One Month Solo on the Appalachian Trail
Mail drop day! I fly across the mountainsides, racing past campgrounds and straggling groups of weekend campers, picturing the ice cream and hot shower awaiting me at Three Springs Hostel. In the early afternoon, a couple miles from the hostel, I glance down the mountain and catch a glimpse of a row of cars parked in the valley below. Tents dot the fields across from the cars. As I descend into the valley, hikers and campers stroll by, hauling water, building campfires, and basking in the sun.
"H-O-L-C-O-M-B. It's in memory of a friend - he died on the trail."
I approach the parking lot, power on my cell phone and call the hostel for a ride. One of the campers glances up from his campfire and hurries over.
"So...you call for a ride, a stranger shows up, and you just get in the car?" he asks incredulously.
"Well, pretty much. The ride's from the hostel," I explain.
Several minutes tick by. Then, a worn white land rover churns up the dirt road and pulls up by the side of the parking lot. A woman leans out the driver's seat and introduces herself as Marcia. I throw my pack in the back and hop on, carefully perching atop a brown towel that covers the passenger seat.
We pull into a gravel driveway by a white house and several white sheds. Prayer flags flap in the distance, strung between wooden fence posts. To the right, tall blades of grass surround a pond; to the left, a screened porch juts out from the house. Marcia points me to a side door. I leave my shoes outside, take off my pack, and haul everything through the door into the hiker bunk room. Presently, a silver-haired woman peers in, introduces herself as Oma, hands me my mail drop, and offers me a tour. I marvel at the walk-in shower with a built-in seat. When we reach the screened porch, I meet another hiker: Dysfengshuinal, an older, slight woman digging into a large pizza fresh from the oven. Oma shows me the freezer filled with frozen pizzas and burritos, and the modest resupply shop with jerky and granola bars, then leaves me to my own devices.
"I was setting up my tent -- my stuff was everywhere, so this hiker comes up and says something like, 'You should learn fengshui!'
Immediately, I take a shower. Then, laundry. Lastly, ice cream.
For days, I've heard northbound hikers raving about the ice cream at Three Springs Hostel. Oma leads me to the kitchen.
"What size do you want?"
"We have a day hiker, section hiker, and thru hiker size. 8 oz, 12 oz, and 16 oz," she tells me. "That's a pound," she adds for emphasis.
Dysfengshinal's eyes widen when she sees me walking into the room with a bowl brimming with 8 oz of vanilla-Oreo ice cream. She disappears into the kitchen. A few minutes later, we both sit cross-legged on our bunk beds, scooping out gobs of ice cream with childlike grins plastered across our faces.
All night, Dysfengshuinal weaves stories about her adventures - meeting a cougar on the Pacific Crest Trail, seeing an 8-foot long black snake on the Appalachian Trail, getting her shoes stolen in Tibet: a life full of exploration.
We compare notes on hikers on the trail. "You must've seen Old Growth," she tells me. "Older gentleman. We've been leapfrogging for the past couple weeks. He shouldn't be that far ahead of me."
"Was he wearing black clothes?" I ask, recalling the northbound hikers I passed in the past couple days.
"Yes. I believe so."
"I asked him how he was doing. I don't think he heard me."
Dysfengshinal laughs. "He is a bit hard of hearing. Hikes with a pound of sugar, and says pizza is its own food group."
What interesting characters we meet on the trail!