Category Archives: backpacking

Relax Inn, Virginia – Chapter 12

 

I arrive at the Relax Inn, a hiker hotel by the Atkins Truck Stop. The Relax Inn has not been upgraded for over 20 years. It serves hikers and truckers but gets low evaluations because the rooms are old.

I must decide if I can continue hiking in light of my equipment problems – my sleeping bag zipper is broken and my pack seems close to falling apart. I spend three nights here.

The first day, I walk south on the Appalachian Trail for an hour, considering future plans.

I consider the weather forecast – rain, wind, and cold on the day I plan to leave. Can I get a new sleeping bag?

The wind is cold. I realize that I cannot continue using the equipment that I have and that there is no place nearby to buy new equipment.

I think about buying warmer clothing. Where can I go? How can I get there?

I remember trying to sleep in the cold wind close to Buzzards Rock and the cold night afterward. If my clothes are dry, I might be okay.

I read Chapter 11 of the Tao te Ching, translated by Steven Mitchell.

“Colors blind the eye.”

“Sounds deafen the ear.”

“Flavors numb the taste.”

I return to the truck stop and walk through a covered bridge that goes north.

“Thoughts weaken the mind.”

I walk north  on the Appalachian Trail, north of the Relax Inn. I will be going this way if I continue on the Appalachian Trail.

I pass a sign telling about the early settlers. The Davis Family established a home in 1748 that became a “neighborhood fort.” They had more than just wind and cold to ponder.

The trail goes under Route 81.

“Desires wither the heart.”

“The Master observes the world
but trusts his inner vision.”

I visit the Davis cemetary, established by the early settlers. The graves date back to the 1800s but, on most, the inscriptions are unclear.

The Tao te Ching says, “He allows things to come and go.”

The tombstone reads, “I shall be satisfied when I awake with Thy likeness.”

The tombstone reads, “Blessed are they that die in the Lord.”

The Tao te Ching chapter concludes, “His heart is as open as the sky.”

The Tao te Ching text describes a result of meditation – the awareness of emptiness. Bring all your awareness to the breath, the breathing in and out. Let go of all other perceptions and the mind becomes empty – no sight, sounds, taste, thoughts, only inner vision and even that is empty.

I have been to this hotel various times over the past 20 years  during my hiking on the Appalachian Trail. I stay at the Relax Inn each time I pass through and the owners recognise me.

I talk with the inn owners and their son. The inn owner’s son, age 34, has just returned from New Jersey where he has visited the Indian community there. He explains the family shrine. He is a follower of the Hindu diety Shiva (the toilet paper and credit card reader are not part of the shrine).

His father, age 72, elaborates – Hinduism began more than 10,000 years ago. He purchased this hotel 21 years ago.

This is the end of my hike this year.  I cannot continue this year without winter gear. I will start at this place and walk North in the spring. I have walked 544 miles from Springer Mountain Georgia, to Atkins, VA — not bad for a 70 year-old guy.

I call my wife, Karen, and ask her to come to Atkins.

She arrives the next day and we leave in the morning.

Damascus to Atkins – Chapter 11

I am walking from Damascus, VA, to Atkins (truck stop) on the Appalachian Trail. Atkins Truck Stop is the place where the trail crosses US 81.

 I start in Damascus, CA, leaving Crazy Larry’s place after breakfast.

The Appalachian Trail  joins the Virginia Creeper Trail (for bicycles). Afterward, it starts climbing.

I pass Lost Mountain Shelter. I watch the sunset from south of Buzzards Rock. A cold wind blows hard much of the night.

In the morning, I reach Buzzards Rock.

I read Chapter 11 of the Tao te Ching, translated by Steven Mitchell.

“We join spokes together in a wheel,”

I pass the trail to the top of Mount Rogers. I get water from a spring fensed off to keep the wild ponies out.

“but it is the center hole
that makes the wagon move.”

Wild pony in the Greyson Highlands.

“We shape clay into a pot.”

I pet a wild pony.

“but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.”

“We hammer wood for a house,”

“but it is the inner space
that makes it livable.”

“We work with being,
but non-being is what we use.”

This chapter of the Tao te Ching talks about space and it’s use. By viewing our “inner” space” (the domain inside ourselves) we recognize this.

I pass a place called the Scales, where they used to weight cattle. Evening approaches. I do not realize it, but it will rain very hard during the night.

We explore inner space through meditation. Walking in the rain.

I  experience a long cold night, followed by a sunny morning.

Then it rains all day, sometimes very hard.

I walk all day in the rain and reach the Trimpi Shelter where I stay with two guys. They spent all day there to avoid the rain.

By morning, the rain stopped.

Water

My equipment is failing. The zipper on my sleeping bag is broken. My pack strap is close to breaking. I walk toward the Friendship Shelter and plan to spend the night closer to Atkins.

Meditation

I pass the Friendship Shelter and am about 10 miles from Atkins.

Walking

Magical place selected by a crow

Mountain hidden by clouds

Walking toward Atkins

I visit the old school house, along the trail, connected to the Settlers Museum.

I SEE MY DESTINATION. I will be staying at the Relax Inn, at Atkins, close to the truck stop. I must check the weather and evaluate my ability to continue in light of my equipment problems.

 

I arrive.

US Route 17E to Damascus – Chapter 10

I walk from US Route 17E to Damascus, Virginia on the Appalachian Trail.

I read Chapter 10 of the Tao te Ching translated by Steven Mitchell.

“Can you coax your mind from its wandering
and  keep to the original oneness?”

“Can you let your body become
supple as a newborn child’s?”

“Can you cleanse your inner vision
until you see nothing but the light?”

“Can you love people and lead them
without imposing your will?”

“Can you deal with the most vital matters
by letting events take their course?”

“Can you step back from you own mind
and thus understand all things?”

“Giving birth and nourishing,”

“Having without possessing,”

“Acting with no expectations,”

“Leading and not trying to control:
this is the Supreme Virtue.”

No talking

Walking

Walking

 

Walking across the Watauga Lake Dam.

 

Walking

Talking  to two thru-hikers behind a shelter.

 

No talking

No talking

Talking to Gandalf, a South bound thru hiker

No talking

Walking into Virginia, leaving Tennessee

I watch the sunlight flow along spider web lines. It occurs in two places. Can you see it? Look closely.

Approaching Damascus – few miles out.

The Gate to Damascus

Erwin, TN, to US Route 17E- Chapter 9

I am walking from Uncle Johnny`s Hostel in Erwin, TN to US Route 17E.

The storm passed over Erwin. I need to be off the trail.

I see a stick bug (walking stick) in the shower room at the hostel.

Hurricane Nate has become a tropical storm and I stayed an extra night at Uncle Johnny’s place. In the morning, the river is high.

It continues to rain – sometimes heavy. I look at a shelter.

Rain ends. Coffee on the trail

Climbing

I read chapter 9 from the Tao te Ching, translated by Steven Mitchell.

“Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.”

“Keep sharpening your knife
and it will blunt.”

If the wooly caterpillar is particularly wooly , it means a cold winter is coming. They all look the same to me.

Spruce forest

“Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.”

“Care about people’s approval
and you will be their prisoner.”

“Do your work, then step back.”

 

Eastern newt

Climbing Roan Mountain.

I pass over the top and fix lunch while drying my tarp and clothes in the sun.

“The only path to serenity.”

The sign reads “Round Bald.”

I walk over some sections that are probably the most magnificent set of balds on the Appalachian Trail– Round Bald, Jane Bald, past the Overmountain Shelter (I spent the night north of it), Little Hump Mountain, Bradley Gap, Hump Mountain, Doll Flats.

I met some hikers walking north. They spent the night on Jane Bald while I walked past Overmountain.

An astonishing day. Hard rain at night, fog in the morning.

No words – climbing Little Hump Mountain.

No talking

Path to serenity

The path at Bradley Gap

Path of the caterpillar

Continue reading Erwin, TN, to US Route 17E- Chapter 9

Hot Springs, NC, to Erwin, TN – Chapter 8

I am walking from Hot Springs, NC, to Erwin, TN, on the Appalachian Trail.

I leave Hot Springs early in the morning. I read Chapter 8 of the Tao te Ching, translated by Steven Mitchell.

“The supreme good is like water,”

“which nourishes all things without trying to.

It is content with the low places that people distain.”

I was given some moonshine in Hot Springs. In the afternoon, I share it with south-bound hikers. This is “Papa.”

I offer moonshine to a father and son from Minnesota.

It feels warm in the belly.

The next day, I reach a specially constructed ridge line trail, completed in 2015. The graffiti reads, “unending rock scramble.”

The ridge line

“Thus it is like the Tao.”

View from the ridge

Rocky

“In dwelling, live close to the ground.”

“In thinking, keep to the simple.”

“In conflict, be fair and generous.”

South-bound thru-hiker “Intrepid.” Each of us walked over the terrain that the other will encounter. We discuss which springs and rivers we found to be  dry.

Sign for the Sheldon graves.

Graves of two Union soldiers and their cousin. They were shot here by Confederate sympathizers during the Civil War (War Between the States),. The two brothers were coming home to visit their family. In these mountains,  some families and towns were for the Confederacy, others were for the Union.

Sunrise

“In governing, don’t try to control.”

“In work, do what you enjoy.”

“In family life, be completely present.”

“When you are content to be simply yourself”

I reach Bald Mountain.

“And don’t compare or compete,”

On Bald Mountain, I encounter a scientific group who are capturing birds in nets and banding them.

They place bands on the legs of the birds and release them.

They measure and weigh the birds before release.

This is  a scientific study.

“Everybody will respect you.”

I walk past a hawk decoy. They attempt to attract them and many other species for banding.

The decoy

No talking

Meditation

Let’s do an experiment. I walk past a place where the chi energy is flowing up the hill. The water flows downhill and the chi flows up the ravine. I reach the place and face the energy.  Can you feel the chi?

First glimpse of Irwin, TN, after five days of walking.

Standing Bear to Hot Springs – Chapter 7

I am walking from Standing Bear Farm to Hot Springs on the Appalachian Trail.

I read Chapter 7 of the Tao te Ching, translated by Steven Mitchell:

“The Tao is infinite, eternal.”

I reach the top of Snowbird Mountain.

“Why is it eternal?
It was never born;
thus it can never die.”

I meet a hiker “Deadpool.” She has run out of water and I give her half of what I have. The springs are dry in this area. She is dressed like a comic book character.

The top of Max Patch Bald.

“Why is it infinite?
It has no desires for itself;
thus it is present for all beings.”

Descending from Max Patch

“The Master stays behind;
that is why she is ahead.”

“She is detached from all things;
that is why she is one with them.”

“Because she has let go of herself,
she is perfectly fulfilled.”

I camp on Deer Mountain.

I walk toward Hot Springs, NC. People ask, “Why do you walk in the woods?”

It it not unusual to hear rifle shots in the woods. Someone is engaging in target practice. It reminds me of my time in Vietnam during the war.

Meditation involves focusing on the breath and, when thoughts arise, letting them go.

Newfound Gap to Davenport Gap and Standing Bear – Chapter 6

I am walking on the Appalachian Trail from Newfound Gap to the northern end of the Great Smoky National Park and to Standing Bear Farm.

I hitch-hike from Gatlinburg, TN, to get back to the Appalachian Trail at Newfound Gap.

I start hiking north at Newfound Gap.

I read Chapter 6 of the Tao te Ching, translated by Steven Mitchell:

“The Tao is called the Great Mother:
empty yet inexhaustible,”

“it gives birth to infinite worlds.”

“It is always present within you.”

“You can use it any way you want.”

How would you use the Tao?

 

Come into harmony with it.

Let it be.

I saw a bear cross the trail. I look for him with the camera.

There are things that cannot be seen.

Walking without words

Bears are a problem in this area. The Cosby Knob Shelter is closed. A bear terrorized the campers and they drove him off by throwing rocks. He circled around and destroyed their tents. The rangers closed the shelter.

Morning at Davenort Gap

 

I see a poster warning about bears. Someone took a photo of a bear immediately before it bit his leg.

I arrive at Standing Bear Farm and take a photo of some guys there. On the right is the hiker “Left Field.” The other two guys are workers at the farm — which is actually a hiker hostil.

 

Fantana Dam to Newfound Gap – Chapter 5

I walk from Fontana Dam to Newfound Gap on the Appalachian Trail  where I will hitch-hike into Gatlinburg, shower, eat, sleep, and return.

I walk over the Fontana Dam.

I enter the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and begin a 2700 foot climb.

I reach a boulder jumble, a throne shaped rock.

This is the Russel Field Shelter. Hikers are required to stay in shelters because of bears. I read Chapter 5 of the Tao te Ching, translated by Steven Mitchell:

“The Tao doesn’t take sides;
it gives birth to both good and evil.”

“The Master doesn’t take sides;”

“She welcomes both saints and sinners.”

I approach Rocky Top.

“The Tao is like a bellows:
it is empty yet infinitely capable.”

“The more you use it, the more it produces;”

“The more you talk of it, the less you understand.”

“Hold on to the center.”

Sunset at Silers Bald Shelter.

Sunset

A guy from Florida who had moved to Tennessee.

The next day, I walk to Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the Great Smokies.

The observation tower is closed for repairs – elevation 6867 feet.

Descending

Descending

Magical forest

Magical forest

 

 

No talk

I reach Newfound Gap. I have walked 206.8 miles from Springer Mountain, Georgia.

Nantahala Gorge to Fontana Dam – Chapter 4

I leave the gorge early in the morning and read Chapter4 of the Tao te Ching (translated by Steven Mitchell):

“Tao is like a well:
used but never used up.”

I pass a monument to a firefighter who lost his life to a wildfire. I am climbing to Cheoah Bald (5000 feet elevation),

“It is like the eternal void:
filled with infinite possibilities.”

I met Barefoot Dan (who walks without shoes) and another hiker, close to the “jump up” before Swim Bald.

The girls are walking to Damascus, Virginia.

“It is hidden but always present.”

“I don’t know who gave birth to it.”

“It is older than God.”

This huge toad is not afraid.

Hard hiking.

This terrain was some of the hardest on the Appalachian Trail. I spent the night partway up Jacobs Ladder.

High up.

I pass a small stream and the Cable Gap Shelter. The day finishes with a 2000 foot descent – hard on the knees. I must recover before going into the Great Smoky Mountains.

Winding Stair Gap to Nantahala Gorge – Chapter 3

In Franklin, I look at the Cherokee mound, one of the largest religious structures of this type.

It was the religious and political center of a huge system (Nikwasi).

Unfortunately for the Cherokee, gold was discovered in North Carolina and the Cherokee were forced off their land. Franklin was the origin of the infamous “Trail of Tears.” President Andrew Jackson ignored the ruling of the Supreme Court and the Army followed his orders to commit a crime against humanity.

I read Chapter 3 of the Tao te Ching translated by Steven Mitchell.

“If you overesteem great men,
people become powerless.”

I am hikingto the Nantahala Outdoor Center on the Appalachian Trail. Just past Winding Stair Gap, I pass a waterfall.

“If you overvalue possessions,
people begin to steal.”

“The Master leads
by emptying people’s minds.”

“and filling their cores,
by weakening their ambition
and toughening their resolve.”

“He helps people lose everything
they know, everything they desire,
and creates confusion
in those who think that they know.”

The terrain is difficult.

I cook lunch in an area where there was a fire last year.

I walk along a ridge.

There is a ridge and then a long steep  descent.

“Practice not-doing,
and everything will fall into place.”

I arrive at the NOC Center, where people do kayaking and white water rafting.

I see a guy named Blue who I met on the trail the day before.

Practice non-doing.