Thursday, April 28, 2011

GSMNP II: More from the trip

Freak snow storms (how freak can they be in the GSMNP?) had the Park delay opening by a full day. That delay was in addition to the unpublished, unexplained late opening by a day compared to the published opening day on the website. That explained, however, the young man in the parking area having slept in his car the night before. He looked awesomely disheveled, and for a moment Chris and I both wanted to be him. While we were waiting for the park to open, we entertained ourselves in the fine town of Sevierville; an Orvis shop was rumored to be there.

Driving over to S-ville was eventless; arriving in S-ville was also eventless. For some reason, the bums who run and work in the Orvis flyshop in Sevierville don't get to work until some time past 7:30am. Shaking our heads, we loitered on the front porch and checked the chalkboard of very authentic looking hatch and water information. It was then and there, on that rustic porch, our hearts began to sink. They didn't quite sink yet, it's just that they knew they were on the edge and just about to be at that tipping point where the only thing that can happen is f-a-l-l. Water levels were all "HIGH" across that damn board. We shrugged it off (or tried to), figuring this was a chalkboard on a fly shop's front porch--it's all for the tourists. It probably hadn't been updated in weeks. We will be....fine.

Heading back to the campsite came after one more stop. Walmart. The pilgrammage of pilgrammages had to happen for fishing licenses (hey, they're open at 7:30!). We hunted down someone to issue us something official, paid up, and marvelled at the fact that the Walmart there sells fly rods. We are used to seeing nothing but catfish rigs with poles as thick as my upper thigh. While waiting/paying/getting official, Chris asked the nice lady if she knew if there were any water purification tablets around. Standing in the camping/hunting section, we figured the answer would be a quick "yes" and a short point to a few feet away. No, she directed us to the "pet department." Why? Because it's Sevierville and that's where they keep them. Unfortunately, they must have been out of stock or something....we never found them. Apparently there is a high demand for purification tablets among local pet owners.

Arriving back at the campground, we saw that the "Road Closed" sign was still firmly in place, and there was no way of getting in. We waited and watched, and finally the debris and timber were cleared sufficiently for the road to reopen and allow us some access. Having waited most of the morning away, we skipped setting up camp and went straight to fishing.

Much debate over coffee and ragged-out nerves and temperaments from the all-night drive led us to a hike up into the mountains not far from the campsite. The fresh snow really had us doubting if we were on the trail: "I think this snow is just covering the trail; we gotta be on it, right?" We wandered, checked the map a hundred times, compared our wanders to the map compared to the little creek (little is a joke, it was supposed to be small...but was presently whitewater death that sounded like a horizontal waterfall). We were not quite lost and not quite found; we were sort of just lound, or maybe fost. Either way, fishing was damn near impossible in that water. Just looking at it gave the impression that any Brook Trout in it had been beat to death a day or so ago and their sad bodies washed miles downstream, out of even snagging range. Of course, that wasn't the case...but we were fost and had to occupy our minds with something.

We legitimately crossed the water twice, and both times confused the hell out of us on the map. You would think that definitive points in a landscape and a very good trail map would match up such that there is no doubt of location. We thought that, and were wrong. We did finally find ourselves on the map, and the real trail (boy did it look BIG compared to what we thought was the trail!). We tried to fish two and a half times, and we tried to enjoy that...but this was just not our day for fishing or hiking.

Discouraged, we pressed onward a bit in dim hope of calm, fishy, minimal headwater. Getting closer to dark and no closer to headwater, we turned back on the trail and pointed ourselves at our empty campsite. An hour later we arrived there, but very much with the feeling of being turned down by that cute girl a grade above you when you finally got the courage and opportunity to ask her out. Damn.

This half-dead spinner summed up the situation perfectly.

We set up camp, or something that looked like one and gathered our senses. We pep-talked each other; we pep-talked ourselves; we pep-talked the whole trip. We had all the next day and the water is only falling (well there was that snow-melt...ignore that) and we have seen the water. Really, we had nothing to go on except intel that was completely negated by the weather and water conditions ("Man, you guys came at a horrible time; this is just an unusual amount of water"). We decided to go back to that S-ville fly shop and see what they knew beyond what they scratched on the tourist chalkboard. As it turns out, it wasn't touristy.

We got some information out of the guy there, but that meant we had to pretend to really be about to buy something. Forty-five minutes of caressing rods, opening and closing little wooden and aluminum fly boxes, and the always-convincing walk-by-the-fly-case with a ponderous pause thrown in here and there. Once, I even picked up one of the little things, grunted, and replaced it after a long inspection. I was convincing...but wanted information. Real information, not information that gets handed out for free to every dude who walks in, spends $1000 with his wife (only $300 was on fly gear, the rest was on dog shit), and asks where the best place is to learn to fly fish and catch a "real Smoky Mountain trout." I think the desperation/exhaustion/desperation in our eyes took the place of the thousand bucks and dog collar. We were pointed in a genuinely good direction by the guy, and I swear he looked jealous. He looked at us the same way we did at the guy sleeping in his car. We were defeated, but we were "those guys."

In then end, Chris caught 2--landing one for a photo. I caught zero, but had the distinction of not having missed any. I didn't even get a bite the whole trip. I fell in, three times. From the perspective of many, it was a total failure of a trip. If you know Chris or me at all, you know it was anything but.

We never did find those purification tablets, though.


  1. One of you best posts yet, buddy. Wow, what a trip.

  2. Interesting, I've been on many of these kinds of trips before hahaha

  3. Well, you DID get some incredibly beautiful photos! And you spin a great yarn...I almost feel as if I were there - brrrrrr!