Third Section Hike – Winding Stair Gap/Franklin, North Carolina to Wesser Creek/2.5 miles before N.O.C., North Carolina
Friday April 26th to Monday April 29th 2013
Friday April 26th – Car travel from Huntingdon, Pennsylvania to Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Started out on the road at around 9am. Pretty smooth drive. Only stopped 2 times. Gas was only $3.22/gallon in Staunton, Virginia. Listened to the final mix of the new album a few times. Pretty pleased.
The view of the Virginia mountains set my heart even more towards the AT.
Got to Gatlinburg, Tennessee around 6:30pm. I didn’t know it was so close to Dollywood! Gatlinburg would be a great town to walk around, but too touristy and busy for me. The traffic is worse than Philly at 4pm. Not my style. I am use to small southern trail towns where everyone has the longest drawl, making me sound like a speed talker. The Grand Prix Motel is pretty down home though. I can hear thru-hikers outside my door singing with each other. The owner is a generous guy. Kind of looks like Kenny Rogers with a blue tooth head set. Getting picked up around 7:15am tomorrow. Can’t wait!
Saturday April 27th – Winding Stair Gap/Franklin, North Carolina to Wayah Shelter, 11 miles
Rough night sleeping. Some thru-hikers were partying at the hotel, probably planning a zero day for today. Smart move. It has been raining all day. Jeff from the hiker services out of Fontana Dam picked me up at 7:15am to take me to Winding Stair Gap. During the drive, he shared with me a lot of useful tips for the area I will be hiking. Sounds like I’ll be visiting a lot of great views. He has a lot of Native American/Indian artifacts. He told me to send him some pictures of my artifact collection I inherited from my grandfather. Jeff got me to Winding Stair Gap a little after 9:00am. It was drizzling here and there. Around 11:00am, it began to full-fledge rain. Downpour to drizzle and back again. I still made it to my planned destination before 3:00pm. Wet and cold. It’s around 7:15pm and I’m still cold. Only one other hiker here, Steven. About 44 years old. Really nice. He didn’t get as far as he wanted to today. I’m going to pray that the rain lets up tonight and we can start off with a dry dawn.
Sunday April 28th – Wayah Shelter to Wesser Bald Shelter, 10.5 miles
Bless the Lord, indeed. He/She/It is sure making it rain. Steven, the other hiker here in Wayah shelter, and I are waiting out the rain a bit. It’s almost 9:00am, and it has slowed, but bound to pick back up. If it doesn’t completely slow down by noon, I’m just going to step out into it. I had planned 15 miles today. If I can get in 10 to Wesser Bald shelter, I’ll be happy. Otherwise, I’ll be doing a 17 mile day tomorrow. I read Psalms 102, 103, 104 out loud to the anti-religious Steven. He requested it. Psalm 104:3 “Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters, who maketh clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind.”
Oh, and Steven brought a mouse trap. I woke up for each of the 4 times that he caught a mouse last night and reset it.
I made it to Wesser Bald shelter! It is still raining quite steadily. Who knows what tomorrow will bring. So wet and tired. I’m not sure I can do this every day if it continues to rain so heavily without ceasing. Hopefully I can get warmer faster, and stay so. There are other young men in this shelter. No one is talking, just watching the rain from our sleeping bags. G-d is good, right? I will have to make up the 5 miles tomorrow.
Monday April 29th – Wesser Bald Shelter to….dead end, 3 miles?
There goes my bliss…..
The day began just great: no rain, coffee and oatmeal. First day without a downpour and set off at around 8:30am. Smooth sailing. Lots of downhill and steep areas but at least the trail isn’t like the river it was the past two days. An hour or so later, I trip on some slippery tree roots and take a nasty fall. I hear something loudly snap. My ankle hurts. Praying it wasn’t my ankle, I make it up, but it hurts like Hades. I take a few steps and I start to black out. I sit down for a bit. Try again. Same thing. Another hiker from last night’s shelter comes along. He offers to carry my pack while I limp to the N.O.C. I start to black out again. I try crawling. Same thing. I figure, a broken ankle is enough. I don’t need a cracked head. I use my SPOT device to call S.O.S. Can’t get a signal. Brandon, the hiker, take sit down the trail to where it gets signal. I turn on my phone and miraculously, I get service! First time in the past 3 days. There is a message from the SPOT service folks. I call them back and they alert the local emergency services. They locate my coordinates. Should be here in a couple of hours. I called each of my parents at work. The sun is peeping out here and there. I am fine. G-d said “slow down.” I got Brandon’s address. I will send him something nice. I gave him a Clif Bar and told him to keep moving. Staycation on the trail.
The Swain County Emergency Rescue folks got to me a little before noon, which was great timing. They put me on a body board using my sleeping pad for comfort and into a metal carrier. They carried me ¼ of a mile to a side trail and drove me another half mile or so in a 6 wheeler to the main road. Then an ambulance took me the rest of the way here, MedWest Harris Hospital in Sylva, North Carolina. Everyone has been wonderful and all are amazed at my tolerance for pain. The Emergency Room folks are very nice with warm southern accents. I was quickly taken for x-rays. The young ladies in there were a hoot! I am smelly and leaving dirt everywhere, but I know they are used to seeing a lot worse. Broke my fibula and need crutches for at least week with a boot cast. I need to follow up with an orthopedic surgeon back home…
I had to pause my writing because the receptionist at the ER brought me a tray of food! I’ve been sitting in a wheelchair in the ER waiting room since they released me, waiting for my folks to get down here. I don’t know if the trail diet kept me hungry the couple of days or the food was just good, but I enjoyed it. Some sort of squash casserole, steamed corn, cauliflower, and carrots. I hit the orange slices first. Roll, peach cobbler. Most I’ve eaten in a long time. Full tummy and feeling better but the pain is starting to hit me. They gave me a prescription for pain meds but I have no way of getting it filled until my folks get here. Sharon, the RN, offered to get it for me before she leaves. It’s like there are trail angels off the trail. Lots of thank you notes to write.
About 10 minutes until 10:00pm. The pain is starting to get worse. Adrenaline long worn off. Ice melted. Ibuprofen not working. Can’t wait to get this prescription filled. I’ve been talking to folks in the waiting room. It must be a small town or county. A lot of folks seem to know each other or have connections between. I talked to two ladies in their mid-sixties here for the one lady’s mother-in-law who is 99 years old. A family just came in whose little girl has some sort of stomach bug. Everyone can tell I’m a hiker and wants to know my story. Part of me is willing to camp out here for days just to swap stories. Read the 73rd Psalm a few times, some favorite parables. I wrote a letter to Brandon Johnson, the hiker who helped me. I think I’ll send it along with a new pipe to him in Maine. Everyone is glued to “Dancing With the Stars” on the waiting room’s television.
Tuesday April 30th – Car travel from Gatlinburg, Tennessee to Beaver Springs, Pennsylvania
My parents got to the ER waiting room around 11:30pm last evening. Just before that, another RN, Steven, offered me a bed to lie down on. I thanked him but refused for fear of getting too comfortable. He is an avid kayaker and WVU graduate. He knows where Huntingdon is. He graciously accepted 3 of my Clif Bars. Then he went to see if he could get me some pain meds. Success! Even trade, I’d say. Just as my parents arrived, he walked out with a “6 pack” of Norco. We headed to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, another hour’s drive from Sylva, North Carolina, and picked up my car. We stayed at a Best Western down the street. Got 2 showers by morning and practiced maneuvering on crutches for the first time in years. Made an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon in Huntingdon for tomorrow afternoon. Been riding in the back of my mother’s car with my foot elevated and iced in the boot cast while my father drive my car behind us. The pain killers are starting to not be as effective. Getting nauseous. My mother is going to help me out tomorrow…again. She has yet to say “I told you so.”
Wednesday May 1st – Beaver Springs, Pennsylvania to Huntingdon, Pennsylvania
Slept on my parents’ couch last night. Pirates lost. Got a phone call around 11:00am from Steve that my cat, Winston, was unable to move his back legs. Horrible news to add to the situation. My father took off to Huntingdon ahead of time to help with getting Winston to the vet. He is staying overnight for observation. Got to Huntingdon after noon to get things cleaned and put away. My mother is indispensable. Long-story-short, the orthopedic surgeon took new x-rays. I fractured my fibula at the base in 2 places. Good news is that I need neither surgery nor a plaster cast. Bad news is that I need this walking boot cast and crutches for 3 weeks. No work for 3 weeks. Aside from playing guitar and reading, I am not sure how to spend my days. Work on healing up for the next hike! Maybe G-d is really telling me to slow down, if only other folks will let me. If Winston is ok, I’ll be ok. And I thought my biggest worry was whether I could get my boots to dry.