Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Hiking Solo

Elkmont Trip – 8/28/08 – Day Four – Mingus Creek Trail to Deeplow Gap Trail & Back – 5.8 miles

All night long the rain pitter-pattered on our tents. Did someone say drought? Of course, back at my home in Charlotte everyone was paddling canoes by now. Judy and I got up, rummaged around for breakfast food, and as we sat under my beach canopy looking at another wet day we decided to call the whole thing off. The plan had been to hike up to Mt. LeConte for great views…and there would be none in this weather. I had had enough of being waterlogged and Judy lives close to the Park so she can do day hikes whenever she wants. I was reluctant but knew it was the right decision. This is supposed to be fun, right?

We packed up the whole soggy mess, threw it into the cars and said our goodbyes. At Newfound Gap Road, Judy turned left towards Gatlinburg and I turned right to drive through the Park towards Cherokee. And wouldn’t you know it – as I drove the sky got lighter and lighter and the color blue began to appear. My mind had an argument with itself about what to do. Keep driving, get home early, relax? Find a short hike to do alone and feel good about getting a little farther toward my goal?

I pulled off at the parking area for the Mingus Mill. This is an interesting place that Jim and I had visited in the past. It is also the trailhead of Hike #13 in the Deep Creek section of “The Day Hiker’s Guide”, a short jaunt of 2.9 miles in and out for a total of 5.8 miles. Was I ready for a solo hike after my bear adventures earlier in the week? I was talking aloud as I put on my boots – just do it, just do it, just do it.

And I did it. Mingus Creek Trail starts off as an old road bed. This was once the location of a CCC camp from 1933 to 1935. Like so many areas of the Smokies, there is evidence of buildings and old homesteads. There is also a target range for National Park Service rangers located here. I had read that there were two cemeteries along the trail but I did not look for them today. My guidebook said one was nearly a mile off a spur trail (later on the volunteer working at the Mill told me that it was, in fact, about a tenth of a mile…sigh…)

The trail follows Madcap Branch for a while, and the noise from the water made me hypervigilant listening and looking for you-know-whats. I was not enjoying this hiking alone business. I dragged my poles to make noise on the rocks and shuffled my feet periodically. As the trail began to climb more steeply, I noticed that my blue sky was gone again and a mist was forming. By the time I reached the intersection with Deeplow Gap, I was panting and the rain was absolutely pouring. I paused for a count of ten, turned around and headed back down out of the cloud and into the sunshine again.

Going back down I was able to breathe and so I began to hum and then to sing out loud. All the forest creatures covered their ears and ran in terror. And you know that once you start doing that singing thing, you can’t stop. I had “All Star” by Smashmouth stuck in my head:

The years start coming and they don’t stop coming
Fed to the rules and I hit the ground running
Didn’t make sense not to live for fun
Your brain gets smart but your head gets dumb
So much to do, so much to see
So what’s wrong with taking the backstreets?
You’ll never know if you don’t go…

See? Now you try to stop humming it! I was so intent on my performance that on one wet switchback I slipped and left my butt print in the mud. Let the next hiker figure that one out! I finally got off of Smashmouth, but the word “backstreets” got me going on Springsteen’s “Backstreets” and other Bruce favorites. And so it goes…

So an altogether uneventful hike for a change. I felt better for getting in a few more miles but I can’t say that I enjoyed it much. I cleaned up and changed clothes in the restrooms at the parking lot and went to check out the mill, then drove away on the Blue Ridge Parkway, stopping to take some fabulous photos.

Then I stopped at a gas station in Waynesville to call home…

And my car battery died. Here I am, a woman who has not had a bath in four days, putting the hood up and looking for help to jump start my car. Fortunately, Waynesville has the nicest people, because a team of experts suddenly appeared with tools to tighten connections, battery testers, you name it, and I was soon on the road again. Of course, now I could not turn off my car, and I had to go to the bathroom, and I had to ask some McDonald’s employees on their break to watch over my car while I ran inside…

Life is an adventure.

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