1861 miles on the Appalachian Trail
I awake to find a pool of water at the bottom of my tent. Condensation drips from the walls; every now and again, spritzes of water land on my face. I pack up quickly in the rain, wringing as much water as I can from the tent fabric, and slide my feet into my still-damp boots. That's the hardest part of the day done with, I think. And the hostel is just a mile away.
One highway crossing later, I reach a gravel road on the side of a cliff. Emblazoned in orange paint on a small rock are the words 'Standing Bear,' with an arrow pointing up the road. I turn and follow it until I see a cluster of wooden cabins in the distance.
Hikers in rain gear are everywhere. A stream runs beneath a bridge leading to a white house in the distance. As soon as I step onto the bridge, a dark bearded man in t-shirt and jeans intercepts me. "Are you here for a resupply or stay?" he asks.
"Ok -- let's have you put your pack down over there first." He leads me back across the bridge to the porch of one of the wooden cabins. I spot a bunch of hikers crammed into a grimy kitchen in one cabin. A power strip runs down the side of a table, filled with phones and power banks. I pay $2 for a shower in a curtained room across from the privy. Hot water runs down into a hole drilled in the stone floor. It feels amazing after the last few days.
One by one, the trail crew files in. First stop: the resupply cabin. Silas checks the fridge for Dr. Pepper. Carter, Kelly, and I grab an envelope and pen from beside the door to keep track of our purchases: the hostel operates on the honor system.
I chow down on the bagel and cookie spread I buy, hungry after running low on food. Only halfway through the bagel do I notice the fuzzy green mold growing on it. I immediately throw the bagel away and put back a pack of expired hot dog buns.
As I'm scrubbing my dirty clothes on an old fashioned washboard, trying in vain to rinse away the smell of wet socks with a bar of hotel soap from the store, Carter walks in.
"Some of the guys were talking about getting a shuttle into town. Would you be in?"
We split a Motel 6 room amongst the six of us and have Waffle House for lunch. That night, we scour the local fast food scene for potential dinner locales.
"There's an Arby's," someone says.
"Oh! What's a pirate's favorite letter?" Jenny asks.
"...R...," Silas guesses.
"You'd think it'd be R, but it's really the sea!"
"I owned a business out of college. It was called Tri Rho. It was a rowing company, playing off the rowing fraternities: Tri Rho - row row row. We actually started turning a profit."
The next morning, we find a shuttle back to the trail for $8 each.
"How did you get into hiking?" I ask our driver, Ronnie.
"Fishing, hiking, camping - those were big in these parts. Growing up in East Tennessee, that's what we did," he says.
We reach Max Patch, a bald with famously beautiful views, as a cloud of fog rolls in. Three faded silhouettes emerge in the distance.
"State your name," one calls.
I recognize Good Times' voice. "Not Bad," I answer over the wind.
Only when I get within 10 feet so I recognize the other two silhouettes as Lookout and Crusher, two other northbound thru-hikers. The shadows of trees loom overhead like sentinels as I descend to the shelter. I set up my still-wet tent, looking forward to town tomorrow.
I lie awake in my tent at 5:00 am, listening to the sound of rain against my tent fly. It's not supposed to rain today, I think. If only it would let up long enough for me to pack.
I force myself to get up. I need to hike 18 miles by 4:00 pm to pick up my mail drop at the Hot Springs post office before it closes. As I stand by the shelter picnic table, scarfing down some cereal, Diesel walks by.
"How are you?" Diesel asks.
"Doing well. You?"
"Cold. Wet." He pauses for a fraction of a second. "Normal!"
By dawn, the rain stops. We all race into town. I make it to the post office with time to spare, then pile into a cabin with Matt, Tom, Crusher, and Lookout. Taking advantage of the sun, we immediately pull out our tents and lay them out to dry.
That night, we eat dinner in town at the Smoky Mountain Diner, start a fire in the fire pit, and chat until midnight. Matt takes the trail name Onion Whisperer. Silas changes his from Missionary to Pepper. Kali becomes the Pronator - Nate, for short - and Kelly takes the name HRC.
"I know what to name Tom," Carter says. "Waldo. We're always saying, 'Where's Tom?' - 'Where's Waldo?'"
"It's like that proverb: If you want to walk fast, walk alone. If you want to walk far, walk together."
Before climbing out of town the next day, I send a message to Woody, a friend from my hike last year. 'Let me know when you're in the Hot Springs, NC to Erwin, TN area,' he'd said.
I camp with the trail crew for the next two days. Kelly's birthday is the second day. That night, Silas, Carter, and Kali bring back a card from town, which we all sign discreetly. Matt swings himself from a wooden beam on the shelter, instigating a dangling competition. Crusher packs out soda for all of us.
"At my high school, the penalty for being late was losing parking privileges," Tom is saying. "We had to park up a hill. Which actually made me more late."
"Is that when you decided to hike the AT?" Jenny asks.
"Yes," Tom responds drily. "I was walking down that hill, and my knee started hurting, and I thought, 'Let's do this for another six months.'"
As evening falls, I watch as one by one, headlamps turn on in the tents, filling the field with a warm, multicolored glow.
1861 miles on the Appalachian Trail
Early in the morning, Silas and I cross the Fontana Dam in Fontana Dam.
"I wonder what it would be like to grow up in this town," Silas says. "They must hear so many dam jokes."
"One of the locals said she was 7 when the Dam was built. She said she was one of the Dam kids. She went to the Dam school."
"The first night, I caught, like, five fireflies. I put them all in my bug net, and put that in my tent, and I was like, 'Ah ~ this is magical!'"
We enter the Smoky Mountains less than a mile outside town, depositing our permits in the thru-hiker registration box. As we hike up, we pass a couple section hikers, one of whom introduces himself as Toe. He gestures to his necklace. "It's my toe."
From afar, the necklace looks like a pinkish yellow rock tied to a string.
"No way," Silas says.
We meet Toe again when we stop for lunch at a rickety old fire tower that sways in the wind.
"You can see the nail on the end," Toe tells another hiker. Looking closer, his necklace indeed features what looks like a toenail.
When we reach Mollies Ridge Shelter, the first shelter of the Smokies, rain begins pouring down. I decide to stay; Silas pushes on to meet up with the rest of the group. A sign at the shelter helpfully points to water on one side, and the 'toilet area' down a minefield of a hill on the other.
I wake up to find a tent set up smack o the middle of the toilet area. Interesting choice of a spot, I think.
I hike alone through muddy trails in steady rain and fog. Ian passes me early in the day, slipping and sliding down the slopes.
"The trail is actively trying to kill me today!" he shouts over his shoulder.
By the time I arrive at the shelter, all my belongings are wet. A tarp covers the front of the shelter, keeping the rain out. Other hikers have surrounded a small fire in the fireplace with wet socks and boots, hoping to dry them out. By the time I go to bed, the shelter is completely packed.
A drizzly rain continues into the next day, shrouding the Smokies in a dense white mist. Moss carpets the forest floor. Clingman's Dome, the highest point on the Appalachian Trail, lies ahead. I cross my fingers for a view.
That day, I hike with two section hikers: Steve, a concrete foreman, and Luke, who works with pipes.
"What is the most valuable lesson you've learned at work?" I ask, curious about their careers.
"Keep your head down, and shut your mouth," Luke replies.
"I'd disagree with that," Steve says after a second. "I like to bring some innovation to work. I think you can learn something from everyone."
"Having kids saved my life."
The view from Clingman's Dome reveals is just a gray backdrop, but the sun comes out just long enough for us to see a bit of the Smokies when we get down.
"I think we're getting close," Steve says.
"It should be downhill from here," I note.
"Doubt it!" Luke shouts from behind.
I laugh. We end up climbing another small hill before reaching the shelter. An hour after we arrive, rain begins pouring down again. As everyone cooks dinner, Steve walks around from the back of the shelter.
"Whose tent is back there? There's a squirrel stealing food from it," he says.
I go and take a look. As I stand under the overhang, a squirrel scurries into the tent. Seconds later, it emerges, holding a tiny morsel of food. It stands on the edge of the tent, perched atop a pair of crocs, nibbling away, then dives back into the tent.
Someone goes to wake the tent owner. "Well, he knows about the squirrel now."
After several straight days of rain, my socks, boots, and pack seem perpetually damp. The smell of wet feet lingers in my clothes, in the shelters, and in the air. I ignore it.
A wooden sign marks the North Carolina - Tennessee border at Newfound Gap. Tourists and dayhikers are everywhere, photographing the scenery. I join the crowds, feeling slightly out of place, and eat my lunch. Several people glance curiously at me.
By early afternoon, the rain clears out, allowing me to enjoy the view at Charlie's Bunion.
After 14-15 miles, the IT band running down the side of my knee begins to ache. In the last couple miles to the shelter, my knee gives out on me several times. Maybe I'll take it easy tomorrow, I think.
Though I consider taking a zero day, I can't resist hiking when I see sun the next morning. This may be one of my only chances to hike in the sun in the Smokies.
A fellow hiker walks over to his pack, saying, "Let's see if I have received the blessing of the acorns." He shakes out his pack. "I have not."
I stop for lunch at Tri-Corner Knob Shelter. My IT band still feels tender. About 15 minutes in, a uniformed young woman shows up, curly hair tied back in a headband.
"I'm the ridgerunner, Chloe," she says. "Are you planning to stay tonight?"
"I haven't decided yet," I reply. I know that Carter, Tom, Silas, Kali, Jenny, and Kelly just zeroed in Gatlinburg; they may yet show up at Tri-Corner Knob.
"Well, the shelter's about to become really clean, if you need convincing. I'm about to clean the shelter and privy." She sits down and begins making lunch.
I decide to stay, rest my knee, and see if the trail crew shows up.
"What's it like being a ridgerunner?" I ask.
"You get to talk to lots of people...99% of them are awesome, but then there's that 1%..."
"French and religious studies. Real clear path to conservation."
After finishing lunch, Chloe runs over to the fire pit. She makes a disgusted face as she contemplates the pile of cigarette butts in the ashes. "People suck," she mutters.
I can't help but think the same thing when I pull half-decomposed toilet paper out of a hollowed tree trunk while helping her clean up after lunch.
The skies open up in the afternoon: Rain pours down in intermittent bursts. Around mid-afternoon, Carter shows up. Then, Silas. Jenny and Kelly. Kali. Tom.
We all sit on logs around the fire pit for dinner during a brief respite in the rain.
"No rain, no pain, no Maine."
"Cheese and pepper flakes makes ramen a gourmet meal," Carter says, stirring his pot. "Out here, at least."
"Where are y'all headed tomorrow?" I ask.
"There's a campsite 17 miles away," Kelly says. "It's past the Smokies -- we want to be done with the Smokies."
"I want to be done with the Smokies, too," I agree.
The 17 miles downhill fly by the next day. My IT band feels much better after a night of rest, and the rain holds off for most of the day. A sense of accomplishment rushes through me as I cross the northern border of the Smokies. That night, I camp with the trail crew on the side of a stream, about a mile from Standing Bear Hostel.
1861 miles on the Appalachian Trail
News spreads that the Winding Stair Gap fires are contained and the trail is open! Ron Haven shuttles Silas and I to Winding Stair Gap at 9:00 am; Matt, Tom, Carter, and Miranda resume their hike at Rock Gap, four miles back.
"There's some rangers with some food and stuff for y'all up at the bald," a southbound dayhiker tells us.
I check my phone. "We're around Wine Spring Camp now - I think Carter said they were planning to camp there," I tell Silas. "Siler Bald is about two miles ahead. Maybe they'll show up at the trail magic when they hear about it."
We hurry to Siler Bald, where an assortment of cookies, crackers, granola bars, and juice awaits us. Apples and clementines are in a nearby cooler. We stay for several hours, eating both lunch and an early dinner. Hikers come and go.
"I don't think they're going to show up," I say.
We wait another few minutes. Most of the other hikers plan to head to the next shelter, about a mile away.
"I really want to hang out with Matt and everyone," Silas says. "I'm going back to that camp site - Wine Spring, or whatever."
Going back to find our budding trail family. I think about losing time if I backtrack two miles. Then, I think about the past week and a half: the first day, the pizza party after Neels Gap, reuniting at the Budget Inn after the wildfire. I decide to go back, too.
When we arrive, we find everyone sitting around a campfire Matt coaxed from damp firewood. Silas and I set up camp, then join them.
"Yesterday, Solace said that only 25% of people finish the trail," Silas muses. "So he said out of every four of us, only one would finish."
Tom and I glance at each other.
"That's a gross misunderstanding of probability," Tom says.
I can't help but chime in. "He's assuming we're all acting independently. But we're not. We're interdependent."
We trade stories. We laugh. Matt puts on a green baseball cap, sticks a finger in his mouth, and blows. The cap pops off his head. Silas looks on in amazement.
"You like that?" Matt asks. He does it again.
Totally worth it, I think to myself. This is what it's all about.
Early the next morning, I climb up a stone tower overlooking valleys partially shrouded in fog. Burnt signs and blackened wooden posts line the walls of the tower. I stay there for a few moments, enjoying the view.
That evening, we all pile into Wesser Bald Shelter, eat dinner, then hike back up to a fire tower to watch the sunset.
The Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC), featuring a full outfitter, restaurant, and general store, lies halfway between Winding Stair Gap and Fontana Dam. We stop there for lunch, sharing a pizza as an appetizer, and ordering 1/2 pound burgers as main courses. Hikers and whitewater rafters alike mill about. I spot both Joe and Timothy in the throng. Packs line the outfitter storefront; cell phones are charging in every outlet; resupply boxes lie out in the open.
I stay there for a couple hours after lunch, charging my power bank. Timothy offers me a bag of cheetos before I leave. Miranda hitches a ride to town; today is her last day. After getting a late start, I start the long trudge up from the NOC.
I am still hiking at 7 pm. A couple of hikers, Atlas and Matchmaker, spot me. "Enough is enough!" they shout.
I decide to camp with them that night, two miles shy of the next shelter.
"I was in business intelligence. One thing I can tell you is I have never been bored."
"This guy came up here with trail magic pizza," he tells me. "It's all gone now, but Matt saved two slices for you and Tom."
The next day, I catch up to Matt, Tom, Silas, and Carter after a long 17 miles. Three more hikers, Jenny, Kelly, and Kali, are part of our crew. Silas catches me as I pull into camp.
After setting up camp, I head to the campfire. That night, I eat the best piece of pepperoni pizza I've had in my life.
As I hike into Fontana Dam the next day, I see a pair of old tan hiking boots filled with pebbles next to a sign. I look closer.
'My husband, James had a dream of hiking the AT...he completed over 165 miles...but God had other plans...I am placing a pair of James' hiking boots filled with pebbles on the Appalachian Trail at Fontana Dam, in hopes that when hikers come upon them, they will take a pebble and carry it with them until they reach the end of their hike, wherever that may be... '
I pick out a small black pebble and put it in my pack.
After doing laundry in town, I hike to the 'Fontana Hilton' shelter, so named for the hot showers and toilets in the nearby bathhouse. At least 40 tents dot the surrounding area. I enjoy one more shower and share one more night with the trail crew. The Smokies lie just ahead.
1861 miles on the Appalachian Trail
A fire tower lies directly ahead atop Albert Mountain. As I climb up via a winding passage lined with rhododendron bushes, I catch a glimpse of dawn through a break in the foliage. I can't help but pause, taking in the pastel colors splashed across the sky.
Climbing the fire tower will place me a full mile above sea level. Slender metal beams support the tower, offering wide open views to the valleys below. Halfway up, I glance down and feel my legs start shaking. That should be high enough to put me a mile above sea level, I think, hurrying back down. I put on my pack and hike on for awhile before I think, What are you doing?! This is your only chance to climb that tower. You may not come this way again. Go back!
I grit my teeth, walk back, pull on gloves, grab the railings, and scramble up the tower as quickly as I can. This time, I make it all the way.
By early afternoon, I reach Winding Stair Gap, closely followed by several other hikers, including Good Times, Heinz, and Diesel. Solace, a shuttler from the Franklin Budget Inn, arrives shortly after I call for a ride. He drives an old white van with the back seats pulled down and a Bert doll tied to the center console.
"Will we all fit?"
"The most I've fit in here is 20 people and a dog," Solace reassures us.
Four of us pile into the front seats, while the rest squeeze onto the back seats with the packs.
"Have you thru-hiked?" someone asks Solace.
"I haven't - but Bert has," Solace says, keeping a straight face as he nods at Bert.
Fifteen miles later, we pull into Haven's Budget Inn. A group of at least eight hikers sits sprawled outside the first room. Good Times heads over to join them. I spot Silas and Left Foot nearby; they wave hello as I retrieve my mail drop. As I sit down next to them, one of the hikers - Chicken - says, "I've been wanting to get out of this town for days, but I kept getting hammered. This is my fifth beer-o!"
Woah, I think. Another hiker, Rowdy, has her dog, Steve, with her. Steve sniffs curiously at my mail drop as I pet him.
Silas, Good Times, and I end up rooming together in the Baltimore Jack Hostel across the street. For dinner, Silas and I head to the Asian King buffet with three other hikers: Brian, a preacher from California, and his two sons, Nate and Caleb.
"So why are you hiking?" Brian asks me.
"Unfinished business," I reply. "I did a long section hike last year. I was drawn by the challenge of it, and the chance for personal growth. Met a bunch of thru-hikers and got inspired, so this year, I'd like to follow through."
"Unfinished business and follow through," Brian muses. "Both of those would make good trail names."
True, I think, though Not Bad has grown on me. It's cautiously optimistic, gets a laugh out of people, and has several different connotations: not bad -- totally AWESOME, not bad -- it was terrible, or just plain not bad. When I make it to Katahdin, though, maybe I'll take a new trail name. Change it to something with a ring to it: something I've earned.
That night, Silas and I find ourselves wondering where Matt, Tom, Carter, and Jackie ended up.
"I think they're behind us -- they all got off at Unicoi," I say.
"Someone said Matt was here yesterday," Silas replies. He pauses. "Matt's really wise. He says really deep things. Like, the other day, he said, 'Hating someone is like drinking poison and waiting for the other guy to die.'"
"There are some who say man is the sum of his adventures."
Good Times walks in after calling his partner. He drops into his bunk and announces his plans to zero the next day to let his shin splints heal. "There are some people ahead of me," he says, "but I realized it's my hike, and I should take care of myself - not worry about keeping up with everyone."
As I get out my sleeping bag, I notice a small stuffed giraffe nestled into Good Times' pack. I ask him about it.
"The giraffe was my mom's," he says. "She died a few years ago, but she was always the one to push me to travel. It reminds me of her -- sometimes, when I see the sunset, I'm like, 'Mom, see that?'"
The next morning, Good Times heads down to the office to reserve his bunk. "Do you want the good news or bad news first?" he asks us as he returns.
Silas and I look at each other.
"Bad news," I say.
"The trail's closed from Winding Stair to Wayah Gap."
Silas and I rush down to the office. Joe, from the Hiker Hostel, lounges out front next to a red handwritten sign: Trail closed from Winding Stair to Wayah Gap due to wildfire. In no time, a crowd of hikers gathers.
"I'm leaving," Joe says. "I'm going to hike through the fire."
"They won't let you through," Solace warns as he walks by.
"I'd like to see them try and stop me," Joe replies. "I'm fireproof - I'll just hike at night."
"I'll just skip that section," another hiker pipes up. "What is it - 5 miles? What's 5 miles in 2000?"
Silas and I decide to give it a day to see if the trail opens back up. I don't want to skip that section if I can help it, I think.
"The trail knows best," Silas says as we reserve our bunks for another night.
A few minutes later, a full shuttle of hikers pulls in. As the hikers step out, looking rather tired and unkempt, we spot several familiar faces. Matt. Tom. Carter, with his girlfriend, Miranda.
That afternoon, we all head down to the local hiker bar: The Lazy Hiker, featuring specialty beers like the Slack Pack, Trail Mate, and Twentymiler IPA. We run into at least twenty other hikers, including Timothy from the Hiker Hostel and Jackie. Tom orders a flight of beers. Timothy signs me up for a ping pong tournament, in which I lose spectacularly to Ian, but win a consolation glass of beer. After trying a few sips of beer samples, I order a hazelnut one that I give to another hiker.
"With so many jobs, it's like, 'Where have you been? What have you done?' Here, it's more, 'Where are you going?'"
When the sun sets, I find myself sitting with Midnight Chef and Kickback, both from Connecticut. Solace passes by, orders a burger and complementary fries, then joins us. After taking a bite, he pushes the fries over to me.
"Thanks." I dig in. Delicious.
Midnight Chef talks of working in a rehab center. "It can be very rewarding," she notes, "but these people, they're not always right in the head. You know the steps they should follow to get better, but they just want to use..."
"I eat second dinner at hiker midnight."
Solace tells us stories from the year he thru-hiked: tales of walking to every town before shuttles were available, of facing several feet of snow in the Smokies, of having no water for three days... He explains how the hostel we stayed at, the Baltimore Jack Hostel, came to be.
"Baltimore Jack was a good friend of mine," Solace says. "You loved him and you hated him; he was a scholar and an asshole; he thru-hiked 9 times and would give you the shirt off his back.
"He would do things like, if he saw a cute girl, he'd say, 'You're so good looking, a starving dog would jump out of the car to chase after you." He'd drive by a huge group of hikers, roll down the windows, and shout, 'Y'all should get a job!'
"When he passed, we named the hostel after him."
When we finish our food, Solace offers us a ride back to the hostel in his van.
"Thanks," I tell him as he pulls into the Budget Inn. "You're amazing."
As I leave, I hear him murmur, "You hear that, Bert? We're amazing."
1861 miles on the Appalachian Trail
Don, Josh's shuttle driver, drops by in the morning as we pack. His car with the mechanic, but he offers to hook us up with more shuttlers. "Dude," he says, "some of those other drivers, man, they'll charge you ridiculous prices, dude, for each additional person. Me, I charge the same price, dude. Doesn't cost me any more, man. I'm still going to the same place."
We end up dialing several numbers - no response - before trying our luck at hitchhiking out of town. After walking to the local coffee shop, we join a hiker named Athena at the curb, and stick out our thumbs. Cars race by.
After a couple minutes, Athena removes her hat and shakes out her hair.
"Oh -- here comes the hair!" Silas shouts.
"I'm about to show some leg," Athena jokes.
In a few more minutes, a pickup truck pulls over, and we find ourselves hitching a ride back to Neels Gap in the back of the truck.
That day, I meet Disciple and Halo, and run into my second round of trail magic, while hiking to Low Gap Shelter.
I'm legally blind, and it's getting worse. I recognize postures and gaits, but I I wouldn't recognize your face. I'd like to do it while I still can. I'd like to inspire people to get out there. Doesn't matter if you're overweight or have health problems. You shouldn't hide away."
That night, Silas, Tom, Jackie, Matt, Carter, and I stay at Low Gap Shelter. Around sunset, we gather firewood and tell stories around the campfire.
"Being the youngest of five has advantages and disadvantages. For the longest time, I thought rhinos weren't real. My brothers convinced me that rhinos were like unicorns. They were like, 'You know all those pictures in your textbooks? They're lying to you. That's what the government wants you to believe.' I was like, 'Woah.' So when I saw a rhino in a zoo for the first time - this was, like, the end of high school - it was as if I had seen a unicorn in real life."
I hike in steady cold rain mixed with occasional thunder the next day: The next shelter I reach is completely full with hikers burrowed into their sleeping bags. After Silas, Jackie, Matt, and Carter decide to get off trail to head into the town of Helen, I end up pushing on with a former investment banker named Ian.
"Got any good stories?" he asks me. "I like getting people's stories."
Somehow, the last 5 miles of the hike seem easier with company.
Ian and I reserve bunks at the Top of Georgia Hostel, owned by former thru-hiker Sir-Packs-A-Lot, for the following night.
When I get up for breakfast, pellets of hail pelt me across the face. A mix of hail, sleet, and snow continues to fall until I reach the hostel.
First order of business: hot chocolate. Then, a shower. Joe, Paul, and Carla from the Hiker Hostel are also staying for the night. That night, I join the other hikers at a local buffet, and play a round of scrabble before bed.
I get up at 5:38 am the next morning to sneak in one last shower before the other hikers wake: some 20+ hikers share the same bathroom. Sir-Packs-A-Lot delivers his daily spiel during the complementary all-you-can-eat-cereal breakfast. "25% of people quit by the time they get here," he says, highlighting the Hostel on an Appalachian Trail map painted on the wall. "50% quit by Hot Springs."
After taking an easy day into Plumorchard Shelter - the IT band in my leg bothers me a bit - I cross the GA/NC border on my 9th day. Though the day is warm, a sprinkling of snow still covers the ground in some areas. As I hike, two dayhikers pass by in the opposite direction.
"You've got some trail magic coming up in 6 miles. At Deep Gap!" they shout.
I thank them and hurry on. A couple miles from Deep Gap, I run into the backpacker I met on the train. I rack my mind for his name. Something like...Doug...Fart?
"Can I just call you...Doug?" I ask. I'm not too keen on accidentally calling someone 'Fart.'
"It's not Doug. It's Duck Fart," he says matter-of-factly.
"Duck Fart? How did you get that?"
"It's a drink. Back when the trail started, no one knew what it was. I had to show them how to make it. Next time I went back, I told them I was the one who showed them how to make the drink, and they said, 'Oh - Duck Fart!'"
"Last time I came down to Deep Gap was with a friend. We were planning on doing trail magic, but these other guys were there. So, we set up camp and sat around the campfire.
That afternoon, I indulge in trail magic from a couple of former thru-hikers: Red Truck and Green Truck. Hotdogs, barbecue pork, cantaloupe, peach crumble - what more could a thru-hiker ask for?
My pack feels light the next morning: I am just a day from my next resupply location in Franklin, NC, and I have eaten almost all the food in my food bag. After heading to Betty Creek, I camp with Good Times, Heinz, and Diesel.
"Good times - I always look like I'm having a good time."
"It was Heinz 57 because my pack weighed 57 pounds."
"Diesel. You'll see why tonight."