I kissed my wife and son goodbye as I walked out the front door. Carlo was there to pick me up. We both couldn’t contain our excitement as we stopped by Sonic for a big breakfast then turned towards Dover, TN and within the hour we were standing in the parking lot staring down the south entrance to the N/S Trail. We both stretched out our legs and back, put on our packs, took a picture, dropped our registration in the metal box and took one look back at the car knowing we wouldn’t be seeing it for six more days.
We stepped on the trail with a little pep in our step and a skip in our heart. Our adventure had started and much to our enjoyment, the trail was nice and not too strenuous at first. Of course when you get two pastors alone in the woods, they can’t help but to talk church and theology sprinkled with a little trail and gear talk. Not long into our hike, I recognized where someone had tried building a lean-to type shelter. I pointed it out to Carlo and as we kept walking we speculated what someone was doing since it was not too far into the trail. I mentioned they were probably making a YouTube how-to video. Who knows.
Two miles in, we came across our first green sign. These green signs are sporadically placed through the trail to inform hikers of mileage, spur trails and springs. The one we came across informed us that we had reached the fork to the Fort Henry Trails and the N/S Trail.
Carlo and I would not be hiking this trail alone. We had plans to meet three of my friends that I had hiked with last year. They started hiking on Sunday at Piney Campground taking the Fort Henry trail to connect with the N/S Trail 8 miles in. We had no knowledge of where they would be on the trail on Monday so instead of trying to create a meeting time and place, we just decided to meet them at Iron Mountain Shelter, 11 miles away. That was our plan but that plan didn’t pan out.
Once we made the fork which was two miles, we took a breather removing our packs and drinking some water and eating a snack. After a few minutes, we grabbed our packs and headed out only to meet up with Mark, Josh, and Dalton a few hundred yards up the trail. We were just walking along and I happened to notice them about one hundred feet off the trail in the woods. We came across where they camped at the night before. I waved to them and we walked over to their campsite. They had just wrapped up eating breakfast (pancakes and bacon) and were tidying up preparing to leave. We waited on them to pack up so we could walk together.
Once we all got on the trail, excitement was boiling over. We were doing it. We were walking. We were notching miles on our belts and marking miles off the map. With each step away from South Welcome, we were making strides toward North Welcome 60 miles away. I had been waiting for this all winter, all year. I felt I was on Appalachian Trail just because that’s what dreamers do. Well, not really but I was on the trail.
I was moving. Perhaps, moving a little too fast. Occasionally I would look back and notice the others behind me a considerable distance. I didn’t know I had pep in my step. Carlo joked with me that I underestimate my hiking abilities. I know the last few times we had hiked together on the trail, I was showing up my latest estimation of not being able to walk a considerable amount without tiring quickly. I was beginning to disprove my theory of inability to hike with vigor.
As we walked we spent time talking and catching up. I hadn’t seen Josh or Dalton since last year’s hike. Carlo got to know the rest of the guys making small talk as well. We walked through a couple of pine groves where the wind was blowing the trees. They were swaying making beautiful music. The wind was also capturing the smell of pine and presenting it to us on the ground level. It was an amazing experience to be walking through the pines smelling their woodsy aroma. Just being on the trail as the weather climbed into the high 60’s was amazing.
I vaguely remembered portions of the trail. Some that I remembered being difficult to traverse simply because it was the finish of a thirty mile hike for me the year before. The North/South trail winds through the land presenting many of the cemeteries that were there before the government took over the area. We stopped at Morgan Cemetery, about 7 miles in to take a break. It’s always a refresher to take off the pack for a few minutes and rest our shoulders before continuing. We all caught our breath, I grabbed some chewing gum, took a “bathroom” break and then we began making our way north again.
Another mile in, we came to Briar Rose Branch spur trail. This trail leads .2 miles down to a spring where we decided to take a lunch break and replenish our water. After filtering water, we all sat down to shoot the breeze and eat lunch. I had salmon and tortillas with Pringles chips and some Reese’s peanut butter cups to top it off.
We took about an hour then we were back on the trail. Sometime after lunch, I noticed Carlo was lagging behind. I decided to ask him how he was doing and he said that his foot was bothering him. He had injured it just prior to our hike playing Jiu Jitsu. The further we hiked, the more it seemed his foot was bothering him. The green sign at the spring where we took lunch said our shelter was three miles away. This seemed to be the longest three miles we had ever experienced. For Carlo, his foot was really bothering him slowing him up exponentially. About a mile or so from the shelter, Dalton and Josh took off in a field to do some geo-caching. Carlo could only walk about 100 yards before having to stop and take pressure off his foot.
We finally made it to the shelter where Carlo and I both crashed. We were exhausted. Mark had already gotten there ahead of us. He knew he was getting close so he put it in high gear. Josh and Dalton had gotten there just ahead of us too. Carlo set up his tent and I began setting up my hammock. We arrived at the shelter about 3:00 in the afternoon and was in much need of a nap. After about an hour, I decided since I didn’t get to go up the fire tower the year before because of my own personal health issues, I would go this time.
I grabbed a water bottle, my camera and some Twix bars and away I went. I am very afraid of heights so climbing the steps took me a little while. As soon as I reached the second set of steps the wind began to pick up and I could feel the fire tower beginning to sway. There were still many many steps to traverse. These steps were very old and worn pieces of 2 inch wood. I just knew they would have some weak points in the steps so I tried to keep my feet over the metal braces as much as I could. As soon as I reached the top, the floor inside the outlook area looked very sketchy so I stepped in just far enough to catch the view. I only stayed up for a minute before heading back down. The wind was becoming rather stronger up that high. I was really beginning to freak out. I took a few pictures and made my way as quickly as I could back down.
Later, we sat by the fire as we ate supper. I had Stove Top Stuffing with tuna. I asked Carlo how he was doing and he was deciding between heading back the 11 miles or going forward the next day the 13 miles to the next shelter. He could hobble along the 13 miles on Tuesday and then the 7 on Wednesday to Golden Pond where he would call someone to pick him up. He decided he would see how his foot was in the morning and make his decision. Around 8:00, we all turned in for the night.