Age demographics on trail are a funny thing, and tonight I’m sleeping at what I’ll call “Geezer Camp.” Mud Turkey and I are sharing one of the sites within Betty Creek Gap, and we’re the youngest men here by at least thirty years. While I was putting the finishing touches on what has to be the best bear bag hang of my life, I heard a strange sound in the distance.
The words repeated at slow and steady intervals, and a man named Joe asked me if I heard it. I had my puffy jacket and my headlamp on, so I ran up trail towards the sound. Soon the situation was obvious. I stood before the sign marked “toilet area” which, was actually just a maze of rhododendron trees. One of the gray haired voyagers had lost their way, probably after their evening constitutional.
“ARE YOU INJURED?” I shouted back. The reply was negative, and a most serious game of Marco Polo began. Soon, I saw bushes waving back and forth, and briefly my irrational fear of Jurassic Park Velociraptors perked. To my relief however, a tall man dressed in khaki colored clothes emerged, orange trowel in hand. Joe and I had been talking and laughing quietly to ourselves this whole time.
“You fellas may have just saved an old man’s life!” The stranger bellowed.
He was visibly shaken and quite embarrassed, so I resisted the urge to give him a (new) trail name. On the way back to camp I told him about Wrong Way, who did something similar. As I understand it, she stopped off the Approach Trail to pee, got turned around, and walked all the way back to the arch at Amicalola. That was in 2016, and she did indeed make it Katahdin. The story gave him a laugh and he seemed in good spirits when we reached his tent.
I went back to my spot to tell Mud Turkey all about it. As it turns out, he was the headlamp I saw in the distance last night. I met Mud Turkey at Blue Mountain Shelter, and we have a similar hiking style and temperament. Tomorrow he and I plan to hike the twelve miles to Winding Stair Gap, and shuttle into Franklin. We’re going to split a hotel room, which will make for my first shower in seven days. My armpits smell like rotting peppercorns!
I think he’ll take a zero there, and I might too. My crunchy left ankle has now festered into what I fear may be shinsplints. All I can do really is ice it, and keep moving. Mud Turkey’s pinky toes are being blistered by his Salomon boots, but thankfully Franklin is home to Outdoor 76. They are probably the most knowledgeable hiking shoe fitters in the South East.
My gear is all performing quite well. My new Hyperlite pack is wonderful, and each day I pack it a tiny bit differently. I think I’ve almost got it dialed in. Phone and .Mp3 player go in the right hipbelt pocket, along with a few guidebook pages. In the left I keep a lighter, my headlamp, a spare battery, sunscreen and hand sanitizer. These large pockets are a massive improvement over my last pack. Being able to get to things quickly and conveniently while walking is priority one.
Hikers are lazy, and I am a hiker. If I can’t reach my water without taking my pack off, I’ll put off drinking it. The same goes with sunscreen, and sanitizer. I rolled about five feet of Leuko tape onto my trekking pole, so I can stop and address blisters pack-on, without having to rummage.
After Franklin the next big stop will be Fontana, shortly before entering the Smoky Mountains. I’m about 68 miles miles away.