The First Annual Weenie Man Expedition

It was Sunday, October 3, 1991. The big day had finally arrived.

I saw the headlights of Rob's car winding up the road as I struggled to tote my 62-pound backpack to the curb. My pack had weighed only 54 pounds as late as 10:00 the previous night, but in a last minute re-packing frenzy, I had managed to add an additional 8 pounds of "just in case" items. My back was already getting sore from carrying the thing, and I was still a good 240 miles from the trailhead.

There's something about driving in the darkness of early morning that adds a little edge of excitement to a trip. The miles flew by as Rob and I talked about fishing, old hippie days, and girlfriends. Each time we'd pass a Waffle House along the highway we would speculate as to the whereabouts of our comrades, pitying any poor waitress who had to deal with them. We could picture the entire breakfast scenario. Gary, the antithesis of a morning person, would slowly shuffle into the diner, disoriented, and squinting in the bright light. He could easily be mistaken for an aging oriental. Getting him to make a decision as complicated as "white or wheat toast" would be next to impossible. Michael, on the other hand, would be wide awake at the first sight of a waitress derriere in Waffle House polyester. He would proceed to flirt shamelessly, and slowly place his breakfast order, without ever blinking, directly to the server's breasts. Poor, poor waitress.

Rob and I had no problem finding Fontana Dock. We arrived, as predicted, long before Gary and Michael. They finally came pulling up just as Rob and I were finishing the last carbonated beverage and "civilized" sandwich we would have for several days. We filled out backcountry camping permits, informing the Park Service where to locate our bodies, then strapped on our packs and slowly struggled down the steep hill to the dock.

Once at the dock, we told the owner that we'd like to be transported across Fontana Lake to the mouth of Eagle Creek, and to be picked up the following Wednesday afternoon. He slowly surveyed the four city-slicker campers standing before him, all decked in their brand new, high-tech camping attire. "That'll be $70.00", he told us, with a slight grin on his face. Yeah, he saw us coming.

We managed to get our ourselves and our gear loaded into the boat without injury, and started the four mile boat ride across Fontana Lake to Eagle Creek. Nestled in a deep valley, surrounded by lush mountains shrouded in a bluish mist, Fontana is strikingly beautiful. It is also a bit on the spooky side. The remains of quaint little mountain towns lie buried hundreds of feet below its cold, grey waters. I surveyed the faces of my camping buddies as our boat wound its way through narrow valleys toward Eagle Creek. There were lots of nervous grins.

As our boat slowed to negotiate the last few sharp turns, our driver pointed to a long, muddy peninsula just a few hundred yards shy of our drop-off point. "Hogs been eatin' persimmons over there", he said. We knew what he meant by "hogs". This section of the Smokies plays host to a vile varmint descended from European or Russian boar that got away from a hunting preserve back around 1912. These boys can grow to stand three feet tall at the shoulder, weigh 400 pounds, and sport tusks up to eight inches long. They also have a reputation for being ornery and fast - a bad combination for slow, middle-aged men with heavy packs on their backs.

"Those pigs ever give you any trouble?", Michael asked our driver.

"Aw, they usually run off when they see ya'", he answered. "But every now and then you'll find one that wants to play." This was not the answer we had hoped to hear.

Our driver nudged the boat up onto a long, steep, muddy bank. My shiny new hiking boots didn't look so new after a few minutes sliding around in the mud in an attempt to transport our gear far enough up the bank that it would not slide back down into the lake. "Trail's up 'at way", our driver said, pointing in the general direction of several thousand acres of woods behind us. With that, he cranked up the boat and navigated out of sight, back towards civilization.

As Rob would recall several years later, we all stood there on that muddy bank, staring wistfully at the wake left behind by our boat, and "contemplated the silence". After a couple of minutes of this dead silence, I looked at the other members of our group and asked, "My God, what have we done?"

Michael, Gary, and Rob contemplate the silence.
Michael, Gary, and Rob "contemplate the silence"
soon after being abandoned on the shore of Fontana Lake.

It was generally agreed that we had just made a pretty serious (and possibly foolish) commitment by allowing that boat to get away.