, I eat whatever I want – and it isn’t by pouring hot water into a bag – my food is warm and I don’t run out (nor do I have to hang it in a tree). I’m getting caught up with work, have figured out college for my oldest – how to pay for it, cleaned my house for the first time top to bottom in six months, am painting a few walls, and ticking off some tasks that had been put by the wayside for a bit.

My sister once said to me ago, “You don’t get everything you need from just one person”…and it’s true – so so true.

I remembered it when I was caring for my mom this past year. I remember it now, as my guy is on this journey. I remember it with my mom now gone and will when my daughter escapes the coop for college very very…and then the next daughter…all too soon.

I flew to California recently with my 18 year old, while my youngest was in Spain. It’s weird not having the other point of our triangle with us for this trip – but she is one of my little world travelers, and she basked in the adventure.

While on paper, we were to scatter Mom’s ashes “at sea”, we made the executive decision to do a few things: scatter a bit at the beach below our childhood home in Pacific Palisades and in various places in Gloucester – including Mom’s garden, per my daughter’s request. She said her grandmother mentioned it a few times, as they weeded the plant beds together. What the kid says, goes…we don’t think Mom would have minded.

A few weeks before the flight, I sat in my daughter’s Jazz concert at Shalin Liu in Rockport while out of the blue, panicked thoughts built in my head and chest and heart – stabbing.

“How exactly do I transfer some of her ashes, to something to carry with me on the plane? Do I use a scoop? Bare hands? Do I put her in a Tupperware? Do I use a ziplock bag? Will they make me check her with baggage? Can I really do this?”

I ran to the car and called my family in California – I gulped out what I was needing – this simple answer. I think we all knew it was a physical reaction to something far greater than what I was asking.

If Kevin had been here, he’d been standing right there, coaching me along – even doing it for me, if I couldn’t. Kind of like when he volunteered to identify my mom for me at the funeral home. Kind of like when he high tailed it across the country in ice, snow, darkness to be with me, as I knew she was slipping away quickly.

And of course, he made it.

In the weeks following my mom’s passing, but before Kevin’s departure, I booked our flights to California – that always makes you feel better. I also spent time with my kids, girlfriends, Kevin , and some notable time with his family. Most of us go way back to a different time in my life and having then a part of our lives has been a little segment of comfort.

The battle cry that comes after is quite alarming. For me, it was an easing into things – my kids came home from their vacation, and they processed all over again – their grandma was no longer just across town. It was an expected thing, we knew it was coming soon, but nothing ever prepares you. You get together with your girlfriends who all have lost a parent, cared for them, stood in shock afterwards and grieved in similar ways. It is not a club you ever want to be in, but when you realize you have your people there for you because of it…well, thank goodness.

When your person was there for you through it, and then gets on that airplane to go away, you are never quite prepared for that either. Even though you’ve talked it through over and over again – and again – right before – when he said “I can stay longer, and walk North to South”…it is still a jump to the heart – one that asks, “can I do this alone?”

It took a force of courage for me to say “go do this” – because I just wanted him to get it over with. I also knew that there couldn’t be any compromise in this – I knew where he stood in his heart about his own trail and in the end it would have compromised mine. Prolonging the processing, the different kind that would happen when left alone to fend for yourself, would be too painful.

When there is nobody next to you at night when you come home at the end of the day to leave you those wildflowers, play with your hair, jab you with their toenails, even do the dishes : ) – you check your phone every hour, because on the flip side you have this small fear that they may not return – for any reason. That’s when you activate the courage to walk your own trail for a while.

26 April – Clingman’s Dome to Mt. Collins Shelter (2.3 miles)

Woke up and walked downtown early for breakfast at a place called The Breakfast Camp.  This is a super authentic looking monument to the old mountain-man logging-camp moonshine-hustling history of this place:  Gatlinburg.  The menu was inside of a mountain-man newspaper which contained historical articles of famous people and events of the era.  And, breakfast was really top-notch and inexpensive.  These pictures will give you an idea:

Yet, the place is also super hyped up on campy touristy stuff to the max!  

Only in America.  But, seriously, I really would want to go back and do all the fun stuff there- it’s a unique little town. 

Saw this hound dog hanging out a car window… how perfect for deep woods Tennessee.

So… got a shuttle back to Clingman Dome.  As we approached the top for me to resume my hike (along with 7 other hikers), the weather changed quite a bit.

I jumped into a bathroom, with others, at the visitor center to rapidly up-gun my clothing to the extent possible.  I came out into a Jack London survival story complete with all the fixin’s  except the sled dogs.  I had to lean into the (accurately predicted) 50 mph winds.  Holy moly cow- late April in the South?!

Fortunately, after plunging into the woods, the trees cut a lot of the wind and I just got pounded with cold rain and hail for a couple of hours.

I think the frogs and locusts are on hold for now.

Took a short day and stayed at Mt. Collins Shelter- where I am now writing this.  Lots of people here, myself included, absorbed completely in the business of staying warm and dry- wet stuff hanging everywhere.   Very crowded shelter due to the weather.  

Halfway through The Smokies!

25 April – Derrick Knob Shelter to Clingman Dome (10.3)

Another decent day of weather- with cold rain predicted for the afternoon and the following day.  

Took this early morning picture of what turned out to be a tent village- the most crowded site so far but all the people were nice as seems to be the norm.

Thought you’d enjoy the bird sounds on this early morning trek- It’s one reason I haven’t yet had my earbuds in so far-but I’m sure I will at some point; I’m not that much of a purist!

I stopped by this tree for a drink and short rest; this fat little bird deliberately hopped up all the way to the top of this branch and took a long look at me -right next to me- and began to sing to me.  (Again, folks, I’m sober as a judge out here.).  I sat there and listened and watched him and then moved on—and he was still singing.

More tree clams.  I can’t figure it out.  

Got to Clingman’s Dome, the highest point on the AT.  Then took a very reasonably priced shuttle into Gatlinburg with Doodge, Fastlane, and Forest Gump.  We stayed overnight and resupplied.  Before we left, since this was the 200 mile mark, someone did the usual rock numbers for us to take a picture of.  

You know what they say about the Appalachian Trail- if someone makes it the first 200 miles the odds go way up that they’ll love being warm and dry.

AT 102:  Shuttle Driver Stories.  There is a small and neat cottage industry of shuttle drivers who take Thru-Hikers into resupply points that are proximate to the Trail; a lot of these are former Thru-Hikers and some church groups do it as well.  So, on the rides, we hear stories from the drivers:  “Just dropped off a guy and his wife back on the Trail.  She’s on her 6th pair of trekking poles!  She keeps losing them and he keeps buying more for her!” 

While we were digesting this astonishing fact I wondered aloud if it would be cheaper for him to just divorce her and everyone laughed. 

Another one:  “I got a guy in here who just bought 22 cheeseburgers and had ’em in his pack.  He said he was tired of hiker food!  He said he’ll use them to trade with on the Trail also.  I asked him how long they’ll last and he said forever- because of the preservatives!”

So, we got into Gatlinburg.

Shower.  Laundry.  Sleep.

24 April – Mollie’s Ridge Campsite to Derrick Knob Campsite (12.1 miles)

Another nice day and all systems Go on the physical front.  Hence, a good 12.1 miles- which is very good in the Smokies (I’m told) with this terrain.  

Immediately I noticed beds of wildflowers at the base of giant trees that had fallen.  Seems like a fitting memorial to these great statesmen of the forest.

Took a big break about halfway and saw this wild turkey.  He was fairly unperturbed; must be easy to ‘harvest’ them, as the euphemism goes…

Saw these tree clams today.

Very steep ascent at the end of the afternoon- which was unbelievable: everybody that pooled out at this shelter had something to say about it.  ($!#%!!)

Several people at this campsite recognised me from being evacuated at Stecoah Gap!  I had caught up to them.  Although I kept telling them I was fine now, they insisted I take some magnesium and potassium tablets from them.  They said the last time they saw me I was white getting into an ambulance.

As the sun was going down after I’d set my tent up, these deer appeared…

23 April – Fontana Dam to Mollies Ridge Shelter Campsite (13.0 miles)

I woke up on a sailboat this morning.  What?  Last night I got to talking to a guy who works at the Marina at Fontana Dam; soon he offered me his boat as a hotel room for $20 for the night…at the Marina the bathrooms were open for 24 hours, and he hooked up power on the boat for me to recharge my stuff, AND he slipped me the password for the Marina WIFI— that deal was worth it all day long.  I don’t dare to tell fellow Thru-Hikers- they had considerably less palatial digs last night…

I walked across Fontana Dam—it was really something to see, especially where they are controlling the water discharge.

I entered the Great Smoky Mountains at last.

Spent all day climbing to elevation- 13 miles.  It was very taxing, but, fortunately just that!  No muscle issues, no stomach issues, my appetite is gradually coming back…I am so glad I am on the other side of that sickness.  (Memory sent me this morning an article of a hiker who was arrested for being violent on the Appalachian Trail (AT) very near me, and it reminded me of how I had considered bringing a small pistol with me on the journey.  I’m so glad I didn’t— back in the sickness I might have reached for it, instead of the phone😮!)

Saw some neat stuff today;

GAME OF STONES!  And note the intimidating grandma-in-a-nursing-home compression socks that all the Warlords are wearing nowadays.

There was a neat looking high meadow I went through that was breathtaking—I hope you can see in the movie how the grass is interspersed with yellow and white wildflowers, but maybe not!

How the mighty are fallen.

AT 101.  We have to hang our bags of food, food wrappers, and other ‘smellables’ in the trees every night so bears can’t get at them. We’re in a bear intensive area now so the AT folks have provided this cable system for us to use…  that’s my stuff in the yellow bag at the front right.