Saturday, April 3, 2010

Friar Tuck and Tango

For you RVers who read this journal, this story may seem more like a nightmare I had or something that happened on another planet.  For all our hiking friends who read this journal, it’s just another day in the life.

Toilet tissue left as trail magic at Newfound Gap this morning
Part of our intent in coming to the Smokies was to spread a little “trail magic”.  I guess it’s about time I explained that term.  Long distance hikers on the Appalachian Trail (and any long distance trail, especially the Triple Crown--Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide Trail) will occasionally come across what they refer to as “trail magic”--some special treat or convenience along the trail.  It often comes in the form of a cooler full of cold drinks or a 6-pack of beer in the cold water at a stream crossing.  In our hiking, we have come across a few gallons of water on a particularly dry section, a cooler of fruit, and a man playing music for the enjoyment of the hikers.  One of my personal favorites was a garbage bag hanging from a trail junction sign.  Hikers have to carry out their own garbage and after a few days it can be a smelly burden.  Any appropriate place to off load garbage is a real treat.  Trail magic comes in a variety of forms and those providing the “treat” or “service” are called trail angels.

FDR dedicated the Park from this platform at Newfound Gap

Nice sunrise for our early morning start

For long distance hikers, any treat or service which makes the hike easier is a small blessing.  These folks carry everything they need to survive in the wilderness.  They may walk for several days before coming to a town close enough to the trail to resupply their food and get a shower.  In the case of the Smokies, it is 70 miles from where the Trail enters the park at Fontana Dam and its exit at Davenport Gap.  It crosses only one road and that is at Newfound Gap.

I had boiled and colored eggs, bought a bag of oranges, and a couple bags of chocolate Easter eggs.  We took this load of goodies up to Newfound Gap where the Appalachian Trail crosses the main road through the Smokies.  We left at the crack of dawn.  We knew the last shelter southbound was just about 4.5 miles from the road.  By the time the thru-hikers reach the Smokies after starting in Georgia, they are putting down some miles each day.  We didn’t want to miss them as they came out onto the road.  The sun was well up by the time we got from Townsend to the top of the mountain.

The first hikers we saw were those being shuttled up from Gatlinburg where they had had a nice night in a motel.  They jumped out of the van and were heading up the trail before we hardly knew what was happening.  One fellow lingered trying to get his socks and boots adjusted just right. Gene went over to speak with him and offer an orange.  Skywalker was a young fellow from New Hampshire.  He stuffed his orange in his pack and off he went toward Maine.

During the next hour, Gene and I debated whether or not to hike southbound to met the hikers coming out of the nearest shelter at Mt Collins.  I was still pretty tired from yesterday’s hike and wasn’t much interested in carrying a 3 lb bag or oranges and a dozen eggs up the mountain between Newfound Gap and Mt Collins.  We just kept sitting in the truck watching all the tourists.

About 10:15 a park ranger pulled up and came around to Gene’s window.  While he was talking to us, a hiker stepped up to ask the ranger if there was a regular shuttle down to Gatlinburg.  This was just what we were waiting for.  Gene offered to take the hiker and his friend down to town.  Friar Tuck and Tango put their packs in the bed of the truck and off we went.  Friar is from the Atlanta area and Tango is from Massachusetts and both are planning to thru-hike to Maine.  We enjoyed getting to know them briefly as we drove down to Gatlinburg.  We dropped them off at a hotel and wished them well on their journey.  Perhaps our paths will cross again as we make our way up the trail to Virginia.

Good luck, Friar Tuck and Tango.  Glad we were there to give you guys a lift.

This evening we are joining friends, Rich and Patti, for dinner.  Haven’t seen them since the Tennessee Trails Annual meeting last fall.  We are looking forward to catching up with them.


  1. That is so nice of you to help out the through hikers! I'm sure your kindness is very appreciated.

  2. How cool that you got to be trail angels! I just finished reading "There are Mountains to Climb" which is a journal of sorts of Indiana Jean's through hike in 1994/95. I know those hikers appreciated what you did. :)