Thursday, April 14, 2011

Why We Hike




     I took this up as an answer to the question floating around the hiking blogosphere. Tom Mangan actually challenged us to answer the age-old question on his blog, Two Heel Drive. The idea was to just shoot from the cuff. Here goes.

     I hike like some people golf. You know, I only compete against myself. Often, the competition doesn't bring his 'A' game. In truth, it's just that out there, nobody is richer than me, or better looking. They're not more athletic, or smarter. They're not blessed more than I am. There's nobody to impress besides myself. 
     It's supposed to be fun, yet there are moments on each hike when I ask myself,"why did I come out today?" The answer is usually the same. I don't go out to conquer a hill(wheezing and puffing). I don't go out to take a picture(I'm not that good). I don't go out to be with my friends(they go out with me). I don't even go out to get in shape(it isn't working). All of those are just the fringe benefits. I go out because I am in control out there. Not over the weather or water availability mind you. Just over my own reaction to it. I can challenge myself if I choose to, or take it easy. I can practice a new skill. I can hum to myself or just sit in solace. It's all up to me. I don't take a phone or an iPod. I don't take a book. I just let my mind roll. Or not roll. Sometimes, I can't even tell you what I've been thinking about. 
     Occasionally, there's some new piece of gear to be tested. That gives me an excuse to play outside. Or, there's some destination that I really want to see. By 'see', I mean take that mental snapshot that will last a lifetime. Not the posed one. Not the same one I record digitally. The first view of a waterfall. Or a clean running stream. Even the view of a valley when I first crest the bluff line. Those pictures never come out well anyway. But those are the ones that stir my soul. The pictures I take are only to remind me someday to remember the one my mind took. The one that matters. 

Why do you hike?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Gear Review: Golite Shangri-La 1(2009)

By Jake Willits, and Cory "Will" Willits
Image property of Golite.com


     I purchased the Golite Shangri-La 1 as a stopgap before buying a much lighter, much more expensive shelter. My buddy Scopa has one and I liked the look and low weight of it. Since the shelter is one of the big 3 items in my pack, I know it needs to be light. I found a great deal on my shelter on theclymb.com. It was only $75. Nice. That's when I knew it would work for now.
     The SL1 is a modular shelter system. The tarp is the important part, but they also sell a bathtub style floor, and a bug "nest" with attached floor as well. This shelter came with the tarp, 6 stakes w/sack, and a stuff sack. No poles included. For best results, use adjustable trekking poles. The material is SilLite(tm) silnylon. It has heavier reinforced areas where the poles hold it up. It needs stakes at the 4 corners and the 2 ends, and has loops for 2 additional stakes on the sides. The entrance end(head) is much taller and much wider than the foot end. There are vents on both ends as well for good ventilation. It can be pitched high or low by changing the height of the poles. This can be used to control how much air flow you will have throughout the night. 
     My tent, without stakes weighs 16.3 oz. I switched the stakes out for MSR needles to reduce the weight slightly and because I just prefer those stakes. The factory issued stakes on my year model shelter were "Y" shaped 6" aluminum(weight=3.0 oz. including sack). These would work just fine, though I recommend adding 2 stakes to the shelter. The 2010 models come with 8-6" aluminum "V stakes", which are the same stakes that The North Face markets. I'm not sure of the manufacturing origin, but I will say that they seem to work great.
  
Without floor

Showing the floor clipped to the tarp.

Because the shelter has no floor, the pitch is a lot more interesting. It is difficult to determine how wide to set the bottom stakes, as well as how high to set your trekking poles. It is much easier if you use the bathtub floor as a guide. Its corners need to clip to the edges of the tarp, so it does serve as a guide of sorts. If you don't carry the floor, as I don't, then be prepared for lots of adjustments. I begin by laying my poles under the tarp, then staking the 4 corners roughly where I think they need to be. Then, I place the foot end pole upright and stake the end. Then I do the same for the head end. This usually will show if I need to bring the corners out or in. It is important to have a taut ridgeline so that there will be no sag. If there is sag, you won't have much room inside the tent. After I get the corners where they need to be, it is time to stake the sides. Then I make final adjustments with the stake straps.
     On my last outing, we used 4 of these shelters for 6 nights. By the end of the trip, I was the only one who still needed advice in my adjustments. It was kind of humbling, but I tried to approach it as any other part of my bushcraft. Pitching it properly is something to master. Since it is a long, narrow shelter, it is tantamount to have either the head or foot end into the prevailing wind. One night we had wind gusts of up to 40 m.p.h. broadsiding us. We set them properly into the wind, but the storm came from another direction. This crosswind made my shelter flap a lot and even collapsed the living area within the tent with the bigger gusts. But it DID hold up all night long. There was some moisture on the ground within the edges of the tarp, but I did not get wet, even without the bathtub floor. My groundsheet did not have a drop of water on it. The other night that we had rain, I chose a poor place to set up. The rain puddled almost underneath me. My sleeping bag only got wet from splatter. My brother had his SL1 set up in the same location and had the same splatter even with the bathtub floor. In both cases, it was a good result for the shelter.
     In the morning as you take the shelter down, the dew/frost or any other moisture is easy and fast to dry. You can just hang it on some low branches and the wind/sun will dry it fast. It packs into a stuff sack roughly the size of a football. All in all, I give this shelter a B+ grade. The only thing I didn't like was the difficulty in setting it up quickly. For a lightweight backpacking shelter, it fulfilled all of my needs. I do not regret buying it, and I will recommend it to my friends.

Will's take(2010 model):
     Be advised, I am the AFTraveler.  I have odd stories.

     I am torn with the SL1...high expectations, misleading weather reports, and a wicked-sick storm like I've never had in a small tent!  These are highs and lows folks!  And so it began...(get ready for lots of dashes and parenthesis...and triple dots).

     For me, a wanna-be lightweight backpacker (not ultra) I like this dang thing!  Crazy light, breezy, and waterproof!  After a week on the AT, I am stoked!  We had a night of about 35 naut winds with rain (worried about tree limbs), dang cold (just below freezing), and a full-on onslaught of regular good ole, puddle splattering rain whilst being camped in a puddle (dang weather jackwagons!).  Be advised, water will splatter up and into your tent IF you are camped on a used-to-be dirt-ish spot...the guys on grass were way better off.
Note the vestibule area for pack storage.


     I SET UP MY TENT by laying out the floor, with stakes at 15 degrees from the sides of the tent...think,  the two lines coming off the sides of the tent and go a little closer towards the long side.  I throw the tent on top, clip in the floor, connect the tent to the stakes with slack at mid length for tent mid-height (slide the stretchy floor loops over the tent loops for windy weather), tent end's slack at almost full out but not tight like the sides, slide head side hiking pole in as high as possible, crawl in and slide in foot pole.  Zip shut and make corrections.  During rain, set up tent...crawl in and do everything else...and make lots of corrections!  Hint:  I also know that the typical height of the front pole of my tent was just about my first rib...helps when you want to set it up without the floor...like Jake...

Cons:  Between freezing and 38 degrees I found a lot more condensation than expected, with enough side clearance to be the most breezy tent I've ever slept in...WTH?

Pros:   Having camped many times in Arkansas, Arizona, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland (well all over Europe, Africa, the middle east, and Central America if you're headed out that way) I love this tent.  You may find a better, lighter, whatever tent out there...but for my overall likes, needs, wants, and versatility (I wanna try that bug net in Arkansas summers!) I have the tent I want.  It's a multi-tasker.  Good sell, GoLite, good sell. 
Shangri-La Village

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

2011 Legends Patrol Trip- AT section hike


     Finally, the year of planning had exhausted itself and it was time for the fun part. What began as a planned Grand Canyon trip had evolved to a 8 day/7 night trip on the Appalachian Trail. North Carolina's Nantahala National Forest beckoned. The last 48 hours before our departure had been a flurry of texts, emails, and phone calls. All of the personal real-life responsibilites were dispatched. It was time to roll eastward. Turtle picked up Will and I around noon on Friday, March 18. We drove as fast as the law and I-40 traffic would allow. Scopa flew in ahead of us. By 10:30 E.S.T. we were at a friend's house in Knoxville. Instead of sacking out as we should, it turned into a pack shakedown. Not that we don't trust each other to be prepared. Maybe we should just call it "show & tell". It was great to have the group together again. We were up until at least 2:30 A.M.

Day 1: Fontana Dam-Cable Gap Shelter (5.5 miles)
     We awoke to our alarms at 6:00 A.M. to gear and go. Ate a killer breakfast at Cracker Barrel. Last stop before leaving civilization was the local grocery store to buy 7 days worth of instant oatmeal, and some Starbucks Via instant coffee. The food for the first 4 days had already been passed out and stowed. Our last 3 days GORP was mailed to the Nantahala Outdoor Center. We would be able to buy some freeze dried dinners there. Onward to Fontana Dam, NC!
     Spirits were high, bordering on giddy. We stopped only to fuel, and to take some pics of the Little Tennessee River Valley. We arrived at the dam and looked around a bit. Turtle stowed some keys to his truck and Scopa sent a spot message so his wife and sister could come collect our vehicle while we hiked. Good folks, eh? We parked at the Marina and double checked our gear before heading out. By noon, we were taking our first steps on the Appalachian Trail. Will and I were the only members of our 4-man crew who weren't AT virgins before now.
     Usually, my trip reports are detailed with elevation differences and water sources, etc. I won't do that today, because of the wealth of info available on the AT. Instead, there will be some links below to help you find that stuff. This trip was about people. We wanted to see the mythical thru-hiker in his own environment. We were not disappointed. By 3:30 on Sunday, our feet were up at the Cable Gap Shelter. It was kind of old, with an uneven floor and a mousetrap in sight. There was good water and the first "Moldering Privy" I had ever encountered. A good place to stay. It was unseasonably warm that day(80 deg F), so we were busy washing our damp socks and just chilling in the shade. As we rehydrated our dinner(dehydrated Beef Stroganoff), we met our first thru-hiker. "Doc" actually was just section hiking this year after his thru-hike last year. But the homemade hiking kilt he wore along with his customized kit definitely showed him to be a trail hobo(not an insult). He took a break and talked for a while. Then he departed, saying that it was going to be a full moon, so he was going to hike into the night. A group of 3 came NOBO as we were eating, but made their own camp and ignored us for the rest of the night. Apparently one of them was sick. Turtle caught a mouse in the trap. One down, a million to go.


Day 2: Cable Gap Shelter-Locust Cove Gap (12.1 miles)
      Although we had talked about starting with the dawn, it never seemed to come. Maybe it was the brightness of the moon making it look like pre-dawn all night. Or maybe the ridges just hid the sunrise. Either way, the dawn came late. Have you ever noticed that your first day on the trail, the repacking is slow? We hit the trail around 8:30, without eating breakfast. We had our oatmeal after a 1K ft. climb within 1.5 miles to start and another 500 footer within .4 miles. Ragged stuff. The trail was good quality, but the up/downs burned my legs. The views westward were stunning all day, with a rare view East. It was surprising how much traffic the trail was getting. Everyone greets you and smiles. My trademark line was,"it's a good day for a walk." 
      We ate Turtle's homemade GORP for lunch. Will complained, but the rest of us liked it. Apparently the salty stuff is lighter weight and bigger pieces, therefore floats on top of the GORP bag. We decided that the secret to GORP making is in the number of ingredients. The more, the better. The idea behind this type of lunch/snack was to stay light for lunch while avoiding cooking. Scopa usually eats it for both breakfast and lunch, as well as an on-the-go snack. But it's hard to eat with trekking poles, so I decided to only eat it on breaks. There was a steep descent into Sweetwater Gap and even steeper climb after Stecoah Gap. We liked that the trail seemed to follow a long ridge, but hated the gaps. I talked to "Norsewoman" for a while as she awaited a shuttle. Then "Windmill" showed up and talked our ears off. On we pressed.Arrived at Locust Cove Gap around 4:00 P.M. There were 2 tents already up and room for plenty more. So we decided not to grind out the next 2 miles up to Cheoah Bald.
     We set up our 4 Golite Shangri-La1 tents, visited with our neighbors and rehydrated our dehydrated Lasagna(Hamburger Helper style). I guess I was hungry and tired because I snapped at Turtle and had to go chill out away from the group for a while. I still feel bad, but I eventually apologized. I calmed down enough to go simmer my dinner and eat. The neighbors were worried about the woman's father who was trailing them. It had been at least an hour since we set up camp. Eventually, the 2 of them headed South to find him. After all, he was 72 years old. Within 30 minutes of them leaving an old man appeared in camp from the North. Turns out, he had passed through while we were setting up camp without seeing them. 
     This is the point in the trip where "stewardship" comes into play. At least that's what Ryan Jordan of BPL fame calls it. The hiker who is in great shape and carries a light load can really benefit his fellow man. Scopa is that guy in our group. Unselfish and steadfast(and a triathlete). He volunteered to run after the search party. Southward he went. We chatted with "Firewalker" for a long time. He thru-hiked in 1994, and was now section hiking with his daughter. After about an hour and a half, the searchers returned. Scopa had ran most of 5 miles after a 12 mile day. Up Cheoah Bald at that. BEAST! He was warmly thanked. We all turned in about 9:00 P.M.




Day 3: Locust Cove Gap-Nantahala Outdoor Center (9.6 miles)
     Awoke by 7:00, on trail within 35 minutes. Hiked a hard uphill. No kidding. 1500 ft. climb in 2 miles. Ate our oatmeal on Cheoah Bald(elev. 5062) while looking West. The low clouds/fog obscured the view at first, but then it really opened up. I was initially disappointed not to have a view eastward. This was a long breakfast break, nearly an hour. For me, it was the moment I felt completely released from civilization. Upon packing up, we found the USGS marker and a small opening for a killer view East. Breathtaking. We got moving fast since the rest of the hike today would be downhill. More than 7 miles downhill. My companions led at this point. I go almost as slow downhill as I do uphill. Hard on my knees, even with poles. We were kind of spurred on by our desire for pizza and beer in Wesser. 
     By 2:30, we were staring at the footbridge across the glorious Nantahala River. By 2:35, we had a beer in our hands. I only had one, no kidding. Who needs dehydration? I did however, consume an entire 16 inch meat lover's pizza all by myself. Protein, I tell ya. We invited a thru-hiker to join us at a big table on the outdoor deck of the River's End restaurant. Good times. "Iceaxe" was a cool guy from California who was on his third leg of the "Triple Crown". Had some good stories. For instance; he had Giardia on both the PCT and CDT. We asked him what kind of water treatment lets that slip by. His response was,"none". ????? His solution is to carry the medicine to cure it instead of treating his water. See what kinds of things you learn when you hang with trail hobos?
     After our meal, we asked our waitress("Cheech") how to find the un-official stealth campgrounds. She filled us in and we went to bathe and set up camp. They had cabins and a hostel available, but we camped on principle. The "Nanty" is cold. Very cold. But it made me feel like a million bucks. Scopa and I submerged, Will and Turtle wussed out. At least they bathed their feet and washed some clothes. The campgrounds were like a regular hobo village. It made us a bit uneasy to leave our gear, but the allure of another meal finally drew us away. I didn't feel like eating so I had some ice cream and sweet tea. It made me sick after returning to camp. Too much sweet on too much pizza I think. I turned in before dark under our makeshift tarp(2 Shangri-Las and 4 trekking poles and bear cord everywhere). When in Hobotown....



Day 4: NOC-Cold Spring Shelter (12 miles)
     Up by 7:00, crossed the Nanty and hit the trail by 8:00. We had a long hill ahead of us and had adopted a 12 mile/day pace for the next 4 days. It added up well. The reason for this is that the shelters all had nearby camping, and otherwise, there was no guarantee of space for our 4 tents. The hike South from the NOC begins with a 2500 ft climb over just under 5 miles. It wasn't horribly steep, but very constant. There is several great vantage points along the way. Nevermind that. I'm talking sick views of the river valley. It zapped us quite a bit, but we pressed on. There was more climbing to do. Wesser Bald was a couple miles away with lots of up/downs or "moguls" as some call them. Still, another 500 ft. up. I either didn't research well enough or forgot that there was a fire tower up there. It had a fantastic 360 degree view. Our best pics came from there. It was windy and the railing at the top slants, so we were unable to get our entire group in a pic together. It was our only disappointment of the day.
     From there, we had a rugged descent to Tellico Gap. I pity the poor NOBO hikers. This one would be nearly hand to hand climbing in some places. Tellico Gap gave good views in both directions. Here I found a mystery. Seven packs all lined up neatly along a retainer wall in the parking area, with nobody around. It struck us as very odd. There is no way that I'd leave my $2k worth of gear laying around like that. As we pressed on, we started encountering people without packs. When the first one asked if his pack was at Tellico, it dawned on me. TRAIL MAGIC! Someone ferried their gear for them, allowing them to slackpack for at least 4.5 if not 13 miles. Lucky dogs! There were more attractive female hikers in this one section than I have ever observed on trails in my entire hiking career. No kidding. After remarking about this, my fellows gave me my trail name. "O.D.B."-you figure it out. 
     We arrived at the aptly named Cold Spring Shelter about 3:30. There were 3 people there already unpacking. It was surrounded by Rhododendron, and the camping area just below it looked pretty rough. I asked them if they had room for 4 more. They said not really as it's only supposed to be a 6 man shelter. I thought they were a bit rude anyway. Only rude people I saw in a week. No biggie. Well, if there hadn't been 7 in it later when I went for water, that is. For the record, I did some research on that shelter when I got home. Six man capacity, but supposedly overrun by mice. They can keep it. Anyway, Scopa found an awesome spot on top of the ridge with a 50 mile view to the NE. It was gorgeous. We set up shop there. Chilled and relaxed with a nice breeze. An ancient hiker joined us just before dusk. His name was "Dead Man". Apparently he earned it by appearing dead at the Neel's Gap Hostel. We decided that he really was undead. Like a ghoul or something. Probably 80 years old. I will give props though. He said he put in 15 miles that day.
     As we were chowing on our dehydrated asian dinner(spelled ASAIN on the ziplocs), "Sherpa" and "Ducky" joined us. They set up their Tarptent Squall 2. I got to check it out and it looked amazing. They were from Connecticut and thru-hiking. We were unilaterally charmed by their presence. We had a grand old time in camp that night, but were still in the sack by 9:00. I guess that's why they call that time "backpacker's midnight". Shoot, Turtle was taking a nap by 6:00 P.M. He can outhike me, but he's out of gas by days end. 



Day 5: Cold Spring Shelter-Siler Bald Shelter (11.8 miles)
     Up by 6:30 and ate breakfast in camp that morning. We had decided that we preferred having the energy for our start. We were rolling by shortly after 8:00. After a 500 ft. drop in the first mile, we crossed Burningtown Gap. Scopa told us of its history. He had been made an expert by reading the guidebook. There was a good campsite just South of the gap. Then it was fairly gradual ups/downs for the next several miles before an 800 ft climb up Wayah Bald. At a rest stop before that climb, Will started complaining about his knee in earnest. He had been in a car accident a week earlier and the knee hurt right where he had bad bruising. We didn't know it then, but that knee would affect the rest of our trip. It didn't bother him on the flats or downhills, but killed him when he had to bend it for high leg lifting on the steep uphills or steps.
     We powered up to the stone watchtower at Wayah Bald(elev. 5385). Ate lunch on top, though it was windy and cool. We got some great pics from there. It was beginning to look like rain, so Scopa checked the weather radio. Storm coming in around 3:00 P.M, lasting all night. We decided to grind out the hike as quickly as possible. Sent Scopa and Turtle ahead to find good camping spot in Siler Bald area. I hung with Will. From Wayah Bald it was smooth sailing for the next 4 miles with only one short climb and then a fairly gentle descent down into Wayah Gap. We listened to a lot of gunfire for about an hour, off to our West. We stopped for a breather there. Very little traffic going by. 
     Shortly after that, observing that we had 700+ feet to climb in the next 1.7 miles, I sent Will ahead while I treated 3 liters of water. I knew we had a water source where we were going, but didn't want to pass by a great one. I chatted with several NOBO'ers, then powered on. After a bit, Scopa came running down the trail and asked me for my shelter. Said he wanted to set it up before the rain hit. He was carrying Will's pack. I protested, but he won the argument. Off he went. This earned him the trail name "Burro".  I had to pull out the rain gear at this point. Big, slow drops were starting and a mist was moving in. I had zero view from Siler Bald. There is a loop trail to the shelter from there. I yelled but got no answer. Oh well, it wouldn't be hard to spot our little camp. Down the mountain I went. There is a field halfway to the shelter with blazes that were hard to figure. I looked around and found a road headed off North from there. No footprints. I looked again and found the trail. Whew! I did notice a lot of wild hog damage. 
     I caught up with Will just before he made the shelter. It was already full. We finished setting up our tents. Scopa had them set perfectly along the edge of the field there. Foot end into the wind, which was coming pretty hard. Big gusts. We chatted with the guys in the shelter. It had a large awning with a table in there. Also a concrete picnic table outside. We all ate dinner there. Mountain House Chili Mac! It was a friendly group, namely "Alabama" and "Chipmunk". 18 people stayed there that night. One hiker had set up a tarp "A-frame" style, high off the ground. He then crawled into his bag. Within 20 minutes, Scopa and I were waking him to put it back up. By bedtime, it was very windy, cold, and rainy. The wind had shifted nearly 90 degrees, so was broadsiding our tents. I briefly considered re-pitching it, but discarded the thought. It couldn't be that bad, right? Well, the guy with the tarp was already sleeping partially under a mass of silnylon.
     It was hard to get to sleep. By 10:00 P.M., the storm was full on. Probably 50 m.p.h. winds. Lightning strikes within a 4-count. Heavy rains and falling trees. It was spooky. I slept in baselayers and my headlamp in case I had to make an emergency exit. It stormed until at least 4:00 A.M., then got cold. Frost on and in our tents in the morning. They held up great, even though I got some spray.




Day 6: Siler Bald Shelter-Rock Gap Shelter (7.9 miles)
      We slept in until nearly 9:00 A.M. Once up and around, we went about drying our tents and so forth. We convened a planning council and decided to shortcut the last 3 days of the trip. Will had been a trooper, but it wasn't going to be fun for any of us if we pushed two more 12 mile days. By leaving the AT at Glassmine Gap, taking the Long Branch Trail into the Standing Indian Basin, then climbing out on the Kimsey Creek Trail, we could shave off nearly a dozen miles. It was decided. So today would be an 8 miler. 
     Climbing back up to the trail from the shelter was a bit confusing, but we figured it out. Once back on the trail, it was a steady descent with some moguls into Panther Gap(el. 4300), Swinging Lick Gap(el. 4100), and Winding Stair Gap(el. 3800). This is where the trail crosses U.S. Hiway 64. There is ample trailhead parking, with nice views in both directions. From here it was a very steep climb up. Only 600ft up to Rocky Cove Knob, but it was a million steps. After we crested out, we had only the same in a descent over 2.5 miles to the shelter. It never really warmed up all day. If you took off your layers, you had to put them back on when you took a break. It was probably in the high 40's for most of the day. 
     We made camp around 3:30 again, down the hill from the Shelter at Rock Gap. The people at the shelter didn't say much when we walked through. But down below, there was a lively group. 14 tents went up down there that night. We set up our shelters to the North of the small creek that ran through. Then we gathered some firewood to present as a gift as we gathered by our neighbors fire pit. We met lots of really cool people that night. Lots of discussion on topics of gear, trail foods, cooking methods, etc. There were 2 thru-hikers from Germany, so Will went and chatted. I sat as close to the fire as I could get. It was the kind of evening where you put on every layer. The guys we hung with most were "Busch", "Squirrel", "Red Oak", "Wild Card", and "Sabertooth". It was a talkative, friendly group. These are the kinds of guys I would pal around with if I were thru-hiking. Busch is blogging his thru-hike, so you can follow it here.
     We went to bed around 9:00 as usual. It was the only night on the trail where I slept cold. My Western Mountaineering Summerlite 32 held up, but just barely. I'd likely have been miserable without my Goosefeet Down booties. Well worth the 2.7 extra ounces.




Day 7: Rock Gap Shelter-Glassmine Gap-Standing Indian Campground-Deep Gap Trailhead (7.5 miles)
     Knowing that we had an easy day ahead, we awoke a bit late. Then we ate breakfast and enjoyed the fire someone had started. We said our farewells to our new friends, and then waited for our tents to thaw and dry out. Probably didn't hit the trail until nearly noon. We had 700 ft. rise before reaching Glassmine Gap. From here, we took the well marked Long Branch Trail down into the basin. It crossed shallow water a handful of times and passed through lots of Rhododendron. We enjoyed the descent. 
     We stopped for a GORP break when we hit the campground area. It was very tame like a State Park in Arkansas, but beautiful. There was an information kiosk so we were able to navigate the area without consulting our maps. The Kimsey Creek Trail began with us crossing a paved bridge, then turning off to our right. Then it split 3 ways, with us taking the left. It followed the wide creek up the holler crossing countless times. There were even stretches of trail where we were walking through 2 inch deep water for upwards of 50 feet. Still it was a pleasant trip up. Lots of waterfalls and vegetation. We took a ton of pics through this section. Will was fairly well gimping along by now. His knee was wrapped tightly in an ace bandage. I've always been impressed with my little brother's toughness, but this trip stretched it. He was a beast. 
     As we went up the holler, we could see all the water flows that fed into the creek. It diminished in volume all the way to Deep Gap Trailhead. We arrived there by about 4:30 P.M. We called our shuttle, who said he wasn't coming until the next morning about 11:00. No big deal. There was a great camping spot just down the hill. We set up camp and began dragging firewood. Will and I set our shelters on a smooth, grassless area near the firepit. Burro and Turtle set up just uphill on a slightly sloping grassy area. There were other areas, but these seemed to be good. It wasn't supposed to rain until the next afternoon anyway.
     Dinner was dehydrated Tuna Helper. The Tuna was a bit chewy, but it was a good meal. We all sat around until much later than usual, chatting about our adventure. We were all ready for a hot shower and shave. And Arby's. About 3:00 A.M., a steady rain began falling that didn't stop until after our ride arrived the next day. 


Day 8: Ride back to Knoxville, TN
     We stayed in our tents as late as we could stand it. The hiking was done, but it would have been nice to pack up dry gear. Will and I had a lot of splatter inside our tents. The Shangri La tents are modular. The floor is a separate piece that has to be attached. I didn't even take mine. I'd say that I regretted it that morning, but it wouldn't have made a difference. There was a slow moving puddle under our shelters anyway. My gear wasn't that wet, but there was a lot of splatter inside. My poles even sank several inches with all the rain. I had woken up to a lowrider tent.
     When our ride showed up, we were packed up except for the tents. They went in trash bags to be dried out in Andy's garage that evening. We were on the road in minutes, enjoying the heater, and lots of cold drinks and junk food snacks. Burro ate nearly an entire bag of the bite sized Snickers. We even stopped at Arby's on the way back to Knoxville. But wouldn't you know it, they were closed that day in memory of some guy. So we got our grub on at the Wendy's next door. Then it was onward to a hot shower and a shave. Oh, and a double birthday party for our friends' 1 year olds. More good food and drink. We stayed up late. 

     We all thank the Kelsos for all of their help in making our trip a reality. Getting the "Legends Patrol" together is something we all look forward to all year long. As each of us grows older and our priorities change, we still find time for each other. That is what our friendship is about. It doesn't hurt anything that we all love the outdoors. In fact, it makes it easier and more enjoyable. Next year, we're thinking about kayaking for 4-5 days in Montana. Sound fun?