Leaving the Land of Cotton... Blog by Death By Cotton
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When last we left our hero, he had been "sidetracked"... So for a couple of days the routine was wake up, wash dishes, eat, and do puzzles with Hawk and Small Child. On one particularly busy afternoon, Mountain man asked if our hero could cook... "Yeah..." "Well get over here and help us out." And so Cotton went about making orders along side Small Child and Mountain Man while Hawk took a break. And so our hero became even more a part of the crew. By the end of the evening Trey came up and asked where our hero was staying. It had been a mix of stealth camping and the Place. Mountain Man invited him to come and stay with the rest of the guys at his cabin. This was a welcome invitation, as our hero was overstaying the limits at the Place and didn't want to wear out his welcome... So they had a few beers, and Cotton gathered up his gear.
After a few days, the cash reserves had dwindled down. But with a magical piece of plastic all would be better, no? The machine beeped angrily at our hero and spit the card back out. He tried again. And again, the machine resounded with its disapproving beeps. Our hero knew that another try and the machine would consume the card leaving him totally stranded. What to do? He had already consumed a portion of Ramen noodles over the course of the few days. That's not to say that "real" food had not been dined upon... A mysterious creature known as "Wee Willy" had been lurking about town, and as it would turn out, had reportedly hiked with Cotton and his family back in 1980. Willy took our hero about town and on more than one occasion had taken him to Dot's for a burger, fries and a pitcher of beer. Now this bothered our hero a bit, because access to money was right there in that little plastic card, but alas, the numbers to access the funds could not be obtained. How does someone homeless get their pin # mailed to them? Mysteries of the Universe continue to unravel but this answer will be lost for all time I'm sure... Lone Wolf was the only local that Cotton had any contact with prior to his arrival and Willy it would turn out was good friends with him as well. For the next few days, Cotton, Wee Willy, and Lone Wolf would spend the evening cuttin' up the town bouncing from one waterin' hole to another. And it was good... At least until the sun rose and the drum circle began in their heads. By this time cash was gone, save a few bucks in change. Enter the Side Track Cafe. The Side Track Cafe was a small diner located just a couple of blocks to the south of "the Place." The theme of the diner was naturally centered around the railroad. Back in the days of old, The Virginia Creeper would chug its way in and out of town, hence the theme. Cotton wandered in one day, early in the morning. The day prior, our hero had tried to hike out of town, determined to hike regardless of his pack weight or gear condition. The first miles were grueling uphill for someone out of shape. Being a flatlander, Cotton was unaccustomed to such things, and having a heart condition did not make it any easier. The only pleasant moment was about three miles in a ridge not more than thirty feet from the trail, and our hero heard a noise like the snapping of twigs. He paused and glanced with fatigue in the direction of the noise. A female deer peered back at him. Both spent what seemed like an eternity, locked in the stare down. With a deep breath and a nod, Cotton continued keeping the doe in his periphery. The doe walked with him, parallel. He stopped and looked at the doe, and she did the same, looking back at him. This continued on for about ten minutes before trail and ridge went in separate directions. He waved at his hiking companion and began to travel down the trail. Five miles down the trail a rock became lodged in his boot so just before a road crossing our hero paused to dislodge the offending piece of stone. More bad news. The entry for the stone had been that the sole of his boot had come apart at the seams. He removed his pack and sat for a time pondering what to do. The words of other hikers echoed in his brain. "There's still snow on Mount Rodgers." Fact being that he had been in town a few days earlier and small flurries had fallen around him. This was the last road intersection. He had duct tape and it would only be a 3 to four days before he would make it to the next town. Perhaps a quick fix and continue on until another outfitter could be reached. The other choice was to walk back into town. This choice had the taste of defeat. But it was the smart choice. Only a fool would set off with busted boots. So he heaved the pack back on and began making his way back to town. As if to signal this was the right decision a lone van came rolling past and to a stop. A ride was offered and grudgingly taken back into town... Which leads us back to our hero making his way into the Side Track Cafe. The owner nodded to Cotton and asked him if he'd like to order something. "Do you take cards?" "Nope. Only place in town that takes cards is the Old Mill." The Old Mill is the "finer" dining establishment in town, complete with overly priced menu. Dot's didn't take cards either. "Well then I guess I'll not be ordering." "Are you hungry?" "Yeah, but I can't pay for anything. All My money's in my account and I can't get access to it." Stupid hero forgot his pin #. Somewhere, Satan laughs. "Well how about I give you the first pancake. It's always the worst one." Grudgingly our hero nodded. The pancake covered the entire plate, and a family from Ethiopia could probably be fed by one. Our hero hungrily wolfed it down after applying some maple syrup. "You know if you want, you can wash dishes and I'll feed you lunch..." "That would be great." Our hero smiled and nodded. "I'm Trey, the owner. But everyone around here calls me Mountain Man. That's Small Child behind the Grill and Hawk, " He motioned over to a table. "I'm Cotton," replied our hero... Hawk chuckled and stated with amusement... "Well Cotton... You've just been sidetracked..."
This is where the story begins to twist... A common mistake most hikers make when they start out is that an ounce means more than one thinks. Our hero, having not been here in over 24 years could not have known this. Why even his time spent in the military this was not the case... Having served in the United States Marine Corps, our hero was accustomed to heavy packs. In fact, it seemed quite light in comparison to lugging around a full pack, his rifle and ammo and the barrel of a MK-19. And so, much to our hero's dismay, a young female hiker, Tell It Like It Is, and a biker who was riding along the Trans-America Bike Trail, began removing items from his pack shaking there heads and tossing stuff to the side. Before long at least five pounds had been shed. Tell It Like It Is was still put off by the pack weight but said if I was happy with it, then that was fair enough... Haiku had wandered into town, I met him just inside "The Place"... To Digress for a moment, "The Place" is a hiker hostel run by the local Methodist Church. Many a hiker has found not only shelter but a hot shower within it's walls... Haiku asked our hero what his name was. The reply given seemed not to work with Haiku and another hiker who had taken a seat at the table. "No," Haiku replied. "What's your TRAIL Name?" This puzzled our hero since the last time he had been on the trail, circa 1980 (One can Google Youngest hiker Appalachian Trail for further info), hardly anyone used a made up or given name, and so this was news to him. The two hikers then began to regard our hero's attire. Both came to the consensus that it would not do. A hoodie sweatshirt, jeans, t-shirt and boots would not do at all. Haiku laughed and said... "You know there's still snow on Mount Rodgers?! Hell you're gonna die of hypothermia! the coroner's report is gonna read DEATH BY COTTON!" Our hero shared a laugh with the two hikers... Cotton is born.
Noises and creaking wood awoke our hero. The sun had just fought its way back upon the horizon. It was still dark in his area of "The Place", but the sounds of others excited Cotton, so he shook off the grogginess and desire to return to peaceful slumber in favor of meeting those that were present. If one were to come to a place like this, having never seen a hiker there are only a few ways to truly describe them... Even in town the first thing that would cross your mind is that they are vagrants. Vagabonds, ruffians, bums. There would even be those that would toss in tree huggin' hippies into the mix. And, to be honest, in some cases that would be true, but that would only be for a small minority of hikers. Upon first glance, one would see unruly, matted hair, or the mangy beards, and even the unshaven legs of the female variety. Now would be an appropriate time to quote the phrase, "Don't judge a book by its cover..." Hikers are of many diverse backgrounds. They come in all shapes and sizes, all different backgrounds. You might see a hiker with the prepubescent patches of facial hair struggling to form a beard, sitting beside a weathered old man. You may see someone who has left from underneath their parents' wing to embrace the freedom of their own choosing or you might see a retired CEO finally seeking to embrace the taste of youth that adventure brings. The Appalachian Trail brings all different types of people from around the world together into one big family. This is most obvious when someone needs something. To come from a place where people would just as soon shoot you the finger than acknowledge your existence to an atmosphere where everyone is in it together and is willing to at least try and go out of their way to lend a hand is an experience that makes such a venture worth more than its weight in gold... But, playing the Devil's Advocate, we are all human, and there's always a bad apple in the batch. But the trail has a way off weeding out these few, as most hikers can confirm that we all take care of our own...
After a few days, and more money, our hero departed the small town and set off again for the unknown. It was good to be back underway, leaving behind the past yet again. The hours seemed to melt away quicker than the miles, urban terrain giving way to patches of wilderness and farmlands. Fatigue sets in quick when you're behind the wheel nothing but the road to keep you company, and our hero was not immune the the hypnotizing effect of the pavement speeding by. So ol' Cotton pulled off the road to feed his trusty steed and take a slight reprieve from the travel. The air was crisp and cool, Old Man Winter it would seem, still reluctant to let the warmth of spring set in. After a few more moments both rider and steed appetites were sated and our hero traveled onward. The sun slowly slipped past the horizon on his left, as if someone hanging onto the edge for too long. The sun fell to the west and let the night set in for now. The highways became smaller roads now, winding again like the serpentine stretches through the North Carolina hills. The only difference is that now farmlands were to either side and not treacherous drop offs. Finally, our hero reached his destination. Cotton had made it to Damascus, a small town nestled in the Virginia hills... Weary but content nonetheless Cotton made his way into "the Place" and grabbed a bunk for the eve..
A long time ago, a young Cotton roamed these lands. Nearly 14 years had now past, and our hero now sat beside his younger sibling. As a side note, though the younger of the two, little is not a word to be associated with his brother. He had grown both taller and more stout than his older brother but he remembered what Cotton had told him before... You may be taller and younger, but I'm smarter. I fight dirty you see, I'm too old to be messing around casting taunts and jabs... The younger cast fiery glance laced with youthful determination and spite, but he knew better than to challenge our hero outright... So what would the two brothers do with the short amount of time together? Street racing was the younger brother's fancy as of late. No doubt influenced by the visage of being able to be "Fast and Furious". So our hero traveled to a few of these street races after darkness fell. A few laughs were shared as one of the more pompous participants, who earlier had claimed his car was stock (although most knew his car as a "sleeper"), blew his engine, and limped back to where most had gathered after the race trying to play off how much trouble he would be in when daddy found out. From there the duo made there way back into town. Time slowly twisted its way backwards. You see, in small towns, not a lot changes. Faces may grow older, buildings may disappear only to have larger ones replace them, but somethings remain the same, timeless. The rest of the evening and into the wee hours of the morning were spent standing in a parking lot on the "strip"... Just like ol' times...
Our hero arrived in the small town of Cookeville late in the afternoon. Many things changed since the last time he was here. More stores, less trees. Typical expansion as a town suffers the growing pains as the population increases. First stop was the domicile of the wicked witch from days past who had shackled Cotton in her two stories of terror for a spell. It would seem she could not easily rid herself of our hero for he kept popping back in when she least expected it. The visit was quite cordial though. Long had it been since her separation with the man who wore a clamshell for a hairdo. Needless to say, luke warm embraces, and false smiles laced with slight contempt were exchanged. Our hero was not here for the ones who resided on the hilltop home though. He had come to see his sibling. Information was garnered later that evening of his whereabouts. So off to meet his brother he went, leaving the smoke and mirrors of days past...
Breaker One-Nine Breaker One-Nine, you got yer ears on? It was a dark night, and the weather was just as dark, save the occasional flash of lightning or the lights of an oncoming rig. Our hero's visibility was limited to a rapid glimpse of the road as the wipers tried in vain to disperse the waters that fell from the heavens in a torrential downpour. By this time our hero had been traveling for hours, road fatigue quickly setting in. The roads were like a slippery serpent winding through the black night of the North Carolina mountainsides. It appeared that Our hero rode alone for the most part, and on occasion the blink of an eye found him nodding off, only to snap to and correct his direction. Within hours what had been a routine drive through the mountains had taken a turn for the worse. The car slid every few moments, large semis barreled past in both directions, turbo diesels revving up and down, jake braking when necessary. The road narrowed to two lanes due to construction, and within moments our hero was trapped, sandwiched between two rigs, both jostling for position. This left our hero trapped and blinded, rain coating the front windshield, the lights from the tractor trailer beaming through the rear view mirror. The curves of the mountain highway became even more dangerous now, the back end of the car trying to slide with every turn. There were only a few options. Hydroplane to the west. This would lead to either a horrible demise by plummeting of the side of the mountain, or a head on collision with a half asleep trucker. Hydroplane to the east. This would have led to slamming into the side of the mountain followed by getting t-boned by the trucker that was halfway up our hero's tailpipe. But then there was a glimmer of hope... And for the moment all was calm. The road widened. The rain stopped. The Semi barreled past our hero, turbo diesel screaming with the rage of acceleration. There was a light at the end of the tunnel... And then the rain came again. But it was nice to have the brief reprieve from the rain. Also nice to not have the blinding light behind our hero. "Welcome to Tennessee" exclaimed the sign. It would be daytime soon and the first leg of the journey was almost over. Next stop Cookeville.
Have you ever had that feeling like you were someplace you didn't belong? That perhaps you had stopped someplace you weren't welcome? Well that's how our hero felt. With a quick, uneasy glance around, he made his way into the dilapidated station to get something to drink and empty his bladder. The theme music to Deliverance began to play in the background as a few of the locals glanced at our hero, sizing him up. Now for those of you who have never been to a small town in the Bible Belt, I will break down the way things are... Segregation is still very much alive. Perhaps it's not as openly shown but it is very much there. Of course I'm not talking about the segregation that is already so prevalent in our lives under the cloaks of oh I don't know.... Say BET? How about CMT? Si' TV? Anyone who tells you segregation is gone from our lives is either stupid,or blind, or both. Our hero smiled and nodded to an elderly black woman who was working at the counter. This did not please the two large "Billy Bo Bob" types who were sitting at the counter watching the outsiders every move. One of them shot a scowl of disapproval and muttered softly to his companion. Our hero made his way into the Men's room. The natives had left numerous cave drawings and primitive racial slurs for the viewing pleasure of any who might be unfortunate enough to have to endure the smell of this facility for the sake of relieving their bladder. There was a problem it appeared as some unfortunate soul had posted upon the wall... "Don't piss on the seat, the crabs have learned to swim upstream..." Our hero made his way back to the counter, purchased a Mountain Dew, and made a hasty departure from this place that was obviously still locked in the past...
A long time ago, in a land not very far from here, our hero sat pensively, trying to decide what to do. Funds expended due to waiting for Petey boy to get off the death bed (having a portion of his intestines removed)left ol' Cotton in quite the predicament. But Petey boy did get better, so with a fond farewell to friends our hero mounted his steed and set off for Virginia. It was a warm day, the South Florida sun shining down on our hero as he drove off towards the strange land. Most of the trip was uneventful. A major accident with multiple fatalities did cause the course to alter, but our hero was not to be dissuaded. Once fate sets the path of destiny before someone, there is little that can alter it. There are many strange things one sees when on such a journey. Take for instance that if you get gas at one gas station, and drive 10 minutes north the gas is almost always cheaper. The difference between Florida gas and Georgia gas was unbelievable. Our hero made a note to self that should ever his travels take him this way again, never fill up until after crossing the state line. The winds of change blew towards the west so west our hero headed, destination Tennessee. Along the way a stop was made in a small North Carolina gas station. There was an odd silence that surrounded the place, a cold wind blew across the parking lot that was filled to the capacity of three...
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