My Walk in the Woods

I just finished, appropriately, Bill Bryson's "A Walk in the Woods", which is about his attempt to walk the 2000 mile Appalachian Trail, and which I'd heartily recommend as a very likable book by any measure. As I was reading it, I realized an interesting fact (at least to me): that several friends and I actually started the trail at about the same time as he did, in Spring of 1996. He and his fat, middle-aged friend made it much, much further than I and my two young spry friends did, but we weren't really trying.

We'd planned a spring break trip to walk about 100 miles of the trail in Smoky Mountain National Park, which is one of the nicest sections. We got to Tennessee following record low temperatures, with snow still on the ground, and walked about 14 miles on our first day to the highest point in the Smokies, Klingman's Dome (sp?). We were cold and exhausted, so midway through the walk (after 7 miles of continuous uphill) we shared a meal of dry spaghetti and protein powder which we cooked in the restroom. No one else was there, because it was cold, the road was closed, and it's stupid to walk up 11 miles of hill to go to the bathroom. After that we stumbled the rest of the way to our shelter in the dark, snacking on dry oatmeal and cheese blocks that we carried in our pockets, and waking up the prudent campers who had arrived during daylight and gone to bed.

For some reason, the next day both of my friends woke up deathly ill. I was fine--in fact better than fine, because I was fine and I had plenty of medicine. I of course didn't share it with them, because it was mine. They were actually too sick to continue walking, and it was cold and icy out anyway, so we decided to just sleep that day. Indeed we did--we slept for about 36 hour straight to be exact, with only a 2-3 hour waking "nap" in the middle. The next morning we agreed that it would be a better idea to get the hell out of the hills than to suffer on. We'd busted our overly ambitious itinerary at that point anyway. There was a big ice storm that day, so we put on our waterproof stuff (I had a green full-body suit that I bought at Target, which was made of thick plastic. A week after the trip I found the remains of a cheese block in the pocket of the pants) and trudged out. I left my friends behind and made it back to the bathroom fairly quickly, finding out that the road had fortuitously been opened in the two days that we were in the woods. Once my sick friends rolled out of the woods, we hitchhiked down the hill (my only hitchhiking experience, actually), catching a ride in the back of some Tennesseeans pick up truck.

We hadn't planned well, and we only had about 80 dollars between us for food, gas and lodging. I paid for a cheap hotel ($36) in Gatlinburg and we found the nearest buffet, gorging ourselves like we'd been in the woods for weeks ($25). Then, since the only shoes I'd brought were soaked in the rain, I bought some white Panama Jack shoes ($10) from Wal-Mart. The next day we hung out in town, gawking at Hillbilly Golf Courses and the Redneck Hall of Fame. Then, hungry and assessing our financial situation, we realized that we didn't have enough money to both stay another night and pay for gas home, so at about 8 o'clock we decided we'd better head home. It was late, we were tired, and it was a long drive, so when both of my (drivers licensed) friends started to nod off, I (not drivers licenced) volunteered to drive for a while. They agreed, and both fell asleep immediately. They woke up to the sounds of rumble strips on the side of the road more than once, so they made me stop driving. Not having money for even the rattiest hotel, we decided to spend an uncomfortable night in a Wendy's parking lot. The next day we made it back to Ohio.

That's my story of hiking the Appalachian Trail. I like to hike.


Anonymous said…
Sounds like a book I'd be interested in. I've spent a lot of time in the smokies. Lots of interesting stuff off trail out there.
Unknown said…
Yeah, Bill Bryson's my favorite. It seems to be his most well-read book, but it's not his best, in my opinion. (That would be "Lost Continent"). The Smokies, and the general Appalachian chain has a place in my sentimental little heart as the real American wilderness.