George Trail Journal (part ii)

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Appalachian Trail Through Hike Journal (Part II)
George Li

May 3, I started only from Sassafras Gap Shelter and made a dash for Fontana Dam, 21.8 miles away.  I arrived at the road head and was surprised to see a phone with a notice “Dial 0 for operator and shuttle”. There was a $1 fee for getting around the resort.
This was the first trail town that all the hikers get into, and Fontana Resort was a very friendly town to all the AT hikers.

I spent a night at the Fontana Hilton, a very nicely built shelter that sleeps 20. Here I met Kimberly, a special education teacher who had traveled the world, “Bear Bait”, a lady from California, worked in software support, Brat and Steve, two guys from Michigan now hiked sections from Wesser, NC to Hot Springs, NC. There was also “Golden Eagle” who drove in with his pickup (they said he was a homeless guy) and a weirdo “Frank” who cursed constantly. Well, you do meet some strange people in town. The shelter was located on a bluff above the dam, which overlooked the reservoir and had great views.  It would be nice to come back someday and paddle a canoe on the lake, or rent a house boat to spend a few days fishing.

Next day, I got my mail drop from the post office and repack everything, now I load up an extra 15 lb. of food.  But it was raining hard and the weather forecast predicted a tornado that already hit Oklahoma hard. With this rain and fog and a heavy pack, I decided to stay an extra night to wait out the storm. We spent a night in the motel with 5 of us, ate at the Buffet, and every hiker in town came in and chatted all night till 1:00 a.m. This was a long “Pajamas Party” that I ever had. Was I glad that I could go to bed early!

The walk though the Smokies was uneventful.  The first 2 days with rain and fog, thunderstorm lingered on and it rained repeatedly.  So there was little view that could be seen.  The thunder and lightning also made my going slow. We stopped at a shelter to wait out a big thunderstorm as we approached Clingman’s Dome. The previous night at the Siler’s Bald Shelter, I saw a real case of a person in hypothermia.   “Judge”, a retired judge, hiking with a group of friends, came in last at dark and was all wet. The wind was cold and he was shivering.  He had everything in cotton and nothing to change into. In the shelter “Kansas” a EMT outing with two sons, took care of him, gave him soup, and everybody gave him something to put on to stay warm.  If he did not make it to the shelter, the situation would have been bad.

At Clingman’s Dome the view was great (see photo) and a lot of tourists poured in from the parking lot. To be a thru hiker, you stayed with your company and it was like the thru hikers and the rest of the world. This sense of belonging and togetherness was strange and funny to me.  Welcome to the thru hiker’s community. The hike thru this section of the Smokies passed the Charlie’s Bunion, the Sawtooth, Mt Sequoyah and Mt. Cammerer.  The trail stayed on the knife’s edge of the ridge top and provided views to both sides.  All thru the Smokies, I did not even see ONE bear.  We did stay inside the shelters and locked the gate tightly.

Week 3 5/9-5/15
Smokies to Erwin

I had been catching up with the slow hikers as the days went on. By the time I arrived at Hot Springs, TN, the hiking crowd had thinned out substantially. At Elmer’s, a hostel (or a very nicely appointed B&B) you could get breakfast for $5 or dinner for $8 (see p.22 ATT-hCo99). This is a historical landmark called ”Balladry”. Elmer was furnished with period furniture, pictures and was a very homely place.

My roommate was Zig Zag. He just made it to Hot spring and he was quitting tomorrow.  It was just too hard. The next night at Spring Mt. Shelter, I met “Lazy” and “Bagger” (he said he bags groceries in a supermarket). Bagger left early in the morning and went down the road to a little store to get coffee. But when I met him, he said he was to call his wife and have her come to pick him up. He said it was too hard for him just hiking all day. I guessed it was not easy to do this trip on a daily basis unless you are young and determined. I got to Erwin at the weekend and was able to get a ride into Damascus, VA for the Trail Day.

The Trail Day in Damascus was getting to be a big event. Most of the hikers passed thru Damascus at this time of the year, you could always get a ride from both directions to get into town.  Programs: speakers on light camping, hiking the AT with Earl Schafer, story telling by Warren Doyle.  I sorted thru the booths, talked to the representatives about packs and water filters.   By watching him do a repair on the Pur filter did help me a lot later, when I had to filter mud at 90 F days and the filter plugged up immediately.  By opening up the filter, cleaned it, using the silicon grease on the filter body to re-grease the pump, made my filter work like new again. I saw two other hikers threw away their brand new “Pur” hiker model, just because it had clogged up with mud.

Story telling by Warren Doyle (see his picture). He shared a story about how he over ate at AYCE (all you can eat) food courts and tried to stuff himself to the last bits and pieces, then he finally had to throw up outside. This usually does not happen to non-hikers, but I found that it is very true to all the AT hikers who always tried to eat everything, including myself. Every time I left a buffet, I always thought about the food that I had not had a chance to eat, like that butter roll, or some fatty greasy sausages that I only had a serving. Usually my eyes were bigger than my stomach. But weeks later at Waynesboro, VA, at the Ming Garden Chinese Buffet (AYCE $6) I did over eat myself to the point of no return. I had a hard time standing up and walking out of the door after the last 3 full cupful of Coke, and all the cakes, desserts and fruits. I kept it down, but told myself, next time you would not be so lucky! Another show I watched was Earl Schafer’s last thru hike, as he compared how the past AT was like to what he just did this year. The scenery was all different. This was like your Grandpa telling you his last thru hike, with all color slides and the colors fading out. 

I did some parade, signed the banner for class of 99,  and got out of the crowd before the water balloons started.

Week 4 5/16-5/22

This week I passed Roan Mountain.  It was getting to be very hot with no rain in sight.  This was a spot for watching the rhododendron gardens and the flowers were everywhere.
By the next day the weather had changed and a forecast for thunderstorm was predicted. I was expecting that all the shelters would be full because the hikers were back on the trail after the Damascus trail days.

By day end, I camped next to a creek and cooked dinner.  Right after I finished. The storm hit and lasted till daybreak. 

Laurel Falls and Point Mountain Wilderness (see photos) were two special places, very beautiful and wild.  To go down to Laurel Falls, you walked all the way down then went all the way back up to Point Mountain, kind of a difficult trip.  On the way up I met some slack packers. (They left their pack in the nearby hostel and paid for shuttle service to do sections on the trail, typically they were the only persons with a big grin on their face and hiked like a mountain goat.). While I went up, they came down. A Jewish couple was behind me, AKA “husband and wife”, now they were ahead, they said, “Oh, we were just slack packing”.

After watching them enjoyed themselves, I decided to stay on top of Point Mountain, by myself, built a big fire, and enjoyed the stars. This was something no slack packers could get, and only backpackers deserved.  Walked back into Damascus again and stayed at the Place, a hostel ran by the First United Methodist Church.  Here met some old friends, got supply and did one day slack pack myself.   The Outfitter, Mount Rogers Outfitter, the owner Dave had to drive a van for another backpacker to White Top, and while I was shopping there, he said he could take me to White top, free, if I showed up in 15 minutes. So I went, with a smile on my face, for 18 miles san backpack. The next day he brought me up there for $5, still a bargain.

Week 5 5/23-5/29

May 24, this morning on the trail there was a note saying that the 500-mile mark had just been passed.  At this rate, I am finishing this trip in Sept (2 weeks off to Yellowstone), in about 4 months.  The weather continued to be dry and hot, water was getting low and was only available at lower valleys. Mount Rogers (see photo) was probably the most scenic spot by far, big outcrops, tree line, sort of like Alpine scene, but in the East. Lots of meadows and wild flowers.  At Grayson Highlands Park, there were wild ponies (see photo) and they were so lovely!
At the Mt. Rogers National Forest HQ, there was a shelter named Partnership Shelter, where you could get a hot shower, order a Pizza, and every hiker in sight had a big pie and looked clean.  I was impressed. I did not order one because I had enough Pizza for this trip.  (After I had one pie for myself for the last two-trail towns, I wanted some other kind of food).
Next day I headed out early just to try to get to Troutdale (a road junction with I-81) to have breakfast. You could imagine what food would motivate hikers to walk. Had a big breakfast at Cowboys.

This was the week most of the body parts started having problems.  I had a sore throat and the toes started to look like athlete’s feet (skin looked rotten). The foot bed was aching daily because of the big miles.  My last toe on the right foot constantly gave me blisters.
I started washing my feet daily religiously and worked on a different combination of socks, cushion, insoles, and by 6/12, found the right combination.  I had tried wearing one pair of socks, but a day with 24 miles really blew it, too little cushion and too much shock.  At night, I felt the first time, pain in the bone on the tibia, it hurt from inside. At day break, the pain finally stopped, I guessed the bone knew it had to get back to work, no more single layer of socks.

My left foot, last time broken in the accident was still reminding me daily, not in a big way, but numbness and slight pain existed.  But so was the arm, the waist where the backpack rested, the stiff neck,  and, of course, the foot bed, which was in pain usually till day break, then, put on the socks, and started working again!  Some day, the pain will stop, in mid Sept., somewhere in Maine called Mt. Katahdin, and I am looking forward for that!

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