Back in ’05, I have always wanted to say that like a true old timer, I asked a trusted “internet” friend of mine, one noted Maharishi of a holy man, for a spot to find some serenity and large brookies and of course for those of you who know of whom I speak, he told me to go … … “Fork myself”. Well naturally I found a way to follow his sage advice and it turned out to be one of the best solo camping trips that I have ever had, despite a hike that is long and mean and truly uphill in both directions. The memories have remained with me but the fear of the hike has remained with me as well so I have never returned despite the desire to do so.
Well one winter night in February of this year, when standing on the front porch of cabin near the Nantahala river with about 15 or so fellow fishermen, I saw a blinding glimpse of a fantastic idea to get together a small group and return to the magical rock tumbled river valley and once again “Fork Myself”, the idea burned with a such an amazing shine … … or maybe that was just the “Shine” itself who knows, but none the less I had to act on it and soon enough had a small group of fellow drunk revelers on the front porch of the cabin thinking ahead to a spring time trip for brook trout in the GSMNP. We had originally talked about late March but thinking how smart I was, I added two weeks to allow springtime to arrive in full and we set the trip date for early April. I laughed to myself as we finalized these drunken plans to the back beat of the “Drive By Truckers” that none of these drunks would remember this conversation later anyway. Well somehow about two weeks later the emails and internet messages started rolling in … … now what dates did we select? , so where are we going again? , my head was a little fuzzy but aren’t we supposed to have fishing trip coming up? Which means … … **** boys … … IT’S ON … … “FORKFEST 13” lives.
The group that made plans to meet at the trailhead for this adventure were small but distinguished, Monte my Fishing partner of over 30 years now, Bernard my fishing partner of less years but just as many adventures, (and potentially the most special of all) my 21 year old son Drew and two special guys that I have had the good fortune to meet through enough “internet” fishing gatherings that we are now truly old friends even though we see each other only rarely… … Jermz and Petey, and of course my old fat *** self. Well late March arrived and the weather was warm but not yet spring like so I congratulated myself on my fantastic timing of selecting early April for this trip, as I just knew I had picked the perfect dates. I was positive we were in for a Master’s like spring adventure with blooming trees and blossoming flowers and full spring time in the air… … which is why I was so surprised when the following scenes popped into view on our ride to the trailhead.
So much for my Master’s like daydreams, fortunately we were all able to communicate via the magic of modern cell service, and reroute so that we all did eventually arrive at the trail head. We all began that ritual of shifting and stuffing packs trying to make sure everyone else was ready to hit the trail with backpack on back, before we actually shouldered our burden so that we wouldn’t have to the be the one weighted down while waiting on someone else to get ready, but eventually we were all loaded up and trudging up the trail. Well Monte is 50 and in great shape, Bernard is younger and tough, Drew is not in good shape but he is 21 which makes up for everything and then some, Petey weighs 50 pounds soaking wet so we aren’t even talking to him right now and Jermz was kind enough to go slow and play the drag line to herd the old stragglers like me back to the herd. But I was determined that we wouldn’t need that, I have re-plumbed arteries and I can keep up with the best of them by ****, and I did for the first 2 or 3 mi … … minutes of the hike. This particular trail follows a famously painful uphill path, and I will add well deserved, for at least the first 2 miles but it does have a wonderful rushing bouncing babbling stream to keep my plodding-self company and enough scenery to allow my long heaving pauses to pass for “scenery breaks”.
But somehow I kept my feet moving and soon enough managed to reach a high enough elevation (read that as at least 1500 feet gain) that I could actually believe that the climb could actually be completed. I stopped and gasped for oxygen like a fish in the hands of a rookie perfectionist “grip and grin” photographer, but realized that I might actually be able to finish this “stroll” and I wouldn’t have to face my fears of explaining to the group why I turned back halfway up the mountain and went back to the house abandoning them to the summit. I was rewarded with this hazy view which let me know I was nearly to the top and for those of you with eye sight still sharp enough to see the details; we started this stroll below the small pass outlined in the foreground.
Well soon enough I reached the top and began the descent. I would love to tell you the descent was painless and carefree but to be honest my old knees and hips felt every jarring step down the other side of that mountain but there is one amazing difference, now I could hear the roaring magical symphony of a rushing roaring trout stream at full crescendo as it rushed through the valley far below me, calling me downward, beckoning me home. So finally I arrived at the campsite, the group had been there long enough to already have camp set up and to be ready to go fishing as I stumbled across the bridge into camp. But you can bet I was happier than all of them, as I realized I had made it one more time. I am not sure you can ever see a happier man… at the emotional and uplifting thought of … … getting this **** pack off my back.