May, 7, 2011
It’s 6:00 a.m. and I’m awake. There is a thin whisper of gray suggesting that night is about to retreat. I read my watch and decide that it is plenty early and I can go back to sleep. I do.
I rest peacefully but wake in a startle. It felt good to go back to sleep and I’m trying not to feel an anxiety about getting started early, but I hate to waste the day sleeping. I check my watch to see how long I’ve slept. It’s 6:15.
I stare at the ceiling of the shelter for a few minutes, then roll to my side and observe Musher, Frenchy, and the Husky sleeping peacefully. Mice haven’t bothered me all night and I wasn’t eaten by a bear. Thank God for the Husky.
I slide out of the sleeping bag and begin the process of stuffing, folding, and packing. I try to be as quiet as possible; even so Musher stirs from the sounds and the activity.
It’s 13.5 miles to Hot Springs and I’m going to try not to race, but sometimes it’s hard for me to reign myself in. By 6:50 I have removed the wrapping from some pre-packaged bark and sticks combo-meal, hoisted the pack to my shoulders and I’m walking. I give a last wave to the bunch from last night. They were entertaining if nothing else.
Less than a quarter mile down the hill I pass by the leapfrog couple from yesterday. I remember when they passed by the shelter last night without even a pause to consider the shelter as home for the night. Perhaps they sized up the rough-looking group, which we were, and determined it just wasn’t safe for sane people. Anyway, I pause and chat for a few minutes. They are always cordial to me. I don’t overstay my welcome.
I work my way to Kale Gap, only a mile, then begin working my way up Bluff Mountain. I am acutely aware of my water shortage, but I pass the first few trickles coming out of the mountain anyway. Half way up Bluff Mountain I find a marginal water source, remove my pack and attempt to fill my water bladder. But it’s just not going to work. Hiking alone I’m relying on tablets for purification and I really miss my filter. I finally dump the few muddy drops I could get and move on. Another quarter mile and I’m rewarded; there is a good flow dropping over rocks and I’m able to refill my supply.
It is four miles downhill to Garenflo Gap and I walk it out quickly. It’s a good time for a break so I sit and have some water. There is a gravel road that comes up to the gap and a place where you could possibly leave an auto for a few days.
I hear voices coming down the trail from the direction I just came. It’s the couple that stayed next to the shelter – on the other side of the bear cables. As we chat, the leapfrog couple comes by. Wow, five of us on the trail together. We all take off together but spread out along the trail. At first I’m hiking behind the father-daughter, husband wife mystery couple (aka the leap-frog couple.) That’s when it happens. She’s talking to me while he is 20 paces ahead and she mentions their 5-year old daughter. It is an AHA moment. But then I try to do the speculative math in my head. What could she be, 23, 24, 25? The revelation amuses me and I soon dismiss it and go on to other mental amusements. Soon I’m walking with the other couple whose trail names are Veggie and Square. Their names have to do with their dietary habits, and yet they have an amusing story. Someone had asked of them, “Which one of you is the swearer?” She thought they had asked which one is squarer and said, “He is.”
Somewhere this side of Garenflo Gap I have spoken of the daughters who were with me the first two days. No sooner spoken I look up and who is standing on the trail? Teen daughter.
I’m surprised and I laugh, introducing the aforementioned daughter to Veggie and Squared.
“See, I told you she was real!”
She has hiked seven miles up from Hot Springs, covering a little more than half the distance. She cares nothing about her sore, stiff knee. She must hike. She is dauntless.
Eventually our conversation groups drift apart and I’m left hiking into Hot Springs with Teen Daughter. We get glimpses of the town when it is still far below, but moving steadily downhill we eventually find ourselves at the road that leads through town. I feel victorious. I’ve walked 70 miles in 4 days and arrived at the destination by 12:30 in the afternoon. That would be 13.5 miles in 5 hours and 40 minutes, including stops.
I’m triumphant as we walk through town. Sure, this is just a waypoint for a through hiker, but it is the destination for this version of my tour of the A.T.
As we walk, we check out the outfitter’s, the few restaurants, and the laundry. In fact, at the laundry I see Tall-guy and Dink. We’re all smiles as we exchange greetings and stories. He made it into town last night at 10:30, so he must have cruised along the dark trail. He explained that the batteries in his headlamp were getting dim so he had to walk fast.
There is a scene in the movie Southbounders where the characters are picking up supplies. In the movie they say they still have 650 miles to go, but I could tell they were in front of the Hot Springs post Office, a mere 270 miles from Springer Mountain. We want to be just like those famous movie actors, so we take turns photographing ourselves in front of the Hot Springs post office.
Four days go by so fast. Life as a section hiker is intense. Far too soon we are in the car, heading home. Until next time, A.T., until next time.