May 12–13, 2013
The late afternoon light is warm, though the air is cool. Walking toward the Overmountain Shelter, it is clear this is not like any shelter yet encountered on the trail. For one thing, compared to other shelters it is enormous.
The front of the shelter is what you might think of as a covered porch. There are two platforms on each side of the old barn, with ample walking access between them. Several people could sleep out here, though most, if not all, will choose to sleep in the loft.
The loft is up a steep wooden ladder. Even in the afternoon sun, the loft area is dimly lit. Most hikers are choosing to place their sleeping bags along the exterior of the old barn, though there is plenty of room to sleep a few people in the middle of the floor with enough room to walk around.
This is an old tobacco barn, and I surmise by its construction that tobacco barns are purposefully built to allow air to move freely through them. The diagonal exterior siding has gaps of about an inch between them. The floor also has inch-wide gaps from board to board. We make our camp along the back wall where there is plenty of room for No-Longer-a-Teen-Daughter and me. I hang our food from a line that dangles from the center roof beam.
Many of the faces are familiar. Red Velvet is smoking by the fire. Predator, his sinisterly-named other half, is making something that will pass for dinner. Dragonfly and Prairie Dog are sitting on the porch fidgeting with gear and food. G-Man makes his appearance in his extroverted grand style. I settle on the right side of the porch and start to put together what will pass for dinner.
The conversation turns to trail names. To Predator, “How did you get your trail name?”
She points to her hair, which is completely corn-rowed, a bandanna around her forehead, “They say I look like Predator.”
She is referring to the 1980s movie Predator with Arnold Schwarzenegger. I would have thought the movie to be well before her time, though I remember it quite clearly.
“And Red Velvet?”
He’s just as easy to be around as red velvet cake, I guess.
G-man, whose trail name is Galifianakis, insists he is the spitting image of the actor. I take his word for it.
Prairie Dog carries a small stuffed prairie dog with her. There must be some special meaning, but it’s lost on me.
Dragonfly has a necklace of sorts with a dragonfly. Again, it must have a special meaning but that meaning is lost on me.
Dusk has arrived and I am in the loft settling into my sleeping bag for the evening. I’m chilled and trying to get warm. This is when I discover that a free-flowing barn is not ever going to get warm. The air rises through the wide slats and cools me from below while the movement of air through the sides of the barn cools me from above. I cross my arms like a mummy and try to keep my body heat in.
It is dark now and a few of the hikers have nodded off to sleep. There has been loud talking outside, and if memory serves me correctly, it is G-man reflecting on the great relaxation gained through an auto-arousal experience. In my world, one does not typically speak of such things, but he gains encouragement through the coquettish giggling he receives from the females.
Eventually the conversation group breaks up.
The darkness is pierced by G-man’s bright headlamp as he stomps up the ladder. That others are attempting to sleep is of no concern to him as he makes no effort to shield his light. He settles into his bag, but apparently cannot sleep until he has relaxed himself with inhaling the smoke from a burning herb.
I imagine he thinks he’s doing everyone a favor by sharing the smoke in this airy loft.
After what seems like an hour, he finally extinguishes his herb and settles horizontally into his sleeping bag. That’s when he mumbles loud enough for everone to hear that everyone who snores is just rude; they should sleep outside.
After he stops mumbling, there are a few minutes of silence before he sends a loud, echoing flatulence reverberating through the shelter.
The women giggle.
I am considering how many years I might serve in a North Carolina prison if I carry out the deeds which are currently going through my head. I decide prison is probably not to my liking and I let it go. After a few more rounds of flatulence with accompanying giggles, he seems settled down. Finally, I think I may be able to sleep.
Now I hear the pitter-patter of rodents zipping along the walls of the barn. Great, yet something else to keep this tired body awake. The mice in this barn are relentless. I scoot down into my bag and try to cover my head while keeping a small air passage open.
Then G-man begins to snore.
The cool air from below prevents me from ever getting comfortably warm. This isn’t the coldest night I’ve spent on the trail, but it may be as cold as I’ve been in my sleeping bag.
A mouse scampers across my covered head. I jump. I want a weapon. I want to go hunting.
At some point I must have slept, but it couldn’t have been much. As soon as there was the tiniest bit of light, I roll out of my bag, nudge the daughter and tell her, “Let’s get the hell out of here,” an unusually blunt expression on my part.
By the time we leave, the sun has just barely risen. We are on the move.
I address No-Longer-a-Teen-Daughter, “How did you sleep last night?”
“OK, I guess. It seemed cold and I thought I heard mice.”
I validate her observations, then begin expressing my lack of amusement with G-man.
“Between his dope-smoking and farting,” I say in a tactless manner,” I really never need to come across this guy again. We need to make some miles today.”
I continue, “And what I really, really don’t understand is how flatulating loudly in a crowded shelter is something anyone would laugh at. I mean, really, REALLY?”
I love it when my grown daughter calls me Daddy. It is very personal and endearing.