17 May – 19E Shuttle to Damascus, VA Trail Days

On 17 May, I split a shuttle with 9 other folks to Damascus, VA to see what Trail Days was all about.    

“Damascus is the home of the annual Trail Days festival, and is known as Trail Town USA due to the convergence of four scenic trails in the town, including the Appalachian TrailU.S. Bicycle Route 76, The Iron Mountain Trail, and the Virginia Creeper Trail. Damascus also is on the route of the Daniel Boone Heritage Trail and the Crooked Road Music Heritage Trail. The Trail Days festival is held around the middle of May each year and draws in excess of 20,000 tourists, making it the largest single gathering of Appalachian Trail hikers anywhere.

Well, it’s a big fun party. . . a parade, games, all the relevant equipment vendors helping people with their equipment (really: repairing [sewing, adjusting], replacing, giving advice, etc.), all kinds of carnival food, etc. . . and many charitable organizations, usually religious, offering free showers, laundry, and food for the Hiker community.  Really, just a nice big ‘Trail’ celebration.

On Friday night, I took a walk into the woods to see the ‘Drum Circle’.  This was actually arranged by some Trail acquaintances of mine and they insisted I go, so on Friday night I marched to the sound of the drums. . . In the (dark) video, -hang with it-, you’ll see that the woods where everyone tented out is a labyrinth of people, lights, sounds, and who knows what else is going on in the dark!  (Not that I don’t trust co-ed 20-somethings with all the time in the world on their hands, a carnival tent city at night, beer, marijuana, and hormones all generously available . . . )  

In the daytime video, you can see the stage where music played all day and night. . . they had performers lined up for the whole weekend and they were all good. . . 

I set up in the supposedly ‘quiet’ section of the Tent City but it turned out to be not so quiet as one might expect . . . 


10-11 May – No Business Knob to Erwin Tennessee (6.2 miles)

Had a good morning run into the town of Erwin Tennessee to resupply; I got a room and waited out the rain the next day while my equipment dried… (I got to clean all of my equipment in a bathtub for the first time and it feels good to get the dirt, smoke, dead bugs etc. scrubbed out!)

Speaking of equipment- time for some analysis this far: 

[First a big thank you to Ashley and Tim Coates of Real Cheap Sports, (36 W. Santa Clara Street, Ventura, California 93001): Ashley and Memory are sisters and I got some great deals on some high-end equipment from them as well as encouragement and support of course!]

Trekking poles.   I got Black Diamond Distance Carbon trekking poles and I use them constantly. It’s hard to believe I have ever hiked without trekking poles; they are always in motion carrying weight, redistributing weight, and preventing slips and falls.   I give them an A+.

Tent.  It is a Seedhouse SL2.  Another great thing and I’m an expert at setting up my little domain every day.  Its the adult version of having a little ‘Fort’ to erect and play in every day except Mom doesn’t deliver grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup when I get hungry.  A

Sleeping bag.  (I got this at REI). I got too lightweight a bag for the task and have been cold more times than I can count.  Oh well… I give myself a D and same for the ‘experienced thru-hiker’ at REI who recommended it.  Have been so jealous of the folks with big fluffy warm sleeping bags. 

Shoes.  Altra Lone Peak 4 Trailrunners have been perfect.  Lightweight, waterproof, good grip on rocks, etc…  I will stick with these not-one-blister shoes… A+. (They are all that and a bag of chips, a pickle and a cookie.)

Rain Jacket and Rain Pants from North Face… a begrudging B.  I dont know if there’s a more breathable version available but when I wear these I sweat too much and end up soaked inside with sweat instrad of rain…  and if it’s cold, I’m in trouble..

Thermarest Sleeping Pad. I punctured this early somehow and dont know if I ever got one night fully inflated… will be trying to fix/correct at an upcoming Trail Days event where all the vendors will be present. (Recuse on grade)

Backpack.  Osprey Atmos AG 65.  Has been excellent with all the bells qnd whistles.  Fellow hikers refer to it as the ‘Cadillac’ of backpacks and it seems to be true.  A

Jetboil Stove.  Amazing technology.  Such a fast boil time that I can’t attend to other tasks while the water is heating up- if I turn my back it boils over! Makes hot coffee and cocoa always two minutes away.  A+

5 May – Hot Springs to Lovers Leap Cliff Hot Springs (zero day)

Early in the morning I climbed up to Lovers Leap cliff and set my tent up just before the rain began. It rained all day without letup. I stayed in my tent. I wasn’t lonely however, as I talked to Memory a few times and had little friends come by to visit regularly.

It was a good day to relax…  Most everyone stayed in town but I saved a few bucks and caught the sunset when the rain let up briefly.

30 April – Standing Bear Farm (Zero Day)

Stayed here all day to await Forest Gump, FastLane and Doodge behind me; they showed up mid-morning with my fleece shirt/thingy and since they were staying, I stayed another night. 

Best way to give you an idea of Standing Bear Farm -a little bit of Hippy Hiker Heaven- is with these pictures:

1.)  The place where everyone powers up!

2.)  The campfire area:  That’s Forest Gump on the left standing up with the orange shirt and beard / that’s Doodge center-right sitting down with the green shirt.

3.)  The laundry:  hand-scrubbing on a washboard!  But they do have a drier.  I did shorts, one shirt and socks only. . . 

4.)  The guy in the middle walking away in the blue shirt is FastLane. . . to his left, up those stone stairs is the resupply hut.

5.)  Cool stone bridge over a river where they sell beer (very popular), and cook the grill meals for a reasonable price and opposite is the shower place which is quite unique– and good.

6.)  The unremarkable plot of land where we had to pitch our tents if we didn’t book a bunk-room slot or private room, or the treehouse.  My tent is there somewhere . . .

The other two pictures are of various buildings.

So, the day was beautiful weather-wise and I just relaxed, had good food, and carefully resupplied.

How ’bout that?

20 April – Bryson City

This is the end of my last day recovering in Bryson city North Carolina. I will head out tomorrow back to the Trail.

I took a short walk into town today, having slept so much last night.  I felt pretty good in town.  I bought a few necessities and I bought some probiotics as I believe I will have to handle my immune system like nitroglycerin from this point forward.   That, combined with the doxycycline I’m taking, and the recovery time I’ve just taken, should stand me in good stead for tomorrow’s restart.   Hopefully I won’t find myself delayed much further in the future— I can’t wait to enjoy the Trail and watch Spring continue to decorate the beautiful mountains and hills of North Carolina.

I forgot to mention one part of the (let’s just be polite and say) “help“ I received and that is the fact that from the hospital I got a ride to this hotel by the local Bryson police.  They just happened to be in the Emergency Room lobby when I inquired about Uber or Taxis and found out that nonesuch operate in the city.  They just walked over and said “We’ll give you a ride wherever you need to go.”  Wow.  

The reason I bring it up now is that on my short walk into the city today, one of those Bryson City Police Officers pulled over to talk to me; he asked me how I was doing,  if I needed a ride anywhere, (I didn’t as I was close to the store I was going to), and we had a pleasant chat.   He gave me his card and said to call him if I needed anything at all.   

Now, I’ve had a decent respect for the police growing up, and that was strengthened when I worked with and trained with various police departments -both state and local- while I was in the Army.   This experience with the Bryson City Police Department just strengthened that. I just want to thank them all in this small way in this obscure little blog. 

I also had a great meal in town at a place called Bojangles Chicken.  As I sat down to have my first really big meal since Tuesday, I felt ready for it.  I remember thinking how great it was going to be to have a long quiet lunch in a nice sunny clean place.  As I began to eat however, I became aware of the constant sound of the slight clacking of a broom and dust pan by an employee who is methodically sweeping the small place.  

Once I realize that this was going to go on and on, I became slightly annoyed.  I was aware of exactly where he was at all times and I have a particular noise eccentricity whereby any constant noise in the background will cause me to want to jump off a roof if I can’t stop it immediately.  

So I pay attention to this guy and I realize he’s sweeping with great care and diligence— an already clean floor.   An already very clean floor.   I see that he’s moving in a way that seems robotic so I realize that he might be a little different, perhaps somewhere on the autism spectrum. OK. No problem.  I noticed as he approaches my table that he has occasional interactions with a customer or one of his fellow employees and that they all seem like pleasant interactions and that the sweeper always seemed to laugh good-naturedly.   People were very kind to him.  Incidentally, he was undeterred when he approached the square of carpet where I was sitting at my little table— and continued to sweep despite my presence, clacking his little broom and dust pan in and out among my feet and under and around my chair and table.  I almost laughed, and my annoyance turned to warmth as he continued past me, taking pride and comfort in his job.  As I left  about 30 minutes later, he was still sweeping.

I’m glad there is a place for everyone when everyone makes a place.

19 April – Bryson City North Carolina

First, thank you to so many family and friends who expressed concern and caring for me.  Please know that I am feeling much better.  This is crazy stuff isn’t it?  I debated whether to tell that whole story but I don’t want to start faking this stuff now.  Anyway, I can’t wait to get back on the Trail but I’m taking a couple of days off as you know at the advice of many people- to include the doctor.

Every morning when I start walking on the Trail I take a physical inventory of my body starting with the broken foot bone that never healed correctly because I didn’t see a doctor for three weeks, the smashed toe knuckle that I slammed into a rock in Hawaii, the calf tear from the great seagull chase, the quadriceps muscles I wrecked on the Amicalola Falls stairs, the lower back issues from three parachute accidents in the Army, the mid-back muscle tear from hanging a curtain in a giant hallway one day, the hand and shin numbness and crushed bicep from the time I flew out of the back of a pickup truck that flipped over on the highway, my left shoulder replacement, the arthritis in my thumbs, the Lyme Disease effects, and of course my mental state which is often imbecilic.  (As evidence for this last proposition I offer the fact of my current venture.)  All of these things come and go as you have noticed; however, really, every day above ground is a good day.

I am reminded, however, that I am driving a vehicle like the 1926 Hudson passenger car, converted into a truck, that the Joad family nursed along Route 66 in the book The Grapes Of Wrath. (This is my favorite novel.  It’s John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel about an Oklahoma family fleeing the unemployment and despair of the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression.  They travel to California in search of better prospects and, along the way, the journey says everything about the human condition and our collective soul.) They took extremely good care of that vehicle as it was their lifeline.

So.  I am driving a 1959 Jalopy with a Carfax report an inch thick. However, if the Joads can make it to California, maybe I can make it to Maine- substituting The Appalachian Trail for Route 66.

Of course my timeline is way off from what I originally projected in terms of mileage and distance due to the various calamities I’ve managed to climb into along the way- some of which I haven’t even posted due to volume issues.

I am very concerned about that as I expected to be in Gloucester for the August beach season- sitting on a beach with Memory. I talked with her at length last night about this and she’d prefer I not worry about that, take my time and do things at my own pace- which I appreciate.  (She knows that there are plenty of men who are happy to sit on the beach with her if I can’t make it.).

But it’s a tough adjustment to see things going so slowly.  Well, maybe I’ll make up some time in the Middle Atlantic States but I suspect an argument with a bear will probably delay me further at some point.  We’ll see.

Now back to some positive things.  Once I get back on the Trail after a couple of days I will reach the southern terminus of the Great Smoky Mountains.  This is reputed to be a quite beautiful long stretch, not without its elevation challenges of course, but with manifold natural rewards also and I will try to get many great pictures and movies so we can all enjoy it together.

By the way, I spend very little time on this Blog since I can record things on my phone and send them to Memory and she does a lot of work getting things formatted and posted.  (I am developing the biggest crush on my Secretary.  Scandalous!)

I will be always getting the full experience myself by stopping and resting at various peaks and fantastic views.  There I will ponder the meaning of life or, better yet, I will be able to think of: nothing!

17 April – Locust Grove Gap (a ’zero’ day)

Last night during a phone call Memory suggested I stay here all day to ride out the sickness.  And she was comforting and helpful at a time when I really couldn’t think due to the violence of the sickness.  I took that advice and gradually recovered here at this campsite today, all day. (I am the white bubble behind the blue and above the brown.)

She’s been at the receiving end of my complaints as I adjust physically and mentally to this venture.  

I brought a decent amount of medicine with me on this trip- everyone packs some sort of a First Aid kit.  But my best medicine is Memory.