An Unpleasant Experience with Trail Foraging

My second week on trail began off trail as I took my first zero day in Helen, Ga. This was mostly to rest my amazingly sore body, but also to check on my friend Moxie, who had gotten waylaid a few days earlier by a bad knee.

Much to my delight, I found Moxie alive and well and thoroughly adopted by the locals at the Olde Bavarian Inn Restaurant. As I enjoyed some sort of citrusy ale, I was regaled with stories of the lives of every single employee. They all recognized and obviously loved Moxie. Most shared inside jokes and some even came to her for sage advice on their love lives. I felt like I was dining with a celebrity. We even got free goulash (everything there was delicious).

As I hobbled back to my hotel room, I couldn’t wipe the grin from my face. I was hiking the Appalachian Trail, and it was not what I expected at all. Way more painful and way less structured, but I felt more alive than I’d felt in ages.

The following day, I hopped on the trail back at Dicks Creek Gap for a short hike to the Plum Orchard Gap Shelter. It felt like I was walking into a brave new world because all of the group I’d hiked with the first week had hiked on the previous day. This is now an experience with which I’m familiar, but the first time was hard. I didn’t know if anyone would talk to me, or if I’d like this group, or if they would have anything in common with me, but I really lucked out that day because the friendliest man on the trail happened to be staying there that night.

Tall, slim, bespectacled, with a charming east Tennessee accent and positively humming with energy. This is Treebeard. I later found out that our paths had crossed many times before in “real life.” We both went to the same alma mater and frequented the same hangouts. As a bonus, he’s the current youngest Tennessee master gardener. One of my goals of hiking the trail was to learn about the flora of the AT. I told him my new hiking plan was to “plant-blaze” him.

I sat that first night observing the interactions of the group around me. They were lively and giggly, joking with one guy about having a fake girlfriend, and giving another flack about his pack weight, and I didn’t know these people, but felt strangely at home. This whole hiking solo thing was going to work out great.

Except I never really hiked solo. I’d hike by myself during the day, but every night, found that my acquaintance Jams was there at night. This turned into a reluctant friendship that would last several weeks. I say reluctant because we are both from very different ways of life. He is what I’d call a recovering frat boy and I am a nerdy mathlete, but being with someone every day and watching their struggles and tendencies softens you toward them. Increasingly, I felt like he was put in my life as a foil to my own biases, and much to my chagrin, he weasled his way into my heart as probably my best friend on trail. (But don’t tell him that, he’d get a big head).

So, the hike continued relatively uneventful as I made my way to Franklin. The last day was beautiful. The sun was shining and the terrain had fewer mountains than normal and I was making good time to the Long Branch Shelter, so decided I’d stop to dig some ramps to go with my soup for dinner. I found some and dug them up on my way in. Then I chopped them up and sauteed them in some olive oil and salt. They were strangely bitter, but didn’t think much about it as I sat there talking with new hikers and Jams. Shortly after finishing my big dinner, my lips felt tingly and my stomach felt cold. I went to lay down in my tent, then low and behold, began puking my guts out for three hours. It was miserable. Next time I feel ill, I’ll just think to myself “at least I’m not ill in my tent in the middle of the woods!” Turns out, I had committed the cardinal sin of foraging and eaten something I was not 100 percent sure about. I’d eaten hellebore instead of ramps. Thank goodness I already had a trail name, otherwise I know it would be Ramps.

Tune in next time for week three when I experience my first rain event and say goodbye for now to the Tall Boys… still get to keep Jams.

P.S. My trail name is The Lady.

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