Visitors on the Trail
Before I started the Appalachian, I knew I would have friends and family wanting to visit. They’d probably come down for a few days at a time after I’d already become a seasoned thru-hiker. I was expecting one or two visits during summer when all my friends would be home from college. So imagine my surprise when sitting in Logan Airport, I get a text from one of my friends: “so you think I can come down there on the 21st?” That would be day 5 of my hike. There was no way I’d be prepared enough to act as a guide on the trail at that point. To make things even more interesting, he was gonna bring another one of my friends with him.
My mom went up the approach trail with me, but that wasn’t exactly as technical as the 3 or 4 day stretch I’d be leading them on. I already knew they would slow me down, but I figured that’s no big deal if it’s just two days out of a hundred fifty. Going into my first few days, I only had one question:
How the Hell do I Schedule This Thing?
As I started to plan with Gabe we only had one thing on our side, we knew I’d be able to hit Mountain Crossings at Neels Gap by my fifth day for sure. A rendezvous point. Beyond that, Gabe and Jadriel were on their own for preparing, and for them that meant tents, packs, shoes, and food all without much guidance. For just a peek at how bad things were, Gabe didn’t even have a sleeping pad and Jadriel’s $40 hiking boots had him nursing blisters for the whole journey. We had no idea how much service I’d be getting out here so any coordination beyond day and place was unrealistic, but that didn’t stop me from trying to change plans last minute and getting screwed for it.
The day Gabe and Jadriel flew into Atlanta, they touched down around 10 am on the redeye. They knew they’d be able to get a shuttle to Mountain Crossings for about noon, but I’d been outpacing my expected time. I was tenting at Bull Gap, just two miles past Neels the morning they flee in. With the time I was making I thought we could meet at Tesnatee Gap if they caught an uber. I rolled into Tesnatee about the same time they found themselves at Mountain Crossings, and with spotty connection, there was nothing to do but wait for their arrival.
A Comedy of Errors
Back at gap, Gabe and Jadriel were busy buying a camp stove (I didn’t have one to share because I’m cold soaking all my food) when they saw my text. Being economical, they decided that rather than buying a ride over to me, they would hike. Little did they realize they were stepping into a world of hurt with no trekking poles, almost no sleep, and a late start all while hauling 35 and 45 pound packs respectively.
The first three hours at Tesnatee weren’t too bad. Some trail angels had a setup going offering hot sandwiches and drinks, so I was able to pass the time with snacks and light conversation as I learned that Tesnatee happens to be the windiest gap in Georgia. Once they ran out of fuel, they started to pack up, and as a final spark of trail magic one of the angels let me warm up in their car for a few minutes.
The next two hours would see me huddled in a ditch and pacing back and forth along the trail as I slowly froze my ass off and got more and more worried that something bad might’ve happened to my friends. My fears would only be calmed once I saw that Jadriel had posted the view from Cowrock Mountain on his Snapchat story, a view I remembered well from about 5 hours ago. They were close. I paced a while longer until I finally decided to backtrack to them, where we finally met around two miles from Whitley Gap Shelter, where we would stay the night.
The Three Stooges
Between repeated inside jokes and long nights inside Gabe’s massive three-man tent, Gabe and Jadriel learned what it was to be unprepared on the AT. They had packed these nice little soup and chili packets to reheat and they expected those to be their meals. A close look at the nutrition labels, however, would show that each of those packets only had around 100-150 calories each, barely more than a packet of Oreo cookies. I’d end up giving them my own oreos as rations from time to time for a little boost. Sleep deprived, calorically deficient, and probably a little dehydrated, we moved onwards. I’d like to think I got a bit better at planning through those days as I steered us around according to our ability and needed miles.
On the second day we found big sticks to use as poles and eventually rolled into an unmarked tent site with two hikers we had seen at Whitley. We hit it off with them around their campfire and eventually moved into the tent, leaving the two strangers outside listening to what they later described as “classic stoner conversations” as they watched the night sky. I never caught either of their names, but one was initially a thru-hiker who ended up sectioning, and, long story short, I had forgotten my thru-hiker tag, and now I’m carrying his. We said our goodbyes the following morning with a fist-bump and the words, “goodbye, 429.”
Gabe ended up getting a trail name at Blue Mountain Shelter. As he was explaining how low in calories their packed food was, he ended up using the word “calorific.” Not a single person there believed it was a real word, but they looked it up and there it was, so now that’s his name. That happened the same morning they left the trail.
Old Friends, Older Trail
Even with everything that went wrong, I can’t wait for more visits. Jadriel wants to come back at least once, my sister is going to drop by, some twin friends of mine are coming through, and my parents are gonna be giving me all the support they can through New England. That’s just what I know about now, so I’m sure I won’t be solo for long.
If you ever find yourself planning for friends to meet you on the trail, here’s a few words of advice. At least let them know what the big three gear items are: tents, packs, and a complete sleeping system. That means a sleeping bag and a pad. Also let them know to pack food for 2000 calories a day, not just what looks like “camp” food. Other than that, just be sure they understand what it means to carry what they bring. It’s not the worst thing for short visits to be struggle-fests, but I think everyone would enjoy themselves more if they aren’t carrying any more than 35 pounds.
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