As a teacher, the repeated question weeks before spring break is, “Where are you going to spend your vacation?” Nervous but proud I responded, “I’m going hiking for a week on the Appalachian Trail.” This statement elicited a number of responses from, “Why are you doing that?” to “You aren’t really going out there alone, are you?” Many felt impassioned to begin a public safety lecture about how I should have someone or at least a weapon with me. I had been reading idiot guides, gear guides, and how-to books since Christmas, eager to learn all that I could. I had collected lightweight gear and practiced with it for weeks. As I left work Friday evening, eager to get home and begin packing, my boss turned to me and said, “I put you on the prayer list at my church. You be safe out there.” With this additional insurance policy, I smiled and headed home.
Did You Bring Any Condoms?
My friend Ron picked me up Monday morning. He looked over my gear and, being a lightweight guru, asked how much my pack weighed. I proudly stated, “24 pounds.” He looked displeased with this number, and after a few changes to my gear, drove me to the trailhead near the Cove Mountain Shelter. Along the way, we saw eight hikers, including two tall men, tan and gorgeous despite their obvious rugged beards and coatings of dirt. Ron asked if I had brought along any condoms.
At the trailhead, he advised me to “get a running start.” And so I did. I don’t remember much of my first five miles alone other than wanting to shake a hiker named Just Mike whose dog Hicks kept trying to hump my leg. I hoped I could catch the two hot guys whom I learned from shelter journals called themselves The Southern Miss. Boys.
I reached an area that just screamed “bear habitat” and became very alert. I stopped at a small stream to wet my face and neck to offset the heat. I soon reached a beautiful two-story shelter where the log stated that the Southern Miss. Boys had just seen a bear and her cub cross the path. “No interaction and no picture” the entry stated. A few minutes later, Just Mike and Hicks came into the shelter for the night. I enjoyed the company, but he had been out hiking for only one day and was already asking me to drive him north to his car and telling me how he needed a hot shower.
Insights from Lorax
After literally jogging out of camp the next morning, I had a new set of goals: stay well ahead of Just Mike and attempt to catch The Southern Miss. Boys. No luck. The next two days were cold and rainy, even snowing on me twice on high summits. I spent the next two nights freezing privately in my tent in make-shift campsites between shelters. I was too fast to stop at one but not moving fast enough to catch the next before nightfall. I jogged to keep warm and kept summit overlooks to an “Okay, I’ve seen it, now keep moving” technique. On my final day on the trail, I heard bounding steps coming up behind me. I turned and met Lorax, a thru-hiker. He quickly asked if I was Blacksheep and that Mike had sent an “I’m only fifteen minutes behind” message. What?! I hadn’t seen him for two days and he was still hoping I’ll drive him into town? I felt guilty leaving Just Mike, but we each need to have our own A.T. experience; he needed to have his. I gave Lorax every bit of food I had left in my bag and twenty dollars. I was grateful to have been a trail angel for a thru-hiker.
Sounds of Nature
After reaching my car at the James River Bridge, I just sat there, not wanting to leave the trail, but also not wanting to see Just Mike. Fortunately, I knew he would be able to catch a ride with one of the almost 50 women picking weeds near the James River Bridge.
I drove home to Roanoke and stayed out front of my house and found a home for the rock I removed from the trail as a token. On the trail I set camp at dark. At home I noticed myself very tired around eight. It dawned on me how I missed the owls, coyotes, and woodpeckers that seemed to follow me for three nights. So I changed my sound machine to the rainforest setting to drown out the sounds of the city.