Saturday, May 11th

8:00 AM came, I'm sure of it, approximately 42 seconds after 3:00 AM. Due to the night's dream, which I won't explain here, I was under the impression that the ringing phone was Publisher's Clearinghouse, calling to let me know that they wanted their $10,000,000 back. When they told me they had a wakeup call for me, it really screwed up my morning.

Without even leaving my bed, I flipped on my laptop and spent the morning answering more e-mail and making more journal entries, finally getting to the point where I download the photos from my camera onto my laptop. Each photo takes in the neighborhood of a century to download, making my checkout time of 11:00 loom a little larger. Naturally, I ran out of AA batteries while transferring these photos, so I had to make a mad dash to the nearest gas station to buy some more. I managed to get everything written (up until Fontana Dam -- I was still behind on my entries) and e- mailed to Peter, my page websmith, by 11:03.

The last song before I left the motel room was "If God Was One of Us", by some woman who is, I'm certain, Satan in the flesh. As I'm sure you've noticed, this song will not leave your head. It is what the Germans refer to as an earworm. Start singing this or "If I Only Had a Brain" on the trail and you're sure to get attacked. Both earworms, through and through.

I found a Shoney's in town. Shoney's, odd as it may sound, was a totally new experience to me. I had never had cause to visit one, so I wasn't quite sure how things worked. After I had been seated, a waitress came over immediately to ask me what I'd like. I ordered 4 glasses of orange juice. She asked me if I'd like a larger table for my friends. I explained that it was just for me, and that I'd also like to get one of each at the bar to my left. She shook her head, laughed, and told me to go at it. (This breakfast bar, I should say, had a big ol' plexiglass sneeze guard over it. Has anybody out in WebLand ever actually seen somebody sneeze on a sneezeguard? There's a revolting mental image.)

I was in and out of Shoney's in something like 10 minutes. It began to pour right after I left, leaving hundreds of tourists forced to cover up with newspapers and hats. I, however, got to feel special, whipping out my Mountain Hardware Etheral rainsuit, which kept me comfy as a puppy in the spin cycle. (This is quite comfortable, I should mention.) I got the ingenius idea that I could just walk to the laundromat, as it was only two miles down the road. That was a blast. I stopped partway at some Eco Special Global Momma's Good-Food Vegan O-Rama store, getting a few items for the trail. I found one of my favourite trail foods there, Annie's Macaroni. Got a few of those and a Cliff Bar. That's one of those energy bars that are supposed to be so good for you. Worth trying.

I finally got down to the laundromat, where I wasted $1.50 (I'm a slow learner) before I figured out that the detergent dispenser was nothing more than a steel money-trap. I figured a little Tom's of Maine that I had with me would do a the trick, and tossed everything in. I sat down to respond to a little e-mail while the washer, and then the dryer, did their things. I met a few teenage section hikers there that were about to head up into the hills. Nice guys. I left there to walk another mile to the post office, believing that Pur would be sending me a new cartridge there. I later learned that it was actually at Hot Springs where I'd asked them to mail me the replacement. Anywho, one of the trolley drivers pulled over and picked me up, insisting that I ride for free to the post office. I got there, only to discover that it had closed some time ago. It sure is a pain to get to post offices at the right time.

I managed to get another trolley back to a grocery store, at which I picked up most of my supplies. I bought some cake mix, not quite sure what I'd do with it. I nearly bought a new Lithium Ion battery for my film-based camera (as opposed to my Casio digital), but the $10 price tag stopped me. Come to think of it, I guess I'll have to buy it eventually, anyway. In any case, I got enough food to get me to Hot Springs, 6 days worth. I would eat this in 3. My backpack was ridiculously heavy and tall. I barely fit on the trolley on the way back to the centre of town.

I managed to hitch a few miles of the way back to Clingman's Dome, but I was stuck at a parking lot for quite some time. I went through the phases of hitchhiking angst, even juggled my homemade juggling clubs in hopes of attracting attention. After two hours I was just lying on my pack, thumb up in the air, cursing every empty-bedded pickup that passed me by. Remember -- if you live or are visiting near the AT -- always pick up the fellers with the big ol' backpacks.

Finally, after I'd given up on all the tricks, a pickup truck pulled over. The driver stuck his head out, saying he'd be going to Cherokee. I figured that since it was on the other side of the mountain, and he was going the right way, it probably involved going past Clingman's. I sat in the back of the pickup, happy to be on my way. He pulled over after just a few minutes, asking if I was sure this was the right way. I told him that it sure looked it to me, and he kept going. He stopped again soon after, noticing that it had started to spit rain. He wanted to know if I'd like cram in the cab with him and his wife, but I was happy where I was. The rain just flew right over my head. He pulled over yet another time at Newfound Gap, to ask if this was where I was going. Finally he got to the point where the road to Clingman's Dome split off from the road to Cherokee, and so he pulled over and let me out. I'd assumed he'd just drive on his way, but he got out and introduced himself. He handed me his business card. It read "Carolina's Finest Drywall Company Framing - Hanging - Finishing - Textured Ceilings", with two names listed. If I recall correctly, he's "Bo McAllister (803) 227-1320". He told me that he hated to leave me here, but he had to get home with his wife. He asked me about myself and what I was doing, and I told him that I was going to Maine and that I was 17. He was excited for me, telling me to take care of myself, that he and his wife would be worried sick about me. "Call me collect from Maine when you're finished," he said. "I want to know how you did." That there is a fine example of trail magic.

I stood at that fork for about half an hour, pacing back and forth and singing to the swirling fog. I had thought it would be cinch to get picked up. After all, who would pass by a kid in miserable weather like that? An awful lot of people, apparantly. Before too long, though, a car crammed full of gear and a few people drove past, turned around, and came back. It was the kids that I'd met in the laudromat. They said that they didn't have room, but they'd make some. We strapped my pack onto the back of the car and squeezed in. We made it to Clingman's Dome before long. By then it was raining fairly hard, the wind whipping the rain into watery spikes and swirls. I got out and changed into longjohns (I learned a neat trick from Leah the night of the 9th, back at Double Springs Shelter. She taught me how to put on longjohns without removing your shorts. It's amazing how females are capable of changing outfits without removing clothing.) and my rainsuit. I turned around to see how the other three were doing. They'd gotten back into the car. Seems the extent of their raingear was Hefty bags. I figured I owed a little trail magic, what with all I'd gotten, so I presented them with a pair of rain pants, the Patagonias that I'd replaced with my Etherals. The Patagonias were just dead weight, and not nearly as good as the Etherals, anyhow. They were happy to have 'em, and so I went on up to Clingman's, pack and spirits lighter, aiming for Mt. Collins shelter.

I'd removed my contacts the night before, back at the motel room, figuring that I would hike for a day in glasses. Since I have extended-wear contacts, I wear contacts for six days and glasses for one. This works nicely on the trail, as I couldn't imagine putting in contacts every morning. Well, my timing didn't work out so well this time, as I had to walk in driving rain with glasses. They fogged up so badly that they were rendered nearly useless. My face was damp with rain and sweat before long, so they slipped down my nose. I hate glasses.

I had a bit of trouble finding the trail north from Clingman's. Looking around, I saw some felled trees that could be blocking the path, a continuance of the paved path, and a rocky stream. A little more poking around revealed at the stream was, in fact, the trail. Just peachy.

The rest of my hike was pretty miserable. No, that's the wrong word. The actual physical side was miserable. Attitude-wise, I felt great. It's a good feeling to be back on the trail after break. After a few hours in town, I start to feel lazy and out of place. It will be odd when I'm finished with the whole trail, trying to adjust to home life again. I whistled as I walked and tried to identify the plants I saw. It seems that everything on the trail is just a matter of outlook. It's a good thing I'm such an irritatingly upbeat person, or I may just go nuts out here.

I showed up at Mt. Collins Shelter in late afternoon, just before dark. In the shelter was High Tech and a couple of thru-hikers, Jayhiker and Wooden Nickel. They're brothers from Wichita, Kansas, Chris and Tony Nickel, both in their early 20s. Both are relaxed, easy-going, friendly guys. Chris is quick to compliment, the more outgoing of the two. Both smoke, insisting that they'll quit "real soon now." Tony is more reserved, though talkative enough once he's engaged in conversation. I went for an Annie's Shells 'n' Cheese dinner and went to bed without too much conversation. It was cold night.

Miles Today: 3.4
Song Stuck in my Head Today: David Byrne, "Buck Naked"

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