Day 23: A Revelation & the End of Shelter Life

A Revelation

Today may have been my best day of hiking on the AT.

I got out early. The weather was perfect – cold, breezy, and clear. I climbed like a champ. Nothing hurt (much). The views, flora, and trail were great. I logged 17.7 miles without really thinking about it. I found myself saying things like “I’ve only got 10 more miles.” Ten miles. That was a full day of hiking just three weeks ago. Now it’s part of an afternoon.

Sitting atop two different peaks, one in the early morning and the other in late afternoon, I sat calmly and let peace wash over me as I absorbed the majestic views. Gradually, I realized that I belong here. This is my place. I am a thru hiker.

A Shelter Story

Specifically, I am a thru hiker who will avoid shelters from now on.

I arrived at Groundhog Creek Shelter last night around 5:00 pm, a few minutes after Survivor’s crew. The shelter was already full, of course, so I began scanning the area for possible tent sites. Wheels was setting up right behind the shelter, but pointed me at Machina, who was calling out that he had room for me near his tent. So I set up about 20 feet away, just on the other side of the remains of a stone fire ring and began making my dinner.

As I finished eating, more hikers came in, and several set up around and between us, not bothering to ask if we minded them being so close. We wouldn’t have refused, but it would have been the polite thing to do. I might have warned them that I’m an early riser, since they didn’t look like they were, as well as an occasional snorer. Eventually, they made eye contact and we exchanged a nod and a smile, but no names. I turned in early, read for a bit, and then fell asleep just as the sun set, a.k.a., “hiker midnight.”

Fire! Fire!

About 9:15, well past hiker midnight, I woke suddenly to the sound of loud laughter, footsteps around my tent, a crackling fire, the smell of smoke in my tent, and the flashing of headlamps. My new neighbors had decided to build a fire in the fire ring eight feet from my tent door and were all gathered for 20-something story time. I got to hear all sorts of stories and commentary, including one of them wondering whether her having two periods this month meant she was pregnant. Incredibly, she was serious. She seemed to find out that the opposite was true.

After a few minutes waiting for them to settle into a quiet campfire reverie, I gave a little cough-cough and turned on my headlamp to let them know they weren’t alone. One of them said, “Oh, somebody’s slumbering. Sorry. I guess I’ll go to bed too.” Hey, there’s hope for the future after all.  But not much hope. The rest of them continued their scintillating dialogue until I finally unzipped my sleeping bag and tent, put on my shoes, and climbed out of my tent. I would have walked over to them, but they were so close to my tent, I only had to stand up.

A Fireside Chat

One of them looked up and said, “What?”, with a tone I remember well from my own adolescence. “Sorry, but I’m trying to sleep and you’re being kind of loud. Plus, the smoke from your fire and ‘cigarettes’ are wafting right into my tent.” One young lady replied, “Well, it’s a fire ring. It’s not unreasonable to expect someone to make a fire in it after dark.”  Another said, “I can’t control where the smoke goes.” Valid points all around. So I tucked my tail between my legs, apologized, and slunk back to my tent.

No, not really.

“First of all, there’s a fire ring right by the shelter. Why aren’t you using that one? (We all know why. Those surly shelter rats would kill you.) Or the one over there where no one is camping? (Because, uh, well, we didn’t want to.) Second, you can control the smoke…by not starting a smoky fire with wet wood right by someone else’s tent.” A lot of other counterpoints came to mind, but by then the young woman replied, “We will honor your request, but not because we have to. We have every right to make a fire whenever we want.” We will honor your request. Thank you, princess.

Her last point was debatable, but the first part got what I was after, so in the spirit of bipartisan compromise, I said thank you and headed off to empty the tank before taking another shot at sleep. When I returned, they were all still standing there, and the three rather large, angry looking, beardies were glowering at me. But at least they were quiet and weren’t adding more pine needles and twigs to their mighty blaze, so I said, “Thanks” again, and zipped up my tent.

Divine Intervention

The thought of three inebriated libertines with a bone to pick sitting outside my tent turned out to be less than conducive to sleep, especially as the fire continued to glow. Every time a headlamp flashed against the side of my tent, or I heard them murmur just out of earshot, I braced myself for another confrontation and murmured a quick prayer.

And then God intervened. Seemingly out of nowhere, a rain shower swept through, dousing their fire and sending them scrambling for their tents. Problem solved. I literally laughed out loud as I heard the coals hissing and the zippers zipping.

Lessons Learned

On today’s hike, I found myself pondering what I could have done differently. I guess I could have introduced myself to them when they first showed up and explained that I was hoping for a good night’s sleep after a long day. Maybe they’d have felt differently about disturbing someone they knew. Or, I could have played the “old man” card, and tried to generate some sympathy for a gimpy white-haired geezer who needed his rest.

For sure, I’ll never camp near another fire ring, even it looks abandoned. But realistically, there are so many fire rings out there, they are hard to avoid. I could have sat down around their fire and trotted out some of my boring river stories. I’ve been known to kill even the liveliest parties that way.

But the biggest lesson is that I’ll avoid shelters in the future. Shelters are for the party crowd, the people who like to gather. I’ve met some really nice people at shelters, but I’ve had far more negative experiences than positive ones. I recognize that’s primarily because of the kind of person I am. I like the woods. The quiet, dark woods. I’ll take my chances with the bears and other critters out there in the dark. Someone else can deal with the critters who live in shelters.

Wrap Up

I camped with the Survivor crew again, this time just the four of us at a stealth site. It was wonderfully quiet. I even pulled up “The Incident” story on my phone to share if they asked. But for whatever reason, despite nagging me about it all afternoon, Survivor didn’t ask before they all turned in at 7:30 pm. Sometimes, you just have to ask for what you want. If you don’t…

Daily Stat’s:

  • Start: Groundhog Creek Shelter (Mile 248.7)
  • End: Stealth Camp (Mile 267.4)
  • Weather: Cold, clear, and breezy. Snow on the ground below Max Patch.
  • Earworm: Running on Empty
  • Meditation: Rom 12:18
  • Plant of the Day: Pink Lady’s Slipper
  • Best Thing: Max Patch – oh my goodness, what a view!
  • Worst Thing: Shelters

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Comments 10

  • Debbie Carney : May 3rd

    Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.
    Good job at the shelter. Some would start an argument.

    • Jon : May 4th

      Good verse!

  • Roz : May 4th

    I am with you Jon, blahhhhh the shelters. Give me the woods any day! Really enjoying following your journey.

    • Jon : May 4th


  • Pinball : May 4th

    Perhaps I missed it in the article and you’ve of course moved on by now, but you did in fact choose your own spot and even mentioned there was a stone fire ring near your spot. Writing off shelters because of one mishap seems shortsighted. With mos left it seems likely there will be a time when a shelter is a great, safe (weather) move.

    • Jon : May 4th

      That’s true. But until that weather arrives, I’m stealth camping and leaving the shelters to others.

  • thetentman : May 4th

    I have had enough mice running over me to avoid shelters. Snoring sucks too. And I once stayed in one with a Thru who smelled so bad I could have puked. Heavy rain is the only thing that can get me in one.

    Good luck.

  • Principal Hiker : May 6th

    It was hard to read about your experience without feeling my own ire beginning to manifest itself. Unfortunately, some people seemingly are concerned about having their own desires satisfied while neglecting how their desires affect others….and then to be rude when made aware of their selfishness shows their lack of character. There use to be a bumper sticker that read, “Rude People Suck!” I agree.

    • Jon : May 7th

      Couldn’t agree more. Thanks for reading!


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