Making It Official and the Outhouse Guard
2016 AT NOBO Thru Hike: How It All Started
On 25 November 2015 I registered for my Appalachian Trail North Bound (NOBO) Thru Hike scheduled to begin at Springer Mountain, Georgia on 11 April 2016. This was the first step in a plan that has been a long time in the making.
Growing up, I heard about the Appalachian Trail from my Mom. She was into making candles, macramé projects, growing herbs, and talking about Virginia. On her side of the family we are of Scots-Irish descent and straight up hillbillies, not red necks and certainly not crackers, but proper hillbillies.
Many folks, my grandpa being one of them, were coal miners who left the mines in Virginia and migrated to the industrial North seeking employment in the factories near Lake Erie. That is how my Mom’s family ended up in Cleveland, Ohio. They eventually moved to Madison, Ohio where I grew up.
Leave Your Sister Alone
A couple of times a year, our family would drive down to Virginia, south of Wytheville to visit kin (family). My immediate family consists of a mom, a dad, an older sister, myself and a younger brother. In Virginia however, we know out to fourth and fifth cousins. I loved those road trips. We played all the regular road trip car games like; ‘I Spy’ and the license plate game. My brother would, like brothers do, sit and poke me with one finger until I would yell, “Mom, he’s touching me!”. Then of course I would get yelled out for yelling and he would be told to, “Leave your sister alone!” We would also try to hold our breath the whole way through the tunnels dug out through the mountains on Interstate 77.
We would pull up in front of my great grandmas house, come to a stop, roll the windows down and start yelling, “Aunt Sara! It’s us!” Aunt Sara was her nickname, don’t know why, except here first name was Sara. I don’t know who added the aunt part, just was.
Anyway, we would yell and yell until Aunt Sara stepped out onto the rickety, old wood porch wearing a calico dress covered with one of her aprons she had pulled over her head and tied in the back. She was so short and hunched over with age that the big pockets in front of the apron hung below her waist. She always had her long, silver hair pulled back in a loose bun fastened at the nap of her neck with loose pieces falling across her face and down her back.
Aunt Sara and the 12 Gauge
When Aunt Sara finally ventured onto the porch to see who had come a callin’ she would be carrying her 12 gauge shotgun and be yelling, ”Who’s that out there?” No one ever went straight up and knocked on the front door of Aunt Sara’s house, not unless they were lackin’ sense and asking to get shot that is.
Anyway, we would yell back, “It’s us Aunt Sara!” My Mom would add, “It’s Nancy! I have the kids with me!”. Aunt Sara would holler back, “Nancy, I don’t know no Nancy!” Then after a few seconds of thought she would call out, “Oh Nancy!” “Julia’s girl Nancy?!” “Girl what you still doin’ in that car?” “Get on up here and get those youngin’s in this house!”
Night Time Potty Chair
Aunt Sara’s house was always sort of dark inside, with a wood burning stove on one of the living room walls. The black cast iron thing filled the place with a smoky smell that to this day still brings back a sense of nostalgia whenever my nose gets a whiff of it. The wood-burning stove was the only heat in the small, wood plank house.
Aunt Sara slept in the living room on a metal, single bed covered in so many quilts and blankets no one ever knew what true condition the mattress was. She had a chair made out of wicker and wood sitting next to the bed. Some real practical sort had cut a hole out of the wicker seat and inserted a metal pan making it a potty chair. Sitting on the floor, next to the chair was an old coffee can. This was for her to spit her chewing tobacco in.
There was running water in the kitchen, I think, maybe, I can’t actually remember, but I know there wasn’t a toilet in that house that’s for sure, except for the potty chair that is. What there was, was an outhouse out back. It sort of matched the house in appearance.
The Outhouse and Its Guard
Using the outhouse itself was never a problem, cold in the winter and in the summer one had to be careful of snakes, but nothing real challenging. The formidable part of using it was actually the getting to it part. Using the outhouse was a team effort you see, unless that is, the potty goer was feeling particularly brave. But, it really was better to have back up.
After securing a bathroom buddy, the pair would step out onto the porch through the front door and begin a slow creep to the right, sliding along the outside wall to the corner of the house. After looking all around and making a few quick peeps around the corner, we would make the small jump onto the ground. This was done with excruciating care in an effort to make as little noise as possible.
After another quick glance around in all directions, we would continue creeping around the full, prickly bushes, tip toeing, crouching low, looking around all the way to the back corner of the house. From here we could see the outhouse just on the other side of a grassy patch.
Whoever had to use it would take a deep breath and on three make a run for it, sprinting across the open ground, then upon reaching the outhouse, grab the door, jump up and hopefully land inside shutting the door behind her/him all in one smooth motion. The whole thing didn’t always go as planned, but for myself, I was always pretty optimistic and just hoped I would not trip and fly head first into the shitter, unfortunately that was not always the case.
Anyway, feeling and hearing the door slamming shut behind me was always a relief. I would finish my business as quickly as possible, pull my drawers up, peek between the cracks of the worn boards, always relieved to see my bathroom buddy still crouching near the corner of the house looking anxiously around. I would take a deep breath, slowly unlatch the door, push it open, just a crack, listen for the all clear, and upon hearing it, push the door the rest of the way open and exit in a full run toward the house. Just a few feet out of the outhouse I would usually hear my bathroom buddy yelling, “Run! Here he comes! Run faster!”
That rooster would come out of nowhere, head bent, neck stretched, with his big-clawed chicken feet thumping as they pounded the ground. I would later swear I could hear his chicken breath moving in and out of his sharp chicken beak as he gained ground on me.
We would run back the way we came, jumping up onto the porch, sliding across the wood planks and through the front door, falling on the battered old couch. “What you youngin’s up to?” Aunt Sara would yell. “Y’all just leave that rooster alone or I’ll whoop your behinds for sure!” “Y’all hear me now?”
Those early outhouse expeditions sit securely atop the precipitous cliff of my many future bathroom misfortunes. Those slippery slopes however, are stories for another day.
The Source of Inspiration
It was in those Virginia hills where my Mom, aunts, uncles, first, second, third, fourth, and fifth cousins ran and played that my Mom got the idea to hike the AT. She never has hiked it herself. Maybe that’s part of the reason I want to hike it, to hike it for her.
The process leading up to and the actual clicking of the register button on the Appalachian Trail Conservatory website that officially signed me up for the NOBO hike was emotion wrecked in and of itself. In fact, I was feeling so many things I had to Google a bunch of emotion identification lists just to get them in order.
After scanning the many emotion lists, I settled on the following emotions to describe how I was feeling; anticipation, anxiety, determination, ecstatic, elation, excitement, fear, fortunate, guilt, jittery, peaceful, proud, relief, thrilled, trepidation, uncomfortableness, and weariness. Not such a bad list for someone who just signed up to spend five to six months hiking approximately 2,190 miles through 14 States and is afraid of the dark (when not carrying a Glock), bears and snakes. No worries!
You can register for your AT thru hike at:
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The more I hear of your previous toilet experiences and the impromptu ‘flashing’ whilst in Scotland, makes me think that 2,190 miles of trail ‘toilets’ will reveal a whole new side to you!
Good luck with this endeavor!!!!
Webb… Sounds like a Carroll County name. Look forward to following someone with Southwestern Virginia roots. Best wishes.