My hands were freezing and I wasn’t wearing gloves. While I was running around trying to get warm Ryan sort of did this little dance that I thought was funny but I didn’t tell him. We were both really wet and we had a 6 mile hike in front of us. It was our third day and we had already hiked 10 miles; our goal was 23 and the elements showed no sign of letting up. Snow was coming down now more than I had seen in a year. It wasn’t soft and fluffy the kind of snow you see in a winter wonderland but rather hard, small, and particularly annoying.
It was the AT, a trail that takes the lives of hikers every year due to inadequate planning and other various things. I wasn’t afraid that the trail would consume my life like some others that have come before me but I did think that it had the real potential to if we didn’t deviate from the original plan.
Two days earlier, we had begun our journey. Ryan and I had never hiked the AT before and so we weren’t really sure what it looked like or anything. I thought probably it was just a trail like any other but famous. I was right.
God gives good gifts. Our gift the first night was a shelter that we shared with a guy named Caveman, another guy named Ken and a soaking wet dog named Nemo, who smelled exactly like a wet dog. When we showed up it was raining and dark. Before we got to the shelter we were looking for a camp spot and nothing looked good, partly because it was hard to see with just your headlamps, and partly because it was raining, and partly because I didn’t want to stop and camp anywhere besides the shelter. So we pressed on.
Altitude makes a difference. Cold and wet at 3,500 feet is miserable. Cold and wet at 5,200 feet is dangerous and we were hovering somewhere between 4,900 and 5,400 feet at any given point in the trail. Our good friend GPS told us that.
After we started the hike that day we came to a road and a parking lot which had trail information and a bathroom. There were about 5 cars there that all left within 5 minutes of us arriving so I asked Ryan how he was feeling, because he was more soaking wet than I was, and he said that he didn’t mind to keep hiking. I went to the bathroom and then we were on our way. If it wasn’t enough that I couldn’t open the fence that we had to go through to keep hiking the weather at 29 degrees with a wind chill factor in the teens was encouraging me to stop. The fence was frozen and I was frustrated so I kicked it. I laughed with Ryan about how crazy our situation was and how crazy it could become if we didn’t stop.
Our plan was to hike 6.3 miles to a shelter and stay there the night. Get dry, wake up, and hike around 6 more to 2 mountain bikes that we hid in the woods, hid our packs, and bike downhill 23 miles to our car, and then come back and get our gear. If for some reason the shelter was full or any other accident might of happened we would have been in trouble because we needed dry clothes if we were going to not catch hypothermia. I called it off. I said Ryan let’s just hitchhike back to our car. After the first couple cars passed me we devised a new plan. Ryan said I think the problem is that people might be afraid of the way you look. With my beard the longest it’s even been in American and a military poncho that covered my whole body I thought he was probably right. “How do I look” he said…I said great, with a little sarcasm in my voice wondering what the hell he was talking about. He said he wished he was wearing nicer business clothes. I said like a brief case? No like a polo and some khakis. I laughed and thought yeah I wish you were wearing that stuff too; we’d probably be a lot more likely to get a ride. The first car passed, it was clipping along, it was foggy, and the guy in the truck specifically didn’t make eye contact with Ryan. He came back and told me and I yelled I’m freezing. I said let’s pray so we did and 2 minutes later 2 church vans passed going the other direction. They were Methodists. We didn’t even try to hitch a ride with them. I wondered if God was messing with us. I looked up and yelled I’m sorry we didn’t try to get those vans, send some more God!
The wind hadn’t let up even a little bit and so we kept trying. The next vehicle that came was a truck and I said Ryan go, go! He ran over to the road and put out his thumb. The truck slowed, put on its blinker, and turned into the parking lot. I saw Ryan talk to the guy for a minute then he yelled at me, Page I’ll be back to pick you up , I thought, I could just come to you guys, then he got in the truck and left and it hit me that he meant after he got the car. I had a good hour to wait before he got back. I went in the bathroom, locked the door, and set up shop.
I put on the only dry clothes I had, including wool socks (I love wool socks) and put air in my Therma-rest, got out Ryan’s stove, warmed my feet and hands, and then cooked freeze dried lasagna with meat sauce. Right when Ryan got back a cool hour later I had just started my feast. I was pretty sprawled out on the bathroom floor and Ryan started to put all the gear in the back of his car. It took 5 trips. We laughed a bunch, warmed up, got the bikes, and headed due South for Boonetown. I wish we would have been able to finish our trip…but there’s always tomorrow.