Friday, September 23, 2011

To Everything There Is A Season

8/31/11 - Clingmans Dome Bypass Trail/AT – 1.5 miles 

Sshhhh…Smoky Scout has snuck away for an overnight in the Smokies. 

My friend Jeff offered to hike with me to some hard-to-reach SB6K peaks, and it’s such a long drive that it only made sense to make it a two-day trip.  Where else but my beloved Great Smoky Mountains?  It was a perfect time to check out the new visitor centers and try out a new daypack.  Packing up was simple and the drive felt like going home.

The new Ocona- luftee Visitor Center is outstanding with a mini- museum of interactive and kid-friendly displays about history and wildlife. 

Next stop:  the new Clingman's Dome Visitor Center, formerly known as the bathrooms (pit toilets have been added).  

I was more than a little excited to be back on a Smokies trail, even if it was the Bypass Trail.  I had a new Osprey daypack to test drive, too. 

Forney Ridge Trail:  recent work by Trails Forever

Hiking seemed like no effort:  Was it the new pack?  My increased strength?  The bone dry trail condi- tions?  Or was it this magic butterfly that flew alongside me for far longer than I expected, to the point that I began talking to it as I walked?

At the top of the Bypass Trail I turned right and followed the AT back to the paved Clingman’s Dome trail.  At about 6:00 p.m. on a weekday, not much of a crowd.  At the top I met a young couple from Michigan with a very nice dog (on a leash).  They were staying in Cades Cove and were very excited about the Smokies.  I mentioned that they might want to check about where dogs can go in the park; they said they were aware of the dog rules and had cleared it with the staff person in the VC. 

A hazy late afternoon at Clingman’s

On the drive back down to camp I stopped at an overlook that I have always bypassed.  In one corner of the parking area I spied one of those “Quiet Walkway” signs that I also usually ignore, so I decided to take a stroll.  Apparently “Quiet Walkway” means “leave toilet paper here”.

I set up my little tent near the ranger station at Smokemont.  The campground was mostly empty, perhaps 20 sites out of 142 sites occupied.  The site next to mine was occupied by a loaded backpack and a hammock, no car, no other setup.  As I staked out my tent, the occupant of the hammock gingerly stepped down and limped to the bathroom.  On his way back he said hello, which I took as an invitation to ask what the heck happened to him.  Turns out he was hiking the Benton MacKaye Trail with some friends and his knee gave out, so he was waiting for his wife to pick him up while his friends hiked on.  Sometimes stuff happens.

In the excitement of packing to leave home I forgot to eat lunch and the only food I had with me was trail food, so I drove into Cherokee hoping for a decent supper.  Cruising through town, I noticed that improvements had been made in many businesses and the place had a vibrant feeling.  At Paul’s Restaurant I enjoyed a fantastic Indian taco (Indian fry bread with chili, cheese, tomatoes, onions) and the owner said that the town has spiffed up, replaced the elementary school, and things were going well.  Oh, and I got an enormous slice of homemade coconut cake to go for breakfast (...but I ate it before I went to sleep.)

Back at Smokemont, there was still some daylight so I walked around the loops and inspected the sites I have reserved to bring back the Wild Women for more adventures in October.  Sites look different in real life than they do on the websites – I decided to change them when I got back home.

I popped open my little camp chair, strapped on my head lamp and chilled in my campsite kingdom.  The night air cooled down, the crickets tuned up and I could hear the calm, peaceful Oconaluftee River nearby.  I read my daily devotion, which was Ecclesiastes 3:1-15, a time for everything, very appropriate.  As the light faded I could see the outline of the mountains, never-changing and ever-changing, majestic, mysterious, comforting, a sanctuary. 

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares drop off like autumn leaves. ~John Muir

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