The Breakfast Club
You know one of those jokes that begins, “A doctor, a banker, and a lawyer all walk into a bar”…? I just had a night that reminds me of it. But it wasn’t a joke, just an extraordinary night with total strangers of disparate backgrounds and experiences that found themselves stuck together, and against all odds befriending one another, in a barn. If you’ve seen the 80’s classic movie “The Breakfast Club” you’ll have an idea what I’m getting at.
It all started late afternoon the day before when I realized I was probably already too late to try and book both a shuttle and a hostel to stay in while Sapling and I did a resupply run to the beautiful little mountain town of Franklin, NC. Let me tell you honestly, I had pie in the sky, preconceived notions as to what hiking the trail would be all about before beginning. In my mind, entering the woods for this hike would be a cleansing experience in which I was leaving the rat race behind. All I’d have to do was put one foot in front of the other approximately 5 million times while listening to babbling brooks and staring at looming mountains upon the horizon. But while there has been no shortage of waterfalls and mountaintops, I was not able to leave the rat race behind. The trail apparently has its own logistical challenges that could test even a seasoned concierge at an upscale hotel in New York City.
Anyone that knows me would say I kind of fly by the seat of my pants. I don’t enjoy making plans as much as simply deciding what I feel like doing on the spur of the moment. However, that doesn’t work out here. In general we carry enough food to get us 3 to 5 days down the trail, which for us would be in the 30 to 60 mile range. Most hikers use an amazing app on their phones called FarOut for both navigation and information. It’s like Google Maps for the trail- replete with area attractions and suggestions. The entire map of the AT is downloaded to the phone, along with “waypoints” featuring water sources, campsites and services available in towns near the trail (shuttles, restaurants, grocery stores. Post Offices, lodging and more). Contact numbers and addresses are even provided. And since it’s all downloaded you don’t even need cell service to use it. Big brother and his satellites can pinpoint your GPS location at any time and show your location on the map.
The downside to all this amazing tech, at least in my mind, is information overload. I get this gnawing feeling that I always need to be making a big plan for how I’ll be handling the resupply towns every few days. In other words… I can’t just walk. All your newfound Trail friends are planning on staying at the same places or doing meetups at breweries and restaurants. To keep from being out of touch you’ve got to play this game.
Luckily I’ve got Sapling to lean on. She’s volunteered to help with a lot of these things and she’s quick and easy to put some of it together. Even as I write this she’s booked our next stay in a bunk room at the Nantahala Outdoor Center a few days’ walk ahead. (Hey Sapling, don’t forget we need printed permits to hike the Smokies!)
But back to our Franklin stay. What do many great men do when confronted with a dead end? Turn to their wives or SOs, of course. Lori joined the Facebook page for 2023 Thru Hikers a couple months ago. She used her social media skills to find us the one hostel that wasn’t booked on the evening before we arrived at Winding Stair Gap- a pick-up point for the official Franklin shuttle that runs Monday through Friday several times daily. The one drawback, I felt at the time, was that The Barn was 20 minutes out of town.
In the end it was a blessing. We ended up with plenty of Franklin time, and I never would have known what a gem I was missing had we not gone up to stay at this awesome hostel run by Scott and Shawn. They’re a lovely couple who met while serving in the Marines. Scott thru-hiked the trail in 2018 and designed his place based upon some favorite features of hostels he himself had stayed in. To begin with, the property is gorgeous. It sits on top of a mountain with an almost 360 degree view. I spent plenty of time on his wraparound porch talking and taking photographs. The barn itself had everything a hiker could ask for: a washer/dryer with loaner clothes, shower, toilet, fridge, microwave and toaster oven, common area, and a movie lounge. Plus they do breakfast for the hikers in the morning.
When Scott picked Sapling and I up somebody else was there too. We were excited to see a familiar face would be joining us for the night- the Pied Piper. We had crossed paths with this 18 year old twice already. Unfortunately he had rolled his ankle and it was swollen, bruised and in need of a few days off the trail. After a quick tour of the facilities by Scott we spent some time tossing laundry into the washer and took turns showering, and then afterwards just sat and compared notes about the trail. I also learned the Pied Piper’s name was bestowed upon him because he almost always stays in shelters, and while the mice mess with others they always leave him alone.
After awhile I went up to sit on the porch and take in the view. Shawn and Scott came out with their cute pups, Lilo and Jorge. As I offered up pets and scratches to the dogs we talked all things Trail and Franklin, and how the hostel had come to be. Then Scott excused himself to take a call. Sapling joined us and Shawn graciously made her a cup of chamomile tea and doctored her knee a little by helping her get it comfortably elevated.
Scott returned a while later and said we’d have two more folks joining us for the night. They weren’t currently hiking but were instead “Yellow Blazing”, which means doing trail related things (short AT hikes, supporting hikers, or visiting trail hostels) but using a car for much of the travel and following the yellow stripes on the Highway. They must have been close by when they called because 10 minutes later they were pulling up in their truck.
Thirsty Bear and Star Waffle were mourning the death of someone special to them both. Their friend had passed away only a week ago and both were at a loss as to how to handle it. Being hikers to the core they let their hearts dictate their actions. After attending his funeral they set out on this yellow blaze adventure and had spent many days and nights hopscotching about, bouncing from hostel to hostel and finding other special Trail spots to process the loss and honor his memory. Thirsty Bear had brought along a 6 pack picked up at The Lazy Hiker Brewing Company back in Franklin and offered them up to us. Then he delivered a heartfelt toast to his Buddy as we all listened closely. With the mountainous panorama in the background it was certainly a fitting tribute.
The Night is Young
Once we had all said goodnight to Scott and Shawn and retreated to the Barn, things took a turn for the beautifully weird. By this point the Pied Piper, Sapling and myself were used to going to bed just after sunset and getting up at sunrise. Not Thirsty Bear. For him the night was young. He pulled out a bottle of bourbon and somehow or another managed to finagle us off our inflatable mattresses and into the center of the barn. He and I shared a few shots, and the group fell into an easy conversation about our lives and what had attracted us to the trail. But as the night deepened so too did the conversation. Those that were hurting most opened up and shared some very personal feelings to people they never met 6 hours ago. There was a deep trust within this circle that we’d support one another in the moment and keep the details private.
Needing a little levity some of the topics we talked about were ridiculous and fun. We’d gotten into a groove of asking each other questions, almost truth or dare style, and Star Waffle had everyone explain what animal they’d be if they had to choose. I went first and picked an owl, mainly because they’re supposedly wise. We all fell out laughing when the Pied Piper chose an Arctic Turkey.
It was a special night and to honor our code, “It stays in the barn” I’m protecting what was actually shared. But suffice it to say that the AT will place you into circumstances far removed from your usual routine and you’ll be given the opportunity to know some of the coolest people you’ve never met.
You rock Breakfast Club!
- Day 9- Zero day in Clayton, Ga.
- Day 10- 4.5 miles: Dick’s Creek Gap to Plum Orchard Gap
- Day 11- 12.2 miles: Plum Orchard Gap to Standing Indian Shelter
- Day 12- 10.2 miles: Standing Indian Shelter to Stealth Camp@ mile 96
- Day 13- 12.5 miles: Stealth Camp @ mile 96 to Stealth Camp @ mile 107.7
- Day 14- 1.7 miles: Stealth Camp @ mile 107.7 to Winding Stair Gap (shuttle to Franklin)
- Day 15- 1 mile: Winding Stair Gap to Moore Creek campsite
- Day 16- 11.4 miles: Moore Creek campsite to Licklog Gap
- Day 17- 9.9 miles: Licklog Gap to Stealth Camp @ mile 131.6
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