One month solo on the Appalachian Trail
I stretch out lazily across the bed before rising, pulling half a cantaloupe from the fridge, and heading to the hotel lobby for breakfast. 6:30am is too early to call for shuttles, I think, digging into my melon.
I spot several hikers standing outside the building, already packed to go. Returning to my room, I call a trail angel on the list. No answer. I put a dash next to the name. Busy. Another dash. I go through three trail angels before reaching Debby.
"I'm headed your way anyways," Debby says. "I'm bringing my car to the shop." She offers to call and pick me up in an hour and a half.
After an hour, I head to the lobby to wait. There, sitting at the hotel computer, is Woody!
We exchange news. I tell him about the couple hikers who said Phlatlander was about a day ahead.
"I know," he replies. "Walked in last night, and there she was, checking Facebook."
We both hitch a ride with Debby. Another surprise meeting awaits in the front seat the car: Lynn and Ronda!
Ronda wags her tail, clambering over the seat. "Not barking at me today, eh?" I laugh and scratch behind her ears.
After thanking Debby, I hike out with Woody. Sunlight glints through newly unfurled leaves. As we reach a bluff, Woody points at a mountain range across the way.
"See how the green is creeping up the mountains?" He traces the ridge line with his finger.
"Did you see that every year in Asheville?" I ask, thinking about the elevation there.
We continue chatting for the 5 miles to the shelter.
"At one point, we had 5 llamas," Woody tells me, detailing how he and his family used them as casual pack animals. "I've found their personalities to be like cats'."
He talks about his wife, an electrical engineer, and daughter, who studied animal science. Such great stories, I think. I think Woody loves them both very much.
"That was a quick 5 miles," Woody says as the shelter looms ahead.
Paul C. Wolfe Shelter is one of the nicer shelters I've encountered, with two levels and a narrow vertical window up the sides. Phlatlander greets us from the picnic table; for the first time since Gravel Springs Hut, the three of us end up at the same shelter for the night.
For the rest of the afternoon, we all relax, enjoying the mini waterfall and stream nearby. Around dinner time, Phlatlander pulls out two morel mushrooms, fries them in some butter from the hotel, and passes a morsel over. An earthy, buttery flavor bursts forth.
"Wow, those are the best mushrooms I've ever had!" I exclaim.
That night, I fall asleep thinking about the serendipitous events of the day.