Drunk Man Walking

(Continued from: https://swanhikes.com/2020/07/22/harvard-hiker-invades-dartmouth/ )

Rusty on Franconia Ridge

The Wandering Kiltsman and I were separated from each other for over a month, but he finally caught up. It was nice to see him again. Crash and I had been telling Rusty stories about our hike down South. Most, if not all, involved TWK. Rusty was excited to meet him after months of stories and bought him a bottle of rum. This crazy guy did 30 mile days for a week to catch up with us. A couple days later, everyone woke up in camp and decided to pass that bottle around. It had been a crappy night, the hike was rough, alcohol weighs, and my foot hurt. I really am not much of a drinker and was quickly three sheets to the wind. I hiked and came to a parking lot where there was a pair of thru hiker alumni waiting with more alcohol and a ride to the store. I got so drunk. I wanted to camp in the parking lot. Rusty convinced me to hike. We needed to hit miles.

I staggered along the trail until we came to a large boulder at the bottom of Webster Cliffs. I laid on top of the boulder and hoped to sober up. It felt like an hour or more. We compromised and decided to camp at the top of the cliffs. There was no water source there, so we had to fill up before we got to the top. There was supposed to be one water source along the way, but we never saw it. Rusty even went on a wider search for water. The next reliable water source was 5 miles ahead of the cliffs through difficult terrain. It was early afternoon and we had a liter of water per person. We camped in the trees on top of Webster Cliffs.

The next morning, we woke up dehydrated and began our trek. I had promised Rusty that we would hike at least nine miles to the Lake of the Clouds hut. A mile or two into our hike, I felt like I couldn’t go past the hut a few miles away. I was so dehydrated. Rusty lost her temper and told me what an asshole I was for suggesting that I may have to break my word. She was furious. We were hungry. Our bodies were starving and dehydrated. We sat in the middle of the trail to eat. Rusty started to eat dry food and I suggested that she eat something with moisture in it to mitigate the dehydration. She ate tuna.

At a certain point she even told me that she wasn’t leaving the relationship, but that she wouldn’t allow me to hold her back and was going to leave me on the trail. I knew that while she could out hike me based on how many hours in a day that she was willing to hike, I could hike faster. I hiked ahead of her so that she couldn’t see me, but I kept my ear out so I could be there in case she ran into trouble. The thoughts of holding her back or being left did not sit well with me. I had decided that, “I would show her,” by hiking the rest of the way to Maine alone even if it was detrimental to my health, and still be there at the finish line.

As I was lost in my thoughts, I came across a tent and I thought I could score some water, but no one was there. After a few minutes, I came upon two weekend hikers who were on the way to their car (it was their tent). I told them how angry Rusty was with me and how it was 100% my fault and that I screwed up. If they could give me a little water, it could really turn the day around. They gave me half of their water, because they had more in the car. When I caught up with Rusty, she had filtered bog water through her bandanna and was drinking it through her Sawyer Squeeze water filter. She was still very angry, so I continued to give her space.

We came within a mile of Mizpah Hut, part of the Appalachian Mountain Club hut system. Rusty stopped me and said, “Look, we need to work this out before we go around people”. We both apologized and made up and walked into the hut together. It had been getting very cold. It was nice to sit in the hut and warm up. I was able to buy some Polartec gloves and the hut worker even took my trash for me. I felt horrible and wanted to make it up to Rusty. We sat there and tanked up on water and food and looked at maps. I had promised to go to Lake of the Clouds hut, because that was the last hut before Mt. Washington and you have to be very careful due to the extreme weather up there. The embarrassment and shame of drinking to the point that it negatively affected us spurred me to go beyond our goal for the day. Bad weather was rolling in, and it would be good to summit the second highest peak on the 2,000 plus mile trail before things got ugly. We looked at maps and tried to find side trails we could take to safety if things got bad. I pointed out Tuckerman’s Ravine. The hut worker immediately said that was a bad idea, because that is where the most accidents and deaths happen. Finally, we decided if worst came to worst, we would back track.

With my new gloves on, we hiked past the Lake of the Clouds hut to summit Mt. Washington. I felt like a conqueror, because I went from having one of the worst days on the Appalachian Trail to over-delivering on a promise I thought I couldn’t keep. Rusty allowed me to lead the way to the summit. The whole way up, I kept thinking about our trail friend “Grock”. He was on a flip-flop hike and had driven up to Maine and started hiking south after completing the southern half. He crossed our paths again several days prior. We were concerned due to the amount of weight he lost. He looked a bit more beat up than the last time we had seen him. I asked him what Mt. Washington was like and he said, “It was like WWHOOOOOOOOOOOOSSSHHHHHHHHHHH”! He used his voice to imitate a strong and sustained wind. Mt. Washington has the highest land wind speed record on earth at 231 MPH.

We made it to the top of the mountain, a mountain so steep that it has about 4000 feet of elevation gain over 5 miles from it’s base. The wind? What wind? We must have been the luckiest hikers on Washington. The skies were clear and there was no wind. We went inside the visitor’s center and bought a bread bowl of chili and looked at the list of 200 fatalities that have occurred on the mountain and mumbled a few words of respect. Afterwards, we stood in line to take our picture next to the sign, which was a comical experience. I had to chase her around it to get a picture. The stranger taking our photo got one of me chasing her and one of us beside each other. We have them in a double frame that we travel with.

Notice the field jacket liner that I mentioned in the last story.

As the sun began to set, we made our way down the mountain. Our friends, Rooster and Tinklebell, told us about a tradition of mooning the Cog Railway train. Our descent was timed perfectly and we did our part in keeping the tradition alive. We continued to walk across rocks above the treeline. It became darker and darker. Hiking above treeline could be compared to walking on the surface of the moon. Soon, it would become very difficult to navigate and there were approaching storms.

We decided to backtrack a few hundred yards to the Jewell Trail. It would not have been smart or very feasible to pitch our tent above treeline. We came down to a sub alpine area of Krummholz (stunted and gnarled trees and shrubs at treeline) and camped in the middle of a day use trail so that we would not destroy any of the fragile plant life. We got dumped on. The next morning when we woke up, everything was wet. The fog was so thick that there may have been 10 feet of visibility. Keep in mind that there wasn’t much to look at besides rocks. This is a navigational nightmare.

My foot was causing me an excruciating amount of pain. I no longer had a fever. Between the weather forecast, hiking above treeline, and the state of my injuries, I told Rusty, “I’m not doing it today”! I told her that I was taking the side trail and finding a ride to Gorham, NH and getting a hotel. Rusty would continue on to Mt. Madison. It was not that many miles from there to the trail head where she would be getting a shuttle to meet me up with me. The issue is that we were in the White Mountains, which are treacherous. We normally could hit 15 to 20 miles or more with no issue, but in the Whites, we were hiking 6 to 12 miles a day. We had been splitting up the components of our tent so that both of us were carrying our own weight. She considered not taking the tent, because it was not very far and she could hike there faster with less weight. I reminded her that the Whites are unforgiving and she took the whole tent. She said her Garmin In-Reach device was charged and on. We kissed and I began my descent as the brave Rusty continued into what would become a pivotal moment in her wild adventures.

“Storms-a-brewin”

Read what happens next: https://swanhikes.com/2020/11/25/rusty-on-mt-madison/

Meeting A Goddess On Trail

The tunnel at Harper’s Ferry.

It rained for over a week straight. The rain reconfirmed that the south eastern area of the United States is a temperate rain forest. The band wasn’t always hiking together. Crash and I pitched our tents by a wide and lazy stream. There was a deluge and we had cell service, so we called for a shuttle to pick us up and take us to get some restaurant food. It was nice to have that comfort amidst our seemingly new life at a constant 100% humidity.

I think it was the next day that we hiked to Boots Off Hostel (www.bootsoff.camp), about 20 miles south of Damascus, VA. What a great place! They have cabins, a tenting area, and an old converted bus for lodging. There is a small resupply and a large covered porch with a kitchenette. The owner took us fellas from Los Hobos on an “Aqua-blaze”. There were twice as many other people there who we had been bumping into from time to time. This group became a much larger Tramily with some great people! We all aqua-blazed together. Aqua-blazing is when you travel along the Appalachian Trail by water instead of walking.

This was my last day with the Tramily as a whole. Squatch had previously hiked on to new trails. Moses eventually took a break from the trail at Dismal Falls in Virginia after I left. When I got to Boots Off, I received a call from a fishing guide service that needed some help. They flew me out and you can read about that story here: https://swanhikes.com/2020/05/23/the-wind-river-range/

After my detour through Wyoming, I rode down to Colorado for a couple of nights and flew back to the trail. I arrived at Dulles International Airport where a shuttle driver was waiting to take me to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. I was dropped off at the HI Hostel. I didn’t exactly look like a hiker – dressed in jeans, plaid shirt, cowboy hat, and a leather belt with a skinning knife sheathed on it. I had a few books with me about mountain men and the wind river range that I donated to the hostel. Eventually, I rid myself of my cowboy attire and donned the hiker trash uniform. Crash and The Wandering Kiltsman would soon be there, or so I thought. Waiting by the river in Harper’s Ferry for over a week was the most boring part of my entire hike. River water is not the tastiest, so every day I would walk to the outfitter in Harper’s Ferry where they told me I could refill on water whenever I needed to. They were afraid that I was hanging around so long, because I was hungry. They kept trying to feed me and even picked up Crash and I one night as we were walking down the road a couple miles from camp. Before I resumed my hike, I gave my knife to the main outfitter employee who helped me so much. He appreciated the knife so much that he warmed my heart a second time.

Crash finally made it, but The Wandering Kiltsman would not be there for a while, due to technical difficulties on a crazy long aqua-blaze that you can read about on www.thewanderingkiltsman.com. The next day, Crash and I began heading north. Although I missed the 500 miles through Virginia, I wanted to hike with Los Hobos. Unfortunately, Los Hobos was too scattered to be a band. Viva Los Hobos! That wasn’t the end. Real hiking bards and troubadours don’t quit. We might take a long hiatus, but we never quit! Don’t worry folks. If you keep reading my future stories, you will get to see a social distancing concert we have lined up at an all new location.

Crash and I hiked up to Dahlgren Backpacker Campground in Maryland and stayed there one night. They had free hot showers, which I was grateful for the next day when I met a goddess. Truly, I met a goddess in person. Have you ever heard of the Latin goddess Ariana? Remember the Labyrinth and the Minotaur? Dionysus? Well, our story is much different. I am certainly no deity or hero, but a goddess helped me find my way through the “New World Labyrinth”. We saw her on the trail a couple times that day. We thought we knew everyone that was on the trail behind us, so we ignored her at first, thinking she was a “Weekend Warrior”. Come to find out, she thought the same about us!

Rusty

As Crash and I walked up to a pavilion at a state park, we see this goddess again. She was sitting there eating lunch and we both sat at different tables to spread out while we ate. There was a bit of small talk before we all finished lunch at the same time and resumed hiking. Crash and I forgot where the trail was, but this goddess showed us the way. I told her that I was a wilderness guide and just got back to the trail from work. Where I was working is a place that Lewis and Clark explored and when I set foot back on trail in Harper’s Ferry, I saw the museum dedicated to the beginning of their journey. With this fresh on my mind I said,

Daaaaang…You are like Sacajawea! Guide to the guide!”

We all laughed, because it was corny and Crash and I were just being bone-headed and didn’t pay attention to where we left the trail for the state park, but it was within 50 yards of mowed lawn in front of us. Honestly, I think we were both captivated with this divine creature that made me forget everything and every woman except for her. I didn’t know that I loved her at that moment, but I was stunned.

She even made me forget about the kidney stones inside of me. OK…If you have had kidney stones, then you know that part is a lie. I hung on like a champ, every day for three weeks, never knowing if I would see her the next day or not. We would bump into each other every few days and talk and get to know each other. I got on trail to be alone, but a tramily was formed. Thirty-two-Hundred air miles, 500 backpacking miles, 200 horse riding miles, and 12 canoe miles later, there was something new inside of me and I didn’t want to be alone.

I was waiting at the ATC in Pennsylvania. The pain in my kidneys was getting severe and a shuttle was coming to pick me up. I had bought a plane ticket to go home to Georgia, but it wasn’t for a couple weeks. Fortunately, while I was waiting outside of the ATC in Pennsylvania, Crash hiked in. He told me that “Rusty” was not far behind him. My heart skipped a beat. “Rusty” is one of the goddesses many names, her trail name, along with: “Mama Wolf” and just plain “Bad Ass”. We walked along the path through town to meet her and the three of us walked back to the ATC together. Rusty and I started talking and I found out that along with being a full-time hiking goddess, she also is a creator of fine paintings! It just so happens that, not only can I be an unkempt and somewhat uncouth mountain man, but also an amateur aficionado of fine art, wine, cheese, and sushi. We had important things to discuss.

She showed me her work on the Deviant Art platform online and I looked intently at each one. Rusty said no one had ever been that interested in her art before, but that it is her passion. We talked about art for a while and then she invited me to walk over to the post office with her to continue our conversation. I was so excited, I almost stepped out in front of a car. When we made it back across the street to all our hiking friends and acquaintances, my ride to the Cardinal Inn was there. I didn’t think I would ever see her again. We traded phone numbers, FaceBook, and hugs. Off I went to hike no more.

A quick painting from the trail.

The shuttle driver (The owner of the inn) questioned me about why I was quitting. I had not yet seen a doctor, so I didn’t want to lie and say I had kidney stones. I was just telling people that I was tired and had enough. The driver was a Vietnam-era U.S. Army Infantryman and started encouraging me not to quit. He said,

You don’t seem like a quitter to me! I don’t know what is going on, but I hope you change your mind. You have friends out there and you want to be with them at the finish. You are a soldier! Don’t quit!”

He took me to his and his wife’s inn/home where there was food waiting for me. It was a beautiful setting beside a Mennonite farm. The matriarch of the family was there. She was blind and asked me to come close and she touched my hands and asked me what my name was. I told her my name was Swan, but she asked me what my mom called me. I said, “Brandon”. She told me that she was mom and that she loved me. I went up stairs and spent the rest of my overnight visit locked up in my room in agony.

The proprietor of the inn took me to Port Clinton, PA, where I would wait for my friends Ed and Ren. I stayed at the Pavilion in town that a local church erected for hikers. It was mostly due to one man in the church who was an advocate for hikers. He was a WWII veteran who spent a couple of years in a Japanese POW camp. He said that every year when he would see emaciated hikers coming through, tired and hungry, that it reminded him of the POW camp. They built a beautiful pavilion and began providing an outhouse for hikers because of that sweet man. I know these things, because the weekend before I set up camp there, the church built a patriotic memorial in his honor. As I sat there alone one day, bearded, tattooed, smelly, and wild-eyed, this 90 year old woman walked up and sat beside me for half an hour to talk about her husband, the former POW and friend of hikers. She said that he was quite a man, and I believe her. Thank you, “Friend Of Hikers”!

Crash hiked in and I got to see him again. It was nice. I was getting lonely. I felt stupid, because days prior I had texted Rusty a mushy text message about her smile and her soul. Immediately, I started tripping out on myself and telling myself how stupid I was for sending such a strongly worded message and the reason I had not heard back had nothing to do with being in the mountains and wilderness. I thought about her constantly.

It was Crash’s turn to pay for a hotel, so I moved camp from the pavilion up to a single-bed room where I intended to sleep on the floor. Crash said he had just run into Rusty downstairs and she invited him to have a drink with her. I tried to act like it didn’t bother me, but I was jealous. I was already falling for her, but I told him to have a nice night and that I would see him later. He went downstairs and a few minutes later I was asked to come downstairs and join them. When Rusty saw me, she was giddy with joy. I was giddy that she was giddy. The polite version of the story was that we had a few drinks responsibly and I walked her home and kissed her goodnight on the doorstep. Do you think that is what happened? What doorstep? We were living out of backpacks! We built a spiritual connection that night. I walked a mile up trail with her the next day and kissed her goodbye. My friends would be there soon to pick me up and I would fly back to Georgia. Rusty and I made plans to see each other when she finished her hike, hoping to continue this beginning of bliss. She seemed serious about seeing me again. It was difficult to say goodbye.

Best Friends

Ed and Ren picked me up after a week, as per our plan. They said they were surprised that I was getting off trail and wanted to know why. These people are my friends and helping me out, so I felt obligated to tell them that I thought I had kidney stones. They did not even take me to their house without stopping at the doctor first! I am glad they did. They really looked after me. I didn’t particularly want to go. My gratitude to them could never be overstated.

When one can surmise how bad the kidney stones are based upon the X-Ray techs exclamations, you can be sure it isn’t pretty. The doctor came in and said,

“You have STONES. PLURAL. BOTH SIDES. LOTS OF LITTLE ONES! The good news is that as long as you can stand the pain, you can hike!”

I left the doctor with some Flomax and antibiotics and was better a few days later. The recovery at Ed and Rens really helped. Ren took me to the grocery store so I could resupply and they cooked a delicious meal. It was a good time visiting with people who quickly became beloved friends for what they did for me. They returned me to the trail.

What happens with Rusty and I? Keep an eye out for my next story:

https://swanhikes.com/2020/07/14/country-boy-meets-new-york/

Frank the barber, owner of Port Clinton Barbershop is one of the most hospitable people I have ever met. We made a music video together while I was there. You can visit the barbershop on FaceBook.

Hot Springs And A Murder

Continued from https://swanhikes.com/2020/05/27/los-hobos-in-the-smokies/

Upon leaving the Smokies, we headed to a place named Max Patch. It is a beautiful bald mountain that is a local favorite in North Carolina. The trail was crowded that day. I wanted to hurry up and get to the top, because Los Hobos had planned to camp together and catch the famous sunset and sunrise. This guy named “Pasta”, who I mentioned in PART IIIhttps://swanhikes.com/2020/05/19/los-hobos-journey-through-the-smokies/, had been leap frogging with us for over a week. We felt like we had been getting on his nerves, because we were playing instruments and singing every where we went. We tried not to be a nuisance, and most people enjoyed our playing. We had asked Pasta several times if we were bothering him and one time he told us, as long as we cut it out by a certain time, he didn’t care. We love to have fun, but try to be respectful, especially of wiser, more experienced outdoors-people. We all felt honored when Pasta asked us in a very humble manner if we minded if he camped on top of Max Patch with us, because it was his last day on trail.

“OF COURSE, WE WOULD LOVE FOR YOU TO CAMP WITH US!!!”

I hiked as quickly as I could. It was so crowded. There was a mix of locals and outsiders. It was obvious who the locals were. We were in the South and the locals all smiled and said, “Hello”. The people visiting from outside, didn’t even know how to smile back or reply. When I reached the bald hilltop, I ran into two local females who stuck a large Tupperware container in my face, filled with mixed berries. I almost dove in with both of my ferociously filthy hands. An inch from the gorgeous, gushing berries, I stopped and cupped my hands palms up.

Thank you so much! I am filthy and haven’t bathed in a week. Would you mind pouring them into my hands so I don’t infect your food?”

The ladies graciously did so. They were so happy to give me nourishment, that my acceptance of it seemed as though it were a gift to them. I was so happy to receive it. This aspect of the trail is what makes it such a vibrant community. It changes people. The trail helped to restore my faith in humanity.

One by one, the tramily came trampsing up the trail. Max Patch became so littered with people and tents, there was no place to have any kind of privacy. We played some music, but not much. The Wandering Kiltsman, Crash, Moses, Squatch, Ramses, Pasta, and myself were all present for the spectacular sunset.

The next morning, I woke up to start my trek to the town of Hot Springs, NC. Early morning hours are a special time for me and I hiked off alone. There was a very old and decrepit shelter that I stopped at. I laid there on the picnic table bench, stretching, eating, and pacing myself for a very long day. I had my 4 liter Platypus water filtration system hanging up from the a rafter on the shelter. It is a gravity fed system that works excellent for someone who drinks as much H2O as me. It also works great if you are hiking with a partner or base camping. It costs about $100.

The tramily was trickling into the shelter and several of us left out together. When we got 2 miles away from the shelter, I realized that I had forgotten my water filter. We were already doing my first 24 mile day on trail into Hot Springs. I didn’t have enough money at the time to buy a new one, but I didn’t want to get separated from the group, nor was I capable of adding 4 miles for a total of 28. It was a huge blow. Thankfully, as I was getting ready to turn around to retrieve it, and miss the much needed rest and recovery in Hot Springs, Moses offered to buy me a Sawyer Squeeze and let me pay him back. I want to say it was a gift, even. Moses saved my day. He didn’t part the sea, but I was able to flood my cells with Giardia-free water.

The hike from Max Patch to Hot Springs is a long, but mild hike and it felt really good to accomplish that. Nevertheless, I was still exhausted. Several more miles were walked through town trying to find a room to rent and resupply options.

It was the night of a holiday and many businesses were not open. We went to a bar and grill on the river. There were not many places to sit, but we saw two older thru-hikers who invited us to sit with them. They were really drunk and I am somewhat averse to being around drunk people. I was also famished. I am talking about an all consuming hunger. It was beyond what they call “Hiker Hunger”. Hiker hunger is an appetite you develop while on trail that allows you to eat copious amounts of calorie dense food. In retrospect, I was irritable and not thinking clearly. I had to be hypoglycemic by this point. I could not control the look on my face. The hunger was deep.

There would be an hour long wait, but there was nowhere else to go. I was practicing patience and sometimes laying my head down on the table, because of how miserable I was. An hour went by and I walked over to the kitchen to ask if it would be much longer and thank them for working so hard. Thirty more minutes went by without food. I noticed that one of the older gentlemen was in the kitchen talking loud and being aggressive with the cook staff. I had no idea what he was doing. A kitchen worker came out and pulled his shirt to the side, allowing me to see his knife. This made me angry and curious at the same time. That is when I realized that this old drunk was in there harassing the kitchen staff, in MY name. I ended up leaving the restaurant and sitting elsewhere for a bit, hoping that my absence would help to deescalate things so I could eat. After three hours of waiting, we were the last ones to be served, despite the fact that we had been there 2 hours longer than all the other people being served. We were all upset. I promised everyone that the bar and grill would be getting a bad review where hikers could see. This is it: Spring Creek Tavern. It is located on the creek in Hot Springs, NC. The service was atrocious and the food was not very good either.

We stayed in town for a couple days. The next morning, we ate breakfast at an amazingly delicious establishment called, The Smoky Mountain Diner. It appeared to be a family business. They have art and quilts decorating the walls. Every single worker there was friendly. Not only was the food scrumptious, the portions would satisfy the deepest of hiker hunger. We left them a good tip, because we were so grateful for that experience after what happened the night before, elsewhere. I would highly recommend The Smoky Mountain Diner. Tip well, because they go the extra mile.

I hiked out of Hot Springs with my back torn up with heat rash. It was one of the worst cases that I have ever had. After two days of hiking, I could not take it anymore and hired a shuttle to take me to Nature’s Inn Hostel. If you are a Facebook friend of mine (If not, send me a friend request @ gb swann), then you saw my video review. It was a great stay in a tiny cabin on the creek. They cater to bikers and hikers.

Ever since Franklin, NC, we had been hearing about a bad guy named “Sovereign”. He had been harassing people on trail and was locked up and released. He went back out on trail and became more violent. Everyone on the A.T. in 2019 was cautious and watching for that guy. He finally took his words to action and attacked a male veteran and his female hiking partner. They were both slashed up pretty good. The male veteran fought a valiant fight, but was murdered. The woman held up her hands in surrender, was attacked and injured, then pretended to be dead until the criminal left. She ran 9 miles to seek shelter. I can only imagine the terror they must have felt. The veteran was on trail trying to lay his PTSD to rest. Writing this, there are tears in my eyes. Politics aside, most soldiers join because of a patriotic idealism, because they want to serve their country. He came home to be murdered during a peaceful journey. Ronald Sanchez Jr. A name, with a story, that is worth remembering!

His killer fled to harm other people. He crossed paths with a woman and her daughter and mentally tortured them for half the night with threats of setting them on fire inside of their tent with gasoline. Thankfully, he did not act any further on his threats and left. The ladies fled to Nature’s Inn Hiker and Biker Hostel, where the owners let them use the phone to call the police, which led to the killers arrest. I arrived to the hostel the next morning, thankful for my timing.

Ronald Sanchez. Remember this man!
https://www.outsideonline.com/2396603/appalachian-trail-murder-ron-sanchez

Next up: https://swanhikes.com/2020/05/30/meeting-a-goddess-on-trail/

Los Hobos: In The Smokies

Continued from: https://swanhikes.com/2020/05/19/los-hobos-journey-through-the-smokies/

The first night we camped at Birch Spring Campground. The only Campground in the Smokies. It is located in a ravine. As you walk along the ridge, you come to a side trail that leads you down into the ravine. There was a fire ring and some logs that we made ourselves comfortable on. This is where we met a children’s author named, “Quill”. We also camped by a family on their first backpacking trip. They brought everything, including the kitchen sink.

We were worried that the family atmosphere would put a cramp in our style, and it did. It was nice that we were able to find camping spots near each other and mostly out of the way. The next morning after breakfast, I hiked off. I passed the family hiking down the trail in a row. They were beating their trekking poles together, as if they were rhythm sticks, because they were terrified of bears. It was reminiscent of the movie, The Parent Trap. Meanwhile, The Kilt-man was assaulted by a deer during his morning ritual (www.thewanderingkiltsman.com).

Clingman’s Dome: The second highest point on the A.T.

After a couple of days, we made it to Clingmans Dome, the high point of the Smokies and the second highest point on the Appalachian Trail. It was a beautiful day. We played frisby and guitar in a grassy park while we waited for the Kilt-mans family to show up. They picked us up and bought us Bar-B-Que. It was delicious. The details are getting fuzzy, but I think they dropped us off back at Clingman’s Dome where we hiked another day or two before they picked us up again for a zero day. We were all very grateful to his family.

The next morning, we woke up in camp and hiked off early. Squatch was with me when we walked up to the biggest living bear I have ever seen. It had to be 400 lbs. Squatch was in front of me, but we were hiking pretty close. It is fun to hike with Squatch because of his energy and music. I knew when he said a 4 letter word that it had to be something cool. Yes. A 400 lb bear.

“Hey Bear, I know this is your trail, but can we use it too? It’s your woods…We are just passing through!”

We both made noise and the bear just stared at us from the middle of the trail for a few minutes before he sauntered a few feet away and looked back at us with a hunger.

“Hey Bear, we see you, we don’t want any trouble. We are just trying to hike!”

We took a few steps. The bear moved farther away. When it felt safe, I snapped the best photo I could. Squatch was concerned because he felt like I had turned my back to the bear. He had a point. I figured that he was already watching that particular bear, who gave us room to pass. I was concerned about walking into another bear and wanted to have eyes in all directions. It was cool. We lived.

The black bear is in the top center of the photo.

Fraser Firs and Red Spruce filled this section of boreal forest in the “high country” of the South East. There were breath taking view points. Wildlife is so abundant in Smoky Mountain National Park. After hiking for a while, we were ready to hit a particular shelter for lunch. The shelter was in sight and once again we were stopped. This time there was a 6 foot long rattle snake coiled up in the middle of the trail. The foliage was so thick to our left and right that we could not go around. At first, it was just two of us. Soon the rest of the Tramily arrived. It felt like we stood there for 15 minutes. We tried everything to get the rattler to move. Finally, Quill, the children’s author, walked up and said,

“Hey you little snake!!! You just need to slither on away from here!”

She said it in a sweet, but firm voice. The snake was diffused and slithered away. We continued to the shelter and had lunch with Quill, The Snake Whisperer.

The Smokies were also a time of great social synergy. Our tramily was having a good time and so was everyone else. We had really banded together when Merlin was with us, because there was a killer on the loose named, “Sovereign”. Really, that is how Merlin came to hike with us. Squatch brought up a good point that if he had a little sister and knew she was hiking out there alone with a killer on the trail, he would want to know she was protected. Merlin was no longer with us, but the band was as tight as ever.

One night, we stopped a little short of our goal and ran into a guy named “Mix Match”. I met him for the first time at Clingman’s Dome, but the rest of the band had met him long before. He was the proud recipient of a present from a local shelter: Norovirus! He got off trail to recover and then resumed his hike. He also plays the guitar and we had a great time passing it around the circle. There were lots of laughs and lots of singing. It was a good night.

I woke up incredibly early and took off ahead of everyone. It must have been 2 or 3AM. I made my way to the next shelter where everyone was sleeping. There were some people there who had been getting on our nerves, or else we would have pushed on to that shelter. Knowing they were there, we stayed behind to put distance between us. Every once in a while, I admit, I can be a bit mischievious. Everyone was asleep. I used the privy first, so I could make a quick get-a-way. I snuck up to the shelter and spotted the cables provided by the park service for hanging your food bag. It keeps bears and rodents out. A bush was beside it that I was able to crouch behind as I rattled the bear cables loudly and then stopped and froze. A hiker woke up and shined his flashlight toward the bear cables and scanned the area. Soon, his light went off and I was at it again, rattling the cables, as though a bear were nearby. The light came on again. He scanned more and kicked the wall of the shelter. I remained still. After the light turned back off, I bolted through the woods like a bear, until I could put some distance between me and them! The funniest part: a couple weeks later, we saw those guys again, and they told us about their bear encounter at the shelter and how they scared it off.

When we made it through the Smokies, I was ahead of everyone and came to a gravel road. There was a sign pointing to a general store about a mile off trail. The store was not on Guthooks and I had not heard of it. As I recall, I was famished and the next resupply would be several hours later at Standing Bear Hostel, however, I was trying to avoid Standing Bear Hostel because of a recent Norovirus outbreak. To my knowledge, they are great upstanding people, but those thing happen sometimes, and I didn’t want to put myself at risk.

I walked a mile down off the mountain and came to a general store in the middle of nowhere. They were not yet open, but had a picnic table out front. I dropped my pack, took off my boots, and laid down on the seat. They opened an hour later and actually had a shower that I paid to use. When I got out of the shower, there were a couple of section hikers who I had met the night before. They had completed their hike and were going home. I wished them good luck. They wished me good luck and I started shopping for my resupply. The cashier rang me up and asked for $40. I told her that I should be paying about $20 more.

“Yes Sir, you are right, but those gentlemen who were in line ahead of you donated a 20 dollar bill to your hike. They told me not to say anything until they left.”

The store had everything I needed, except for a fuel canister. They told me that the original A.T. route went along the road by the river and I might be able to catch a hitch if I took that route back to the trail. I did what she suggested. Walking alongside the swift, white, water was welcome to break up the monotony. It was a treat to be able to see the mountains from the gulch. Several cars passed me. Most people don’t like picking up a large male hitchhiker with a beard. There have only been a couple of occasions where I scored a hitch.

As I was thumbing my way down the road, a guy with a neck tattoo pulled up and asked if I needed a ride. I got in and told him I needed to go to Walmart or some place where I could buy a fuel canister. Instead, we pull up in his yard where it looked like a party was going on. He said that he had a spare one in the house that I could have and to come in and accept some hospitality. As I stepped into the hazy, smoke filled room, I noticed a large water bong being passed around. As my eyes adjusted more, the bare plywood walls were covered with swords and knives held up by nails. The closet was stacked with guns, with no door to hide them. One person was in a corner, inhaling Cannabis smoke through a gas mask. I only tried the gas mask on to evaluate it for it’s effectiveness because of my military training. I did not inhale.

Next up: https://swanhikes.com/2020/05/28/hot-springs-and-a-murder/

Los Hobos Meet On The A.T.

To finish up from Part One, (https://swanhikes.com/2020/05/14/the-walk-a-bout-continues/), I have no idea what happened to the recent medical school graduate waiting for her exam results. She was looking for someone to hike with her, but was only moving 5 miles a day. Another hiker gave her information out of his guidebook. We both gave her food, encouraged her to get a trail guidebook, and wished her luck. I never got her name, saw, or heard about her again.

The next day my best friend, who I refer to as my brother, had something tragic happen in his circle and I got off trail for a couple weeks and went camping with him for a week. It was good to spend that time with him after not really seeing him for over a year. We fished, swam, took his boat out, and went tubing. We always have a blast. It was great recovery for me. I was able to get some more money together and then get back on trail.

On May 1st, I got back on trail. I really don’t remember much for the first two weeks of May. It was beautiful, but also grueling. I did not yet have my “Trail Legs”. They say after about 500 miles, you get your trail legs and can GO, GO, GO. At the border of North Carolina and Georgia, I was doing 10 to 15 mile days 6 days a week and resting one. This was not a very high mileage. 15 miles per day is a good average, but many people do more. Almost everyone does more than 10. I started out slow.

When I made it to Franklin, North Carolina, I stayed for 2 nights at Gooder’s Grove Hostel. It was the first time I had been picked up by a shuttle. The owner, “Zen”, picked me up. When I got in the car, there was another hiker there. He was an older, retired guy, who wanted some peace and quiet and didn’t want to stay in the bunk house. Neither did I, so we split the cost of a 4 bed room together for 2 nights. I walked all over Franklin. There was an amazing burger devoured at the Motor City Diner. There was also a black man walking around in a Confederate uniform, carrying the Confederate battle flag in honor of Confederate Memorial Day and the men of African descent who fought for the Confederacy. Who knew??

The hiker I shared a room with and I hiked off. I hiked ahead of him. It began raining real hard. I was walking fast to the shelter and hoping no one was there. Of course, there was a Boy Scout Troop there. It was so crowded that I could barely get out of the rain. Thankfully, the Boy Scouts had set up their own camp and would not be staying in the shelter. They were just using the table and leaving their trash in the shelter. Unfortunately, their leaders did not seem to be very engaged with the youth. They did not seem to be concerned with teaching “Leave No Trace Principles” to protect our wild spaces. Things like that are very important. BSA used to be a good organization when I was growing up. It seems different today.

I feel the need to pause here and say: For the most part, I tried to avoid staying in shelters. I am a light sleeper. Sleeping near strangers is even more difficult. There were several times when, between a combination of fatigue and bad weather, that I ended up sleeping in public shelters. The comfort of my own tent is definitely preferred. At shelters, it does seem that I hike away with more stories to tell than on a night where I have “Stealth Camped” (Not always well hidden, but off the beaten path).

Back to the story: When I walked into the 3 sided, log shelter, I saw some Boy Scouts and a couple of adults. There was a young female who was talking with the Boy Scouts, but didn’t seem to belong. Her German accent, absence of parents, and youth threw me off. There were some other people there who were obviously Thru-hikers. Oh yes, and John Goodman (Fred Flint-stone/The husband from Rose Anne) was there. No, not really, but this guy was that big and looked just like him. His name was “Big Dan” from Staten Island.

The Thru-hikers who were there were an assorted bunch. There was “Squatch”, “Moses”, “The Wandering Kiltsman”, and “Crash”. The Kilt Man had a guitar and harmonica with him. We also used cook pots and closed-cell foam sleeping pads for percussion. It was an impromptu event, to be sure. Crash really got down on the percussion. We had a great time. People were taking pictures and videos of us and asking us where we were playing next. There on the Appalachian Trail, after meeting each other for the first time we started a band with a following: “Los Hobos”.

Big Dan was large and could be intimidating with his size 17 shoe. He was trying to be nice, but was pushy about it. He insisted that I use his bear hang. He was very proud of it. I thanked him and told him I would consider it when I was done eating and needing to hang my bag, Big Dan let it rest for a while, but continued to bring it up until I was finally ready to hang my food bag. I was going to hang my own, as per my normal M.O. Dan insisted, as he towered over me, looking at me with a scowl. I used Dan’s hang. It was a magnificent hang. Often times it is hard to find the perfect spot to hang your food in the ideal manner to keep bears from stealing it. Big Dan had his food hanging a good 12 feet off of the ground. There was no suitable limb to keep the bag far enough away from the tree to keep a climbing bear from reaching out and snagging it. To remedy this, Big Dan strung up some 550 cord between two trees and hung his bag there. He watched me as I put mine there as well.

This was a situation I felt that I had to think my way through. I knew that I was in no real danger, because there were 20 people there, including a cop and two veterans. I know how to protect myself. I am also not a push over and this guy was starting to make me uncomfortable and angry. There were also women and children there, who he did not seem to be bothering. There were also looks amongst the other shelter guests. I think everyone was thinking similar thoughts. Big Dan also told another hiker there, named “Crash”, that if he touched him during the night, that Big Dan would cut him.

Meanwhile, everyone is getting ready for bed. The shelter was very crowded. We were almost shoulder to shoulder. I think some people were. I was trying to keep as much distance as I could between myself and the people beside me, because the German girl I mentioned earlier (was on one side of me), come to find out, was a foreign exchange student out there alone. She had just spent her 17th birthday on trail. She was on trail with a Rambo knife, Hello Kitty sleeping bag, Hammock, a metal box stove that burns sticks, and a life straw. We ended up naming her “Merlin”. That girl worked magic with her limited gear. I think that she would give Rambo a run for his money. On the other side of me was the retired cop who I had shared the room with at the hostel. Thankfully, on the other end of the shelter, a few people down, was Big Dan and Crash.

The Boy Scouts were head over heels in puppy love with Merlin. They tried for hours to start a fire in the rain to impress her. They told stories and questioned her. When they finally gave up, Merlin was already laying down on the floor of the shelter. The Boy Scouts told her good night and one of them said, “I will see you again!” In a dreamy tone. Merlin sat straight up, as though she had rigor mortis. She said very matter-of-factly, “No, you won’t.” and laid back down. I couldn’t help but chuckle and I told her to be nice. She sat back up and said in her well spoken English, with a thick German accent, “What?! I am being nice. I am also being real! I am never going to see that boy again!” I laughed and laid down.

I was awake all night long. The rain kept on for some of the night. Big Dan was up most of the night. He was near everyone’s packs while they slept. I am very watchful and kept an eye on him. At one point, Big Dan laid down to sleep. Crash kicked this giant of a man in the face. It was on accident. Crash wouldn’t pick a fight with anyone. He was asleep and his leg twitched. His foot ended up in this guys face. WOW! Crash is still alive. We are all thankful for that.

STAY TUNED AS WE MAKE OUR WAY TO FONTANA DAM!

https://swanhikes.com/2020/05/19/los-hobos-journey-through-the-smokies/