May 12, 2013
After a mostly sleepless night—not what one wants on the A.T.—I awaken to the subtle grayness of morning. I nudge no-longer-a-teen-daughter, “C’mon, let’s get out of here.”
Thirty minutes to pack the tent, stuff the backpacks, and eat, not necessarily in that order, and we’re on our way.
An hour and a half later, we are rewarded with some of our first grand vistas of the trip. Since yesterday was cloudy and rainy, there were no vistas to enjoy, but today is clearing. And cold. We snap a few photos from the emergency camera and we are on our way.
At the bottom of the hill, some five miles from our stating point, we reach Cherry Gap shelter. Predictably, there is no one there this late in the morning. We stop to take a packs-off break, take a few drinks, and have a late breakfast.
Another three miles and we have made it to Iron Mountain Gap where Tennessee 107 meets North Carolina 226. We gladly sit down for lunch. There is a sizable young woman hiking with her chihuahua. We make small talk while we eat and the dog comes over to sniff around a bit. Eventually she leaves heading north, carrying the dog.
As we are shouldering our packs, the two women who had camped next to us last night arrive. They introduce themselves as Dragonfly and Prairie Dog. Again, we make pleasant small talk for a few minutes before leaving to continue up the trail. It is not long until we pass Dog-carrying Lady. She is moving very slowly and we will not see her again this trip.
The trail undulates across several more miles and we finish at Clyde Smith Shelter, a walk of about 14 miles.
At Clyde Smith, a formidable cast of characters is assembling. We arrive at the shelter and drop our packs, looking for a place to sit. The shelter is built to hold eight, and four individuals have so carefully arranged their belongings so as to preclude anyone else from bedding down there. No problem, we’d rather tent anyway.
We set up our tent in the large tenting area behind the shelter. For the second time in 24 hours I observe a couple (male and female) set up two tents then proceed to occupy only one. It seems strange behavior to me. Again, I never viewed the A.T. as the place to go to hook up. But I’m so out of touch with this, how would I know?
We return to the shelter and its bar-like counter and start boiling water for the evening meal. Dragonfly and Prairie Dog arrive. We have a pleasant get-to-know-your-fellow-hiker talk.
They are cooking a vegetarian meal. Watching them causes me to realize one more undeniable profound truth about the Appalachian Trail. As an aside, I am always looking for these Undeniable Profound Truths about the A. T. (UPTATATs). The first UPTATAT was a surprise to me. I noticed it early in Georgia: There are no bad looking women on the A.T. I’m not quite sure why that is? Perhaps it’s because of a lack of competition from the city girls? Or perhaps it’s that, plus the relative dearth of females to look at in this male-dominated compulsion. (Although the last couple of years I’m seeing the ratio narrow.)
But to get to the point, the UPTATAT I have just brought into focus in my mind is this: anything someone else is cooking looks good!
There are two single young men talking. Both are through-hiking, but not together. The shorter of the two says he started with his brother.
“Is your brother here?”
“No, he’s up the trail.”
Another hiker shows up, and they all greet him by his trail name, Galifianakis, and indeed he looks like the actor of the same name, I’m told.
Tall Guy, Short Guy (whose brother is up the trail), and Galifianakis (I think of him as G-man) are all huddled around the fire. G-man produces a small container from his pocket which make the other’s eyes light up. Soon, that’s not all that will be lighting up. The conversation turns to buds from all the various states. As I recall there is some kind of competition to see who has smoked the most diverse collection of buds. I no longer remember who won, or from where their favorite bud grew.
The fire is warm and feels good on an ever-cooling evening. I could endure the fire for hours. What I cannot endure is much more of the conversation. The lads all seem like fine fellows, but I am so ashamed of my lack of knowledge and insight as their wisdom begins to flow forth that I must graciously dismiss myself.
The only thing of real interest from the conversation that I can recall was a question I asked of Short Guy.
“So why is your brother up the trail and not hiking with you?”
“He met some chick and they really hit it off. I was just a third wheel.”
Oh, the A.T. as one long hook-up trail. I get it.
From Tall Guy, “You’ll be back hiking with your brother in about 400 miles. That’s how long the average trail romance lasts.”
Ah, the wisdom. I am in awe.