Squirt sunscreen on it!

I was gonna include pictures of the great Smokey Mountain backcountry adventure, but a certain someone, who shall remain nameless (Mark), hasn’t sent them to me yet. Well, he says he has, but they keep bouncing out of my email account. Whatever.

Saturday before last we landed in Knoxville, TN.

Our backpacks flew to Raleigh Durham.

I understand they had a great time together, bouncing around on the carousels, jumping between baggage carts, and possibly laying around on the tarmac. After they grew weary of frolicking, and touring other exciting airports, such as Charlotte NC, they arrived in Knoxville and we took them with us into the mountains.

For five nights we lounged in our bright orange tent, Le Chateau Marmot. Le Chateau Marmot was spacious enough for two men and 20 mosquitoes. It has all the comforts of home except running water, refrigerator, computer, television, air conditioner or comfortable bed.

We hiked out of Bryson City, NC and followed Forney Creek to the top of Clingman’s Dome. What was totally cool about this is that the trail followed the railbed of an abandoned logging railroad. I pretended I was a train as the narrow path rounded the curves and hugged the hillsides. Occasionally we saw rockwork retaining walls and abandoned railroad equipment.

The highway to Clingman’s Dome is closed for construction which means the only way to reach the most popular part of the park right now is by hiking up our trail. We were the only ones at the Dome.

No one else was on the trail and we had the camping site to ourselves. Except for the roaring water cascading over the granite slab fifteen feet from Le Chateau Marmot, it was pretty quiet. We just had to shout to hear each other. Since I’m partially deaf anyway, it was very peaceful to me.

Our first attempt at a campfire was a disastrous failure. It rains so much in the forest (80 inches a year) the firewood was too wet to ignite.

The next day I gathered older wood that had been laying in spots sheltered from the rain and we tried again, to no avail.

I searched through our bags for something that would burn. We didn’t have any lighter fluid. I tried the stove burner on a few sticks with no luck.

Then I discovered the miracle of sunscreen. Forty percent alcohol. WHOOOoosh! Instant pyro panacea. My new motto for something that doesn’t work is “Squirt sunscreen on it!”

Did I mention 80″ of rain? We were there for eight of them. Mark says when he unpacked the tent back in Astoria the bathroom floor flooded.

Signs all over the national park warned us about the dangers of black bears, and we hung our packs 20 feet in the air every night to discourage midnight visitors. We must have been too cautious with handling our food because I never saw a bear the whole time. We met another hiker who said she hadn’t seen one in 18 years. I don’t think they exist. The only bears I saw were chainsaw statues in front of the restaurants in the tourist towns on the park perimeter.

Mark dropped me at the Knoxville airport on Friday and Charlie met me in Austin. The second sentence out of his mouth was: “That was stupid. Hiking 30 miles with no one around. That was stupid.”

That sorta sums up the differences between Mark and Charlie.

Mark called when he arrived back in New York at midnight. He returned to the national park that afternoon to kill time since his flight wouldn’t leave till twilight. While driving a dirt road he claims he saw a bear. I don’t believe him; I think he’s pulling my leg. He says he took pictures of it.

Sure he did.

Maybe that’s why the hiking pictures still haven’t shown up in my email.

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