Country Boy Meets New York

(Continued from: https://www.swanhikes.com/2020/05/30/meeting-a-goddess-on-trail/)

I am so lucky to have friends across the country. It was amazing to have been taken care of by such good people as Ed and Ren. Thankfully, the intermediate medical facility they took me to billed the Department of Veterans Affairs and did not give me any trouble. On the contrary, they were of great help. I wish it were that easy in my home state of Georgia. After a few days, I passed the kidney stones and was taken back to the Port Clinton Pavilion where I got back on trail.

I had lost my “trail legs” (After so many miles, your legs become tireless and strong). The Kiltman was South of me. Crash and Rusty were ahead of me. I already had very strong feelings for Rusty. She is so wonderful. I wanted to catch up with Rusty, but I didn’t want to be a stalker. The decision that I made was to let her know that I was going to stay on trail after all and catch up with the Kiltman for a reunion and continue hiking to Katahdin. I sent Rusty a text letting her know. Quickly, I received a reply saying, “If you want to yellow blaze up to me, I wouldn’t judge.” Yellow-blazing is hiker terminology for when someone skips ahead on the trail by way of a car and the yellow lines on the road. I was elated.

I knew how much the thru-hike meant to Rusty. I COULD have just hopped in a shuttle and met up with her, but I was weak from carrying and passing the kidney stones and had lost my trail legs. The Kiltman was alone and trying to catch up to Crash, so instead of hiking north to Rusty, I hiked south to the Kiltman. It sounds counter intuitive, but I wanted to be sure that I was in marching shape before I caught up with Rusty, so I wouldn’t chance slowing her down. For three days in almost constant rain, I hiked south to meet up with my friend. When I did, we camped at our rendezvous point by Swatara State Park and then hiked north together the next day. In that week, I hiked something like three 17 mile days in a row and then two shorter days followed by a 24 mile day back into Port Clinton. This showed me that I was back to my old self and ready to join Rusty.

Rusty is a total sweetheart and everywhere she goes, people love her. Such was the case with “Rooster” and “Tinklebell” who live near Port Clinton, PA and had met her while hiking in a different state. They loved her so much, they gave her an invitation to their house for when she made it to Port Clinton. I told Rusty where I was and she contacted them as a reference for the Kiltman and I. These amazing hikers/trail angels came and picked us up at 10PM in the dark, next to a set of railroad tracks, loaded all of our stink into their car, and took us to their home.

It was such a blessing to be picked up by them. Remember how I mentioned it rained for days? Well the tops of my feet were covered with rash worse than I can ever remember. I was miserable, but highly motivated due to hitting miles and being on my way to see Rusty. I could barely move by the time we arrived at their house. It took me several minutes of just sitting motionless outside of their front door. Finally, I was able to move inside. These beautiful people took our dirty, nasty clothes and washed them for us. I mean: THEY WASHED THEM FOR US! Do you know what wet dog smells like that has just rolled in something fragrant in the yard? Multiply that times 5 and that is how bad a wet hiker smells.

To my recollection, Rooster is a vegetarian and Tinklebell is a vegan. They cooked eggs for us and we had a wine and cheese party (Of course Tinklebell abstained from the eggs and cheese). The Kiltman cannot consume gluten, so they even went to the trouble of going to the store and buying gluten-free bread for him. The hospitality was moving. Almost a year later, I still feel the warmth of their hospitality. Perhaps it is the Chai Latte I just had. No, they will forever be a fond memory and example of selfless service to a stranger. I am so glad that Rusty vouched for us. Did I mention they even let us use their car?

After two days of recover, they returned us to the trail. I went to the Port Clinton Hotel where I waited for a shuttle to come pick me up and drive me 100 miles north to Rusty. The bartender at the hotel gave me a dirty look and pointed at a sign on the wall with her eyes. “We reserve the right to refuse service if you have not showered and aren’t wearing deodorant.” Obviously, they are used to dirty, nasty hikers coming through. I immediately said, “Hey, I am a hiker, but I promise I slept inside and showered this morning!” Having concealed the fact that I was not wearing deodorant, she let me order some food. Hikers often do not carry deodorant, because what’s the point? I ate a hearty meal and then waited outside for my shuttle.

It was a $200 ride and worth every freaking penny. The afternoon of August 20, I was dropped off at the Warwick Drive-in Theatre. The Lion King was playing. We had a drink at the cidery across the street. There was a hiker there who was finishing up his hike from the previous year. He hung out with us some, but when I asked him what his name was he said, “Nick….FUCK… ‘TUMBLEWEED’, for this reason, he got the new trail-name: “Nickfucktumbleweed”. I liked the guy even more because he would laugh whenever I called him that. In retrospect, I suppose it could have been annoying, but he was a good sport. We actually leap-frogged for several days and had a few meals and camped near each other. I was glad that he finished his hike. One day, I will too.

That night, Rusty and I slept in my MSR Hubba Hubba for the first time together. It was a big deal for me, because I am claustrophobic. I wasn’t even sure if I would be able to sleep in a tent with her. We did every night for months after that. The next day, we began our section of “Deli-Blazing”. In New York, there is a 3 or 4 day stretch where you almost don’t even have to pack food because of all of the deli’s. Around mid-day, we stopped at a creamery near the Hawk Mountain Preserve and we charged our phones. Rusty had ice cream and I had homemade Greek yogurt. It was DEE-LISH! That night we camped privately by a waterfall that we spent some time in. It was beautiful. People had taken rocks and built a pool at the base of it. It was a magical evening that neither of us will ever forget.

We hiked all day, every day, for the next few days. The night after the waterfall, we camped behind a deli and pizza place. New Yorkers love their pizza and Rusty was met with some attitude when she asked for a slice. After all, this was New York. “WE SERVE PIES!” On another night, we slept beside a deli and some railroad tracks. Deli blazing was very convenient.

One thing about hiking the A.T. in New York: You never stop hearing cars. I would also have an attitude if there were no place to escape the hustle and bustle. I know people like it around New York City, but I have to be able to actually be in nature, which means you can’t hear car sounds. 30 to 60 miles from New York City, you can still hear it. We met some SOBO hikers (Southbound), who we told this to and they said it was funny, because in Connecticut you hear lawnmowers every where. It sounded odd, but we found it to be true. We walked through the most crowded park that I have ever been to and ended up at the saddest zoo I have ever been to. It was abominable. Honestly, I hope one day that the sad bear in there escapes and eats the board of directors.

Speaking of bears, at the base of Bear Mountain, Rusty and I were walking along when a group of 4 tourists stopped us with tears in their eyes. “OHHH You two are obviously together! How did you meet?” They took our photos and gooed and gawed over us for a bit. It was heart warming to know that our love shined like that. I love her so much. Connecticut wasn’t much better than New York. The best part of the trail in the Mid Atlantic section for me was when we got to Massachusetts, AKA New England.

Keep a look out for my next post. Rusty and I have wayyy better adventures:

https://swanhikes.com/2020/07/18/marching-through-mass/

A Long Distance Hike Packing List

Example of a gear layout.
  1. Compactor Bag .5 (All ounces)
  2. Toaks cook pot .4
  3. spoon .1
  4. MSR stove/fuel 10.6
  5. Hubba Hubba 47.5
  6. ULA Ohm 2.0 34.5
  7. Pillow 15
  8. Cedar Ridge Quilt 22
  9. Puffy Coat 11
  10. OR Rain Suit 13
  11. Large Thermarest 16
  12. Water Filter 3
  13. Protein shaker 5.5
  14. 2 Smart water bottle 3
  15. phone 10
  16. charge cable .5
  17. wall cube .7
  18. headlamp 3.1
  19. 2 mini bics 1
  20. MISC 6
  21. 2pr socks .5
  22. boxers 4.5
  23. Smartwool top 8
  24. smart beanie 1.5
  25. base top/bottom 16
  26. compass/map 6
  27. camp shoes 12
  28. anker ` 6.4
  29. toenail clippers 1.5
  30. URSACK MAJOR XL 8.8
  31. opsak odor proof bag 1
  32. deuce of spades .5
  33. sit pad .5
  34. journal 8
  35. pen .5
  36. Plastic Lays chip tube w/velcro straps. (To keep in side pouch for quick access to items that I do not want getting wet.)
  37. Toiletries Kit:
  • hand san 1oz
  • bronner 4oz
  • toothbrush .21oz
  • paste 1oz
  • floss 1oz
  • wipes 8oz
  • TP 8oz
  • aspirin/melatonin w/ bag 1oz
Sometimes I put together food packs and weigh them and add up all the calories.

Application To Employ A Camp Cook

I have worked for three different Western Big Game and Fishing Outfits in different capacities for three seasons. I also learned a little in guide school about the business. These outfitters, who are often unique and colorful individuals, have a lot of difficulty keeping employees. They usually chalk it up to it being “hard work” as though they are the only people in the country who know what hard work is.

Most recently, I did a 5 day work-for-stay at an Outfitters lodge in Wyoming. They had the same issues as many others. I was not attached to the job, it was just to give me a place to heal up and do something good for someone else. Seeing and hearing their issues inspired me to write an Application To Employ A Camp Cook. It is doubtful that any outfitters will read this, but if they do, hopefully their ego is smaller than their cowboy hat and they can gain some insight into why they go through 16 employees every season just to keep a few who end up staying the longest, but still leave the outfit early.

  • What size pots and pans do you have?
  • How many cooking surfaces are there and what kind? (Stove eyes, oven, grill, in town, in camp?)
  • What is your typical and max capacity of guests?
  • How many cooks do you typically go through in a season?
  • WHY?
  • How high is the turn-over in your other positions?
  • WHY??
  • If you don’t know why, then what makes you think you will have any luck with me?
  • Do you believe it is professional to speak disdainfully about the myriad of previous cooks you have had in the past to your current staff? Is it acceptable to speak about camp cooks in a low regard?
  • Do you believe that the quality of the ingredients affects the quality of the finished meal? Why?
  • Are you going to ask me to cook $25 dinner plates with $1 worth of ingredients? Will my ingredients all be from the Dollar General? Will I have any control over this?
  • Please provide a beginning inventory list if you are not willing to take my ingredient list for the meal plan you asked me to create.
  • Will I be provided with what I need or reimbursed for bringing my own tools and spices?
  • I cook with cast iron, especially in camp. Is this a problem with your packer? (If there is a problem then don’t hire me or keep your mouth shut.)
  • As the cook/camp manager will I be able to run the kitchen/camp how I need to (as is typically the case)?
  • If yes to the previous question, when I say or do something in the kitchen, such as: keeping people out while I work, or collecting the dishes myself so dirty cowboys don’t get your glasses greasy, will you tell me: “That’s not how we do things around here.” ?
  • Will you constantly tell me how your wife and mother do things? If so, why aren’t they filling the position?
  • Do you intend to hold my tips as ransom until the end of the season and steal them from me if I quit?
  • Do you intend to collect and “tax” my cash tips?
  • Which one is my horse and why?
  • Will my camp hand know how to start and maintain a fire? If he is also working with the animals, will I have to stop cooking to go out there and show him how to do his job? If so, will I be paid extra?
  • Will I have a permanent camp hand taking care of wood and water?
  • If not, will I be paid for doing the job of camp hand and cook?
  • Please list 3 references of cooks who would work for you again. (Who are not currently being paid by you)
  • Please list 3 references of other staff who would work for you again.
  • FINALLY, are you aware of this cowboy cook tradition that I follow: When a cowboy gets between the cook and the stove, you get two other cowboys to hold him down while the cook whips him with a pair of chaps or chinks?

The Wind River Range Parts III and IV

Hiking in the Wind River Ranger, North.

PART III (Continued from https://swanhikes.com/2020/05/24/the-wind-river-range-part-ii/)

I enjoyed, immensely, being in Cowpoke, Wyoming and The Wind River Range. Sometimes, I can still see the mountain range from Elkhart Park, and smell the aromatic, alpine air. The feeling of walking down the main strip in boots, vest, and hat, after coming down out of the mountains, has a way of making one feel like they have been transported to a modern, real life version of an old western film. Wyoming is “The Cowboy State”, and true to its name.

It is atypical to have any time off while working for a horse-packing/fly-fishing outfit. People normally work until the season is over. In Western Big Game Hunting and Fishing Outfits, if you work an entire season, you are almost a seasoned veteran due to high turn over.

The cooks cabin in town.

The first few weeks I worked there, I stayed in town in the bunk house and cooks cabin. I cooked inside the house while the crew prepared horse tack and trails. The company also had to rent 50 horses to add to their stock. Shoeing all the horses takes a lot of time. There is hard prep work that goes into getting ready for fishing season in the mountains. There is a 3 car garage with half of the building being the “Cook side”. There are freezers, shelves, and a work table. Canned and boxed foods line the shelves from floor to ceiling. The Sysco truck delivers trailer loads of food here. All of the cast iron and other pots and pans are on shelves or in large totes. Hundreds of broken plastic dishes, utensils, etc. littered the room. Water filters, stoves, and everything you can imagine for the camping trip of a lifetime lives inside. This is an OCD outdoor gear junkies dream…or nightmare if they weren’t up to organizing the mess.

You see, with such a high turn over rate in this industry, Outfitters often have people quitting or getting fired before the season is over. They seem to rarely have anyone left at the end of the season. Trying to break down camp and reorganize is a huge job. Usually, by the end of the season, everyone has quit and the outfitters are left to chunk everything in a corner until they can hire someone 7 months later to clean up their mess from last year.

For me, this is great! I love to organize and keep things that way. If you tell me that I am in charge of these things over here and no one else is supposed to bother any of it, my workspace will be immaculate. There is no need to micro manage me, because having owned businesses myself, I do well at managing myself. I work most efficiently when I understand the job at hand and am left alone to do the work. To my delight, that is exactly what this outfitter did while we were in town. They said, we need you to have this place organized, cleaned, and stocked within 3 weeks. In two weeks, everything was done. The outfit was satisfied with me.

The owner gave me the weekend off as a reward and even drove me to the wilderness. I was ecstatic to be going to the Bridger Wilderness in Greater Yellowstone, alone on a backpacking trip. He questioned me on survival topics and made sure I had what I needed. His wife admonished me not to break a leg, because the outfit needs a cook. I assured her that I would be fine. I was shown a wall map of the area and took a picture of it with my smart phone. He described the terrain to me and asked me to take a route for part of the way, that had no trail. He described a few trees, rocks, and topography to me. My backpacking trip was becoming a reconnaissance mission to see how the snow pack was, in the high country. My personal mission was to walk and acclimate to the elevation, making it a bonus for me that I was able to help out my employer and be entrusted with more responsibility.

On the way to my starting point, I had the most enjoyable conversation with my new boss. He is an “Old School” outfitter and has seen a lot. Something that makes him interesting is that he also has a wildlife biology degree. The amount of knowledge in his brain is impressive. I often wonder what makes highly intelligent people get stuck in ways that are no longer effective. Maybe age does it to us all.

He told me stories from the 1950’s in Utah and “The Winds”, as this swath of mountains is colloquially known. I heard stories of how he persevered through the years in the outdoors industry. Here was a man who had 60 years of experience in a certain field. A man who learned from even older outfitters. His stories had me on the edge of my seat and asking questions. He told me of difficult holidays with barely any food, as well as times of plenty. The dogged determination he had would be inspiring for any entrepreneur.

Early in this mans life, he had a cross country/ down hill ski lodge. There were partners who were no good. As is often the case with business partnerships, my former boss did all the work and put in his money and the other partner contributed money and drama. Ski slopes typically open just after Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, it was a strange year with no snow. How was he going to feed his family and pay back creditors if there was no snow on the mountain?

He knew this local Italian guy who owned a lot of businesses in places like Vegas and New York. I understood the insinuation. The loan he took could cost him fingers and toes for being late. What better motivation does a man need?

He also took a loan from the grocery store for thousands of dollars worth of food. Surely there would be snow by December and people will want to hold parties at the lodge. Unfortunately, none came. The food spoiled. On Christmas Eve, this hard working man sat down to have a humble Christmas Eve dinner with his family. The emotion in his voice led me to believe that this was one of the most difficult times of his life. There was a knock at the door. It was his friend, Tom, the owner of the grocery store. His heart lifted, he thought Tom may have been there to bring a ham or dessert or something. Instead, Tom asked him to step outside and said there would be consequences if he was not paid back immediately. The young entrepreneur and father laughed with exhaustion. “Between you and the Italians, I just don’t care about your consequences. You will get paid when I make some money.” He slammed the door in his friends face and went back to his family.

Miraculously, there was snow. Everyone got their money soon after. Hard times turned to good. The seasons changed. 60 years later, he is still hanging on.

He dropped me off in the wilderness after pointing out some geographical features along the way and helping me learn the names of the peaks in “The Winds”. I was learning to identify every peak and pass from different angles. The first thing I did upon getting dropped off was pull out my compass, binoculars, and a photo of the map. Off I went, starting out at 8,000 feet elevation.

I followed the OHV road to the point where I would cut through the sage brush and make my way to a stand of burnt timber. Once I found the burnt timber, I hiked my way up a spur jutting off of the mountain. I made a live feed video on FaceBook while catching my breath. During the video, I found the horse trail that led to camp.

The horse trail.

All in all, I ended up hiking about 10 miles and topped out at 10,000 feet elevation on a hill top. From the vantage point of a boulder sitting atop the hill, I was able to sit cross-legged for 45 minutes, lost in the wonderful beauty of the Wind River Range. I began to notice a mild headache and shortness of breath is why I initially sat down. High elevation begins at 7.500 feet. For me, symptoms of elevation sickness don’t show up until I hit 8,000 feet. At, 8,000 feet, my stamina weakens. At 9,000 feet and above, I can seem inebriated until I am able to acclimate. High elevation can be dangerous. People die and lose body parts, who have not properly acclimatized to the body working so much harder to provide it with oxygen and blood. Pulmonary edema is not a way that I would want to go out.

I have spent a lot of time alone. Many people do not seem to understand the difference between solitude and loneliness. Solitude is being alone and content. Loneliness is deprivation. I was missing my family, missing having a partner, and missing my Tramily (Trail + Family. LINK TO AT STORIES). Spending so much time traveling in rural areas and being in the wilderness, sometimes it is hard to meet anyone of a romantic interest. I had joined a dating site and had been emailing and texting this lady who was a world traveler, wildlife biology grad, and about to take on a job as a park ranger. Feeling the sting of loneliness, I pulled out my phone and saw that I still had service. We spoke for about an hour and I was trying to get her to come to Wyoming from a few hours away to go to the Mountain Man Rendezvous (more on that below). It was nice talking to her for a few weeks, but she moved further away to take a park ranger job the same weekend. We eventually fell off. It is hard to get to know someone new while working 18 to 21 hours a day.

I took pictures of the mountains with my smart phone through my Vortex binoculars. This acts as a great zoom and I was able to show my boss pictures of the snow on the peaks when he picked me up. I gave him his intel, thanked him for the opportunity, and went back to work the next day.

Part IV

Another notable weekend was that of the Mountain Man Rendezvous. Have you ever seen the movie The Mountain Men with Robert Redford? The scene with the large gathering and the men doing drunken stunts on horseback? That was the first Mountain Man Rendezvous, 150 years earlier. There I was, a modern mountain man, 150 years later, in the same mountains, riding down into town to socialize and trade.

The weekend was filled with parades, rodeos, native dancers, re-enactors, living history demonstrations, and “Traders Row” filled with canvas tents and merchants selling things like hand forged knives, old fashioned soda, animal furs, historical clothing, and hand made jewelry. Up the road, at the museum, there were living history demonstrations. I walked all around town and enjoyed myself. I bought a few gifts for my nieces and nephews at the museum. Also, I picked up some bone and obsidian blade knives that I gave to a stranger who showed me kindness, and one went to a friend.

The most fun of all, I had in my head. I had been reading Jim Bridger: Mountain Man, as I lived and worked in the wilderness that bears his name. At the same time, there was another wrangler/ camp hand that was my coworker, who I have not mentioned. This man, Big Jake, was a short sawed off New Englander who grew up trapping and riding, and made his way out west for seasonal work in the mountains. About the time that hunting season is over in the fall, trapping season begins for him in New England and he travels back east. He once lived in the Adirondaks as a nomad. Now he is practically semi-nomadic, migrating with the fishing, hunting, and fur seasons across this great country. To my knowledge he has no children and has never been married. He doesn’t want to be John Wayne. He wants to be who he is. A man who has fashioned himself after the mountain men of yesteryear, but only 50.

We spoke often about trapping, riding, and camp. He was an avid reader of histories and biographies, as well. For a couple of years, he even worked as a wilderness guide for a wilderness therapy program, something I would really like to be involved in. He was the second person I met who had experience in that field. Although, technically, he was not in a management role in the company, he was a mentor to me. He was a man, happy in his level of responsibility, who was more experienced than me. Yet he was my helper, when MY Boss would let him. Excellent help is a real commodity. I also learned from his manner. There were things he actually meant to teach me and things I learned from watching. The most valuable advice I ever got in a work or school situation was from an ex-girlfriend I can’t stand: “Learn everything they teach you. Also, pay attention to the things they AREN’T trying to teach you (to have a full understanding).” If I see a person who is my elder and they do things that I want to do. I watch them like a hawk. It was a blessing to meet that guy.

The whole time I had been fantasizing about buying some horses and riding from Wyoming down to Doc Campbells Post in the Gila Wilderness come autumn. It sounds crazy, but over the course of a month, I planned routes that would keep me out of the high country and able to resupply. Locals were keeping there eyes on horse sales for me. It would be an epic trip that I would still love to take. I have yet to get my partner on a horse, but she is excited to try.

Mt. Baldy.
Caught in a hail storm while walking down the street. I’m glad I had a hat and slicker on.

The Start Of A New Journey

A contribution by Rusty:

Rusty sketching by a desert oasis.

We got pulled over on the way to the trailhead. Swan was so excited to start hiking that his foot was a touch heavy on the accelerator (nine over). He explained to the officer that we would be hiking through the red desert, who let us off with a verbal warning on account of insanity. We made our way shortly to the trail, and my mom hugged me tight while Swan strummed a backpacking guitar.

“I don’t want leave now that there’s live music,” she said.I laughed and hugged her again. She had a lot of miles to drive and she needed to get some done today so she wouldn’t be too tired tomorrow. That knowledge hung heavy between us. I hiked the Appalachian Trail last year, which was a 6 month journey. I met the love of my life, Swan, while on that trail. I was so lucky to go on that hike, but it had been too long since I had spent much time with my mom. I was loathe to say goodbye again.

“I love you mom,” I said.

“I love you, SO much,” she said.

I waved and blew kisses as her tail-lights disappeared. It was time. It was really time. I took my first step on the trail, which crunched on the hard, desiccated dirt. The wind swept around my legs, swirling and urging me forward.

The high desert was bursting with life, in defiance of the wind and the sun, which simultaneously whisked away every drop of moisture. The air was so dry it made my nose bleed, and it made me proud to be alive. The land was so vast, I could pinpoint landmarks 5 miles away, maybe even farther if I was more familiar with the region. The flowers were hardy, plucky little beauties – red, yellow, purple, and white.

Birth, life, death. And rebirth. The flowers spring up out of the death of the horse. It now has 20 different lives. -Swan

On the second day we found a dead horse by the trail. A patch of spiky red flowers had shot up around it. I wondered if it was thirst or old age that got it in the end. The wild horses seemed healthy (with the one notable exception). They were proud, unshodden and unbranded. They were free, and my heart leapt to be free like them. We passed several herds, all of them kept their distance; a few stood on the ridges to guard their herd, their tails flying regally like flags behind them. A stallion caught sight of us and bluff charged us; he began to dance, showing us the force of his muscles, the glean of his coat. We marveled at him. I asked Swan if we were free like the horses, and he said he thought we were more like the cows, dependent on the food in our packs, processed in a factory, just as the cows were dependent on the ranchers to toss them grain. I thought that he was right, but even so I was more free than I was a week ago, in an unrewarding corporate job. In the absence of mindless work, I began to understand the real urgencies of life. I think if I attend only to my real needs – food, water, shelter, love, and creative expression – that then I will be free. Maybe the freedom will be overwhelming, as it often has been in the past, but only by facing it everyday will I ever figure out what to do with it.

The stallion on the outer right did his aggressive dance for us. In the photo he is steering the herd. -Swan

After a few days of hiking, we noticed that the heat of the day sapped our energy, so we came to a spring and set up the rain fly of the tent to take an afternoon siesta. We made love and bathed in the spring afterward. I sat outside the tent and sketched. When we stopped for the night we started a fire, and washed our clothes, closing our eyes after the perfect day.It rained overnight so the clothes didn’t dry. After so many days of being almost too parched to speak, it was laughable.

The desert was still thirsty, and it reached out lovingly to the sky, begging the storm to bring even more clouds. It rained down on us all day, and we stayed in our tent most of the day, hoping to wait it out, but we were running low on food and would need to start moving. We packed up and made it 2.7 miles before we got hit with freezing rain and needed to camp again.

The following morning the sky was moody, but the sunrise dropped breathtaking golden light on the mountains so we decided to hike. We intended to hike 19 miles.

Five miles into the hike we saw a tent. Swan hollered, and a fit woman in her 60s emerged from the tent. We were surprised, expecting to see a male hiker we knew was ahead of us. When she came within speaking distance we all commented that we hadn’t seen another soul in a week.

“My husband is sick, sick,” she said abruptly.

Coronavirus? I wondered.

“He can’t keep anything down,” she continued. “He hasn’t eaten anything in a week.”

I dropped my pack and rummaged through it to find my pepto bismol. I offered it to the woman, who told me her name was Karen. She took it with gratitude. Her husband, Rob, who I would rename Seadog, emerged from the tent. Clearly he’d had enough of us talking about him only a few feet away with a very thin layer of fabric between us.He looked tired, but he seemed like a vibrant man under better circumstances. They both had the bright fervor in their eyes that I remember seeing in my own eyes on the Appalachian Trail. It’s a passion for life that I have not seen in many people.

Seadog assured us that the pepto bismol and meal replacements that Swan offered would do the trick. I offered them my satellite phone, but they didn’t know anyone in the area. They said they would hike back to a highway 2 miles south of where we were standing if Seadog didn’t start feeling better. With a few worried backwards glances we went on our way. We had miles to do.


The storms, we thought, were over. As we climbed in elevation the sky turned darker and the wind colder. Without any more warning than that, hail began pelting us.

“Let’s go behind that rock!” I yelled over the wind, pointing to the only cover in the expanse before us. We dodged under the rock and began putting up the rain fly as quickly as we could. The hail stung at us viciously and the wind whipped the fabric out of our hands. Even when we did get the rain fly erected, we had to physically hold the tent poles down so we didn’t fly away. One tent pole bent from the wind. I shivered miserably, wet and windswept.

Eventually the worst of it passed. Swan and I looked at each other incredulously, and asked the sky if she had taken her medication as we packed to move up the trail. We carried on, determined to face the storm because we were running low on food and couldn’t afford to waste the day. As we neared the summit of a larger hill, lightning cracked. Swan, having recently been struck by lightning, swore.

This time we got behind a large rock and pulled a tarp over our heads. We wrapped tight around each other, staying warm enough. We popped our heads over the rock, convinced that surely now it would be safe to move forward.We were wrong.

We got caught by the full brunt of the storm while walking the ridge at 7500 ft. This elevation is the beginning of high elevation, and it is enough that a flat-lander like me feels sluggish, even a little drunk in the best conditions. Constantly whipped by rain, wind, and hail, I felt weak. I felt weak in a way that scared me. 

I have been very, very cold before. I lived in Michigan most of my life, and I hiked through the mountains in Maine in November. I know cold and I’m tough, I can deal. There is something fascinating about being terribly, desperately cold, though, and it is a heightened awareness of the internal flame. The constant combustion that keeps me alive beats with a determination that I take for granted, except when I am afraid that maybe, just maybe, I am really too cold.

I began running. I was carrying 35 lbs on my back and my knees complained, but I felt panicky. I needed to warm up. Brandon ran behind me, concerned and cold as well. I had to slow to a walk quickly, because I was tired. More, I asked of my body, more heat.

It tried, but I got colder. I looked miserably out at the the clouds I stood among, and knew they had hours of storm left in them, and I had miles and miles to go before I could descend from the ridge. What were we to do? We could set up camp and be windswept and wet all night, possibly earning a permanent cold weather injury. We pushed on, my teeth chattering. I began to sob. As I climbed in elevation again, anxiety and exhaustion began to feed one another, I struggled with every single step. 

“That’s camp!” Swan said, pointing to a few shapes about half a mile out.

I smiled, we did it! We walked rather quickly on to the camp, and it was a camp, just not the one we expected.We came up on a small, home made camper, a truck, and a four wheeler. In my delusional state I suggested we move on, because we didn’t know this person. I changed my mind though, when I shivered a little harder and I contemplated that I was 50 miles from the nearest town.

“Hello!! Please can you help us? We are very cold, we are almost hypothermic,” Brandon yelled. “Hello!”

I knocked. Enough time later that I wondered if it was abandoned, a head popped out of the camper. He was an older man wearing a brimmed hat that shaded his eyes. His clothes were practical and well worn. My instincts were conflicted. The camper was small, the man was strange, but I was so cold.

“Let me go first,” Swan whispered. I nodded.

The man, who never told us his name, waved us inside. As I stepped up, I saw that his eyes were so light blue that they were almost white next to his tan skin. There was a stove, a small table, bed, and closet in the room. The room was dark because because of the storm, and it smelled of old wood and cloth. There were no distractions, no books, no cards. Just some food on a bench, and blankets draped over the bed. The stove was burning propane without any pots on the fire to warm the space. As soon as I entered the warmth I began to shiver violently. 

Graciously, the man pointed to the bench by the table, and Swan and I huddled together for warmth. We tried to explain between shivers that we were hikers, and we had been caught up in the storm.

The man nodded “supposed to snow,” he commented. The sentences seemed to be difficult for him.

He got a call and answered in Spanish. He told the caller he would call back soon, but I couldn’t place his accent.

“How long have you lived here?” I asked.“I came from Spain in 1963. I’m Seventy-five,” he said.

My eyes widened. “You look much younger,” I said.

He grinned. “They told me it was good money in America, but no more than in Spain.” 

I laughed and after some time I asked, “do you know how long this storm is supposed to last?”

The man looked concerned and repeated, “supposed to snow. Maybe a couple of days. You should go to town and get drunk for a few days.”

Swan grimaced, “but how do we get to town? We have to walk.”

“You should catch one of those horses, ride it to town,” joked the man.

“We’ll be okay, we’ll camp by the reservoir. Thank you so much, getting warm is really helping,” I said.

“Would you like some bread?” The man offered.

The man directed Swan to pull a loaf of French bread from the top of the small closet. We both shook as we ripped off more and more of the bread and chewed it slowly. It was good bread, but my body was so alarmed by recent events that it was difficult to eat. I forced myself to eat more of it. Fuel for the flame.

Swan spoke to the man about getting a ride to town, but it was too far. The roads would be too muddy, the man said. “I can take you to the reservoir,” the man conceded. “Get you pretty close.”

“That would be amazing!” I said.

“Warm your hands,” the man said with a stern look, holding his hands above the stove with the blue propane flame. “Not too close. I’ll go warm the old truck.” The man got up and walked painfully with stiff joints to go start his truck.

I held my hands above the stove, and the heat was so sharp and painful that I could only hold them there for a few seconds. I asked Swan if he wanted to hold his hands above the fire, but he shook his head. He had been so worried about me, it seemed to surprise him that his own hands were stiff from the cold.

When the man came back in Swan and I shifted uncomfortably until the man said,“Okay, we can go.”

Swan and I climbed down from the camper, and as I put my pack back on and shivered in the cold, the man offered me the rest of the bread and some peaches. I took both with a heartfelt thank you.

He drove us over the extremely rough two track road we had been hiking on, offering us more propane for our stoves, but we didn’t need it. “You’ll be okay?” the man asked.

“We’ll be okay. We have warm, dry clothes and a tent.”

“Okay,” the man said. “Do you see the sheep?”I didn’t, but Swan did. The man herded 3,000 sheep in the valley of these mountains. He asked if we had seen wolves. No, we had not. I remember thinking I didn’t realize I even had to worry about wolves in that area. We pulled up to the reservoir and hopped out of the truck, profusely thanking the man.

I pulled my sketchbook out of my pack and began tearing out the best drawing I had in there.“I don’t have much money,” I began.

“No, no money,” the man said, waving his hands.

“It’s not money,” I said perhaps a touch more forcefully than I meant to, “it’s from the walk.”

I passed the ink drawing of a landscape from the local area to the man and he smiled brightly. It was a smile that came of it’s own accord, from the heart. He nodded.

“Nice. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, thank YOU” I said. 

He hesitated as he drove away, but eventually he disappeared back into the dreary mist. I waved as he drove away.

Swan and I got to work putting up the tent. Swan was emotional from the cold now. We changed into our dry clothes and drank hot water, we also filled a bottle with hot water and put it in his sleeping bag. We coiled around each other, and even so it took us hours to get warm. When I woke the next morning I was warm, but profoundly fatigued and still 50 miles from town. The only way out was to hike.

Rusty is incredibly talented. -Swan

Meeting A Goddess On Trail

The tunnel at Harper’s Ferry.

It rained for over a week straight. The rain reconfirmed that the south eastern area of the United States is a temperate rain forest. The band wasn’t always hiking together. Crash and I pitched our tents by a wide and lazy stream. There was a deluge and we had cell service, so we called for a shuttle to pick us up and take us to get some restaurant food. It was nice to have that comfort amidst our seemingly new life at a constant 100% humidity.

I think it was the next day that we hiked to Boots Off Hostel (www.bootsoff.camp), about 20 miles south of Damascus, VA. What a great place! They have cabins, a tenting area, and an old converted bus for lodging. There is a small resupply and a large covered porch with a kitchenette. The owner took us fellas from Los Hobos on an “Aqua-blaze”. There were twice as many other people there who we had been bumping into from time to time. This group became a much larger Tramily with some great people! We all aqua-blazed together. Aqua-blazing is when you travel along the Appalachian Trail by water instead of walking.

This was my last day with the Tramily as a whole. Squatch had previously hiked on to new trails. Moses eventually took a break from the trail at Dismal Falls in Virginia after I left. When I got to Boots Off, I received a call from a fishing guide service that needed some help. They flew me out and you can read about that story here: https://swanhikes.com/2020/05/23/the-wind-river-range/

After my detour through Wyoming, I rode down to Colorado for a couple of nights and flew back to the trail. I arrived at Dulles International Airport where a shuttle driver was waiting to take me to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. I was dropped off at the HI Hostel. I didn’t exactly look like a hiker – dressed in jeans, plaid shirt, cowboy hat, and a leather belt with a skinning knife sheathed on it. I had a few books with me about mountain men and the wind river range that I donated to the hostel. Eventually, I rid myself of my cowboy attire and donned the hiker trash uniform. Crash and The Wandering Kiltsman would soon be there, or so I thought. Waiting by the river in Harper’s Ferry for over a week was the most boring part of my entire hike. River water is not the tastiest, so every day I would walk to the outfitter in Harper’s Ferry where they told me I could refill on water whenever I needed to. They were afraid that I was hanging around so long, because I was hungry. They kept trying to feed me and even picked up Crash and I one night as we were walking down the road a couple miles from camp. Before I resumed my hike, I gave my knife to the main outfitter employee who helped me so much. He appreciated the knife so much that he warmed my heart a second time.

Crash finally made it, but The Wandering Kiltsman would not be there for a while, due to technical difficulties on a crazy long aqua-blaze that you can read about on www.thewanderingkiltsman.com. The next day, Crash and I began heading north. Although I missed the 500 miles through Virginia, I wanted to hike with Los Hobos. Unfortunately, Los Hobos was too scattered to be a band. Viva Los Hobos! That wasn’t the end. Real hiking bards and troubadours don’t quit. We might take a long hiatus, but we never quit! Don’t worry folks. If you keep reading my future stories, you will get to see a social distancing concert we have lined up at an all new location.

Crash and I hiked up to Dahlgren Backpacker Campground in Maryland and stayed there one night. They had free hot showers, which I was grateful for the next day when I met a goddess. Truly, I met a goddess in person. Have you ever heard of the Latin goddess Ariana? Remember the Labyrinth and the Minotaur? Dionysus? Well, our story is much different. I am certainly no deity or hero, but a goddess helped me find my way through the “New World Labyrinth”. We saw her on the trail a couple times that day. We thought we knew everyone that was on the trail behind us, so we ignored her at first, thinking she was a “Weekend Warrior”. Come to find out, she thought the same about us!

Rusty

As Crash and I walked up to a pavilion at a state park, we see this goddess again. She was sitting there eating lunch and we both sat at different tables to spread out while we ate. There was a bit of small talk before we all finished lunch at the same time and resumed hiking. Crash and I forgot where the trail was, but this goddess showed us the way. I told her that I was a wilderness guide and just got back to the trail from work. Where I was working is a place that Lewis and Clark explored and when I set foot back on trail in Harper’s Ferry, I saw the museum dedicated to the beginning of their journey. With this fresh on my mind I said,

Daaaaang…You are like Sacajawea! Guide to the guide!”

We all laughed, because it was corny and Crash and I were just being bone-headed and didn’t pay attention to where we left the trail for the state park, but it was within 50 yards of mowed lawn in front of us. Honestly, I think we were both captivated with this divine creature that made me forget everything and every woman except for her. I didn’t know that I loved her at that moment, but I was stunned.

She even made me forget about the kidney stones inside of me. OK…If you have had kidney stones, then you know that part is a lie. I hung on like a champ, every day for three weeks, never knowing if I would see her the next day or not. We would bump into each other every few days and talk and get to know each other. I got on trail to be alone, but a tramily was formed. Thirty-two-Hundred air miles, 500 backpacking miles, 200 horse riding miles, and 12 canoe miles later, there was something new inside of me and I didn’t want to be alone.

I was waiting at the ATC in Pennsylvania. The pain in my kidneys was getting severe and a shuttle was coming to pick me up. I had bought a plane ticket to go home to Georgia, but it wasn’t for a couple weeks. Fortunately, while I was waiting outside of the ATC in Pennsylvania, Crash hiked in. He told me that “Rusty” was not far behind him. My heart skipped a beat. “Rusty” is one of the goddesses many names, her trail name, along with: “Mama Wolf” and just plain “Bad Ass”. We walked along the path through town to meet her and the three of us walked back to the ATC together. Rusty and I started talking and I found out that along with being a full-time hiking goddess, she also is a creator of fine paintings! It just so happens that, not only can I be an unkempt and somewhat uncouth mountain man, but also an amateur aficionado of fine art, wine, cheese, and sushi. We had important things to discuss.

She showed me her work on the Deviant Art platform online and I looked intently at each one. Rusty said no one had ever been that interested in her art before, but that it is her passion. We talked about art for a while and then she invited me to walk over to the post office with her to continue our conversation. I was so excited, I almost stepped out in front of a car. When we made it back across the street to all our hiking friends and acquaintances, my ride to the Cardinal Inn was there. I didn’t think I would ever see her again. We traded phone numbers, FaceBook, and hugs. Off I went to hike no more.

A quick painting from the trail.

The shuttle driver (The owner of the inn) questioned me about why I was quitting. I had not yet seen a doctor, so I didn’t want to lie and say I had kidney stones. I was just telling people that I was tired and had enough. The driver was a Vietnam-era U.S. Army Infantryman and started encouraging me not to quit. He said,

You don’t seem like a quitter to me! I don’t know what is going on, but I hope you change your mind. You have friends out there and you want to be with them at the finish. You are a soldier! Don’t quit!”

He took me to his and his wife’s inn/home where there was food waiting for me. It was a beautiful setting beside a Mennonite farm. The matriarch of the family was there. She was blind and asked me to come close and she touched my hands and asked me what my name was. I told her my name was Swan, but she asked me what my mom called me. I said, “Brandon”. She told me that she was mom and that she loved me. I went up stairs and spent the rest of my overnight visit locked up in my room in agony.

The proprietor of the inn took me to Port Clinton, PA, where I would wait for my friends Ed and Ren. I stayed at the Pavilion in town that a local church erected for hikers. It was mostly due to one man in the church who was an advocate for hikers. He was a WWII veteran who spent a couple of years in a Japanese POW camp. He said that every year when he would see emaciated hikers coming through, tired and hungry, that it reminded him of the POW camp. They built a beautiful pavilion and began providing an outhouse for hikers because of that sweet man. I know these things, because the weekend before I set up camp there, the church built a patriotic memorial in his honor. As I sat there alone one day, bearded, tattooed, smelly, and wild-eyed, this 90 year old woman walked up and sat beside me for half an hour to talk about her husband, the former POW and friend of hikers. She said that he was quite a man, and I believe her. Thank you, “Friend Of Hikers”!

Crash hiked in and I got to see him again. It was nice. I was getting lonely. I felt stupid, because days prior I had texted Rusty a mushy text message about her smile and her soul. Immediately, I started tripping out on myself and telling myself how stupid I was for sending such a strongly worded message and the reason I had not heard back had nothing to do with being in the mountains and wilderness. I thought about her constantly.

It was Crash’s turn to pay for a hotel, so I moved camp from the pavilion up to a single-bed room where I intended to sleep on the floor. Crash said he had just run into Rusty downstairs and she invited him to have a drink with her. I tried to act like it didn’t bother me, but I was jealous. I was already falling for her, but I told him to have a nice night and that I would see him later. He went downstairs and a few minutes later I was asked to come downstairs and join them. When Rusty saw me, she was giddy with joy. I was giddy that she was giddy. The polite version of the story was that we had a few drinks responsibly and I walked her home and kissed her goodnight on the doorstep. Do you think that is what happened? What doorstep? We were living out of backpacks! We built a spiritual connection that night. I walked a mile up trail with her the next day and kissed her goodbye. My friends would be there soon to pick me up and I would fly back to Georgia. Rusty and I made plans to see each other when she finished her hike, hoping to continue this beginning of bliss. She seemed serious about seeing me again. It was difficult to say goodbye.

Best Friends

Ed and Ren picked me up after a week, as per our plan. They said they were surprised that I was getting off trail and wanted to know why. These people are my friends and helping me out, so I felt obligated to tell them that I thought I had kidney stones. They did not even take me to their house without stopping at the doctor first! I am glad they did. They really looked after me. I didn’t particularly want to go. My gratitude to them could never be overstated.

When one can surmise how bad the kidney stones are based upon the X-Ray techs exclamations, you can be sure it isn’t pretty. The doctor came in and said,

“You have STONES. PLURAL. BOTH SIDES. LOTS OF LITTLE ONES! The good news is that as long as you can stand the pain, you can hike!”

I left the doctor with some Flomax and antibiotics and was better a few days later. The recovery at Ed and Rens really helped. Ren took me to the grocery store so I could resupply and they cooked a delicious meal. It was a good time visiting with people who quickly became beloved friends for what they did for me. They returned me to the trail.

What happens with Rusty and I? Keep an eye out for my next story:

https://swanhikes.com/2020/07/14/country-boy-meets-new-york/

Frank the barber, owner of Port Clinton Barbershop is one of the most hospitable people I have ever met. We made a music video together while I was there. You can visit the barbershop on FaceBook.

Hot Springs And A Murder

Continued from https://swanhikes.com/2020/05/27/los-hobos-in-the-smokies/

Upon leaving the Smokies, we headed to a place named Max Patch. It is a beautiful bald mountain that is a local favorite in North Carolina. The trail was crowded that day. I wanted to hurry up and get to the top, because Los Hobos had planned to camp together and catch the famous sunset and sunrise. This guy named “Pasta”, who I mentioned in PART IIIhttps://swanhikes.com/2020/05/19/los-hobos-journey-through-the-smokies/, had been leap frogging with us for over a week. We felt like we had been getting on his nerves, because we were playing instruments and singing every where we went. We tried not to be a nuisance, and most people enjoyed our playing. We had asked Pasta several times if we were bothering him and one time he told us, as long as we cut it out by a certain time, he didn’t care. We love to have fun, but try to be respectful, especially of wiser, more experienced outdoors-people. We all felt honored when Pasta asked us in a very humble manner if we minded if he camped on top of Max Patch with us, because it was his last day on trail.

“OF COURSE, WE WOULD LOVE FOR YOU TO CAMP WITH US!!!”

I hiked as quickly as I could. It was so crowded. There was a mix of locals and outsiders. It was obvious who the locals were. We were in the South and the locals all smiled and said, “Hello”. The people visiting from outside, didn’t even know how to smile back or reply. When I reached the bald hilltop, I ran into two local females who stuck a large Tupperware container in my face, filled with mixed berries. I almost dove in with both of my ferociously filthy hands. An inch from the gorgeous, gushing berries, I stopped and cupped my hands palms up.

Thank you so much! I am filthy and haven’t bathed in a week. Would you mind pouring them into my hands so I don’t infect your food?”

The ladies graciously did so. They were so happy to give me nourishment, that my acceptance of it seemed as though it were a gift to them. I was so happy to receive it. This aspect of the trail is what makes it such a vibrant community. It changes people. The trail helped to restore my faith in humanity.

One by one, the tramily came trampsing up the trail. Max Patch became so littered with people and tents, there was no place to have any kind of privacy. We played some music, but not much. The Wandering Kiltsman, Crash, Moses, Squatch, Ramses, Pasta, and myself were all present for the spectacular sunset.

The next morning, I woke up to start my trek to the town of Hot Springs, NC. Early morning hours are a special time for me and I hiked off alone. There was a very old and decrepit shelter that I stopped at. I laid there on the picnic table bench, stretching, eating, and pacing myself for a very long day. I had my 4 liter Platypus water filtration system hanging up from the a rafter on the shelter. It is a gravity fed system that works excellent for someone who drinks as much H2O as me. It also works great if you are hiking with a partner or base camping. It costs about $100.

The tramily was trickling into the shelter and several of us left out together. When we got 2 miles away from the shelter, I realized that I had forgotten my water filter. We were already doing my first 24 mile day on trail into Hot Springs. I didn’t have enough money at the time to buy a new one, but I didn’t want to get separated from the group, nor was I capable of adding 4 miles for a total of 28. It was a huge blow. Thankfully, as I was getting ready to turn around to retrieve it, and miss the much needed rest and recovery in Hot Springs, Moses offered to buy me a Sawyer Squeeze and let me pay him back. I want to say it was a gift, even. Moses saved my day. He didn’t part the sea, but I was able to flood my cells with Giardia-free water.

The hike from Max Patch to Hot Springs is a long, but mild hike and it felt really good to accomplish that. Nevertheless, I was still exhausted. Several more miles were walked through town trying to find a room to rent and resupply options.

It was the night of a holiday and many businesses were not open. We went to a bar and grill on the river. There were not many places to sit, but we saw two older thru-hikers who invited us to sit with them. They were really drunk and I am somewhat averse to being around drunk people. I was also famished. I am talking about an all consuming hunger. It was beyond what they call “Hiker Hunger”. Hiker hunger is an appetite you develop while on trail that allows you to eat copious amounts of calorie dense food. In retrospect, I was irritable and not thinking clearly. I had to be hypoglycemic by this point. I could not control the look on my face. The hunger was deep.

There would be an hour long wait, but there was nowhere else to go. I was practicing patience and sometimes laying my head down on the table, because of how miserable I was. An hour went by and I walked over to the kitchen to ask if it would be much longer and thank them for working so hard. Thirty more minutes went by without food. I noticed that one of the older gentlemen was in the kitchen talking loud and being aggressive with the cook staff. I had no idea what he was doing. A kitchen worker came out and pulled his shirt to the side, allowing me to see his knife. This made me angry and curious at the same time. That is when I realized that this old drunk was in there harassing the kitchen staff, in MY name. I ended up leaving the restaurant and sitting elsewhere for a bit, hoping that my absence would help to deescalate things so I could eat. After three hours of waiting, we were the last ones to be served, despite the fact that we had been there 2 hours longer than all the other people being served. We were all upset. I promised everyone that the bar and grill would be getting a bad review where hikers could see. This is it: Spring Creek Tavern. It is located on the creek in Hot Springs, NC. The service was atrocious and the food was not very good either.

We stayed in town for a couple days. The next morning, we ate breakfast at an amazingly delicious establishment called, The Smoky Mountain Diner. It appeared to be a family business. They have art and quilts decorating the walls. Every single worker there was friendly. Not only was the food scrumptious, the portions would satisfy the deepest of hiker hunger. We left them a good tip, because we were so grateful for that experience after what happened the night before, elsewhere. I would highly recommend The Smoky Mountain Diner. Tip well, because they go the extra mile.

I hiked out of Hot Springs with my back torn up with heat rash. It was one of the worst cases that I have ever had. After two days of hiking, I could not take it anymore and hired a shuttle to take me to Nature’s Inn Hostel. If you are a Facebook friend of mine (If not, send me a friend request @ gb swann), then you saw my video review. It was a great stay in a tiny cabin on the creek. They cater to bikers and hikers.

Ever since Franklin, NC, we had been hearing about a bad guy named “Sovereign”. He had been harassing people on trail and was locked up and released. He went back out on trail and became more violent. Everyone on the A.T. in 2019 was cautious and watching for that guy. He finally took his words to action and attacked a male veteran and his female hiking partner. They were both slashed up pretty good. The male veteran fought a valiant fight, but was murdered. The woman held up her hands in surrender, was attacked and injured, then pretended to be dead until the criminal left. She ran 9 miles to seek shelter. I can only imagine the terror they must have felt. The veteran was on trail trying to lay his PTSD to rest. Writing this, there are tears in my eyes. Politics aside, most soldiers join because of a patriotic idealism, because they want to serve their country. He came home to be murdered during a peaceful journey. Ronald Sanchez Jr. A name, with a story, that is worth remembering!

His killer fled to harm other people. He crossed paths with a woman and her daughter and mentally tortured them for half the night with threats of setting them on fire inside of their tent with gasoline. Thankfully, he did not act any further on his threats and left. The ladies fled to Nature’s Inn Hiker and Biker Hostel, where the owners let them use the phone to call the police, which led to the killers arrest. I arrived to the hostel the next morning, thankful for my timing.

Ronald Sanchez. Remember this man!
https://www.outsideonline.com/2396603/appalachian-trail-murder-ron-sanchez

Next up: https://swanhikes.com/2020/05/30/meeting-a-goddess-on-trail/

Los Hobos: In The Smokies

Continued from: https://swanhikes.com/2020/05/19/los-hobos-journey-through-the-smokies/

The first night we camped at Birch Spring Campground. The only Campground in the Smokies. It is located in a ravine. As you walk along the ridge, you come to a side trail that leads you down into the ravine. There was a fire ring and some logs that we made ourselves comfortable on. This is where we met a children’s author named, “Quill”. We also camped by a family on their first backpacking trip. They brought everything, including the kitchen sink.

We were worried that the family atmosphere would put a cramp in our style, and it did. It was nice that we were able to find camping spots near each other and mostly out of the way. The next morning after breakfast, I hiked off. I passed the family hiking down the trail in a row. They were beating their trekking poles together, as if they were rhythm sticks, because they were terrified of bears. It was reminiscent of the movie, The Parent Trap. Meanwhile, The Kilt-man was assaulted by a deer during his morning ritual (www.thewanderingkiltsman.com).

Clingman’s Dome: The second highest point on the A.T.

After a couple of days, we made it to Clingmans Dome, the high point of the Smokies and the second highest point on the Appalachian Trail. It was a beautiful day. We played frisby and guitar in a grassy park while we waited for the Kilt-mans family to show up. They picked us up and bought us Bar-B-Que. It was delicious. The details are getting fuzzy, but I think they dropped us off back at Clingman’s Dome where we hiked another day or two before they picked us up again for a zero day. We were all very grateful to his family.

The next morning, we woke up in camp and hiked off early. Squatch was with me when we walked up to the biggest living bear I have ever seen. It had to be 400 lbs. Squatch was in front of me, but we were hiking pretty close. It is fun to hike with Squatch because of his energy and music. I knew when he said a 4 letter word that it had to be something cool. Yes. A 400 lb bear.

“Hey Bear, I know this is your trail, but can we use it too? It’s your woods…We are just passing through!”

We both made noise and the bear just stared at us from the middle of the trail for a few minutes before he sauntered a few feet away and looked back at us with a hunger.

“Hey Bear, we see you, we don’t want any trouble. We are just trying to hike!”

We took a few steps. The bear moved farther away. When it felt safe, I snapped the best photo I could. Squatch was concerned because he felt like I had turned my back to the bear. He had a point. I figured that he was already watching that particular bear, who gave us room to pass. I was concerned about walking into another bear and wanted to have eyes in all directions. It was cool. We lived.

The black bear is in the top center of the photo.

Fraser Firs and Red Spruce filled this section of boreal forest in the “high country” of the South East. There were breath taking view points. Wildlife is so abundant in Smoky Mountain National Park. After hiking for a while, we were ready to hit a particular shelter for lunch. The shelter was in sight and once again we were stopped. This time there was a 6 foot long rattle snake coiled up in the middle of the trail. The foliage was so thick to our left and right that we could not go around. At first, it was just two of us. Soon the rest of the Tramily arrived. It felt like we stood there for 15 minutes. We tried everything to get the rattler to move. Finally, Quill, the children’s author, walked up and said,

“Hey you little snake!!! You just need to slither on away from here!”

She said it in a sweet, but firm voice. The snake was diffused and slithered away. We continued to the shelter and had lunch with Quill, The Snake Whisperer.

The Smokies were also a time of great social synergy. Our tramily was having a good time and so was everyone else. We had really banded together when Merlin was with us, because there was a killer on the loose named, “Sovereign”. Really, that is how Merlin came to hike with us. Squatch brought up a good point that if he had a little sister and knew she was hiking out there alone with a killer on the trail, he would want to know she was protected. Merlin was no longer with us, but the band was as tight as ever.

One night, we stopped a little short of our goal and ran into a guy named “Mix Match”. I met him for the first time at Clingman’s Dome, but the rest of the band had met him long before. He was the proud recipient of a present from a local shelter: Norovirus! He got off trail to recover and then resumed his hike. He also plays the guitar and we had a great time passing it around the circle. There were lots of laughs and lots of singing. It was a good night.

I woke up incredibly early and took off ahead of everyone. It must have been 2 or 3AM. I made my way to the next shelter where everyone was sleeping. There were some people there who had been getting on our nerves, or else we would have pushed on to that shelter. Knowing they were there, we stayed behind to put distance between us. Every once in a while, I admit, I can be a bit mischievious. Everyone was asleep. I used the privy first, so I could make a quick get-a-way. I snuck up to the shelter and spotted the cables provided by the park service for hanging your food bag. It keeps bears and rodents out. A bush was beside it that I was able to crouch behind as I rattled the bear cables loudly and then stopped and froze. A hiker woke up and shined his flashlight toward the bear cables and scanned the area. Soon, his light went off and I was at it again, rattling the cables, as though a bear were nearby. The light came on again. He scanned more and kicked the wall of the shelter. I remained still. After the light turned back off, I bolted through the woods like a bear, until I could put some distance between me and them! The funniest part: a couple weeks later, we saw those guys again, and they told us about their bear encounter at the shelter and how they scared it off.

When we made it through the Smokies, I was ahead of everyone and came to a gravel road. There was a sign pointing to a general store about a mile off trail. The store was not on Guthooks and I had not heard of it. As I recall, I was famished and the next resupply would be several hours later at Standing Bear Hostel, however, I was trying to avoid Standing Bear Hostel because of a recent Norovirus outbreak. To my knowledge, they are great upstanding people, but those thing happen sometimes, and I didn’t want to put myself at risk.

I walked a mile down off the mountain and came to a general store in the middle of nowhere. They were not yet open, but had a picnic table out front. I dropped my pack, took off my boots, and laid down on the seat. They opened an hour later and actually had a shower that I paid to use. When I got out of the shower, there were a couple of section hikers who I had met the night before. They had completed their hike and were going home. I wished them good luck. They wished me good luck and I started shopping for my resupply. The cashier rang me up and asked for $40. I told her that I should be paying about $20 more.

“Yes Sir, you are right, but those gentlemen who were in line ahead of you donated a 20 dollar bill to your hike. They told me not to say anything until they left.”

The store had everything I needed, except for a fuel canister. They told me that the original A.T. route went along the road by the river and I might be able to catch a hitch if I took that route back to the trail. I did what she suggested. Walking alongside the swift, white, water was welcome to break up the monotony. It was a treat to be able to see the mountains from the gulch. Several cars passed me. Most people don’t like picking up a large male hitchhiker with a beard. There have only been a couple of occasions where I scored a hitch.

As I was thumbing my way down the road, a guy with a neck tattoo pulled up and asked if I needed a ride. I got in and told him I needed to go to Walmart or some place where I could buy a fuel canister. Instead, we pull up in his yard where it looked like a party was going on. He said that he had a spare one in the house that I could have and to come in and accept some hospitality. As I stepped into the hazy, smoke filled room, I noticed a large water bong being passed around. As my eyes adjusted more, the bare plywood walls were covered with swords and knives held up by nails. The closet was stacked with guns, with no door to hide them. One person was in a corner, inhaling Cannabis smoke through a gas mask. I only tried the gas mask on to evaluate it for it’s effectiveness because of my military training. I did not inhale.

Next up: https://swanhikes.com/2020/05/28/hot-springs-and-a-murder/

The Wind River Range Part II

(Continued from https://www.swanhikes.com/2020/05/23/the-wind-river-range/)

On the next trip, we had another new guy. This one seemed great. He didn’t know much, but was strong, intelligent, took direction, etc. It was a relief to have him in camp after the last two “Camp Jacks”. I really respected the guy. Unfortunately, his third day on the job, his mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and he quit. Thankfully this guy was driving down to Texas and liked me enough that he let me ride with him from Cowpoke, Wy., down to Colorado Springs where I spent two nights and then flew back to the Appalachian Trail. The main reason for my departure is explained below:

We were camping near the base of Mount Baldy. Being 20 miles from the nearest road and hours from town, you had better be prepared. Remember the story about the stove pipe continuously falling on the tent? I let the outfitter know that, for days, I had been dealing with a cook tent that was filling up with smoke to the point that I couldn’t cook. It would be great to get this resolved in between trips The stove pipe was rusted, cut, and improperly fitting. One of the legs was broken and I had to wrap tin-foil around a stick and attach it with bailing wire. This is the first day of our second pack trip of the summer:

Me: Sir, we really need to get this taken care of. I thought it would happen over the weekend. How am I supposed to work if I am literally trying to put out fires???

Boss: What do you want me to do? Run to the f****ng 7/11 ????

Me: Sir, obviously we can not do that. That is why I said something before we rode back in camp. Perhaps, when we get back to town in a couple of days, we could get a new one. Maybe I could call in to base and let them know we need one.

Boss: We have one!

Me: Yes sir and it is going to burn down your tent! I am literally putting out fires!

Boss: Once again, What do you want me to do? Run to the f****ng 7/11?

Me: No sir, but looking at everything that was packed for me… I don’t have enough eggs for this trip! Someone is going to have to come up here anyways.

Boss: Why don’t you have enough eggs?

Me: I don’t know, Sir. I told your wife and daughter (who did the packing) that I only had one tray of eggs left. I use one tray of eggs per day. It is not my job to go to the grocery store and pack. I just give them my inventory and they are supposed to give me back what I need.

Boss: Are you saying that my wife and daughter don’t know what they are doing??

Me: No sir, I am saying that I can not help it if the eggs are not here, because I told them how many I needed and it is their job to go get the stuff. What else can I do?

Boss: I NEED EGGS! I Want eggs! How can we be in camp without eggs??????

Me: WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO, SIR? RUN TO THE F****NG 7/11 ??? I want a stove pipe so I don’t die of Carbon Monoxide poisoning. I would like a stove pipe so I don’t have a head ache every day from smoke inhalation at high elevation. You are worried about eggs? Why don’t you call a wrangler to bring in a new stove and stove pipe along with some eggs?

Between baking and breakfast, I can use up to 2.5 dozen eggs per day in camp.
I baked the above cake in this fire.

The next day, a rider rode in with a new stove, stove pipe, and eggs. Two days later, we all rode out of camp for the weekend. The owner asked me to ride with him back to the lodge. I was peeved and did not want to be near this guy. He did not like it when I spoke to him the way he spoke to me and had not stopped pouting since the day before. I had been getting 4 hours of sleep a night on top of all the other issues. The outfitter became instantly insecure as we rode down the road together.

Boss: Those clients were nice people.

Me: Yes Sir.

Boss, 5 minutes later: The Mexicans have been working hard on the fire mitigation.

Me: …well I said nothing, because I was tired and a statement was made that did not require a reply.

Boss, 5 minutes later: WHATS YOUR PROBLEM???

Me: What do you mean, Sir?

Boss: YOU ARE IGNORING ME!!

Me: What did you say, Sir? That the Mexicans are working hard? Yes sir, it appears that they are still working just as hard as they were when you made the same comment last week when we came through here. There is no need to yell at me. What’s my problem? I am very tired. I have a headache. I did not have the things that I needed in camp. I was literally putting out fires all week. Now you are getting a freaking attitude with me and I worked my butt off. Obviously, the clients had a great time or I would not have made $500 in tips in three days off of a family of 3. How about the week before when I got a trophy knife and $800. I am sorry that you had a bad week and didn’t catch any fish. Maybe instead of yelling at me, you should thank me for showing the clients a great time.

Boss: Yes! You made lots of tips! The clients loved you! You are being rude as hell to me right now!

Me: Sir, I am not sure how I am being rude. You literally will not leave me alone. You keep yelling at me. I am exhausted physically and mentally. I HAVE HEARD ENOUGH!!

Boss: FINE I DON’T KNOW WHY I EVEN TRIED TALKING TO YOU! When we get back to the lodge, I don’t need you to do anything else. Just go shower and go to bed!

Me: Yup, that is what I intend to do.

As much as I love that kind of work and being in the Wind River Range, I decided to quit, and did so the next morning. I walked into the kitchen with a stack of things to return to the outfit. I walked up to the owner and his family to quit and they said they needed to talk.

Boss: Swan, I did not appreciate the way you spoke to me. Also, you forgot to take out the trash the night before we left on our last trip. There was some broth that spilled out in the bag and got on the floor. My wife had to clean it up. WERE YOU TRYING TO BURN DOWN MY HOUSE?

Me, with a chuckle: Burn down your house, Sir? With broth??”

Boss: YOU THINK THIS IS FUNNY??

Me: NOPE! I think it is sad. I walked in here to quit anyways. Here’s your paper work back. Here is the current camp inventory. I need my checks.

Boss: Here are your checks, SWAN. I’m watching you on your way out. You better not steal anything.

Me: Well, Sir, considering that my checks are short, it looks like you are the thief!

He corrected the checks and I left out with the camp hand. What the camp hand was going through was an awful thing. The outfit had been talking behind his back and saying that it was just an excuse to quit, but there is no way. That guy talked to me for a while about his mothers pancreatic cancer. His mom told him that she knew how much this job meant to him and for him to stay. His dad called him and said she did not have long to live and if he wanted to say goodbye, that he had better come home. It had me tearing up from thinking about when my own mother had cancer. Thankfully, mine pulled through OK. The prognosis for pancreatic cancer is not very good. I hope that she made it through and that he went on to better adventures. I am very grateful for the ride to Colorado.

(Part III is coming next with a Mob tale.)