I breezed through my last post and after having written it, I realized how little time is spent actually describing the walk. Today was a day spent primarily by myself, engaged in the hiker’s tradition: walk up a hill, walk down a hill, reapeat. The large ascents obviously go much more slowly than the descents. Through hours of walking I go from amused, to aching, to hungry, to thirsty, to refreshed, to tired; all the sensations over and over. And let there be no mistake to the casual reader, hiking the A.T. is tiring, if not downright difficult.
20 miles takes the better part of ten hours, and yes, there are occasional conversations with other hikers, but the vast majority of time is spent alone, grinding out the miles.
Arriving at a shelter at the end of a long day is refreshing all by itself. What makes it even better is that there is some company. Today I have gambled on securing a place in a shelter. This is not always a good gamble and I nearly always carry a tent. But I wanted to keep my pack light and make some miles, so I left the tent out today.
At No Business Knob Shelter there is a crowd hovering around the shelter. I’m briefly concerned about all the spots being taken, but I’m bold enough to ask, “Is there room for one more in the shelter tonight?”
An older guy looks up with his perma-smirk, “There is if you tell us your trail name?”
Trail names. Hmm. I’ve tried to avoid a trail name. The tradition of trail names amuses me, but I never sought one and no one has been bold enough to offer one. Perhaps I should go by Teflon, as trail names don’t stick to me? But then, that name would have stuck. A conundrum.
I suppose my style when meeting others is good-naturedly assertive. I like to prod a little to see if people have a sense of humor. I can tell almost immediately whether I can get along with someone by the way they react to me. While at Jerry’s Cabin Shelter my lovely wife had a conversation with me about this habit of mine. She said I’m usually Inappropriate.
With that in mind, and wanting to have a place in the shelter, I answered, “My wife tells me I’m Inappropriate.”
All smiles now, that was my pass. I drop my pack and old-goatee-smirk guy tells me there are really not that many people in the shelter tonight. Most of the people hovering around are just doing some food prep. I look and see several tents, tarps, and hammocks.
People tell me trail names and often times I forget them, but when they tell me their real names, it seems to stick better. Smirk guy is traveling with Larry, whose trail name I’ve long since forgotten. They are in their mid to late 50s and are spending a month on the trail. I get the impression they are all about the fun.
“Did you come through Bald Mountain Shelter?”
“I had lunch there.”
“Was the headlamp still hanging from the rafters?”
“Yes. I left it there. Should I have brought it?”
“No, it belonged to guys going the other way. Big Bald Shelter was the sight of a good party last night.”
“Yeh, some weekend hikers were loaded up with some smoke and drinks. It was pretty wild.”
I get the impression the smokes weren’t cigarettes.
Another old guy is standing outside the shelter complaining about sore muscles. He turns to a young woman who is thru-hiking by herself.
“I saw you doing some stretching. Do you know anything good for these?” he points to the back of his legs.
“Sure. Do this.” She crosses her legs and bends over, practically touching the ground with her nose. I think to my self that the only way I can touch the ground with my nose is to lay down flat.
Her flexibility must have amazed others as well and kicks off a conversation. She explains, “I’m in sports medicine.”
I didn’t take that to mean she was a doctor. She names the school she graduated from, but it was a small school I had not heard of. She then starts to recite all the sports teams she was on. Now I start to think her name must be Greta, as images of the East German swim team play through my head.
Smirk guy unzips a pocket on his backpack and repositions an empty liquor bottle. I love a guy who likes to party and is still responsible enough to pack out the garbage. I see him as a truly great citizen of the world. Clearly, the group at Big Bald Shelter last night had some help from Smirk Guy.
Brazil and Trekky are there, as is London Accent Guy. I study his movements, his eyes, his demeanor. He is clearly hoping to get better acquainted with Greta. Good luck with that. Maybe you can challenge her to an arm wrestling match.
The conversations have split into two groups, the old guys sitting in the shelter and the young hikers just outside. They are talking about super hero movies and pop culture. We are talking about business and medications.
The conversations overlap and I hear myself lamenting being stuck in an office all day. I would love to work out of doors, but instead I have to get a massive fix of outdoor-ness by hiking and backpacking, among other things.
Greta interjects that there are plenty of outdoor jobs. She lists several before walking away to some important task.
I lean over to Smirk Guy and say softly, “I don’t think she appreciates the scale at which I wish to be paid.”
I hear Larry saying something about the drink V-8. Smirk Guy says he only likes V-9.
“OK, I’ll bite. What’s V-9?”
“V-8 with vodka.”
I ask if anyone has seen Der Vunderhiker.
“He passed through here a couple hours ago.”
Wow, 26 miles in a day. I guess he’ll get his shower tonight.