Ahh yes the smell of mud, rain, stinky hiker feet, and Ramen noodles…must be hiking season in the South! I am very happy to be out his year and am very grateful to Patricia and Young Geezer for letting me park my car at their house in Atlanta for the next 5 months or so.Today is day 9 of my Appalachian Trail Redux hike. I find myself in the Macon County Public Library in Franklin, North Carolina. I feel like I am the only one living in a zombie movie. I am moving at regular speed and the locals are in slow motion. I really like the southern drawl but in this day of information at the speed of a button, conversation is becoming a less preferable option. So hiking this year has been a real kick in the butt. I have had no problems with my knees, feet, or ankles. I froze one night at Gooch Shelter when the temperatures reached 20 degrees. I donated my down jacket to a girl who was grossly unprepared for the frosty weather. She had no thermal sleeping pad (in an an extremely drafty shelter), a kid’s sleeping bag that only came up to her chest, and a couple of cotton layers. During the course of the night she started whimpering and so I spooned with her to keep her warm. I note this only because the following night I was camping out by a campfire at Neel’s Gap with a homeless man named Wayne. Wayne is an awesome guy! He has been collecting every article of clothing and gear left behind at the shelters and taking and hiking in them as he goes. He said he found his Coleman 40 degree sleeping bag outside a greyhound station in Atlanta and has pretty much obtained the rest as he has hiked. He is hiking with a pit bull puppy named Caroline. She is a sweetheart. The night we camped out it was cold as hell and so Caroline crawled into my sleeping bag and ended up crashing with me for the cold, Georgian night. This means I spooned with two separate girls on consecutive nights with the latter one being much more satisfying.
Hiking the AT again has been a blast! I am remembering how all the noobs are so positive and optimistic. The 1st three shelters were so much fun meeting all the people. The trail eventually turns into a big drama-filled, high school clique with hikers sticking to their own coteries. However, the first few days are cool. Entire shelters full of hikers making jokes, card playing, trading stories, food, and some very deep conversations. I struck up conversation with this one guy that looks like “The Dude” from the Big Lebowski and we got into this great conversation about existence and free will. This kind of stuff doesn’t happen off trail. It is a huge accomplishment If a conversation makes it past the weather with a stranger in the real world.
The hike out of Gooch shelter in the rain and fog was awesome. The eerie fog that settles over the dormant woods and mountains is really inspiring to me. It all reminds me of the surreal world of a Tim Burton or the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I also helped a trail runner pack out a bunch of trash to a road a mile down trail, and said he would buy me a beer at Neel’s Gap which he did. I had a couple of Miller Lites around the campfire with Wayne and him and another guy named Chad. That is sorta the way I am playing it this year. I am helping out folks and volunteering my help when I can, living it up, and being in the moment. I love hiking but am not against getting off trail or skipping sections this year. Another observation I have had this year is how everybody can be themselves. There are no preconceived notions from friends and family out here. The only thing you bring out here are your own repressions, anxieties, fears, and paranoia. Paradoxically, you also bring with you your raw joy, community, smiles, and inspirations. The trail is sorta like a big accepting mirror. I camped up on Standing Indian Mountain and caught a great sunrise and sunset. Last time I would never of dreamed of camping solo on the top of one of the highest mountains. This hike has been a complete blast and much better than I remembered it being twelve years ago. I am now off to get some Thai Food and a weekender of Bush Beer to drink with a bunch of my new best friends! Cheers!