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 tear...my feet were killing me. No worries though, there is a lot more trail to hike and tomorrow is another day.