Everyone else who camped around us was still in their tents when we began hiking. We climbed up quite a bit to begin with, and topped Unaka Mountain, which was a dense spruce forest, and with the rain, smelled just like Christmas. The younger hikers didn't care too much for these forests. Everytime we were in them, one of them would remark, 'These woods are creepy!" We had to admit that we had discussed that they resembled the kind of forest that Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf should be hiding in.
Soon, we began spotting these tiny, bright orange newts on the trail. They were really beautiful, but moved extremely slowly, so we had to be careful not to step on them!
We came upon a beautiful meadow with blooming apple trees, and many tents. We were surprised at how many people were spending the day in tents instead of hiking. It really wasn't raining very hard at all, more like a steady sprinkle.
We finally reached Clyde Smith Shelter, and mile 368 and met 2 new hikers - Talks a Lot, and Birdman, both of them in their Sixties. Talks a Lot lived up to her name, and Birdman had been given that nickname so long ago, that he forgot why he was called that.
As soon as we had reached the Shelter, we were approached by Weatherman, who whispered something in Keith's ear. I soon found out that he said that Machete Mitch's sidekicks, Craftsman and Turtle were the ones that were standing around the campfire (fire!) and that they had a new sidekick named Steamroller. They really did not appear all that threatening to me, and besides, they had managed to make a fire after it had rained all day long. There was at least one thing I was anxious to learn from these three! I felt like a competitor on Survivor - hmmm, they have fire -- what can I trade for that? I was not convinced that I could get anything to burn on a day like this.
Soon I went to the campfire and began strategically approaching these three, trying to make a judgment on if they were approachable or not. By the time the evening was over, I had decided they really didn't worry me so much, and that they seem more entertained by the fact that everyone thought they were threatening than they were actually threatening at all. I think their main problem was young with too much time on their hands, and extremely inconsiderate of the other folks on the trail. They considered themselves "survivalist", but it seemed to me that they simply had come out here unprepared, and didn't have decent equipment, and didn't have a stove of any kind, so anytime they wanted to eat, they had to make fire -- so they were very good at it. Their secret, it turns out, was birch bark. Apparently it burns very well. Before the night was over, though, one of them admitted to me that they had babied that fire for at least 2 hours before they got it burning good. They had decided that the trail was way too long, and preferred to bushwack, hiking more of a straight line between points.