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Losing Myself in the Smokies, Introduction

by Nowslimmer

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It was a delightful, early June morning when I encountered another backpacker on the Cooper Road Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP). We both paused, a common practice of backpackers hiking in opposite directions. The stop provides a welcome rest and the exchange of information about any trail hazards such as downed trees, rock slides, high water crossings or animal problems with the bears, raccoons or wildcats seeking food. I learned that the manís name was Rob, that he was from Ocala, FL, and that he had been at my destination, Cane Creek Campsite (CS), for three days. I commented that he seemed to be carrying quite a few things. In addition to his fully laden backpack, he had numerous items in each hand, including a lawn chair. He replied, "Yes, but actually the heaviest thing had been a bottle of Jim Beam." I started to inquire about his occupation, but stopped abruptly, deciding to take a flyer. Pointing a finger at him I exclaimed, "Youíre a history teacher, right?" His face expressed total surprise and he replied, "Yes, thatís correct, but how could you possible know?" With an inner feeling of elation at my apparent lucky shot in the dark, I explained:

It was easy. Six years ago on the other side of the Park, at Tricorner Knob Shelter along the Appalachian Trail (AT), I was enjoying a nice, evening campfire with a small college History Professor from PA. Suddenly, about 9:30 in the midst of a pleasant conversation, he said, "Youíll have to excuse me. I have to go take my medicine." When he returned I quickly learned that his medicine was Canadian Club. He offered me some, but I declined, saying, "You carried it all the way here, you deserve to drink it." Two years later history repeated itself! At the same shelter, about the same time and under the same circumstances, a History Professor from a small college in Knoxville, TN, left the campfire uttering the identical words, "Youíll have to excuse me. I have to go take my medicine." After his return I told him about the previous experience and he stated, "Well, just for the record, my medicine is Canadian Windsor." He, too, offered me some and, again, I declined.

So you see, Rob, your mentioning the Jim Beam was the tip-off that you teach history. He gave an understanding nod and said, "Well, actually, it was not Jim Beam, it was Jack Danielís." I have concluded that teaching history really must be rough. If historians have to carry booze way into the mountains, how much do they drink before class? And, since they lie(1) , how does a student know what to believe in history class?

A remarkable coincidence occurred a few weeks later, when I was at the Tricorner Knob Shelter. Shortly after my arrival in mid-afternoon, a group of six, cheerful backpackers arrived for a rest before continuing to Peckís Corner Shelter for the night. They were faculty members from Florida State University (FSU) and seemed a little familiar to me. Once they learned that I was on a diet, they started to talk about a hiker from Florida, whom they had met years earlier, who did some type of government work on a ship on the other side of the world. I verified that I was the same man, after which they said that they had been talking about me and about the history professor from PA and his wife. They recalled that the professor always had a plaid flask hanging from his neck and that his wife kept wearing a poncho no matter how warm she became. All of us had spent a night together at Peckís Corner Shelter. The FSU group said that they almost always hiked along this area of the AT around the 4th of July. So, to verify some of the details related previously, look for their group around that date along the AT.

(1) Prominent Historian Admits Fabricating Vietnam Record, NY Times, June 19, 2001, and College Suspends Professor for Vietnam Fabrications, August 18, 2001.

About the Author

Nowslimmer is an active old-timer, who frequents GSMNP. The narrative is true except for any names.


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