Jun 26, 2017

Introducing Mr. William Eatmon Pugh...

During the Easter season of 1971, I took my nephew David on his first hike on the Appalachian Trail.  I have previously described that adventure.  One of the more interesting outcomes of that hike was a friendship with a gentleman named Bill Pugh.  Here's how it happened.

As I described in my earlier post, on our second day hiking, "The Hawk Mountain shelter came into view around 4:00 PM.  There were already quite a few folks there, but many had pitched their tents nearby and didn't plan to sleep in the shelter.  David and I were able to claim enough floor space for our sleeping bags and we got introduced to our new friends, most of whom were planning to hike the entire AT.  They were all young, eager, and excited about their intended 2,000-mile adventure.  Soon, we were all sitting around a newly-built campfire, the sun was setting, and dinner was on the many stoves."  It was then that we first saw William Eatmon Pugh.

A gentleman approached the shelter from the south.  He was smaller than most, probably around 5' 5" in height and carrying a new clean Kelty pack of enormous proportions.  It was a pack with an extendable top section that towered over him.  Instead of coming up the trail to the shelter to "meet-and-greet," he stopped short of the shelter near a large tree.  He removed the giant pack and leaned it against the tree.  He then removed a book and a smoking pipe from one of the pack's pockets, sat on the ground leaning against the pack, lit his pipe, and started reading the book.  He uttered not a word!

David and I wandered over to introduce ourselves.  We learned that his name was Bill Pugh and that he was from Petersburg, Virginia.  (Actually, I misunderstood his Virginia Piedmont dialect that day and thought he said "B.O." Pugh.  I referred to him as B.O. for several years before he gently corrected me.  He is above all a gentleman.)  After dinner, David and I spent quite a while in conversation with this interesting fellow.  We learned that he had done an extended tour in Viet Nam, during which he had served with the Montagnard tribesmen who were underappreciated allies of the U.S.  Bill had his army paychecks sent to his mother in Virginia.  He had no need for cash in the Central Highlands of Viet Nam.  The result was that he had a fairly comfortable "nest egg" when he arrived home.  He had decided that hiking was good for the soul and that he would hike until he got sick of it.

Bill had bought state-of-the-art hiking gear, including that monster backpack.  That night in north Georgia, we exchanged addresses and phone numbers (He used his mother's phone whenever he was home in Virginia.).  For the next few years, whenever I was planning a hiking trip, I'd call or write Bill to let him know where I'd be on a certain date.  More often than not, he'd show up to hike with me and my friends.  Even though he was in remarkable physical condition (He hiked seven or eight months out of the year.), he never commented on how slowly we "city slickers" progressed during our annual outings.  We hiked and sometimes fished in North Georgia and North Carolina.  He told me that he had stayed so often at the hikers hostel in Hot Springs, North Carolina, that he had a reserved spot there.

Perhaps the funniest incident regarding Bill Pugh occurred on the day I married Margo Burge at the Chapel of the Redeemer in Hot Springs.  Several weeks earlier, I had shared with Bill that Margo and I were thinking about an Easter wedding in Hot Springs.  On the day of our wedding, as we were in the priests' residence signing the wedding ledger, Margo looked out the window and saw a diminutive figure under a mammoth backpack.  "Isn't that your friend, Pugh?," she asked (She had seen pictures in some of my interminable slide shows of earlier adventures.).  I looked out and recognized none other.  He had hiked from near Roanoke, Virginia, to Hot Springs, North Carolina, a distance of about 400 miles!

Margo and I dashed outside to see him and introduce Margo and our witnesses, Jim and Linda Schmidt to this man whom they'd only seen in pictures.  I was wearing a pastel green polyester suit with a gold-colored turtleneck (always the style pacesetter).  He asked, "What are you doing in that green outfit?  I thought we were going hiking!"

Not long after that, we were at our hotel changing into our hiking gear.  Jim and Linda Schmidt, the newly-married Meads, and Mr. William Pugh promptly hiked up to Lover's Leap on the Appalachian Trail.  Ashvilletrails.com describes the hike more accurately than I could ever remember: "North of Georgia’s Springer Mountain, the AT crosses through the first of its official trail towns at Hot Springs, North Carolina, a small mountain town nestled in a valley beside the scenic French Broad River. Hot Springs oozes small-town charm and scenic beauty, and outdoor outfitters, sandwich shops, and campgrounds pepper its sleepy streets. Routing down the town’s main thoroughfare, the Appalachian Trail’s iconic, white rectangular blazes follow Bridge Street, crossing the French Broad River before climbing a nearby summit at Lovers Leap.

This two-miler follows the Appalachian Trail’s white blazes through town and hikes the banks of the placid French Broad to a wide, spilling waterfall. The hike veers northbound to climb to the summit of Lovers Leap, a rocky precipice that overlooks the town and offers some beautiful, lofty views. The town of Hot Springs offers plenty of places for pre-hike gear shopping and post-hike refreshments. This is an ultra-scenic hike, and while it’s moderately challenging, it’s also relatively short. And the views make the workout well worth it.

The hike departs from downtown of Hot Springs, following the Appalachian Trail’s white blazes eastbound along Bridge Street (view maps and driving directions). The trail crosses a wide bridge over the French Broad River, catching beautiful upstream views of the river in the shadow of the towering Lovers Leap summit directly ahead.

The hike reaches the river’s east bank and descends stairs, continuing to follow the AT’s white blazes. The trail follows Silver Mine Road for a short stretch, crosses a wide wooden bridge over Silver Mine Creek, and trails the French Broad upriver. The hike passes the angular, towering outcrops at the base of Lovers Leap, trekking over rocky terrain on the river’s banks.  The hike passes several large campsites nestled beside the river, shaded by the pine and leafy deciduous canopy overhead. The trail reaches a tumbling, wide, whitewater-filled waterfall at .35 mile.

View of the French Broad River
The AT continues its southbound trek alongside the river, gently rolling elevation on the river’s banks. The trail veers southeast at .6 mile, following the the trail’s white blazes as the trail climbs sharply through a switchback. The trail curves northbound, beginning a 400-foot climb to Lovers Leap over the next .3 mile. The terrain quickly becomes rocky and rugged.  The trail carves through several sharp switchbacks, reaching the first of three overlooks at .85 mile. A second overlook offers sweeping views at .9 mile, the site from which, Cherokee Legend holds, a broken-hearted princess leaped to her death. The Lovers Leap outcrops drop off sharply, and the mountain’s footing is unstable in places, thanks to loose rock – so tread carefully.

The view from Lover's Leap
The hike reaches the third overlook at 1 mile after carving through tight switchbacks near the summit. Views extend west to the town of Hot Springs, and north along the wide, gentle meanders of the French Broad River. The summit’s rock outcrops make a great spot for a sunny mid-hike snack.
The hike departs the summit overlook and retraces its outbound steps on the AT, descending to the banks of the French Broad and hiking downriver to return to Hot Springs. Crossing the bridge spanning the river, the hike finishes the adventure at just over 2 miles."

Gradually my "free-lance" hiking adventures diminished and with marriage came a permanent hiking companion.  Margo and I tended to hike near home in the Cohutta Wilderness of North Georgia, or in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  I totally lost touch with Bill Pugh, sad to say.

For a few years, however, this free-spirited mountain man was a friend and valued hiking companion.  He deserves to be remembered.