Christine is loaded up and ready to hit the trail.
DAY THREE TRIP 141
Morning at Fork Ridge Spur Camp
TRAIL Fork Ridge
CAMP Fork Ridge Gap
IT'S COLD CUZ IT'S JANUARY
My camp here on Fork Ridge is around 2,280 feet or a little less and so whatever Chattanooga says is their temp should be dropped a few degrees. I just spent a pre-sunrise hour marking the mileages down on my Homan book map of the Big Frog and so for instance I've hiked 6.7 miles so far on this trip with 3.7 to go to the mountain. Sgt Rock says it's 9.9 miles to Frog, others say it's 10.4 or something.
IS MY GEAR BETTER THAN OTHER'S GEAR?
Yes and no. It's not better for weight as my kit is heavy. It's not better for moving down the trail at a good clip. My kit is better for camp comforts and by this I mean in all ways, especially during the winter. My food is more varied and better, my shelter can take more extremes and is therefore better though heavy, my clothing is warmer and beefier, my sleeping system is outstanding and generally overkill except at the lowest temps, my reading material is ample and halfway long lasting, my stove burns hot and quick and my fuel is abundant.
All this stuff works great when not moving and works moderately well when humped. A long 18 day trip in January therefore requires these comforts as conditions change drastically week to week. Beyond this, the beauty of an ass heavy pack is that by Day 10 there's less fuel, no books and less food so the pack shrinks and of course gets more manageable. When you start a trip with 80 lbs, 60 lbs seems like a weekend load. Despite this, my base weight is still astronomical as pack and tent and sleeping bag and pad comes to 23 lbs. In this equation the tent is the only item I would be willing to try to lighten.
It's 8:30 with light inside the tent to get me up and covered in geese to retain the warmth. I fired up my Nokia tracfone from inside the tent and with 2 bars got a call out to Patman and said what the heck so I left him a message telling him of my whereabouts for this weekend. I've got 3 more numbers to call---Little Mitten, German Tourist and Randy Cadenza. Two will be messages and Mitten will be in person, probably. I don't have Hootyhoo's number or otherwise he'd get a call. I'm in a calling frenzy and should call everyone I know from the Whiteblaze forum---10-K, Mags, Sgt Rock, Nutbrown, Wise Old Owl, Franco, Papa D, etc.
COMBINING SKELTON AND HOMAN
While at home I drew up trail descriptions of the Big Frog using the pertinent Homan descriptions and discarded his ramblings on flora and fauna, so each trail becomes an outline on a sheet of typing paper, double spaced. In the spaces I just now added additional descriptions from Skelton's book so a more complete picture is available. Of course I don't have Skelton's heavy book out here with me but 20 copied pages out of it from page 450 to 469 covering the Big Frog section. He has older stuff Homan doesn't know.
Is there oats in my immediate future? Yes, if I want to use up the jug of water I got last night from the spring.
NOKIA REACH OUT
Okay, I stopped trying to be cleverly cool and went ahead and reached out with calls to Randy, Christine and Patman. The last 2 were messages and Randy actually answered so now everyone knows where I'm at if they want to join me. Fork Ridge is a good place to get a call out.
FORK RIDGE HUMP
The sky is blue and the temps cool so it's a good time to hike even though it's all uphill as I continue my slow trek to the top of the Frog. My plan is to finish a thousand feet to the spring in the plateau gap and make a command decision to either explore, get water and camp or keep moving to the Frog. For some reason the weight is kicking my butt today but it's lighter than yesterday so there's no explanation. I can clearly hear the sound of the East Fork of Rough Creek below me here on the ridge and it is good. I won't be heading down there but I should as there's a reported old road which follows the creek for a couple miles and probably stops before the creek gets vertical. I believe the spring on Big Frog Mt could be the ultimate high waters of this creek but I'll have to look at the map. It's a blue sky Friday so I may see someone or I may not.
THE LEGENDARY GERMAN TOURIST
My gut instinct was right when it told me I'd meet a person of interest and I did when Christine Thuermer, the German Tourist, passed by my pack laying off the Fork Ridge trail as I was down the hill getting water at the spring. She saw my pack and saw "Hilleberg" on the red stuff sac and knew it was probably me and so she waited a few minutes until I came up to see her. She's a legend for all the trips she has done---
** Kayaked the Mississippi. She's done the triple crown, paddled the Everglades and the Yukon River, backpacked the Bibbulmun Track and Florida Trail and Arizona Trail, cycled thru Australia and New Zealand and Japan, etc.
I'm a homeless bum on a park bench compared to her. She got dropped off at Mud Gap instead of Farr Gap and began another leg of her journey on the BMT south and had a blowout in her NeoAir All Season which caused grief and a side trip to a motel in Ducktown last night for repairs. A shuttle took her back to Thunder Rock and almost 8 miles later here she is, here we are on the saddle and the Elysium Fields of Fork Ridge. Before Mud Gap she's been on the trail for 5 weeks hikng the AT and today hopes to get to Spanish Oaks on the Hemp Top trail and stay before exiting the BMT at Watson Gap and pulling an impossible 25 mile roadwalk on the first part of the Pinhoti trail. She has 250 miles or more to go before she has to catch an Amtrak somewhere and get back to Germany.
She wants me to hike in Europe but I can barely get a trip organized into the Big Frog. She was welcomed to stay put here and camp but the schedule is important and we said our goodbyes.
She's been having some problems with a cold rain and got a bit discouraged but keeps on trucking. She spent the night in the bathroom facility at the Big Bend pulloff on the Hiwassee River when some midnight pig hunters stopped in a pickup truck. They caused some alarm but took off after awhile.
PATMAN GOES TO ATLANTA
He won't be coming out as he left me a message and has to go to Atlanta for work and can't get out for the next 2 weeks so with him out and GT gone I'm totally free to explore the Big Frog without waiting and wondering. It's too bad GT didn't hang around and set up camp here as what's one day of hiking cut in half? But I can understand the mood and the route and the schedule. Now it's my turn to study a map and explore. Tomorrow's goal is a no-brainer as I head to the top of Big Frog Mt for the night and then I'll have to look at the map to plan the next day's route.
TONIGHT WILL BE COLDER
I guess I'm at 3,000 feet which means tonight will get down to around 18F which is all right with me and I'll sleep with the bag unzipped and thrown over like a quilt.
GOODNIGHT TO DAY 3
Presently it's goodnight to Day 3 with cold hands so I fire up a 3 hour candle and use an open flame to help my fingers. GT is long gone and I'll probably never see her again as she hits the next trail and the next continent. She reminds me of Peter from New Zealand---a wise soul who wore tie dye white overalls and traveled the Rainbow Trail to gatherings around the world and was friends with Marcus Endicott who I met at the Katuah Gatherings in Shining Rock in '82 and '83 and who wrote a book called Vagabond Globetrotting. His theory was if someone traveled the globe like Peter (or Christine) they would eventually see God.
Peter was a force of good to be reckoned with and he will always be remembered holding up an eagle feather in the center circle at the NC national rainbow gathering, but I met him long before in Shining Rock. I even saw Marcus again later at the Black Mt music festival. What happens to these free spirits as they enter their 60's and 70's? I hope they don't end up bitter and broken like me. Just going thru a rough patch is all. I must be nuts.
GOTTA KEEP MOVING
I'm not a globe trotter or if I am it's on a tiny scale in the mountains of TN and NC. I'm more of a snowglobe trotter. Naw, I'm too much of a home body and find security in a woodheated tipi on a mountaintop or in an eight pound tent in a nearby wilderness. I don't need or desire to go to Alaska or Montana or Idaho for more and more new haunts---I can freeze my ass off here just as well. I don't need to make a grand production of a backpacking trip when all I want to do is live simply with what's on my back. I'm not an adventurer although I surely used to be in many ways. I just love the outdoors and want a secure but moveable nest in a geographical region I can understand. The Southern Apps.
I've trekked from Front Royal and the Shenandoahs to the Cohuttas and in between and it's all I need and big enough for me. In fact, I may spend the whole of these 18 days in the Big Frog with its 35 miles of trail. Sounds crazy but who's counting and who's keeping score? I'd like to tabulate all of Christine's trips in the last 6 or 7 years as I know they are impressive and I'm serious. She's a motivated and committed individual and knows about nature and bag nights. She just so happens to have stumbled on the Popcorn Sutton of backpacking---an old used up hobo who wears odd looking merino leotards and who smiles with missing teeth, a no count bum with good gear, someone my Dad would call a parasite.
A 30 year old parasite is clever and adventurous and backpacks with everyone, a 62 year old parasite sits in a cold lonely tent and writes bitter screeds to no one and expects the world to take notice.