To finish up from Part One, (https://swanhikes.com/2020/05/14/the-walk-a-bout-continues/), I have no idea what happened to the recent medical school graduate waiting for her exam results. She was looking for someone to hike with her, but was only moving 5 miles a day. Another hiker gave her information out of his guidebook. We both gave her food, encouraged her to get a trail guidebook, and wished her luck. I never got her name, saw, or heard about her again.
The next day my best friend, who I refer to as my brother, had something tragic happen in his circle and I got off trail for a couple weeks and went camping with him for a week. It was good to spend that time with him after not really seeing him for over a year. We fished, swam, took his boat out, and went tubing. We always have a blast. It was great recovery for me. I was able to get some more money together and then get back on trail.
On May 1st, I got back on trail. I really don’t remember much for the first two weeks of May. It was beautiful, but also grueling. I did not yet have my “Trail Legs”. They say after about 500 miles, you get your trail legs and can GO, GO, GO. At the border of North Carolina and Georgia, I was doing 10 to 15 mile days 6 days a week and resting one. This was not a very high mileage. 15 miles per day is a good average, but many people do more. Almost everyone does more than 10. I started out slow.
When I made it to Franklin, North Carolina, I stayed for 2 nights at Gooder’s Grove Hostel. It was the first time I had been picked up by a shuttle. The owner, “Zen”, picked me up. When I got in the car, there was another hiker there. He was an older, retired guy, who wanted some peace and quiet and didn’t want to stay in the bunk house. Neither did I, so we split the cost of a 4 bed room together for 2 nights. I walked all over Franklin. There was an amazing burger devoured at the Motor City Diner. There was also a black man walking around in a Confederate uniform, carrying the Confederate battle flag in honor of Confederate Memorial Day and the men of African descent who fought for the Confederacy. Who knew??
The hiker I shared a room with and I hiked off. I hiked ahead of him. It began raining real hard. I was walking fast to the shelter and hoping no one was there. Of course, there was a Boy Scout Troop there. It was so crowded that I could barely get out of the rain. Thankfully, the Boy Scouts had set up their own camp and would not be staying in the shelter. They were just using the table and leaving their trash in the shelter. Unfortunately, their leaders did not seem to be very engaged with the youth. They did not seem to be concerned with teaching “Leave No Trace Principles” to protect our wild spaces. Things like that are very important. BSA used to be a good organization when I was growing up. It seems different today.
I feel the need to pause here and say: For the most part, I tried to avoid staying in shelters. I am a light sleeper. Sleeping near strangers is even more difficult. There were several times when, between a combination of fatigue and bad weather, that I ended up sleeping in public shelters. The comfort of my own tent is definitely preferred. At shelters, it does seem that I hike away with more stories to tell than on a night where I have “Stealth Camped” (Not always well hidden, but off the beaten path).
Back to the story: When I walked into the 3 sided, log shelter, I saw some Boy Scouts and a couple of adults. There was a young female who was talking with the Boy Scouts, but didn’t seem to belong. Her German accent, absence of parents, and youth threw me off. There were some other people there who were obviously Thru-hikers. Oh yes, and John Goodman (Fred Flint-stone/The husband from Rose Anne) was there. No, not really, but this guy was that big and looked just like him. His name was “Big Dan” from Staten Island.
The Thru-hikers who were there were an assorted bunch. There was “Squatch”, “Moses”, “The Wandering Kiltsman”, and “Crash”. The Kilt Man had a guitar and harmonica with him. We also used cook pots and closed-cell foam sleeping pads for percussion. It was an impromptu event, to be sure. Crash really got down on the percussion. We had a great time. People were taking pictures and videos of us and asking us where we were playing next. There on the Appalachian Trail, after meeting each other for the first time we started a band with a following: “Los Hobos”.
Big Dan was large and could be intimidating with his size 17 shoe. He was trying to be nice, but was pushy about it. He insisted that I use his bear hang. He was very proud of it. I thanked him and told him I would consider it when I was done eating and needing to hang my bag, Big Dan let it rest for a while, but continued to bring it up until I was finally ready to hang my food bag. I was going to hang my own, as per my normal M.O. Dan insisted, as he towered over me, looking at me with a scowl. I used Dan’s hang. It was a magnificent hang. Often times it is hard to find the perfect spot to hang your food in the ideal manner to keep bears from stealing it. Big Dan had his food hanging a good 12 feet off of the ground. There was no suitable limb to keep the bag far enough away from the tree to keep a climbing bear from reaching out and snagging it. To remedy this, Big Dan strung up some 550 cord between two trees and hung his bag there. He watched me as I put mine there as well.
This was a situation I felt that I had to think my way through. I knew that I was in no real danger, because there were 20 people there, including a cop and two veterans. I know how to protect myself. I am also not a push over and this guy was starting to make me uncomfortable and angry. There were also women and children there, who he did not seem to be bothering. There were also looks amongst the other shelter guests. I think everyone was thinking similar thoughts. Big Dan also told another hiker there, named “Crash”, that if he touched him during the night, that Big Dan would cut him.
Meanwhile, everyone is getting ready for bed. The shelter was very crowded. We were almost shoulder to shoulder. I think some people were. I was trying to keep as much distance as I could between myself and the people beside me, because the German girl I mentioned earlier (was on one side of me), come to find out, was a foreign exchange student out there alone. She had just spent her 17th birthday on trail. She was on trail with a Rambo knife, Hello Kitty sleeping bag, Hammock, a metal box stove that burns sticks, and a life straw. We ended up naming her “Merlin”. That girl worked magic with her limited gear. I think that she would give Rambo a run for his money. On the other side of me was the retired cop who I had shared the room with at the hostel. Thankfully, on the other end of the shelter, a few people down, was Big Dan and Crash.
The Boy Scouts were head over heels in puppy love with Merlin. They tried for hours to start a fire in the rain to impress her. They told stories and questioned her. When they finally gave up, Merlin was already laying down on the floor of the shelter. The Boy Scouts told her good night and one of them said, “I will see you again!” In a dreamy tone. Merlin sat straight up, as though she had rigor mortis. She said very matter-of-factly, “No, you won’t.” and laid back down. I couldn’t help but chuckle and I told her to be nice. She sat back up and said in her well spoken English, with a thick German accent, “What?! I am being nice. I am also being real! I am never going to see that boy again!” I laughed and laid down.
I was awake all night long. The rain kept on for some of the night. Big Dan was up most of the night. He was near everyone’s packs while they slept. I am very watchful and kept an eye on him. At one point, Big Dan laid down to sleep. Crash kicked this giant of a man in the face. It was on accident. Crash wouldn’t pick a fight with anyone. He was asleep and his leg twitched. His foot ended up in this guys face. WOW! Crash is still alive. We are all thankful for that.
STAY TUNED AS WE MAKE OUR WAY TO FONTANA DAM!