One Month Solo on the Appalachian Trail
In the early morning hours, I hear the pattering of hail on the roof of the Shelter. I check my watch. 4:45am. We should be able to hike 10-by-12, 10 miles by 12pm, to lunch at Bryant Ridge Shelter before continuing to Middle Creek Campground.
After giving myself 5 more minutes, I pull myself from the warm comfort of my sleeping bag and blink away the last vestiges of sleep. The hail lets up by the time we start, though fog cloaks the trail ahead. We hike past a boulder suspended between two rock faces: the Guillotine.
"I think the system needs to be torn down and rebuilt."
Hiking with company feels different from hiking alone: it provides less time for introspection, but also a friend to share the challenges and wonders of the trail. Conversation rises and falls, now touching on history, family, or education, then veering to trail stories.
Phlatlander talks at length about a religious group called The Twelve Tribes, or the Yellow Deli people, who lure Appalachian Trail hikers in by offering simplicity and community. I hear that members relinquish all material possessions: The group tells members where to live and what to do; not whom to love, but who is approved for marriage.
"Everyone here is more genuine."
We hike 10 miles by 11:30am. The fog lifts, and Bryant Ridge Shelter looms ahead, large and luxurious with its two stories connected by a wooden ladder. The northbound hikers there tell us that Woody is about half a day ahead. As we pull out our last packs of lunch, Shweasle wanders up the trail, having slept in and hiked over 3 miles an hour to catch us.
"Back home, you kind of become who you've worked towards being your whole life: Your parents and friends know every stupid thing you've ever done."
After one more mountain, we reach the campground road and call for a ride.
"Are you all thru-hiking?" our driver asks.
"I'm not; she is; he's back," I reply.
Two dogs, one black and one white, lounge outside the camp store. Upon arriving, we rent a cabin, order hot food, and buy a pack of marshmallows at the camp store. We laugh as Shweasle inhales his two hamburgers; I don't even see him eat the first one.
That night, we light a campfire by our cabin, roast marshmallows, play games, and tell tales. Only a couple hours past hikers' midnight do we douse the fire and retire to our bunks.
"I was in school to be a teacher one time. I tell everyone it was because of the summer vacations, but really I wanted to be that one teacher who made a difference."