Linus got the wild idea to hike the Appalachian Trail and was foolish enough to mention it to YHC. Little did Linus know that this was a bucket list item for YHC, so I jumped at the chance to join the adventure. Then the recruiting started. As per normal, we told everybody how sucky it was going to be and that they should probably not even try attempt it. 6 more pax toed the line.
Linus brought along Short Circuit, TJ and Kevin (both FNG’s). Linus’s crew is planning an assault on Mt. Kilimanjaro in a couple of weeks, so they thought they should probably train once before heading to Africa for a 19,000 foot climb. YHC grabbed Groundblind, who wanted a little practice for his upcoming GoRuck Heavy, and Judge Judy, who can’t say no to anything.
Of course we had to set up yet another GroupMe chat so that we could have something to do during work hours other than work. We all dutifully noted what we were bringing for the community. Groundblind brought a bag of wasabi almonds and a pair of socks. Linus did not bring underwear.
The AT Assault started appropriately at the WarZone. At 1505, YHC rolled up and found Groundblind and Judge Judy sitting on the curb with their heads in their hands, looking all despondent. They told me that Linus and Short Circuit had already come and gone in disgust because YHC was 5 minutes late. YHC had no idea how anal farmers are about time until this very moment. Not to worry, however, because they returned. Groundblind made Judge Judy load all the gear that Judge Judy packed for Groundblind. The only thing Groundblind actually packed was a cooler full of Bud Lights, which he foolishly placed in the back seat between YHC and Judge Judy. The first can was opened before we hit 5th Street. It was gone before we hit the Wal-Mart stop light.
YHC made a humble request for victuals, since he had to forego lunch in order to make the 1500 step off time imposed upon us by the aforementioned angry farmer. After much mumblechatter, and let’s just call it unjustified verbal abuse, Linus finally pulled into the Hardee’s in Bishopville, where they took 2 hours to fill one meal. Not my fault. Linus started crying and yelling that we were already behind schedule. YHC gently reminded him that the original plan was to leave at 1700, so we were actually way ahead of schedule. Then YHC slapped the Hell out of him for disrespecting his elders. He told me I hit like Strider, which brought a tear to YHC’s eye.
We got close to our stepping off point, when the traffic came to a snarl. Evidently somebody had just died on the road. This was not a good omen. We turned around and found a different route, not wanting the same fate to visit our team, especially so early in the trip. We finally arrived at the Hike Inn campground, which was the start of the Approach Trail to the Appalachian Trail. Somebody got the fool idea to start hiking 8 miles BEFORE we even got to the start of the AT. The campsites, once we found them, were nice, however. Everybody commenced to setting up their individual campsites in a fine mist. This did not bode well for our trip. Linus planned the AT Assault around a hurricane. YHC thought farmers knew more about the weather. Perhaps he should have been looking at radar instead of his watch.
YHC must admit that he is proud of his little brother for doing such a good job mooching gear, especially in light of the fact that he made his employee bring it all. Well played sir. Well played. TJ brought Tarpzilla, thinking perhaps that he would just go ahead and cover the whole damn mountain and save everybody else the trouble. We made him put the silver side down for fear that the reflections would confuse satellites passing overhead.
After everybody got their defecation situated, we all sat around the picnic table under TJ’s circus tent and started drinking Groundblind’s beer. Not too long after, whiskey, bourbon and rye emerged. Groundblind did not bring food or gear, but he did bring Hot Damn Cinnamon Schnapps that he stole from one of his M’s Tupperware parties. YHC slapped him in the face and pulled his man card. Groundblind was coddled as a child and never received the discipline that every young man needs. He claims it’s his parents’ fault, but YHC came from the same genetic stock and is a paragon of manhood, so it must be something else. Gay is not genetic.
YHC had planned for a long trip and brought most of a bottle of Jack Daniels Honey Bourbon. He even asked the other pax to bring extra flasks so we could tote it up the mountain. We did not need extra flasks. No honey bourbon got anywhere close to the trail. We polished that sucker off, along with the cinnamon schnapps, all the beer, a goodly portion of rye and some other surprise whiskey that Judge Judy brought along. We think he stole it from his parents’ house, which was only 2 miles away. The fact that he was afraid to take us there for a good home cooked meal lovingly prepared by his mama is the main evidence we had to derive the origins of said whiskey. Judge Judy has no real friends either. He called one guy asking for more beer, and the dude hung up on him after calling him foul and vulgar names.
After waking up the rest of the campsite with our loud talk and suggestive language, the pax tumbled into our respective abodes for the night. Upon waking the next morning, some things became clear.
- TJ packs like a junior high girl going to her first sleepover.
- Linus is a coffee snob and only uses a French press. (YHC was pleased with this revelation.)
- Hammocks suck as a means of getting any sleep.
- Freeze-dried meals have come a long way.
Linus cooked up a breakfast compote of eggs, hash browns, bacon and a few other ingredients. It all came in a little foil pouch, but it tasted like down home cooking. YHC is going to recommend Carolina Lunch start using these pouches.
After a satisfying breakfast, we all packed our gear. Four people had to help TJ stuff all his crap into his Army issue ruck. Judge Judy bounced around like a Lab puppy. Rogers kept circling his hammock, looking for the sleep he lost the night before. YHC thought he had a big tarp until TJ started packing up the parasail.
We all loaded up and took off for the Hike Inn parking lot to begin our trek through the woods. This is where the minutes of planning by Linus showed up. Everybody wandered around aimlessly, looking for the start. Short Circuit blew a circuit, because nobody put little feet on the road to guide us. Rogers couldn’t see anything, because his Ray Charles sunglasses were so dark. One stranger came up and put a dollar in his cup and said that he inspired him to overcome his own fears. After several minutes of circle jerking, YHC took the lead and found the trailhead. Wisdom comes with years.
We finally started on the trail, again two hours later than Farmer Linus would have preferred. It was warm and muggy and uphill. That pretty much sums up the day. About 3 minutes in, YHC was already considering faking an injury and heading back to the Hike Inn for some R&R. Within 5 minutes, Groundblind, Judge Judy and YHC had already put 5 miles between us and the rest of the pax. Being more gracious, refined, gentlemanly and merciful than the other two, YHC inquired as to whether we should hold up for a little bit to see if the rest of the pax actually made it out of the parking lot. The pax slowly emerged from the trail. Linus, then Rogers, then Kevin, then Short Circuit, then TJ, with his railroad car sized ruck. This did not bode well for our merry band…
After walking a few miles, some things became clear:
- Groundblind and Judge Judy have intense gastro-intestinal issues.
- There is no downhill on the AT, except to make you go uphill again.
- TJ has only one gear.
- Rogers will make a fine panhandler one day.
The group settled into a routine. About every mile the front 3 stopped and waited for the back of the inchworm to catch up.
The trail is pretty clearly marked with blazes every few hundred yards. Shelters and water sites are posted as well. We came upon our first shelter and took a load off. Three guys were already there, along with Cujo, the vicious attack dog from Hell. One of their guys told me to feed him something and he would calm down. I told him I would prefer to keep my hand, thank you very much.
These 3 backpackers were from Texas and did not know what to do if it rained. Their plan was to wait out the storm system, which was scheduled to last for the next 15 days. YHC told them they might as well quit and head back to the Texas flatlands. This ain’t for sissies.
We struck off for some more suckage and began the approach to Springer Mountain, which is the Southern Terminus of the AT. After about 30 miles and 10,000 feet of elevation changes, we finally hit the spot. YHC must say that he was fairly underwhelmed. He expected to see some fanfare, maybe an amusement park or at least a food truck. All they had was a lame bronze plaque on a big rock and a notebook hidden inside the rock, where you could write your name, or anybody else’s for that matter. YHC sees opportunities for future development…
The intrepid Ridge Runners dutifully waited for the Pack Mules, then struck off for the next shelter, which was about 20 feet from Big Plaque Rock. Somewhere between here and there, TJ got lost. We spent an hour eating a leisurely meal and getting water and waiting for TJ to show up. Finally we decided to send out a search party. It should be no problem finding a big dude with a tarp that could also be used for a 1:1 map of the United States. Short Circuit made a quick trip back to Big Rock and found somebody coming up. No TJ. He returned, and Short Circuit, Judge Judy and YHC decided to strike out on the trail to see if he missed us. YHC is older than all the pax by about 15 years. His body has been beaten and battered by time, ill luck and poor decisions, but YHC can still kick some ass. We started running, fully laden, down the trail. S.C. stayed on YHC’s heels and JJ could be heard not too far behind, clicking away with his little senior citizen walking sticks. We were humping and pumping. As we came across hikers going in the other direction, we would ask if they had spotted a big ugly dude with the giganto mainsail from Moby Dick’s Pequod. “Yeah. He’s about 10-15 minutes ahead.” More running. Same answer every time. Time stands still on the AT. Finally we came across a couple going the same direction, and they said he had just passed by a minute ago. Short Circuit pulled a dirty one on YHC and pushed him down the side of the mountain, shouting “Rubbin’s racing!”, and passed YHC just before the finish line. Judge Judy was drafting on him, so YHC was relegated to last place, but YHC does not give up easily. Just before reaching the Pack Mule, YHC threw a rock at Short Circuit and broke his ankle in 3 places. We sat down on the trail and waited patiently while Rogers, aka Stevie Wonder, took his time and chewed every bite 50 times. About 1 hour later, the rest of the pax came ambling up. Pack Mule allowed as how he stopped at the shelter area and listened for us. It never occurred to him to actually enter the shelter area or to call out. Pack Mule’s job in the Army is either Intelligence or Communications.
While we were waiting on Stevie Wonder to find us, Groundblind took advantage of the time and started a nature documentary on the life and times of flying squirrels. About 500 of them piled out of a hole in a tree and commenced to flying to another tree to escape what they could only think was Yeti in the flesh.
After catching Pack Mule, some things became clear:
- Running on the AT is stoopid.
- Short Circuit is mean.
- Judge Judy has deadly accuracy with his ninja walking sticks.
After so much excitement, all we could really look forward to was finding the Hawk Mtn campsite and bedding down for the night. That would make 16 miles of hard rucking across the spine of the Appalachian Trail. As usual, the Ridge Runners led the way and scoped out the best campsite and water/privy locations. Linus and TeaBag (Kevin) came dragging in a little bit later. We didn’t worry about Pack Mule and Stevie Wonder, because they were dragging all day long, but then a couple of other hikers came along and asked if we were looking for anybody. It is hard to mistake Pack Mule and Stevie Wonder, so we knew it must be them. The hikers said that our lost souls were lost again. This was beginning to be habit forming. In a beautiful moment of democracy, JJ, Groundblind and YHC voted for Linus to go back up the 1500 foot incline to the trail and bring back the lost sheep. Linus mentioned something about the voting being rigged and North Korea having more freedoms, but we told him we would not let him have any more alcohol if he didn’t do it, so he got up and ran up the hill like a billy goat.
Some time later Pack Mule and Stevie limped in, dragging Short Circuit like he got wounded. Turns out that rock I threw on the trail hit the mark. Old age and treachery will beat youth and inexperience. Who’s running now, punk?
Short Circuit sat on a log and cried, while everybody else got busy setting up camp. Some of the other campers thought the solar eclipse was upon us when Pack Mule set up his canopy. We calmed their fears and asked them to join us for victuals and strong drink. Short Circuit then pulled out his box of wine that he had been toting for 16 Godforsaken miles. Groundblind snuck some mini-bottles of cheap wine that he stole when he crashed a wedding in Mexico the previous week. YHC broke out some aspirin, which pairs well with wine, and began to imbibe the magical elixirs.
After several passes of the box, some things became clear:
- YHC should never try to say inebriated in public.
- YHC may need to visit a physician to discuss balance issues.
- Groundblind sucks at making a campfire.
8 o’clock, also known as Hiker’s Midnight, rolled around, and all the pax began to feel the drag of their respective sleeping arrangements. It wasn’t long before Short Circuit replaced his crying with snores. YHC was proud of the fact that he was able to find the zipper on his mosquito net, lay down in his hammock and rezip said net without falling off the edge of the world. Everything was fine until YHC started to feel a little chilly. YHC had packed some clothes for cool temps just in case. The problem arose when YHC tried to extricate said clothes from his dry bag which was ensconced in his 500 liter (528 quart) ILBE Marine Corps ruck. To exacerbate the problem, YHC was not wearing his glasses or headlamp and his mental acuity was slightly off due to the preceding paragraph. Linus thought a bear had attacked the campsite and started whimpering in sheer terror. YHC began singing a lullaby, which made Linus clutch his blanket tightly, insert his thumb and fall back off to sleep.
After finally extricating the stupid dry bag and removing the long sleeve shirt, YHC proceeded to attempt another soft landing in the hammock of death. (Go here for hammock fails) It was not pretty. YHC ended up on his back, legs aloft. Hiking all day created a situation whereby sudden movements caused cramps to emerge. This was a delicate balancing act. After about 45 minutes, YHC finally found himself nestled in his hammock and actually in a somewhat comfortable position. Then morning came about 5 minutes later.
We all got up and began breaking camp and cooking duties. YHC, being 3rd, went down to the creek to get water for everybody. Groundblind followed soon thereafter, but not to get water. After sitting around for a couple of minutes, he began to hunt around for a suitable location to drop a load. When Groundblind hears the call of Nature, nothing gets in his way, including a clean water source for half the mountain. YHC keeps looking for news articles about a mysterious cholera outbreak in the mountains.
Judge Judy kept trying to sell his oatmeal to people, but nobody was buying. YHC ate a delicious breakfast skillet prepared by Linus, who will make somebody a fine wife one day.
We all packed up and hiked the 3 miles uphill to the start of the trail. Short Circuit took off ahead of us to test out his bum foot. Everybody was a little sore from the previous day. The last 16 miles were gonna suck.
The routine from the previous day continued. The Ridge Runners struck off ahead and then waited at specified points along the trail, usually gaps. Gaps are the point on the trail where the downhill stops and a murderous uphill begins. Every time. Without fail. The trail out of the gap is like climbing a ladder. This section had about 400 gaps. We saw Mt. Everest just below us a few times. YHC swatted a fly, and it turned out to be a passing satellite. Then we would descend into the abyss once again. For 16 miles.
At the 4 mile point, we hit a road and saw some hikers and a driver. Richard was kind enough to wait for the rest of the pax to see if Short Circuit was going to keep going or tap out. Nobody doubts Short Circuit’s manhood, except Linus, who probably knows better than anybody else. SC made the hard decision and jumped in the truck, although he had something of a twinkle in his eye when he did so. Short Circuit has now failed in the P200, the Fox and the AT. YHC took the opportunity to shed some pounds and unloaded Pack Mule's earth-sized tarp. Richard’s truck sagged a little to one side under the weight.
After dropping off the dead weight, we struck back out on the trail. More suckiness ensued. Stevie had the look of death on his face. At each stop along the trail, he looked more and more haggard. Finally we reached another gap, and Stevie Wonder tapped out. YHC tried to dissuade him, but the AT claimed another victim. From this point forward the rest of the pax were on death watch. Who would be next? Before leaving, YHC sternly warned Stevie Wonder not to return to Woody Gap without some Yuengling.
The rest of us loaded up and headed up yet another freaking 45 degree incline. We kept up the punishing pace until the next to last stop, 4 miles from the finish line. Groundblind, Judge Judy and YHC shed as many pounds as possible by consuming the rest of our snacks. When the the others showed up, we asked how everybody was doing. Pack Mule called it quits, but we called BS on that. We told him the rest of the path was smooth sailing and relatively flat. This was a bald-faced lie, but Pack Mule had already proven his profound gullibility in previous conversations. Evidently it worked, because he kept going.
About a mile into the trail, just after two hellacious uphill ascents, YHC got a wild hair and decided to start running the trail. YHC could smell ice cold beer at the finish line. Groundblind and JJ were not going to let that kind of challenge go unheeded. After about 100 yards, YHC was gassed, but Groundblind was just getting started. JJ and his gay little poles scampered past as well. They can both kiss YHC’s ass.
YHC finally dragged into the Woody Gap parking lot. It would have been all OK, except for one little detail. Short Circuit and Stevie Wonder failed to provide any beer. This is inexcusable and a flagrant miscarriage of basic manly courtesy. If you can’t make it on the trail like a real man, then at least be a good waterboy and provide beer for the A team. YHC bitched about this for the rest of the day and is not sorry for it. Linus looked unphased, no doubt because he knew the actors. Judge Judy was off by himself singing kumbayah and making smores. Groundblind went around to all the cars and picked them up, just because he could. Teabag walked around aimlessly, asking strangers if they had any beer. Pack Mule just loaded his gear and headed off into the sunset.
Overall it was a great trip. At the end some things became clear:
- YHC would have taken a little less gear, but not much.
- Going with buds is definitely preferable to striking off solo.
- Riding home with Judge Judy is a toxic proposition.
- Linus never forgets a debt.
- Not all mushrooms are beneficial.
- Lighting camp stoves with camp stoves is stoopid bur really cool at the same time.
- Dick’s hatband is pretty tight.
- We’re signing up for the next one.