Spring break 2014 is upon us! While many people headed to the beaches, I sought out a different paradise. A friend and I went to GSMNP for a 3 day adventure. Hiking, fishing, and bonding. Not to mention the amazing people we met. We started just below the Fontana Dam and immediately ran into some amazing people. It just so happened that the Fresh Grounds Leapfrog Cafe was there (click here for the Facebook page and more later in the post). The other person that caught our attention was Brian. Brian works for an organization called Hiking for Wellness that helps raise money to support traumatized children (website here and also more later). It was incredible!
Day 1: Before we even started, we were offered food by two groups of people. One was the Leapfrog and the other a group of guys that had left over food from their trip. We declined since we were worried about making it to camp in time. Our hike in seemed to take no time at all because we were so excited. We trucked through to our first camping site and set up just before nightfall. Camp was right next to a stream that was completely unobstructed and begging to be fished. We enjoyed some surprisingly good food around a campfire. Nothing better than the smell and feel of a fire! Not long after that, we called it a night.
Day 2: That next morning, I fished it with my Shimano Kozuka 39NT and a tandem nymph rig for about an hour. Caught a decent sized wild brown! After that, grabbed some oatmeal and packed up for the hike. It was a brutal one! A steep climb of over 1000ft was a quarter of the hike, but the rest was a rough decline. Brutal on the old knees! We got to the campsite earlier than planned so we rested for a bit and set up. There was still plenty of daylight so I hit the nearby stream and fished about 40 minutes. This was a typical Appalachian headstream. Barely enough room to maneuver let alone fish a long rod. However, I have been told by many western fly fishermen that it's not possible to fish a long tenkara rod on these streams and have proven them wrong before! I used my 12ft TUSA Iwana rod and hit the spots that I could without getting my feet wet. I ended up balancing on a fallen tree about 5 feet above the water and sniping from there. It only took one cast to get my first hook up, but it was a bad hookset by me so it got off. On my third cast I landed a small rainbow. It was so beautiful that I was satisfied and called it quits. That night we had another fire and stared at the stars. It was a crystal clear night and we could even see orbiting satellites. Falling asleep next to a small stream and a full belly wasn't very hard!
Day 3: This was the longest hike of the trip. We set out early thinking it would take a while since the first part was a long, slow incline. However, we made it through in half the time we thought! It sure was rough though! This is where we ran into Brian. He is on his way to Maine as we speak. Not only that, but when he makes it, he's turning around and hiking back to Georgia! That 4,370 miles in 9 months! He's wearing a GPS locator so you can track his journey, has blog update, and also does youtube updates every Friday. Brian is a retired marine biologist that worked for the USGS collecting stream samples. Every fisherman should thank this man for his work! After a quick rest we headed to the Shuckstack fire tower. At an elevation of 4020ft, it had the most spectacular 360 view. Pictures cannot do it justice at all! From that point on it was over 3.5 miles of downhill. My knees were screaming, but it was well worth the pain. I want more! When we got to the car we were so jacked that we had actually completed. We caught wind that Fresh Grounds was still there and went to chat and eat some food. The Leapfrog Cafe is a great set up that happens in southern sections of the Appalachian Trail. They stay in one spot for 10 days feeding the hikers that come by. After the 10 days, they pack up and move north about 100 miles and start the process over. I hate to admit it, but I forget the man's name...but he was so enthusiastic about the operation. Truly inspiring that he cares so much for what he does and random hikers that pass through. We stopped in and he immediately started throwing food at us. Hotdogs fried in bacon grease, homemade mac n cheese, chili, koolaid, fruit, cookies...it seemed to be endless! He asked us to stick around for a bit so he could go the the post office and mail something for a hiker (how generous is that?!) and left us in charge. Now that's trust. Someone that believes in what he does so much...that's passion. While he was gone, we ate more and met a hiker from Boston who was very nice. We just chatted until it was safe to leave and headed home.
Our trip totaled 21.6 miles of hiking and lots of sore body parts, but most importantly it left us with memories that will never be forgotten. Thank you to all that stopped to talk to us even for a second. A special thank you to Fresh Grounds and Brian! For sure doing this again soon!