Hiking

Saved by the Aquone Lodge

I’m starting to fall into a comfortable rhythm. My shoes sound out a trotting cadence that is slightly offset from the clink of trekking poles against rocks and roots on the trail. My head bobs when going uphill to get that extra momentum. There is even some whinnying as I push the trapped carbon dioxide out of my lung bases. I’ve become a pack mule, the kind that is used to carrying heavy lodes and knows how to make the best of it.

It’s a beautiful day of hiking. Cool pre-rain breezes, the trail twisted and winded through rolling ridges. The battle between Green and Brown for control of the landscape is shifting.

I put on my rain gear at Wayah bald at the base of an old stone fire tower. Have a snack and chat with a family of section hikers that warn me about the big storm set to land on me in the early evening. Aside from some spitting, there is no rain for several hours, so I put my rain coat away. The sky opened up when I’m about 200 meters away from the shelter I planned to stop at for the night.

The tiny shelter is packed. Designed to hold 6 hikers, I saw 7 hikers huddled inside and another person buried in a hammock strung across the one exposed side. Lack of space wasn’t the only issue. Within moments of trying to find a flat surface to sit on for a minute to collect my bearings and eat another snack, I felt the anti-magnetic repulsion of being an Outsider encroaching on the territory of a newly formed Hiker Bubble. I pull a drenched log up as close to the edge of the shelter as possible and try to ignore the stream of roof drainage landing on the hood of my rain jacket. I eat another Cliff bar and listen to their conversation: “Does anyone want to try a bite of this beef stroganoff?” and “Turtle, you want me to hang ur socks up next to mine so they can get a little drier?” I suspect the social bonding is almost as comforting as feeling warm and dry while watching a torrential downpour just outside the shelter.

It’s hard to suppress thoughts about “those pesky kids” cluttering up the shelter. I know I’m going to have to start hiking again, and try to focus on the fact that this will be the first time I’ve hiked more than 20 miles in a day, rather than how wet my gear and I would be.

There are a few sympathetic goodbyes as I get up to leave which I don’t return. I’m already tired, wet-dog grouchy, and hungry for a hot meal. The rain pelts my hood so loudly it drowns out any thoughts other than getting to someplace not-rainy. Don’t know if I can make it another 7 miles to next shelter.

Less than a mile later, I pull out my AT guide book to look for a nearby hostel. Fortunately, about 4 miles away, at a gravel road crossing the AT called Tellico Gap, I am able to arrange for a former thru-hiker named Wiggy to pick me up. I learn that he is from Manchester, UK as he stores my drenched pack in a trailer. During the brief drive to his lodge, he hands me a laminated printout describing a hygiene policy, which is far too complex for my waterlogged brain to process. Instead, we chat about the joys of a military career (his in British Special Forces, mine in the “Chair Force”) and the advantages of being “calendrically challenged” since we are both too old to be engaging in physical activities more vigorous than shuffle board or golf.

His wife Maggie (also from UK), greeted us cheerfully in front of a secluded wooden lodge. I’m ushered into a heated “mud room” where they hang my pack, trekking poles, and take off my shoes and socks. Maggie and Wiggy proudly explain their precautions against viral, bacterial, and parasitic contamination: “There will be no incidents of Norovirus or bed bugs here.” Then I’m directly shuttled to the shower with a cloth bag for my hiker clothes that will then be stored back in the mud room. A clean change of clothes including socks waits in the bathroom. A handy scale diagram of common tick species hangs next to the light switch so I can identify some of the bugs that may have been feeding off of me for the past day. Handmade wooden plaques decorate the bunk room, common room, and kitchen with specific reminders not to wear shoes inside, to wash dishes after use, and several “AT Class of 2016” plaques.

By the time I finish my shower, I’ve forgotten the soggy day’s hike and I’m ready to devour a hot meal. Maggie magically appears with a fresh-baked pizza. There is a friendly collection of section hikers and vacationers here, and I enjoy a few moments of celebrity as a guy that plans to “go-all-the-way.” I don’t think I can deny that I’ve become a trail tourist again. Only 2 nights in a shelter thus far. This hiking-thing isn’t so bad.

I’m surprisingly buoyed by Wiggy’s parting words as I return to Tellico Gap to resume my hike where I left off. He had me sign one of his hand-made plaques and told me that he gives a plaque away each year to one of the hikers that sends him a post card from Maine. Of the 300 thru-hikers that signed his plaque last year, only 6 sent back postcards. Wiggy told me (unsolicited) that I would make it. This plaque is gonna look great in my cave!

 

Holding the wooden plaque I hope to reclaim after hiking to Mt Katahdin (with a section hiker named Papa-T)

Holding the wooden plaque I hope to reclaim after hiking to Mt Katahdin (with a section hiker named Papa-T)

8 Comments

  • Reply Bobby abel May 8, 2016 at 12:47 am

    Gabe,I’m enjoying reading about your hike. Keep it coming! O2

    • Reply Gabriel May 13, 2016 at 2:01 am

      Hey O2! I sure thought about u as I stopped to enjoy the view from the Jump-Off on the way into the NOC. I’ll try to include the pic in an upcoming post. One of my favorites thus far.

  • Reply Howard Templeton May 9, 2016 at 3:47 pm

    Hey. Great sketch of Aquone. Hope you are well. Please keep posting your work. I love the sketch you created of the two of us. Stay safe and remember it’s about the smiles not the miles. Hike on my friend
    Papa T

    • Reply Gabriel May 13, 2016 at 2:04 am

      Great to meet u Papa-T and I’m glad ur enjoying the blog thus far.

  • Reply Scott (aka Dad) May 10, 2016 at 2:20 pm

    The blog stories are great Gabe. I love to hear about your adventures and the great people that you meet along the way. Scott (aka Dad)

    • Reply Gabriel May 13, 2016 at 2:09 am

      Thanks Dad! I have been having a great time thus far (despite my tendency to whine). The new people I’ve met along the way are arguably the most amazing aspect thus far.

  • Reply Alexa May 10, 2016 at 5:44 pm

    Thank YOU so much for sharing your experience!
    Very inspiring!

    • Reply Gabriel May 13, 2016 at 2:13 am

      Multumesc sora mea din alt domn! (My sister from another mister) Please keep taking great care of Monica!

    Now it's your turn to play!

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