In 2019, I had an epic twist to my adventure through life. I had been living, working, and wandering in the mountains of Colorado. It was magical, but I was at a crossroads and decided to go spend some time on the Appalachian Trail. It was going to be my second season as a wilderness guide and cook and I wasn’t sure if I would get any work, but I posted my resume’ online and sent it out to several companies that operate in the Rocky Mountains before I left. Soon after beginning this amazing 2,200 mile trail that winds it’s way through the mountains of 14 states from Georgia to Maine, I forgot about going to work. I was already accustomed to trail life. This was just a new trail. A new adventure. The wilderness is both work and play for me. Every step of the way I would become a better outdoors-man, more conditioned, more skilled. Someone once told me that part of the beauty of time spent in the wilderness is that you can build yourself into the man you want to be. Maine or Bust!
A friend dropped me off at Amicolola Falls State Park. I wanted to start at Springer Mountain, which is the Southern Terminus, but I read that the forest service asks people not to use that road much in the Spring due to erosion. I started at the top of the stairs, because I have walked them many times and knew better, after all I am from Georgia. You see, there are 604 steps that span from the bottom to the top of the 729 foot waterfall. Walking along the approach trail, I had many thoughts. “How beautiful…I hope I don’t quit…I wonder how far I will walk before I get a job… What if I just walked half way and then turned around and walked back??” The energy of the trail and Spring time were pulsing through me and I made it to the Springer Shelter in just a quick couple of hours. There were about 15 people there. They were from all over. I couldn’t believe how many people were there from Ohio and Florida. As I sat down to eat my first trail dinner, one of those people quit. Already.
That night was a long one. I was awake a lot of the night thinking about how I had just left Colorado and how much I loved living there. This would be a good opportunity to save money and keep from becoming complacent until I got a guide job and went back to the Rocky Mountains. The coyotes sang their beautiful songs. It was beautiful being surrounded by a chorus of howling on a cool, dark, mountain night. The next morning, I picked myself up off my Thermarest (An ultralight, comfortable, blow up backpacking mattress), quickly packed and hit the trail for a fun filled day of rhododendrons, creeks, hiking, and more people than I could keep up with.
After a week, I woke up on a morning so misty, I almost went to the wrong tent on my way back from the privy. I looked at the weather on my phone and it said 20mph wind and rain that day. “Oh well” I thought, “I wont get very far hiding in my tent.” I Packed up everything inside my tent at 4:30 AM and then it began pouring down rain. I balled up into the fetal position from the chill and waited inside my tent, hoping the rain would stop. It stopped at dawn and I took off down the trail. It was a beautiful day, though humid. The weather started getting rough again 8 miles into the hike. At a gap with a gravel forest service road, a man in a truck came speeding up to me and stopped, rolling down his window. The wind and the rain were so loud we had to scream at each other from feet away. He was a trail angel there to take my trash, give me Gatorade powder, and also tell me, “HUNKER DOWN! YOU ARE IN 60 MPH WINDS AND A TORNADO IS COMING THROUGH!!!” I yelled back a “Thank you” and he drove off. A Trail Angel, indeed. I saw a camping area near-by and decided I would hunker down. The wind was blowing so hard that I could not even set up my tent. It was April in the mountains, I was soaked, I couldn’t set up my tent, a tornado was coming through, and my legs were tired…I needed to rest. Wearing my rain gear, I also took the rain fly from my tent and covered myself in it and I knelt down in the fetal position on the ground by a fallen log, because that was the most immediate protection I could find. About 5 minutes later, I was shivering from the cold. A hiker came walking along looking as concerned as me so I hollered out. It was another army veteran. I updated him on the tornado and he did the same thing. After all of our teeth were chattering, I am a bit embarrassed to admit that it was the Canadian veteran who said, “Wait a minute, we are on a mountain in a tornado, taking shelter under fabric. We are soldiers! This doesn’t make sense.” The wind was still blowing so hard that we had to help each other fold our rain-flies before stepping off. This was my first 15 mile day on trail.
Tree limbs littered the trail. I was watching the giants of the woodlands bend from the wind with such a sway I thought they would snap. Crashing sounds ahead of and behind me kept me ever vigilant of “widow makers” (Dangerous dead tree limbs from above). Several times, I had to climb over freshly blown down trees. At one point, I even took a 15 foot mud slide down the side of a mountain, because the switch back was blocked with a humongous tree. It was dangerous, but at least I was on my way to some legit shelter.
As it often happens, by the time I got to the shelter, the storm ended. There were people camped down the hill from the shelter who were hanging out under the roof with several others. It was a bit of a crowd. I was so exhausted that I basically collapsed onto the floor of the shelter. My pack touched another hiker who got snotty with me. In a snarky tone: “Ugh, Could you get your STUFF off of me!!?” I mumbled something, probably a muffled apology. Then the lady looked closer at me and said, “Oh my god, you look like you need food and water. I’m sorry. Here eat this. Drink this!” I gratefully did so. There was plenty of food in my food bag, but mentally, I was out of sorts. Thank you kind stranger.
After what felt like 15 or 20 minutes, I assumed that no one was in the loft of the shelter and I tossed my sleeping bag up there. SMACK! I heard a female voice. “Hey, someone is up here!!” I stuttered, “Oh, I am so sorry! I was about to lay down up there and didn’t think anyone was there!” She told me to come on up and get comfortable. I did. I was so cold and wet. Now that the mind fog was gone, I wanted nothing more than to get warm and dry(-ish). Getting into my mummy bag was wonderful. If I scrunched myself up enough, I could keep the toe box of my mummy bag from getting rain on it. It is a down mummy bag and when down gets wet, it loses its insulation ability.
Although I was in Georgia, there were people from all over the country and the world on the Appalachian Trail. I had noticed that she spoke, not only with a drawl, but also the same sort of drawl that I possess. Perhaps it possesses me. She initiated the conversation. “HEY! You sound like me! Where are you from?” I told her that I was from Buckville, Georgia (Name/Location changed). She said, “No way! You know Doc Marshal?” She said as she stripped in front of me, getting out of her wet clothes. “Oh yeah! He is the only doctor in town, right?” She smiled and said, “YEAH! THAT’S MY DAD!” “Oh! He must be so proud of you being out here on the trail!” She said that he was and that she was just on trail until she found out whether she passed the Medical Licensing Exam or not, because she wanted to become a physician. She dressed all the way and finished telling me that she was skipping certain states on the trail, because they did not have reciprocity for her concealed carry permit.
I found all this very interesting. She got on the trail with a moments notice and not enough food. She had no map. She did not even know where to resupply next….
Find out what happens next: https://swanhikes.com/2020/05/15/los-hobos-meet-on-the-a-t/