The Second Annual Weenie Man Expedition

(Continued from previous page.)

It's difficult to describe the sense of well-being that can, almost imperceptibly, wash over you out in the desolation of the Smokies. Despite the physical discomforts that come along with living out of a backpack, your mind reacts almost as if some primeval craving is being satisfied. The pressures of job, family, and other "civilized" pursuits seem to drift away. It's strange how you can grow so accustomed to these pressures that you forget they even exist. It's only when they are suddenly removed that you realize what an oppressive load you're sometimes carrying. It's very much like hiking mile after mile with a heavy pack. When you finally slip the pack from your shoulders, you almost feel like you could fly.

After a few days in the woods, after you've finally shed the worries about what is happening back in "the real world", it seems like your senses become more keen. You become more attune to the forest around you. You finally take notice of all the earthy scents coming from the woods. Your ears easily pick out a far-away snap of a twig. You notice little dimples in the stream, signaling a rising trout, you would have failed to notice a few days earlier. Your limbs become looser, and your stride smoother and easier. On a long walk to your secret fishing spot, it seems like the trail is moving by on its own. You move your arms and legs just to let it flow by.

Rob fishing Hazel Creek.
Rob fishing Hazel Creek.

Your emotions have a lot more room to swing. Your mind has conversations with itself, and your priorities seem to sort themselves out. The twenty-dollar bill in your back pocket seems to lose all its power. It's useless to you in the woods. You can let long periods of time slip by just watching a trout glide effortlessly through the water, gracefully gathering its supper from the glimmering surface of the stream. The soothing sound of the stream is your constant companion. It just plain feels good.

I'm sure that each of the Weenie Men have memories of little things that amplify this sense of well-being that seems to come so naturally back in the Smokies. For me, one of these moments came on the second day of this trip. It was about lunch time, and all the Weenie Men met, quite by accident, at a little pool not far from camp. It was a gorgeous day, and the sun was perfectly angled to provide a nice warm spot for lunch. We all sat there, sharing goodies from our day packs, and watching Michael delicately casting a fly to a trout we could see occasionally feeding in the pool. After a while, Michael joined us for lunch, and Gary took his turn at casting to the pool. One by one, each of us took our turn casting to the fish as the others lounged in the sun, lazily eating lunch. When my turn came, I was a little self-conscious about trying to work my fly rod in front of the others. After a few clumsy casts, I glanced over my shoulder, expecting to see looks of disgust from the Weenie Men. Instead, I got smiles of encouragement. If it were possible for three guys to will a fish to bite, I surely would have pulled a trout from the pool that afternoon. It felt good.

I'm not sure if the other Weenie Men even remember this day. What stands out in the mind of one person may go unnoticed by another. I am sure, however, that each of the Weenie Men carries some special memory from these trips.

The deer who came to dinner (crossong the river).
The deer who came to dinner (crossong the river).

Of course, not all is peaceful and tranquil on any Weenie Men expedition. One night, as we were finishing up supper, the silence was shattered by something crashing through the woods straight toward our camp. We looked up in amazement as a large buck came bounding out of the woods, looked directly at us, and decided that we were less dangerous than whatever it was that was chasing him. He came charging through our camp, his hooves pounding the earth, as he raced only feet from where we were sitting. You could hear his labored breathing and see the frothing around his mouth as he bounded across Hazel Creek and crashed through the dense undergrowth on the opposite side of the stream.

Luckily for the Weenie Men, whatever had been chasing the deer decided to break off the chase before coming to our camp. For the rest of the night, all four Weenie Men heads would turn in unison at the slightest sound coming from the woods.

This year, we didn't have to contend with the nightly water-boiling ritual because Gary, living up to his title of official Bartender, brought along a water filter. He also again provided nightly refreshments. Rob, as Rig Master, not only provided a tarp, miles of rope, and food cache rigging, but also offered genuine Cuban cigars. Michael, the Fire Master, provided great campfires every night, in spite of Gary's poking stick. I, as Light Master, provided a small candle lantern for our dining area.

As the refreshments flowed, the nights were once again filled with trout fishing tales. There were also far too many X-rated tales, provided by Michael, who was once again dating after more than a decade. Gary, in an attempt to dry out his boots by the fire, nearly melted them. This provided great amusement for the rest of the Weenie Men.