The privy is, surprisingly, not too bad. There’s a lock on the door and, on a scale of one-to-death by feces smell, it’s a solid four. As I’m about to set up my sleeping bag and settle in for the night, I remember the owner of the Hiker Hostel mentioning that they’re only six miles from Woody Gap. And as much as I’m not above sleeping in an outhouse–hell, it’s a rite of passage, it’s night one and I’m not quite trail-hardened yet to the point where I’ll choose a privy over a bed.
So I step back into the rain and stand by the side of the road to hitch into town. Barely any cars drive by, and almost an hour passes before I get a ride. Finally a middle-aged guy in a pickup pulls over and I climb in the front seat. The heater is blasting and his smelly chihuahua sits on my lap.
“She sure likes you,” he smiles at me and I pet the dog’s warm little head.
He drops me off at the hostel, where I take a hot shower, hang my wet clothes and tent to dry in the bathroom, and fall fast asleep.
In the morning, I fill up on french toast, scrambled eggs, grits, oatmeal, and coffee, then get a ride to Woody Gap and head back out on the trail with a newfound pep in my step. The trail is hard, but I feel ferocious. Crush the first big climb, sing out loud, dig my first AT cathole behind a stand of trees off the trail.
A few hours later my good mood starts to sour. Eat a bar but it doesn’t help. I’m kind of bored. Lonely. Like yesterday, I don’t see a lot of people on trail. Before starting my hike, I had put myself in the mindset that this was going to be a very social experience. Had set aside any hopes for solitude. I had prepared for people, but they aren’t here. And now I sort of wish they were.
At Neel’s Gap, a handful of hikers are gathered around some picnic tables. I set my pack down, buy an ice cream bar from the general store. Join the other hikers around the table.
I meet Ellen and Patrick, two crusty punk kids from Virginia with enormous packs. We talk about Portland and squatting and Dystopia and Food Not Bombs, then Ellen asks me to shakedown her pack. Yesssss!!
I convince her to send home her compass, bowl, cup, ten gauze pads, 3/4 of her stack of band-aids, life straw, and a handful of other belongings. She refuses, though, to part with her town clothes (black jeans and a black t-shirt) or with a small glass bottle of essential oils.
Fig arrives, and a few minutes later Jester shows up. He and I have a few mutual friends who’ve been telling me I’ve got to meet Jester, that he’s the funniest dude around. I’m glad we finally meet because the rumors are true.
I’m starting to feel antsy, though. I’ve only hiked 11 miles so far today, and there’s still so much daylight left. But this is good, I’m smiling. Laughing. Trying to find some balance. So I force myself to stay put, because the trail’s not going anywhere.