For most who start the AT they stay in close proximity with the people who started around the same time as them. This forms distinct groups and a community; we called this a bubble. From Springer to Davenport Gap I must have jumped through 2 bubbles, and therefore did not have a community. Geronimo being the only hiker I hiked with for multiple days. Due to my Zero in Ashville I had lost all chance of catching back up with him.
It was around 10:30 when I was dropped back on the trail. Physically I was rested but I was bitter which made me feel tierd. It is not my Aunt and Uncle’s fault; they treated me well, but the conversations about plans and my future regarding: family, work, and education were not welcoming. They could not have known this or that I had dropped out of school. I answered vaguely and faked my way through the day. So at Davenport Gap I was exhausted from this, but angry and hiked angry for the 3 miles to Standing Bear Hostel making it in less than an hour.
I was making lunch were the road to Standing Bear intersected with the AT, when I noticed a tall man and woman leaving Standing Bear. I knew I had seen them before but couldn’t remember Then. The man call out, “Is that Joedirt?” His voice bought back the memory of meeting the couple at Fontana. It was Quiet and Twister.
“Quiet and Twister!” I greeted them.
“We thought we lost you at Fontana, what happened?”
“Oh, I went 10 miles down the Bartman Trail after leaving Fontana.”
“Oh no, but you caught back up! Did you just leave the Smokey’s.”
“No just got back from a day in Ashville.”
“Then how did you catch back up?” Twister asked.
“I unintentionally did a 34 mile day.”
They both bust out in laughter. “We thought you were full of shit when you didn’t show up at Mollies!”
“How was it unintentional?” Asked Twister between catching her breath.
“I got kicked out of Cosby after doing the 27 miles from Mt. Collins.”
“It all worked out in the end.”
The two went on ahead, and I finished lunch. I passed the two again somewhere halfway up Snowbird Mountain, there was a third hiker with then called Happy Feet. Then at the summit of Snowbird all four of us meet. They introduced me to Happy Feet a short hiker who would hike with me to the end.
We all made plans to make it to Max Patch and camp on the bald. I didn’t think this was possible but I wanted to stay with Quiet and Twister, and had also surprised myself with how fast I made it up Snowbird. A hike two of my friends said was hell in the winter when they went from Davenport Gap to Max Patch.
The trail from the summit of Snowbird to Max Patch was smooth, and covered just enough to not let the sun bake you but let you know it was present. It was sunny that day and I knew it would be perfect to see Max Patch at sun set.
I leaped frogged with the three of them from Snowbird to the Patch. This would be how I would hike with my group; instead of single filed lines all at once. I would pass them when they would stop and take a smoke breaks and they would pass me when I had a snack. Seeing them enjoying cigarettes made me miss the habit, and I started to reason with myself on buying a pack in Hot Springs.
At Brown Gap both me and Happy Feet lost Quiet and Twister. They were very fast hikers. It was here that I started to get to know Happy Feet. How he had attempted the trail back in 2014 but had similar fate as Geronimo when he caught Nero in New York. I regret to say that I judged him that afternoon. I thought his pack was too big, and thought he hiked too slow; not in pace, but in distance. Because up to just a week earlier Happy Feet had not gone over 12 miles a day. In my pride, I felt this to be mediocre compared to my plus 18 average. But as it would be Happy Feet would be the better hiker. He was consistent and more importantly loved the trail. He also surprised me on how he keep up with my pace, since he was short.
“I might go slow but that doesn’t bother me, I love it out here.” He said as we jumped a stream just before reaching Max Patch.
We found Quiet and Twister setting up camp not at the summit of the bald but just off. At the top I found that people could drive up to the Summit, so Max Patch had become very popular for car campers. There was a tent city of its own on the summit so I was glad to have set up around Quiet, Twister and Happy Feet.
There is a 360 view from Max Patch and we had arrived with enough time to set camp before the sun began to set. There were small clusters of clouds on the horizon that were turned hues of red as the light inched away. We cooked our meals beside us as we sat on our beds. The smell of cannabis mixed with the fresh notes of grass and a cold breeze. It was pleasant.
In the night under my tent I sleep comfortably until I woke just 30min before the sun rise. It was cold. In that 30min I fought to stay and enjoy the sunrise. When it came I was very under whelmed and began packing my camp with it as a back drop. Changing exposed on all four sides was unpleasant. It is only now that I can look back in memory and enjoy the sensory of that moment.
As I left, my companions were just waking up, they were all laughing at me because they could tell I was cold.
I waved to them saying, “I’ll see y’all in Hot Springs.” (We had all agreed to do the 20 to Hot Springs.)
It was an easy 20. The first 5 miles were an easy decent, four miles of two climbs, and the last 11 a fast decent. Quiet and Twister caught me at Taylors Hollow Gap. Happy Feet was not with them and I thought I had seen the last of him. (He had been unsure if he would be able to make it.)
Twister lagged behind me and Quiet, as I struggled to keep up with him. For the 3 miles I jogged while he walked.
The trail opened up to a paved road with a steady stream of cars. Me and Quiet waited for Twister only for about 5min before she caught up. It was 2:30 p.m. The hostel was near the trail but we went in town to find a soda and junk food. Then it was to the post office so Quiet and Twister could pick up their mail drops. I split from them at the post office to find the outfitter and buy a hiker’s Spork. (I had earlier lost mine.)
Hot Springs was not as I expected. A river ran around the east end of the town, and on the other side you could see a fire line on the bluff left over from April. I had pictured a mid-class resort town. What Hot Springs was, was a standard small southern town with jacked up trucks supporting rebel flags, and small flea motels. Hot Springs reminded me of Water Valley MS; a town that had started a arts and cultural revival just south of Oxford MS, the home of Ole Miss. So much of Hot Springs was old and plain with only local use. But sprinkled in were some new life in neat eats that put trendy and delicious twists on traditional meals. Hot Springs would make a perfect zero that I wish I had taken.
Quiet and Twister were sitting under a tree with there mail drops spread out talking with a woman. She was a hiker and was attractive, with olive skin tone and smooth face. Her name was Gypsy.
“Where are Dirty Mike and the Boy’s?” Twister asked Gypsy.
“They are around we’re all staying at Alpine Court.”
“Cool.” Twister and Quiet nodded then introduced me. “This is Joedirt.”
“Hi,” I said and extended my hand.
Gypsy puffed her cigarette and shook my hand and said, “Good to meet you, when did you start?”
“little over 2 weeks ago.” This got her to raise her expression in surprise.
“Wow, you’ve been putting up some big miles. I was getting some big miles too but like beer too much so I stop too much.”
“Where’s the best place to buy?” Asked Quiet.
“Over there,” Gypsy pointed to a store across the street right beside the Alpine Court. “But you can’t buy hard liquor here, you got to get a hitch to a nearby town, Which I got earlier.” Gypsy said with a wide smile.
Gypsy split off and Quiet and Twister suggested that we split a room at the Alpine Court. It would come out cheaper than staying in the hostel. I accepted and we went to book the room which turned out to be at the beer store. While purchasing the room I added on two 24 ounce beers, and a cigar.
Despite the run down look of the motel from the outside the room was nice. I volunteered to go last in the shower, and sat in a plastic lawn chair outside and watched the cars go by. I drank my beer slow, but puffed too hard on the cigar. It started to make me sick so I put out the half for latter. I saw the Hatchet Brothers unload from a truck at the gas station across the street. Quiet and Twister didn’t want them to stay at the Alpine Court; but I didn’t mind. The Hatchet Brothers did however, and claimed to us that they had just walked 40 miles down I-40 for a burger. I knew this to be false just as everybody else. (No town on I-40 in that area had 40 miles of separation.) At this same time three of Dirty Mike and the Boys showed up, The Stallion, Gator, and Big Foot. At this point all I did was meet them I had now idea that two of these hikers would accept me into their group, for the rest of my journey.
Quiet, Twister, and I were about to go eat when Happy Feet came walking past the Court. We called him over and found out he planned to camp on the river. It was late and we felt sorry for leaving him behind, so we offered him the second spot on my bed. He accepted but decided against eating with us at Iron Horse Station.
I ordered the AT Hiker Burger, and can only remember that I enjoyed it. I got plastered that night but didn’t realize it. I didn’t act a fool; in fact Quiet and Twister said later “you were in control of yourself.” However when I got back to the room I swan dived onto the bed and passed out cold on impact. I would awake in the exact same position in the morning.
So day 17 ended and I had found my people, and to some degree my routine. Up too Front Royal VA, I would take every opportunity given to get drunk. My time on the trail would become one of drinking and companionship. I don’t deny that much of my behavior was wrong, but I cannot honestly say I regret being a part of The Boys, and all it meant to be true hiker trash.
In starting this blog I never knew what approach I would take to this part of my thru-hike. Early on I thought I would write a-tell all showing in detail all my actions. If I was to do that I would find myself glorifying all my behavior, because as I said, truly have no regrets to any part of it. This however would not be at all helpful to anyone, so I have decided to write in a less detailed format combining multiple days.
I will never be one of those Christians to say I am better to have gone through my sins or pains. I believe I would be much more helpful to the Kingdom without these. For all sin destroys. But God does not build his Kingdom with our usefulness, but through his perfect power, stitching us back together in his plan, to his kingdom and to the tree of eternal life.
“[I]t is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.” Romans 11:18.