The Third Annual Weenie Man Expedition

By 1993, the word was out.

Without provocation or invitation, any one of the Weenie Men might launch into a great storytelling binge, cornering any unsuspecting listener in a hallway, lab, or break room around the office. This, in turn, would cause other Weenie Men to gather, all more than willing to help further embellish any Weenie Man tale being told. The Weenie Men were, in fact, so good at embellishing these tales that they could make it sound like it was actually fun to sleep on the ground in the rain.

The Third Annual Weenie Man Portrait - Rob, Mark, Gary, Fred, and Michael.
The Third Annual Weenie Man Portrait - Rob, Mark, Gary, Fred, and Michael.

Unfortunately, at some point during 1993, the term "Weenie Man" also slipped out into general usage around the office. It's one thing to be called Weenie Man by a brother outdoorsman. It's quite another to be showing important visitors from Bell Laboratories around the office, only to be hailed down in the hallway by Suzy the stock girl hollering, "Hey, Weenie Boy!"

In any event, the Weenie Men had made these trips sound so inviting that this year Mark Walker, a hardware geek from around the office, actually volunteered to accompany us on the Third Annual Weenie Man Expedition. Mark was several years younger than the rest us, and, being built like a football player, appeared to be able to tote massive loads up the mountain. This, quite naturally, caused great glee amongst all the rest of the Weenie Men. We each took our turn outlining the list of heavy items a Weenie Man Rookie was expected to carry for the rest of the group. Weenie Man initiation is a tough row to hoe.

This year, the scheduling got a bit more complicated. Gary (the Bartender), Michael (the Fire Master), and Mark (at this point, the Rookie) were going to hike in on Saturday, September 24. Rob (the Rig Master) and I (the Light Master, and Official Recording Secretary) were to hike in the following Sunday. Michael had to hike out on Tuesday, and the rest of us were scheduled to leave the following Wednesday. Further complicating matters was the Park Service regulation restricting the number of nights a group can spend at any one campsite to three. This required us to register as two separate groups, for two separate time periods, so that we would have in our possession what would appear to be a legal permit covering all of us for the entire stay. The logistics almost exceeded our collective Weenie Man organization skills.

(Please note that normally the Weenie Men strictly follow all Park Service regulations. We don't even break the rules on fishing, even on frustratingly fishless days. However, we thought it would be all right to slightly bend this one rule, designed to prevent hikers from hogging a particular campsite, since our trip was scheduled for a time of the year when back country campsite usage is virtually non-existent.)

On Saturday, as I was packing for our trip, I got a phone call from Rob.

"Man, have you seen the weather report from the mountains?" he asked. "They're getting pounded! It could rain three inches up there today!"

Quite naturally, this gave me quite a chuckle. "Yeah, that will teach those guys to leave a day earlier than us."

A freezing Rookie.
A freezing Rookie.

Even as Rob and I were talking, the other Weenie Men were indeed taking a pounding. They had taken a boat from Fontana Dock to the mouth of Hazel Creek in a pouring rain. Michael, not wanting to be shown up by the younger Weenie Man Rookie, set off up the trail at a blistering pace. Unfortunately, he was wearing cotton rather than wool socks, and his feet, abraded by the wet cotton, soon deteriorated past the point of blistering. By the time he reached Sugar Fork, his feet were actually bleeding.

The trail wasn't particularly kind to the Rookie, either. Before even leaving town, Gary, in classic Gary style, proposed his load sharing scheme. He kindly volunteered to carry all 11 ounces of his camp stove in exchange for Mark carrying 9 pounds of tent. This act shocked even the most hard-hearted of the Weenie Men. Gary, on the other hand, continues to claim that it was a fair deal. In addition to shafting Mark with this load sharing deal, he and Michael managed to add several pounds to Mark's load by sneaking three beers and a root beer into Mark's pack back at the boat dock. Unbeknownst to the pranksters, Mark was already carrying cold beer, iced down in a heavy cooler, for his new camping buddies. Add all this to the couple of extra pounds Mark's sleeping bag was busy sopping up in the pouring rain, and his backpack weighed nearly 70 pounds. This soaking wet boy scout sleeping bag would provide little relief to Mark's tired, aching back on the freezing-cold nights to come.

Of course, all this was happening as Rob and I talked on the phone from the comfort or our warm, dry, recliners. Clearly, bad luck can befall those who break Weenie Man tradition by leaving a day early.