Dan and Hannah Hike to Charlie’s Bunion in the Great Smokies (Tennessee and North Carolina)


My college roommate, Big Steve, who hailed from Virginia, always said people are friendlier (i.e., more welcoming) in the South.  I cannot disagree.  The you-alls, the yes sir’s, yes ma’am’s, and the look at you in the eyes smiles.   I love it.  Now more than ever we need that civility as a starting point for conversations rather than debates with others.  I once taught poetry to a class of sixth graders for a nun who was a student of mine at Eastern Connecticut State University.  When I came into the room, everyone stood up.  It was very cool.  As a prof of the Exploring Teaching class at the University of New England, I had my students stand when a guest speaker came into the room.  After this election season, we need to listen more and judge less.


I do have a Big Beware for you!!  Think Jersey shore Sunday afternoon on the Garden State Parkway.   Think LA anytime.   Think the Washington Beltway whenever.  Coming from the west to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, we leave I-40 for the 22-mile gauntlet drive to Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  First on the drive in, there is Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, and then comes the shops of Gatlinburg.  Get this, on a non-holiday October Monday morning at 11A, the traffic is insane in G-Town.  There are more stores and shoppers per square inch than at the Mall of America in Minne-snow-ta.   I remind you it’s mid-morning Monday.  It takes three changes of the traffic light to get to the next traffic light!

But…later we learn there is a bypass around Gatlinburg to the Great Smokies.  Take it!  Save yourself.


At the parking lot of Newfound Gap

While Hannah trolls for a parking spot at the west side Visitor Center, I seek out a ranger  to learn more about the Ramsey Cascades waterfall hike that we are counting on.  After our experience yesterday with a waterless waterfall in nearby Dayton, TN, I ask if there will be any water coming over the falls.  The good news is that there is water at the falls. The bad news is that the trail is closed due  a bridge out thanks to a fallen tree.

Hearing we’d like to hike for three to four hours, she suggests the Charlie’s Bunion hike beginning at Newfound Gap in the center of the park on the Tennessee/North Carolina line.


The trail immediately grabs our attention with its steady climb, with logs placed conveniently across the trail to make the stepping up easier as well as a measure to limit the erosion.  With Hannah motoring in the lead, we are rocking westward along the Appalachian Trail on this sunny 72F afternoon.  We pass southbound thru-hikers (those hiking the entire 2180 miles of the AT from Maine to Georgia), who are now within 200 miles of their holy grail of finishing at Springer Mountain in Georgia.


The promised rocks and roots of the trail

The first 2.7 miles of the trail to Charlie’s Bunion is almost entirely uphill.  Sweating and panting to keep up with Hannah’s pace, I am loving the physical challenge of such trails.  Though the trail is rated “moderate” by the park service, it’s a serious, no let-up eight-mile round-trip workout.


In contrast, when I am at the gym, if I am tired, I chill and just pedal lightly on the recumbent bicycle.  In pickleball, I stop early if I get weary.  But today on a gut busting 90 minutes of steady uphill climbing, I have no choice but to put one foot ahead of the other and rock on.  That said, I know that we are living the dream – hiking in the Great Smokies.


White blaze of the Appalachian Trail

In addition, I love the “day hiking-ness” of our hikes.  While AT thru-hikers are heading to the Ice House Shelter near Charlie’s Bunion to “sleep” with others in a three-sided shelter where mice scurry over sleeping bags and fellow hikers snore like the Chattanooga Choo Choo, Hannah and I have a humane alternative this evening.  At our motel, we will shower, have a glass of wine, and later sleep in a comfortable bed.  Ah, the good life of the day hiker.


Sort of looks like a bunion, yes?

The final third of the trail is basically downhill.  Rocky and root-filled, the trail keeps our attention as our stride length increases and we continue to have a heckuva workout.  On this mountain ridge line, often with steep drop offs to either side, we never feel in peril as we hike through thick brush and tall trees.


Charlie with his friends Dan and Hannah

As the AT heads to the right, we take the 100 yard spur trail to 5565’ Charlie’s Bunion.   The area beneath the Bunion allows us to rest, then climb the rock outcropping that, yes, does look like a bunion.  Later I snap the arty picture below of Hannah removing her socks and boots, which impresses the hell out of me.  Perhaps, you too from such a modest photographer?

In 1929, when two hikers, Charlie Conner and Horace Kephart, paused for a rest at this spot, Connor took off his boots and socks and exposed a bunion that reassembled the surrounding rocks.  Kephart said, Charlie I’m going to get this place put on a government map for you.  Hence the name.

With four rocky miles back over up and down terrain, we spend less than 15 minutes at Charlie’s vista with Gatlinburg to the west and the North Carolina mountains to the east.  Check out the video below as we head back to the trailhead.


The hike to the trailhead continues to be quite the physical challenge, but with no choice but to move forward, we rock on.

As we pass a twenty-something couple, I think what a worthwhile test of a relationship it would be for those considering marriage to hike together to learn how each other deals with stress and the challenges of such a tough climb.  Marriage is so much more of a challenge than this trail!  Do I hear an Amen!


Anyone married, even a few years, let alone the 44 that Hannah and I have been, knows that life is challenges, compromises and negotiations.  You don’t have to live too long to know that much of life is not about succeeding at Plan A, but learning to deal with Plan B on a regular basis.  I am most fortunate to share the joys and challenges of the trail and life than with Hannah Banana.


Dan and Hannah Hike to Laurel Falls in Tennessee

Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier and Disney Icon, had it right.  Some days you get the bear and some days the bear gets you.


Fact is, today Hannah and I are in Davy Crockett country in eastern Tennessee to hike the Cumberland Trail when the bear gets us.  I’ll explain, but first.  Click here to listen to the Ballad of Davy Crockett from the 1955 Disney TV mini-series and take yourself back to the coonskin cap craze of the Fifties.


Having come to the South this first week of October, we plan to hike the waterfall trails of Tennessee and Georgia as well as the Appalachian Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.   This Sunday we have landed in Dayton, Tennessee.   Back in the day, Dayton was quite the center of controversy.


In 1925, the famous Scopes Monkey Trial (John Scopes was a local science teacher) was litigated over the issue of whether evolution should be taught in the public schools.  William Jennings Bryan as prosecutor and Clarence Darrow as defense attorney brought their star power to Dayton.  This trial was later fictionalized in the Spencer Tracy film, Inherit the Wind (1960).  By the way, Scopes was found guilty of teaching evolution contrary to Tennessee state statute and fined $100.*


Nearly a century later, we see that “America” has come to the rural South.  In the two bustling little towns we have visited (i.e., Dalton, GA yesterday and Dayton today), there are Comfort Inns and Marriotts with Red Lobsters and Applebees on the edge of town.  There are Lowes and Wal-marts and all the Taco Bells, Mickey Dees, and Little Caesar’s Pizzas you could want.


Dalton has an “Historic Downtown” (i.e., tired buildings with empty store fronts here and there).  Nearby Bryan College was founded in the aftermath of the Scopes Trial to establish an institution of higher education to teach from a Christian worldview.

Traveling from our Sleep Inn and Suites on route 27 in Dalton, we have a simple four miles of driving to the Laurel Snow State Natural Area heading into the mountains.  Then we hit the ¾ mile gravel and dirt road to the trailhead parking.   Weaving in and out to avoid the potholes and gullies, we muddle along at 10 mph, wondering if we will be the only ones on the trail.


Thankfully we arrive at the trailhead with 12 other cars.  I relax and am more confident that we won’t be heading into some sort of Deliverance wilderness.  As a Yankee, I have a hard time getting the depravity of the Burt Reynolds film, Deliverance (1972) and my stint in the Knoxville, TN jail (1971) out of mind when I am in the rural South.  Click here for Part 1 of Dan’s Weekend Incarceration in the Knoxville Jail.


Planning to hike to the 80’ foot Laurel Falls, we see a sign at the trailhead that says that the Laurel Creek Bridge is out.  But that can’t be the bridge to Laurel Falls; there are so many other hikers on the trail today.


Dan in the dry riverbed

In this one-time coal mining area, we hike on a 6’ wide trail above the stony and boulder-y Laurel Creek that has not a bit of flowing water.  That is not a good sign for our chances of seeing a waterfall of any size this afternoon.  Still, we remain upbeat and feel hopeful that we will see some sort of tumbling waters, Tennessee-style.

Meeting a woman older than our 68 years, toting a 40-pound pack, we chit chat.  When we say we are from Maine to see a waterfall, she says, Oh that’s too bad, you came all this way.  This is another bright red flag that there is little we can do about and so we hike on.


White blaze of the Cumberland Trail

Promised a mile and a half of hiking along the river, we follow the white blazes (i.e., white vertical rectangles painted on trees denoting the main trail) of the Cumberland Trail.   These white blazes will prove to be our godsend.  Soon we are rock scrambling along the river with no sense of a trail.  Without a white blaze in sight, we wise up, back track, and finally notice a fallen tree where we missed the sign that says “Main trail;” and then we see a white blaze just ahead.


Hiking up the mountainside, we have a trail that narrows with many sharp rocks and roots along the way.  In the distance we see a metal bridge across the river.  As we approach, we see it has been mangled and understand why it has been closed.  But then across the river, we see a couple and figure if they can cross this bridge, so can we.


Nimbly, we step up and over the twisted bridge and cross easily.  On to Laurel Falls, we now have a trail which is a combo rock scrambling/foot path.  Again we come to what seems to be a dead end, having lost the white blazes.  Looping back after a few minutes, we find that there is a tunnel through the rocks where we are supposed to go.


Not a lick of water coming over Laurel Falls

After three miles of hiking, we take a side trail to a stone wall of mountain – at last Laurel Falls!  Except…

…there is not even a trickle of water coming down from what is usually an 80’ falls.

Such is life and thank you Davy, for adding some much needed perspective: Some days you get the bear and some days the bear gets you.  

*In July 2017 a statue of Clarence Darrow was placed next to the one of William Jennings Bryan in Dayton, Tennessee.  Click on this link to learn how the “Scopes Monkey Trial” controversy lingers into this century.  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/14/us/darrow-bryan-dayton-tennessee-scopes-statues.html?emc=edit_th_20170715&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=66895847

Dan and Hannah Hike Lookout Mountain in Tennessee

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.


On August 28, 1963 Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered these momentous words in what is now known as the I Have a Dream speech.  Click here to see MLK give this speech.


As a Jersey boy, I never really knew of the location of Stone Mountain or Lookout Mountain.  Fact is, I wasn’t curious enough to even find out, and for that I am not proud.  While Stone Mountain is just to the east of Atlanta, it turns out that Lookout Mountain is on the Tennessee/Georgia border just to the southwest of Chattanooga, TN.   Today we have come to King’s Lookout Mountain to hike.


More than two months ago, Delta Airlines moved up our Saturday morning flight from Boston to Atlanta from 825A to 715A.  You might be thinking, Dan, my boy, what’s the big deal!  It’s just an hour and change.  True, it doesn’t seem like much, but it does mean that Hannah and I must awake at 245A for the drive from our home in York, Maine to Logan Airport in Boston 60 miles to our south.   At this point the universe sweetly steps in –  we now have a golden opportunity to hike in Tennessee this afternoon.

Travel Tip #1 – Fly early Saturday morning when you can.  In addition to avoiding the weekday commuter traffic getting to the airport, you will have a full afternoon to enjoy yourself wherever you land.


Hannah above the Tennessee River at Chattanooga

Escaping the noontime Atlanta city traffic on this first Saturday in October, we drive north on I-75 for nearly 100 miles to our overnight stay at a Comfort Inn and Suites in Dalton, Georgia.


Pesky parking meters

After a quick change to shorts and tee-shirts on this mid-70s day, we drive further north to the Tennessee border for Lookout Mountain.  Driving first up the mountain on the Scenic Highway, then turning onto West Brow Road, we see cars here, there, and everywhere.  Quarter-eating parking meters line the streets.

Finally finding a parking spot near the Lookout Mountain Battlefield Visitor Center where the trails begin, we find we have nary a quarter between us.   While Hannah stays with our rental Hyundai Elantra to protect and defend our parking space, I go in search of two bits.

Travel Tip #2 – Save your quarters at Lookout Mountain.   I learn from a local proprietor that 75% of the parking meters are broken and no one checks them anyway.  He smiles and says, Enjoy your afternoon in the park.


With total confidence in the young man, we put on our hiking boots, I my Cabela hiking hat, and head to the ranger station.  Our trust is later rewarded as we have no parking ticket upon our return.


Travel Tip #3 – Talk to the park ranger before hiking.  Though I researched the hikes at Lookout Mountain online, I never got the excellent local knowledge or detailed map of the trails that I did from the ranger here on site.


Lookout Mountain was the site of an important Union victory over the Confederacy in November of 1863.  (By the way, on the 19th of that month A. Lincoln delivered his 272-word Gettysburg Address.)  This success lifted the siege of Union forces trapped in Chattanooga and opened the South to eventual Union victory.  Click here for the full story of this battle.

Travel Tip #4 – If 62 or older and dig our national parks, be ye a hiker or not, get a lifetime Senior Pass for a sawbuck ($10) for admission to every national park, monument, or battlefield.

Walking through the battlefield park, we see the expansive views to Chattanooga and the meandering, oxbow Tennessee River.  On this sunny weekend Saturday, the park is happy with people but in no way mobbed.


Descending a lengthy set of metal stairs, we plan for two hours of hiking on our way to Sunset Rock and beyond.  The trails have just enough people so we can ask the occasional fellow hiker to take a trail picture of us.  (By the way, we never say Cheese.  Rich, a wedding photographer/former classmate of mine at Arizona State, has his couples say Money.)  In return, Hannah always asks if the other couple would like one of themselves.  Most couples are surprised, then pleased, and finally say, looking at each other, why not?

With the trails of Lookout Mountain on the opposite side of the views of Chattanooga itself, we hug the mountainside just below the stone walls above us and the steep drop-offs beside us.  Very rocky on this lush Tennessee hillside, the trail is just wide enough for one, but it never seems perilous with the rich vegetation to our right as a buffer.


Soon we come upon twenty-somethings with ropes, carbineers, and courage, climbing the mountainside.  Belayed and tethered to the hooks in the rock, one young woman in the picture to the right is carrying on a conversation as she works her way up the vertical cliff.  Clearly this is not her first rodeo.


With access to 30 miles of bluff trails here on Lookout Mountain, we have a final stone stairstep climb to our destination at Sunset Rock.  And what do you know, there we see the same young woman near the summit.  Standing in awe of her nimbleness, confidence, and mountain climbing skills, we are inspired by her courage and adventurousness; but not enough to even think about trying it.

Travel Tip #5 – Hike the Lookout Mountain trails the first chance you get.

As best as I can tell, fifty-three years since the I Have a Dream speech, there is more freedom ringing out for Americans of color from Lookout and Stone Mountain than there once was.   As a Caucasian, born with opportunities many have not had, with good fortune beyond my dreams, I know that we still have a good ways to go for America to be a great nation with equal opportunity and justice for all.


High above the Tennessee River 

To let freedom ring, we must heed that Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Dan and Hannah Hike from Clingman’s Dome in the Great Smokies (North Carolina and Tennessee)



In May of 1994, my teaching year ended early as I had just finished my one-year appointment as the Teacher-in-Residence at the University of New Hampshire.  While my public school colleagues in Kittery, Maine had a month more of school, I had time to act on Michael Jordan’s decision to step away from basketball and play baseball.  Assigned to the Birmingham Barons, Jordan was a work-in-progress as a baseball player, but still a national icon for many of us, especially the fourth grade boy living at our house.

Birmingham Barons homefield

Birmingham Barons homefield

Hannah and I pulled Will out of York Elementary for a week so he could drive with me 1100 miles to see Michael Jordan play baseball in Alabama.  After two serious days of driving, we got seats with 4000 others (minor league games might normally draw a few hundred) to watch Michael glide in right field, cheer his every move, and even get a hit.  Who else played?  Who won?  No idea.  Will remembers the free Krystal Burgers (mini-hamburgers) we won as part of an in-game promotion.

Hannah in the Great Smokies

Hannah in the Great Smokies

On the way home Will and I hiked in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Tennessee side near Gatlinburg.  The park is so named Smoky for the clouds that descend into the valleys and then slowly burn off.

BR map of area

Cl 1A D at sign

Today in the first week of October Hannah and I enter the same park on the North Carolina side near Cherokee to hike the AT on the NC/TN border near Clingman’s Dome, the highest point on the entire AT.  (At the visitor center, the ranger tells us there are 20 mountains in North Carolina higher than the New Englander’s beloved Mt. Washington in New Hampshire.  Who knew?)

Cars trolling for parking places at Clingman's Dome

Cars trolling for parking places at Clingman’s Dome


Driving 15 miles from the Ocalusee Visitor Center on the Newfound Gap Road in our rented Ford Fiesta, we turn south and climb along the shoulderless 7-mile summit road to a parking lot clogged with cars trolling for spaces at 1130A on a Tuesday!  (By the way, the road to Clingman’s Dome is closed from December through March due to the weather.)  There isn’t a parking spot to be had.  What drivers can do, as we do, is drive a few hundred yards back down the mountain and park on the grassy shoulder.

At the base of the sidewalk to the Clingman's Dome Tower

At the base of the sidewalk to the Clingman’s Dome Tower

The place is swarming with people willing to take the steep half-mile paved sidewalk to the top of Clingman’s Dome.  All body types, mostly seniors, but also families with homeschoolers, choke the walkway.  There are benches along the paved sidewalk, and we always see someone resting there.  By the way, Clingman’s Dome was named after Thomas Clingman, a Confederate general during the American Civil War.

From the Clingman's Dome Tower looking to Tennessee

From the Clingman’s Dome Tower looking to Tennessee

After the half mile climb there is a curly cue concrete structure to an observation deck with a 360 degree view towards Gatlinburg, TN and back to Cherokee, Sylva, and Bryson City, NC.   We are packed together and look to escape as soon as we get there.  A park volunteer tells us that we should see this place in a week or two when prime time foliage season arrives.  We count our blessings that we will not.

Hitting the Appalachian Trail on the NC/TN border

Hitting the Appalachian Trail on the NC/TN border

Just 150 feet back down the paved sidewalk is the AT heading south along the NC/TN border through a southern pine forest.  Similar to hiking the Bright Angel Trail at the Grand Canyon, the AT from Clingman’s Dome means Hannah and I will have the easier downhill hiking for the first half of our hike.

Cl 3D steps on trail

For the first third of a mile we descend ever so slightly into the “green tunnel” with the forest canopy covering us.  The trail is indeed easy going with its few ups and many downs.  We see that the Double Springs Gap Shelter is 2.5 miles away, a perfect turn around destination for our day hike.  Usually just wide enough for one of us, the trail is rocky and quite narrow.

Cl 3G more of trail

With the heavy rains of the past weekend and Hurricane Joaquin out to sea, the sky is sun-filled in early October.  With the occasional views to the mountains around us, I have what amounts to a perfect day of hiking – a well-marked trail, temps in the 70s, and Hannah.


Double Springs Gap Shelter on the AT

Double Springs Gap Shelter on the AT

After the swarms of humanity at the mountain top of Clingman’s Dome, we arrive at the Double Springs Gap Shelter in 75 minutes having not seen a single hiker.  The shelter has been recently remodeled and this video gives you some idea about our afternoon lunch venue.

Appalachian Trail on the NC/TN border

Appalachian Trail on the NC/TN border

Having hiked 75 minutes basically downhill to the gap (i.e., between two mountains) we have 2.8 miles uphill back to Clingman’s Dome.  Passing a few hikers, we have one catch our attention.  He’s a Appalachian Trail flip flopper who is within 190 miles of finishing his 2180 mile hike at Springer Mountain, Georgia.   His flip flop hike began in April at Harper’s Ferry, WV.  From there he headed north to Mt. Katahdin.  Once done with the northern part of the AT, he returned to Harper’s Ferry and headed south.  He’s six months into his thru-hike and nearing the finish line in Georgia.


Cl Harpers Ferry

As we are about to leave, Hannah asks his trail name.  He says Danger Bird from the Neil Young song of the same name.  He sings for us, Danger bird, he flies alone.  And he rides the wind back to his home.  Different than most trail names, he gave it to himself.  I like that.

The incomparable Richard Harris singing the 60s Classic, MacArthur Park

The incomparable Richard Harris

I’ve always longed for a trail name; my latest thought is Jersey in reference to my birth state.  But I do like the idea of taking it from a song.  Hmmmm, what about my all-time favorite song, MacArthur Park written by Jimmy Webb and sung by Richard Harris.  Hannah does not think much of the trail name Sweet Green Icing from the song.  I’m not sure Cake from the line Someone left the cake out in the rain resonates either.  It doesn’t help that MacArthur Park is one of Hannah’s Rock Bottom worst songs ever.  I’ll not give up.

Cl 3H H on trail

The climb back to Clingman’s Dome has us sweating and not at all remembering how much downhill we had two hours ago.  Even so, we return at 3P to just as many people climbing to the top of the Clingman’s Dome Tower and just as many cars circling to find a parking spot.

We return to our night’s stay at Chestnut Tree Inn in Cherokee, NC, and what we think is an Internet bargain.   Stay tuned for the further education of Dan and Hannah.


For your listening pleasure click on the link below for 7:24 of the ecstacy that is MacArthur Park by Richard Harris


Dan and Hannah Hike the Appalachian Trail near Erwin, Tennessee

Appalachian Trail MapAfter days of rain in the forecast, the rain gods finally have their way.  Tuesday le deluge comes to western North Carolina.  After John Denver hiking (i.e., that’s right – sunshine on our shoulders) near Hot Springs, we have rain and more rain on this our zero day (no hiking).  Stepping in and out of drenching downpours, we hit Asheville hot spots: Lunch at O’Charley’s with Hannah’s sister Bettsy, then later dinner at Chorizo (Mexican) with Jeff, my College of Wooster tennis teammate.

map of erwin tnNo matter the weather, there is no doubt we are going to hike in Tennessee this mid-October Wednesday. Only 45 minutes from the AT in Tennessee, we won’t miss this chance as tomorrow we head for home some 1000 miles away.

Parking by the Nolichucky River in Erwin, TN

Parking by the Nolichucky River in Erwin, TN

Waking in the Mars Hill, NC Comfort Inn, we can’t even see across the parking lot. The fog is Great Smoky Mountain thick. After a motel breakfast that includes biscuits and gravy for Hannah, we drive west on I-26 to Erwin, Tennessee, a mere 45 miles away, through fog, then into sunlight. The AT passes through Erwin a mere 340 miles from the AT’s origin at Springer Mountain, Georgia. The hiking gods have smiled upon us as we will be hiking precipitation-free today.

Nolichucky River at flood stage

Nolichucky River at flood stage

Driving along the Nolichucky River, we are winding our way deeper into the rural South. Visions of Deliverance come to mind. Deliverance (1972) scared the bejesus out of me.  All the worst stereotypes of hillbilly mountain folk are shown in terrifying detail.  It’s a disturbing movie along the lines of Fargo (1996) in that it’s all too real and frightening.  Even so, we are fearless today.

ET 1C Unaka Springs FBChurchPassing the Nolichucky Hostel and Outfitters on River Road, we park roadside. After yesterday’s heavy rains, the Nolichucky is at flood stage.  Crossing the bridge, we see another of the many small churches in town. Erwin has 6000 people.  YP.com lists 254 churches in Erwin!  You do the math.

ET 1 hanging elephantOnce home to Cherokee Indians, Erwin earned some notoriety in 1916 by holding a public execution of an elephant. Who knew? Mary, the elephant, had killed her handler, Walter Eldridge, in nearby Kingsport.

Mountainside above the Nolichucky River

Mountainside above the Nolichucky River

Crossing a railroad, we climb mountainside above the Nolichucky River on this 50F degree morning. With the heavy wind and rains of the past 24 hours, the trail is leaf covered; our goal is to hike four miles to the Curley Map Gap Shelter. Starting at 1700 feet here in the valley, we will climb 1400 feet more.

Trail of rhododendrons

Trail of rhododendrons

Along the mountainside through a thick forest above the river, we have the beauty of lush rhododendrons each step of the way. The trail is foot-pleasing dirt with enough rocks to keep our attention. We are walking in a forest treasureland far beyond the routines and “to-dos” of daily life.  Again, we are blessed.

Lush rhododendrons along the Appalachian Trail

Lush rhododendrons along the Appalachian Trail

After two miles of hiking we have a steady climb with switchbacks through the deciduous forest. As our sweatshirts come off, shorts and tee shirts feel just right. October is just a fantastic, invigorating month to hike in the South. (Two weeks later on November first, this area gets seven inches of snow!)

Another VCU Ram sighting

Another VCU Ram sighting

Once done with the steady climb, we return to our ridge line conversation.  Is it a red flag to feel sorry for anotherOn the surface, feeling sorry for another might make it seem like one cares.  Not so fast my friend.  Could something else be going on?  Say a little self-righteous judgment?  When we feel sorry for another, are we really saying that “we have decided that you have not made the right choice or, more likely, the choice we would have made?”  Projecting that their life is something less because it is not the life we would choose seems a tad arrogant. Well, a ton arrogant.

“Judgments prevent us from seeing the good that lies beyond appearances.” – Wayne Dyer

Curley Maple Gap Shelter log entries of thru-hikers

Curley Maple Gap Shelter log entries of thru-hikers

And then the Curley Maple Gap Shelter appears suddenly. What a blessing these shelters are for thru-hikers, especially in storms like last night. They are free and foster togetherness, whether one wants it or not. (Click on log entries image to read them more easily.)

Let me show you the Curley Maple Gap Shelter.

ET 5B mountain stream

Heading back down the mountain, we soon meet Loaf who is section hiking the AT. (A section hiker is one planning to hike the entire AT, but in sections of say, two weeks here, four weeks there, over the course of a number of years).

ET 3C H on trailHe did find a shelter last night from the rain, but said Monday’s 50 mph winds on Big Bald (a mountain top without trees) were the toughest.  Funny 50 miles south of Big Bald that same day, we were hiking in the 70F degree sunshine of the AT near Hot Springs. His trail name Loaf was given to him years ago, when starting off on the AT at Springer Mountain, he carried a loaf of French bread for days for a fellow female hiker.

ET 6A welcome to DamascusBack at the Nolichucky, we pack up a little after noon, set to take a 20 mile detour to see Damascus, VA, just over the Tennessee border.  Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, Damascus is known as the #1 “Trail Town” along the A.T.

ET 6 trail town signIt holds Trail Days, a multi-day festival attracting thousands of hikers during mid-May each year (Mid-May is about the time that many thru-hikers who began hiking the AT at Springer Mountain, Georgia arrive in southern Virginia).

With Tennessee in the books as our 13th of 14 states of the AT, we set our sights on #14 Georgia next fall.  What an opportunity we have to combine it with some hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.