Day 116 – 25th July (Posted Sat 2nd Aug)

posted in: Rich's Diary Entries | 0

Started at Long Pond Stream Lean-to – mile 2085.9
Finished at Carl A. Newhall Lean-to – mile 2106.7
20.8 miles covered.
Total days hiked 114
18.48 Av miles / days

That was the hardest 20 mile day I have done since the whites. I am officially cream crackered.
It was an early start. Well at least I woke up at 05:30. J&L (the early birds) had already hit the trail and Hill Billy a section hiker I met last night at the shelter was packing up.
Hill billy is from Tennessee and has my favourite type of American accent in close completion with an Alabama accent. He is 60 years old has been hiking the trail for 20 years on and off. This is his last 700 mile stint and he is done.
He set off before me, but it wasn’t long before I caught him up. We hiked together pretty much all day and it was an absolute pleasure. He told me stories about the trail and how doing this kind of thing is something he is keen to pursue in his retirement. Back in the real world he keeps himself busy investing money in stocks and shares from the comfort of his arm chair. What a great thing to keep your finger on the pulse regarding modern affairs, technology and the market and to make money from it.
The terrain was brutal from the start and there were 14 miles of steep climbs and descents. I started well, although my pack started to remind me that I was carrying a shit load of food after not too long. My back has been aching today.
Before I left I visited a chiropractor as I was suffering with back pain.
He promised that this would go away on the trail. Where I would no longer be spending my life in an office chair. I think the extra weight isn’t helping, but in a couple more days I will be light again as my supplies are already going down fast.
Mid-way through the morning we bumped into another hiker called Problem Bear. J&L had talked about this trail legend before, but this was the first time I had met him. Rather than just doing the AT, this crazy cat had started in Florida on the 1st January. He had reached Springer Mountain (AT start point) by the 1st April. Funnily enough we hadn’t met before. At the age of 59 this is impressive and rather than finishing at Katahdin he is gonna carry on until the Canadian border. At this point in time he has walked over 4000 miles. And there’s me complaining about my aches and pains.
He had a very dry sense of humour and carrying an 11 lb pack (as he was almost out of food) he joked that he hadn’t even bothered to attach his hip belt strap today as his pack was so light.
Rubbing salt into the wounds as I was struggling along the trail with a wardrobe and larder attached to my back.
The three of us hiked together for the rest of the day. Problem Bear had also hiked the Pacific Crest Trail and part of the Continental Divide trail. Conversation was rich and it was real interesting (said in my best Tennessee accent).
I had a nasty ankle rolling incident this afternoon. I was distracted talking to Hill Billy and crunch. I walked it off, but I think it’ll remind me of my lapse in concentration tomorrow.
Whilst crossing a river I came across an English couple sitting by the side of the river. What a random place to meet some fellow Brits.
The last 5 miles were tough and I was in pain. Hill Billy had joked earlier that he really fancied an ice cold soda and that there would be no chance of that in the wilderness. Then right on schedule I spotted a sign saying trail magic 50 yards. We excitedly walked down to the river to find about 25 cans sitting in the river. It couldn’t have come at a more perfectly timed moment. As we returned to our packs Problem Bear was talking to the kind girl that left them for us. She had also done other big hikes and knew how much hikers would appreciate such a gesture. She worked at a lodge close by and even offered us work for stay. We opted to push on as I had too much food in my pack and was keen to lighten the load by eating like a king.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed that there might be more trail magic like this. Highly unlikely, but the trail has always provided so far. It really made the last 3.7 miles much easier. Suddenly I had energy again! Soda is the hiker’s equivalent to rocket fuel.
Hill Billy told us some interesting stories about camping in the Smokey Mountains in winter when he was younger. Him as his brother camped there in temperatures as low as -22 degrees C. Apparently ice crystals formed from his breath and he spent the whole night shivering in his sleeping bag. He said it had snowed and then the temperature dropped. The moon was full and it was beautiful. I replied that sometimes the most beautiful scenery and experiences like this come at a cost. Nothing is this world is FOC.
Some of his other tales involved dodgy people turning up to shelters back in the 70′s and 80′s.
The first one happened to a friend of his. His buddy was all set up in the shelter when a dude turned up with a high calibre pistol attached to his hip belt. Apparently he was complaining that he just wanted to be left alone and how he disliked hikers. Fortunately for Hill Billy’s friend the dodgy guy walked out into rain and left him in peace.
The second story happened to a guy that did the trail in the 70′s and wrote a book about it. Same scenario of a hiker in a shelter. Then 2 guys and a woman turned up. They had been drinking and called the hiker a pussy. Then one of the guys started having sex with the woman. Once he was finished he said to the woman now it’s his turn, pointing to his friend. She refused and the guy slapped her round the face and bloodied her nose. Once guy no2 was done she was offered to the hiker to take his turn. He refused and thankfully they left. Fortunately things have improved since then.
HB had a close call when he was camped a way off the road in the woods one time. He claims he didn’t have a fire and that his head torch was off. A car pulled up and the driver got out and fired 3 shots above his tent. Then drove off. To this day he doesn’t know if the driver had seen him or if it was a random event. A close call none the less.
A more recent story that made us all laugh involved the bar lady at the Lakeshore. HB had been having food and was sitting with some guys at the bar. They kept ordering margarita. One of the guys said to HB ‘I don’t even like margarita, but I sure enjoy watching the barmaid shaking that cocktail shaker’. She was top heavy in case you don’t follow.
We finished up at Carl A. Newhall Lean-to all exhausted. Straight away we all started cooking. That is all except Problem Bear who doesn’t have a stove. He has been eating cold tuna, candy and Danishes since January 1st.
I made up a rice and pasta side and added a whole packet of chicken. Simple, but on this occasion delicious and I scrapped out every last piece.
There was another hiker called Sky at the shelter who had leaped frogged us throughout the day. He offered me a shot of whiskey and I replied ‘I haven’t been drinking much on the trail but after a day like that’ you know what I did next.
We were all surprised that J&L weren’t at the shelter. Surely they hadn’t pushed on to do the 28 miles we had discussed last night. I know they were keen to finish, but another 8 miles would have finished me off.
It was a nice evening chatting around the shelter just the 4 of us. Sky was concerned that it was all coming to an end and soon the curtains would close on his adventure.
He remarked that how on the trail nothing really matters. Whether it be class, how much money you earn, what you do for a living, or what car you drive. None of that shit matters. Most people even have a trail name. We all agreed that it has been a good experience to be stripped down to the bare bones of our personalities. I concluded that maybe he should just look at this as the start of things to come rather than the end.
In hiking the trail we have all had the common goal of finishing in mind. Once it is over I think it’ll be important to have something else in the pipe line or another goal. Apparently the post trail blues are not uncommon and I will need to make sure that I don’t put on a tonne of weight as my metabolism will still be ridiculous.
The way HB had done the trail in 20 years has meant he has been able to keep the love affair alive for all this time. Even he said that it is gonna be weird finishing, as something that has occupied his soul for so long will finally be over.
I have a new appreciation for section hikers. It must be tough having to keep restarting something like this. After a month or so you have finally got your trail legs. Breaking the trail down into short sections never really lets your body achieve this and it must be tough. Plus it allows you to keep the fascination / obsession with the trail alive.
I have always liked travelling, but this has been like travelling with a purpose. It’s more of a project. I don’t know if simply going to another country sight-seeing will cut the mustard anymore.
Everyone laughed when I said that it’s gonna be really strange not hearing American voices all the time. Strangely enough I have grown a tolerance to them (joke).
It is really weird to look in my AT guide book and see that there is only 78.6 miles left. It’s a paradox in that I really want to stretch this out for another 4 days. Although it’s hard not to rush, as the quicker I get it done the quicker I get this heavy pack off of my back.
The elevation also flattens out in another 11 miles. That is until I hit Katahdin and then things go up rapidly!
Once again the Mosquitos today have almost been non-existent. Particularly at the shelter. It’s like they are on vacation or a whistle had been blown and they have all returned to their evil master. Either way I am ecstatic about this. Camping has been fun again this evening.
Problem Bear and Hill Billy have opted to sleep in the shelter, whereas I set up my tent on a bed of pine needles. There is a pile of moose poop not too far away from my tent. Because one of my food bags has a split in it, I am sleeping with it in my tent tonight. Let’s hope I don’t get any interruptions as there’s not enough room in here for me and a moose.