Friday, May 19, 2006

Hot Springs NC

Mile 271

Hot Springs is a heck of a trail town. Elmer's Sunnybank Inn is run by the best of hippies, the sort that have their poop together. Smart and energetic. It's been too long since I hung out with good smart hippies, as opposed to the meth-snorting Bradenton variety.

Max Patch is absolutely stunning, as well, It's close to the Smokies and has a road practically running to the top of it. I recommend taking a look if you are in the Smokies/Davenport area. It's reminescent of pictures I've seen of the Scottish highlands, or of the default desktop image for Windows XP Home Edition.

The Remains of the Day

Standing Bear Farm has an open library. I've stayed up far too late reading The Remains of the Day by Ishiguro. It's a brilliant novel, one of the best I've read in recent memory.

Unfortunately, since I've been a reading glutton, I now need to choose among A Canticle for Leibowitz (which I've read too many times), a Stephen King book about a little girl lost on the AT and pursued by horrible monsters, or any number of romantic novels. I think the King novel will test my nerve.



After thinking about the novel for a few days on the trail, I still am convinced that the novel is a beautiful book, but I am increasingly convinced that it is an immoral one. Every step of the way Stephens could have made a difference in what turned out to be the Death of the West. He could have but he didn't, and he has the nerve to warm his toes in the light of the pier lamps at the end of the book, imagining that he's had a life well done. Hogwash!. "Remains of the Day" indeed. Guess what Jeevesie those pier lamps are Europe burning, and it's burning because you and everyone like you let it happen. Burn in hell you spineless bastard.

I think Ishiguro is aware of this element in his work, to some extent, but is more of the opinion that we should let these bad judgements slide off like sulfuric acid off a duck's back. It's a bad message for a vital culture. It's a message for old ladies.

When we mess up, we should agonize about it. We should torture ourselves with it until we figure out a way to make it better. That is moral. That is the message for a vital, living culture.

Still a darn tootin good book though, even though the moral is for old ladies.


Some dates . .

May 18 Hot Springs NC
May 23 Erwin TN
May 30 Damascus VA
Jun 11 Bland VA
Jun 15 Pearisburg VA
Jul 11 Harper's Ferry VA

Standing Bear Farm

Standing Bear Farm hiker hostel
Mile 237.5

Pulled my first twenty mile day from Peck's Corner to Davenport Shelter yesterday. My boots are morbid and yearn for their journey into a peaceful afterlife - as soon as I reach the outfitters at Hot Springs, 32 miles up the trail. Just thirty more miles, boots, then a choir of pristine socks will carry you to the halls of your fathers.

Standing Bear is no resort, but it's cheap and charming in a sort of hippie-commune way. The store operates on the honor system, and is stocked with soda and pizza. I wish I pulled more cash out of the ATM at the NOC, because that was the last time I saw a cash machine. If I had a few more tenners I'd buy four of those damn pizzas.

But what's this? Curtis can drive me to an ATM so I can give him more money? Pizza sickness awaits.

D&D Guide to Hiking Equipment

For those not prepared to geek out utterly, please skip thos post and pretend that you never saw it here. Please. I was a man once.

That said . . .

Titanium Trekking Poles +2

Resembling a long and slender pair of cross-country skiing poles, this piece of equipment allows the user to add his Strength bonus to any Endurance skill check. The tungsten tips provide a sure grip while worsening the effects of trail erosion, providing a +2 Diplomacy skill bonus when speaking with Republicans. The titanium pole bodies are strong enough to deflect a machete blow from a moonshine-addled hillbillie, but light enough to bestow a +2 to attack rolls. Unfortunately, the poles do as much damage as a blow from a wet cereal box. Clutching them protectively against your chest provides a +2 Will saving throw bonus versus being terrorized by harmless animals at 2:00 AM.

Pepper Spray of Enraged Bear Summoning

This three inch cylinder contains a magical spray that transforms a target 3 HD black bear into a beserk bear with the Fiendish subtype. The enraged fiendish black bear immediately attacks the wielder, but is blinded and confused, taking -4 to all attack rolls and unable to distinguish targets. May attack the spray wielder's companions, which also makes it a "Pepper Spray of Hostile Hiker Summoning".

Gnomish Gnorl's Everfull Bag of Mashed Potatoes

This 24" by 8" waterproof bag resembles a normal waterproof stuff sack, but when a questing hand is thrust into its depths, Gnomish Gnorl's Everfull Bag is always found to contain 3 bags of randomly flavored instant mashed potatoes. The bags are replenished as they are used with a random flavor of instant mashed potatoes. No one knows how Gnormish Gnorl's potato magic works, whether it be Crowlian mysticism, simple voodoo, or because these potato bags are alive. This magic is starting to freak me the hell out. I swear the things are breeding in there.

Beaucoup's Buoyant Backpack

This slim backpack can fit up to 4000 cubic inches without weighing anything at all. This item is exceptionally rare. In fact, this item does not exist at all. If it did, there would be only as many backpackers as there are Beaucoup's Buoyant Backpacks. All other hikers would be dead. Such is the dramatic and fatal lure of Beaucoup's Buoyant Backpack.

May Snow

Mt Collins Shelter
Mile 199.3

The mercury has plummeted here above the 6000' contour, and we got about two inches of snow. Daytime temps are parked at around 30-40 degrees Farenheit in the shade. The snow-loaded treetops drop icy loads of slush on hikers throughout the day, as the sun hits the treetops, causing an awful lot of profanity.

Walking uphill in these temperatures is a real pleasure, as it is the only time during the trip I am not sweating like a rented horse.

A Visit from Prometheus

Mollie's Ridge Shelter
Mile 174.1

Do you remember fire?
I had forgotten it. In fact, I had forgotten it so utterly that I denied its existence. Its remnants were ephemera, brilliant little mayflies that would not survive the next day at the office. Moments alone with Monica. Little sparkles in the gym that made me think, "That was a good workout". Writing a tight essay, or doing an especially good animation. Fire, I had determined, was something stupid and young.

Climbing these mountains and thinking about where my life is going to lead, I can see how incredibly wrong I was. Massively, horribly wrong. Fire is all there is. If what you are doing does not burn a great fire in your belly then something is seriously wrong. Time without purpose is worse than being dead, because you suck all the same resources as you did when you were alive. Eating, sleeping, but unfeeling, undead and unaware.

If there is one word of advice the trail has for me today, and for the rest of my days, it's this:


The Samurai Hillbillies

May 9, 2006 (I think . . Last post must have been dated later than it was)
Mile 163, "The Fontana Hilton"

There's a family hiking the AT this year, at least to Harper's Ferry. At first known as "The Family of Six", they have since taken the group name "The Samurai Hillbillies". The name stems from the fact that 1)the lady of the household (with subsequent spawn) are asiatic, and 2) there are practically zero minorities on the trail- an African-American person hiking the trail would probably also get an ethnic sobriquet, something equally sensitive to stereotypes, like "Runnin Home Joe" (southbound) or "Watermelon Lad".

I've run into TSH a few times now. The last time at Cable Gap was not so pleasant. A thru-hiker companion was pretty incensed that TSH made no attempt to make room in the shelter in the pouring rain. He got confrontational; I set up my tent and had a cold supper. I can see the argument from both viewpoints. On the one hand, you ALWAYS make room in a shelter in the rain, even if you have to sleep back to stomach with strangers. On the other hand, I'm not sure I would want a bunch of hairy, exceptionally stinky strangers rubbing up against my wife and kids.

All in all I like them. They have some sort of home schooling thing with the kids where they are taught courses on the trail. If they're anything like asian kids anywhere, the teachers are probably glad to be rid of grade schoolers who need college level textbooks and who actually listen.

They're taking to the outdoors well. Dynamite and The Asian Lady head such characters as Supersnack, Anti-Cat (so named because she always lands on her back), Firecracker, and another rugrat whose trail name escapes me. They're all good people, but I'm glad they're leaving this shelter after I do. Shelter space in the Smokies is at a premium without The Samurai Hillbillies.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Fontana Village

May 9, 2006
Mile 161

Taking a near-zero day tomorrow, spending the night tonight at the very nice Village Inn at Fontana Village. Thru-hikers get a swank 2 bed room for 35 bucks. Stretch and I are sharing a room, and enjoying the wifi internet, cable, heated pool and other amenities. As much as I like the NOC, this place takes the cake as a place to spend a zero day before the Smokies.

Tomorrow night I am spending at the Fontana shelter, then I am going into the Smokies with about eight days of food. More rain forecast for this week, but that's alright. I had a hiking epiphany day before yesterday, and I am ready for anything.

Looking forward to doing touristy things around the dam tomorrow. It's pretty amazing how a four-hundred and eighty foot pile of concrete can be so interesting.

Monday, May 08, 2006


Looks like my trail name is Mash. The origin of the name was me bitching something like, "I realize that instant mashed potatoes are something like the perfect trail food, but I swear to Christ on a burning cross I am going to beat someone to death with these sticks (I gesture with hiking poles) if I have to eat another bag of mashed!"

It was also agreed that the name suited my hiking style. I am very slow on the downhills but rather quick on the uphills- when poling uphill I supposedly "mash" violently with my arms. Probably trying to make some use of my upper body.

Anyway . . . Mash it is.

Wesser, NC

May 5, 2006
Mile 134

This is my second visit to the Nanatahala Outdoor Center (NOC) in Wesser, and I am glad it is under better circumstances. During my 2004 section hike, I holed up here after blowing out my left knee. Now, thirty pounds lighter and properly equipped and braced, my knees are a hundred percent. I'll need them for the climb tomorrow.

A few folks I've gotten to know have dropped out since Dick's Creek. HaHaFun (I think), Dave (no trail name), and a pair whose name escapes my mind at the moment. Sometimes it's tricky to say who's dropped out and who hasn't. Some folks take weeks of zero days to heal knees, blisters, fevers. Some people never leave. I've heard of more than one through hiker that settled down in some trail town. Luckily I have life and love off the AT.

Before I began this hike, I resolved to write only interesting, witty things in my trail blog. I'm not sure this is possible. While many fascinating things occur to me while climbing mountains, I am far too busy fighting for breath to write them down. By the time I come to rest, I've forgotten them.

Or perhaps they were never that clever- they just seemed very clever to someone who is using most of his blood oxygen walking. So please do not be disappointed if there are fewer intelligent things in the record. In the meantime, I promise to make freezing rain, bad food, and endless climbing as amusing as possible.

And it is amusing to complain, because this is one of the most beautiful experiences of my entire life. I always thought Heaven would be a bit like this.

The Scene

May 2, 2006
Mile 103: Rock Gap Shelter

Even at this relatively late date, the trail is an intensely social activity. Here at Rock Gasp, there are 10 through-hikers. Some of them I met on my southbound leg I did with Monica. We greeted each other like old friends.

North Carolina, like raw corn whiskey, grows on the northbound through-hiker, Albert Mountain nonwithstanding. Albert had some sections that, while not technical climbs, were still hand-and-foot affairs, where I was glad for my arboreal ancestry. The remainder of the climbs and descents have been very civil. Either that or I am growing stronger.

At lower elevations, the trees are a bit more full of green. Here at Rock Gap, it seems less like a dry spring and more like the Appalachians I know. Two springs feed a creek running down below the shelter. The rhododendrons, while not blooming, are teasing with tiny buds. It is somewhat troubling that I have not yet passed a healthy adult rhododendron. They all seem to have something gnawing big chunks out of their leaves. Many are down . . Unusual.

Ah, it's time now for me to stop typing. I should talk now with these people whose experience I share.

Fwd: Whistlin dixie

May 2, 2006

Waking up here in my tent at Carter Gap, mile 90.7. It's my second night on the trail without Monica. I miss her. I have to get up very soon, before the forecast rains roll in. Notable mentions from the past two days:
>>The AT in Georgia brings to mind Southern hospitality, mint juleps, and gospel music. The first few miles of the AT in North Carolina brings to mind homicidal moonshiners maddened by day old whiskey.
>>I had never before yesterday encountered sleet. Sleet, meet John. John, meet sleet.
>>I also met a fellow Novo Collegian- Elmer from the class of '81. We chatted for a bit just past Bly Gap (the GA/NC state line)