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Week Three: Preparing for the Great Smokies

Sunday, April 24th, 1983
A short mileage day today. Only about seven miles from Rock Gap shelter to where I am now. To get her I once again crossed Route 64 in Wallace Gap, but this time I kept hiking. I arrived at Siler Bald Lean-To at 1:00 pm. It drizzled all the way up here, and the temperature certainly wasn't getting any warmer so I decided to stay. Rob Spaulding was there to greet me. The temperature began to drop after that; it started snowing about 4:30 pm and it's just beginning to stick now. "Black Toe" Mark and Troy "Trick Knee" Martin pulled in an hour and a half ago. Mark and Troy had also gone into town for a pig-out, and had just returned to the trail. I had not seen them while I was in Franklin, but I guess they had spent the night last night after I had left. Now they are talking about getting off the trail sometime in the future to attend a Bluegrass festival. That is not what I am out here for... I'm going to Maine!

This dreary weather is getting me down. Don't feel like writing much so I won't.

Monday, April 25th, 1983
This morning I left the guys about 8:45 am. Hiked till about 12:00 noon, then ate my lunch, drank Tang and had a fudge cookie for dessert while I lounged on Wayah Mountain following the six miles or so it took to get here. From the Wayah Mountain Observatory I saw my first glimpse of the Great Smokies. The observatory is much like a stone pavilion with a roof rather than what you might expect after hearing the word "observatory". The Smokies were covered with snow and appeared quite massive. Wesser is a day away, I will go in for supplies, a bath and socks.

(View East from Wayah Bald) (View toward Great Smokies in the background from Wayah Bald)

I now sit here, inside Cold Springs Shelter, writing alone, remembering the day. The weather was cool and breezy, but sunny, making it perfect for hiking. A few minutes ago, I thought that I'd try some Hormel Vienna Sausages that I bought in town. I didn't like them. What is in these things anyway? Even though I did not care for them, I ate the whole can anyway. At least I got some "meat" in me for a change.

This lean-to is pretty nice. It's different than most I have encountered so far. It is built log cabin style and seems to be very sturdy. Plus, no less than fifty feet from the entrance is a small spring, which is very convenient. I have been here for two hours and haven't seen hide-nor-hair of the others that I have left behind. Maybe they are tenting tonight, but I only hiked just over twelve miles to get here - they must be slacking off. There are three campsites listed in the databook that they may be staying, but no shelters other than this one between Siler Bald Shelter and here. According to the shelter register, Tracy "Spaceman" Gayton is about five days ahead and I'll probably never catch him. Tim Platts stayed here last night so he must be in Wesser today.

Tuesday, April 26th, 1983
I ended my hike this afternoon about one mile south of Wesser, North Carolina at the A. Rufus Morgan Lean-To. This shelter is so new that there is no graffiti yet. I stopped here so I can go into town in the morning, do what needs to be done, and then get out without staying there. Saves me money, and saves time. I am staying with three other hikers tonight who are just hiking around, they are not thru-hikers.

The highlight of my day was Wesser Bald, which had a beautiful overlook. I took a few photos with my disposable camera before continuing up the trail. I have chosen to carry a disposable camera since it is lighter, and I don't have to worry about damaging an expensive piece of equipment. I did not own a camera at the time, so my mother suggested I carry
disposable cameras because they were light, plus I could mail them back home in my mail drops to be developed at a later time. Whenever I take a picture, I write the exposure number and a brief description of what I had shot in that frame.

About 3:00 pm I stopped for a break, and under a leaf I found a box tortoise. He hissed a lot when I picked him up, but I wasn't too scared - I knew he was harmless. I looked him straight in the eyes and knighted him "Sir Tom" before returning him to the ground.

Tomorrow, Wesser.

(Great Smokies covered in snow seen from Wesser Bald)

Wednesday, April 27th, 1983
Easy, mostly downhill hike into Wesser this morning. The distance was just shy of a mile. There were many thru-hikers hanging around the facilities there. The fact that there is a restaurant right next to the trail might have something to do with that - and of course the bunkhouse and showers, too.

(Nantahala River with Kayaking gates) (Nantahala River with Nantahala Outdoor Center [NOC] restaurant building on shore)

While in Wesser I was able to talk with Dia. It was very nice to hear her voice. I also received a letter from her. I know that she is lonely and would like me to come home, but I have to continue hiking and complete this trip even though I miss her too! My life depends upon it!

I took a look around the outfitter store that was located right next to the restaurant, and one of the items I purchased was a pair of rafters shorts. As soon as I bought those shorts at the outfitters I went outside, hid behind the building, and exchanged my overalls and underwear for those rafting shorts. They were a great choice because they were nylon which would neither absorb my sweat nor rain, and had the added benefit of a mesh liner to restrain my jewels from swinging. As the weather gets warmer I can "retire" my bib overalls and begin wearing shorts full time.

Once I accomplished what I needed to do I set off again. It was a hard four mile hike up Swim Bald, but along the way I saw my first Cardinal, and many wildflowers in bloom along this section which took my mind off of the task to some extent. I could feel the warmth, and sensation of becoming parched as I ascended with the sun beating down on my head. I sure am glad I bought those shorts! I discovered a rock outcropping after 3.94 miles that was gushing ice cold water and I took full advantage of it by dowsing my entire body under its flow.

It took me five hours of continuous climbing to get where I am now at the summit of Swim Bald. This has definitely been the hardest climb yet, but it is over and now it is basically all downhill to Sassafras Gap where there is a shelter that I will spend the night.

(Nantahala River and Wesser from Swim Bald)

The shelter (Sassafras Gap Lean-To) is small, but there is a nice creek out back. There are several other hikers here tonight. Besides the joviality of talking about the trail and getting to know one another, we're having a Mac & Cheese festival, it's great fun! It is not difficult to decree that everyone cook mac-n-cheese since almost every hiker carries it.

This evening I really had a great time; everybody was in good spirits. I talked extensively with Diane Spott, one of the other thru-hikers. She told me about her childhood in Iowa. She made us all laugh with her announcement that she was having "boing-boings" for dinner. For those like us who did not know, boing-boings are Mac & Cheese Spirals.

Thursday, April 28th, 1983
This morning I started out about 8:00 am. The first peak, Cheoah bald, was a killer, straight up again, but that was only for one mile. The difficult hiking continued through most of the day. The guidebook warned that the Stekoah region is one of the most difficult sections on the trail. I also recall Ed Garvey saying the same thing in his book, which I read in preparation for this trip.

(My well used copy of Ed Garvey's Appalachian Trail Hiker II)

I hiked most of the morning with Diane, but this did not last past lunch. She broke for a long lunch and I broke for a short one. Even though I started ahead of her after break, she and Bob caught up to me by 3:30 pm around Brown Fork Gap. Considering that it was less than six miles to the next shelter, I thought that I could make it, but as hard as I tried the shelter never seemed to materialize. I eventually called it a day and ended up setting up camp in Cody Gap, about four miles south of the shelter. Rob came by and decided to join me. Nice to have some company. We talked about many things, and solved all the world's problems.

When I last saw Diane, known by the trailname of "Hot Spott", she had a strained leg muscle and was very tired, but she was still pushing on. She traveled farther than I made it today! Tomorrow should be a breeze compared with the climbs of today, then the next day I arrive in Fontana. I'll meet her again at Fontana, I suppose.

I began to have my own problems today. I developed a blister on my right foot.

Thinking about it again, it was good to read Dia's letter yesterday, and I'm looking forward to her next letter.

Friday, April 29th, 1983
(View from Black Gum Mountain Summit) (View from Black Gum Mountain Summit toward Fontana Lake with Smokies in the background)

Today's hike was pretty easy, as I expected, especially when comparing it to yesterday. It also shows when you consider that I went farther then I thought I would today. I had intended to not arrive at Fontana Lake until tomorrow, but I am now sitting on the huge concrete structure known as Fontana Dam. It's just an incredible feat of engineering! I am awestruck. There are facilities on top of the dam that I have taken advantage of - believe it or not, there are free hot showers for all thru-hikers! I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw that the shower room was outfitted with real marble, what class! After my shower I felt like a million bucks. I suppose any visitor can shower here, not just hikers, but hikers need it more! The folks of the Tennessee Valley Authority, who run the facility, also have cable cars that take you from the top of the dam into the power house below, where the turbines are housed. Tomorrow I want to see that.

(TVA Power Station) (Cable Car Building) (Fontana Lake) (Water Outlet gate)
(Cable car dock) (My backpack beneath flowering dogwood tree)

I hope that I get my mail drop tomorrow (Saturday) because if I don't I'll have to hang out here until Monday. Not that this is a bad place, but I want to move north. I'll have to go into the town of Fontana, several miles away from here, to check at the post office located there.

The next piece of trail is in the Smokies, sprouting mountains with 6000' peaks, including the highest point along the Appalachian Trail - Clingman's Dome. The mountains are "huge"; however, they say that the trails are well graded - but 6000' is still a long way up! Fortunately I will not be starting at sea level. I look forward to the park now that Spring has sprung and it's been gorgeous out. Currently it's about 70 degrees at 6:00 pm and I'm in residence at the two level structure known as the Fontana Hilton Hikers Shelter. The shelter is virtually brand new and has a second story loft area to accommodate more hikers than the usual trail shelter.

I saw a yellow Cardinal today (can that be?), and there are swallows flying all over the place. What a perfect day!

Saturday, April 30th, 1983
Lots of stuff to do today so I was up and out of the shelter by 8:00 am. First, all the hikers wanting to enter the park went up to dam to get permits to allow them to hike through the Smokies. Everyone must register, but thru-hikers are given a certain number of days to traverse the park without an actual prospective itinerary recorded on the permit you must carry. While waiting, I checked into the cablecar ride down to the base of the dam, but the tram was "out of order" so I just snapped a photo from above and continued my wait for the ranger. We waited until 10:00 am, but no ranger showed. I needed to go to the post office, and I just found out that the post office closes on Saturdays at 12:00 noon. It is a one hour hike to town. If I left right now, hopefully I would arrive by eleven, with an hour to spare. Off I go!

I got into town on time, but unfortunately my package had not. No letter was there from my beloved either. I did however receive a new A.T. guide that was sent "Rush." Before leaving the post office, I filled out the necessary forms to forward any future mail to Hot Springs North Carolina - about 100 miles away because I was leaving tomorrow no matter what. I am not waiting for Mondays mail.

While in town, I ran into Greg, Steve, Bob "Fish" Fisher, Diane Spott, Rob, Mark and Phil. We talked while our laundry was being washed and dried in the machines available at this resort town. The discussion eventually turned into where everyone was spending the night. The Fontana Shelter was noisy last night, and I was kept up 'till the wee hours of the morning. There were just too many people, and no one that I knew. Even though I knew some of the ones who would be spending the night there this evening, I was not accustomed to that many people in one place any longer. I encountered only small groups since the beginning of the trip. It felt awkward. I have never liked crowds, and even to this day prefer small groups or one-on-one encounters. Rob invited me to share his campsite in Fontana this evening and I accepted. I feel comfortable with Rob. As an added bonus, with the general store right next to us, it makes it easy for tonight to be "feast night". I went in and bought some pasta, Ragu tomato sauce, bologna, mustard, hot dog rolls and potato chips. Can't wait for Rob to get back with the water!

Tomorrow I will enter the Smokies! It is official now since the rangers hunted down all of the thru-hikers, including myself, who had been waiting at the dam, and gave us permits to enter the park. The rangers explained that many things beyond their control happened to them this morning resulting in their absence and inability to issue permits earlier in the day. The rangers are really nice, but I don't like all the damn rules that they have in the park!!


Gonzo! Appalachian Trail Journals ©1983