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Week Four: Into The Great Smokies

Sunday, May 1st, 1983
Last night Rob and I talked about ourselves 'till 11:00 pm. Seems that he had an unhappy childhood, and that's his reason for needing more space. When we are together we give each other a wide berth. Each one understands the others need for periodic isolation.

Today was quite leisurely. I left the campsite at 11:00 am, hiked up to the Fontana Hilton Hikers Shelter where I stayed two nights before. I did this because I discovered my headband was missing, and thought it might be there. Upon arriving I was greeted by "Black Toe" and "Trick Knee", the ones who I had met back near Wallace Gap that were thinking about going to a bluegrass festival. We all looked around the shelter in search of my headband. The conversation topic became the shelter last night, and they told me that the shelter had indeed been crowded and noisy again last night. I was happy that I did not spend the night there after hearing that. In response to the massive crowd, they decided to let the other groups go ahead so that they could enjoy some peace. Another night in the Fontana Hilton for them.

I enjoyed another shower at the dam before leaving "civilization". Clean as a whistle, I put on my pack and hiked the five miles to Birch Spring Shelter where I decided to stay. I know it is not very far, but that gives all the other hikers the chance to go to the other shelter leaving me to have my solitude. Well, almost. A kid just came in - Mark from Ohio. He carries a Boy Scout rucksack and cooks on a Sterno stove. He's an out of work carpenter that intends to hike the length of the Smokies from south to north. He said that if he has no job offers by the time that he reaches his goal he will hike on.

Shelters are different here in the park; they are three-sided stone structures with hurricane (chain link) fence stretched out in front of the open side with a door in the front. Inside is a series of wire bunks to sleep on. The frames are made of logs with wire fencing stretched between them as a airy sleeping platform. I hope that one of the loose wires (there are many) doesn't come through my ground cloth and puncture my bag!

Four hikers came plodding into camp last night about midnight! Aahrgg!!

Monday, May 2nd, 1983
Beautiful day for hiking. So far the trail hasn't been bad at all. During today's hike, Mike and I saw a family of wild boar. Mike, one of the four late nighters, has hiked this section before. I believe that I have found a hiking partner for the Smoky Range in Mike, who seems to have taken to me. We hiked about nine miles together, and passed two shelters before stopping at Spence Field shelter for the night.

(Spence Field) (Wildflowers in Spence Field)

The other hikers that rudely interrupted our sleep last night showed up at the shelter about two hours after us today. While picking up wood for their fire, the guys spotted a buck in the nearby field and told everyone about it. This somewhat, but not quite, made up for their conduct last night. I ran up to the field with my camera, and got a couple of great pictures of them and the surrounding area. Shortly after returning to camp, some doe's appeared. I got a great shot of one of them, fantastic!!

(Buck near Spence Field Shelter)

For the past two days I've been eating toasted baloney sandwiches made from supplies I bought in Fontana village. As I've been writing this, there has been a whole herd of wild deer circling our shelter while feeding in the grassy field. I shot some great pictures here at Spence Field Shelter, I hope that they turn out well.

Tuesday, May 3rd, 1983
It was very windy on Thunderhead Mountain, and then it began raining about two miles before I reached Derrick Knob Shelter so I decided to stay here for the night. I've suddenly realized I have been eating too much, and not hiking enough. Only six miles today! I am feeling ill and lacking strength. Don't know why. A bad sign. I seem to be losing my drive, and this worries me.

Wednesday, May 4th, 1983
I woke up sick today, had the craps, but one must move forward. The weather started out very cloudy this morning, but cleared up before we got to Clingman's Dome. Water in the clouds appeared to have condensed and frozen onto some of the branches of the trees in some areas. Even though the day had started out crappy, a short time afterward I really felt great. Maybe I literally "got it all out of my system". We even were treated to some great views throughout the day. Clingman's Dome was a gas! Three hundred and sixty degrees of view from the tower located there. Suddenly this is the best I've felt in a long time. I hiked twenty-one miles to Kephart Prong Shelter which makes this my best mileage day yet. I am officially a twenty-miler, and that is a milestone. My attitude did a turnabout.

Unfortunately, there are twenty other people here tonight! The Becket academy was out in full force! Too many for one shelter, so I am tenting tonight.

I believe that the Becket Academy group from Connecticut is a school for troubled youth. The school specializes in wilderness programs of the "outward bound" type with a fairly firm discipline, but no clear religious identity. In order to get their high school diplomas, their graduates had to hike five hundred miles on the AT. Unfortunately, this made trouble for other hikers. There were two supervising adults for each group, and I believe there were two groups. All but one of the students were boys.

They seemed to always be getting into trouble. I remember one trying to sneak smokes while the counselors were busy doing something else. One of the kids was lazy and would always arrive at camp last. They gave him the food so nobody ate until he arrived. He became quite unpopular. One of them damn kids woke up in the wee hours of the morning and decided to wake us all up. His yacking kept me up for a long time in spite of the counselor telling him to shut up. I decided that that little bastard was going to pay so I waited till he went to the outhouse, during which time I placed a nice big rock in the bottom of his pack. He'll be tired when he gets into camp at the end of the day------little prick!!

I did hike with one of the kids for a while this afternoon. We talked for a while about my journey, and he couldn't fathom why I would willingly come out here to hike - for to him it was a punishment. Unlike some of the others he struck me as a good kid that went in the wrong direction. They all had rucksacks that hung off of their shoulders, which must have been burdensome considering their gear had no waistbands to secure the load to the hips.

(Buckley Mountain) (View from Buckley Mountain) (View of Fontana from Buckley Mountain) (View from Clingman's Dome)

Thursday, May 5th, 1983
The day started out lousy again. I woke up at 6:30 am to the faint patter of rain on the tent. I woke Mike up and we packed out. We arrived at Pecks Corner Shelter (7.4 miles) by noon. Mike wanted to go on and I wanted to stay to avoid the kids from Becket Academy that had monopolized the last shelter, so we shook hands and parted company. Shortly thereafter the sun began to shine and I opted to continue. The bad weather this morning resulted in me missing some great views said to be in this section according to the guides.

Mike had been having a lot of trouble with drinking before he began his trip, and is trying to straighten out. I get the sense that the mountains don't seem to hold the answers to his problems either. I think that's why he's in a hurry to get out of the park.

On my way to Tri-corners Knob Shelter I met a thru-hiking mother and daughter team named Pearl and Inez Phipps. The mother is in her late sixties. They go slow, but steady. I hope they make it to Katahdin.

Tomorrow, I will hike to Davenport Shelter which is only .9 miles from the park boundary and out of the Smoky Range. Mike, who has done the A.T. before, says the next section after the park is short, but tough (30 miles).

Tonight I am once again sleeping with the Becket Academy kids. I should have stayed at Peck's Corner Shelter! Arrrrgh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, May 6th, 1983
Woke up early to a beautiful day. Beautiful day with great scenery and mild grades.

(View from Mt. Guyot) (View from Mt. Guyot)

(Cosby Knob Shelter) (Side view of Cosby Knob Shelter)

Hiked fifteen miles to Davenport Gap Shelter and stepped into the doorway at about 2:30 pm. After I got to the shelter I laid out my wet clothes and tent to dry before I headed down to a store that is just a short distance from the shelter, but outside the park. It is located in what some call a town - the town is "real big" - four buildings. Not much variety in the chicken coop/store either.

Today I developed two blisters, one on each heel. Mike mentioned again that the next section, Pisgah National Forest, will be tough but short.

I finally saw Captain Video after reading about his adventures in the shelter registers - what a rush. What a goofball! I had a good laugh seeing him standing on the roof of Davenport Gap shelter with his superhero cape and mighty staff while acting like a complete fool!

(Captain Video above Davenport Gap Shelter) (Blue Flag wildflower at Davenport Gap Shelter)

Saturday, May 7th, 1983
Mike was not mistaken, there were some very tough climbs today. It all started out with a 2000 foot ascent out of the Big Pigeon River. I hiked continuously, straight up, for four hours. It was a long, but graded climb. At the top there was an F.A.A. tower. Never saw one like that before.

I am staying at Groundhog Creek Shelter with Steve Poole, and three older ladies from Connecticut that are heading South. They introduced us to "the shelter belter". Great drink! Bourbon and lemonade.

Steve was an interesting character. From what I remember, Lieutenant Pool was in the navy and stationed in Alaska for a while. Even though he had told us he had been a Lieutenant, he hated to be called "Lieutenant" because he just wanted to put the service behind him. Why? Because he had brought his wife to Alaska while he was stationed there, and one day found her cheating on him with either his commanding officer or a higher ranking officer, so they divorced and he requested a transfer. He was transferred to either the Philippines or PR, can't remember which, but it was apparently a "cushy" job. There he met this beautiful girl and fell head over heels for her and she for him.

The story goes something like this. He lived off base in a motel where every day he would swim laps to keep in shape. Virtually every day there was this beautiful girl who would always sit in a lounge chair by the pool, sip drinks and sun herself. Steve had just been through a bad break-up and wanted nothing to do with women at the time, so he didn't pay her much attention. He did notice that many guys tried to hit on her but she shot them down, one by one. Many days went by in his ritual swim and she was always there by the pool. Finally, one day he finished his swim and began drying himself off before heading back to his room when she said, " Well aren't you ever going to talk to me?" At first he was startled and thought that she was talking to someone else because she had dark glasses and he didn't realize that she had addressed him. He began to leave. She raised her glasses, looked at him and smiled. She was so beautiful that he felt that she was way out of his league but they both began to flirt and the love affair began. Eventually, his time in service was done, and he didn't want to re-enlist or get a real job. Instead he needed some unstructured time ... an adventure if you will... so he decided to hike the Appalachian Trail. His lady told to follow his dream, and she would wait for him. At this point, he misses her, and so I imagine he will eventually leave the trail.

(FFA Tower) (View from Snowbird Mtn) (View from Snowbird Mtn )


Gonzo! Appalachian Trail Journals ©1983