Thursday, December 10, 2009

Appalachian trail journal Nov. 29, 2009


[I am back from a section hike on the Appalachian Trail and am posting my journals here and at http://www.trailjournals.com/sisu . Enjoy!]



I'm sitting at a picnic table next to the Springer Mountain Shelter and listening to the bug-searching thumps of a woodpecker. This place feels so lonely because the last time I was here in March 2000 it was very crowded.

My bus ride to Marietta, Ga., was uneventful. Trail Angel Biloche, who answered my request for a ride at www.whiteblaze.net, was true to his word and awaited me at the Greyhound station in Marietta. He was going to take me to The Big Chicken, a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in Marietta that has a big chicken head peaking the top of the building with a mechanical beak that opens and closes, but I had said in an earlier correspondence that I wanted to try an authentic southern barbecue, so that's what we did instead.

After a rack of ribs, we stood in the parking lot outside for about 15 minutes, looking to the sky to see if we could see the international space station fly by. Biloche had information that said the satellite would be visible about 10 minutes to 6 p.m. As we stared up, others walking by looked up too, not knowing why we were looking up. For some reason, I thought that was hilarious.

We never did see the station pass by and hit the road about 6 p.m. It gave me a sense of relief when Biloche's wife called a couple times en route to Amicalola Falls. Here I was using an online ride board for the first time, not knowing anything about this person giving me a ride. And his wife was equally as worried about me, checking up on the safety of her husband. As it turns out, nobody needed to worry.

I got to the visitor's center at Amicalola Falls a little after 7 and said goodbye to Biloche. I asked him about his trailname. He said Biloche means "bowling" in Spanish, and is also a name given to shreds of tobacco left over from making a cigar. We said goodbye and I wished him good luck and godspeed on his prospective thru-hike of the AT next year.

I camped alone in the Max Epperson shelter behind the visitor's center and slept very well, awaking refreshed at first light eager to hit the trail.

The approach trail is just as ass-kicking as I remembered, even moreso because in 2000 we began our thru-hike at the top of the falls. I wondered about the truck chassis and bumper underneath the stairs leading up the falls. Bet there's a good story behind that.

I made good time and got to the summit of Springer Mountain by noon. As I write this, I'm already caked with salty sweat and taking on the all-too-familiar hiker funk,

The sun keeps playing hide and seek. There's very little breeze and the forest is quiet, but for the occasional leaf rattle from a squirrel or bird call, and the hollow whoosh of aircraft. I'm debating pushing on to Hawk Mountain Shelter or to just stop in a couple miles at Stover Creek. Someone left a bottle of Jack Daniels in this shelter and with each pull Stover Creek is looking like the more viable option.

Got to thinking and figured out the only piece of gear I have with me now from the last time I was here in March 2000 is the map. Oh, and my polypropylene long-sleeved turtleneck shirt. Times change, and so does gear.

I did stop at Stover Creek Shelter. The hemlocks and rhododendrons, along with the distant white noise of the creek were too enticing. I also love the Nantahala Shelter design. This would be a wonderful place to wait out a rain or snow storm. Alas, I am camping alone for a second night in a row. There were a bunch of people on the approach trail doing a weekend loop hike with the Len Foote Trail, but the only couple I saw on the AT went the wrong way on the Benton Mackaye Trail in their search for Long Creek falls. Solitude on the AT? What a concept. I noticed in the shelter registers that a bunch of southbounders have finished in the past couple weeks. I hope to run into a few stragglers. Their entries are enjoyable, wistful and exultant. I remember well that feeling of being at the end of a long trail, joyful and relieved, but also concerned and depressed about returning to the so-called "real" world.

The fire is finally going good after smoking for about an hour. Just as I'd given up and moved away from it, it sparked into life. Guess it was shy about being stared at.

Here's some quotes from Watership Down, by Richard Adams:

"Creatures that have neither clocks or books are alive to all manner of knowledge about time and the weather; and about direction, too, as we know from their extraordinary migratory and homing journeys. The changes in the warmth and dampness of the soil, the falling of the sunlight patches, the altering movement of the beans in the light wind, the direction and strength of the air currents along the ground -- all these were perceived by the rabbit awake." (53)

"A hlessi is a rabbit living in the open without a hole... which I have rendered in various places in the story as wanderers, scratchers, vagabonds." (135)

"During the last 50 years, the silence of much of the country had been destroyed. But here, on Watership Down, there floated up only faint traces of the daylight noise below." (136)

"The wing trails like a banner in defeat,
No more to use the sky forever but live with famine and pain a few days.
He is strong and pain is worse to the strong
Incapacity is worse.
No one but death the redeemer will humble that head,
The intrepid readiness, the terrible eyes."

Robinson Jeffers, Hurt Hawk, as quoted in Watership Down.


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