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A WilSkills-Wonderful Weekend

Alisha Newton

The child, returned
(in homage to Yeats)

Where fleeting water gushes
from the springs of Caroline
in icy breaks and rushes,
we go to find respite.

Where moss is caught in droplets
like acrylic beads of green,
the current flows in inlets
and through driftwood serene.

We seek out beds of leaves
and laying plastic out,
have quiet human dreams
while distant stars surround.

For we return,
we distant children,
from city streets to
where we waken.

Turning dirty,
turning wild,

till evening greets us
with his dusky smile.

by Bradley Alex Wheaton, WilSkills student

This poem is an ode to the wilderness, inspired by last weekend’s backpacking trip.

Wilderness Skills Adventures
And this weekend, I had yet another WilSkills adventure. In a group of eleven, I backpacked the Spence-Russell Loop and part of the AT to Mollie’s Field Shelter, a fifteen-mile round-trip.

I’m familiar with the routine now: On Friday afternoon, we “pack out” our food, backpacks, sleeping pads and mats, and supplies. We drive for a couple of hours until we reach a traveler’s station on I-40, then we prepare a back-country dinner, we drive for a couple more hours, and finally we arrive at a campsite.

Rice, beans, sautéed vegetables, and cheese in a greywater-proof tortilla.

This weekend we stayed at Cades Cove, a section of the Great Smokey Mountain National Park, not far from the North Carolina state line.

We set up tents in the dark and go to sleep as soon as possible. In the morning, we wake up, make breakfast, load up our backpacks and head for the trail.

Our group, ready to hit the trail.

We started out on the Spence trail, which turned into the Russell trail, which turned into the famed Appalachian trail. The entire trip was 7.5 miles, mostly uphill, and it took us five hours. We hiked through rushing mountain streams, through frozen snow and through low clouds. We gave each other nicknames and threw snowballs. We snacked on tortillas with PB&J (and Sriracha and cheese).


As we continued to ascend, we passed through the clouds until they were below us. Nearing the top of the ridge, we could see and feel the sun, low in the sky, as it shone its last rays of the day.

Once we reached a shelter, we settled in for the night. Appalachian Trail shelters are three-sided lean-tos with two tiers of bunks. All eleven of us slept across the top bunk. Before we went to sleep, I read a twentieth-century ghost story, “The Man Who Went to Far” by E.F. Benson. I only made it about a third of the way before I heard snoring, but here’s a memorable line:
“One story indeed I have heard with some definiteness, the tale of a monstrous goat that has been seen to skip with hellish glee about the woods and shady places.”
Beware those hellish goats!

That night, it rained, and at one point I woke up alarmed. The wind was making the edge of the tarp flap noisily, and one of our members was up rustling through his bag, while another person snored loudly. When I heard this, I thought “BEAR” and slid deeper into my sleeping bag.

But of course there were no bears. This is all that happened re animals: When we arrived at the shelter, we noticed an extremely cute (and possibly disease-carrying) mouse. The next morning we found that our two rolls of toilet paper had been half-shredded by the little rodents.

Even burnt food tastes delicious in the wilderness.

The next morning, after oatmeal and burnt cinnamon rolls, we departed Mollie’s Field and headed directly downhill. After four or so hours of movement, most of us couldn’t help but flop onto the ground next to the van, parked at the campground. Before piling into the van for the return trip, we changed into less sweaty and dirty clothes. On the way back, we stopped at Taste of Thai in Knoxville. The curry. Oh, the curry.

The walking stick returns!

My goal this semester is to pass the course which requires attendance at 75% (~9) lectures, 2 recycling days, 4 trips, and one exam. Former WilSkills member and blogger Una writes about the requirements in detail here.

More Photos
Here are some more photos of the trip!

We crossed three log bridges over rushing streams like this one.

Here is a stream that did not include a bridge. Note the helping hand.

Team cheer at pack-out. I would tell you what we cheered, but it wouldn't make any sense.

Note: All photos are, once again, courtesy of Amy Nguyen. I don’t know what I would do without her!

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