By dlacher on May 02, 2005
Camping in snow is not. For those of you who thought I was crazy before I left for this trip, just wait, you'll have to increase the craziness factor just a bit! Oh where to start this tale, I guess at the beginning, a magical little town called Hot Springs, North Carolina. It seems like so long ago when I was there, but it's been awhile since i've found internet access. Anyway, I was camped somewhere on the way to the top of Bluff mtn, with about 10 miles to go to Hot Springs. So the next day I wake up and start hiking, the weather is nice, a little cloudy, but not too bad. I get about 2 miles from town (i can see the town as i'm hiking down the mtn) and the clouds get a little darker, then the thunder starts booming and lightning starts a crackling, so i'm thinking that i'd better hurry up and get into town. A few minutes later it starts raining, not a big deal, i've certainly hiked in rain before, it's annoying being that close to town when it starts, but i can manage. Well, mother nature wasn't done with me yet, a little while later, it comes... hail. Dime to nickel sized hail. It hurt! I was going to stop and take a picture, but i was too busy sprinting down the hill, i don't think you've ever seen a white boy run down a mountain as fast as I did. If i was a local i would've been sitting on my porch with a pair of binoculars just watching the hikers go. Now that would've been entertainment! If i'd only left camp 30 minutes earlier i could've been sitting in a bar, holding a drink, going "Oh, those poor bastards, hiking through a hail storm". Instead I was one of those poor bastards. Of course, as soon as i get to the bottom of the mtn, it all stops. Grrrrrrrr, anyway, so i get into town and find a place to camp for the night, run a few errands (just normal town stuff) and then head over to the bar for a much needed drink. I pull up and ask for a rum and coke. "Sorry, we don't serve liquor, if y'all want that you'll have to go to Tennessee." Oh the pain. No rum, no vodka, no gin, no tequila. It was a sad, sad day in Hot Springs. Luckily it wasn't a dry county, they still sold beer, but rather annoyed, I left the bar and went to the local convenience store with a couple of buddies to get some beer. Well, they got beer, i went to the good stuff... Boone's. Oh yes, i have no shame, i drank Boone's and loved it. It's like drinking candy! Yes, it certainly was a high-class night, sitting around a tent, drinking Boone's straight out of the bottle. And that was friday. This was TrailFest weekend, and saturday was suppose to be the big day, so I woke up all excited, and how to put this mildly... it sucked. a lot. It rained all day, so the hikers who were lucky enough to get hotel rooms were hidden away waiting for the the rain to leave and the rest of us were just trying to find warm places to hang out in. They did have music, different bands played every 45 mins or so, but it was all bluegrass and old-time country stuff. Kinda interesting, but not stuff that i'd like to listen to for 8 hours. The only saving grace of the day was that i got free socks. 2 pairs of free socks!! i guess someone called Columbia and asked for socks to give away as prizes to hikers and they ended up sending a few boxes, so there were plenty to go around. I got an extra pair cause i have big feet =) So that was saturday. I decided to leave the next morning, but when I woke up, Mother Nature had another surprise waiting for me... snow. Yup, on april 24, it was snowing in hot springs, north carolina. I guess it's not that unusual, but a normal person would see the snow and think, wow, it's snowing down here, must be really bad up in the mountains, think i'll wait a day or two for the weather to improve. Well not me! I was all excited and ready to go. So i packed up my stuff and headed off for the trail. I actually enjoyed it, it was a really wet, heavy snow so it stuck to everything and it was so pretty! Probably my favorite day of hiking so far, every time i turned a corner it just got better and better. I was thinking that as long as i didn't die that night, it was worth it to start hiking that day. Well, obviously i didn't die, unless this is my hell, to hike the Appalachian Trail forever and ever. Scary thought. So what do you think, am i crazy or just stupid? It's probably a little from column A, and a little from column B. Well, that's my story about that, i got the crap beat out of me by hail on the way in, frustrated by silly southern liquor laws while there, and nearly froze to death in the snow on the way out. Hot Springs, it really is a magical place.
And now for the second part of this email... Marilyn was right! (Michigan Marilyn, not Seattle, just in case there's any confusion). Marilyn thought a couple of things would happen to me on the trail, that i would starve to death, get mauled by a bear, and that a pack of stray dogs would follow me. Well, i haven't starved to death or been attacked by a bear yet, but the stray dogs part actually happened. I was walked down the trail about 40 miles after Hot Springs, and this kid is walking towards me. He's probably about 20, with shorts on and he's carrying a garbage bag. He also has a dog following him, the dog's around 2 years old, a golden retriever/lab mix, a really cute dog. Anyway, i'm thinking that the kid is a local, just on a day hike or using the trail to get somewhere, or whatever. We eventually get to each other and stop to chat, turns out he's hiking the trail and trying to get to hot springs, but after a while, he turns to me and says: "Do y'all want a dog? This one's a stray, been following me for a couple of days, but i can't take care of her, i'll give you her leash if you want her." I'm trying to figure out if this kid is crazy or just stupid, but i politely say no and start walking away. I get to the next shelter and the people there are talking about him, apparently his story changes every time he meets someone, but all we know for sure is that he isn't carrying any food, a tent, or extra clothes. I was really curious what was in his garbage bag that was more important than food, shelter and clothes, but i'm kinda glad i didn't ask. I also wonder how he got a leash, if the dog really is a stray, i doubt she came with a leash in her mouth. Sketchy. Sketchy locals had to happen eventually, but wait, there's more! A couple of days later, i was walking down the trail and there was a beagle up ahead. I called him over and tried to pet him (he was a little skiddish around people) and eventually he let me pet him and then i took off and started walking again. Well, i turned around and the dog was following me, and he kept following me for 2 days. Nice little beagle too, i think he got tired of the miles though, about halfway through the day he would lay down and try to rest, but i kept going. eventually he'd get up and follow me, the little trooper. I'd heard stories about a stray beagle on the trail, so i'm assuming that was it, hopefully he found someone with a little more food and fewer miles/day on their boots. I do kinda miss the little guy, every once-in-a-while i'll turn around to see if he's still following me. He hasn't come back yet, maybe he will down the road. Anyway, if anybody wants a dog, i'm sure one will follow me again soon, just let me know! ;-)
Wow, this email turned out a lot longer than i thought it would, oh well, hopefully it's entertaining to read! I'm in Damascus, Virginia at the moment. Yup, i made it to Virginia, 460 miles down the trail. 460 miles!! wow, let's say it one more time, 460 miles! Coming up on 4 weeks on the trail too, who would've thought i'd make it this far? You know what, i think i'm actually starting to like life on the trail. Shocking! i think it just took those first 2 weeks for the trail to break me, but now i don't hurt nearly as bad, my legs and feet feel better, and mentally i'm doing much better. You never know, if things keep up like this, i just might make it to Maine after all. Alright kids, that's it for this week's story time, but come back next week to find out what happens. Will i get mauled by a bear? Will I starve to death? Or will i simply get lost in the woods? It's all possible, tune in next time to find out!!