Thursday, December 11, 2008

Channeling Charlie Brown

Big Creek Area – 12/4/08 – Appalachian Trail/Chestnut Branch Trail – 7 Miles

I sometimes suffer from Charlie Brown Syndrome – I worry and overanalyze and delay making decisions on things that are usually out of my control anyway. This weekend I had big plans for an Appalachian Trail backpack, 3 days, 2 nights, with friends from the Carolina Berg Wanderers. I watched the weather forecast, borrowed equipment, and lost much sleep worrying about the cold. There are no bailout points so no room for “gee, I’m cold, let’s cut this short” or “I can stand anything for a day.” In the end four of us (including myself) decided not to do the trip because the forecast was for nighttime temps in the teens. The two tough guys, Mike and Daniel, were not bailing out. I decided to do day hikes for the weekend and sleep warm, and the least I could do was shuttle my two friends for their journey. Thus I found myself driving to the mountains on this Thursday with the intent of meeting them at a hotel, getting gear packed and leaving before sunrise on Friday morning.

What to do on a Thursday afternoon? Go hiking, of course. Rain clouds were looming as I approached the Big Creek campground of the Park, but I planned to hike only 6 or 7 miles so the rain was not a deterrent. My route was Hike #3 in the Big Creek/Cosby section of the “Day Hiker’s Guide.” But the book describes this as a shuttle and there was only me, myself and I and we had one car, so a road walk was necessary between the AT trailhead and the Chestnut Branch trailhead.  

“Hello, could I speak to Charlie Brown, please? 

Should I start at the AT end or the Chestnut Branch end? 

Which way up is steeper? 

Which trailhead is it safer to leave my car at? 

Where do I want to be if I don’t beat the daylight? 

Is it easier to walk on the road or on the trail after dark?

Isn’t it easier to get hit by a car on the road at night? 

The road is gravel – will anyone even be on the road at night? 

Just how long is the road walk anyway?

Should I drive the road part first and then make the decision? 

Hello? Charlie, are you there?”

So I drove up the gravel road looking for the AT trailhead, guessing it was about a mile. At about .8 miles, a big tree lay across the road with branches going everywhere. An SUV was in the process of turning around. The occupants said the AT trailhead was just around the corner.

Decision made. I went back to the Chestnut Branch trailhead near the campground, left my car, and walked the road first around to the AT. Crawling through the branches of the downed tree I got a fierce-looking scratch on my nose. No one believed me when I said it was a bobcat…

Davenport Gap is where the Appalachian Trail enters/exits the eastern side of the Park. Less than a mile on the trail is Davenport Gap Shelter, empty when I was there in midafternoon, but from reading the log book I could see that a stream of southbound thru-hikers were coming by. This shelter sports the traditional chain link fencing across the opening, unlike most of the other Smokies shelters that have no fencing. There are also mice baffles here to hang food bags on, although I don’t think very many mice are baffled by them.

The rain finally began and I changed into rain gear at the shelter. My hike up the AT was uneventful, just a quiet walk through the clouds with little dabs of snow here and there and the occasional white blaze. This double white blaze in the photo indicates a change coming up on the trail, in this case my turnaround point, the intersection with the Lower Mt. Cammerer Trail. I backtracked for a mile and turned right on Chestnut Branch Trail and before I knew it…I was back at my car. Gee whiz, 7 miles feels like nothing now!

I still had some daylight so I hurried on towards Cosby, TN to check out the beginning of Maddron Bald Trail, where Judy and I planned to hike on Saturday. I’d read that this trailhead is not safe for cars and it’s best to park (with permission) at some businesses on 321. Good fortune led me to the Shady Oak General Store, which is also a little restaurant, where I was the lone diner and enjoyed a fantastic bowl of homemade tomato bisque soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. Comfort food at its best! The owner makes a different soup each day of the week. The couple was very friendly and granted me parking privileges, so I was all set.

I checked into my little hotel room and hung up my wet hiking clothes all around the place. Mike and Daniel finally arrived and we talked and completed our plan for tomorrow. Then it was lights out – good night, Charlie Brown!

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