An hour into the beautiful sunny morning, as I was happily making my way upward, it began to drizzle. I stopped, took off my pack and put on my brand new rain jacket. "Ha-ha", I announced to no one in particular. It felt like a summertime sprinkle. Warm weather, light rain, the sun shining, perfect. I even ran into three guys who set up a barbecue on a service road. They grilled up the fattest juiciest cheeseburger I've ever had.
I reached the peak of Tray mountain when the lightning started and it began to downpour. I couldn't appreciate the view because I felt if I dawdled in the slightest I would get a bolt of lightning directly in my ass. The thunder was so loud I could feel the ground shake. I knew there was a shelter near so I hustled until I was shortly under cover with four or five other hikers. Good thing too, it had just begun to hail.
We all waited out the quick moving storm under the little three sided hut, but I was the only one who slung their pack on and shoved off after it blew over. My body felt great, so why would I stay. It was way too early in the day to stop. Onward I went.
The downhill on Tray mountain was a little different than the up. The sun was no longer shining and there was a cold wind blowing. To top it off, my knee started hurting again. I tried to use the poles to alleviate the impact when I would bend my knee. It helped a little, but my left triceps was now burning.
The rest of the day was a slow degradation of feeling good. My knee was screaming at me on all the down hills, the calf still barked at me occasionally but the new triceps pain was complimented with a cramp in my left ass cheek. When is this gonna end? I thought that my body, that was perfectly sculpted for sitting on a couch and hardened to lifting a fork to my gaping maw, would have been adequate for trekking through the mountains. Who would of thought?
Hours later in the graying twilight, I stumbled into to the camping area of a shelter. I hastily set up my tent, ate my dinner and fell asleep with a throbbing knee, calf, triceps and ass.
The next morning I made my mind up to make it a very short day. My goal was a place called Plumorchard shelter. It was only about eight miles away, but I felt spent from pushing myself too hard the day before. Halfway to the shelter I crossed a road where many people were getting either picked up or dropped off from town. I sat at a picnic table and rested for a few minutes before pressing on.
It was midday when I came upon the shelter. I stopped and set out my belongings. There was one other hiker there named "Craftsman". He was a tall goofy kind of guy in his twenties with red hair who reminded me of Ron Weasley from Harry Potter. He got his name because he whittled a spoon from a stick. To me it looked more like a ladle than a spoon, but it was impressive none the less.
It was really odd to just sit around all day, but I used the time to stretch and elevate my legs whenever possible. As the day rolled on people stopped by, signed the shelter register and shortly took off again. I perused the register after signing it and saw that my buddy "Big Dumb Animal" had stayed here three nights ago. I made the decision to stay in the shelter instead of setting up my tent nearby. Just before dark a group of hikers came in and were immediately loud and slightly obnoxious. Where most people are respectful and relatively quiet, this is group was neither. The guy who was obviously the leader of the little group quickly set about making a giant fire full of leaves and giant dead trees. Every time a gust of wind came I was convinced the whole forest would have been set ablaze. Thankfully it didn't go on for too long. Darkness fell, I put my earplugs in and curled up in my little corner of the wooden shelter.
As the new day broke I packed up and was the first one off. I took an ibuprofen prior to leaving in hopes of keeping the swelling down. It had rained during the night so there was still a damp coolness to the air. It wasn't long before a young nineteen year old named "Rafiki" was passing me by. He stayed in his tent near the same shelter last night. We joked about the giant smokey fire from the night before and continued walking.
It wasn't long before I was alone again and I felt terrific. My body was pain free and I was keeping a nice pace up and down the hills. In late morning I came to a little tree with sign on it.
|Only picture on this section (cellphone)|
I yelled and kept trucking. I kept meeting up with "Rafiki" throughout the day. He reminds me a little of myself when I was a teenager. He's got long messy hair and seems to get along with everybody.
Late in the day we came to a shelter and neither one of us wanted to stop for the day. In front of us was a mountain called Standing Indian. So, we checked our little guide books and it told us there was camping up top so we thought it might be fun to spend the night on the mountain.
It turned out that the top of Standing Indian is a tangle of rhododendron and every ten feet was a sign mentioning the fact that we were in a bear sanctuary. Couple that with the bear turds all over the trail, we decided to go down the other side of mountain and push for a campsite at the foot. "Rafiki" walked much faster than me down hill so I lost sight of him after a while. My knee started aching me a little on this decent and I had developed a way to stretch it out a bit. Every couple of paces I would lift my knee high into the air, sort of like Ralph Macchio from the Karate Kid. It was probably best no one was around to see or else I would end up with a dumb trail name like Daniel Son, or Mr. Miagee.
When the trail leveled out I found "Rafiki" sitting on a log among a group of other hikers who had set up camp for the night. The site was really cool, it was flat with scattered patches of trees and more rhododendron. I set my tent up underneath a small patch of trees for shelter. "Rafiki" and I sat up til after dark shooting the breeze and then turned in.
The morning hike was moist from the showers overnight. The air was heavy with the scent of leaves and earth. It was intoxicating. I had visions of my childhood and being in forests like this. As I cruised alone through gently rolling hills I pictured what it must have looked like prior to Europeans arriving. Somewhere I read that in the eastern US, the chestnut tree made up something like a third of all trees in the Appalachians. So what I was looking at was vastly different from what the native people knew. The mighty chestnuts all fell to some crazy Japaneses blight that wiped them out. What now stands is what grew up in their absence.
Around midday, "Rafiki" and I met up for the hardest climb up to this point. A rock scramble up Albert Mountain where I literally had to pull myself upward with my hands. Sweat poured from my body like I had been submerged in water trough. My heart felt like it would pound directly out of my chest. My breathing was deep and ragged. One foot in front of the other, slowly inching our way forward and up. Through a break in the trees we saw our destination. The peak, a fire tower standing tall on top of the ridge line, looking out in all directions on the mountains and valleys below. We both let out a whooping holler as we climbed the stairs of the fire tower. What a perfect place for a picture.
The rest of the day was a nice easy down hill trek towards a shelter poised above the town of Franklin, North Carolina. Here "Rafiki" and I went our separate ways. He was resupplying and moving on and I was meeting my father.
I have gone past the 100 mile mark and put Georgia behind me. Next is the short trek to the southern border of the Smokies. There, it is seventy miles across with very little chance of resupply. The Smokies are known for their tall mountains and a very dense bear population.
Thank you everyone for reading and leaving comments it really helps me to know I have support.