To be successful in this Smokies quest, I must be able to string together several days and nights on the trail carrying all necessary gear on my back. Thanks to invaluable, detailed advice from Clarence over the last few weeks, I purchase good equipment to serve my needs. Now it is time to put it and me to the test. Fellow Fern Frondler Mary McCord suggests a hike along Balsam Mountain Trail and the AT connecting three shelters as a good opportunity to knock off a few trails and see how well I’ll hold up in the process. She and Clarence come along to enjoy time in the Smokies and show me the ropes. Good friends are essential to this journey, and I’m blessed with the best companions possible.
We meet at the Balsam Mountain Campground Aug. 12. Clarence brings a nice roomy tent for me to use, and I get my first opportunity to sample tent camping. After pitching the tents, we review our hiking gear for the following day, then have a refreshing salad with grilled chicken and a bottle of white wine for dinner. Bedtime arrives as darkness descends.
Tonight is the Perseids meteor shower, so I set an alarm for just after midnight. Shouldn’t have bothered. The noise of adjacent campers, unique environment, and general excitement easily keep me awake. I can see stars through the tree canopy and silently step out with flashlight and blanket in tow and walk to the road just outside the campground where a few folks are watching the skies. Two in chairs and two on an inflatable mattress are far more comfortable than me sitting on fresh asphalt. They soon give up as little seems to be happening. I tough it out for 90 minutes.
The number of meteors spotted is about 20 maybe, far less than the 60 per hour advertised. Among the few that do show up are some nice ones. I notice that the big meteors fall with a bright point of light followed a few milliseconds behind by a trail that poofs outward to either side like the tail of a frightened cat. One particularly memorable meteor arcs between glowing Venus and a black silhouette of trees at the horizon. The meteor shower may be weak, but the Milky Way is gorgeous. The wide band of stars arches directly overhead, and Cassiopeia sits regally guarding the night. The only sounds around me are a few high pitched squeaks of bats and the soft flutter of wings as one occasionally swoops past.
Later that night packs of coyotes run past the campground two or three times yipping and howling in an unearthly manner. Anyone who lives outside a city would be used to it. I live in a city and have not heard that eerie sound before. What really strikes me is the Doppler effect produced – their yowling increases in volume to a jangling cacophony and trails off again.