The Third Annual Weenie Man Expedition

(Continued from previous page.)

Gary finally gets to eat trout.
Gary finally gets to eat trout.

However, there were a few bright fishing moments. Gary had, for three consecutive years, carried a frying pan and seasonings in hopes of a trout supper. This year, he did actually bring back to camp two trout who, if they stood on their tip-toes, were of legal size, and thus, were destined for the frying pan. However, he paid a high price for his fishing that day. His wife had given him a very nice camera. He had hoped to use it to provide proof to his fellow Weenie Men that he had actually caught as many trout as claimed around the campfire. As he bent over to retrieve his supper trout, the camera slipped from his pocket into the stream. Although he managed to retrieve it, it gasped the last snap, crackle, pop of its short life when Gary turned it on before allowing it to dry out.

As Rob and I had crossed Fontana, our boat driver told us of a secret fishing spot. I'm not sure if he was actually doing us a favor, or was just trying to keep us away from his real favorite spots. In any event, Rob and I closely guarded this secret from our fellow Weenie Men, and walked miles to the spot the following day. There, far back in the woods, after a difficult, trail-less hike, I managed to haul in a nice rainbow. Eventually, I believe everyone on the trip caught at least one fish.

Fred lands a fine rainbow.
Fred lands a fine rainbow.

The following day, Michael was scheduled to hike back to civilization. (It should be duly noted that this was the first instance of a Weenie Man leaving camp early for the love of a woman. Even though he was departing to celebrate his first anniversary with his new girlfriend, he was, none the less, subjected to massive amounts of abuse from his fellow Weenie Men.) As I watched him hobble around camp preparing for his departure, I decided that it might be wise if I accompanied him on his hike. I really wasn't sure if his badly damaged feet could transport him all the way back to the lake.

Michael finally bade his fellow Weenie Men farewell, was subjected to some last-minute ridicule, and then set off toward the lake. It was a long hike. After a few miles, ready to take over Michael's heavy pack, I ask how his feet were faring. He replied he was doing a Zen thing, and that he didn't even have feet. He was floating down the trail. Judging by the look of concentration on his face, he may well have been telling the truth. We just kept walking and talking, walking and talking. Michael talked of looking forward to seeing his girlfriend Lois, of missing his children, and of the pain of earlier trips, knowing he was about to spend his last Christmas as a complete family. Michael had always been one hell of a family man, and a great, albeit stern, father. His kids were everything to him, and it was difficult adjusting to not seeing them at the end of every day. We just kept walking and talking - brother Weenie Man talk.

Eventually, we made it all the way down to the lake. Michael never once complained of the pain, and never accepted my offers to carry his pack. We shook hands, and I turned around to make the long hike back to camp.

It's always strange walking alone for mile after mile in the woods. On all of the Weenie Men trips, I would always set aside one day for nothing but walking. After a few miles on this walk, I heard a muffled splash from the stream. At first, I thought it was a trout. Then, through the brush, I could see that it was an otter playing in the stream. This is an extremely rare sight, and I felt privileged to be a spectator. I pulled my camera from my day pack and started slowly sneaking toward the stream for a photo. As I was crouching down to get a good angle for the photograph, I heard a low, rumbling, buzzing sound. I looked between my feet to discover a huge yellow jacket nest, covered with hundreds of bees. Needless to say, I never got my prized photo. I had many miles to think about how things could have turned out had I crouched just a little bit lower.

That night, the Weenie Men had to build a campfire without the assistance of the Fire Master. We did manage to get one going, and we all had a great time talking about what a milquetoasty, wimp Michael was for going home. Weenie Men can be pretty tough talkers when the subject of their tirade is not around to defend themselves.

The following morning, the remaining Weenie Men broke camp and we all hiked back toward the lake. Our boat driver, as usual, showed up right on time. Gary, as usual, showed up late. As our boat bounced across Fontana Lake, all of the Weenie Men looked a little sad to be leaving our beautiful Hazel Creek.

But, it sure was nice knowing we wouldn't have to "climb the hill" in the morning.