Magic on the Trail and Blood on the Mountain

Magic on the Trail

This week was great for trail magic, some provided by members of the public and some provided by Mother Nature.  Some would describe it merely as happenstance and others see it as divine providence.  I have my own thoughts, but for now, I’ll leave it to you.

Mother Nature’s Bounty

Lover’s Leap and the French Broad River

French Broad River

Leaving Hot Springs, we slowly climbed up miles of mountain.  The views of the French Broad were stunning to say the least.  We did have a little issue in an area known as Lover’s Leap, a steep cliff face overlooking the river valley below.  As we inched our way up, Ma Wampus turned to me and said “I see an ass.”  My eyes probably glazed over as my brain tried to compute what I had done recently to warrant the comment.  She must have recognized the confused look and said “No, up there.”  Not sure how or why, but one of my fellow hikers had decided they needed to relieve themselves, but had misjudged their private potty spot, almost providing us with another story about a crapstorm.  Just a public service announcement – pooping on the AT is a 3D experience, so plan accordingly.

Exposed Ridge and Howard’s Rock

Yes, this is part of the official trail!

Yes, this is part of the official trail!

Another stunning spot was well North of there in an area described as “Exposed Ridge” where one can find Howard’s Rock.   This was a rock scramble that was difficult but you knew you were in for it because an alternate trail was provided that was called Big Butt Bypass.  It was like a dare and I wasn’t taking Big Butt Bypass and Ma Wampus refused as well – up we went.  We were very well rewarded for the effort!  Howard’s Rock is named for Howard McDonald, a major trail builder for this section of trail.

Miles of Views at Howard’s Rock

Miles of Views at Howard’s Rock

Big Bald and Water Challenge

Big Bald

Unobstructed 360 Views for Hundreds of Miles

Our last absolutely stunning view this week was at an area call Big Bald.  On our way down from Howard’s, we stopped at a shelter and had some lunch.  Here, Ma Wampus noticed water at the base of her bag – her water bladder had broken.  The contents were dry as she uses trash bags….  Anyway, she has no water now, so we were dependent on my system, which is about 1.5 liters.  This is not much on an 80F/26C day where you are climbing several thousand feet.  Accordingly, we stopped at the first water source, once I had less than half a liter.  Every single time the water source was a waterfall – maybe not a big one, but all beautiful.  On the way down from Big Bald, we were rewarded again with fields of little flowers called “Spring Beauties”.

Gorgeous Stops for Water

Gorgeous Stops for Water

Spring Beauties

Spring Beauties

The Trail Magicians

As I explained in earlier posts, there are all kinds of people that provide free stuff to hikers on the trail.  Some of these folks are motivated by a higher power, others are former thru hikers that feel a desire to help the current applicants to this elite club.  In our case though, like the waterfall issue above, we are seeing strange coincidences.

Small Coincidences: Everyone Loves Sugar

Southern Cookie Lady

Southern Cookie Lady

In our first instance, we saw a sign for cookies and water.  We were light on water so headed that way.  This lady lives in a cabin about 300ft/100m from the trail and every so often she decides to bake cookies for the hikers.  I was just there for the water and told her so, and she said, “No, I think you need a cookie too.” Feeling a little hungry, I shrugged and grabbed one.  Yes, I needed the cookie – like really needed it.  Likewise, a couple of days later, I am talking to Ma Wampus about having a desire for a nice Snicker’s bar.  Not two hours later we come across a parking lot, and a man who identified himself as a former thru hiker, “Sorefeet”, steps out of his car with a bag full of candy, including a healthy amount of Snickers.

A Little Too Much Coincidence

Hikers Support Hikers

Hikers Support Hikers

Our last instance this leg was with a group of former hikers who come out periodically to support the new crop.  They had soda, cookies, chili, grilled cheese, and french toast.  I started a conversation with one of them as I was sucking down some excellent chili.  The man, an American, had lived in Australia.  He started giving me tips about things I needed to do – taxes, residency issues, driving tests, medical.  I felt like I needed to take notes.  By the end of the conversation, I had made up my mind as to what was happening.  It’s not luck or a benign diety; I am a player character in a computer game and these are like the side quests you get to unlock the Easter eggs.  Seriously!?! What are the chances?

Blood on the Mountain

Ervin or Erwin - Leave it to the Post Office!

Ervin or Erwin – Leave it to the Post Office!

We are in Erwin TN as I am penning this blog on an accidental zero (messed up our days for our mail drop).   This place is a historian’s paradise.  There is so much history here, especially for a place misnamed by the Post Office. Focusing on some of the dark history, as it was just too interesting!  

Civil War Sites

A few miles before you get to town, there is a sign on the AT for the “Shelton Graves”.  The AT guidebook simply says it’s the graves of two Union soldiers.  There appears to be more to the story, especially since there are three graves.  According to an investigator, Union, the men deserted while on a raid that included pillaging local farms.  A Confederate officer interviewed said he and his men had merely identified a group of robbers and dispatched them.  This type of action was very common during the war and usually barely earns mention.  A member of the actual group reported that one of the dead soldiers, a leader of the group, had everyone there (over a dozen) hiding in this mountain cabin, as it was too far up there for the Confederates or the Union to come looking for them.  It was way up there, but clearly not far enough.  Whether these men just decided they were sick of war or whether they decided to go into business for themselves is not entirely clear.  What we do know is that the widow Shelton with her 5 kids were denied a Union soldier’s pension.  

A battle also occurred in Erwin between solely North Carolina troops – Union and Confederate.  Many of these folks may have been neighbors, which generally just means the fighting was likely more personal and more vicious.  It was a relatively small affair, about 100 casualties, and a Union victory.   The Confederates did call it “The Battle of the Bloody Chucky”.  You can learn more about the viscious fighting in the area here.

Sundown Town

In 1918, a black man, a brick mason, named Tom Dever, purportedly assaulted and killed a young white woman in Erwin.  Four white men shot and killed Tom before he could carry her off, but she died anyway.  After an investigation – decades later – it looks like Tom was gambling with the four guys and won, big.  They were unhappy and Tom tried to take off but didn’t get far.  He took the woman hostage and one of the four shot Tom, but also hit the woman.  Town militia rounded up all black Americans and ran them out of town.  The town became a “Sundown Town”, where black people were not allowed to be after sundown.  Learn more about that here.

The Lynching of Murderess Mary

Mary is an elephant.  She was in a circus in Kingsport in 1916 when her handler – Day 1 on the job – decided to hit her in the head with a metal hook to get her attention.  She grabbed him with her trunk, tossed him through a lemonade stand and then went over and stepped on his head.  People called for the death of Mary.  Nervous town officials told the circus owner the circus would not be traveling anywhere in the region until the animal had been put down.  The circus owner agreed.  How do you kill an elephant?  You hang it using a crane, located in Erwin.  They actually did a public execution of an elephant – learn about that and Erwin’s efforts to redeem itself by supporting an elephant reserve here.  

That’s it for this week – back at it tomorrow as we head toward Hampton TN and the VA State line.

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Comments 2

  • Julie Jones : Apr 25th

    Wooo! I was worried after the fall(s) you all took in a previous blog. I’m glad you all are back on (never left) the trail. Thank you for describing what you are doing and seeing along the way.


    • MaPa Wampus : Apr 28th

      We are still in one piece! Yeah, the blood on the mountain in this one was old, very old. It’s crazy for me to think though, as a 56 year old man, that my grandfather – born in 1900 – would have seen some of these things in the paper or whatever. I think we forget sometimes that we were a very different place a few generations back!


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