Reflection on the Smokies, Encounter with God’s Rapid Response Force, and Other Observations

Reflection on the Smokies

We have hiked in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park.  Then, the leaves were ablaze with the colors of Fall.  The views from the summits were spectacular with the ability to see multiple states from one viewpoint without issue.  Beautiful waterfalls, such as Rainbow Falls, Hen Wallow Falls, Mingo Falls, abound.  This trip was different.

Weather Trials

We knew there would be rain, and we had already seen snow, but we pushed on anyway.  This situation created some unforeseen consequences.  Views were very limited in a cloud at elevation.  Glass half full people probably see this as God’s empty canvas.  We were wet and cold, so likened it more to Stephen King’s “Mist”.

Views are hard to come by in a cloud

Expansive Views….

The amount of rain created a great deal of runoff.  Runoff water looks for the easiest path to flow, and that happened to be the Appalachian Trail.  The waterfalls were impressive, but they were forming over our shoe laces as we walked up the mountain.  Now, we were walking in up to 6-8 inches of rapid flowing water with major wind gusts, and dropping temperatures.

Water on the Trail

Andy at Work

We ran into Andy the Ridge-runner again.  He may be a leprechaun or something – there is no other way to explain how he is everywhere.  Anyway, ridge-runner is a job, and sometimes you have to tell people to do things that are not fun.  For example, Smokies rules require that all food be hung, including bear canisters.  My canister is huge, so it has to be hung in my bag.  In the pouring rain and freezing temperatures, all night, my bag is wet and sometimes requires ice removal in the morning.

This time Andy explained that he was being pulled off the mountain because of the storm and needed people to move to lower elevation.  We were headed that way, so fine.  Some had already walked ten miles in essentially a stream bed – they needed to walk eight or nine more…

Disaster Strikes

Beautiful Scenery in the Verdant Mountainside

Verdant Mountainside Hides Its Own Dangers

Expansive views were hard to come by but there was plenty of stunning scenery.  The area above was so green – you felt more alive just being there. The air was vibrant.  If we had played McKennitt’s Mummer’s DanceI am pretty sure fairies would have appeared.

Ma Wampus certainly felt that way and took the opportunity to relive part of her youth.  Spying part of the trail made of cut tree trunks that resembled stepping stones, she decided to use them – almost skipping.  Wood is slick in the rain.  She hit the first one and was airborne.  Fairies fly but Ma Wampus does not.  She hit hard, forward, and landed stuck, like reverse turtle.  She yelled to me but I could not make out what she said – but it was filled with pain and a little fear.  We got her up but she was injured and most unhappy.

Shortly after, not to be outdone, I stepped on a loose stone in the stream bed that used to be the trail. My foot slipped and white searing pain entered my knee as I fell into the stream.  I screamed some expletives into the sky and then threw a hissy fit, vetoing Ma Wampus’ plan to continue on another 5 miles.

Give Me Some Shelter

Shelter at Capacity

By the time we limped into the shelter, it was almost at capacity.  The wind was absolutely roaring and the rain was coming down in sheets.  The shelter fit 12, and there was already 16 with more coming due to Andy’s push.  It was cheek to jowl.  I slept zipped up with Ma Wampus.  On the other side of me was a young Englishman.  It was hard to determine who was closer.

The next morning I made tea for Ma Wampus, kind of as a “sorry” for my hissy fit the day before, and brought it to her.  Of course, the Englishman was there as well.  He said nothing but his eyes said everything.  I recognized the desire and asked him if he had a cup.  He despondently answered that he did not.  He then stated that he really missed home.  We found our crappy collapsible cup, half filled it with poorly strained Australian tea, and offered it to him.  He moved with such alacrity, it was frightening.  As he sipped away, you could see just a little of his spirits return, and with that, mine as well.  “I am from England and it rains all the time, but not like this.  Not like this…”.  The rain was getting to everyone.

Encounter with God’s Rapid Response Force

I love my history and just a good story in general.  I have always found the Bible to be interesting, as its heroes are generally normal people put into abnormal conditions.  And so it goes…

The Rapid Response Force

The Rapid Response Force (RRF) in this story is a group of section hiking Canadians.  Part of a christian leadership program, called Prosago, this unlikely group of heroes arrived at the shelter with little fanfare.  The arrival of section hikers in the Smokies is not wonderful.  Section hikers, unlike thru hikers, have to book their specific shelter stays – so they have priority.  You, as a thru hiker, could be asked to relocate outside in the freezing rain.  This was clearly not the case from the outset with this crew, who merely encouraged people to move over as the shelter expanded well beyond capacity.

The Members

The team was made up of four young adults:

  • Duct Tape – leader.  Name given because she tried to use duct tape to ward off frostbite, leaving her with lesions after the tape wore her skin away in the treated areas.
  • Poncho.  Gifted an emergency poncho by Pa Wampus, who could not bear watching someone else wear wet clothes and a trash bag dress.  Poncho thanked Pa Wampus effusively, and other shelter members named him thusly.
  • Marmot – not officially declared but the term for her between Ma and Pa Wampus.  Communal – takes care of her people and had a curious bark, a cough that she had brought from Canada.
  • Beacon – not officially declared but the term for her between Ma and Pa Wampus.  Tall woman with a monster backpack that added another 6-8 inches of height.  You could see her black pack on the slopes in front of you and your immediate future.
The Rapid Response Force with Ma and Pa

The Rapid Response Force with Ma and Pa

The Actions

This group was provided supplies by their directors, and it was way too much.  These poor kids had failsafes for the failsafes resulting in packs that may have been upwards of 60-70 lbs.  The kids realized this in short order as well and began a curious thing – they gave some of their extra food away.

Eating food when wet and or cold can provide some relief.  However, if you eat through your food, you have a real problem.  Several of the hikers were now short of what they might need.  These kids answered the problem for a number of hikers and the effects were immediate and very noticeable.  Instant mash potatoes and gravy given to one of the “Warrior Expedition”, a veterans hiking group, made him instantly giddy.  Attitudes went from glum to downright optimistic with just a handful of tasteless rice cakes.  These kids simply unloaded the extra weight from their packs.  In doing so, and the gracious way in which they did it, they made excellent ambassadors for their program and assisted quite literally dozens of hikers.

Auxiliary Angel

Ma Wampus and I were more than a little worried.  My Zendure battery had failed and we were getting low on power.  My phone, watch, and lights were now dark.  Our real worry was the emergency communicator, the Mini Inreach.

As we came over the next rise, it emptied into a parking lot.  There was one car there.  A middle aged man jumped out, throwing out two chairs.  “I am doing trail magic today. Would you like a coffee?” He asked.  Not wanting to be rude, we sat down and chatted with “Hawk”.  Within seconds, he just gets up and says “ I dragged this thing out here too.  Do you have anything that needs a charge?” It was a portable generator.  After a bit he tells us to go to Max Patch and restore our souls.  We did and we did.

Max Patch

Max Patch

I am not an overly religious person but I’ve never been overly lucky either – so I’ll put these in the big guy’s column.

Other Observations

This week we ended up in Hot Springs, North Carolina.  As always, every town has a story and this one was particularly interesting.

Resort and POW Camp

During WW1, a number of Germans, mainly sailors, were in the United States on regular business.  The U.S. government declared these Germans “enemy aliens”.  The U.S. government arrested them and eventually shipped them to the Hot Springs Resort for internment.  The proximity of so many Germans in a small village led to many personal contacts.  Guards often took prisoners home for dinner.  The Germans taught craft classes and performed band concerts for the locals.  Families of the interned also showed up and stayed in local boarding houses. Some prisoners married into the community!

The resort has returned to its primary purpose: tourism.  You can now rent a hot tub filled with mineral water for an hour (Co. Sanitation Score:100) on the banks of the French Broad River.  We did it and it destroyed my resolve to do anything for the remainder of the day.  I ended up losing an hour at the local ice cream shop listening to jazz (Artisun) and then ended my day at Elmer’s on his balcony reading a book on Cherokee Chief Ross.


Elmer Hall has operated Sunnybank since he bought it in 1978.  He turned the aging house, originally built in 1840, into essentially a bed and breakfast for AT thru hikers.  Hikers check in, leaving their boots outside.  Elmer’s team will wash your clothes for an extra 5$, and will loan you clean clothes during the wash cycle.  You have run of most of the house, filled with antiques, musical instruments, and good quality books.  Sit on the balcony, the porch, or the back garden.  Take in the music room, the extensive and eclectic book collection, or the large parlor.  Finally, when you get a chance, talk to Elmer and learn how both sides used the house as a field hospital during the Civil War, the WW1 internment camp, or how the Gentry family preserved Appalachian balladry.

The guest rooms are huge and the beds are very comfortable.  You are sharing a bathroom but you are also just paying 35$ a night.  Definitely recommend the breakfast with Elmer.  The breakfast is fantastic but the conversation will restore your faith in humanity.  This place is an AT thru hikers dream. It’s just hard to leave.

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Comments 2

  • Thunder Road : Apr 19th

    Glad to see you two are still at it as I enjoy your writing very much. Cold and wet day after day is unfun…

    • MaPa Wampus : Apr 28th

      We are getting there! Thanks for joining us on this adventure of a lifetime!


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