Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Bad Potato

Sad news. Eric Brown, the owner/operator/practically sole employee of Spudz, my beloved baked potato restaurant, was murdered today in the alley behind his restaurant.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

3 October: Andrews Bald & Clingman's Dome

Wet. Drove up to Clingman's Dome, corkscrewing through intensifying fog, so that by the time I got there it was like I was inside one of those forts you make out of bedsheets and clotheslines when you're twelve. I could not see the car parked right next to me. I had planned on hiking to Andrews Bald, a short 1.8 mile each way. Alas, the first way was down down down, entirely down the rockiest trail I've ever been on. The fog kept increasing and started to be too heavy to stay fog so it turned into rain. I was already soaking wet but still: discouraging. At the 1.1 mile mark, I decided to turn back, as the rain was making the rocky trail into a rocky cascade, more creek than path. I wasn't too bummed about missing Andrews Bald, since I had been to Max Patch already and they're sort of the same thing.

When I got back to the top, I decided to get the extra mile I'd planned by hiking up the steep paved trail to Clingman's Dome. This is harder than it sounds because there are no switchbacks: it's straight up. Still...not as hard as the rocky trail I'd just bailed on. The tower at the top was completely fogged in but it was appealing in a spooky way. This trail draws a lot of people who never ever hike so there were a lot of omigod girls and duuuuude boys, bitching and moaning the whole way up the thing.

Back down the spiral ramp and down the hill and 45-minutes back to the bone-dry campground - no sign of rain, fog or even a bowl of water. I picked up a BBQ sandwich for lunch.

A little steak for dinner, along with a baked sweet potato. At exactly 8:05, twenty-two million gallons of water fell from the sky onto my tent. It rained all night long. Miraculously, the tent stayed dry but the noise of the rain on the rainfly nearly drove me insane. I ended up resorting to the pioneer methods developed by Daniel Boone and put my iPod on and finally fell asleep in the drooly-pillowed dawn hours.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

2 October: Alum Cave Bluffs

On Tuesday, I decided to hike up to Alum Cave Bluffs, a relatively good hike - two and a half miles up and then two and a half miles down. The trail changes a lot; it's a streamside hike for about a mile, all rhododendren tunnels and splashing little runs of water. I took my time. It's a pretty popular hike; I saw about 20 other people over the course of it. Mile 1.2 brought me to Arch Rock, which is pretty much truth in advertising, a rock with an arch and a steep staircase through it. At the top of the stairs, the trail changes completely, into a steeper uphill grind through mixed hardwoods and then suddenly it's like being in the Sierras, all evergreen and open and smelling like Christmas. I picked my way along the edge of Peregrine Peak to an open heath bald, where the trees gave way to acres and acres of bay laurel and expansive views. A few more uphill-torture-yards and I was at Alum Cave, which isn't a cave at all but a big overhang but I wasn't complaining because there was also a bench. I ate my sandwich and wrote a little of what you're reading.

The walk back down was verrrrry interesting. I passed a lot of people who were hiking up to the top of Mt LeConte, which is where the only lodge in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is. You can only get to it by hiking up one of three or four trails. Alum Cave Bluffs is the shortest, but also the steepest. Anyway, every single person I passed was an asshole. In that way that hikers who hike more or more seriously than you frequently are. I think it's about the gear, honestly. They have their ten thousand dollar shoes and their outfits made from the golden fleece and, you know, a silkworm in a cage who is going to make the silk for the fabric of their one-ounce tent. It's so irritating. And I think that what really irritates them is that there I am, traipsing down the mountainside in Crocs and like jean cut-offs and a t-shirt that says Delicious in fancy letters. And I lied to every one of them. "Yep! I'm coming from the lodge! All the way! Whew! What a fun walk! Easy peasy!" I think they can't stand the idea that someone got to the same place that they're headed, but did it so ill-prepared. There's a life-lesson in there somewhere, even though I completely lied and never went to the lodge. It's sort of like when Sister Meg won tickets and flights and lodging to Superbowl XXXIX and we learned very quickly not to tell anyone that because there were people who had mortgaged their houses to get there. "Hey, it's not my fault you're stupid." But I didn't want to rub it in.

Anyway, a pretty hike. Difficult on the way up, but I handled it way better than I thought I would. I think I could have gone all the way up. And then I would have given the finger to every single one of those REI-holes.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

1 October: Max Patch

Yes, I know. "Max Patch" is like the greatest cowboy name ever and I can assure you I have adopted it as my nom de plume in several online fora...but no, it is not a person. It is a place. And it is a magnificent place, the Tuolumne Meadows of the East Coast.

At one of the highest points of the Appalachian Trail, the path opens out of the forest into a seventy-something-acre sunny meadow high atop a mountain. Driving there has some challenges: all the access roads are gravelly and steep and so curvy I'm fairly sure I drove up the highway equivalent of a wine-opener. And then you arrive and there's a parking lot! You park and you can peek up the hill and get a sense of what is about to happen but the trail forces you through a quarter mile of grubby, scrubby boredom and just when you're about to say "fuck this" the brush disappears and suddenly, you're Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music and I mean it: everybody twirls. Children, old ladies, big butch hiker guys. Twirling around in the meadow, still full of wildflowers, even in October. The hills are alive. A complete 360-degree view of the Smokey Mountains, you twirl and twirl and twirl and the air is so crisp and clear and the sky is so ridiculously blue and you feel like you're on the very top of the earth. The pictures make a circle, if you look closely.

It's so spectacular you actually laugh out loud and say "are you kidding?" Luckily, I had my wildflower book with me, so I can tell you that there were some purples and some whites and some very rare yellows.

A friend who hiked the AT tells me that Max Patch is a tremendous psychological landmark: you get out of the woods for it. He also told me you can camp there, which was not clear at all to me, so now I am hot to go back. In leiderhosen.