“I’ll bet you’re happy,” Lisa said. “You’re meeting people, making trail friends, all the stuff I wouldn’t allow last year,”
It was true. Long time readers may recall my disappointment during last year’s Appalachian Trail section hike over issues like, well, not meeting people or making trail friends. Added to the fact that neither of us had Trail Names and it seemed to me that our AT experience was missing some key components.
Friends, I am please to share that those ills were remedied on this hike. We met characters, people, I mean, authentic, Appalachian Trail char-act-ors, straight from central casting. I couldn’t be more pleased.
We were able to leave our vehicle in a parking lot in a small little trail town in Western Virginia. My sister, who joined us this year, arranged for Dave, a weathered, bearded old soul, to take us out to a pre-selected trailhead. On the 45-minute drive, my sister peppered him with questions, to which he gave what proved to be the most useless answers.
“Will we need to string up our food to keep it away from bears?” she asked, nervously.
“Nah, I wouldn’t bother,” he said, overturning every bit of published or anecdotal wisdom on the subject. After insisting that bears didn’t frequent the area, he offered a follow up story about a man whose backpack—chock full of credit cards, cash, and gear—had been stolen by a bear earlier this summer. “We still have teams going out to look for it on occasion,” he said, shaking his head.
“How long should the route take?”
“Eh, I can do it in two days,” he said, which, we’d discover, was basically the same as saying, “I set a land speed record over some treacherous terrain—I’m surprised you haven’t heard.”
“What about water?” she asked.
“I wouldn’t carry much, certainly not more than a liter. There’s so much water everywhere.” Which completely explains why we spent a whole night and an hour’s walk the next morning, seeing not so much as a mirage, as my dog liked dew from the grass.
“Well, hopefully you won’t need me,” he said, cheerily. “After I drop you off I’m heading home. No phone or electricity. Only way to get a hold of me is smoke signals.”
Unvoiced doubts about the veracity of these reports surfaced in all of our minds within the first half hour of our vertical, rocky trek, although audibly we all chalked it up to solid planning on our part. “Good to get the tough part out of the way early,” one of us would say, to which another would reply, “Yes, if he got it done in two days, it surely gets much easier quite quickly”; or, my favorite: “Really, since we didn’t start hiking until 4:00, everything we do today is just a bonus.” At this point, the only outward sign of doubt in our guide we my sister’s refusal to empty her bloated waterskin, filled from a hose at Dave’s shop with what tasted like warm pool water, although further cracks in our collective confidence in his facts were evidenced in our clunky efforts to string up a laundry bag laden with victuals.
“Oh say, does that overstuffed white bag still hang!” My sister’s voice greeted me before I left my tent the next morning. Indeed, the bulging bag swung, unmolested from a limb on the outskirts of camp. After cutting it down, I pulled out the coffee and brewed some with the pool water. And with that, we went on our way, surviving our first night in the backwoods by basically reversing everything that old coot told us.
Tune in next time when our little band of travellers falls in league with a Boy Scout troop, a trail guardian, and an AT legend.