“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.” – Edmund Hillary
It was another interesting night at the shelter, featuring a conglomeration of humanity brought together by a love of hiking. In addition to our core Great Smoky Mountains Bubble, we were joined by…
– John E. Just from Peoria, Illinois – he’s out here attempting a thru-hike to draw attention to a rare genetic disease that he has. It’s called Fabry disease and it affects 1 in 40,000 people, including 6 in his family. To stay alive, he has to get an IV transfusion every 2 weeks for life. And he’s hiking the AT! After each transfusion, he begins working the logistics for the next one. (And here I am complaining about a sore knee.). He said, “Fob, I hope my hike sends a message to people with this disease and others that you can still get out and do things and enjoy life. I want to raise awareness.” Message received loud and clear, Mr. Just…hike on!
– Kole McKeown from Union, SC, where Janet’s family is from
– A couple and their young daughter who mistakenly thought that when they reserved the shelter, they would have it to themselves. The mom was not a happy camper when she realized their family getaway trip would be shared with a dozen stinking hikers. They brought a guitar and a telescope but no sleeping pads…all marks of section hikers.
The weather was slightly better for today’s hike. It was arguably the best day in the Smokies in terms of stunning, mountaintop views…Charlies Bunion, The Sawteeth, Bradleys View, Eagle Rocks, etc. At Copper Gap, mile 218.9, I stopped and reflected on having reached the 10% milestone. That seemed like an awfully low percentage for what I had been through.
After 12.1 miles, I arrived at the Tri-Corner Knob Shelter (elevation 5897 feet) for another fun night with The Bubble. Deadwood and Nesquick began doing Monty Python movie impressions, and soon everyone was saying those phrases and using those accents around camp. As the wind picked up and temperature dropped, we all worked our way inside the 3-sided shelter to eat and share stories. Oddly, almost everyone had some form of potato, including the highly popular Ramen Bomb (Ramen noodles with potatoes). At one point the sweet, kind, mild-mannered Master Wayne stepped just outside the hand-hung tarp which comprised the shelter’s 4th wall. He then ripped the loudest, bat cave-shaking fart I had heard since the one Daniel, my brother in law, launched during Christmas week of 2012. We all started laughing and applauding Master Wayne for his Master Piece, even while he remained outside to compose himself and assess the damage to his hiking pants. It was unclear why he felt the need to step outside, since we are in a hiking environment where such grand noises are not only allowed, but celebrated.
We awoke to yet another very cold morning. Despite my love for the Smokies, it was time for me to end this relationship and move on. I looked at my guidebook to see how far I’d have to hike to get to a hot shower. The answer was 18.4 miles, to the Standing Bear Farm Hostel. Game on!
After an initial climb, I began a long descent down to Camel Gap. At mile 225.9, I passed the barely visible plane wreckage of an F-4 Phantom jet that crashed in 1984. To date, there have been 54 plane crashes within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They are usually private planes flying in bad weather. The pilot becomes spatially disoriented, not knowing up from down, and hits the side of the mountain or trees.
As I hiked that afternoon, the weather continued to improve, but I was growing weary. My feet ached and pain was shooting across the front of my left knee. At mile 236 I sat down on a log with Master Wayne. He was preparing to take a side trail and head home, as his section hike was over. Physically, I had bottomed out, but still had four miles to go to exit the park and get to the hostel. I wasn’t in a good place. After a long break, with 2 hours of daylight remaining, I said a prayer, popped 3 Advil and stood up. I put my backpack back on and it felt like someone had added 2 bricks to it. I then slowly put one foot in front of the other and continued my descent, eventually walking under Interstate 40. After a tough, painful final mile, including some killer stairs, I staggered into Standing Bear Hostel just before sunset.
Standing Bear Hostel is a really odd place. It’s managed by Lumpy, a legitimate mountain man who’s a mix between Swamp People, Duck Dynasty, and Deliverance. It’s a wonder they aren’t already filming a reality tv series based on Lumpy and this hostel. With a long beard and slow, drawn out speaking style, it almost seems like he’s playing a movie character…but he’s not. He’s the real deal.
After a brief tour of the place, Lumpy and I sat down on the porch of the old wooden bunkhouse for a chat. I learned that he got that nickname because he was a “fat kid”. I told him I really liked his beard, and hoped that one day the mangy crop of Spanish moss on my chin would grow into something that impressive. He then proceeded to tell me a true story about his beard. Years ago, Lumpy agreed to let a local organization use his famous beard for a fund-raiser to raise money to pay the hospital bills of a sick child. The organizers used an auction format, and the highest bidder would get to decide whether to cut Lumpy’s beard or preserve it. After several minutes of competitive bidding, a local businessman ultimately won out with a bid of $2800…and wanted the beard cut off. As Lumpy talked in his slow, Lumpy voice, I thought it was such a cool, heartwarming story of rural compassion. I loved how he willingly used one of his greatest assets, his beard, to help a sick child in need. But Lumpy wasn’t through yet…not by a long shot. In fact, his tale was just getting started. He continued… “They brung me and my beard over to the gal with the scissors who would do the cuttin’.” He paused for a moment and smiled. Then, in a higher octave, excited voice, he declared, “and that gal had the biggest hooters I’ve ever seen!” (He gestured just how large so I could get the magnitude and longitude.) I was speechless. We had reached the purpose for the story…the main take-a-way. It didn’t end with a sick boy in a wheelchair being wheeled across the stage to hug and thank a teary-eyed Lumpy. Rather, it ended with a well-endowed country gal taking Lumpy’s beard, but giving him a thrill in return.
As for the hostel, your $20 gets you a bunk bed with a foam mattress and linens. There’s a resupply store with reasonably priced, mostly not expired food (including pizza!) and other hiker amenities. There are laundry facilities…well, 2 tubs, a hose, a washboard, and soap to hand wash clothes, and a normal dryer. There’s also the option to tent camp for a lesser rate, although at least 2 of the tent campers were drinking, smoking pot, and had taken 6 consecutive zero days in Gatlinburg to party, recover, and party some more. No thanks.
I soon learned of 2 downsides to this place. First, the hot water was out, so my only option was an ice cold shower that took my breath and other things away. A hot shower, the very thing I had hiked a personal best 18.4 miles for, simply wasn’t there at the finish line. Second, the port-a-john had not been emptied since Nixon was President, and was literally filled to the brim. Truly disgusting. Thankfully there was a privy by the camping area that could be used. (As I exited the next day, the new port-a-john was arriving.)
After showering and doing old-school laundry, I ate a large supreme pizza, 2 cherry pie packets, a Gatorade, Diet Coke, Mountain Dew, and package of string cheese. I then shot a video clip, available on my Facebook page, of Lumpy and my hiking buds quoting Monty Python lines. Before going to bed, I weighed myself, and discovered that I had lost 31.6 lbs! I had reached my weight loss goal for the entire trip in just 23 days! It was a bit of a psychological boost to realize that I was no longer carrying around a “frontpack”.
As we laid there in our bunks and started to doze off, a rooster started crowing loudly. Lumpy yelled, “Sorry y’all…the bird gits his nights n days confused sometimes.” It was the perfect way to close out a peculiar evening at a peculiar place. It will also be how we close each episode of the new reality tv show, “Lumpy at Standing Bear.”
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