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My vegvisir didn't seem to help!

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For those asking the obvious question, “What the heck is a vegvisir?”, here’s your answer:
Note the words in the article: “it is written that this symbol would help its wearer to not get lost.”

Although I’ve been fascinated by Viking explorers for almost sixty years, I had never heard of this talisman until our visit to Iceland earlier this summer. When I found I could get a post card with this symbol for about a buck, I decided it would be fun to carry it on the A.T. I did so despite taking pride in the fact that, during all of the 1650 miles I’ve hiked on The Trail, I’d never gotten seriously lost – once or twice at the most, I’d gotten turned around and walked less than a mile in the wrong direction. In addition, Great Smoky Mountain National Park (GSMNP) is a well-marked & heavily traveled part of the A.T., so I felt pretty confident I would have little trouble continuing my streak. This was particularly true since my plan was to hike down from Clingman’s Dome to Fontana Dam, taking a fairly leisurely three days to do. But I carried my vegvisir just for fun.

I had no trouble getting reservations to stay at Derrick Knob Shelter, Spence Field Shelter, and Birch Spring Gap (aka Camp 113), or arranging for a shuttle with the Hiker Inn.
My first venture on the A.T. was to park at Newfound Gap, hitch-hike up to Clingman’s Dome, and then hike back down to my car. I’ve almost never (if ever) thumbed a ride, and I’m aware that the ATC discourages solo hitch-hiking, but I really didn’t see a viable choice. I felt blessed to get a pleasant ride in about thirty minutes, and had a nice hike down, despite high dew points and an abundance of clouds & fog.
After a heavy dinner of junk food, I drove to The Hike Inn, and had a pleasant night’s sleep. Got an early start on the next day, dropped off my car at the Fontana Dam Visitor Center, rode my shuttle up to Clingman’s Dome – seeing my first bear in the Smokies, on my sixth visit here – and was on The Trail by 9am. An initial problem of water leaking from my plastic bladder (long story, and an issue that I’ve faced before and should have prevented) was rapidly fixed by plenty of water flowing at Double Spring Gap. I arrived at Derrick Knob Shelter well before dark and, on my first night on The Trail in months, slept just fine despite the first of many downpours, this one in the middle of night. Perhaps Freyr, the Norse god of sun & rain, was also letting me down.
My plan for the second day was an easy six mile hike to Spence Field Shelter. I wasn’t surprised by a downpour as I climbed Thunderhead Mountain, but I was taken aback by how tired I was when I arrived at Spence. I’ve always been able to get in ten miles each day, so exhaustion after far fewer miles took me off guard. I did get to see a bunny when I arrived, and my first feral hog
facing me at a mere five meters distance. There was also another storm at the shelter that night.
More troubling was a problem I (again) took pride in avoiding despite decades of hiking – blisters on my feet. Normally, my use of an inner nylon sock & an outer, knee-high wool sock made me safe from this problem, but the constant high humidity caused the sweat & dirt in the inner sock to stay there until my toes had been rubbed raw. The wet socks also made it almost impossible to keep bandages over the blister. Trouble that I didn’t need!

Because I left Spence at 6:30 the next morning, I felt pretty good when I arrived at Russell Field Shelter at 9am for a short break. Then my hiking took a major wrong turn, because that’s exactly what I did. Here’s my confession & advice on what NOT to do:
This pdf shows the trails in this national park. If you expand to the center left of Page 1, you’ll get a good idea of where I hiked.
Because the Russell Field Trail was in quite good shape, in contrast to most side trails, I had no idea I was headed down the wrong path until I came across a water source that wasn’t listed in the Whiteblaze guide I had printed out. I ignored this discrepancy, and others like a creek parallel to the trail I was on, but HAD to admit a problem when I came across a campground labeled as #10. At this point I knew I had lost the A.T., and had to decide what to do: go back up the trail I’d just gone down, or continue down to who knows what. Remembering that Geraldine “Inchworm” Largay’s biggest mistake was NOT going down a stream, I chose the latter. Probably what I SHOULD have done is go back up, and stay at Mollie’s Ridge Shelter even if my reservation was at Camp #113 that night. But the old “rule” of going down a stream until you find civilization stuck in my mind, along with the hope of just getting off the trail that night.

The first proof of how badly my vegvisir had “failed me” was when the Russell Field Trail ran into the Anthony Creek Trail, with a sign telling me I was 3.5 miles from where I wanted to be – but only 1.6 miles from a picnic grounds. Again, I should have just turned back up the trail, but my hope of meeting tourists who could help me just overwhelmed my good sense.
The picnic grounds at the trail head had literally hundreds of picnickers, but also a Ranger Station in the adjacent campground at Cade’s Cove. I figured the rangers had plenty of experience with lost hikers, and could help me out of my difficulties. After I gave up on the idea of getting a cab ride to Fontana Dam, due to cost and the fact that I had no cash with me, I chose to change my night’s stay to that Camp #10 I had passed on the way down, with my stay at Camp #113 delayed for a day. Changing my reservation was easy and cost only $4, to be paid after I left the trail. No surprise – it showered on my tent that night.

The butterflies in my stomach the next morning were so bad that I could barely drink water without feeling queasy. Fortunately, an early start and a good rest allowed me to get back to Russell Field Shelter by 9:30a – meaning I’d lost a mere thirty minutes & twenty-four hours. I got to Camp #113 just as it was starting to get dark, and was actually hungry for the food I hadn’t eaten all day. Is it any surprise that it rained this night as well?

Since my last day on The Trail would be a mere six miles to Fontana Dam, almost all downhill, I figured I’d get a bit of an easy walk to end my misery. What I didn’t count on was the start of a downpour as I was taking down my tent, rain that lasted almost the entire way down. I came across a total of sixteen people, all saying they were headed for Mollie’s Ridge Shelter that night, thinking to myself, “Party at Mollie’s tonight!”
I had planned to use the showers at Fontana after I got back to my car, but the rain was still coming down such that I figured I should just get to a motel for the night. I got back home with no sense of joy or triumph, or even endurance – more like survival of a difficult time. I normally brag that I avoided insect bites & falls on a trip, but this fact seems very cold comfort.
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