March 30, 7.3 mi
A trail runner woke me up in the early morning, skirting deftly around my large tent. I figured I should probably pack up and get moving.
That day I passed into North Carolina. The mountain directly following the state line was especially memorable in steepness and color. Really showy, as if the people who had designed that section of trail were proud of their state. Purple flowers and jurassic ferns looked great mid morning in the rain. I felt inspired and refreshed.
Bly Gap was a moment of hilarity before the end of the day. A hiker with a sense of humor had inserted a plastic wedge in the “fingers” of a tree with a lot of personality. I can't describe it in any other way than that it looked like a portly man vehemently handing out a business card. “Bly Gap!” it read.
Muskrat Creek Shelter was packed because of the storm, which had worsened considerably. I mean, there were people claiming spaces on the picnic table (only because it was inside), under this table, on the dirt floor below the shelter platform, and on the platform there were nine mats rolled out. Mine was one of the nine. Sure, I could have set up my tent, but...well, no, I coudn't have. I was so tired, hungry, and wet (with no warm layers on underneath my rain gear and everything being soaked). All I could do was sit there and watch.
Most everyone was pissed off and handled it in different ways. Crocodile Dundee, one of those Alpha Males, was constantly fighting people with his words, looks, mannerisms, everything. For a minute I thought he was going to punch another guy (mid twenties, orange shirt) in the face. Gear discussions can get pretty intense between guys. When it didn't come to blows I was glad, but if it had I'd have been rooting for the other guy.
It was a community effort to get me to a point where I didn't feel f*cked-up. Sasquatch, a really tall guy from Maine, smoked me out behind the shelter. Voltron, an older man with crazy fencepost teeth, donated some food to me for tomorrow. I ate the huge protein bar and ramen, raw, right then. Button, an Englishwoman in her thirties, helped me pick out what dinner to cook, and a man (I never learned his name) took it upon himself to begin making my dinner for me. I was thankful and surprised; he just kind of grabbed it from me like "You need help, idiot." It was just as well, because I would have had no idea how to use his stove. Everyone I met on the trail had a different type of stove and most of them were homemade.
By this point Squatch was leaning up against a post keeping the roof up, sipping from a Nalgene filled with moonshine, describing some episode of South Park and the meaning, the underlying importance of...something.
It was an interesting picture.
Passionflower, a tall, buxom blonde, chipped in and talked for about twenty minutes about her 23 mail drops. Vegan. Very special dietary needs. She was also looking forward to a massage in the next down.
“It is what it is” said a true sage to me at a future date along the trail. I understand this to mean (in this instance) that there's rarely supposed to be an inspirational message in anything. “Take what you can for yourself, even if you'll settle for the example I've set for food.” But I couldn't help feeling inspired by all the people around me. Right then anyway. When I was still cold and hungry it felt pretty terrible.
That night I was smashed up against Sqatch, who smelled like a healthy male who'd been in the woods for a month straight (godawful) and Spiller, an aspiring ATC worker who smelled suspiciously appealing and who moaned invitingly in her sleep. I didn't sleep very well at all.
March 31, 12.5 mi
I was splashing the amply flowing spring water on myself when Croc-o-dile-done-D yelled down from the trail and surprised me.
“Hey! How are you?”
Dammit. I thought I'd scanned both ways. Where the hell did this guy come from?
“I'm OK,” I replied.
He started down the embankment so I walked up and met him halfway, looking daggers.
“I thought for sure that I was the first one out today,” he said.
OK, seeing as how he's in my face, I'll look.
He's perfect. Mean-looking, a serious face with glinty eyes.
He takes pride in his own body. It doesn't look like that without effort.
“I have to be the first one out in the morning,” he went on. “It's just a thing I have. Gotta be first.”
“Well, after you then. I'm kind of taking my time here, so...yeah...”
“I'll wait for you at the top!” he announced, for some reason. “But if the view isn't that great, I'll move on.”
“OK, deal,” I said.
The thousand foot climb (over only three miles) to Standing Indian Mountain felt good after I'd finished rinsing off. The view was so-so. I kept moving – but not too fast.
That night there was one of my favorite campsites. The shelter was up the lip of the gradually rising hill above the large, flat valley where most people had set up their tents. A fire was already blazing in the middle of the clearing of trees. I walked across the closely-packed, green tufts of grass and sat down next to Cackles, a blonde in bright shorts, and Wobbles, the guy who'd been gradually provoking Crocodile Dundee last night. We watched the fire burn in peaceful silence, but I felt positive energy beaming out of them both towards me. We shared and conserved without moving or speaking, the three of us.
Later on, after everyone else had gone inside their tents, I went back out to the dying embers because I could not sleep. Crocodile Dundee walked back from taking a piss and found me there.
“You should get a trail name,” he suggested. He looked more like the self advertized by his name in a wide brimmed leather hat.
“I'll work on it.”
“How about Yogi?” It took me awhile to retrieve what he'd said because his words were submerged beneath his surface, his perfect picture of strength and vitality. Abrasive. I wanted to grasp his arms, just touch him all over. Maybe fight him? More awake than ever, stimulated from the miles, the exertion, and each other, we faced off.
“I dunno...like Yogi Bear?” I sneered.
“No!” cried Wobbles from within his tent, a few yards away. “That name is already taken. Some famous guy who hikes the PCT.”
“There you have it,” I told him, fighting a delighted smile.