March 25, 12.3 mi
I got caught dancing up Big Cedar Mountain to Chromeo's “Fancy Footwork.” How embarrassing...
Woods Hole Shelter was already occupied by a black-bearded man, his daughter, and their large tent, so I set up my own (symbol of freedom though piece of poo it may be) outside next to the thick stone wall of the shelter. There was room enough in my tent for me to stretch stretch out my legs and house my 60 liter pack as well – as long as I lay on the diagonal.
John, the man, threw a “bear bag” line up the limb of a distant tree because he'd read multiple warnings about bears in the register. All food goes up the tree and off the ground after dinner. I was too lazy to do the same or to pay attention to his technique. In five months of hiking and living in the woods, I never threw a single bear bag.
In order to get inside the shelter to the picnic table I had to high knee it over a rabble of limbs thrown there in a homemade fence. I supposed this was to keep the bears out. I almost set the shelter on fire trying to cook dinner with a homemade soda can stove and alcohol for fuel. Darwin, another hiker, had given me her excess fuel in a pink 12oz plastic bottle and it was acting and smelling unusually strong. Not that I'd ever used that stove before, or any portable stove. It was another donation from a section-hiker.
John's daughter Eve lit her own mini campfire in front of the shelter. He had taught her how to contain it within a ring of small stones in the dust. How perfect. Her white, long hair fell close to the fire at times but I could tell by her unconcern that she knew what she was doing and had been camping many times. During dinner I talked to her about her homeschooling. She said she'd start studying Latin within the year.
“I have a little sister who comes with us into the mountains sometimes,” she said. “She's just a baby so mommy has to carry her when we walk.”
“You don't look to old yourself,” I said. Eve pretended to ignore this remark. “How old are you?” I prodded.
“I'm seven.” I liked to think of them all sharing nature together. A real family.
The three of us relaxed by the huge bonfire John had made. The sun went down and every bright ember was accentuated sharp by the night. I feared for my rain gear (the only long-sleeved layer I'd brought for the southern leg of this journey) so I tried standing on my tired legs and moved away from the blaze. John guffawed at my caution, my inappropriate clothing, everything. I scowled and leaned against the wooden “fenceposts” that had been dragged in from the surrounding forrest by hikers more careful than we. I could just tell John was thinking I wouldn't make it. He walked over and offered me his Nalgene. It was the stiffest lemonade I'd ever tasted in my life.
I took the cue for caution from Eve's hard look when I tried to sneak another greedy sip later on that evening. So I took it easy, feigning mature adulthood.
“I don't want to brag or anything,” I said, “but I think I've gotten my 'hiker legs' already.”
“Yeah, OK!” John fairly roared into the night. Then he laughed again, all intimidation, bulk, and man. “See how you feel when you get to Neels Gap. I have a friend there, owns the supply store, by the way. He wrote a great book about the AT.”
“Interesting.” I said, though I knew I'd read all I wanted to about this thing.
“Stop! STOP IT!” Eve's childvoice woke me up in the middle of the night. There were ten minutes of silence before John began snoring again. Maybe she was talking to the dog? I didn't sleep very much after that.
March 26, 10.4 mi
There was an old post office at the top of Blood Mountain. I'd heard diverse voices from above and to the right of the trail and they drew me off course and up. Tendrilling moss, wild with all sorts of shooting prongs, covered the large slabs of stone I climbed, and the smaller version of the rhododendron bush swished against my exposed knees. A minor patch of flat ground through blue lichened trees and I found myself coming out onto the top view of the mountain. I found five other hikers communing on the broad surface of the bald. The post office was below us.
Moose and Mooch were two women about my age traveling together, recently graduated. A guy who introduced himself as "Butcher" said he didn't have a real trail name yet. Another smelled as though he'd already been on trail for five months, and Starfish was aptly named by Moose because he had a disappearing chin. At least I think that's what was going through her mind. There was also another man in a blue jacket who introduced himself as Dingo.
I cocked a hip and munched on some M&Ms I'd snagged in ziplocs from a hiker feed earlier that day. I'd met Butcher there and hadn't been too impressed, but Moose was clearly one of the ones who would “make it.” I could picture her slugging out one of her own kind up in Maine. The aptly-named Mooch was just along for about two weeks, after which Moose would ford on alone. Hmm.
I didn't stop at Neels Gap because it looked like the definition of a tourist trap, at the valley between two mountain peaks and everything. The socks were pushing twenty, I caught sight of a Budweiser in the hand of Butcher as he lay in the sun out back and I was like, “Socks? Who needs socks? I don't need socks. I'm good.” After five minutes of civilization I was ready to keep moving. I hadn't even taken off my pack.
“C.V.!” A woman's voice called after me. Crap. Was that...? “Coinvolta!” Crap! I forgot I'd told her my name, my real trail name. Sheepishly I hung my head and stared at the dust but didn't turn around or anything. She stepped to my side and casually threw her arm around my neck. I felt about as much comfort as it's possible to feel when some crew member you barely know practically has you in a headlock. I was scared.
“Do you have everything you need?” she asked.
And by “yeah” I mean no, absolutely f*cking not. “Three pairs of socks!?” I wish she could have said to me, I wish she could have known how they were the only part of my trip planning I'd gotten right. I'd tried. For two years I'd painstakingly gathered to myself all the parts, the gear, that would make my memories of that section hike become a thru-hike. But despair has been underlying all my actions for years. I won't make it, I won't...
“Are you sure?” She sqared with me, held me out at arm's length.
“Yeah.” And I left.
Levelland Mountain was a very sharp climb out of the Gap but I found a recent register entry from Jay at Whitley Shelter: “Chaffing is awful! Baby powder doesn't help.”
Regardless of what that meant, I knew he was only 1 day ahead of me. That meant I could potentially catch him, grab his face, and kiss it one day soon.