Day 11: A Nero and a Story

Not a Zero, a Nero

3.6 trail miles took me and Gus to Winding Stair Gap early this morning, which set me up nicely to be at Fontana Dam in four 12- to 15-mile days. So, I stopped and took the rest of the day to hang out with Mrs. I and the doodles before moving on tomorrow.

A trio of thru-hikers – Survivor, Machina, and – hitched a ride with us into Franklin, NC for quick resupply. Mrs. I headed over to the Scottish Tartans Museum, I guess because our daughter-in-law is of Scottish descent and because of “that Scottish play”(it’s bad luck to say or write the word “MacBeth.” Oops.

I checked in at Outdoor 76, Starbucks, Ingles, Lowes, the dog park, a laundromat, and old town Franklin. Chores are necessary parts of a thru hike, but hardly Blogger Hall of Fame stuff.

Instead, I’ll give you the story of last night’s drug bust.

Trail “Magic” – The Prequel

When we arrived at Rock Gap at the end of Day 9, we saw a Honda SUV with blacked out windows covered with all sorts of trail stickers parked on the other side of the lot. Two hiker-types were sitting behind it with a little bit of not-very-inviting food laid out on the wooden guardrail. I thought it was their dinner and jokingly asked if they were offering trail magic or they were hiking.

“I’m sitting” the one replied, “not hiking.” “You dumbass” was implied by tone and look. Ok, I deserved that one, by walking up and joking with someone I didn’t know. “Sorry,” I said, “I really just wanted to know if you mind if I park near you for the night, because this is the flattest spot and because we have dogs.”

I got the okay to park and we chatted briefly, enough to find out that one of them was actually offering trail magic, he had thru-hiked two years ago, and that he had his own dog he described as unfriendly. So I said we’d take the other side of the lot and keep our dogs out of sight and on their leashes. He started in on a trail story, but was having trouble remembering the details. He paused, shrugged, nodded toward his hand, and ended the story. That’s when I noticed he and his buddy were killing the last bit of a blunt he had in his hand.

That’s not my scene, so I excused myself after a few minutes. Other than his first comment, he seemed nice enough. Later, I saw him walk up toward the nearby shelter and return with a small crowd, but they were quiet, so I didn’t give it a second thought.

Trail Magic – Part Deux

The guy, let’s call him “Sunspot” (not his real trail name), was still there when we got back from Deep Gap the next night after my 20-miler. This time, he had two or three people hanging out behind his SUV. The parking lot was nearly full, so we took a spot on the other end and started doing our chores.

Mrs. I mentioned she’d met the woman who owned the SUV that morning and had chatted briefly about our vans and vanlife. Mrs. I started saying that something didn’t feel right about them, and that we might consider camping somewhere else. I responded that lots of different kinds of people hike the AT, basically dismissing her intuition in favor of my own.

Johnny Law

Just then, three County Sheriff’s cruisers pulled up, blocking off the entire parking area, preventing anyone from leaving. A half-dozen officers spread out and converged on the trail magic. Two started asking Sunspot questions, and the rest stood back a safe distance watching the interview and the rest of us in the parking lot.

Sunspot did not react kindly to be questioned, and even more so to being told where to stand and what not to do with his hands. Somehow, his objections did not convince the officers to back off. Nor did his yelling that they were violating his rights and that someone should film this. After some struggling and more yelling from all parties, Sunspot ended up in cuffs, and a young woman who whipped out her cell phone to film the action had her phone confiscated.

Suddenly changed from future viral YouTuber to potential inhabitant of the Macon County lockup, the young lady started protesting that she didn’t know anyone here, she’d just walked up, and that she’d delete her video if they returned her phone. To no avail. She was directed to sit on the guardrail with the other trail magic participants. Everyone else had decided, after a few initial protests, that their best option was to sit down, shut up, and wait it out.

An hour or two later, and a thorough search of Sunspot’s SUV, Sunspot and his significant other were placed in the business end of a squad car and driven off. Apparently, the SUV had quite a stash of magic. An hour after that, a tow truck showed up to impound the van.

The Aftermath

The other trail magic participants were released. A few were still there this morning grousing about what happened.

The young woman eventually got her phone back, but for some strange reason she also ended up with Sunspot’s dog. Mrs. I crossed paths with her later while walking our doodles and learned that she was in fact traveling with Sunspot and his partner, knew them well, and was in the process of figuring out how to bail him out. She said that the dog was named “Gypsy” because Sunspot was part Romany. Hmm, I thought that word was offensive to the Romany.

The parking lot and hiker crowd seemed split between “got what they deserved – thank you for your service, officer” and “they weren’t hurting anyone – all cops are fascists.” You have to admit to a certain irony in that half the spectators were sitting there putting away beer after beer, while Sunspot was getting busted for selling other intoxicants. But that’s our legal system – the worst one in the entire world, except for all the others.

The AT trail ambassadors stuck in the parking lot with us told us that drug dealers follow the hiker bubble. It’s just part of the AT thru hiker culture. There are even names for it: Haze blazin’, green blazing, or just blazing. HYOH – hike your own hike.

One of the cops told us they’d received a tip-off, or they’d never have bothered coming out to such a remote location. For the record, it wasn’t me. I’m too clueless to have figured out what was going on. I didn’t even know today was 4/20’s-Eve until someone pointed it out in the comments.

So, You See, Timmy

Are there any lessons in this little tale? Sure, how about:

  • This isn’t the big city. Don’t mess with the rural police. Repeat after me: “Yes, officer. Thank you, officer.”
  • When it comes to drugs in the rural south, be the buyer, not the seller. Or stick to beer. Preferably domestic.
  • You should trust your gut about safety. Except for me. I should trust my wife’s gut.
  • If I hike longer days, I won’t have time to tell rambling stories. But it’s not a guarantee.

Daily Stats:

  • Start: Rock Gap (Mile 105.8)
  • End: Winding Stair Gap (Mile 109.4)
  • Weather: Ditto – another day in paradise
  • Earworm: Ditto – Kiss on My List (Hall & Oates). This must stop.
  • Meditation: Jn 8:19b
  • Plant of the Day: Carolina Vetch
  • Best Thing: Sitting with the old guys at the dog park
  • Worst Thing: Being an old guy who sits on a bench at the dog park

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Comments 8

  • thetentman : Apr 20th

    Good luck on the hike. This a great post for 420 day. Burning one down now.

    Cheers and thx for the post.

    • Jon : Apr 20th

      LOL. I didn’t make the 4/20 connection until you mentioned it. THanks!

  • Elizabeth Ross : Apr 20th

    This post was an absolute gem:)
    Thank you so much for the humor, insight, and truth that you present in your writing.
    Keep up the good work and God bless!

    • Jon : Apr 20th

      You’re welcome. Thanks for the feedback!

  • Smitty : Apr 20th

    Poor stoners stigmatized criminalized dragged away in chains put in a cage assets seized but gall dang them boys can surf, ride mountain bikes off cliffs, snowboard, God bless their hearts

    • Jon : Apr 20th


    • Charlotte : May 6th

      As I understood it, they were in possession of fentanyl, along with other consumables. That is definitely worth getting off the street, and serving time. Not a forgiving mistake.

      • Charlotte : May 7th

        CORRECTION: The couple was n
        NOT found to be in possession of fentanyl. That was an error on my part, because the story appeared on the same day as a fentanyl drug bust.


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