Wingfoot woke me just before eleven, knowing that I wanted to hike. He offered to drive me to Allen Gap, where the trail crossed about 12 miles out of town. That way I could slackpack back to Hot Springs, thereby hiking that day and still being able to finish my journal work that evening. It sounded good to me, so we were off immediately.
I'm not sure if I've done a paragraph on slackpacking yet, so here it is. Slackpacking, also known as barebacking, is a questionable thru-hiking practice. The vast majority of the hikers that I have talked to don't have any problem with slackpacking, doing so themselves. I have, however, talked to a few people that don't believe that it's something appropriate for them to be doing. My feeling is that it's fine. I'm walking from Georgia to Maine, but I never promised myself that I would carry, say, sixty pounds the whole time. I'm just walking, pack or no pack. So, in the future, I will slackpack freely and happily.
We were there in a few short minutes, and so I hopped out, wearing my fanny pack loaded with water, a Snickers, and my medical kit. Barely a minute into the woods, whistling the theme song to Andy Griffith, I meet Twinkie the Kid. Twinkie is on his second day out of Hot Springs, headed north 15 miles to Jerry (Seinfeld?) Cabin Shelter. I continue with little delay, hoping to get back to Hot Springs soon. The peanut butter chocolate milkshakes at the Trails Cafe were already calling. I learned something quite quickly about slackpacking -- it's not really all that much easier. You still have to climb up all the big hills, you still slip on the pebbles, and you still get sore knees and ankles. You just don't have ten sacks of sugar strapped to you, like some fighter-pilot-gone-cook.
The terrain wasn't easy, but I enjoyed it. I signed into the shelter log at Spring Mountain Shelter ("I packed in this picnic table for anybody who wants it - Waldo"), got a little more water, and kept going. I passed some section hikers before long. They warned me of a snake across the trail up ahead, near the Rich Mountain firetower. When I got to the area I saw a lot of root- and branch-snakes, but nothing with, say, teeth. After seven miles I passed Noodle, who had just left town, as well as a couple of German girls. They weren't hiking, they'd just parked their VW van off the side of the road and were making some bizarre-smelling dish. Just after them was a nice pond, where I found High Tech, Empress, Crag and Late Start. I was somewhat surprised to see Late Start. After seeing him hiking the wrong way on my first day in the Smokies, swearing he was leaving, I didn't expect to see him again. But here he was.
Empress is a 17-year-old girl from Oberlin, Ohio, who left school early to begin her thru-hike. She started just after I did. She is of medium height and build, with hair cropped short for easy on-trail maintainence. She's usually smiling and generally upbeat. She hikes with a Barbie lashed to her pack or walking stick. She wants to have the first Barbie to thru-hike. She has lopped off much of her hair, singed her hands and feet, and sliced at parts with a knife. I swear she's not nuts. She seems strapped for cash most of the time, getting most of her food from her parents in maildrops. She is worried, on a financial level, about making it.
We all talked for a bit, and I caught up with Crag, glad to see him. I rubbed it in that I'd get to go eat out for dinner and ontinued on. There was a killer descent down to the French Broad River, switchbacks shredding through loose shale, cutting into the mountain in gaping, ragged swathes. My feet and knees hurt disablingly by the time I reached the bottom, giving me an exaggerated limp on both legs. And, believe me, it's not easy to limp on both legs. After crossing the bridge I went down the main street to Wingfoot's, where he was, of course, on his front porch. It was another evening of webwork, for both Wingfoot and myself, after dinner at the Smoky Mountain Diner. I finished my journal work and managed to reply to much of my e-mail. I figured that I could reply to the rest of the e-mail on the trail and just upload in the next town, Erwin. This turned out to be a mistake, as I learned in Erwin. We went to bed at a reasonable hour in anticipating of my leaving at an equally reasonable hour the next day.