AT (Allens Gap-Nolichucky), 3/08

March 13-16, 2008

53+ miles

Hiking with Bob on Drugs

Sorry no pictures on this one but the story is too good

An uncharacteristic 4 day 3 night trip.  We were trying to do a stretch of the AT from Allens Gap, near Hot Springs, to the Nolichucky river near Erwin.  The way the roads cross the trail this section just didn’t lend itself to a shorter trip and get all the best views in one trip.

As usual Bob showed up pre-crack of dawn with two of his fingers bandaged in such a way it looked like something out of a cartoon.  With 54 miles to hike and two days of rain forecast I asked if he really wanted to do this trip.  He, of course, insisted.  I really think he couldn’t go home because Jenny was so mad at him for trying to go on a trip after he smashed his fingers loading stone.

Apparently late, the afternoon before, he was rushing (in pre-hiking trip hysteria) around loading stone, so the boys would have something to do while the Boss was out recreating, and managed to drop huge stones on his hand.  In trying to pull his hand out, without gloves, he smashed the tip of one finger all to hell and tore the nail off of another.  Instead of going to a real doctor, Bob went to a “Doctor in a box” and they sort of washed it and wrapped it up like Bugs Bunny and gave him a bunch of “good” drugs.

So off we go, I had to drive because Bob was starting to hallucinate, to meet a friend in Erwin, Tenn. who was going to shuttle us back to the start.  Rett met us right on schedule and we got on the trail at 11:00.  Warm to hot as we chugged up the long climb to Camp Creek Bald and it’s fire tower.  The only people we saw were north bound thru hikers, some of which we passed!

Now I was not in my best hiking shape and definitely should not have been passing thru hikers who had been on the trail for a month.  But Bob had the after burners on, I began to realize it must have been the codeine infusion he was working.

The view from Camp Creek fire tower was not bad but the one from Firescald Knob was amazing, a bit hazy but you could see 360 degrees.  The trail over Firescald ridge has two options one for good weather and one for bad.  The good weather trail was up and down and around boulders for miles, which we took.  We dropped down from the Knob to Jerry Cabin shelter and found a great campsite for the balmy night, 12 miles this afternoon.  We invited the 6 north bounders down to enjoy our fire and some brown liquor but when they saw Bob’s red, drug crazed, eyes they made excuses about being tired.

The next morning dawned clear and warm and we were on the trail by 8:00.  Bob was out like as shot, as usual.  I sauntered up the side of Big Butt and through the beautiful meadows on it’s south side.  When I caught up to Bob, on the top, I walked right up to him before he saw me, he was sitting crouched next to his pack muttering.  Down the steep side of Gravel Knob we passed a father and son pair breaking camp who at first didn’t seem very friendly, was it Bob?  We saw a big bear track in some mud and then followed what looked like a young bobcat down the trail for some distance before it headed off into the brush.

The rain started just about noon so we grabbed a quick bite to eat before it really set in.  Crossing Devils Fork Gap we headed up the steep climb to Sugarloaf Knob and all the way to Big Flat before the rain really set in, thankfully we didn’t have to do the climb in rain gear.  We passed two south bound section hikers who wouldn’t even stop to chat, I think they saw Bob’s eyes.

About 5:00 we pulled into Hogback Ridge shelter to get out of the rain and have a hot drink.  One of the thru hikers was there debating on whether to go on or not.  We fired up the stove and made a hot drink for him too.  This kid was hiking the trail before going to medical school so Bob decided it was time to unwrap his badly mangled fingers to inspect and rewrap.  The medical student saw Bob’s drug crazed eyes and quickly packed up and fled, we never saw him again.  So Doc Alex had to view the horrible disfigurement and do the re-bandaging.  I asked Bob, as I had during the whole trip, how they were feeling and he just smiled and popped another pain killer.

Off we headed on down the trail, had to get more miles in, crossing I-26 at Sam’s Gap.  Looking for water and a campsite it was getting dark and starting to rain again.  We found water down in a holler off  the trail and set up the tarp, clinging to the side of the hill.  So steep that we had to drag a log in and put it at the foot of our sleeping bags to keep from rolling all the way down to the bottom of the holler.  The rain set in and we were so tired that we just let the rain water fill the cook pot off the tarp so we didn’t have to get out and get water, the Lipton noodles tasted a bit like MSR waterproofing.  Over 18 miles today.

It cleared some overnight and Bob, on drugs, slept like a baby, even on the side of the cliff.  Off we went on the long climb up to Big Bald.  Of course just down the trail was a beautiful campsite overlooking some nice meadows that the trail wandered through.  You could see the remnants of snow over on the Wolf Laurel ski slopes.  The open area on Big Bald came sooner than expected and the clouds held off enough for us to have great views from the top.  Big Bald, 5500′, along with Big Stamp to the north, must be several hundred acres open with 360 degree views, the wind was howling and we stayed as long as we could.  We will be back another time.  We dropped down to Bald Mountain shelter by 12:30 for lunch just as the rain started.

We were finishing lunch when another thru hiker came in.  We cleared a spot for him to sit and he wouldn’t even take his pack off!  I think Bob’s reputation was getting around.  He headed off and a few minutes later we followed, into the teeth of the gale.  For 3 hours or so we walked along the ridge in a driving cold (40’s) rain with occasional lighting.  Just before we got to the next road crossing, at Spivey’s Gap, it stopped and the sun actually tried to come out.

The last real climb of the day, out of the gap, but we still had 5 miles to do.  Bob raced up the side of the creek to the next gap as I brought up the rear.  Long beautiful side hill trail around the side of No Business Knob for miles.  We finally caught up to the thru hiker at the water source for the shelter.  We pulled into the shelter, made out of cinder blocks, never seen one like it, and had it all to ourselves.  The thru hiker was from New Zealand and we could hardly get a word out of him, Bob tried all of his usual stories and the offer of brown liquor but he was elusive.  Eventually he just got in his sleeping bag, hugging the far wall of the shelter and began to read a book.  17 miles today.

It rained like hell overnight but dawned cloudy and dry.  The New Zealander (Donkey Legs) didn’t budge, no sign of life.  We had breakfast and headed out, he never made a peep.  I think Bob scared him so much that he was just playing possum until we left.

Only 6 miles out to the car but almost all down hill.  Great views of the Nolichucky gorge with coal trains running through it.  Out right on time at noon.  We were at Barley’s Tap room in Asheville for the traditional pizza and beer by 1:00.  Bob of course slept the whole way home, good drugs!  Four days, 54 miles, spring break and we saw 11 hikers, 7 of them thru hikers!

Either I have to get in better shape or take the drugs away from Bob, he is hard to keep up with when he’s on codeine or crack or morphine drip or what ever it was.

We got home and Bob looked at my new addition on the house and the new entrance decks and said we had to have some large stone steps leading up to it, said he would bring just the right stones over.  Several days later he shows up with three rocks the size of small cars, one of them has odd streaks on it, like finger prints, maybe a nail too.  I hope he flips that one over so I don’t have to look at it for the rest of my life!

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