Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Day One: It’s 9:00 a.m. and time for pictures and farewells. We boarded Ike (our big yellow bus) for the trip to the Flatwood trailhead, which leads to the Academy Trail and then onto the Iron Mountain Trail. I was grateful for the fact that we did not have two feet of snow on the ground. About halfway to the IMT, one of the students decided to make a detour, but we quickly got back on track. The weather was really warm and a nice change from the bitter cold of our last three expeditions. After setting up my camp, I went down to bathe in the creek, and as night came on, I looked out on a spectacular star-filled sky.
Day Two: I awoke to a stunning sunrise splashed with red. On the way to our next campsite at Mile Marker One, I stopped down in a small gap to refill my water and rest, before attempting to summit the K.A.H. This camp overlooks Doe Valley, TN with Boone, NC off in the distance, and I have a fantastic view off a cliff. We were told we could sleep outside under the stars if we chose.
Day Three: Waking up to an eight mile hike is not the best feeling, but I was glad to finally get moving. Two hours of hiking brought me to Double Springs Shelter on the Appalachian Trail. After lunch break, Mr. Mike appointed me as the leader of the second group of hikers as we moved toward Camp Onion. A controlled burn along the trail caused an inconvenient delay, but Mr. Mike allowed us a swim break at Scott-Booher Pond. The swim felt amazing after eight miles of hot, sweaty hiking. The final hike to Camp Onion was like running the fire and smoke gauntlet. Once at camp, with my site all set up, I went to gather wood and water while Myles gathered onions. I looked forward to the wonderful night of sleep under the stars that awaited me.
Day Four: At 7:00 a.m. I was getting ready to leave with a beautiful sky overhead. Just as he had yesterday, Mr. Mike split the group for the hike to Abingdon Gap. The hike took us past a few AT hikers and we stopped at the Holiday Inn Shelter, a historic original AT shelter, which is no longer used. We made it to Abingdon Gap in a scant two hours. Upon arrival, as I was setting up camp, Ms. Ava and Patrick cleared out the water source. After a tasty meal I went to sleep again under an incredible starry sky.
Day Five: Another beautiful sunrise. As I began hiking to our next camp, I realized that it was nowhere near as hot as the day before. Instead of stopping at our schedule camp spot, AT Saddle Camp, we passed it and continued for three more miles to a new camp, which we dubbed “Camp Hope.” The seven-plus mile hike took only three hours total and we set a new record for reaching the AT Saddle Camp in two hours. After getting water, dealing with a bear threat, the wind, and our fire, I settled in for what I realized was my last night on “The Hill.”
Day Six: I woke up later than usual, but still had plenty of time after packing up and putting out the fire for reading. Mr. Dan and Ms. Ava left early to prepare a surprise for us in Damascus. Oddly, just as we walked off the AT in Damascus, it began to rain after six days of perfect weather on the trail. Even though this was our last expedition together as the class of FMA-X, I’m sure it will not by my last time on “The Hill” with a pack on my back.
On the Appalachian Trail there is a tradition that a new hiker gets a nickname that represents something about him or her. The nickname is given to each hiker by another AT hiker. For the remainder of the time they are on the AT, hikers sign trail logs and introduce themselves to other hikers using their “trail names.”
The class of FMA-X has continued this tradition during our time spent on the AT. The trail names given to this year’s class are Mountain Mover, Blues Traveler, Turtle, Backbone Wedgy, Maverick, Speed Bump, Card Trick, and Hacker. Naturally there is a story behind each name.
One student’s harmonica, heard during breaks and even sometimes while hiking on the trail, makes everyone smile. This is Blues Traveler. One student likes to move a little slowly sometimes. He is Turtle. On the March expedition one student decided to collect rocks from each camp. At the end of the expedition he had five good-sized and heavy rocks in his backpack – one even smashed his billycan. His trail name is Mountain Mover. Speedbump was given her name one morning, after she slept outside and rolled into the middle of the trail. While climbing the traverse up to Saunders Shelter, another student complained that he had a wedgy halfway up his backbone, so he became known as Backbone Wedgy. A student who carries around a deck of cards and is known for showing off a card trick that no one can figure out is called Card Trick. Cutting her thumb deeply with a sharp knife earned another hiker the name Hacker. And finally, Maverick is so named because sometimes while he is here, he is also “gone.”
The trail names are unique to each student and reflect a memorable piece of our expedition experiences together.
When I first arrived here, time seemed to move at a snail’s pace, but as the time went on I began to see things in a different way. After about three months of doing almost the same thing every day, my body and mind became so accustomed to what is coming next, that as I was working inside and outside, the moment was gone before my brain could register it.
During our last three expeditions, we were told that time flies by here near the end, and we should try and soak up as much of whatever it was we were doing as we could. This opened my eyes to the true beauty of nature and people. On our February expedition, we hiked up to Bus Camp, and then on to the Tri-State area in about two feet of snow. All that we did, the hiking and making fires with frozen wood, slipped through my fingers before I ever had time to get down on myself or feel bad that I was out there doing it.
Being at FMA has given me a gift. I now no longer complain about where I am or what I am doing. I merely enjoy what I have and where I am because I don’t know if I’ll ever see these mountains or put a pack on my back and go camping this way again.
Time moves on. I have learned to cherish each experience and not to take for granted that the things I am seeing and doing will be here forever.
The bridge I wrote about a couple of months ago has since been finished.
We cut and nailed planks to walk on; thirty-seven altogether. Then we dug holes for the railing supports, two on each side. They are mounted in the ground about two to three feet deep.
We found two lengths of locust, and installed them for railings, which run the length of the bridge. We added stones on either side to make it easier to step up onto the bridge.
Then we took several weeks and improved the walkway to the bridge on the school side of the creek. We moved dirt, and raked it out smooth, until we had what we desired. Then we flatted it out and now we have a nice new walkway.
Our work on the bridge and its surroundings looks incredible. I know you will all enjoy looking at it and using it as much as I do.
I enjoy the spring. All the different buds on the trees are bursting with color. The bright sunny days, the warm breeze, and the hot sun beating down on my skin bring a sense of hope as the earth renews itself one more time. I savor the mornings, watching as the sun rises: a bright orange ball of light sliding up from behind the mountains, with rays of yellow and red emanating from it. A small trickle of clean clear water gains force and finally creates a rushing sound as it races away. The uplifting green hills with a small path running in and out and over and beyond them, and people moving along in front of me call me to continue walking. The birds sing beautiful songs as they fly over me. The butterflies flutter from flower to flower, working away to keep them alive. The bright colors of the flowers and the light colors of the leaves in contrast are so relaxing. I enjoy spring.
In the interesting film The Men Who Killed Kennedy, I was presented with a mind-boggling idea: that the doctors who treated John F. Kennedy before he died saw something different from what we have always been told.
The doctors’ talked about how the autopsy photos released to the public were falsified, and they showed the actual photographs that were taken that day and how that proved that Kennedy was not killed the way we have been told.
Some of the movie’s images were graphic, but it was interesting to see them nonetheless, and to see evidence that has never been a part of the story we have been told about the assassination of JFK. It was especially fascinating to see evidence that proved that Lee Harvey Oswald was not a part of the assassination at all.
The Walking Drum, by Louis L’Amour, was published in 1984 by Bantam Books. This 468-page book recounts the adventures of a unique young man named Maturin Kerbouchard during his quest to find his father. He has an insatiable desire to know the truth and to expand his learning in all areas of knowledge. He is also skilled in many forms of combat including the Celtic way of fighting and the Moorish art of swordplay. Whenever he meets a beautiful woman, he falls in love with her and then is almost immediately separated from her. His adventures and desire for learning take him from being a slave on a ship to being a scholar, a soldier, a merchant, and finally an alchemist.
This book is one of my all-time favorites because I never experienced a boring moment while reading it. Kerbouchard makes enemies who either attack him immediately or show up later and attack him then. “I shall come, I repeated, for today he who rides before an army may tomorrow lie in its dust. I have only a sword, but a strong man need wish for no more than this: a sword in the hand, a horse between his knees, and the woman he loves at the battle’s end.”
The Walking Drum is an enjoyable and exciting novel of adventure, which I recommend highly.