On a warm spring day
The mountain gains in stature
I’m climbing higher.
On a warm spring day
The mountain gains in stature
I’m climbing higher.
I graduated from 3 programs at The Colorado Outdoor Adventure Guide School (https://guideschool.com/) and worked for a short time for the school’s owner. It was October and the snow had begun to fall on the Grand Mesa and Battlement Mesa where my adventures were located. That particular adventure may have been ending, but as Robert Earl Keen says, “The Road Goes on Forever and the Party Never Ends”. Before my introduction to the world of Rocky Mountain outfitters and guiding, I was living on a ranch with a family on a mesa in south west Colorado. The woman who I was dating at the time said that she was putting the teepee up that we were living in and moving back into the house with her son, but that I could keep camping if I wanted to.
On my way home to the ranch, I stopped at the Cabela’s store in Grand Junction, CO. I was very excited to be purchasing the (Cabela’s Big Horn III Tent – Swan Hikes) tent that I had dreamed about for a few years. The old man who grabbed a cart for me shared in my glee at my new home. It was nice to be standing there with a fellow outdoorsman who was happy for me. Although a store employee, he was not making a commission, he works at Cabela’s because the outdoors is his passion. We talked for a bit as I also picked out my new Colorado Mesa Stove. The store employee told me about a Cabela’s tent that he had recently purchased. It was a great day for an outdoorsman with a paycheck in hand.
When I got back to the ranch, everyone was excited. The ranch hand and the foreman’s brother-in-law and nephew came down to help me set it up. Once it was set, I added a mattress, portable wire armoire, some black and yellow totes from Home Depot, rugs, and then off to work. It was October and I had no firewood. There was a couple down the road who had a lot of wood that was starting to rot. There was also a lot of pine that they would not burn in their house. I spent days going back and forth in my light, short-bed truck picking up 3 or 4 cords of wood to get me through the winter. Soon, the snow would have everything covered up.
I stacked the wood on the north west side of the tent to protect it from the cold winds that blow across the Mesa. On the other side was a stand of scrub oak that made a nice wind block. The family that I lived with, regularly had people come to camp and had made tent pads. It was the perfect spot. The rugs on the floor and my Cabela’s 0-degree flannel and canvas sleeping bag helped to take the edge off of the freezing cold.
It was lonely when I was camping by myself. I still took pride in the fact that I was trying to live outside through a Colorado winter at 9,000 feet elevation. I had been working at 10,000 feet. There is a big difference that 1000 feet can make. The foreman of the ranch had become my EX-girlfriend, but I continued living there because I got along with the family. I was part of the circle. That was nice, because I greatly respected her father who I learned a lot from. I am very grateful to her and her family. Never-the-less, an ex-girlfriend is an ex-girlfriend and I felt the need to get away.
In January, I moved across the state to a small mountain town on the front range. I was couch surfing at high elevation, but spent some nights sleeping in a mine shaft, because my new room-mate, a stranger, was doing some things that did not groove with my conscience. Around the same time that I met him, I began dating another woman who wanted to move, but needed a room-mate. We got an apartment in the city together and broke up a month later, which was right on time, because I did not like living in the city.
I didn’t know what to do. All I knew was that I wanted to be outside and that I did not want to settle down anywhere. Before I bought the fancy tent, I was going to do a winter hike of the Appalachian Trail, but my ex-girlfriends father convinced me to stay with them and wait until Spring for such a journey. Most of my stuff was still on the ranch. I took the tent down, but was unable to pull it up due to the frozen ground. My friends at the ranch used the tractor to pull the stakes out of the ground and I met with them down in Montrose to get it. It would have been difficult for me to get a 2-wheel drive box truck up that Mesa. It was a scary drive taking a box truck across the frozen continental divide twice. I drove straight through a winter storm front that had my booty puckered like all-get-out! Hah!
I made the 2000-mile journey home to a storage unit in Georgia, packed my backpack and got dropped off at Amicalola Falls State Park on April 1st 2019 and began hiking north. I didn’t know how far I would go. All I knew was that I could not sit still. Before heading out, I sent my resume’ out to several Rocky Mountain outfitters hoping for employment as a camp cook. I thought that I would hike to Pennsylvania and then turn around and walk back to Georgia, unless I got hired, in which case I would go west again. I got dropped off at the top of the falls and set out on the busy approach trail. To read about my hike, please start here: The Walk-A-Bout Continues – Swan Hikes. Thanks for reading!
Continued from: https://swanhikes.com/2020/11/25/rusty-on-mt-madison/
Rusty got a hitch into Gorham, New Hampshire where I was. It was wonderful to see her. We spent a night there and the next morning, we called for a shuttle to take us to the notch to continue along our way. I was in a lot of pain and trying to hang in there. My foot ached so bad. Rusty taped my foot up with KT Tape as she had begun doing on the regular. The KT Tape really supported my foot. I was abusing myself by taping my foot up to keep going, but it worked!
The shuttle arrived 15 minutes late and I was irritated. When I opened the back of the shuttle, a bunch of backpacks fell out on top of me and I noticed that the vehicle was full, except for one seat. Rusty and I were a party of two, and I had told them this on the phone. I said something about it and the young college age driver shrugged his shoulders. Not having many options, we got in. I became increasingly angry that it was so crowded and that there were not enough seats for both of us. Rusty was sitting in my lap. I got into a battle of wits with the driver. I was really pissed, but calmed down by the time we got to where we were going. The driver ended up saying that the ride was free. We tried to pay him anyway, but he took off. Over a year later I can say that I still would have been upset about the driver’s smart mouth, but it wasn’t that big of a deal. In retrospect, I was probably transmuting the pain into the beratement that I gave the driver. Sorry bub.
Pinkham Notch Visitor Center is where we were dropped off. We went inside and looked at the gear and books they had for sale. There was a cool 3D topographic map that I really wanted, but it didn’t seem practical to carry it on my pack. After filling up our water and using the bathrooms, we stepped off. It was a nice little nature walk for a minute, until it was time to ascend up into the mountains again. There was a bit of a nerve-wracking scramble that we both had to go up. I told Rusty to stay way back from me, in case I were to slip, because I didn’t want to create a domino effect and crush her. We both made it up and continued hiking up to the top. We sat down together on a flat rock overlooking Highway 16 in New Hampshire. I began to shake vigorously. The sweat combined with the wind chilled my core. Rusty and I cuddled up and I began to cry. She tried to comfort me, but I was miserable. I felt sick, broken, and was beginning to wonder if I had some kind of infection that was giving me fevers. The words came out as painful as what I was feeling in my foot,
” I might have to get off the trail, Rusty.”
Rusty: “Will you go back to Georgia?”
Me: “I don’t want to. I don’t want to leave you or the trail.”
Rusty: “I don’t want you to go either, but I have to finish the trail.”
Me: “I know. Maybe, I can go back to Georgia and recover and get a bicycle and peddle it to New Orleans to see you. That would be a fun adventure… AAAHHHH. I am going to try to keep going. LET’S GO!”
I got up and continued hiking over 4,000 foot mountains, in the autumn, in the White Mountain National Forest. Every third step heard me cussing. I was cold while I hiked. I kept thinking to myself, “Why am I cold? I am on mile 5, hiking over a ski mountain, I should be warm.” But I wasn’t. We took a break on top of Wildcat Mountain, but didn’t stay long. I was so cold, sickly, and broken that we had to keep moving. After several miles, we began to descend into another notch. It was so beautiful and steep. The foliage is burned into my mind. We made our way to the bottom and took a side trail to one of the huts. I am so happy that the White Mountains have the hut system, because they saved my tail – twice!
We walked along a stunning side trail. There were little ponds on each side of us and I took some beautiful photo’s of my lovely lady and tried to make it a happy experience, because I knew this might be the end for me and the Appalachian Trail. We made our way inside the hut and searched the log for the names of our friends.
“Oh look Rusty, Grock stayed here on his way down from his flip!”
Rusty managed to get a work for stay, but I paid for myself. The last thing I wanted to do was work. We played cards and board games and had a good time. There was another pair there. Eventually, we retired to our private bunkhouse. The only reason it was private was because it was so late in the year. Many huts had already closed. As I laid there on the bunk, I began to shake uncontrollably. Rusty laid on top of me to warm me up. I was so cold that she became cold, as well, in her efforts to warm me. I couldn’t figure it out. I knew how to dress, but my body would not regulate properly. I called my friend James, from New England, and asked him for advice. It was all stuff that I knew and nothing was working. I told Rusty that I was going to have to quit my hike. We both cried and went to sleep.
The next morning, Rusty had to continue hiking north. I would be taking the 19 Mile Brook Trail down to the highway and calling a shuttle. It was a very emotional morning. I walked her out to where the trail forked for us to go our separate ways. We stood there embracing for the longest time. It was difficult. By this time, we were really in love with each other, but maybe too close to see it. She told me that we would could keep dating and that I could see her when she was done with the trail. I wasn’t ready to totally part company with her. I decided to take a shuttle to the next town that she would be at and I would brainstorm on how to stay with her for a few days until I saw her again.
Never-the-less, it was an emotional departure. I used to yell, “YEE-YEEEEEEE” as my call to let my tramily know that I was near-by. Rusty had been living up to the nickname that she got in New York, Mama Wolf, and howling to call out. Sometimes, she still sets the woods alive with the howls of Canids reaching out to her. After a long tearful embrace, we parted ways. We called to each other for a mile, until the distance was too great. I sobbed. I couldn’t be without her.
The hike was incredibly easy and beautiful. The 19 Mile Brook Trail is almost graded and very well groomed. Limping out alongside this amazing brook helped to calm me. I continuously checked my cell phone for service and when I got it, I called a shuttle driver who was listed in the Guthooks App. He met me at the trailhead and took me to Bethel, Maine, where I would await the arrival of my queen. I hobbled into the main entrance of the Chapman Inn, where I told the lady my troubles and our love story. She put me up in the bunkhouse and said that when my Lady Love arrived, that we could have a private room. The Chapman Inn was a great place to get my head together. I could barely walk, but the one Uber driver in town was really nice to hikers and really helped me out, for a small fee. As I was lying in my bunk, licking my wounds, I got a satellite text from Rusty. She had summitted Carter Dome, but her water purifier broke and the rain cover on her pack flew off. Freezing rain was coming down with heavy winds blowing across the peaks. She said she also missed me and that she was taking a side trail out of the forest and coming to see me. I called the same shuttle driver and told him what happened and he said that he would be waiting at the trailhead for her. I felt bad that she had some logistical hiccups, but elated to know that I would soon be in the warm embrace of “Rusty, Mama Wolf, Bad Ass”. She arrived and we were moved into one of the haunted rooms at the Chapman Inn.
(Continued from: https://swanhikes.com/2020/07/24/drunk-man-walking/)
I made my way down the Jewell Trail in heavy fog thinking about the times I had hiked above treeline in the Rocky Mountains. It was going to be a very bad day for Rusty. No matter how vigilant I was above treeline, I consistently found myself off course, but I knew the general direction was down. My concern for Rusty was calmed by the awakening of nature around me. The fog slowly cleared as I made my way down the mountain.
It felt like a very long time to get below treeline, but I finally made it into the spruce and pines. I can smell them as I sit here and type. The smell of the forest in New England purifies the soul. The image of the jovial Jewell Trail is burned in my brain like a pyrograph. It was beautiful, but seemed to never end. I walked along the duff covered trail, alongside a stream, and close enough to hear the Cog Railway, whose base station I was walking to.
The all night rain soaked the trees and shrubs. The fog permeated every pore in my poor rain jacket and skin. Spruce and Pine boughs blessed my shoulders and pack with drops of dazzling dew. Weather-worn, I weaved my way along the winding trail and across the Ammonoosuc River to the base station. I left my pack outside and went in to use the WiFi and contact a shuttle to take me to Gorham, NH.
A local shuttle driver picked me up from the Cog Railway and took me to a hotel in Gorham, NH. I was really looking forward to seeing Rusty that evening. My foot hurt pretty bad, but I wanted everything to be perfect when I saw Rusty that night, so I hobbled down to the laundromat where I ran into Dave Mac, a hiking acquaintance and a traveling nurse. I had been asking different people on trail what they thought about my foot. No one thought it was broken. Dave Mac was the closest. He said it was a sprain. I found out later that there was a sprain and a break.
The weather started to get pretty bad and I was wondering where Rusty was. We started texting back and forth from her Garmin to my phone. Most of her hike that day was above tree line. It didn’t look like she was going to make it, so I took myself to dinner. While I was at dinner, the sky went from gray and rainy to black and stormy. Thunder shook the Chinese restaurant as I ate my Umami soup. I began to feel uneasy as it shook again and the waitress came by to congratulate me for not being on the mountain in that mess. I told her that my partner was up there and she was supposed to be at dinner with me and I was starting to get pretty worried. The waitress shared my concern.
I walked back to the hotel and started looking at the comments on the Guthooks app, to see what the trail was like and if there were any side trails she could use to safely exit. The comments on Guthooks did not inspire hope as I read things like, “Jagged rock outcroppings that cut your hands”. I texted Rusty to see if I could get dropped off at the trailhead she was hiking to and I could hike to her and spend the night. I was concerned with her being wet and cold. People die of hypothermia in the Whites in the summer time, and this was fall. She told me not to.
Thunder shook the hotel over and over again. Rain beat hard on the walls as it blew in side-ways. The mountains could not be seen due to the black wall of worrisome weather. I messaged my cousin, and called my brother and friends. They reassured me that if she made it that far, that she knew what she was doing. Plus, I was always telling everyone what an impressive hiker she is.
I was going crazy, but she finally texted me that she made it below tree-line and set up camp.
I was a different animal when I was thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail – confident, determined, and stubborn to the point of folly. When I woke up on the swag between Mt. Washington and Mt. Madison, not quite below tree-line and damp from the rain the night before, it did not occur to me to be concerned about the cloud coverage. I had been warned numerous times about the weather in the White Mountains, but with over 1000 miles under my belt, I was fearless.
Swan’s foot had been hurting him for some time, and with more alpine experience than me, he looked at the fog appraisingly and said, “I’m not doing it today!”
He would take a side trail down to the cog railway that ran to the summit of Mt. Washington, and wait in town for me as I hiked an easy 12 miles to him. I didn’t even want to take the tent, because I would be in Gorham, NH that evening, but out of an abundance of caution I tied the tent to the top of my pack, put on all of my rain gear, and kissed Swan. It would be good to collapse in his arms at the end of the day, I thought.
The terrain in the Presidential range is unique and unlike the hundreds of miles that stretch in either direction, north or south, on the Appalachian trail. There is almost no tree coverage or even much soil. The rocks are jagged and range from a pale beige that is almost white in the high sun, to a deep gray that turns black in the rain. The vegetation is hardy and windswept, deep magenta and desaturated greens and yellows. All of it is low to the ground, and reminds me somehow of coral. Perhaps it is that walking along the trail in these mountains feels like being alone out at sea.
There was no one out on the trail that day, which is an oddity for the AT, but the White Mountains are remote enough that it isn’t unheard of. It wasn’t until the fog turned into a light, persistent rain that soaked all the way through my rain jacket, that I realized that no one was out hiking because of the weather. It didn’t matter, as long as I kept moving I wouldn’t be cold.
Sometime in the mid-morning I looked down at my phone to check my progress. I had a GPS map installed on it called Guthook, which could accurately pinpoint my location anywhere on the trail. I had made distressingly little progress, and was actually a bit off trail. I looked up and spotted a cairn off in the distance and walked to it, then I walked haphazardly to the next, losing the trail every time between cairns. It was extremely difficult to navigate in the fog above tree-line because everything looked the same in every direction, and the trail was not well worn. Side trails had been created in the places were 100 other people had gone the wrong way so often that it made the trail look like a spidery web with no real direction. Had I really only gone two miles?
I came across a hut at noon. The employees were outside, servicing the composting toilets. I won’t go into much detail about what they were doing, but suffice it to say that I did not think they wanted to have a conversation with me. I passed them, and they barely noticed my presence. They had other shit on their minds.
I rested there within sight of the hut but upwind of the smell. The rain had stopped for a minute and I told myself I really needed to pick up the pace. I got up and told myself “Ms. Rastelli, you better hustle. You got a hot date and you don’t want to be late.”
I pressed on, and climbed right back up into the clouds. The rain was more earnest now, the rocks sharper and more slippery, and the wind was picking up. I slipped on a rock and fell to my knees. When I fell, I had a little ritual that made me feel better. I always ate a snack while on the ground, preferably chocolate, before getting back up. I ate the chocolate and rose to my feet as much as I could, but the force of the wind kept me half crouched. I struggled forward,
but between the wind, the rain, and the difficulty of the climb, which was hand over foot in some places and still very difficult to navigate, I was starting to have to literally crawl. My stomach rolled over as I looked out at the endless black sea of unforgiving rock.
There is a little delusion that most hikers have, a delusion propped up by the quality of our gear, the food in our packs, the filters on our water bottles, and our outdoor experience. It’s the delusion that we have some sort of control over nature, that we can set a goal and with adequate respect and preparation, nature will invite us in. Under many conditions, this delusion is helpful, it allows a mere human to go off into the wilderness alone and emerge unscathed, and tap into the companionship with the natural world that is inherent to all other living creatures. The truth however, is that nature owes us nothing, and it is entirely free of limitations. So while I valiantly tried to keep my body warm, and the rubber side of my shoes down, the heart of the storm rolled in. I cried. I could feel the electricity building in the air around me, and I had nowhere to go but up. I was going to be the tallest thing around for at least another 5 miles and the wind consistently tried to blow me off the side of the ridge. The water was coming down as heavily as a cold shower, and with only 2 or 3 feet of visibility I was only sure I was going in the right direction on the rare occasions that I saw a cairn, or came across a sign.
I pulled my satellite phone out and began texting Swan.
“I hate this,” I told him.
“You can do it, just move slow,” he answered.
I kept on texting him as I made my painfully slow progress. It became clear that there was no way I was going to make it to town. At this point my only goal was to make it below tree-line. I sang to myself about how much I loved trees, and that, “all I want for Christmas is to get below tree-line, to get below tree-line, to get below tree-line.”
It took the entire day for me to go 7 miles. Sun was starting to set when finally, finally, I saw the forest a few hundred feet below.
“I love you!” I called out to the trees. When I hiked up to the first tree I put my hand on it and thanked it. The tree cover immediately made me feel about 10 degrees warmer, and protected me from the ferocious wind. I looked at the clouds and realized that this was why I had so misjudged the storm. After months of walking through the “green tunnel” that is the majority of the AT, I had no idea how different the same conditions felt when exposed. The trail was easy to follow, and although steep and slippery, I hopped down another few miles. I wanted to get as low as possible, I even considered night-hiking to town. As soon as I had that thought, the sky rumbled. I found a little patch of flat-ish dirt on the side of the mountain, and the first crack of lightning hit the mountains just as I pitched the tent. I mopped up the inside as best I could, because the inside had gotten soaked by rain in the 5 minutes it took for me to pitch the tent.
I texted Swan that I was safe, and that I would hike out to him early the next morning. Too tired to cook a meal, I changed into my driest clothes and laid down. The hardest day I’d had to date on the Appalachian Trail was behind me. Slugs gathered underneath the cover of my tent, and with a bit of amusement I counted my new slug friends until I fell asleep.
I’ve had harder days in the wilderness now, but that storm on Mt. Madison imparted more wisdom on me in a few hours, than most of my preceding years of life.
(Continued from: https://swanhikes.com/2020/07/22/harvard-hiker-invades-dartmouth/ )
The Wandering Kiltsman and I were separated from each other for over a month, but he finally caught up. It was nice to see him again. Crash and I had been telling Rusty stories about our hike down South. Most, if not all, involved TWK. Rusty was excited to meet him after months of stories and bought him a bottle of rum. This crazy guy did 30 mile days for a week to catch up with us. A couple days later, everyone woke up in camp and decided to pass that bottle around. It had been a crappy night, the hike was rough, alcohol weighs, and my foot hurt. I really am not much of a drinker and was quickly three sheets to the wind. I hiked and came to a parking lot where there was a pair of thru hiker alumni waiting with more alcohol and a ride to the store. I got so drunk. I wanted to camp in the parking lot. Rusty convinced me to hike. We needed to hit miles.
I staggered along the trail until we came to a large boulder at the bottom of Webster Cliffs. I laid on top of the boulder and hoped to sober up. It felt like an hour or more. We compromised and decided to camp at the top of the cliffs. There was no water source there, so we had to fill up before we got to the top. There was supposed to be one water source along the way, but we never saw it. Rusty even went on a wider search for water. The next reliable water source was 5 miles ahead of the cliffs through difficult terrain. It was early afternoon and we had a liter of water per person. We camped in the trees on top of Webster Cliffs.
The next morning, we woke up dehydrated and began our trek. I had promised Rusty that we would hike at least nine miles to the Lake of the Clouds hut. A mile or two into our hike, I felt like I couldn’t go past the hut a few miles away. I was so dehydrated. Rusty lost her temper and told me what an asshole I was for suggesting that I may have to break my word. She was furious. We were hungry. Our bodies were starving and dehydrated. We sat in the middle of the trail to eat. Rusty started to eat dry food and I suggested that she eat something with moisture in it to mitigate the dehydration. She ate tuna.
At a certain point she even told me that she wasn’t leaving the relationship, but that she wouldn’t allow me to hold her back and was going to leave me on the trail. I knew that while she could out hike me based on how many hours in a day that she was willing to hike, I could hike faster. I hiked ahead of her so that she couldn’t see me, but I kept my ear out so I could be there in case she ran into trouble. The thoughts of holding her back or being left did not sit well with me. I had decided that, “I would show her,” by hiking the rest of the way to Maine alone even if it was detrimental to my health, and still be there at the finish line.
As I was lost in my thoughts, I came across a tent and I thought I could score some water, but no one was there. After a few minutes, I came upon two weekend hikers who were on the way to their car (it was their tent). I told them how angry Rusty was with me and how it was 100% my fault and that I screwed up. If they could give me a little water, it could really turn the day around. They gave me half of their water, because they had more in the car. When I caught up with Rusty, she had filtered bog water through her bandanna and was drinking it through her Sawyer Squeeze water filter. She was still very angry, so I continued to give her space.
We came within a mile of Mizpah Hut, part of the Appalachian Mountain Club hut system. Rusty stopped me and said, “Look, we need to work this out before we go around people”. We both apologized and made up and walked into the hut together. It had been getting very cold. It was nice to sit in the hut and warm up. I was able to buy some Polartec gloves and the hut worker even took my trash for me. I felt horrible and wanted to make it up to Rusty. We sat there and tanked up on water and food and looked at maps. I had promised to go to Lake of the Clouds hut, because that was the last hut before Mt. Washington and you have to be very careful due to the extreme weather up there. The embarrassment and shame of drinking to the point that it negatively affected us spurred me to go beyond our goal for the day. Bad weather was rolling in, and it would be good to summit the second highest peak on the 2,000 plus mile trail before things got ugly. We looked at maps and tried to find side trails we could take to safety if things got bad. I pointed out Tuckerman’s Ravine. The hut worker immediately said that was a bad idea, because that is where the most accidents and deaths happen. Finally, we decided if worst came to worst, we would back track.
With my new gloves on, we hiked past the Lake of the Clouds hut to summit Mt. Washington. I felt like a conqueror, because I went from having one of the worst days on the Appalachian Trail to over-delivering on a promise I thought I couldn’t keep. Rusty allowed me to lead the way to the summit. The whole way up, I kept thinking about our trail friend “Grock”. He was on a flip-flop hike and had driven up to Maine and started hiking south after completing the southern half. He crossed our paths again several days prior. We were concerned due to the amount of weight he lost. He looked a bit more beat up than the last time we had seen him. I asked him what Mt. Washington was like and he said, “It was like WWHOOOOOOOOOOOOSSSHHHHHHHHHHH”! He used his voice to imitate a strong and sustained wind. Mt. Washington has the highest land wind speed record on earth at 231 MPH.
We made it to the top of the mountain, a mountain so steep that it has about 4000 feet of elevation gain over 5 miles from it’s base. The wind? What wind? We must have been the luckiest hikers on Washington. The skies were clear and there was no wind. We went inside the visitor’s center and bought a bread bowl of chili and looked at the list of 200 fatalities that have occurred on the mountain and mumbled a few words of respect. Afterwards, we stood in line to take our picture next to the sign, which was a comical experience. I had to chase her around it to get a picture. The stranger taking our photo got one of me chasing her and one of us beside each other. We have them in a double frame that we travel with.
As the sun began to set, we made our way down the mountain. Our friends, Rooster and Tinklebell, told us about a tradition of mooning the Cog Railway train. Our descent was timed perfectly and we did our part in keeping the tradition alive. We continued to walk across rocks above the treeline. It became darker and darker. Hiking above treeline could be compared to walking on the surface of the moon. Soon, it would become very difficult to navigate and there were approaching storms.
We decided to backtrack a few hundred yards to the Jewell Trail. It would not have been smart or very feasible to pitch our tent above treeline. We came down to a sub alpine area of Krummholz (stunted and gnarled trees and shrubs at treeline) and camped in the middle of a day use trail so that we would not destroy any of the fragile plant life. We got dumped on. The next morning when we woke up, everything was wet. The fog was so thick that there may have been 10 feet of visibility. Keep in mind that there wasn’t much to look at besides rocks. This is a navigational nightmare.
My foot was causing me an excruciating amount of pain. I no longer had a fever. Between the weather forecast, hiking above treeline, and the state of my injuries, I told Rusty, “I’m not doing it today”! I told her that I was taking the side trail and finding a ride to Gorham, NH and getting a hotel. Rusty would continue on to Mt. Madison. It was not that many miles from there to the trail head where she would be getting a shuttle to meet me up with me. The issue is that we were in the White Mountains, which are treacherous. We normally could hit 15 to 20 miles or more with no issue, but in the Whites, we were hiking 6 to 12 miles a day. We had been splitting up the components of our tent so that both of us were carrying our own weight. She considered not taking the tent, because it was not very far and she could hike there faster with less weight. I reminded her that the Whites are unforgiving and she took the whole tent. She said her Garmin In-Reach device was charged and on. We kissed and I began my descent as the brave Rusty continued into what would become a pivotal moment in her wild adventures.
Read what happens next: https://swanhikes.com/2020/11/25/rusty-on-mt-madison/
(Continued from: https://swanhikes.com/2020/07/18/marching-through-mass/)
In September of 2019, while hiking the New England section of the Appalachian Trail with Rusty, I broke my foot. I can’t tell you how many times I yelped and mumbled a cuss word under my breath, or how many times she looked back at me with concern. At first, it had to be tendinitis, but at what point it actually broke, I can only guess. The pain was relentless. The worst part of it is that you, as the reader, want to know how I did it, but I don’t know. Walking?
North Face Ultra Fastpack III boots were waiting for me in Hanover, New Hampshire. The Ivy League school, Dartmouth, is what makes Hanover a town. It is a very artificial looking place, almost like walking onto the set of a TV show. Dartmouth students flock the streets like sheep on a hillside. Seeing their reactions to the dirty, stinky hikers who have invaded their gargantuan, green pastures was a real treat for me. Dartmouth? MEH! I am a Harvard man! Yes, it’s true: I, Swan the Guide, am a Harvard man, thanks to Charles W. Eliot. He was the president of Harvard from 1869 to 1909 and is considered to be responsible for building Harvard into one of the worlds greatest universities. He put together a list of books and said that if a person were to read every single one of these books, they would have what is equivalent to a Harvard education. These books could take up a whole book shelf with titles such as: The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli, The Iliad, and The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. It is a 51 volume anthology. Does Harvard know I am a student? Probably not, but when I am done with the list, I will be sporting a Harvard t-shirt. As much progress as I have made on the list, perhaps I should wait no more.
Back to Dartmouth – We had heard that the Dartmouth Outing Club had a system for allowing hikers into the cafeteria for free food. Rusty, Crash, and I all tried to reach someone by phone, but were unable. I took the lead and asked a random student from overseas if they would, “swipe me in”. Each of these students has a card that allows them to eat and they have so many guests who are allowed to use it per year. Unfortunately, my manners were exceeded by my hiker hunger. My sponsor seemed to want to ask me a lot of questions about the trail. I was freaked out by the amount of people inside, the amount of food options they had, and my friends had not yet made it inside. I was rather short with the kind individual who let me in the cafeteria, but I think he understood how hungry we all were. The smell exuding from me, had to help me make my escape from socializing. Many a wrinkled nose was pointed at me, but not a word was said.
The cafeteria at Dartmouth is like the food court in an upscale shopping mall. There was pizza, burgers, Asian food, salads, Mexican food, soft serve ice cream, and more. One could actually go to every line if they wanted. I quickly got my food and found a corner table for Rusty, Crash, and I. It was so loud. The sheep dotted the cafeteria so thick that it was difficult to walk. I was on the edge of my seat waiting for Rusty to rejoin me at the table. What we ate, I can not recall, but it was filling.
Afterwards, we walked to the Dartmouth practice fields and camped in the woods behind. The next day, Rusty and I went to the coffee shop and the post office. The Dirt Cowboy Cafe was very crowded, but we were able to sit at a table, charge our phones, enjoy pastries and coffee, and use the bathroom. I kept making lame jokes about how a real cowboy was eating at the Dirt Cowboy Cafe in an Ivy League town, while getting stares and nose wrinkles. Speaking of nose wrinkles, on our way up to the coffee shop, some stuck-up, entitled, little Dartmouth girl had the nerve to make eye contact with Rusty and wrinkle her nose and looked us up and down as if to say, “How dare you dirty people enter my artificial town”. I can see why some Ivy League politicians are so out of touch with the rest of the country. They grow up in a super safe and idyllic pasture of theory without application and then shape-shift into wolves once they take office.
At the post office, Rusty and I both picked up packages. Finally, new boots. I had only been needing new boots for a couple hundred miles. “This could be the end of my troubles,” I surmised. It was also beginning to get cold and I needed a puffy jacket. Due to spending all of my spare money in North Adams, I didn’t have money for a puffy, so I spent less than twenty dollars on an army field jacket liner. It was better than nothing. Rusty had a poor opinion of my new garment. I defended it the entire way, because if I admitted it was sub-par then I would feel colder than I already was and I couldn’t afford anything better.
Nervousness was setting in as we got closer and closer to the White Mountains. I was nervous for a few reasons: It was getting cold, I was injured, and about to meet Rusty’s parents. We were 40 miles from Hikers Welcome Hostel where we would stay. One thing about meeting Rusty’s parents is that they did not know that she had a lover. It was incredibly awkward for me, because I was in love with her and would be hiking with them. She explained to me that she felt more comfortable telling them in person. It was also strange, because for hundreds of miles, we were inseparable. I didn’t have any money for staying in hostels, so I paid a small amount to camp out behind the hostel and use the shower and laundry. Rusty went out with her parents and had told them about us before she came back. They picked us up the next day and we hiked up Mt. Moosaulake together. Mt. Moosaulake is a monstrous mountain. I was injured and feverish and looked miserable. I was trying to look happy and make a good first impression, but there was no mistaking the pain that I was in.
I was very impressed with her parents hiking ability. It was a strenuous hike for us, but we had our trail legs. We made it to the top and hung out in these walled off areas made of rocks that lay on top of the peak. It was a nice wind break. I took some photos and then made my way back down the mountain, giving Rusty time alone with her parents. Much to my surprise, Rusty’s father put us up in the Holiday Inn and was so hospitable and kind to me. Her step-mother is an avid hiker and her excitement for our cause allowed me to be more comfortable around them. She seemed to be in tune with what we were doing.
Remember in my last story how I was talking about how pervasive hiker funk is? Rusty and I were sitting in the hotel room when there was a knock at the door. It was her father. She jumped up to let him in and it was so funny: he had a kit of different deodorizing products for us to use on our gear, clothes, and body. He looked a bit mortified to know that those smells could come out of his progeny. Maybe he felt sorry for her for having to deal with my stink. Either way, we were very thankful. We get used to it and can’t really smell each other, but we also know how bad we must smell to the outside world. I always tell her that she couldn’t possibly smell bad, because nothing comes out of her except sunshine and rainbows.
Meeting her dad and step-mom was a real honor for me. I had a cold, fever, broken foot, and was nervous as hell. They were as gracious as they could be to me. On their last day with us, we took many pictures. Her dad said, “Why do I feel like I am taking wedding pictures?” I remember thinking, “That could happen one day.” Of course, I never said that. Her step-mom looked me in the eyes and admonished me to, “take good care of her”. It was all I could do to keep up with her at that point. All I needed was to hear that from her step-mom for it to become my duty. No matter how much pain I was in, how could I possibly leave the trail? We were about to walk through the roughest section of the Appalachian Trail.
Get ready for my next story. https://swanhikes.com/2020/07/24/drunk-man-walking/
(Continued from: https://swanhikes.com/2020/07/14/country-boy-meets-new-york/)
The people of Pennsylvania were wonderful, but I hated the trail there. The trail in New York was beautiful, except all the people and car sounds. Connecticut, well that is New York’s, suburb. We made our way through Great Barrington and camped out behind the rec center in Dalton, Mass. In Massachusetts, we found ourselves back in the mountains. What beautiful mountains exist in Western Mass. Mt. Greylock is a mountain that has inspired many literary giants: J.K. Rowling, Thoreau, Hawthorne, and Melville, to name a few. It is the tallest point in the state.
Growing up in Georgia, I often heard negative things about the Northern States. I have to say that what I heard about New York was accurate. Most of what I heard about Massachusetts came from northerners who moved to Georgia. They informed of the term, “Masshole”. I have to say that I never saw it. Maybe that is in the city, but even on my foray into Boston, I didn’t see it. The folks on the western end of the state kept their distance, but were nice and helpful. The people in Boston were distant, no matter how close the physical proximity, but one local picked us up and gave us a ride and we were not even hitching.
From the moment I met Rusty, I started keeping an eye out for where I might find art galleries along the Appalachian Trail. She is a very talented artist, working in oil/acrylic and ink. North Adams was the place to be. During our visit, there were close to 20 murals on the walls of establishments throughout the city. They even had brochures with maps on how to get to each one. The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) is located in the city with other museums of note nearby. We wanted to go to the one that had Renoir’s nudes, but being on foot, we weren’t sure if we could make it there. Mass MoCA was a couple blocks from the Holiday Inn we stayed at. We went there and another smaller gallery with cool geometric shapes made from hardware cloth that you pass through light to see different angles of trapezoids, parallelograms, etc.
Modern/Contemporary art and all the abstractions do not give me the pleasure that more real and impressionistic styles give me. Even so, we went because it is a world renowned art gallery. There was a pile of toys that a kid forgot to pick up. This is art. I had a million dollars under my bed as a kid and my parents never knew it. There was also the Mound People. It was an exhibit of paper meche mounds that you could go inside with creepy religious paraphernalia and adolescent angst. The artist created an entire comic book of over 500 pages based on the mound people. It was obvious that he had a very difficult time growing up in his fundamentalist religious home. It was creepy and creative and I was ready to leave. We left from that football field size exhibit to go into a room with colored lines painted on the walls. I found a nice bench to sit on. Another couple walked by us and said, “Is it bad that we think the benches are the nicest things in this museum?” We all laughed. It was an experience.
It wasn’t all like that. There were large staged photographs of veterans dressed in their uniforms, only back at home with their families. One illustrated a female veterans PTSD from being blown up in Iraq, by showing a pilsbury dough can exploding in her kitchen in between her and the children. The veteran was cringing and covering herself as the can exploded. Another photo showed a male veteran sitting beside his buddies covered in blood and his wife on the other side of the photo camping alone. It depicted the difficulty in their relationship because they used to love camping until the man was in Iraq, isolated with his squad, inside tents, until they were attacked and a squad members eyeballs rolled in front of them. It was moving and brought tears to my eyes, that I am thankful to have.
After the museum, we went back to the hotel. When you are on a long distance hike and rent a hotel room, the stink from the gear and your body fills the room. The smell becomes thick as smoke, although you can’t see it. When we opened the door, hiker funk hit us in the face. I feel sorry for the housekeepers. We left a tip. We were back on trail the next day.
A local shuttle driver (David Ackerson) who also is a hiker and outdoor rec worker took us to the hotel and gave us a ride back to the trail. He told us about some of the galleries nearby and offered to help us get a pass to see Renoir’s nudes, but we went to Mass MoCA instead. He was interesting to talk to. He was section hiking the A.T. and after he dropped us off that morning, he drove to his next section and left a bicycle on one end and parked at the other. He said he would hike to his bicycle and then ride it back to the car. The shuttle driver also said he likes to snow shoe and cross country ski Mount Greylock. It all sounded like a lot of fun to me. He dropped us off and we continued to hike north. Ever since I met him and heard his story, I have thought about about how cool it would be to work in a university outdoor rec department. Unfortunately, I don’t have a paper degree, just over a decade of personal expeditions, combined with self-study, short courses, and military training. I wonder what life would have been like if I went to school for an outdoor recreation degree.
I think that Rusty and I hiked away high from our time in North Adams. I spent a lot of money in North Adams wanting to spoil Rusty and show her how important she is to me. I think that after spending my monthly discretionary budget in 2 days to impress her made me realize that perhaps I was in love with her. The constant thought in my head was, “I really hope that this doesn’t end in a matter of days or weeks now. Gosh, that would really suck if I did all that and it doesn’t go anywhere. Oh well, even if it doesn’t go anywhere, I love art, good food, and nice hotels, and wanted to have a good time. I have all the food and gear I need, so it really doesn’t matter. I have to be ready to let her go anyway. I should just focus on the here and now and not all the what-if’s.” I know that she had a wonderful time and she profusely thanked me while encouraging me not to go all out like that, because I needed my money to hike on. She really is the best person I know.
Our time in North Adams over-shadowed our experiences from the rest of the state. It will forever be a fond memory of a place, time, and person. I don’t remember anything else after that until we arrived in Bennington, Vermont. Keep your eyes out for the next story in the series. Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine is where things got real in every sense of the phrase: love, weather, injury, sickness, and meeting the parents.
(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:
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!
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.
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.
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:
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.