Posts Tagged ‘hiking’

Mistakes Were Made

I really screwed up my trip to the Smokies. For some strange reason, I decided to stay at a resort named Fontana Village, south of the park boundary in North Carolina. It was close to the park, yet away from the tourist trap of Gatlinburg. It sounded nice enough: cabins, horses, kayaking, bike rentals, sports fields, etc. I thought it’d be a good place to unwind and enjoy nature without a lot of noise or nonsense. So I booked it and made my way down.

I had a light breakfast as usual, I get so nervous flying I try not to eat much beforehand. I flew into Charlotte, picked up a rental car and then drove all the way to Fontana. It’s pretty remote, about a four hour drive, didn’t stop for lunch, just grabbed some snacks from a Quik-E-Mart. Got to Fontana just as it was getting dark, and because it’s off the beaten path, it was really dark. Nice, windy roads as well. I knew that once I got there, that was it for the night. I arrived, check in and, well, the place was dead. Right away, I realized what a horrible mistake I made. It was October, way off-season. I was one of maybe 8 guests in the whole place, just about everything was closed. Dinner in the hotel restaurant was trucked in from God-knows-where, and it was lousy: some sort of overcooked chicken tetrazzini nightmare. Restaurants were hours away, I was beat, so I choked down what I could (not much) and went to bed.

Morning came, and there was not much available for breakfast, either. Single-serving corn flakes, 6-oz cups of OJ. Disastrous. But hey, I was near the park. Forget about the lousy accommodations, I didn’t travel all that way to sit in a hotel room anyway. So I grabbed my gear, and headed to the woods (the Twentymile Trail, to be specific).

Oh good God it was awful! The prior day’s malnutrition hit me like a sledgehammer to the sternum. I was so low on energy, I could only walk about 10 minutes before needing a breather. I was sitting on every stump, lump, rock and log I came across. It was torture. The peanut-butter crackers I brought weren’t doing the trick, either. Why, oh why, didn’t I swallow my pride and eat more tetrazzini? Why didn’t I grab a yogurt at the weak breakfast buffet (there was yogurt, wasn’t there)? I felt like I was on a forced march in Bataan or something, except it was a chilly autumn in North Carolina instead of summertime in the fetid tropics. Every step was agony. Every breath was labored. I could hear the pulse from my pounding heart in my eardrums. It was awful.

I met a man, 20 years my senior, trotting happily down the trail, not a care in the world. Definitely walking a faster pace than I. Cheerful and friendly, he piped up. “Good morning” he chirped. “Top of the trails just around the bend, wait till you see it!” “Thanks” I groaned, trying to conceal my fatigue through a hearty façade. I waited until he passed behind the trees, and continued the slow, painful, protein-deficient struggle to the top of the hill … and then I saw it.

Around a bend, a gap formed in the trees. The morning fog burned off, the sun started to peak through. I lifted my weary head, and looked out. The sight took whatever feeble breath I had clean away. I was overlooking a sunlit carpet of red, orange, and gold, as far as the eye could see. I was looking at the majestic, glorious tops of the great forest of Smoky Mountains National Park, and it was fabulous. I felt like Bilbo Baggins, poking his head from the gloominess of Mirkwood and seeing hope in the butterflies. It was spectacular, and awesome, and inspiring, and rewarding.

I turned back down the trail, and with gravity’s assistance, I made it back to the lodge. After a quick shower and nap, I hopped in the car and drove an hour or so to the nearest restaurant, sat down, and ate a steak the size of a toilet seat.

It’s a truly spectacular park, after this ill-fated hike I spent another 3 days in the area and it was wonderful. I only spent one night at Fontana Village, though :-P. Now before folks complain, let me just say I went off-season, and it was 15 years ago. Whether Fontana Village is any better in the summer, or has improved the place since then, I cannot say. But I can definitely say an autumn trip to the Smokies is well worth any lodging hassles.


[I didn’t own a camera when I took my trip to the Smokies. Pictures are all in the public domain as far as I can tell. If you know of any copyrights that apply, please let me know. Bilbo’s image is copyright 1977 by Rankin/Bass Productions.]


Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Fontana Village

The Story of the Fontana Dam

Google map of GSM NP

Read Full Post »


Happy new year, everyone!

Today, I celebrated by taking a four-mile hike along the Metacomet Trail in Suffield.

Um, what?

Yeah, that’s right. I “celebrated” by hiking in the woods. I consider it a celebration because I wanted to start the year off right. Over the past two years, I’ve become a right nasty slug, spending more time in front of my computer watching videos, getting irritated by political blogs, and playing MMOs. Resultingly, I’ve become slothier and slothier, and actually feel myself atrophying.

So I am attempting to turn over a new leaf in that area, and hit the woods more often. Hence, today’s romp on the Metacomet.

It was a good day for a hike, tempteratures in the mid 40’s F, little wind, no precipitation. The ground had about an inch or two of wet snow, but I have good waterproof boots so it wasn’t a problem. It was a fairly easy hike, although I am out of shape so I am pretty beat right now.

I think I’ll continue my New Year’s celebrations with … a nap. 🙂

Read Full Post »

Barky Faces Death

I have traveled all over the country. I’ve hiked in forests and mountains and brush and swamps and beaches. I almost always hike alone, therefore I have to be very well prepared. I plan my trips carefully, carry the right gear, dress for the weather (current and potential), and stick to the trails. I’ve seen too many idiots hiking in flip-flops, and read too many stories of people getting lost in blizzards. There are many ways I may end up leaving this world, but dying in the wilderness due to unpreparedness, that’s not for me.

(c) 2007 Roger Hall www.inkart.net

At least, that’s what I used to think.

My trip to Arizona was the first time I took two consecutive weeks’ vacation and visited multiple park sites on a grand tour. I was excited, of course. Arizona would be great. It has the most NPS sites of any state in the country and, best of all, it has deserts! One of the great joys in touring this country is walking terrains one normally doesn’t see. New England is known for rolling hills, deciduous forests, urban jungles, and snow. There are no deserts in New England, and there probably won’t be any in our lifetimes, unless we initiate a global apocalypse or something. My trip to Arizona would be the first time I’ve ever walked in a desert.

After weeks of planning, I landed in Tucson, checked into the hotel, and hit the sack. First on the list for the AM: Chiricahua National Monument, home of fantastic rocky spires, eons worth of erosional glory. I had plenty of water, salty snacks, light clothing, sunscreen, wide-brimmed hat, good shoes, and a dogged determination that I would walk at an uncharacteristically gentle pace, fully in line with the challenges of the environment. I hit the Echo Canyon loop trail (only 3.1 miles long, much shorter than my normal day hikes, again being cognizant of the heat) with great excitement.

(c) 2007 Roger Hall www.inkart.netAfter less than a mile on the trail (the downhill leg no doubt), I thought I’d die.

Something was seriously wrong. I was drinking enough water. I was pacing myself. I was just exhausted! I had never felt so bad walking on a trail in my life. I had to stop every 100′ and catch a breather. Nearly every step was a chore. I finally hit a point of near-panic when the thought hit my head: beautiful scenery be damned, I was going to die on this very trail. Here, thousands of miles from home, far away from family and friends, a stranger in a strange land, I was going to die. At least the next hiker would find me, perhaps my sunburnt corpse would be saved from the buzzards.

It was at that very moment that I heard the sound, a sound that I’ve only heard on television and in the movies …

Some time ago, I heard this theory: “There are two ways to hear a rattlesnake. If you hear it and see the tail, you have a story to tell your friends. If you hear it and see the head, no one will ever hear your story.”

As you have undoubtedly guessed, I spotted the tail. It was about a foot from my left shoe, darting into some low shrubbery.

(c) 2007 Roger Hall www.inkart.netI think most people would have panicked. For some odd reason, I found this comforting. If my time was up, it would have been the head of that rattlesnake, not the tail, and I would be dead. I was not going to die that day, I was convinced of that. All that was left was getting my head back into the game and focus my attention on getting out of the bad situation.

Slowly I continued my way up the trail. Fortunately, the way back up was shady. It was still trouble going but, eventually, I plodded my way back to the rental car and headed to the hotel. A foot-long Subway sub and a gallon of water later, I hit the sack and slept 13 hours straight. I felt great the next morning, and headed to Fort Bowie, Saguaro, and all of the rest of the parks in Arizona without incident over the next two weeks.

It wasn’t until much, much later that it came to me. I live in Connecticut, mean altitude a whopping 500′ above sea level. Altitude at the entrance of the Echo Canyon Trail? 6,780 feet! Oof, no wonder I almost collapsed & died amidst the rocky spires of Chiricahua!

Nowadays, when I travel to high-altitude areas, I always take at least a full day to acclimate before taking to the trails. Fortunately, I’ve lived long enough to apply that hard-taught lesson.

(c) 2007 Roger Hall www.inkart.net

[I travelled to Arizona before I bought a digital camera. These pics are courtesy of, and used with permission of, Roger Hall at photography.inkart.net. He has nice photos of other NPS sites, I may ask him to use more in the future. But don’t just check out his photos, he does some really cool pen-and-ink scientific illustrations. Check them out at www.inkart.net. I hope he doesn’t begrudge me posting his western diamondback rattlesnake … I’ve actually ordered a copy for my den.](c) 2007 Roger Hall www.inkart.net



Chiricahua National Monument

Roger Hall Scientific Illustrations & Wildlife Art

Backcountry Advice from Retired Park Rangers

Google map to Chiricahua National Monument

Read Full Post »