First Step on the ATSiler BaldSelf Portrait in WhitesWhite Mountains

Bird Man's AT Journal

Trail Updates and Photos from the 2002 AT "Flip-Flap" Hike
© Bruce Nichols - 2002

Meeting Sparky Watts and Through the Smokies
Franklin, NC to Davenport Gap
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May 19, 2002 - An email sent from Standing Bear Hostel

I've walked 237 miles of the Appalachian Trail in the last 18 days. It's been an interesting and wonderful
adventure so far. I've had more than my share of rain and fog [image] but also some incredibly beautiful days and the spectacular scenery of the southern Appalachian Mts.

I last wrote from Franklin, NC. That was a frustrating day in town looking for a place to stay and finding everything booked. I ended up carrying my pack about 5 or 6 miles in town and only 4 on the trail that day. But the highlight (after the over easy eggs at the Huddle House) was my ride back up to Winding Stair Gap and the AT.

I was at the on ramp for less than ten minutes when an old battered up pick up pulled over and a cragy elder
gentleman in a equally beat up baseball hat with the number 99 on the back offered me a ride. I threw my
pack in the back of the truck with an assortment of tools and junk and carefully stepped over the flat of
fresh strawberries on the passenger side floor and we started up the road. My driver was a man in his early
70's (a guess), wearing, in addition to the hat, a pair of well worn, faded jeans and a slightly tatters country style shirt. There were cigarette butts in the astray and assorted jetsome scatterd around the cab (sort of reminicant of my own vehicles -less the cigarette butts). I felt right at home.

He introduced himself as "Sparky Watts". Sparky was a nickname that came with being an electrician by trade.
But his real love was music. After asking me about my hiking, he regaled me with a long story about how he had written a song about the Appalachian Trail. He indicated that it had even been recorded thought whether this was in the 60's, 70's or some other time was never clear. He and the group he played with worked up a plan to actually take the song out on the trail. They would hike and have a motor home follow along and then go into towns along the way and do concerts. They had even lined up some sponsorship for this adventure. Sparky said they then decided to contact the Appalachian Trail Conference to see if there would be any problem with their plan and were told that because such a venture might attract large crowds to the trail they would need to secures some insurance. Well, nobody wanted to insure such a project except Lloyds of London, and they wanted $150,000 - and that was the end of that.

Sparky also told me of growing up in the North Carolina mountains. I asked him what instruemtns he played and he rattled off 4 or 5 and added that when he was growing up there was not much else to do for
entertainment than sing and play music. He also told me of hunting for Ginsing up in the mountains and mentioned, when I told him my rattlesnake story, that he had never met one himself but had a State Police
officer friend and fellow Ginsing hunter who was bitten once - fortunately not too far from the road, so he made a full recovery.

Sparky drove me all the way up to Winding Stair Gap even though that meant he would have to drive about 5
miles back toward Franklin to get wehre he was going. We got out at the parking area at the gap and had a
drink of cold water from the pipe spring that flows there. I gave him one of my origami cranes and we wished each other goodby and God Speed. It was a great an memorable encounter. Only afterward did I regret having my camera buried deep in my pack because of the threat of rain earlier in the day. I sure would love to have a picture of Sparky.

I'm not even sure as I write this exactly how long ago that was. At least a week I think. The days sort of flow together as the trail unfolds in ints many ups and downs as I walk north [image]. I've been in the company of four or five other hikers for the last few days.

"No Pain", retired from the army after 22 years in infantry and airborn. The only black person I've met on the trail and doing his third consecutive thru hike in 3 years. He lives on his army retirement and spends his summers hiking. He has been an interesting addition to the trail experience. I met him just outside of Franklin and we have wound up either camping or staying in the same shelters on a number of occasions since.

Others include Clint, a college student. "Grasshopper" (I gave him his trail name) a fellow from Mississippi,
"DJ (Dirty Jer) another student who started in March, had a foot injury and got back on the trail at Fontana
DAm at the same time we were going through. We all follow our own scheduls during the day. Sometimes
pass one another, sometimes not. Sometime have a snack together. Often end up in the same place at night and talk about the days experiences on the trail. It's an interesting free form community that changes from day to day depending on who is going well and who is a bit slow. Who decides to sleep in and who is off early.

Two nights ago at Cold Spring Shelter at about 5000 feet in the Smokies it was cold and very wet. The
shelter is not too far from the one of the main roads through the park and was packed. I saw more people
there (about 25) in one night than I met on the trail all the way from Springer to the NC line. It rained very hard all night and was cold. In the morning there was really only one decision to make. Stay in your bag and keep warm or get up and get going. I chose the latter and put in my first 20 mile day - all cold and wet and foggy walking through the clouds between 5000 and 6000 feet above sea level in Great Smoky Mt. NP. I'm sure the views would have been stunning on that long ridge walk had the visibility been more than 100 yds. But even the less than brilliant days have their comforts and some of the abriviated misty views evoked the wonderful mystery of Chinese and Japanese Zen drawings.

I'm writing from a little hiker hostle just off the trail near Davenport Gap just north of the park. I'm not even sure if this is NC or Tenn. I've been walking on the border for much of the last 3 days.

A few minor highlights.

Finding Junco nests right next to the trail. Some with between 3 and 5 eggs. One with 3 little beaks [image] poking up looking for lunch (and I did take a photo of that one.)

The pink lady slippers I forgot to mention in Georgia.

A wet and chilled dragon fly dripping with cold dew sitting on the trail at 6000 feet elevation.

A beautiful little warbler (?) with a yellow band down the middle of the top of its head that sat in a bush
just off the trail and sang its little heart out.

Blue mountains falling away to the horizon and a new moon haning in the sky and immediately below me rich
and incredible folds of forest.

Every day is the same and every day is new and different. I'm having fun.

Thanks to all who responded to my first email. Sorry I don't have time to send a personal note back to all.
But I did read each and every one.

Tomorrow I head North toward Hot Springs, NC where I have promised myself my first "0" mile day. Perhaps
I'll find another computer there.

Peace, Blessings, and Love to all,

Bruce "Bird Man" Nichols

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page created - 11/09/2002
updated - 11/22/2002
All text and photos © Bruce Nichols