I Just Called To Say I Love You
Horse Gap, Georgia
Horse Gap isn’t an ideal campsite, the clearing we chose is on quite a slope. There is a forest road pretty close that apparently gets a fair amount of traffic, especially when a local Army unit is active. Impending sunset caused us to make the best of it here. There are just six of us, and I think we all planned to spend our first night on trail at Hawk Mountain Shelter, a couple miles back. This group coalesced there, all reticent to camp with the roughly 75 hikers already there.
It is cold. A dusting of snow welcomed us this morning on Springer Mountain, and after it warmed considerably during the day, cold 50 mph winds are now whistling through the gap. All six of us set up our tents quickly, albeit laughably close together. “Magic Man” and “El Diablo” friends from a high school have been talking about the custom hammocks they were using. To my left is “Stretch” a 6’7″ ski instructor from Massachusetts, who was pretty quiet.
Struggling to set up her Tarptent is “Boo” a diminutive recent college graduate from Oklahoma. She looks five foot nothing and weighing about a hundred pounds with her pack on. “Burgundy” is to her right, already in his tent. He is dressed in all black, has striking good looks, and said he is from Los Angeles. He admitted he had never slept in his tent before, nor had he cooked on his stove. I’m sure he is no more inept than the rest of us.
We rendezvoused on a log near the campsite, where we all attempted to prepare our meals. The combination of the slope we were trying to cook on, the mid 30’s temperatures, the 50 mph winds and the incompetence of the backpackers, made cooking dinner virtually impossible. Our flames kept going out, as quickly as our stoves were tipping over. Thirty minutes later, we were sitting on the moist logs, our half cooked meals before us, getting to know one another. Our hands were freezing, and you could hear the crunching as we chewed our just moist, not cooked freeze dried meals.
“Burgundy”, whose real name is Ron, retreated to his tent, to make a cell phone call to his friends back in LA.
“What’s up?” his friend answered.
“I just want to thank you”
“I’m on the Appalachian Trail now, it’s my first night, and you really inspired me to do this. Hearing you guys talk about thruhiking this trail, it’s the reason I decided to quit my job and get out here and do it, so thanks.”
“Are you high? Ron, we didn’t hike the Appalachian Trail! We hiked the Long Trail, and we hated it! It rained all the time, the bugs, we couldn’t wait to get out of there, but good luck out there!” he teased him.
While Burgundy was having his spirit crushed, Boo was chasing her tent down the side of the mountain. The wind had pulled her stakes from ground and the tent went tumbling down the slope. We all helped her retrieve the shelter, but it happened a couple of more times during the evening.
I laid in my tent last night and thought of what a monumental disaster this first day has become. I looked out at the other shelters, and wondered how many of us would make it to Maine. Everyone seemed to be in reasonable shape, but early returns are pretty unimpressive from this crew. I hoped Boo’s tent would last through the night, and I am hoping she can make it to Neels Gap safely. I drifted off to sleep with the dust bowl ballad “My Oklahoma Home” pulsating in my brain:
“When they opened up the strip I was young and full of zip
I wanted a place to call my own
And so I made the race, and staked me out a place
And settled down along the Cimarron……….
It blowed away, it blowed away
My Oklahoma home blowed away
But my home is always near; it’s in the atmosphere
My Oklahoma home that blowed away”
I slipped into a deep slumber, either by exhaustion from the hiking, or knocked unconscious by the cold wind piercing my lightweight tent. I woke to the sound of a jeep in the road nearby, assuming it was nearly daybreak I turned in my cell phone to see the time:
I am up now. Just laying here waiting for the morning now.
The day has been a disaster. Nothing seemed to go right. I broke my hiking poles before I got out of the parking lot on Springer Mountain. The campsite is terrible. Tents are blowing away. I ate an uncooked freeze dried meal for dinner. There is enough people at the first shelter today to fill the US Senate. Yet for some reason, I can’t wait for tommorrow to start. I want to know how it is going to turn out. Unwrapping a mystery, step by step. Good or bad, tommorrow is full of possibility. I think some of us will make it to Maine and some won’t. But there are no dead souls here tonight.
Everyone is still alive.
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