As I sit here typing, I am dragging through the third day of a virus, some type of stomach-intestinal thing causing very low energy. I have been mostly sleeping with a little reading but today I felt well enough to get up and move around a bit. I figure my illness is a result of something I touched versus something airborne but I will never know. I try to be conscious of my actions, taking precautions to keep my hands away from my face and hand sanitizing after public encounters. I have been vaxxed, boosted and wear a mask. Seems like John and I are some of a handful of people left in the city who still do such. This morning was my first real meal of mention, warm, comforting Cream of Wheat.
But this post is about a Tuesday hike, last Tuesday, December 14 when our little group got together for one last hike before we scattered to celebrate the holidays. This was Steve’s hike to choose, and he chose an old standby, Middle Prong Trail in the GSMNP. The trail is an old railbed, wide with a gradual climb, perfect for walking two or three abreast to share stories of Christmas coming and travels planned for the New Year. The trail follows the Middle Prong of the Little River Creek with an amazing number of cascades and small falls. If you know just the right turn off around mile 4, you can find Indian Flat Falls at the end of a short manway.
We passed several people on the way in and out. Of importance to most was this old car frame, about two miles into the hike. The car is described in our well-known, well-used brown book “Hiking Trails of the Smokies” as follows: “It is rusty and missing just about everything, but it must have been an elegant one. According to someone who worked at the Middle Prong Civilian Conservation Corps camp, this is an old Cadillac that belong to the supervisor. One day it quit running, and camp members just pushed it off the road and left it.” Who at that time, could have imagined the car would be a destination for hikers near and far.
I love the long shadows of winter when the trees are bare, and the sun sits just so in the sky. We were only 7 days from the winter solstice on this crisp, bright winter day. We hiked mostly in the shade and the air never lost its chill but that is part of the beauty of winter hiking.
I have hiked this trail a number of times over the years, most recently (maybe 15 years ago) with John where combined with several other trails we pieced together a backpack. Less recently and very dear to my heart was an out and back hike or two with my dad. But I confess I did not know about Indian Flat Falls. What a treat to find something so lovely along the same old trails. Once home, I scoured the “brown book” and found no mention of the falls in the most likely passages.
As I sat on a rock observering the falls and eating my lunch, I looked toward the second tier of falls and noticed Steve and Tom deep in conversation. I took this picture, my favorite of the day. Steve (left) and Tom (right) have been friends many years. I thought of the song “Old Friends” by Simon & Garfunkel. These two clearly share a bond of time and memories.
I also took a quick (zoomed) picture of the second set of falls. I imagine the view where Steve and Tom sat was spectacular, but I didn’t get too close. The rock behind Tom was covered in algae. Tom, who has more balance than any person I know, slipped and fell in the puddle. He fell on his pack so no damage done but I might not have been so lucky.
We hiked out the same way we hiked in, still engaged in conversation, probably about our upcoming group trip to St. Marks, Florida or the never-ending, never boring topic of van life. We were a little warmer on the way out but not much. I am okay with that; the winter hiking season is too short for me.
Tom, John and I may hike next week but others have family plans. I love this little Tuesday hiking group that has developed. We have hiked some new (to me) and interesting places this past fall. All of us have hiked together before-Alaska, Wyoming, Idaho and so forth but until this fall, we haven’t all been retired so weekday hiking was impossible. I look forward to a continuation of these Tuesday hikes in 2022.