Exile's_Home ©1996 George Steffanos



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Then The Hail Came

Last updated 11/11/96



(Hot Springs, North Carolina to Erwin, Tennessee)

WEDNESDAY, 5/25/83, MILE 267.6 --- STILL HOT SPRINGS --- There is not much to tell about today. I remained right here in town for rest and recuperation. The wound on my right little toe is still black and filled with pus from walking around muddy shelters in bare feet. I cannot picture it ever healing until I reach Katahdin. I am learning to live with the pain, which usually fades to a dull throb after my first ten minutes or so of hiking each day. My brother Mike is sending an old pair of his running shoes to my mail drop in Erwin, Tennessee, which is now only sixty-six miles away. They will tide me over until I reach my own, which have already been sent to Damascus, Virginia.

I awoke at 10:00 a.m., called home, ate lunch, washed my whites again, bought groceries, and picked up a few items at the new Hot Springs branch of the Nantahala Outdoor Center. At the grocery store, I fulfilled the promise I had made to my stomach in the Smokies and bought a ton of food.

My backpack will be very heavy, but I do not mind. I have time. There is no point in arriving in Erwin before Monday night. Post Offices are closed on Sundays and will be closed on Monday for the Memorial Day holiday; I cannot pick up my package until Tuesday morning. After Erwin, it will be time for me to pick up my daily mileage. I have lost a great deal of excess weight during the three weeks I have been on the trail, and my body should be ready for the challenge.

Dave and I had dinner at the Inn tonight. Several other thru-hikers were there, most of them belonging to a group from the University of Connecticut which is traveling quickly and lightly thanks to the supply van following them around. They ate quickly and headed right back out on the trail in order to cover a few more miles before nightfall.

The meatless meal was excellent, though I am far from being a vegetarian. It consisted of a tasty soup, a salad with an exotic, delicious dressing, and an entree of brown rice with tomatoes, peppers, onions, and garlic. We had an interesting tea with dessert, Anyone reading this journal will be aware that this is not my usual trail town meal, but I am always open to new culinary experiences which do not include Lipton soup or instant oatmeal. Everything was served all-you-can-eat for five dollars. Elmer himself was a 1976 thru-hiker, which helps to explain why he treats us so well.

After dinner, I washed my pans, water bottles, and utensils until they sparkled and loaded my backpack. I petted an old, tail-less black-and-white cat for an hour. Finally, he left and a beautiful reddish-brown dog came into my room, so I had to pet her, too. They have been paying me return visits all night. I do not mind. I miss my own pets.

As J.R.R. Tolkien observed, the most relaxing and pleasant moments of an adventure make for poor stories later, so I am going to pick up my own tale tomorrow. Tonight, I am going to read about other people's thru-hikes in a two-volume set which Elmer has in his library, called Hiking The Appalachian Trail. That should take my mind off of what I will be doing tomorrow, which is . . . Oh, never mind.

THURSDAY, 5/26/83, MILE 278.3 --- I stayed up late again last night, reading that Appalachian Trail book as I lay in bed. One of the guys whose story was included mentioned Walnut Mountain Shelter and what an armpit it was -- and his hike was ten years ago. I guess that it has been Heartbreak Hotel for quite a while.

I woke up, finished loading my backpack, got dressed and went downstairs to pay Elmer the twenty-one dollars I owed him for two nights' lodging and one excellent meal. At 10:00 a.m., I was walking down Bridge Street with my backpack, heading out of town. I stopped at the hardware store to buy a new watch. The one model they carried was the same cheap pocket watch which I was replacing, but I needed it. Back on the street, I ran into Dave and said good-bye. He has to stay in town until tomorrow to wait for a package with new hiking boots to arrive at the Post Office. His old ones are absolutely falling apart. He will probably catch up to me by Erwin, as I will be going slow to avoid a long layover waiting for the Post Office to open on Tuesday.

The Appalachian Trail made a long climb out of Hot Springs to a rock crag called Lovers Leap which jutted out over the valley. It was very steep for about a mile, but the rest of today's hike was a cakewalk. Nevertheless, my pack was very heavy, and I was slow-moving. I was carrying just five days' worth of food, but I was carrying enormous portions.

Weighing myself last night in the Inn, I discovered I had lost more than fifteen pounds during my first three weeks on the trail. I still need to lose more weight, but perhaps the present rate of loss is a little fast considering the physical demands of my journey. Slow starvation has been adversely affecting my hiking; I am going to feast over these next five days. I have to keep the promise I made to my poor little stomach in the Smokies.

After Lovers Leap, with its excellent view of Hot Springs, came some easy woodland hiking before the Appalachian Trail followed a gravel road for a short stretch through some very scenic meadows in a place called Mill Ridge. Years ago, those meadows used to be tobacco fields.

Another stretch of easy woodland trail was followed by a moderate-to-easy two-mile climb up Rich Mountain. There were excellent views from a fire tower just off of the Appalachian Trail on a side path, and a spring near the summit boasted some of the best water I had tasted on the trail. It was clear and cold. Most of the water I have encountered in these southern mountains has been cloudy and somewhat stagnant.

A short, sharp descent from Rich Mountain led to an easy, graded climb up Spring Mountain and the shelter perched high up near the summit. I stopped for the night, even though it was not yet 5:00and I had covered less than eleven miles. I still have four full days in which to hike the remaining fifty-five miles to Erwin and arrive by Monday night.

Since Dave was no longer with me, I was sort of looking forward to spending.the night at a shelter by myself. I had enjoyed two solitary nights back in Georgia -- one on Frosty Mountain and one at the "old cheese factory" campsite -- but I had been closed inside my tent for much of those nights. Shelters are open to the woods on one side, and I wanted to experience the forest night alone in one.

In the hour after my arrival, three southbound hikers showed up, one by one. One was a man from Massachusetts named Dan Smith, who had started out from southeastern Massachusetts in February (!), hiking south to Springer. When he gets to Springer, he is going to get a ride back up to his starting point and then hike north to Mount Katahdin to complete an Appalachian Trail thru-hike. His two companions were a pair of local young men out on a ten-day hike southward to the far end of the Smokies. I am not really disappointed by their arrival. They are all good guys, and I am sure that, one of these next few days, I will have my night of solitude.

We all sat up late, Dan Smith and I reminiscing about the mountains of New England. We were both a little homesick for them, even though the southern Appalachians have their own beauty and charm. Maybe we were just homesick, period. I don't know. At any rate, I envy Dan. In two weeks he will be back there and I will still be in Virginia. Oh, well... Everybody has his own trail to hike.

As we talked, Dan also passed on a wealth of information on the trail between here and Massachusetts which will be quite valuable to me later on. I returned the favor, telling him about the comparatively short stretch which I have completed. It was a good night.

FRIDAY, 5/27/83, MILE 295.1--- I have just realized that two weeks ago today was Friday the 13th, and it was one of the few days during that stretch when nothing really bad happened to me. So much for superstition.

It was 9:30 before I started hiking today. Tired of instant oatmeal, I had made up a batch of pancakes from some mix I had purchased in Hot Springs. They came out alright, but I am going to need to buy some-kind of a spatula if I want to keep having them. On the other hand, it was a lot of trouble to clean up. Maybe I won't bother.

This day was one of the nicest of my entire life: cool and sunny, without a cloud in the sky until late afternoon. That sky was an incredibly deep robin's egg blue. Long after I have forgotten everything else about today, I will remember that color.

The first part of the hike was a breeze -- several miles of gentle downhill trail with one quick, mild climb. I came into Allen Gap, where a gas station right next to the Appalachian Trail road crossing sold coke, ice cream, and other junk food. For the first time on my journey, I resisted the allure of these delicacies -- a bit of self-denial which amazed even myself. All of those pancakes with syrup at breakfast had filled me up, and my pack was full of munchies.

The next five miles were a constant, though well graded, uphill, mostly through evergreen forests -- a nice change of pace from the relentless southern jungles and a taste of northern New England. I stopped at Little Laurel Shelter, which was spotless and well-maintained. Someone had even left a mattress on the wooden floor for lucky hikers to sleep on. Had I known the place was so nice yesterday, I could have easily reached it. Oh, well. Spring Mountain Shelter was pretty too, and this was a great spot for today's lunch.

Following my long break, I finally started to hit my stride after a morning of mediocre progress. It was 1:30, and the day was still idyllic. A fairly steep jaunt up Camp Creek Bald began the afternoon's hike. I let the lean, mean mileage machine take over and made it without a stop. Dropping my pack at the junction where the AT met the quarter-mile side trail to the summit, I made my way up to a fire tower with views every bit as excellent as those from Rich Mountain. The sky was as clear of haze as any I have seen in these misty southern mountains. There were especially nice vistas into Tennessee: views of a wide, gentle plain with a couple of solitary mountains rising in the distance from the valley floor. I took my camera out of my backpack and started firing away.

Less than two miles later, another side trail led to White Rock Cliffs, from which there were more great views. The first open cliffs I can remember seeing on my entire Appalachian Trail hike overlooked a scenic valley in the North Carolina foothills. A few tiny cirrus clouds had made their way into the previously-unbroken blue expanse of the sky.

At about two-and-a-half miles past the side trail to the cliffs, the Appalachian Trail joined a jeep road, jolting my plans for tonight. When I had read about this road in the guidebook, I expected the customary long-abandoned, overgrown track. This one showed all of the signs of still receiving constant use, which meant that Jerry Cabin Shelter, at which I had planned to stay, was accessible to motor vehicles. This usually means trouble for hikers attempting to sleep, and tonight was a Friday night. I had a problem. It was 6:00. I had come fifteen miles today, and the next shelter was six miles away.

Two local guys were at Jerry Cabin when I arrived. They confirmed that other locals did come up here on weekend nights to get drunk and stoned while yelling and shooting their guns all night. I like to avoid stoned people with guns when at all possible, so I needed to make other plans. Too bad. The place was in immaculate shape despite the weekend revelers. An old man who likes hikers has adopted the plate. He cleans it, leaves food and soda for hikers occasionally, and even puts out trash cans. I wish I had arrived on a weeknight.

While climbing out of Hot Springs yesterday, I passed a solitary cross on the trail with a man's name and the date 4/15/83. The old man had left a shelter register at Jerry Cabin, and he wrote in the first entry that the cross was for a friend -- a man in his sixties who was trying to fulfill his lifetime dream and hike the Appalachian Trail, even though he had high blood pressure and his doctor had advised him not to do it. The cross marked the spot on the trail where he died.

One of the local guys was the official caretaker of Little Laurel Shelter, so I was able to tell him how much I had liked the place. He told me about a good campsite up the road a mile-and-a-half and invited me to join his friend and himself there tonight. I readily agreed. His friend was a young man of about twenty with a childlike enthusiasm for everything accompanied by cute little miniature mixed-breed collie. I took an immediate liking to all three of them.

Our campsite is an old field atop a summit called Big Butt (write your own punchline here). The old field is now overgrown with tangled thickets of second growth and the views are no more. The kid with the collie explained to me that the United States Forest Service was in the process of bulldozing the field, after which they were going to reseed it with grass in order to make Big Butt a bald again. I would like to see the results when the job is completed. It must have been a huge field. He also told me that, in a few months, the U.S.F.S. is going to block the jeep road and reroute the Appalachian Trail around the most deeply eroded parts.

After I pitched my tent, he returned with his dog and asked me if I wanted to see a couple of nice views. I had come many miles today and wanted nothing more than to lay down and rest. It was growing dark and I was hungry. Still, he was one of those persons -- kind of sweet, kind of slow -- who many people with slightly higher IQ levels and half the personality like to treat with condescension as if they were idiot children. I noticed that his friend was very protective of him. I had seen many great views already today, but I said okay. It's weird -- sometimes it almost seems as if I am turning into some kind of nice guy on this trail. Nobody has ever accused me of being one before.

The first view was from some rocks just below the field. I saw a grand mountain called Big Bald in the distance. I will be going over that in a couple of days. The second view was a half-hour walk through fading twilight from our camp, but my friend had an electric lamp with him, and, to my surprise, it turned out to be worth the trek. I could see most of the west flank of the mountain on which I was standing, and that broad Tennessee plain unfolded before me once again. As we sat there and talked, darkness fell. Lights twinkled on one by one across the vast valley below.

When I got back to my tent, it was pitch dark. I did not feel much like cooking. I had a cold dinner of Pop-Tarts, cheese, and crackers and crawled into my sleeping bag.

My flashlight is very dim and I forgot to buy batteries in Hot Springs. There is nothing more to write about tonight, anyway. I hear that tomorrow is going to bring more rain. That figures. I am approaching a twenty-seven-mile gap in the shelter system.

SATURDAY, 5/28/83, MILE 313.1 --- I woke up to discover that it was already fairly bright outside. I still felt quite sleepy and could not seem to drag myself completely awake. Finally, I went outside and discovered why I felt so sleepy. A huge full moon directly overhead was blazing so brightly that it had appeared to be morning from inside my tent. It was 2:00 a.m. What a gorgeous night!

I woke up again at 7:00 and emerged from the tent just as the sun was about to come up over the trees. The sky was clear except for a slim band of clouds along the western horizon. I began to make breakfast. Within five minutes, the entire sky was overcast from one end to another. It was amazing.

I headed out at 8:30, stopping to say good-bye to my two friends, who had slept in an empty shack across the field. I felt played out and could not get going -- a feeling that would stay with me all day.

I followed the jeep road through an overgrown field where two gravestones were covered with fresh flowers. They marked the graves of a couple of local men who fought for the Union side in the Civil War and were killed in an ambush by Confederate loyalists while attempting to go home on leave. Many mountain people fought for the North in that war, more out of a long-standing antipathy towards the rich planters in the lowlands than a sense of loyalty to that cause.

There was a steep, gut-wrenching descent on the jeep road off of the mountain. I passed Flint Mountain Shelter at 10:45 -- the last shelter for twenty-seven miles. The clouds above were thickening and continued to do so as the day wore on.

I finally reached Devil Fork Gap, feeling tired and cranky. The next stretch was even rougher -- seven-and-a-half miles of hell, the hardest trail I had hiked since the section before Fontana Dam. It began with a short climb and then a long, vertical descent that made my knees ache. I almost fell down the last steep pitch near the bottom.

I came out onto a 1/10-of-a-mile roadwalk past a bunch of humble mountain farms. This was followed by a long stretch of steep climbing straight up a mountain. I was too tired to attempt to stop and then try to get going again. I had to make the whole climb in one shot.

I became the robot. While the lean, mean mileage machine has fun and flies over distances, the robot has no feelings as all as it makes its slow, steady progress up the trail. I tuned out my mind to the growing pain in my legs as I struggled along for more than an hour.

I finally made it to the top of a knob with no views and began a descent alongside a barbed-wire fence into a sag. That was where I was finally rewarded for all of the mindless climbing. Incredible views from that grassy little sag continued all of the way up a sloping meadow to the main summit. I wiped about a pint of sweat off my camera's viewfinder and started shooting pictures.

The trail descended on fairly reasonable grades into Rice Gap and then climbed an overgrown jeep road straight up another slope. The trail began to go up and down like a roller coaster for a while, before a steep grind led to a summit named High Rock where there were no views. God, it sucked.

The descent from High Rock involved long, abrupt drops mixed in with occasional sharp climbs up knobs. It was very discouraging trail for a tired robot. I finally reached Sams Gap, having covered fifteen miles. I had read in the last shelter register that many hikers have been sleeping in an abandoned building there, but the place was all boarded up and I could not find a way in. I would have to go on and tent in the rain tonight.

The Appalachian Trail climbed from Sams Gap up to the summit of another knob. Open fields along the summit and along the ensuing half-mile descent provided great close-up views of Big Bald. There were more meadows just on the other side of Street Gap, over which the trail climbed -- gently, for a change.

The last mile was through the woods and had several more short killer climbs, but I eventually made it to a campsite at Low Gap, having come eighteen miles today over harsh terrain. I figured it like this: I felt lousy and it was not going to be fun regardless of what I did. I could wimp out after a few miles and feel guilty as well, or I could tough out a good-mileage day. I feel content with my decision, and it is nice to know that the next shelter is less than fourteen miles ahead. Short day tomorrow.

I pitched my tent, made a huge dinner, and climbed into my sleeping bag. As I have been writing this entry, the rain has begun to fall. At least it held off until I was prepared.

I passed the 300-mile point of the Appalachian Trail today.

SUNDAY, 5/29/83, MILE 326.6---
-- I am writing this entry Sunday morning at my campsite in Low Gap, as I wait for the weather to hopefully clear, a process which has slowly been unfolding. It would be a shame if I could not get any views from Big Bald. It is the first natural bald on the Appalachian Trail. I could see the grassy summit from the fields on the other side of Street Gap yesterday evening.

I wish I had a dollar for every Low Gap and Deep Gap in the southern Appalachians. They came up with colorful names for the mountains such as Thunderhead, Standing Indian, Charlies Bunion, and Corbin Horse Stamp, but every other gap is called Deep Gap or Low Gap. Just an observation. Time to make breakfast.

LATER, MILE 326.6 -- Since it was less than fourteen miles from my campsite to No Business Knob Shelter, I decided to wait until 11:00 to set off, if necessary. It rained all of last night, but the weather had been slowly starting to break all morning. I was hoping for a chance to get some views from Big Bald.

The sun actually burned through the clouds a couple of times as I was getting ready to leave. The only problem with that was that both times it did so, a heavy rain started up. Each time, a cloud moved in front of the sun five minutes later and the rain immediately stopped. I have given up trying to figure out the weather in these southern mountains.

I began hiking exactly at 11:00 beneath a heavy overcast, but no rain. My first three miles were the climb up Big Bald; I knew from experience that the weather would progressively deteriorate as I gained elevation. I was right. Within a half-mile, I was in a light drizzle which soon became steady. The grades were excellent -- a rare treat recently -- and I made good time.

Nearing the summit, I actually broke out into better weather. The sky brightened and I was approaching the top of the cloud. Were that cloud a little lower or that mountaintop a bit higher, I would have enjoyed some nice views.

Walking across the open summit was still an experience. It was an immense grassland sprinkled with sparse, scrubby bushes. The wind was whipping shreds of cloud across the desolate landscape. I felt as if I were on a Scottish moor as I strolled over the summit and started down the other side. There must have been about a mile or so of open fields. Towards the end, I came across a grove of strange, misshapen trees whose structures were contorted into all kinds of crazy angles. They rose from out of the fog like a cluster of arthritic limbs.

Around 1:00, about a mile past the summit, I came upon a man and a dog sitting beside the trail. It was Ron and Sonny. It was good to see them again, and I talked to Ron for about an hour. He told me that, while they were in Hot Springs, Sonny had actually got into a fight with another hiker's dog. After the fight, Sonny's opponent had required a number of stitches in his ear. Knowing what a coward Sonny is, it is hard for me to picture him being all big and bad like that.

Ron also told me about the final fate of that little stray dog who had hooked up with him and Sonny. He remained in Fontana Village, following various people around for a couple of days, finally latching onto one married couple who liked him but did not want to keep him. Ron informed them of North Carolina's lack of animal protection laws and animal shelters, and how the local sheriff is forced to shoot stray dogs. Good old Ron. A new home for a homeless waif, and one happy ending in the never-ending saga of the Young and the Foolish.

Ron was planning to camp tonight in a place called Whistling Gap, a short distance up the trail. He was highly amused by the name of the place and just could not resist staying there. Hmmmm . . . Whistling Gap . . . He is a filthy, disgusting pig, and I am going to miss his company. He also told me that he was planning to hike into Erwin tomorrow, but I know he will stop when he reaches No Business Knob Shelter and stay there tomorrow night. I will miss him in Erwin, too. The bars which were reputed to be in Hot Springs did not materialize (just a state liquor store), making Erwin the first town on the Appalachian Trail which has them. Barhopping with Ron and Dave could have made for one of the more memorable nights of my trip.

When I resumed my hike, I climbed over Little Bald, from which there were a few views, and descended steeply into Whistling Gap (gee, after talking to Ron, that last part sounds somewhat perverted). The sun had come out while I was with Ron, and things were looking up as I ascended to High Rocks. The descent into Spivey Gap brought my mood down just a little. It had many steep pitches, and hiking over the muddy clay along the trail was like walking on ice.

The Appalachian Trail was extremely difficult to locate as it climbed out of Spivey Gap, and the footway was a quagmire alongside a stream with mud that oozed up over the tops of my boots. The trail remained obscure for the next mile. As I was skidding recklessly down a precipitous clay slope through a tangled jungle of rhododendron into Devil Fork Gap, the sky began to darken once again.

I virtually ran the final three miles to the shelter. It was of no use. A fast-moving thunderstorm caught up while I was still a mile away and drenched me to the bone. I may have uttered a few mild oaths as I squished soggily along the trail. Just as the shelter was coming into view, the rain suddenly stopped. I may have stopped f___ing with Mother Nature, but she is still f___ing with me. The bitch.

Four guys from Tennessee had preceded me to the shelter. They quickly and courteously made room. We were soon laughing and joking and having a good time as we made our suppers. One of the fellows had whipped up a large cherry cheesecake, and they were nice enough to save a piece for me. This was in spite of the fact that I had just polished off a huge dinner, and my eyes lacked their usual lean, hungry thru-hiker look. I love the people I am meeting in these mountains.

They tell me there is a Pizza Hut in Erwin. I have not had pizza since I left Connecticut. If Dave or Ron catches up to me in town tomorrow night, I am going for it -- hell, even if they don't. I have a mere seven-mile walk remaining to the establishment where I intend to stay: Nolichucky Expeditions, a whitewater rafting outfit in Erwin which allows hikers to camp in their field and use their hot showers for two dollars per night. When I get there, I am going to pitch my tent, soak in that shower, and head into town.

MONDAY, 5/30/83, MEMORIAL DAY, MILE 333.7 --- My friends made pancakes this morning. They were returning to their car today and wanted to rid their backpacks of all unnecessary weight; they told me to keep my food in my pack and they would feed me. Hey, I was only too happy to help them out. When the time came to get water for the trail, I wanted to do something nice for them in return for all of that good food, not to mention the good company. I told them that I would make the trip for everybody. It was a steep 4/10-of-a-mile down the mountainside and back up.

They left at about 11:00, while I stuck around for a while longer. I figured that Memorial Day would be an extremely hectic day for the outfitters, so I decided not to arrive there too early. I made myself some tea, whipped up some more pancakes from my own stock, and kicked back for a while.

The day was warm and sunny, but my enjoyment of it was tempered by the fact that the shelter turned out to be a haven for drugged-out bees. Rather than industriously collecting pollen as normal bees do, they buzzed aimlessly around the area, landing constantly on my backpack, my sleeping bag, and all of the gear I was attempting to load into my pack. I finally made my escape just as a group of a dozen or so short-term backpackers were making their moaning and groaning way into the shelter.

The first couple of miles of my short day were an easy, level hike along the side of No Business Knob, passing through yet another dense, scenic rhododendron jungle. I was compelled to force my way through a great deal of overgrown foliage along the trail, and many blowdowns had to be gone under, around, or over, but these were all minor inconveniences.

The next mile was an easy climb followed by an easier descent. This was succeeded by a well-graded climb up a logging road to a ridge, along the crest of which the Appalachian Trail briefly roller-coastered over a series of knobs. Then came a long, steep descent along a narrow spine with great views into the valley of the Nolichucky River below. This final ridge was covered with mountain laurel just beginning to bloom.

I emerged from the woods by a stop sign at the point where the river road intersects the main road into Erwin. At that exact moment, a convertible had just pulled up to the stop sign. Inside was an absolutely gorgeous blonde. Having just come out of the woods after a month spent mostly on the trail, I was not yet mentally prepared for the sensory experiences of a town. I was completely defenseless before the sudden, unexpected onslaught of hormones which had been shiftlessly unemployed these past few weeks, loafing idly on some street corner in my body. I stood there for several moments with my eyes glazing over and my jaw working spastically but producing no sounds before she pulled away. The spell was broken. I grinned sheepishly and congratulated myself for being such a smooth talker. Then I crossed the river and started down the river road.

A couple of the Tennessee boys from the shelter were sitting nearby, waiting for their two companions who were hitchhiking back to pick up their car. We shared a few laughs as I told them about that blonde and the ease with which I had seduced her with my witty repartee, and then I followed the Appalachian Trail along the river road over the final mile-and-a-half to Nolichucky Expeditions.

I checked in at the office, pitched.my tent in the field alongside the river, and took a long, hot shower. I got out, got dressed, and began to make my way into town.

For a foot traveller, Erwin was spread out very inconveniently all over the map. I walked the one-and-a-half miles back to the main road and hitched on that road for about a mile before I obtained a ride. The people who picked me up drove me about two miles into Erwin before dropping me off, telling me that the Pizza Hut was two miles further up the road. I quickly got another ride, from a man who drove me for two more miles, informing me as he dropped me off that the Pizza Hut was another two miles further.

I walked about two miles without a ride, seeing no sign of a Pizza Hut. I asked a passer-by where the place was. You guessed it. Two miles further up the road -- on the left hand side. I walked another mile or so, finally coming to a MacDonalds, a Hardees, and a Kentucky Fried Chicken. I almost missed the Pizza Hut -- it was on the right. I guess that the moral of this story is never ask for directions in Erwin, Tennessee, just two miles up the road from anywhere in America.

I passed the Post Office on the way to the Pizza Hut. It was six or seven miles from Nolichucky Expeditions. It seems I will be facing another long walk in Erwin tomorrow.

In the restaurant, as I was wolfing down a small pan pizza (which was purported to serve two) and two large colas, I met a couple who had camped with Ron and Dave,in Whistling Gap last night. As that was only thirteen-and-a-half miles from Nolichucky Expeditions, I was expecting to see Dave, at least, when I returned to my tent tonight.

I decided I was not up for another long walk going back to Nolichucky, so I picked out a well-lit spot beside the road with plenty of room for cars to pull over and waited for a ride. A half-hour went by before a middle-aged good ol' boy driving a pickup truck pulled over and gave me a lift.

He drove me all over Erwin and the surrounding area, until I began to wonder if he was a chicken hawk out cruising. I spent the remainder of the ride holding onto the door latch, prepared to jump out if he pulled any kind of a weapon on me. That was my northeastern background sneaking back up on me. He turned out to be just a nice guy who went out of his way to bring me all of the way back to the field where I was camped.

He was having a problem with his headlights. They kept going completely out whenever he dimmed his high beams, and he always had a lot of trouble getting them back on. This fact did not stop him from constantly trying them in an attempt to discover what the problem was, making the final one-and-a-half miles down the unilluminated gravel river road to Nolichucky a rather interesting experience. Flying along that dark, winding road, tires spitting gravel, he would say, "I can't figure this out!" (which I had already noticed) and dim his brights one more time. The headlights would fail completely, and it would take him approximately a minute to coax them on once more as he continued to fly through the inky blackness. I do not know how he stayed on that road. Perhaps all of those Budweisers I smelled on his breath helped.

Neither Dave nor Ron was at Nolichucky when I returned. I guess they both decided to stop at No Business Knob Shelter tonight. It is now 10:00, and I must get some sleep. Perhaps I can dream up a slightly better line to use on the ladies tomorrow.

On the trail between Hot Springs and Erwin, I passed an interesting piece of graffiti spray-painted on a road at an Appalachian Trail crossing. Somebody with an obviously twisted sense of humor had written:


I like that.

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©1996 George Steffanos


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