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.