Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Flashback: Summer of 1976

Originally posted: October 20th 2013

After a few days backpacking 44 miles of the Appalachian Trail over four days.
Oh, yeah. That’s me, camera strap around my neck, talking and about to enjoy a piece of beef jerky along the woodland trail in the Great Smokey Mountains. It was about four or five months after my Marine Corps enlistment was up. My friend, G. David Yaros, attorney at law and former Marine Corps truck driver and maintenance mechanic in the Motor Transport division of our Communications Company invited me to hike the Appalachian Trail with him and another friend of his.

This was the year of America’s Bi-Centennial and special events were going on all around the nation. I’m sure some of you might remember. As I was also into bicycling, I thought I might join “Bike-Centennial” and bicycle/camp from the west coast to the east coast. Of course, family and work obligations took their rightful place on my personal priority list. I’m sure, that trip would have killed me anyway, thinking back.

Instead, I told Dave, “Hell, yeah, I’ll go!” Arrangements and coordination of things to bring, where his house was in Cincinnati and so forth. I drove from Indy’s south side to Cincinnati, Ohio, found his house and brought my stuff inside. We had a long chat, stayed up very late, but not too late while we packed-up our stuff into a large, lightweight backpack. Everything we were taking with us would be in that pack. Nothing else. Obviously, weight would be a major concern.

I listened and paid attention as he wrapped a few aspirin into little pieces of aluminum foil, two small boxes of wooden matches were done likewise. He made sure all the food I brought was either instant or freeze-dried and that we had plenty of “gorp”. Gorp? Basically, what we today call “trail-mix” of nuts, dehydrated berries and banana chips, raisins and so forth.

All the air that could be squeezed out of my clothes, was and them packed strategically inside the large, orange nylon backpack and frame. The ground cloth, pad and blanket would be rolled up and put near the bottom and near my waist when I put the heavy pack on my back. I adjusted the straps to raise the whole thing to carry it higher (rather than lower) on my shoulders to make it easier to bear. Dave said, “You’ll appreciate that more as we go along.”

Packed and ready to load-out the next day, I spent the night in his spare bedroom and slept very well. I would need the rest. We arose early the next day, showered up well as this would be the last one for about four or five days unless it rained. Just the three of us, our creature comforts in gear and Mother Nature. I hid some roll-on deodorant in my pack. Maybe Mother Nature wouldn’t care, but I did.
After consuming a wonderful and filling breakfast made by Dave’s wife, Alma, we met his other friend and we loaded all our stuff into the back of his orange Ford Pinto. (Hey, it was the mid-70’s.) What we couldn’t fit in, we tied to the top. After all, there were the three of us and our gear in that Pinto. The word “full” takes on a new meaning to how we were stuffed into that car as we took off for the Tennessee Mountains.

At the ranger station at the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, we set-up our hiking route, established and reserved our campsites (so our trail solitude would go unencumbered), and paid our fees. With that and no further reason to delay, we headed toward the trail head where we would begin our mountain trek. Our plan was 10-11 miles per day. As we neared the end of our hike, perhaps that goal might have been too ambitious.

Blisters - oh, yeah..... More than one.
Of course, I was wearing my well broken-in combat boots with a pair of tennies in the pack.

Unpacking our stuff from Dave’s Pinto, there wasn’t much else to do, but do it. Do it we did.
Through some awesome scenery, steep inclines where we missed the trail, over and through creeks and river tributaries we changed our boots for the tennies and forded those streams. Dave asked me to tie his boots on the outside of his pack for him as he put on his other shoes. I did the best I could, but something happened. As he got about half way across, he slipped on a mossy rock and nearly fell. As he caught himself, his boots came loose and nearly knocked him out. It was my fault. As I laughed, I took the picture, but sadly, those photos are lost now.

Lost photos, that’s another story.

We drank the available water along the trail and boiled it for mixing with our food. As we all had different strides, we hardly traveled together, but rather made it a personal pilgrimage of our own discovery meeting-up at day’s end. That last day, my knees were shot and I had to crawl into camp. I remember that vividly. I had pushed myself too hard and the extra weight of the pack, the steepness - up and down - the trail had taken it’s toll over the past few days.

We spent our last night in the forest around a nice campfire, relating our own experiences along the trail and making plans for when we get back. I think “Hot Shower” was item number one on everyone’s list, followed by a sit-down in real chairs steak dinner.

It was quiet along the ride home. Dave drove the entire way back. Then, we separated from there. It was a great trip and experience. I wish I had those photos.

No real story here other than relating an experience. Perhaps this experience is why I still enjoy camping as I do rather than in an expensive RV or travel trailer. Simple is better sometimes. I guess I might have learned that from my grandfather, but that is another story for another time.

Update: It's funny to see these photos now - long since hidden in my journal writing software. Looking back this far, it's hard to imagine I was ever this young.



  1. the only camping I ever did was in a tent ... it wasn't that enjoyable as I recall, mostly because it was Mr. Wrong :) lol ... never been on the Appalachian trail.

    1. Everything we needed we took in huge backpacks that weighed about 80-85 pounds - including a tent, sleeping bag, change of clothes, food and first aid kit. The AT is rugged, hilly and rough going, but outstandingly beautiful scenery.

  2. well at that time being almost fresh out of the marines you were pretty used to those heavy backpacks! and I'm sure it was beautiful ... do you recall if fireflies were there? that would be awesome to see in the woods!

    1. Got a bit scared of a wild boar hiding in the brush - snorting and rustling bushes. I just kept walking - not being a threat.