One Month Solo on the Appalachian Trail
After hiking out separately in the morning, Phlatlander, Shweasle, and I meet up at Campbell Shelter. Shweasle throws his pack onto the table, gingerly stretching out his shoulder.
"I dislocated it," he says matter-of-factly.
"What?! -- Are you ok?"
"Yeah." As he explains, he mimes falling, dislocating the shoulder, then popping it back in again.
The three of us hike up to McAfee Knob, where we spend the next couple hours eating lunch, napping, and admiring the splendor of the sprawling valleys below.
From McAfee Knob, we walk into Catawba. Phlatlander heads to the post office for her mail drop. I call Four Pines Hostel, the site of my next mail drop, for a shuttle. Shweasle wanders down the road to check out the local restaurant. He stops short of the main doors and turns around, shaking his head. "Closed," he says.
We plop down under a tree to wait for our ride. Half an hour later, a colorful van hand-painted with a dragon on one side and an AT symbol on the hood pulls up on the curb.
"That for us?" Shweasle asks.
"Looks like it," I say.
The driver sticks his head out the window. "I'm Eddie," he says. "Y'all call for a ride?"
We pile into the van, cramming in with a motley crew of northbound hikers. First stop: groceries, i.e., a gas station stocked with snacks and a hot food stand. One by one, the northbound hikers pick up orders of burgers and pizzas, then head outside to lounge around two picnic tables and enjoy their fare. After grabbing a bottle of Gatorade, I join them. To one side, a guy with dreadlocks puffs idly on a cigarette.
Four Pines Hostel, a converted 3-bay garage owned by Jim and Donna, lies on the outskirts of Catawba. Chickens wander freely about the grounds. Eddie takes us on a brief tour of the hostel. Clustered in the center of the room are a bunch of old sofas varying in style, size, and color. Behind these sofas lies a row of mismatched cots. Up front, a floor-to-ceiling blackboard holds the signatures of scores of hikers who passed by. To the right, a door marked privy/shower stands ajar.
Eddie gestures toward the door. "Bathroom, shower, and laundry. We do laundry up at the house for $3, but if y'all want -- " He points to the sink: a white, 3 foot deep basin accented with a Jack Daniels bottle-turned-soap-dispenser. Nearby is a rack filled with an odd collection of soaps and shampoos.
"Feel free to help yourself to anything in the fridge," he continues.
After leading me up to the main house for my mail drop, Eddie takes his leave. "I've got another 10 coming in," he says.
Over the next hour, I shower, then wash my clothes in the basin. The water turns muddy as I swirl my socks around. After I finish, Donna and Jim drop by the hostel with a box full of homemade granola bars. At regular intervals, Eddie pops in to ask, "Y'all good? Y'all need anything?"
In the late afternoon, after Eddie drops off another couple groups of hikers, Woody hikes in. He stares at Phlatlander, Shweasle, and me. "How'd you all get here?!"
That evening, all four of us sit around a fold-down table, eating freeze pops from the well-stocked communal freezer. Snatches of conversation rise and fall around me: "Hey, Manchild!" someone says. "Wait, is that actually someone's name?!" another replies.
A couple hours before I retire to my tent, someone finds a guitar and banjo behind the sofas. Woody begins singing and strumming the guitar. After awhile, Shweasle joins in on the banjo:
"Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose, nothing left to lose..."