[at-l] Two years ago tomorrow....

Richard Calkins racalkins at msn.com
Sat Apr 7 15:29:20 CDT 2007

I was hiking into the NOC, just in time for Easter.  My journal entry from that day helps to explain some of why I was able to keep going after injuries forced me to leave the trail.  The un-indicted co-conspirators responsible for helping to get me back onto the trail included my hiking partner (Butterfly Moon), my journal transcriber (Shelly-no-eee), and all the other folks were following my hike and providing the love and support needed for such a venture -- including Marsha (Happy Birthday, you young thang you!), Shelly, Dawg, Liteshoe and Felix (thanks again for those supportive email messages and the phone call while I was holed up in Fontana hoping my injuries weren't all that serious!) and, of course, my family.  And Happy Easter also to my "March Company" friends -- Mouth, Cuppa Joe, Break-a-leg, Scholar, Gypsy Lulu, Touk, Tink, Red Hat, Creaky Bonz, Nubee, Hopeful Hiker, Vision Quest, and too many others to even remember them all at one time.  Here is what I was going through Easter Sunday of 2005:

      Sunday, March 27, 2005  
              Destination: NOC
      Starting Location: Wesser Bald Shelter
     Today's Miles: 5.20
      Trip Miles: 133.50  

        Happy Easter! 
        I woke up this morning when my watch beeped at 5 am, feeling good except for my right knee which is still complaining, despite the therapeutic effects of Dr. Madden's little pink pills. No one else was stirring, and I knew we had a short day ahead of us, so I took advantage of the opportunity to catch up on my journal entries before beginning to get my stuff together. 

        It had rained off and on during the night, but stopped long enough for me to get my tent down and packed up. We finally left at 8:30 and got into the NOC about noon. 

        According to the map and guide books, most of the hike was to be down hill. They were right! We went from just below the summit of Wesser Bald - elevation 4,627 feet to the NOC - elevation 1723 feet in just over five miles. 

        To complicate matters, the trail was really steep and rocky in places requiring hands and feet and poles, or roots and tree branches as hand holds, and the going was rather slow. 

        In other places the path ran along a fairly narrow ridge line, with the trail about 18 inches wide, banked on one side by a steep uphill slope and on the other by an equally steep downhill slope - in many cases several hundred yards down, a point that must have registered at least subconsciously as I found myself leaning slightly to the uphill side as I hiked. 

        The trail itself was often rocky, or covered by treacherous roots, both of which lay hidden beneath a sodden layer of rain soaked leaves that made the whole tread way as slippery as a greased pig. 

        This by way of explanation for the fact that I fell today for the first time since leaving Springer. And for the second time. And for the third time. On at least one of those occasions, Butterfly Moon alleges that I said a bad word. 

        She could be right, but my memory of the episode was focused more on the engineering aspects of the consequences of my right hiking pole sliding right through what I thought was the edge of the downhill side of the trail, only to discover that it was merely a pile of loose leaves cleverly disguised as a part of the trail. Given the natural forces of gravity, and the fact that I had just shifted part of my weight to the hiking pole supported by that particular pile of leaves, both the pole and my right foot immediately headed south. My right knee, still attached by tibia and fibula to that same foot, followed suit -- pitching me and my pack face first in the direction of the real tread way, at which point I am alleged to have used the bad word. 

        I felt kind of bad about that as I have been making a conscientious effort out here to rid my vocabulary of such things, thus becoming a better person. I've been saying things like "shoot", and "heck", and "dang", but somehow none of those words came to mind when I needed them. 

        I am happy to report that, by my third fall, all I managed to utter was a loud "AHHHHHHHHHHHH" as my feet slipped out from under me and I slid through the mud several yards down the trail on the back of my britches, so maybe there's hope for me after all! 

        As the Nantahala Outdoor Center came into view, I stopped long enough to replace my hiking hat with the bunny ears that my daughter had provided as my trail token. I got a number of smiles from people I passed as we walked into the Center, but I wasn't quite sure whether they were more amused by the ears or by the tragic accident that had obviously befallen me -- as evidenced by the mud caked on the back of my pants. Frankly, I was too tired to care. 

        As luck would have it there was a cabin available that was perfect for me, Vision Quest and BfM, which I quickly booked for two nights. After 15 straight days of hiking, my knees and I need a day off. The NOC looks like the perfect place for it, with restaurants, an outfitter, and a beautiful river running right through it. 

        Since the cabin was uphill from the registration office we decided to eat first, to restore our energy levels, and climb later. I ordered a chili cheese dog, a chili/cheese nacho dish with black olives, sour cream and jalapeño peppers, a BBQ pork sandwich, a diet coke (have to watch my weight, ya know), a cup of hot chocolate, and an ice cream bar - cherry Garcia. I figured that would tide me over until dinner time. 

        After lunch, we took turns getting showers, doing laundry, and making phone calls, and then headed down to the outfitters to re-supply. After collecting food for the three days I figure it will take me to get to Fontana Dam, I tried to find a new pair of hiking pants. In addition to the mud stains on the back, I had broken the belt on my old ones and, in any event, they were starting to get too big for me. Unfortunately, they had nothing in my size. 

        One of the staff, however, said that another hiker had just put his old pair in their hiker box, and I might want to see if those would fit. (Most hiker-friendly establishments along the trail have hiker boxes, which is where you can dispose of things you no longer want or, if you need something, you can have whatever is in the box.) The pants fit - a bit tight, but I'll be losing more weight soon. I am wearing them as I type this entry! 

        So this is what it has come to: a formerly respectable business person, a banker for gosh sakes, now essentially homeless and traveling the trail with a pack on his back, rummaging through used and discarded clothing trying to find something to wear. I am happy to note that I am beginning to catch up with my skittle-eating friend, BfM; in that long slow slide from civilization that is the hallmark of a true through-hiker. My Momma would be so proud... 

        Just to cap off this very special Easter Sunday, I had the most wonderful surprise. Who should show up at the NOC but the one and only Shelly (Tenacious Tanasi) Hale herself - my faithful journal transcriber and partner in crime. She, her husband and three wonderful daughters had gone down to Springer to see off Night Walker on his through-hike, and then drove all the way up to the NOC to check up on how I was getting along. 

        BfM, Vision Quest and I were thus able to enjoy a real family-style Easter dinner with the Hales before they left for home. It was a very special treat - Thanks Shelly, Jerry, Mandy, Jerrica, and Tori. You really made our day! 

        Today's hike is dedicated, appropriately, to the Big Guy, with thanks for all of my many blessings, and especially for my family. 

        Stay tuned, Longhaul 

        (Editor's Note) 

        My family and I really enjoyed the opportunity to see Longhaul while he was in our neck of the woods. We had gone down to Springer to see Nightwalker (Frank Looper) off on his trail journey. We hiked from Springer to Three Forks. It was only 4 miles, but it was the first overnighter for my youngest two, Jerrica-9 & Tori-7. My eldest, Mandy-13, has already hiked over 20 miles on the AT with me. We had a great time out on the trail, but I have to tell you it's a lot of work to hike with just yourself to worry about-it's plumb insane to take littluns with ya! LOL But, we had a really great time out there, and plan on doing it again soon. 

        After we packed everything in the van on Sunday morning, we decided to run up to the NOC and see if we could catch Longhaul. When we found out at the office that he was registered in a cabin, the girls were thrilled. Jerrica couldn't wait to tell Longhaul "Thank you!" for the cookies he and his wife had sent her after her hospital stay from getting bit in the face by a Rottweiler. Not only did she thank him, he got a hug, too! 

        And, while I was really excited about getting to see Longhaul, I was sorta embarrassed because we hadn't had the opportunity to clean up after our hike. We looked like a bunch of hiker trash for sure! But, seein' as how Longhaul is making that last slide down into the total transformation into a thruhiker, I'm fairly certain he can forgive our unkempt state. 

        I was really impressed with BfM. I think that she makes a fine hiking partner for Longhaul. She is seemingly shy, however, there is a grit to her that makes me think that she is the perfect one to keep Longhaul motivated as well as drawing strength from his humor. 

        After taking some pictures, we chatted a bit about Trail Days. I've promised Longhaul steaks on the grill when he gets to Damascus. 'Til then, I'll just have to continue to hike vicariously through him. 

        Tenacious Tanasi
        (Shelly Hale) 

  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Felix J<mailto:athiker at smithville.net> 
  Cc: at-l at mailman.backcountry.net<mailto:at-l at mailman.backcountry.net> 
  Sent: Saturday, April 07, 2007 11:40 AM
  Subject: Re: [at-l] Cherokee Tom

  Jan Leitschuh wrote:

  >Did anyone answer you? I haven't been online regularly lately.
  >He developed a lung infection and had to get off. He's mad, and sad, and plans to go next year.
  >Hard to hike when no O2, poor baby.

  This reminds me of a question I've often had. Why does it have to be 
  next year? Why not later this year (assuming the infection clears up, 
  etc. )?  Why do so many hikes end that could just be delayed? 

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