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Camping in the Smokies with George and Clem (Guest Post) August 3, 2008

Posted by TimTheFoolMan in Blogging, Friends.
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[Ed Note: This is a guest post by a childhood best-friend of Clem. Any resemblance between Clem and the author of this blog is unavoidable.]

For a former Wyoming mountain and back-country guide, this is a story I wish I could forget.  It does, however, demonstrate that in the absence of technical expertise, passion and desire will press on…along with a few good memorable laughs.


They were 18-20 years old when the Smokie Mountains called out to two good friends, George and Clem.  They fueled up the trusty 1968 AMC Rambler with no rear floor board and set off for Gatlinburg with some borrowed camping equipment.  They were stocked with food that seemed appropriate for a backpacking trip.  Neither had ever done a backpacking trip in the mountains before, but it shouldn’t be that complicated.

George was a country boy at heart who knew how to hunt and fish.  Clem was a city boy who was never afraid of a challenge especially when George said “Let’s go.”  So, together they went south and within six hours of high speed adventure in the the mighty Rambler, they found themselves on the famous Appalachian Trail.

The Hike

Now George had planned out a rather easy first day down the Appalachian Trail.  They would trek about five miles to a designated campsite along the trail in the Smokie Mountain National Park.  Anybody can go five miles, he thought.  George and Clem unloaded the Rambler of all the equipment they would need for the back-country experience.  Both of them felt strong and ready to face the wild.  After carefully balancing all the gear, they set out down the Appalachian Trail.  They were fully loaded backpackers.

After about a quarter mile, they stopped and made some adjustments to their loads, then started out again.  They were really beginning to work up a sweat as they carried their gear down the trail.  Soon they were simply thinking about taking that next step forward.  Suddenly, from behind, a man shouted “Passing on your right”.  This guy went by them like a sprinter.  He had a nice sleek backpack, with some nice boots and hiking shorts.  Soon after, another guy went by them and was similarly outfitted.  Clem and George looked at these sleek backpackers, looked at themselves, and could quickly see that these guys were outfitted quite differently than they were.

George was carrying an eight man heavy canvas tent with an old backpack loaded with food and large rolled cotton sleeping bags.  Clem had a long pole across his shoulders and behind his neck.  On one end was the long duffel bag of heavy gauge tent poles for the tent that George was carrying. On the other end of the pole was a large Coleman cooler which was loaded with canned goods, soft drinks, and large bags of Doritos corn chips.

Adding Fuel to the Fire

Somewhere in the midst of all of this was a large Coleman two burner camp stove with fuel.  Both were dressed in blue jeans, work boots, and layers of t’shirts and flannel.  As George and Clem walked down the trail with this load, they could be heard and seen for some distance.  Occasionally, Clem would have to turn sideways in the trail in order for his loaded pole to pass between trees in the forest.  Needless to say, that first sleek backpacker caught their attention.  The second one made it obvious to them that there was a better way to go backpacking in the Smokie Mountains.

After trudging along the Appalachian Trail for about a mile, fully loaded for car camping in the local state park, Clem and George decided that they needed to make a major adjustment to their load in order to make their destination before nightfall.  They found a very large tree just off the trail that served as a good landmark.  They then proceeded to bury the eight man tent and poles to reduce their load.  The last sleek backpacker mentioned that there was a nice shelter at the campsite to protect backpackers from the black bear in the area.  Therefore, they would not need the tent.  Even after dropping the tent and poles, the load to be distributed between George and Clem was enormous.  Clem still had the pole across his shoulders and George had stuff in each hand with gear tied all over his pack.

Making Camp

Finally, George and Clem arrived at the campsite.  The sun was setting and several other sleek backpackers had passed them.  Both arrived exhausted from the five mile trek and dropped their loads with a crashing and clanging of their gear.  They took up residence at a large downed tree which made for a nice place to sit and prepare dinner.  That’s when they started to notice some other great contrasts between them and the sleek backpackers.  You see, the sleek backpackers all had these tiny stoves and little packets of dehydrated meals.  They would just add boiling water to the packets and presto, a nice meal.

Clem and George didn’t care at this point, they were just starving.  They opened up their cooler and bags, had cokes, Doritos, beenie weenies, and could heat twice as much with that big Coleman camp stove.  It looked like they just drove up in their F250 King Cab and were having a tailgate party.  The sleek backpackers looked on with amazement. One said “are you hungry?”  Another said “Looks like you came well prepared.”  Clem and George didn’t care, they had made it to their first campsite along the Appalachian Trail in the Great Smokie Mountains.

Smokies and…

They slept well that night in the bear shelter with the other backpackers. The next morning, after some cold beenie weenies and Doritos for breakfast, they decided to modify their plans a bit.  The sleek backpackers had already loaded up their gear and left for their next campsite.  Clem and George decided to make this first campsite a sort of base camp.  They planned to go to the highest point along the Appalachian Trail which is Clingman’s Dome. George said “Let’s go with just water and some food to Clingman’s Dome, then come back to this campsite tonight.”  Clem quickly agreed and they left for Clingman’s Dome.

It was a beautiful day and the mountain views were spectacular.  They made it to Clingman’s Dome and went to the top of the tower to have lunch and enjoy the  view.  The road for tourists to Clingman’s Dome was closed, so only backpackers could enjoy the sight.  Clem and George were the only ones there so it was quiet and very peaceful up there.

…the Bear

After having some lunch, George was looking around and saw a black bear foraging around on the ground below.  There was a spiral walkway that leads to the tower platform.  George suggested to Clem that they go down the spiral walkway to get a closer look at the bear.  Once they got to the bottom, the bear had climbed into the bed of a ranger’s truck.  They had not seen a ranger, but some of the park personnel were working on the trail along the way there.  The bear was thrashing around in the bed of that truck and had gotten into some garbage bags.

Clem and George were a little nervous.  They couldn’t see the bear, but they sure could hear it.  George turned to Clem and said “Whatever you do, when that bear comes out of that truck, don’t run. We’ll just walk slowly back up this spiral walkway so we don’t excite the bear.”  Clem agreed with assurance because he thought “George must know since he’s the country boy and hunter.”  They were within 50 feet of the truck and ready to take a picture of the bear when it happened.  The bear looked over the tailgate of that truck, saw them, and lunged out with one leap.  It was coming toward them at full speed.  Clem quickly thought “George said Don’t Run.”

About the time he thought that, George went running past him up the spiral walkway.  Now Clem was facing the charging bear, so he turned and ran too.  The bear followed them up the walkway for about a third of the way, then turned and went back down.  Clem and George made it to the top thinking they would be facing an angry bear on that high platform with nowhere else to go. They were relieved to see the bear had given up the chase.  When their heartbeats slowed and the bear had left the area, they started back for base camp.

Meanwhile, Back at the Camp

George and Clem made it back to camp.  They had plenty of cokes and Doritos chips left.  The next day they made there way back to recover their buried tent and poles, then lugged all that gear back to trailhead.  The Rambler was a welcomed sight.  George and Clem rewarded themselves to a night in a hotel and a steak dinner.  They learned a lot on that trip and they laughed a lot about that trip for years.  Now that they were veteran backpackers, a year or so later, they took on the challenge of Long’s Peak in the Colorado Rocky Mountain National Park.  But, that’s another story in the adventures of George and Clem. – George


1. Clem's sister - August 3, 2008

Well, me thinks that perhaps George should get his own blog! There are far more stories to be told…and so little time.

Quite a post, and very interesting to hear “the other side of the story”. Love it.

2. Jonathan S Kirk - August 3, 2008

Hey tim and george nice work there boys you have out done yourselves this time oh and by the why tim that was the most funnyest thing you have posted yet.I hope you have nice week. thanks. Bye.

3. tiffanytaylor - August 4, 2008

WOW. This remings me why I don’t go camping! (An attitude shared by my mother. I once bought her a mug that says “If God had intended us to camp, he wouldn’t have invented room service.)

4. Tim - August 7, 2008

Clem is quite happy that George doesn’t have his own blog. There are some stories that should NOT be told. 😉

Jonathan, thanks for stopping by to read a funny story about how goofy your Uncle Tim can be.

Tiffany, this explains why your Mom and I get along so well. We have the same aptitude for camping! – Tim

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