(Yesterday’s post left Ty at his backcountry campsite in Smoky Mountain National Park awaiting several neighbors…)
So, the shadows are lengthening even farther, and I had just finished a gourmet meal, and it was time to hoist the food… wait, aren’t you supposed to hoist a glass of wine? Well, in polite society, yes, but in the Smokies, you hoist your food… that means you tie it to a 20 foot length of parachute cord (nylon line) and throw your food bag over a tree limb at least 10 feet above the ground, then hoist your food bag to the high tree limb, where supposedly a hungry black bear won’t find it. There are several problems with this tactic: (1) bears are smarter than humans; (2) a bear’s sense of smell is superb, although not nearly as good as that of our fierce miniature Dachshunds, Rudy and Gretchen (AKA respectfully as “Elvis” and “Ten Pounds of Fighting Fury”); (3) if the bear smells your food bag, and can’t get to it, the bear may be so P.O.’ed that he eats the smug backpacker in his tent in reprisal (just kidding). Oh, well, the Park Rules say you must hang your food, so I put all my dehydrated food, snack bars, GORP (Good Old Raisins and Peanuts), M&Ms and even toothpaste in the green bag and hoisted it up a nearby beech tree. I thought about leaving the toothpaste out on a log, because bears who eat people food (or people themselves) instead of berries and tofu often develop gum disease and cavities… but I digress… the food was now up the tree, so to speak.
As the sun sets, I do some yoga to keep my lower back muscles stretched out. Contrary to some fundamentalist beliefs that yoga is the Devil’s way of capturing innocents’ minds, I find that it keeps me loose, although I admit to being less than religious in my observance of this excellent workout. (This photo and the one above were taken with my Olympus XZ-1 pocket camera’s self-timer; I had to reassure My Lovely Bride that Bambi the Buxom Blonde Bimbo did not accompany me on this trip.) The only bambis out here were young whitetail deer, none of which I sighted, though I saw lots of hoof prints…
Okay, it’s almost dark, and none of the neighbors whom the Park Service guy said would be here have arrived. I am elated, because instead of eight 20-something horsemen drinking ice cold beer from their saddlebags and playing Def Leppard until 0300, I have birds, the occasional wild boar, and perhaps a snorting black bear to serenade me. The birds were out in force until dark, I may have heard a wild boar, but no bears appeared; just as well, because my can of bear spray cost $50, and I didn’t want to waste it on a pitiful 500 lb. black bear when I could save it for a 1,500 lb. grizzly out in Montana.
Oh, what’s this about wild boars, you ask? Was that a guffaw I heard? Well, here’s the real poop, so to speak… It seems that in 1912, a wealthy businessman had imported a bunch of huge, tusked Russian boars for his hunting lodge at Hooper’s Bald in North Carolina. Surprisingly, the boars escaped and found some local girl pigs to mate with. (You see this coming, right?) Today, wild hybrid boars (Sus scrofa), called “Rooshins” and “Tush hogs” by the locals, roam the Smokies, eating the choicest flowers, grubs and worms in the backcountry, ripping up the trails where the most tender vittles can be found, and leaving piles of pig poop in sight of the tourists; they have mostly been eliminated outside the park, but inside the protected no-hunting area, they are “pigging out”. This isn’t my photo… these pigs can be very aggressive, and I wouldn’t want to ask one to pose for a snapshot!
The Park Service had to hire poachers, of all things, to hunt the boars, but they still have an active presence up in the mountains, as frequent rooted-up sections of trail proved to this casual observer. In India, wild boars are dangerous even to adult tigers who make the mistake of trying to acquire a fresh pork lunch. I think this is one of the grubs that the boars eat, but worms were never one of my strong points… in any case, I didn’t try it as a snack. Guess I wouldn’t be a good candidate for the next episode of “Survivor”.
I had a restless night, not because of any fear of Rooshins or black bears, but because my shoulder was hurting like the devil. Seems I may have inherited my mother’s bursitis, an inflammation of the bursa, the fluid-filled sac that sits between the shoulder joint and the clavicle. (It got better in the morning after a heavy dose of Naproxen.) After a breakfast of Starbucks Via and granola, I struck camp and loaded my backpack for a 15 mile day. My goal was the Derrick Knob Shelter on the Appalachian Trail, west of Sams Gap (this is not a Wal-Mart-sponsored clothing store, but a saddle or notch in a ridge). The trail up on the ridgeline was more traveled than my access trail, since there are hundreds of A.T. “thru-hikers” making the annual pilgrimage from Springer Mountain, Georgia, to Mount Katahdin, Maine, at this time of year.
I could have spent the night there with 10-12 other A.T. hikers, but opted for the camp less populated. Two and a half hours after breaking camp, I arrived at the shelter. There were two 20-something studly guys about to depart, having stopped for lunch on their 5 day trip on the A.T. The shelter has two wood sleeping platforms, a roof and three sides, and that’s about it. They are usually located near springs so that hikers can keep hydrated and cook.
Speaking of cooking, I was getting hungry… I set up my ultra-lightweight Esbit fuel tab stove and set to boiling 2 1/4 cups of water for my dehydrated Pad Thai. (Did I forget to mention that some of these backpacking dinners are really quite exotic?) There were even packets of peanut butter and peanuts to add in, making a great high-protein meal for a starving backpacker. Suzanne had convinced me to take this particular meal because it contained about 1,000 calories. She is very smart… it got me through a very long day afoot.
While I was eating, two women hiked in from the south. Lest you think this is all a man’s sport, Cathy from Connecticut and Merry from Sodus, NY, were out for six weeks on the A.T., heading for Damascus (Virginia, not Syria). Cathy is a retired video production professor and Merry still works as a medical researcher. We discussed video production (in particular Messages of Hope) and backpacks (Merry and I had the same Osprey Exos model). I felt a bit of a wuss, being out just for a couple of days, but you do what you have the time for… “One day….”
You may notice that Merry is wearing flip-flops in the photo above. Those are not for hiking, but for airing your feet out on a break. Here are my hiking boots on that same break, and I change socks and powder my feet every hour to keep them dry and (try to) prevent blisters. I only had one after 20 miles…
On the trip down from the A.T., I stopped several times to admire wildflowers, many of which have their peak blooms in late April/early May. The white one is White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum, or wakeroot), and the blue, well, your guess is as good as mine.
I have mentioned food twice, but what about water? Unlike on my desert trip last December, there were plenty of water sources around here in the Smokies. Unfortunately, almost all are affected by a nasty little critter called Giardia lamblia that gives you severe intestinal problems. Even this beautiful spring-fed stream might harbor bad bugs invisible to the naked eye.
To avoid this, when I ran out of water from The Coach, I took out my handy-dandy hand-pump water filter and filled up one water bottle at a time (I carry three). It took about a minute and a half to filter 18 oz. of cold spring water, now (hopefully) Giardia-free. I won’t know if I was successful for another week or two, but this method hasn’t failed me in the past. Knock on wood…
I hiked for several hours down from the A.T. to the trail heading for the parking area where Suzanne had dropped me off. Since I was running early for our 1630 (4:30 PM) “date”, I stopped at this miniature waterfall for 15 minutes of R&R (rest and relaxation in Navy terms, and maybe some meditation in spiritual terms). It was a truly beautiful spot; no people around, just moss-covered rocks, rushing water and solitude.
After my R&R, I shouldered my pack for the final leg of my trip. Within 20 minutes, and still almost an hour from our rendezvous, I was shocked to see a lovely Wood Nymph walking toward me! Those versed in Classical Greek mythology know that Wood Nymphs were also known as Dryads, or female tree spirits, normally of oak trees, of which there are an abundance in the Smokies.
On the 45 minute hike back to the car, the Wood Nymph (AKA My Lovely Bride) asked me how I had enjoyed the trip, and whether I had taken everything I needed. I replied, “Well, actually, there was one thing that I had forgotten when I changed out my large first aid kit for the smaller one… I left behind the T.P.” She burst out laughing, and asked, “Ty, what did you do?” “Well, there was no Sears catalog out there….”