In the morning, I hike a mile to the road then thumb a ride into Hiawassee from a young hippie couple. Space Time is in town, so we eat breakfast together at a greasy spoon, then I resupply at the grocery store for the next stretch. Ellen and Patrick show up and we hitch a ride back to the trail from a middle-aged guy in a truck. He tells us he used to race crotch rockets but had to give it up when he laid his bike down on the track, broke his body. Now, he says, he has to find new ways to get a rush.
“Volunteer fire fighting,” he says when I ask if he’s found any suitable alternatives. “Most people run out of burning buildings. I run into ’em.”
It’s pissing rain when we get back on the trail. Patrick hangs back with Ellen and I push on, trudging through the mud with my head down. When I reach the spring we had planned to camp at, there are already three or four tents set up. I find the flattest spot I can and pitch my tent amidst a flurry of whipping wind and sideways rain. Climb inside and lay out my sleeping pad and bag, which are, for the most part, sort of dry. Eat a stale plain bagel and a handful of peanut M and M’s while the storm lashes my little shelter. Toss and turn all night.
The rain is still coming down when I pack up my things and hike out the next morning. I barely slept, I’m pissy. Glad I don’t see any other hikers on the trail because I’m in too bad of a mood for niceties. My fingers are soggy sponges. My jacket’s soaked through. Everything’s damp. My mood. This day. The dead brown leaves carpeting the forest floor.
I stop at a shelter to eat a snack and Fig is there in his teeny black running shorts. He’s not hiking any further, he tells me, even though it’s only 2 pm.
“Oh, Tick Tock!” Fig hollers after me as I start down the trail. “That couple you asked me about the other day, Two Bad Dogs, they came through here right before you showed up.”
Yesssssss!! I gallop down the trail to try and catch them. I met Two Bad Dogs on the PCT last year when they were section hiking Washigton. They thru-hiked in 2013, but wanted to go back and see the North Cascades when they weren’t socked in with snow (a ferocious storm pummeled the region when they first hiked through it.) Had no idea they were on the AT until I saw their names in a trail register at Neel’s Gap penned the day before I passed through.
A mile or so down the trail, I find Two Bad Dogs eating a snack on the side of the trail. We share wet hugs and a heartfelt reunion, then hike together for the rest of the afternoon.
It’s so good to see them, to hike with them, to reminisce about the PCT with them. We talk about the glory of the Stehekin Bakery. The smell of the desert at dusk. The beautiful efficiency of the Saufleys’ laundry system (R.I.P. Heaven Heaven.) Glacier Peak. The sadness when it was all said and done.
We hike until the sun goes down, pitch our tents close to one another’s. In the morning, I’m packed up and ready to hike out just as they wake up. We’ll see each other soon, we promise. So good seeing you again, we say. Mrs. Bad Dog pulls me close for a hug, whispers in my ear, “You’re family now, Tick Tock, you know that?”
I nod. Hug her back. Disappear down the trail.