From the warmth and comfort of Walasi-Yi to the harsh reality of April in the mountains. A hiker we met at the hostel, Bruce, bravely set out first. Mark and I followed him on the freshly chuffed trail he left behind. At one point his trail stopped abruptly. We never saw Bruce after that even though he wasn’t at the next shelter and he never passed us! A mystery indeed but, alas, he was ok. We must have unknowingly passed him as he was pinching a loaf off the trail.
The wintery hike to the next shelter was rough. The forest was thick with rhododendrons and the weight of the new snow on the branches created a tunnel barely enough to waddle through hunched over. We chuffed on to Whitley Gap Shelter, the farthest from the Trail, on a snow choked passage over a mile long. We were joined shortly by Redbeard, Rambo and a couple we met at Neels Gap. It was a chilly evening and we put the tarp over the shelter front to keep out the wind.
Snow drifts made for slow walking at the ridgetops the next day but the weather gradually improved enough to work up a sweat. We walked 11 miles to Rocky Nob Shelter. Bilbo cut trail all the way and we thanked him when we met him at the shelter. The next day was even warmer and the ridge drifts started to shrink. Soon the south sides of the mountains were free of snow. Tray Mountain Shelter was our home for the evening and we enjoyed a fine view from the top. We continued to amble through the southern forest the next day, crossing into North Carolina through places like Blue Ridge Swag, Sassafras Gap, Kelly Knob and Whiteoak Stamp.
Mark and I made our way towards Standing Indian Mountain when Mark noticed occasional small “puffs” of feathers. They became more numerous as we walked on, until the source was revealed at last. Redbeard was hunched over a flaccid sleeping bag frantically wielding a needle and thread as he struggled hopelessly to keep the premium down feathers from disgorging out the giant hole in the nylon. Apparently, in the chill of the night, Redbeard gathered up a hot rock from the fire to put inside his sleeping bag to get warm. It seems the rock was hot enough to melt nylon.
As we closed in on Albert Mountain, Mark’s ankle problems were more than he could bear. Instead of scrambling to the summit, we took a gently ascending road to the top and hopped back on the AT. We set up camp as the shelter was full. Seems Rambo was sharing the space with some section hiking chicks and he was enjoying the groupie-like adoration. We settled in to nurse our wounds… I had serious blisters, almost fictional in their grotesque enormity and Mark soothed his impossibly swollen ankles. I’ve never seen Mark in so much pain and was I quite worried. We took two days to hobble the remaining miles to the hiker oasis that is Rainbow Springs.
After hitch hiking in the wrong direction at the road crossing (in true Half Ass Expeditions tradition), getting rescued by a couple of women and haggling for our accomodations with Buddy and Jensine at Rainbow Springs, Mark and I settled in for some serious white trash beer drinking and face gorging. Mark ate so much, he blew chow.
The wildlife had been interesting. We walked through a bear sanctuary when we crossed into North Carolina but didn’t see any. We did find a huge black salamander in the snow and saw lots of turkey vultures flying low. But the most interesting wildlife of all was, trailhikum appalachia, the common Appalachian Trail Thru-hiker. Really human beings reduced to a most primitive form, AT Thru-hikers are a smelly, bedraggled bunch that wander from town to town through the woods in search of food and beer. When they are not wearing their packs, thru-hikers hobble about in simian fashion scratching their privates and fondling their gear. When in packs, the conversation usually centers around bowel habits and food acquisitions. Thru-hikers are often seen picking M+Ms, raisins and peanuts out of the dirt and eating them without a second thought.
We ended our two day assault on decadence and debauchery, burping and farting our way over a bunch of mountains to Wesser. We were hoping Mark had a new pair of boots there and the mission to retrieve them was paramount.