May 24: Marion, VA

I’m tired and my feet are sore.  I’m currently in at the Traveler’s Inn in Marion, Virginia.  Have some pictures….

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There lives a black snake at one of the shelters.  You can see his head and yellow/white chin near the ceiling. 

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This hiker packs a ceramic cup, a bible and a journal. 

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These guys made coffee one morning and I found it entertaining.  It took them nearly 25 minutes and the process looked complicated.  It was well deserved.

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This is a very pleasant part of the trail (i.e. no rocks).  Also, this is the gate to the Grayson Highlands.  I hope to see wild ponies.

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I was sitting this shelter when….

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…the ponies came and saw me! 

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This is a Trail Registry.  They are in a wooden box and I see them every few days.  This is how they find lost hikers and I [think] it’s how they figure out how many attempted thru-hikers actually complete their journey.

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Tuesday, May 20th. Left Damascus, North on the AT.

It’s morning right now and I’m up the trail from Damascus.  There’s a college class here, a group of about 20 people.  Listening to the professor is a nice change from the normal shelter chatter.

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I knew they were not true hikers when I saw the food bags hung poorly.  The idea is to keep the bears (and raccoons, mice) out of your food.  According to all the literature, you’re supposed to hang your food 15 feet off of the ground and 8 feet away from the tree.  Black bears are superb tree climbers.

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I’m no pro either.   I was too tired to hang my food, I slept next to my food bag.  I jumped a big section of the trail when I took that shuttle.  I think I’ll come back here in the fall.  Maybe I can be there when all the leaves change during the Fall season.  That’s all for now.

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Tuesday, May 20th. Left Damascus, North on the AT.

It’s morning right now and I’m up the trail from Damascus.  There’s a college class here, a group of about 20 people.  Listening to the professor is a nice change from the normal shelter chatter.

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I knew they were not true hikers when I saw the food bags hung poorly.  The idea is to keep the bears (and raccoons, mice) out of your food.  According to all the literature, you’re supposed to hang your food 15 feet off of the ground and 8 feet away from the tree.  Black bears are superb tree climbers.

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I jumped a big section of the trail when I took that shuttle.  I think I’ll come back here in the fall.  Maybe I can be there when all the leaves change during the Fall season.  That’s all for now.

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I’m in Damascus, VA for the Trail Days festival.

I took a shuttle from the GSNP to Damascus with some fellow hikers. 

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We tried camping out adjacent to an area known as tent city.   Tent city doesn’t open up for a few more days.  In about 15 minutes of setting up tents, we were visited by two police officers.  They politely asked us to not camp here.  So we wandered down to a hostel, known  as “The Place”.

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The two caretakers are Atlas and Bayou.  Bayou is a Nazi.  He made everybody’s stay unpleasant with his condescending endless pestering. 
So the next night, I headed up the AT a little bit and camped like a man. 

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This sign (below) cheers me up.

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Tue May 13

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Great Smokies National Park has wild animals.

Let’s talk about last night.  I crossed Fontana Dam at about 6:30 pm, then it’s a small hike to the entrance of the Great Smokies National Park.  I planned to hike about 5 miles to the first camp site.

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Above the dam, below some geese (with 4 babies). 

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After a few hours of hiking, it got dark – real dark. The hike was all up hill.  Naturally, I take lots of breaks, especially while hiking at night.  There was zero wind, so I can hear every forest noise possible.  The ground is covered in a thick layer of dry leaves from last fall.  Basically, every creature makes noises as they travel over/under/through the crunch leaves.  I can easily hear the difference between crickets, milipedes and beatles. 
     At one of my many breaks, I just stopped on the trail for a minute.  On my right is uphill and on my left is downhill.  I left my backpack on and just rested while slightly leaning on my trekking poles.  I could hear two crickets to my right and I could see them with my headlamp.  I could also hear the occassional rustle of a single leaf as the nearly non-existant breeze swayed through.   Also, about 12 feet ahead of me, on the uphill side of the trail, I’ve heard the same leaf make a tiny rustle 3 times in 60 seconds.  I knew something was there, it had to be a lizard or a mouse.  I decide to walk forward, very slowly with my light on my target.  I hear another tiny rustle.  At about 6 feet away, I finally see it – a snake!  I jump back and literally fall off the trail, losing site of my devil.  I slide down hill a bit more and scramble backwards before going back up to the trail.  I reapproach my newly found friend and took a few pictures.  Sorry, he’s hard to spot I wanted to keep about 15 feet away. 

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See him on the right?  There’s no way I’m passing forward with his uphill advantage.  So I threw a stick at the snake – no response.  I throw two more and still nothing.   I find a large branch and slap the ground nearby, rustling up as much leaf noise as I could.  I stamped my poles on the ground; still nothing.  I then get a little closer and rustle the leaves with my 10 foot branch and he lets out a sinister rattle.  It’s a damn rattlesnake.  He also slithers forward a foot, then takes his sweet ass time crossing the trail.  Once, he crosses the trail he starts to haul ass and let’s out 45 seconds of rattles. 
   Three things to note.  1. I wished he would’ve rattled sooner.  2.  I bent my trekking pole.  3.  It took me about an hour to walk the next quarter mile.  I needed to inspect every stick on the trail, in order to be sure it was just a stick. 
Sometime later, still hiking in the dark, I see a reflection of a single eyeball about 100 yards down the trail for less than a second. I start doing my noises – barking like a dog, yelling out various things.  The animal bolt up and over the nearby ridge like an elephant in a China shop.  Only bears sound like that.   Damn it again.  These two instances really took the romance out of night hiking.   I also saw a few bear poops. 
I finally make it to the camp site and it takes me an hour or so to fall a sleep.  I only turned my flashlight on 20 times. 
     About 7:00 am I awoke with alert as I hear crunch noises near me.  It’s just a deer.  Little does he know that I could punch him for startling me after such a silly night hike.  He was about 15 feet away.

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I got up and had nice hike to the next shelter for lunch. 

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During today’s hike I heard some more leaf rustling about 20 yards to my left – something was coming into my sight.  I was thinking a small mammal; like a marmot, muskrat or the like.  Then I saw a fuzzy head poke over the log, then two, then two more.  It was a 4 pack of baby pigs.  Fuzzy boar piglets.  The cutest thing I ever did see.  I did record them in a video.  They were just running around having a good time, a lot like a small pack of farm dogs roaming the country side.  I’ll upload it when I can. Then I pushed on to another shelter to call it a night.  I met these guys…

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Tadpole, Soleless and Chief.  They’re brothers and their nitpicking amongst each other cheers me up.
It’s 

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I’m about to enter the Great Smokies National Park.

Today is Wednesday, May 7th.  I’ve arrived to Fontana Dam.  I took a zero day yesterday.  I’m currently waiting for the Post Office to open at 11:45 to send off my winter sleeping bag.  I found a summer bag in the hiker box and I’m ready to trade it out.  The pro hikers say not to get rid of your Winter gear until Virginia.  Then I’ll catch a ride back up to the actual dam, take a free shower, and take a nap to avoid the afternoon heat.  I bet it’ll be 90 degrees again. 

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The pic above: Cable Gap shelter – a good place to rest.  I heard there are a ton of mice in this little shelter.

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This shelter (above pic) is known as the Hilton at Fontana.  It’s very big and has nearby showers.  Last night, I slept on the paved road part to avoid snoring. 

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This is the Fontana Marina.  They sell beer here. 

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This tent belongs to fellow hiker, Foolery.  I found it at a shelter, wet and muddy.  I didn’t want it so I gave it to him. 

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Here’s my tarptent.  This is basically a rain fly that is staked to the ground and supported by my two trekking poles.  There is no floor part.  It works well in Montana.  I’m having second thoughts about it on the AT.  There are A LOT more creepy crawlys around these parts.

I’m not sure when my next post will be, I think the next week or so will have no coverage.  Great Smokies, here I come!
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Day 18: resupply + evening hike

I hitched into Bryson City for groceries, laundry, food, and just to explore the charming town.  Then I hitched back to the NOC.  There was some sort of Mini Cooper rally – at least 25 of them.

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There are some flowers on the trail, they look almost tropical.

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After 1 hour of hiking up hill, I’m satisfied.  At 90 minutes, I’m exhausted.  At 2 hours, I’m angry.  I hiked 5 hours uphill untill dark.

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There was a nice view before it got too late.

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Well, its very dark out, I’m not going to make it to the shelter as I hoped.   Here’s where I’ll sleep…

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In the pic above, my stuff leans against the log on the left and you can see the Appalachian Trail on the right.  I basically slept on the trail.  It was a pleasant evening. 

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