I poke my head out of my sleeping bag just enough to see that the sun is splashing early morning light through the open face of our shelter. My breath turns to mist as it leaves me and I can see a thin film of frost on the borders of the shelter. Seriously! It’s May 15, and it’s STILL freezing in the morning.
Several other hikers including Blood Man (who hails from Maine and doesn’t believe in carrying all the “unnecessary” winter gear that the rest of us need to survive- like an insulating layer of clothes and a sleeping bag that traps more heat that a tarp), Rambler, Snow White, Teddy, Skittles, Jem, and Plunge were already up and going through their morning rituals. I sat up, but left my legs cozy in my sleeping bag and started to boil some water for my morning hot chocolate. Normally, I would need to walk over to the bear cables, which were a series of metal cables that we use to suspend our food bags overnight to keep out the bears (and mice), but some kind soul had already retrieved mine and left it at the foot of my sleeping bag.
I sipped on my hot chocolate, and played spectator as everyone else packed their night clothes into stuff sacs, noticing the reluctance of the few hikers that hadn’t learned to put their hiking clothes deep inside their sleeping bag so they would be warm in the morning. Just watching them struggle to slide on frozen socks made me huddle deeper into my sleeping bag. After eating a silent pop tart or oatmeal breakfast and brushing their teeth (yes we brush our teeth in the woods) the Ace bandages, moleskin, kinesiology tape, knee and ankle braces came out. It was like watching knights don their armor in preparation for battle.
“You hiking today?” Snow White asked. Aside from an exhausted section hiker, everyone in the shelter had already packed up and started their hike. I shrugged, but careful not to move enough that my sleeping bag slipped off my shoulders. “There is no prize for being the first one to arrive at the next shelter tonight, so I’m gonna drink another cup of hot chocolate and wait for the day to warm up a bit.” She gave me the same look that I usually reserve for hikers that aren’t going to be on the Trail much longer. “Sure Sketch, Hike your own Hike,” she said and shouldered her pack.
I should probably get hiking, but I’m finally comfortable in my sleeping bag, and part of this adventure includes taking time to appreciate the good moments. This was a good moment, so snuggling back into my sleeping bag for a little nap wouldn’t be laziness, it would be me celebrating, yeah, celebrating – in my own way.
I woke up 2 hours later to the squawking of several birds as they tried to pick over any crumbs left around the shelter. Startled and feeling a little bit like I’d overslept, I scrambled to eat another breakfast (and brush my teeth) and repack my gear. I was out of the shelter and hiking in about 15 minutes.
The sun had warmed things up nicely and I was moving at a brisk pace through a series of 4 and 5 hundred foot “bumps.” I inwardly congratulated myself as I passed the section hiker, then Plunge, then Blood Man. I would probably beat these people to the shelter, even though I had a 2 hour nap.
I ran into DEETS at the crest of a rock scramble called Firescald Knob. He was sitting on the rocks, enjoying the gorgeous vista and looking wise. I wished I had a profound question to ask him. Instead, I pulled out a Cliff Bar and ate as silently and respectfully as I could.
Just a few miles later, as I approached a shelter called Jacob’s Cabin, I noticed that someone had written 300 in charcoal on a rock. I couldn’t believe that I’d already hiked 300 miles.
It started getting cold again well before the sun went down at the shelter and even with the heat from a roaring campfire, we were still bundled in our winter gear and really grouchy about the late spring cold front. Then, a man with a beautiful golden retriever shows up from the north. I soon learn that he was one of Snow White’s friends, and since he was driving through the area, he thought he would share a little trail magic.
He pulled out a liter of whiskey and left it on the picnic table. I’m sure we said thank you. I’m pretty sure we didn’t attack the bottle like savages. And I have no idea how this guy know exactly what to bring to turn our night around. Soon we were laughing, and sharing completely inappropriate stories and insights (Teddy chose this moment to unveil her privy rating system). Before the last of the bottle was drained, we had dubbed Snow White’s friend “Whiskey Will,” and welcomed him into our shelter for the night.
I’m not saying a good bottle of whiskey will always make the worst of nights a little warmer, but I do believe “Whiskey Will” will.