Day 4 - Panoramas, Bunions, and Bears, Oh My!

Trip Start Jun 10, 2012
Trip End Jun 16, 2012

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Where I stayed
Smokemont Campground
What I did

Flag of United States  , North Carolina
Wednesday, June 13, 2012

May a nice run always beget a Glorious Buffet
After another 9.5 hours of sleep, my restless legs shooed me on to take a run in the campground, regardless of the 8 mile hike coming later later in the day. I did a 5 miler alongside a the Bradley Fork River, which felt great and was the right decision for getting the day started right. The run exacerbated the need for my first use of the "shower wipes" since the park had no showers. 2 days, a run, and a hike meant it was time for a clean. The run also left my stomach growling incessantly. Despite the fact that we ate out the night before and had told ourselves we were going to save money, the thought of a breakfast buffet, especially before the long hike ahead of us, was simply too much to ignore, especially when the alternative was a Powerbar. At 9:30 AM, we set off for Cherokee with one simple mission: To Devour.

We stopped at the first buffet we saw, the Newfound Diner. It was $7.99 for the buffet, which in our minds was an complete no-brainer, and the all-you-can-eat feast commenced. We ate as much, greasy sausage links, even more greasy bacon, french toast sticks, biscuits, succulent pineapple, and lush strawberry as we could handle. As greasy as the food was, the fruit was that good if not better. We spent a good 30 minutes simply eating. Not bad for $10 with tip. With full bellies, a food coma overcame us and compelled us to take a short nap in the shade in Cherokee. Getting back to our senses over the next half hour, we made our way again up the mountain that is US-441 to the Newfound Gap Parking Lot to begin our hike.

Four Miles of Appalachian Delight

This hike started fairly close to where we began our hike on the previous day, but went in the opposite direction. Upon getting to the parking lot, we were greeted by yet another Smoky Mountain panorama. What a truly wonderful place. Mountains and trees as far as they eye can see. One can't digest these views without some thought of thanks to John D. Rockerfeller, Jr. for donating the majority of the land for the park.

After applying some SPF60 suntan lotion (because I'm so damn white) and bug spray, we made some peanut butter sandwiches, packed our bags, and headed out on the trail. This particular hike was also a small part of the Appalachian Trail, which added an extra drop of "Cool Factor" to the whole hike. The first half mile was very wooded, hiding the panoramas for the time being, and slightly uphill. At about the 3/4 mile mark, we ran into 2 couples who mentioned that there was a Black Bear ahead on the trail. Both mine and Tory's eyes widened a bit, as we had heard people saying that there were bears in this area, but hadn't expected to see them. We pulled out my handy dandy Smoky Mountains map and read the instructions on what to do if you see a bear:

1. Back away slowly
2. If it starts to come near you with more vigor, don't run, shout and try to look bigger than the bear
3. If 1 & 2 don't work, throw rocks at the bugger and yell while galloping away
4. If none of those work, the pamphlet says to fight the bear vigorously. Well that's a great tip.

We both agreed this was good to know, as instinct suggested to both of us that you run the fuck away from a big ol' bear with extreme haste. 

Sure enough, about a mile into the trail, we saw a black bear meandering about the trail, slowly walking away from us. Two people said they actually got video of the bear and that he was harmless. Easy to say when you've already traveled past him. We followed him slowly, keeping the same amount of distance between him and us. Then, out of nowhere, he left the trail and began walking down the hill to the left of us. After about 5 minutes, he was far enough down the hill to make it safe to continue on the trail. Tory and I agreed that seeing the bear was quite neat, but that the bear was certainly close enough for our tastes We were quite content for that the be the last of any bears we saw that day. Ha. More on that later.

After our little encounter, we still had 3 miles to go, and we kept on trucking. The hike was quite rough at certain points. I don't know if this particular 4 mile section is indicative of how the entire Appalachian Trail is, but if it is, it really must be one hell of a journey. The hike was hilly, rocky, and tough, but every mile or so, you'd get a view of the mountains that was just freaking awesome. It was a sunny day and the weather was quite pristine, making for some truly great sights with 100 shades of green dotting the never-ending mountainscapes. 

With about 1.5 miles to go, we ran into an actual Appalachian Trail shelter, where the hikers stay at night. Quite neat. In the last mile of the trail, the treeline started to become thinner, indicating that we were getting closer to our destination. Tory freely admitted that she was quite tired and that the hike "better be worth it Ben!". Luckily, as we would come to find out in a few minutes, it totally was.

Finally, after about two hours and fifteen minutes of hiking, we came upon a sign that said "Charlie's Bunion. Closely Control Children". Ha. Tory hasn't been controlled since 2008. I refused to start trying because some silly sign told me to do so. 

Bright wildflowers and towering shale rock greeted our arrival. The treeline completely receded, and as Charlie's Bunion arose in front of us, the greatest panorama of the trip unfolded before our eyes. The sun shone brightly amongst the roughly 240 degrees of panorama displayed around the Bunion. 
 As the Bunion is a 6 foot tall rock about 4 meters in diameter, both Tory and I took the opportunity to climb on top of the rock for an even better view and some funny pictures.  This was definitely the best view of the entire trip. To stand on top of a big rock and see the entire breathtaking majesty of the Smoky mountains all around you is a sight I'll never forget. We stayed at the Bunion for about 30 minutes, eating our lunch and relaxing before the equidistant hike back to the parking lot. Tory admitted the 2+ hour hike was worth it, and if a 17 year old can say that, it's true for anyone :).

Knock Knock. Who's there? A Fucking Black Bear. Do note the rhyme.
Unfortunately, all good sightseeing opportunities must come to an end, and around 2:45 PM, we began our hike back to the parking lot. We made good time for the first 2.75 miles, having seen all of the panoramas and sights. Both of us were getting tired and were looking forward to sitting down and relaxing by the car. However, our little adventure was not done yet.

With about 1.25 miles to go, Tory and I noted with delight about how close we were to where we saw the bear on the way out to the Bunion. "Haha that was crazy wasn't it?" "Yeah, I can't believe we came that close to a bear!"

Not 10 minutes later, I turn a corner and utter the following phrase with more calm than I thought possible when using these particular words:

"Shit. There's a fucking bear on the trail."

This caused Tory to chuckle heartily. The bear was between 20-30 meters away. I got the camera from Tory and snapped 2 quick pictures at 16x zoom before we began to back away, as his meandering was bringing him slowly towards us. Each time we would back away, he would move towards us. I am not sure if he ever really saw us, and he made no move to menace, but he nevertheless kept coming towards us while we kept backing away slowly. 

After the third time we retreated our position, Tory and I picked up a few rocks and put them in our pockets, just in case this little scenario were to get out of hand. On a couple of occasions, we actually had to think about line-of-sight when we moved back, which rendered us unable to keep our eyes on the bear. I've never had to think about making sure we had good line of sight while keeping good distance from a potential threat in a real-life situation before. It was quite a thrill. Finally, after about 10 minutes of staying in one spot, I began to venture forward to see if the bear was still there. The silence was broken by the sound of human discussion. I motioned to Tory that it was safe to move forward, and we encountered 4 guys who said that they had seen the bear, but were successfully able to shoo him away. Yippee! And after a good 25 minute delay, we were back on our way to the parking lot. 

When Tory saw the exit to the parking lot, I swear she leapt with joy, or as high as one can jump when they have hiking boots and a backpack on. We went straight to the car and made our way back down the mountain. It was truly a great experience to see the view from Charlie's Bunion, and the bear encounter made it even that much more interesting.

And now, it was time for some conventional vacation fun
Tory and I went back to the campsite and enjoyed a tasty freeze-dried meal of New Orleans Shrimp and Ham, along with some carrots. Like I said, these freeze dried meals are pretty damn good. Then, it was time for a trip to Cherokee for a Buster Bar at Dairy Queen, typing on the phone, and exploration. We walked around Cherokee a good bit and found a mini golf place that only cost $5, so we decided to wind the long day down with 18 mini-holes. It was a nice little course, especially for the cheap price. Naturally, I was victorious, though Tory beat me handily on a couple holes. I couldn't lose to my little sis though. I would never hear the end of it.

 After getting back to the campsite, we ate a couple Smores, played a couple more games of War (We split two games again, setting up the final, decisive clash on Thursday to determine who was better at card games that are solely based on luck), and crashed around 11PM. 8 miles of hiking (plus another 5 miles of running for me) tends to do that to a person.

This was our final night of camping before another great hike and a shower on Thursday! Hooray!
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