May 7 & 8, 2012
Lovely wife and no-longer-a-teen daughter have gone ahead and arrived at Hogback Ridge Shelter ahead of me and teen daughter. Teen daughter’s knees are bothering her and I’m following the leave no man behind (woman?) protocol.
Walking the short distance from the trail to the shelter, there are tents both to the left and to the right. The shelter area is well-populated. We have tents and are able to provide for our own shelter, but the ladies prefer to stay in a shelter if possible. Mostly it’s just to avoid the effort of put-up and take down.
Sitting at the picnic table are a young couple and an older male hiker. He is regaling everyone with his trail wisdom, having hiked the trail several hundred times and having invented backpacking. All in his earshot nod their heads appreciatively as he imparts the next piece of wisdom.
Perhaps some who read this may have some experience in creating their own trail entertainment as they hike? Well, I like to amuse my fellow hikers with motivational stories to make the miles go more quickly. Today’s motivation may come from having watched The Sound of Music a few too many times. I have explained to the daughters that in order to get up and over the hill, they must believe that the Nazis are in pursuit, but that we have the advantage in that they don’t really like long rugged hikes. Who would not be motivated by such a heart-warming tale? Certainly it was all the motivation we needed to reach the safety of Hogback Ridge.
With this in mind, we see an attractive, blonde-haired young man come into the camp. He is pleasant, but quiet. When he speaks, it is with a distinctive European accent. Another young man is hanging a backpack in the shelter and the blonde-haired hiker begins speaking to him in what can be nothing other than German.
Teen daughter, who is laying on her sleeping bag, looking out and watching the goings-on of other hikers, looks at me and makes eye contact. She says nothing, but her eyes are giggling. Apparently we didn’t quite escape?
To me, he becomes Der Vunderhiker.
There are two remaining hikes to be completed for the day. One is to the left, one to the right. Lovely wife and I grab all the retarded water bladders for the group and head right. We have been warned by Der Vunderhiker that it is a long way to the water source and we may want to take a trail snack to sustain us.
He’s not kidding. We walk and walk and walk. There is nothing more discouraging than thinking your hike is over for the day only to find out that the water source is well over a quarter mile away. Eventually we get to the source and make it back before dark.
The other hike is to the left and leads to a small structure hidden behind several groves of trees. It has no door, faces away from the shelter, and has one of the most wonderfully pleasant views of the valley that I have seen today. I sit there long enough to become adequately refreshed, then return to the shelter.
The older hiker, who is a guy and who is very wise, and therefore becomes Wise Guy, has his audience captivated. He covers everything from Swiss Army Knives to foot wear to trail layout. I wonder how it is that I have come this far without him?
Talk of Erwin begins. From Hogback to Erwin is 26 miles. I lightheartedly goad Der Vunderhiker that he could make it all tomorrow. He concedes that it would be nice to have a shower. Unfortunately, the fortitude of our group is starting to ebb. Teen Daughter’s knees are not good and I don’t think she can go on. It is about three miles from here to I-26 and Rt 23. We discuss options.
We aren’t going to leave anybody behind, but I offer to go ahead to Erwin and bring a ride back to a pick-up point at the road. All Teen Daughter has to do is hang here for a day, then make it down the mountain three miles. It’s a very doable plan.
I won’t allow her to be left back alone. Is there a volunteer to stay with her while I hammer out 20 miles tomorrow, then 6 the next day and get to the pick-up by noon. No-longer-a-teen daughter and lovely wife both self-sacrificially volunteer to stay back.
I unwrap my sprained ankle and inspect it. There is some bruising, but I’m getting along on it well. I rewrap it. It’s settled. I’m going for 20 miles tomorrow.
Hiker’s midnight approaches and we are all lights-out (metaphorically speaking).
This section of trail has been well-equipped with bear cables and all food has been hoisted aloft. Unknown to me, teen daughter has left some food package trash in the hip belt of her pack and the mice keep me awake much of the night attacking it. They quit only when the rain starts, sometime during the night.
As morning light creeps into the sky, I’m wondering about the plan we hatched. It has rained much of the night and it is still gray and wet. I delay getting up, mellowed out by the rain. Finally, I arise and head to the privy. Wise Guy intercepts me, “It’s all your fault, you know?”
I have no clue what he’s talking about. The rain? The weather? Have I caused some unknown problem?
He repeats himself, “It’s all your fault, you know?”
I smile thinly and agree, “Uh-huh.”
Then he explains, “You’re hiking with three women, everything must be your fault.” He grins in a we’re-both-guys-and-understand-this-stuff sort of way.
Now I get it. I smile and agree, “Yeh, I know.”
But in all fairness to my hiking companions, they have been game for a difficult hike and I haven’t heard any of them complain. Their feet and legs certainly hurt just like mine do, but they’re every bit as tough as I am. Maybe tougher.
I’m the first hiker out. I confirm arrangements with the ones I’m leaving behind and I’m off, hoping to cover 20 tough miles.