Wednesday, February 1, 2012

 Introduction: Rethinking Life on the Appalachian Trail

First homestead of '08 thru-hike
Exhaustion from the day’s thirty-mile hike joined a natural lullaby of tumbling waters beyond the night’s homestead. Restful sleep soon followed. Now faint light filtering through my tent combined with the birds’ chorus announcing a new day. Time to be up and hiking once again.

With urgency I slid out of my sleeping bag, gathered assorted bags of gear, rolled up the one-man tent, and stuffed it all in my pack. No time was wasted eating breakfast, because no breakfast could be found in the limp food stuff bag – reason enough for the urgency.

For the second time since beginning the hike hundreds of miles south at Springer Mountain, Georgia, I had misjudged my food supply for the distance between resupplies. As a result of this error I’d hiked an extra-long distance the previous day in order to be within five miles of Rockfish Gap, Virginia, the southern gateway of the Shenandoah’s. From there I hoped to get a ride into the friendly trail town of Waynesboro.

After a liquid breakfast of purified water from nearby Mill Creek, I made a man-on-a-mission jaunt toward the Gap. Along the way I stepped over a hiker who I’d met late the afternoon before. He, too, had been scurrying to get into Waynesboro and resupply. But his body apparently rebelled before the mission was realized, and he lay asleep across the trail. His pack served as a pillow, and a wall of rocks surrounded his torso to prevent rolling down the hillside. It’s as though exhaustion had dropped him in his tracks.

The visitor info center at Rockfish Gap was scheduled to open at 9:00 AM. When I arrived several minutes early, the kind, older gentleman who manned the post that morning opened the door and let me inside. According to my trail guide, a list of local trail angels who would provide a free shuttle into Waynesboro was available, and the gentleman promptly showed me the list. I chose at random a man by the name of Roy and gave him a call. To my relief he answered immediately and gave assurance of a rescue within twenty or thirty minutes.

“What’s your trail name?” Roy asked.

“Rethinker,” I replied.

“OK, Rethinker. I’ll see you shortly.”

While I waited, my host at the info center and I chatted about the trail, and he asked how I was faring so far. He related a story of an extremely distraught female hiker who had arrived at the info center a few days earlier. She had “had it with the trail” and had to get off “right now” and go home. After the man tried gently to tell her that no airport existed in Waynesboro and that the closest airport was 100 miles away in Charlottesville, the girl began frantically calling in search of someone to shuttle her to Charlottesville. Finding no one, she called a taxi and surely paid an extreme fare to the airport.

I assured the man that such desperation was not my case. “Just a ride into town for food and a hot shower. That’ll suit my needs just fine.”

Roy arrived on schedule and helped load pack and poles in the rear of his Outback. Just as we were ready to leave, three other hikers arrived: Shuffles, Stomp, and Stomp’s brother. I’d met Shuffles and Stomp (Jessica and Jon at the time) a few miles north of Newfound Gap in the Smokies. Our hikes now joined again and would rejoin later for a memorable time in Duncannon, Pennsylvania. Loading their gear and bodies into Roy’s car produced the maximum shuttle efficiency.

After a few trail tales on the downward drive into Waynesboro, Roy interjected, “Since I’m a psychologist, I’ve got to ask you just one question:

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