The morning brought oatmeal and warm weather. I slept atop my sleeping bag again, making me feel silly for packing this heavy thing. Today's goal was Davenport Gap, back at Mountain Moma's, 21 miles south. It was sure to be a long day, but I was told that the terrain was not difficult.
The first few hours were not difficult, and I followed a winding path around small hills and into moist valleys, often hiking along streams and intersecting with old abandoned roads. The plant life was all very green and beautiful, along with a new colour -- orange! The flame azeleas had begun to bloom. They're orange and yellow-streaked, and look like a tree afire when the sun shines through them. It was a nice change of colour.
I soon popped out of the woods to Max Patch. Max Patch is a huge bald, looking like a British excuse for a mountain, a big grassy tor with a dirt path carved up the side. It looked like it would take but a minute to cross, but it took considerably longer. I suppose that, being bald, (Max Patch, not me) I lacked points of reference. I stopped halfway up, pushed to the west by the stiff wind, and climbed a few feet down the hill to get out of the breeze. I took the opportunity to munch on a Snickers and eat a few spoonsful (Is that a word? Maybe its spoonfuls...that doesn't look right. Passerbys / passersby? Cope.) of peanut butter. I've been pondering just eating raw oatmeal, some hot water, a little granola and some raisins, one at a time. It all goes to the same place.
I shouldered my pack and headed off of Max Patch, winding back and forth on the summit, finally reaching the woods and getting out of the breeze. I was halfway to the shelter when I crossed paths with High Tech, who had started at Mountain Moma's the day before. I think "crossed paths" would be the wrong phrase. He was snoozing in his bivy sack, sleeping smack dab in the middle of the trail. That seemed like a good idea, something I'll have to try. I sat down by him and noisly made some vegetarian chili as part of the day's long, spread-out lunch.
I'll use this opportunity to relate something that High Tech told me of some time ago, of his only bear encounter so far. He was walking through the Smokies, I'm not sure where, hiking alone for the day, when he came across something in the dirt. Something was scrawled, as if with a hiking staff, but he wasn't sure what. After a few minutes of studying it and tracing it, he realised that it said "BEAR". Above it was an arrow, pointing ahead and to the right a bit. Following the arrow, he looked up and into the woods. There, just a few yards away, was a bear. High Tech made like a tree and got out of there. The trail sure is an odd place.
Anyhow, I packed up and left High Tech to his own devices, passing a few more hikers headed north. I got to Groundhog Creek Shelter in mid-afternoon, encountering Zen Pig (Harry Siegel), a fellow whose entries I had read in a number of registers, and several other thru-hikers. I was desperate for water by then, so I hopped and danced, barefoot, down the side trail to the stream and pumped water directly into my mouth. I'd love to be able to use this space to describe what it tasted like. But how, really, does one describe the taste of water? I could say what memories it piques, what it reminds me of, but I just don't know how to describe it. Despite, I sure did like that water.
I moved on, anxious to get to Interstate 40 before dark and hitch back to Hot Springs. The remaining miles were actually fairly unexciting. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy them. They just didn't lend themselves to an outstanding description. Just the same ol' beauty!
I came across a VOR,an airplane guidance system that hummed loudly atop Snowbird Mountain. I could hear it as I approached. It was actually entirely unexciting to look at it, but neat to see. Poetry inspired:
Give me my black turtleneck and an NEA grant!
Ode to a VOR
how I wish you'd hum for me
The rest of the hike was nice. The trail went down, down, down into the valley carved by the French Broad River (Quite a name, eh? There's a rule for life -- Never cross a French Broad.) and construction workers who put in Interstate 40. The trail goes right under the Interstate. I dropped my pack and slackpacked to as far north as I'd come last week, turned around, and came straight back. I noticed, after having done it, that I'd noticed very little of what I'd liked. Not because of my lack of a pack, just because I was in a hurry to get to Hot Springs. There's something to avoid in the future.
I spent over two hours trying to get a ride. People waved, truckers honked, but most everybody zipped past at 70 MPH, oblivious to me. It finally got fairly dark out, and I got fairly pissed off, and so we went our seperate ways. I headed south, hoping to camp up the mountain a bit. I stomped down the trail, stumbling in the dark, cursing all those who didn't pick me up. I came to a fairly flat spot after half a mile or so. I cleared an area in the leaves as it began to rain. I set up my tent in the heat and humidity, getting wet from the splashes of rain, tossed my pack in and dived in after it. My tent was like a sauna, sweat dripped down my face. I tried to cook in my tent, as it was raining outside quite hard, and it only got hotter. I ended up sitting naked in front of my WhisperLite eating undercooked macaroni and sweating profusely, angry that I wasn't in a motel room in Hot Springs.
After an hour or so I managed to toss and turn my way to sleep, lying on my useless sleeping bag and cooling myself with a wet bandana.
Miles Today: 20.5
Today's Song: Ernie, "Rubber Ducky"