Rain Dance by Super Daddy
In 1998 my friend Ed and I started what became an annual backpacking trip through the Smoky Mountains. We did this for five years in every type of weather imaginable; rain, snow, hot, freezing cold. When I say freezing cold I mean freezing. The night we spent on top of Gregory Bald the temperature plummeted to 13 degrees with incredible sustained winds. It was one of the most miserable times I had on one of our backpacking trips. I didn’t think anything could top that night. The last trip we took proved to be the most memorable.
It was mid September 2003. The temperature was still warm, but not too hot that we’d have heat stroke climbing a mountain. It was the perfect weather for backpacking. We had a 35 mile route mapped out. We were excited about this, because these 35 miles would bring us close to 200 miles hiked out of over 900 miles of trails in the Smokys. The last six and half miles would be a repeat from our first trip we took in 1998. The exception this time was we would be going down and not coming up the six and half miles that climbs a mile and half in elevation. It’s a pretty steep trail to say the least.
The day of the trip we got a late start out of town. It was nearly lunch time by the time we hit the road in the old VW Bus. When we stopped for gas I ran inside and got a couple hotdogs, soda and snacks. We weren’t worried about getting a late start on hiking. We had scheduled an easy hike to start off with; it was a level five miles to our first campsite. Also, a coworker of Ed’s came along, which meant we were able to lighten the weight in our backpacks. So all and all, this should have been a relatively easy, fun and relaxing hike.
We arrived at the trail head late afternoon. It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining, there was a cool breeze just when you wanted it and the promise of Firewater and menthol cigarettes was awaiting us (Firewater was our alcoholic beverage of choice for these trips).
We were about a mile into our hike when my stomach started gurgling. I knew when I ate those gas station hotdogs I’d regret it. A couple minutes later I halted our hike and asked Ed for the poop shovel, as it was in his pack. Of course a chorus of laughs ensued and the duo started ribbing me over my less than stellar choice of a meal.
It wasn’t five minutes after my first bathroom stop I had to stop again. I just knew those hotdogs were going to be the death of me on this trip. Besides that, we only brought one roll of toilet paper. I ran off the trail, dug a hole and squatted. As I was hunkered down over this hole the leaves started to move and the ripple effect was headed right between my legs. I looked down and there was a damn snake two inches away from some very important body parts that I would rather not be injected with venom. My pants down around my ankles and shit hanging out of my ass I started doing the, “there’s a snake by my penis dance”. I lived.
Sometime after my fourth time digging a hole, we spotted a waterfall. The waterfall was on the other side of a creek. Ed’s coworker, let’s call him “Steve”, and I decided to cross the creek to take a look at the waterfall. There were several large boulders sticking up out of the raging creek water that we could cross on. Steve and I made it out to the first one and then we had different approaches on how to cross the creek. He went one way and I went the other. Steve made a successful jump to his next rock. As I leapt for mine, I concluded mid air that it was too far away for me to have jumped. I clung to the side of the rock. In my mind, I’m sure I looked like a cat clinging to a screen door. I fought hard scratching my way to the top, unfortunately, gravity took hold. I plunged into the water, trapped in between huge rocks. I scrambled to find the bottom of the creek, but to no avail. The water rushing hard threw me against a rock slab. I found my way to the top of the slab, looked over to find Steve had already made it across and was doubled over with laughter. Ed was on the opposite bank taking pictures. I’m glad I was in good hands.
Twenty minutes later we arrived at our campsite. We set up camp and I changed out of my wet clothes and hung them on the branches of a fallen tree to dry. We ate a meal of the best freeze dried broccoli and pasta I had ever tasted. All of us had a good laugh over the events of the day, at my expense of course. The Firewater made everything a little funnier than it probably was. It appears that my snake dance from earlier in the day was actually a rain dance.
I was awoken in the middle of the night by the sound of falling rain. It took me several seconds to remember that my wet clothes were outside drying.
The next morning we woke to a gray, wet and still raining day. Our backpacks were soaking wet, as the night before we decided to hang them in trees instead of using the metal storage boxes down the trail. Our backpacks and their contents weighed an extra 10 pounds, which we weren’t very happy about since we were ascending the mountain that day. And I still had wet clothes to stuff into my pack. I put my wet clothes into my pack and put it on. It was then I decided there wasn’t anyway in the world I was going to carry that weight up the mountain. We didn’t want to be bad campers and hippies and just leave my clothes at the campsite. So, we decided to burn my clothes. It took quite a bit of camp fuel to light them on fire, but in the end my clothes were resorted to ashes before we left.
We decided that we would change the route of the trip and shorten it a bit. We headed straight up the mountain to the top of MT. Sterling. We put our ponchos on and head up. It rained the entire time. After awhile it just didn’t matter that we had ponchos on. We were wet from rain and sweat. It took us a lot longer to reach the summit than it should have. We gave out several times from the extra weight the rain had caused our packs to have. After seven hours of hiking in the rain we finally made it to the top.
Five minutes after arriving at the top we started the descent down Baxter Creek trail. Baxter Creek trail is the six and half mile trail I mentioned in the second paragraph. We didn’t want to spend the night in the rain. We wanted a dry hotel room in Gatlinburg and some all you can eat steak.
It quickly got dark and we had to stop and find our headlamps. The headlamps didn’t provide much light in the rain. The ground was saturated and every other step I slid to the side. My knees and ankles were starting to buckle with every step. I wanted to lie down, die and let a bear eat me.
Three hours later we saw lights up ahead. We knew we were getting close to the parking lot. The pain in my knees and ankles wasn’t going to slow me down any more now that I knew there was an end in sight.
The three of us reached the Bus. We threw our packs off and lit up cigs. The rain was still coming down, but it didn’t matter anymore, as we could at any moment climb inside the Bus to escape the down pour. We loaded everything into the Bus, climbed in and…it stopped raining.