Hike to Dismal Falls (May 16)

This night is exciting because we have our very own shelter pet- a large black snake.  We stand and watch, fascinated as he slowly crawls into a narrow hole.  We are certain he has trapped a mouse down there and will withdraw with his catch.  What is also amazing is the fact that he lies helpless, half his length exposed above ground, despite our exclamations and footsteps around him.  He must be used to humans around the shelter.  We don’t get to see anything too exciting or brutal- when he pulls himself out of the hole again, it is without a catch, and we have to wonder what he was doing down there all that time.  Needless to say, the snake captures our attention all night.  We keep doing camp chores and then running back to check on him and report on the progress to the others.  It is a funny night.  We enjoy him because none of us have chosen to stay in the shelter, likely home of the large black snake.
Our other entertainment is contemplating the next day.  How “dismal” is dismal falls?  And is a snack at Trent’s Grocery worth the extra half mile walk off the trail?
I wake up early but the day soon turns hot, hot, hot.  Part of it is the actual heat (around 85 F I’m told) and part is not having walked in much heat yet.  I hike all morning past dry spring creek beds until I get to one that is still trickling.  It is amazing how much better I feel to be in sight of water.  I rest there beside the creek for a while and feel like a new person.
There is a mountain between me and Trent’s Grocery now.  The climb is as hot as I expected.  I take many breaks in small shade patches along the way.  Mostly the path is sunny and I start sweating again.  It is crazy how you forget from one year to the next what each season feels like.  I’d forgotten how the heat can completely drain your energy, how hard it can feel to even move on a hot day.
The insects are loving the heat.  It seems we’ve had a burst of insects hatching this week, especially flies.  As I hike I notice so many more sounds of insects flying or crawling in the leaves.  It is like the forest around me is truly alive and waking now.  I also keep walking into cobwebs, web after web, even though I know a hiker passed here before me less than twenty minutes ago.  The spiders are persistent today.
I check my guidebook for the hundredth time and see that a suspension bridge is to come.  With renewed hope, I push on, and sure enough the bridge crosses a wide stream.  It is not long before I am in the water, washing away the sweat and heat of the day.  There is nothing like a good swim on a hot day to make you feel happy to be alive.
In all my wet clothes I trudge down the road to Trent’s Grocery.  It is a small deli/grocery with a line of backpacks sitting in front when I walk up.  Apparently the hikers ahead of me had the same idea.  Inside I see several mounted animal heads on the walls and weapon collections.  If Dad was here we would laugh about this and call it some “local flavor”.  After a while I sit down with a double cheeseburger, fries and a pint of ice cream.  Daniel would be proud.  Anymore that is what it takes to fill me up.  I feel like I am in heaven, cooled off and able to sit and eat a while.  Plus this is an interesting place.  One of the employees, a large man in overalls, sits near me and asks where I’m from, then begins playing a homemade instrument (looks like a mandolin).  He plays and plays as locals pass in and out of the store.  They don’t seem surprised- he probably plays here often.  Sometimes he says funny things like, “Howdy Bill, how are you?…I’m just hunky dory today!”  He tells me I should carry a gun with me and he’ll run and get one, can be right back in a minute.  When I start shivering and have to go outside again he says, “Well no wonder, you no bigger’n a minute!”
Several locals tell me they have some advice/ a secret for me.  Apparently there is a shorter way to reach Dismal Falls that cuts out a climb up the mountain, and part of the AT.  When I tell them I really want to hike the entire trail they shake their heads.  I can see them thinking, “Some people just can’t be helped!”
Finally I head back down the road and to the trail.  For a while I think about how each day out here has a surprise in it, if not several.  I was delighted when that man just sat down next to me and started playing music in the grocery.  That is my surprise for the day.
Dismal Falls is beautiful- my next surprise.  I even swim a second time there.  I’m not too hot anymore but I want to take advantage of the water while I have it.  It takes me a while to get in the freezing water, but it feels good when I do.
It’s been another good day on the trail.
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