Saturday, March 29, 2014

End of Hike #7...All Smiles

I can't recall the exact time that I finished up my hike but I think it was around 5:00pm. Sore and tired, I rested in a rocking chair at the visitors center and waited for my ride to arrive. Suzanne and the kids weren't too far away, but it did give me ample time to reflect on my hike.  So far I've hiked over 164 miles and I have the Great Smoky Mountains ahead of me. So far my AT adventure has far exceeded my expectations...looking forward to what lies ahead.

Arriving at Fontana Dam

As I entered the Fontana Dam area I could see Fontana Lake and Fontana Marina off in the distance. It made me wish I was on boat taking a nap. Towards the end I passed the Fontana Dam Shelter which is known by many hikers as the "Fontana Hilton".  It got that name since it has concrete floors, running water and showers nearby at the Visitors Center. I'm sure that is a treat for most hikers that are staying out on the trail.

Making Good Time

My hike was up and down as usual with the highest in elevation that I climbed being slightly over 4,000 ft.  The last part of the day I was going to descend to below 2,000 ft. as I entered the Fontana Dam area.  The day took me past several points of interest such as Wauchecha Bald, Hogback Gap, Cody Gap, Yellow Creek Gap, Black Gum Gap and Walker Gap.

Also stopped at Cable Gap Shelter which was originally built in 1939 and refurbished in 1988.  If only those walls could talk...

Brown Fork Shelter

I decided to stop off at Brown Fork Shelter to see where Grayson and I were supposed to sleep on the last hike.  Overall seems like a fairly decent structure.  I rested a spell, read some of the journal entires from previous hikers and moved on.

August 2, 2013... on to the hike

Suzanne and I get up early Friday morning so she can shuttle me to the beginning of my solo day hike.  I'm not exactly sure what everyone else has planned for the day, but my goal is clear...finish up the remaining 15.8 miles from Stocoah Gap to Fontana Dam. The weather is misty but cool as I begin my hike out of Stecoah Gap around 8:00am.  I'm not weighed down too bad this time... only carrying my hydration pack and a couple of water bottles which hopefully means that I will make it to Fontana Dam before dark. The mountains never cease to amaze me with their beauty and this morning's hike was no exception.


Suzanne, Colin and DJ did a half day guided trip down the Nantahala River.  They had a blast floating down the river all afternoon while fighting several Class II and III rapids along the way.

While Suzanne and the older boys did some rafting, my goal was to keep the little ones preoccupied by taking them tubing at Deep Creek near Bryson City.   My uncle Larry had told us about how fun the tubing was there so we had to check it our for ourselves. You may note that there aren't too many pictures from our tubing fun.  Try taking a six and eight year old on a creek tubing run by yourself and you will figure out why I didn't have much time to snap any pics. If I wasn't totally exhausted from carrying three large tubes a mile upstream, there was the Cirque-du-Soleil type moves I had to perform while trying to keep each kid from floating off.  Luckily there were plenty of people downstream that responded to me yelling, "Please stop that screaming kid in the float for me?"

Jon, Ana and I survived our tubing run, downed some ice cream and met up with them towards the end of the day. After some well deserved pizza we went back to the cabin to rest up for the final day at NOC and the beginning of my hike.

Day 2...Divide and Conquer

Colin and DJ

With four "kids" to entertain (Yes, Colin and DJ are still considered kids in our eyes...big kids..but still kids) Suzanne and I thought it best to divide and conquer.  My solo hike was scheduled to happen on the last day of our trip so this first day was full of other adventures.  It was important for Suzanne to spend some time with Colin since he just graduated high school and will soon be leaving for college.  Therefore, we scheduled some time on the zip line in the morning followed by rafting in the afternoon with Suzanne.

Pretty Please?

Jonathan and Ana

She'll be Coming Around the Mountain....

Train coming soon, Kimosabi
Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) is a wonderland for the young and the young at heart. I apologize that my blog posts deviate from the hike from time to time, but the towns that I visit and the people that join me for these hikes are just as much a part of my story as the hike itself.  One thing we all enjoyed seeing again was the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad train. We have been on this train before as part of the Polar Express ride at Christmas time but it was nice to see it again as chugged along the beautiful mountain terain.  We thought about taking a short round trip ride from NOC to Bryson City, but time just didn't permit us to do that on this trip...maybe next year.

Hike #7... Return to Nantahala July 31, 2013

Since my last hike wasn't completed as planned, I was anxious to get back and finish up the remaining miles left that would take me from Stecoah Gap to Fontana Dam. I enjoyed my time in the Nantahala area so much that I decided to bring the family along for this next part of my journey. No...they are not hiking with me (that would be zero fun for everyone), but rather just tagging along since it is summer and NOC is so much fun.  I actually rented a mountain cabin from NOC for all of us to stay in during our short 3 day adventure.  The cabin was only about a mile down the road and was a great launching pad for all of our activities.  Along with me is my beautiful wife (Suzanne), one of my older stepsons (Colin), his best friend (DJ), my son (Jonathan) and my daughter (Ana).  We get settled in and the adventure begins...

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Small Victories, Stecoah Gap and the end of Hike #6

After a quick scan of our map, we determined that reaching Brown Fork Shelter wasn't going to happen...time for another plan.  We determined that we could make it about another mile or so to Stecoah Gap and either get a ride into town or camp there for the night even though that isn't allowed. Luckily we were able to find a spot on the mountain where we could pick up a phone signal. That was comforting, but now what?  Who do you call form the middle of the woods as the sun is setting and what exactly do you say when you get them? We end up calling one of the local hostels to see if they knew of any shuttle drivers we could call.  We eventually get the number of a guy named Gene that sometimes shuttles hikers, but it was going to be hit or miss if we could reach him. Someone was looking out for us and Gene actually answered the phone when we called him.  Luckily he agreed to meet us at Stecoah Gap and shuttle us back to Fontana Dam.

We were all totally exhausted...even Max. We had enough of the trail and were not looking forward to camping out in a tent or another day of hiking. Gene took us back to Fontana Dam and we eventually made our way into Bryson City for the night.  The trail won this round, but there was a small victory to be proud of on this trip. Grayson successfully carried that sleeping bag over 7 miles out of the woods and properly disposed of it. He could have easily given up that fight but he prevailed. If he didn't already have a cool trail name (Tin Man), I would have given him one that day...Iron Eyes Cody.

Those of you that didn't grow up in NC during the 70's will likely not get my Iron Eyes Cody reference, but it is fitting for this situation.  In the Keep America Beautiful campaign, Iron Eyes would shed a tear as he watched folks treat our Mother Earth as a trash can.  By the end of this particular hike, I too felt like shedding a feet were killing me. No worries though, there is a lot more trail to hike and tomorrow is another day.

Being Green Isn't Easy

As the day wore on, our hike seemed to get longer and longer.  Both of us had feet that were aching and that damn sleeping bag was not helping our quest.  It got so bad that we honestly stopped several times and debated on how to leave the sleeping bag behind without accepting defeat and doing what many others had done...leave the hard work to someone else. No one ever said that "going green" was going to be easy.

Back and forth we went...just when Grayson was about to reach his breaking point, I would step in and carry it awhile only to reach my own breaking point very soon thereafter.  The sleeping bag was weighing us down physically and mentally. It was consuming our focus but we quickly realized we had another problem brewing...daylight was fading fast and we were not even close to Brown Fork Shelter.