The Fifth Annual Weenie Man Expedition

(Continued from previous page.)

We hurried back to camp and quickly began packing away our gear. Mark, too, was quickly preparing for our departure. Gary, still in his early-morning daze, asked "Hey guys, don't you want to fish a couple hours before we hike down?"

"Are you crazy!" Rob replied. "You can stay up here all day if you want, but I'm getting out of here while we still can!"

Finally, after waking up enough to realize how dangerous Eagle Creek was becoming, Gary too began packing. A short time later, we began our hike toward Fontana Lake. We had two crossings of Eagle Creek to look forward to. Unbeknownst to us, the hurricane causing all this rain was bearing down on the Smokies, and would cause so much destruction that portions of the park would be closed for years to come.

When we arrived at the first stream crossing, it was barely recognizable. The stream had swollen to almost twice its normal width. Mark, the youngest and strongest of the group, volunteered to cross first. We all watched with nervous anticipation as he slowly fought his was through the cold, waist-deep, rushing water. After several very long minutes, he managed to reach the other side, discard his pack, and work his way back out to a boulder about 30 feet from the shore, ready to lend a hand to the next Weenie Man to cross.

Gary went next. Being the shortest of the group, the water came high up on his body. But, slowly but surely, he successfully worked his way to the other side.

I was next. I knew both Gary and Mark were far stronger and more agile than me, and it looked like it had been a pretty rough struggle for them. I was scared. I loosened my pack straps, ready to ditch my expensive collection of gear if need be. Slowly, shakily, I worked my way across the stream. I was amazed at its power, and the tremendous noise that it was making. I could feel the tree limbs knocking into my legs as they were swept downstream. Mark, leaning far out from his boulder perch, offered hand signals, directing me on least treacherous route. I made it to within about ten feet of his grasp when it happened. I fell.

It's next to impossible to describe exactly how it feels to fall into a raging, cold river first thing in the morning. Amazingly, I didn't really feel all that scared. It seemed like time slowed almost to a stop. I felt like I had minutes to ponder every thought and decision. The roar of the stream was instantly replaced by a muffled, almost soothing, bubbling noise. I was amazed by the contrast. It was so quiet. I remember the feel of the water rushing by my face. It didn't feel nearly as raw and cold on my face as it had on my legs as I crossed the stream. Everything was brown. Then, I had time to think, "Wow. I'm in big trouble here. Let's see. I should probably get this fifty-pound pack off my back." I swear, it felt like I had forever to think about these things. I never gave a though to running out of air. Then, I realized that my pack, rather than forcing me further under water, seemed to be acting as a floatation device. I decided not to jettison it just yet. I was still amazed by the silence. Then, I felt my left foot wedge on a rock. At almost the same time, my right foot touched another rock. I swung my arms and, with my pack acting almost like a sail, my head popped out of the water. With my feet wedged against the rocks, the force of the stream lifted me right back up into a standing position.

Boy, was it loud again.

Fred, once baptized, nervously begins the second crossing.
Fred, once baptized, nervously begins the second crossing.

Through eyes blurred by creek water, I looked back at Rob, then toward the other shore at Mark and Gary. They all looked as if they had seen a ghost. Mark looked like he was about to dive into the stream to rescue me, but I motioned that I was OK. I finally made my way over to the boulder on which he was perched, and with a grin, he helped me out of the stream.

"Man, I thought you were a goner!" he said, as he grasped my arm.

I dropped my pack to the ground. I was soaking wet. Gary just shook his head as I pulled a dry cigarette from a pack I had stashed in a zip-lock baggie. (A good Weenie Man is always prepared.) I sat down, exhausted.

"I think I'd better have a smoke on that one," I said. "Let's see - we get to do this again in just a mile or so, don't we?"

Mark lends a hand to Rob exiting the stream.
Mark lends a hand to Rob exiting the stream.

Eventually, Rob, too, made it across the stream. He slapped me on the back and said, "Man! I though you were going to beat us down to the lake by an hour or two!"

"Remember I mentioned that I'd rather be here in the rain than back at the office?" I asked the Rig Man. "Well, I think I miss my office now."