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Oats on the Appalachian High Route: Day 15 – The Trek | Gmx Pharm

All of us at the shelter that night settled in just before midnight of the walkers, but were awakened a few minutes later by a shrill “Oh my god, something just touched me!” just when most of us were beginning to drift away. A headlight inspection later, and the memory of the large rat I’d seen scurrying through the crumbs of the kitchen area twice in the last hour, we drooped our eyelids and fell asleep again.

My morning at Icewater Springs Shelter was the slowest I’ve ever had, including my entire AT walkthrough. Because I’ve always had such a large pack (I started the AT at 32 pounds), I developed a habit of going from complete sleep to the trail in about 20 minutes, an impressive feat. After a few weeks of digging deep into my Hyperlite and all of its content, I felt more dialed in than ever – but today was different. It was only 12.5 miles to Tricorner Knob and an easy stretch, but I was more eager to catch up with my old hiking buddy than I was to break miles and climb peaks. We started chatting as we shifted in our sleeping bags, our catching-up nowhere near satisfied with the 30 minutes we had that night before the rat emerged and propelled us to the relative safety of the sleeping platform. Around 10:30am, after countless tales of past adventures, exchanging path names both familiar and unfamiliar, we finally put on our backpacks and set off for our first destination of the day – Charles Bunion.

As you might expect, it was a foggy day in the Smokies. We approached the Blue Blaze trail nonetheless in high spirits, something I would never have considered on my AT-Thru hike as off-trail miles should be avoided like the plague. This time, the smooth rocks and the vastness of the sky right behind our feet were mesmerizing. I now understood my grandma’s concerns about cliffs I might fall off, although these were generally rare in the Appalachian Mountains. RD, who is familiar with many of the trails in the park, described the far side of the expanse, which is usually dotted with tiny hikers embarking on their own adventures to the peaks of Mount Le Conte and Mount Kephart on the other side of the ridge .

How much does my camera hate this weather? Exactly as much as you think.

Instead of telling you multiple times that RD and I have shared countless stories and conversations about the hours we hiked together and denying you the stories, here are a few of my favorites:

Hafer and RD at it again!

After bouncing back from a trail post injury in Mid Virginia, I thought all hope of meeting my streetcar off the Smokies was lost — the point was driven home by a gnarly case of food poisoning brought on by a meal together was caused by a wanderer named Five Stern. On one particularly gross day, when I still hadn’t fully recovered from the food poisoning, I treated myself to a 10-mile trip to Daleville. It was cold and had been raining since the night before, so I stood soaking wet and bruised in the hotel lobby as I checked into what turned out to be the only private room I would have during the course of my trek. After checking in and warming up with a hot shower, I texted my long-lost tram to check in. RD was one of the first to respond – and he happened to be in Daleville with Farmer, KO and IT, other people I’d stood up to in the toughness of the Smokies with a month before! A few excited messages later, we discovered that not only had we picked the same hotel to settle into, but that we were in adjoining rooms in the top corner of the hotel (if that doesn’t tell you thru walkers stink, I don’t know what does). A reunion at the Mexican restaurant in the parking lot was in order, and we relished the knowledge that we would be hiking together again, at least for a little while.

Another of my favorite memories comes from our time in Shenandoah National Park when our paths crossed once again. The talk of the trail was that the AYCE breakfast at the Inn started at 7am… we wanted to be there when the doors opened 5 miles north of the trail. Although we moved at the same time early the next morning, I was off a few minutes before my shelter buddies, thanks largely to my foam sleeping pad, which, unlike their ultra-light air mattresses, was easily collapsible. RD and others quickly passed me on their way to the buffet, but secured me a seat at the table as I strolled among the tourists, my lips soaked and my lips blue from the cold. For our first round, both RD and I opted for a thick stack of pancakes with syrup and whipped cream on top. It wasn’t until we got back to the table and started feasting that we realized we’d mistaken unsweetened yogurt for whipped cream, and squirted a good amount straight onto our pancakes. And of course we ate it all anyway and then walked back for seconds (observing the toppings more carefully on this run).

Circa 2019 Shenandoah National Park: AYCE Breakfast of Champions

Unlike Icewater Spring, Tricorner Knob Shelter was tucked away down a short cul-de-sac that was completely hidden from the AT. A pipe well crossed in front of the cooking area and a large piece of wood was laid across the muddy center to facilitate access to the privy and wiring. As we continued to utter names we remembered from our time on the trail together and had forgotten, I spotted movement near the source. RD and I jumped to our feet and quickly examined. A salamander barely bigger than my index finger had slung itself onto the board from the current and was wiggling to the other side of the platform in what seemed an odd contemporary dance as we approached. Eventually it slipped back into the water, but not before we got a good look at it to admire its colours, patterns and general wobblyness. We fondly remembered the AT’s red-spotted newts, which were common after rainstorms but which I hadn’t seen before on the Appalachian High Route, as our bellies growled in unison with relief.

RD and I arrived at the shelter just in time for the first dinner, and when we realized I had an extra day of food en route to Hot Springs, it was cause for celebration. I popped my second pack of PopTarts for the day, added way too much water to a pack of chicken and rice, and watched RD inspect and gobble up a similar number of calories. Although his gear is ultra-lightweight than mine, he had packed enough food for several days instead of the 36 hours he would have been on the road: But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that when you pack your fears, extra food is never a bad call.

Our eyelids grew heavier with every story, every laugh, and every ray of sunshine that slipped behind the shelter, signaling once more the swift arrival of the wanderer’s midnight. By quarters to go we had fallen silent and were enjoying the shelter’s private, dry and seemingly rat-free platform when we saw a light fast approaching around the corner of the covered cooking area. Within 3 minutes, half a dozen rangers wearing GSMNP t-shirts and ball caps walked onto the field and quickly began unpacking and chatting amongst themselves. “No wonder you had trouble booking a permit for the night,” I remarked to RD, now wide-eyed and bathed in bright white light. The sky outside was now dark, but the group had only just begun to make dinner and settle in; it would be a while before sleep returned.

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Updated: September 17, 2022 — 12:32 am

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