Thursday, May 16th

I slept in again, much like yesterday, waking up at 10 and showering in the bath house. That was my first shower since being in Gatlinburg six days previous. It feels so good to get all of the grime off of it. After a couple of days of hiking, patches of dirt appear all over. Usually on the insides of the calves, where muddy boots brush legs, on the arms, where ground-seated hikers lean, and the feet, which are permenantly dirty. I'd thought that dirty hair would irritate me, but I've found that I just don't care. After a week it will do just about anything it's told to. I'm thinking about dying my hair black and going for that Edward Scissorhands / Robert Smith look.

We all went to the first place to eat that we found, the Trails Cafe. It was good eatin', Southern style -- the kind of place where grits are listed as a meat. We found a few other thru-hikers that had gone to Hot Springs in hopes of getting up to Damascus. As we walked around town that day we saw an awful lot of hikers. It seems Hot Springs is quite a gathering point.

I went to Hot Springs and picked up another Happy Pack from my mother, with peanut butter cookies, letters from home, Pez (gotta love Pez), a fortune telling fish (I'm romantic and fickle, it says), and lots of mixed candy. I also got a package from Pur -- my new cartridge, now useless.

Lewis and Clark, who had gotten to Hot Springs in a cab, joined us to go to Wingfoot's. Wingfoot (Dan Bruce) is the author of The Thru-Hiker's Handbook and a seven-time thru-hiker. He runs (and is) the Center for Appalachian Trail Studies - "Where Thru-hikers Come First". He invites thru-hikers to stop by and visit him when in town, giving directions to his house.

We found Wingfoot sitting on his porch, seated in a high-backed glider, talking to some thru-hikers. He greeted us and asked us about ourselves, having us sign into the register and fill out some surveys as we talked. We spent a couple of hours discussing everything under the sun, during which we learned a lot about the trail ahead. He has a good philosophy on hiking the trail, treating it as less of a sacred activity with the must-make-it-attitude and more as something neat to try, a challenge for oneself. Wingfoot, High Tech, Jayhiker, Wooden Nickel and I went out to lunch, back to the Trails Cafe. We talked further over burgers and fries, during which I consumed a chocolate-peanut butter milkshake to die for. We moved back to his porch and continued with conversation, most of which was about computers, the Appalachian Trail, and combinations thereof.

Wingfoot is a guy in his early 50s, small in size and build, quick in thought and speech. He frequently quotes facts and figures, percents and ratios about the Appalachian Trail as he talks. His phone rings periodically, always with a hiker or potential hiker on the other end, looking for advice. His soft Georgian accent somehow lends authenticity to his words on the trail, as if some northerner like myself would not speak truely. His thinning grey hair betrays his young character, though he often covers it with a white baseball cap. He has a sense of humour not entirely unlike my own, mixing in truly awful puns here and there.

An interesting person came by in late afternoon, a neighbor of Wingfoot's. It was Stella Lawson, an 81-year-old woman who used to live up in the mountains nearby. She seemed a little hard of hearing and a bit distracted, but she obviously had a sharp memory for her early life. She told us of homesteading three miles up in the mountains, the only remains of which is a pair of gravestones to the side of the Appalachian Trail. She wanted to know if we'd seen the gravestones, if they were well tended to. We had not, having gotten a ride here, but we assured her that we'd check on them when we walked by the following week. I told her that I'd get pictures for her with my digital camera for her to see as soon as I walked through Hot Springs again. She seemed satisfied with this, said goodbye, and shakily steaded back to her house.

We all remained on Wingfoot's porch, resting in rocking chairs, until 10:30, when I learned that Ann and Jim were in town. I ran down the street to Ramsey's Deli, where I was told they'd be. They'd been in town for several hours, apparantly unable to find us. We drove to Wingfoot's, crammed everybody into the van, and began driving to Damascus.

We arrived, after a number of wrong turns, around 2:00 AM. Tents lined the road through the park, so it seemed like a good place to set up. We slogged through a swampy field to a place to set up, Ann and Jim slept in the car.

"I don't go into the woods to live deliberately. I just live."

- Wingfoot

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