Grandpa Roadtrip and other Characters

After our inadvertent week off trail Nemo and I found ourselves a ways behind everyone we had thus far met, and spent the next few days only in each other’s company. This ended just before midnight at the Fontana Hilton Shelter, when we were awoken by the light of a headlamp and the shuffling of feet. Our new shelter-mate was beat, I got up and assisted him in hanging his food and he told us of his day. Ironman as he came to be called, had started at the NOC, 30 miles back. Having heard something about a pretty girl being at this shelter, he chose to push on an extra 12 or so miles after dark, in hopes of…? He didn’t have an answer as to what he planned to say to this mystery girl, we were oddly disappointed. He was getting off trail for a college visit or something the next day, so we left him hobbling around the shelter in the morning, expecting to never hear from him again.

During our ascent into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park we cam upon a familiar face, Rescue had caught us! He had found some new friends, including the girl who had drawn Ironman’s pink-blazing, and Eddy Spoudazo, who would be another recurring character. Travelling through the Smokies with snow, ice, swordplay atop Clingman’s Dome, and some shenanigans about Rescue wanting to go by Sasquatch, we made our way to Gatlinburg. Piling into a motel that by all accounts should’ve atleast had racecar beds, had a rough night, and thinned our group to just Rescue Nemo and I.

Getting a hitch back to trail was easy, but once the car was in motion things got weird. The driver, a sedentary looking old man, asked for a picture of one of our IDs; this set off some warning lights, but thus far we’d received so much good will from kinda weird folks that our shields were pretty far down. He got my ID, in which I look maybe a little too much like a serial killer, and sent it to his sister as some form of security. He had enough service to get that message out, and to receive her panicked response, but not enough to placate her before losing service entirely. This is when he turned and took us towards the Cades Cove loop, promising wildlife sightings, and a quick return to course. Our protests were too meek, or too polite, or perhaps he was simply determined to kidnap us to relive a smokies trip of his youth. He drove slowly, and stopped frequently to let other cars pass as we exchanged glances, communicating our mutual bewilderment. He told us of trips he had taken in his youth, took blurred pictures with his phone, and hollered out to picnickers an kayakers, returning his head to the vehicle once in a moment of ironic clarity, “They must think I’m crazy!” We agreed. By the end of our diversion, what should’ve been a 20 minute hitch back to trail turned into 3+ hour Odyssey. Returning to cell service we found that his sister had turned my ID over to the sheriff’s office, we got kidnapped, and had the police called on us. Upon our arrival to trail he gave some a passing hiker a can of soda, and with one last glance between us all as if to say, “we just spent 3 hours with you and you didn’t even offer us drinks that you intended to give away?” we fled down the trail before something else could go odd, and that is how we came to know Grandpa Roadtrip.

The First Hundred Miles or so

Nemo and I started our Appalachian Trail journey the 12th of February, 2015. We had a decent idea what we were getting into, although we made some significant miscalculations…

Chiefly regarding how we setup our mailed ration system. Perhaps the biggest challenge of the AT is also its biggest ease, it’s seldom difficult to get off trail and into a local town. Where we half expected to enter a town every week or so, it has proved easy to go into town every few days. We found ourselves scrapping most of our ration plan on day 3, splitting our plan in half, we went from 14 – 16 day rations to 6 – 8 days apiece. We were exceedingly lucky to have the support of my sister Nicole for our first few rations, (and several other times while we were near her stomping grounds) although we probably doubled the number of times she had to come and meet us to drop off our rations. By another stroke of luck we traded some fancy cheese we had, in exchange for the shipping a bounce box forward with the 2nd half of our 1st ration. (Thanks again Janeane) Rationing was probably our biggest recurring challenge while on the AT.

Our other miscalculation: winter. Now this may sound foolish, but Nemo and I are from Minnesota, we figured Georgia was going to be practically tropical by comparison. We weren’t totally wrong on that, on one of our coldest days the temperatures were floating just below zero Fahrenheit, Nemo got a text from his Father whom up in cabin-land had seen minus 40. After Improvising some crampons and snagging some extra layers we were mostly out of the woods on this count.

Lastly and less of a miscalculation, I started the trip ill, and maybe still am. It’s been overall mild but early on had an acute phase which knocked me off trail for a week to see a doctor, and wait for the roads back to trail to get plowed. (another thanks to Nicole for facilitating this) I’ll spare the details, but it’s been manifesting as periodic stomach bug, a couple days of symptoms with a gap before recurring. The gap between episodes has been getting longer so I’ve just been dealing with it as needed. As far as I have seen or heard, it hasn’t transmitted to anyone I’ve traveled with.

At Unicoi gap Nemo and I were greeted at the end of a struggle down an icy descent from Blue Mountain by the a fire rescue truck. They asked if we had seen a 240 pound bald guy up there. We hadn’t, but shortly thereafter he came marching out of the woods after us, looking completely unfazed, with some decent walking crampons on. Having found who they were looking for the fire rescue service offered us a ride into town, we took it on a whim and met maybe our most significant companion of the AT, certainly the first half. Rescue, as he came to be known, split a motel room with us, and was taken aback at Nemo’s calls for, “hotel sword fighting” only to be more bewildered to find that I was carrying a real sword. We left him in town during the next snowstorm, being bored and unfazed by the Georgia snow, but it wouldn’t be long before we met up with him again.