Prissy and Steve’s Excellent Adventure

How much should I prepare to understand the Camino de Santiago? I’m not talking about my packing list or budget. I mean:

Have you read books on Spanish history or the Camino pilgrimage, beyond the guidebook of course? Seen Spanish movies? Learned Spanish? I like to see what other people read, study, and learn before hand to enhance the quality of their journey.

The Camino provides seems to be a familiar saying but being prepared is better.

Steve and Priscilla at REI

The Western North Carolina Chapter of the American Pilgrims on the Camino  hosted its December meeting at REI Asheville. Priscilla Richter and her brother Steve Pierce talked about their respective Camino experience.

They first showed a picture of themselves as children, Prissy and Steve, and dubbed their walk as Prissy and Steve’s excellent adventure.

Priscilla walked the Camino Frances on her own. She looked at the experience as Life at the speed of walking. Starting on April 22, it took her seven weeks all together.

She emphasized the pleasure of walking into a village, a “shelter from the storm” she called it.

“Villages are economically depressed,” she concluded at the end of her walk. “There are no young people, no kids in school. If it wasn’t for Camino pilgrims, I don’t know how they would make it.”

“There are so many icons on this journey. The plane trees, which are sacred,” said Priscilla. The plane trees, which line so many streets, are related to the sycamore. And the storks. I never thought that storks would nest on top of stone ruins but they seem to be common on the Camino.

However, I have a feeling that it’s the people she met that made Priscilla’s trip. Some people like solitude but there’s a balance between community and solitude.

”Some people carried ashes of their loved ones,” she recalls. The Camino pilgrimage attracts a world community. Fellow pilgrims gave Priscilla the moniker, Speedy Gonzalez, which she found funny. In the US, she wouldn’t be considered a fast walker.

She introduced a new concept in my Camino lexicon, “Camino brain” which I looked up.

“On the Camino most people at one time or another forget what day it is, the date, and even where they slept two days ago.” A blog from Slim on the Road explains the phenomenon.

Steve was on The Camino Portugues from May 18 to June 8. He walked from Port in Portugal to Santiago and then onto Muxia with Priscilla.

In front of the Santiago Cathedral

“It’s good to have an itinerary to deviate from,” he quotes advice from Don Walton, a longtime Camino walker.

“The villages were very quiet,” Steve said echoing Priscilla sentiment. “Every day felt like Sunday morning.”

Steve enjoyed the routine, even doing the laundry – by hand, you understand.

He learned to choose a bunk bed against the wall so he would have one fewer snorer to contend with. He praised the seafood of Portugal.

Then he and Priscilla met outside of the Santiago cathedral. I’m amazed that they could meet in the huge crowd without prearranged it.

Together they walked together to Muxia and back to Finisterre, the end of the world, and finished their adventure.

Err on the side of YES

Always err on the side of “Yes”.

Always err on the side of Going instead of Cancelling.

Don’t err on the side of caution. In fact, throw caution to the wind and the rain.

It was a dark and stormy morning when I woke up. Over twenty people had signed up  with Friends of the Smokies to hike to Chasteen Creek Falls and further up to the campsite .

I was scheduled to lead a hike for Friends of the Smokies but was anyone going to show up in this weather?  Should I even bother to drive about an hour to Oconaluftee Visitor Center(OVC) to see if anyone wanted to hike? The Smokies staff were working in the Tennessee office, so I was the only leader.

I went to OVC because:

  • My motto is that I never cancel a hike based on hiking weather. Once I suggested cancelling because of driving concerns, but never because an all-day rain was in the forecast.
  • I’m a volunteer, which means I don’t paid, I don’t get expenses and I treat the work like a job. Would I cancel work because of rain? OK. I’ve always had an indoor job, but the principle is the same.
  • I just finished reading A Man Called Ove about a stubborn Swedish man who believes rules are rules. Ove was a real curmudgeon but he had some wise sayings.
Ranger Michael and Ginger of GSMA

When I arrived at Oconaluftee Visitor Center, the parking lot was empty. I checked in with Ranger Michael who was happy to see someone on the other side of the desk.

“I’m going to walk to Chasteen Creek,” I said to Michael. “You always have to tell someone where you’re going and you’re it today. I’ll check out when I come back.”

After coming all this way, I was not going to just turn around and go home, no matter how wet it was.

I got to Smokemont Campground but no one from the Friends group was here. While I put on my boots, a young woman with colorful high plastic boots, more like garden Wellies, asked if I was going hiking. It turned out that she and her traveling companion, both from Arizona, were on a whirlwind cross-country trip and this morning was their chance to see the Smokies.

“Why don’t you walk to Chasteen Creek Falls with me?” I suggested. It was quickly obvious that this millenial woman couldn’t keep up but her male friend and I hoofed it on Bradley Creek Trail and turned right on Chasteen Creek Trail. The rain had not let up since I got into the park. Even though I had a good raincoat and rainpants, I was soaked.

Amanda, Sallye, Linda and me

When we reached the turn to the falls, three women in colorful rain jackets came toward us. Linda S, Sallye S. and Amanda Gomez, manager of the OVC Great Smoky Mountains Association (GSMA) bookstore had just been to the falls.

“We weren’t sure that you were coming,” Linda said.

“You know that I said rain or shine,” I said. “But I’m so glad to see you.”

We went back to the falls, so I could admire the copious amount of water coming down. See the photo on top. Amanda needed to get back to the store. The guy from Arizona needed to get back to his slow-hiking friend. But we continued up to the campsite, the way the hike was planned in the first place.

By now, the rain didn’t make any difference. I was drenched but not cold. Linda had a system of plastic bags to keep her serious camera from getting soaked. We stopped to take pictures of the waterfall from several angles going up and down the trail.

When we got back to the car, I gave them the present that Friends of the Smokies had promised all attendees. I gave them each a couple of pieces of my ubiquitous dark chocolate and wished them a good Christmas.

What did I do with the rest of the chocolate, you might ask. When I checked back into OVC, Ranger Michael was no longer at the desk so I gave the bag of chocolate to the GSMA folks. I bought a couple of Smokies calendars and headed home.

At this moment, US 441 is closed past Smokemont Campground. But there’s plenty of hiking from Smokemont or Mingus Creek Trail. Look at a map and explore.

Thanks for the folks that came out on a rainy day. If you want to be the first to learn about the Friends of the Smokies Classic Hike series for 2017, make sure to join and watch your email inbox.

Friends of the Smokies is going hiking!

On Bradley Fork Trail
On Bradley Fork Trail

This has been a horrific week in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and in the gateway communities of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. The park has been closed tight, something that I’ve not seen since I’ve been paying attention to park issues.

But now we hear that at least some of the North Carolina side of the park is open. It’s important that we get out there to show support and solidarity with the park.

Friends of the Smokies is leading a hike on Tuesday December 6 to Chasteen Creek Falls. It’s an easy to moderate out-and-back hike (7.5 miles, 1,200 feet of altitude).

We’ll hike along Bradley Fork and Chasteen Creek Trails. We’ll marvel at the changing leaf color and explore a tumbling waterfall. Since the waterfall isn’t right on the trail, many hikers miss it as they climb up Chasteen Creek Trail. I led this hike last month for Carolina Mountain Club and know that, even in the middle of the worst drought, there was water in the falls. It ought to be flowing now.

Chasteen Creek in drought
Chasteen Creek in drought

We’ll hike to the campsite for lunch and go back the same way.

After the hike, we’ll go to Oconaluftee Visitor Center (OVC) for some holiday shopping. Great Smoky Mountains Association, the park partner that manages the bookstores in the park, needs our help as well.

Bring your holiday shopping list and do all your shopping locally at OVC. Don’t forget to bring your Friends of the Smokies membership card to receive 15% off.

We will have a small gift for each hiker in attendance in the spirit of the season. If you haven’t registered, please do so online now on the Friends of the Smokies website.

The event will say “Grotto Falls”. Ignore that. The date is correct so just sign up by Sunday evening and you’ll be sent  instructions on the  meeting time and place.