A Triumphant Return, and some Lost Days

Nemo was able to be delivered back to us on trail near the Partnership Shelter in VA, more help from my Sister Nicole. (Really can’t thank you enough Sis.) He had spent a couple weeks back home, losing his trail legs and getting hit by cars. (but really though…) it was great to have him back and we, being Smokes, Rescue, Iron Man, Eddy, Nemo and I got Pizza from town to celebrate. (Partnership Shelter is one of a few shelters on the AT that is just off the road and within delivery range of a pizza place.) We took a short day afterwards and camped out behind the Bàarn, Eddy went on for the night with the Hiking Vikings. I had 2x of the Barn in Atkins’ one pound hiker burgers with chilli added for lunch, (to Rescue’s 1x without) and then we got burritos across the street. Later, while being hiker trash behind the barn watching Harold and Kumar on Smokes’ tablet, we received 3 grocery bags of food from a Little Debbie Trucker. I had atleast 3000 calories for breakfast the next morning, mostly frosted pies and those peanut butter and chocolate wafers.

It was great having Nemo back, although he had some trouble with his knees and keeping up with the pace we’d built up to in his absence. Smoke Rescue and I slowed down to match him, although Ironman leapfrogged with us for a while of this. A hiker going by the name Little Debbie caught up to us, he was outpacing us so we only spent one night with him. He would sign his name as feminine he could, showy script and little xoxos, his hope was that someone would try pink blazing for him, only to find out he was another dirty hippy boy. I doubt it ever happened, given how fast he was going, anyone who wanted to would have some serious catch up to play. We took a night at Dismal Falls and had a weird time, later hearing that some kinda drug bust happened a stones throw away. Rescue was pretty put off by how enthusiastic about swimming in the cold cold water Nemo was. Around this point the frame of Smokes’ pack broke, he was able to get a new one on warranty, only to have that one break within a few days. It ended up aright but it was super inconvenient.

Around this time while we were leapfrogging, Ironman started to practice some trail sorcery. He’d grown up and gone to school nearby and was able to call in his friends and family for some DIY trail magic. The Fellowship benefitted from this a few times, but as they became more surprising we would set up in a shelter, only to have him come in later having arranged a pick up a few more miles down trail. Rescue started to get jealous as Ironman started developing a lead on us and we found evidence of his trail magic left in registers, occasionally jokingly referring to him as Boromir in continuance of our referencing Lord of the Rings.

Our final member of the Fellowship came to us on the heels of Little Debbie, and brought to us by an older hiker on his way to a triple crown. Medicine Man, named such because he entered med school soon after his hike. He was delivered by Sycamore, who dropped in with Medicine Man, gave Nemo some sage advice and left him stunned for the better part of a day before departing without a word to any of us near Four-Pines Hostel. Medicine Man however stayed on with us until the breaking of the Fellowship at Harper’s Ferry.

The Wolve

Wolve (His spelling) as I know him was an anomaly, though I understand he fits a kind of archetype of character who unfortunately attempts the AT with some consistency. He appeared to Rescue and I in the middle of the night at uncle Johnny’s hostel in Erwin TN, and immediately he began to weave himself into a labyrinth of lies, the depths of which he seemed lost. After encountering him and others who had met him, only one thing was clear, nothing he said could be taken as true. It was apparent very early that his plan seemed to be that he would yellow-blaze up the trail, swindling overnight stays out of hostels and churches as he was able. His claims lined up closely with my actual life (He claimed to be from Minnetonka, which is only a few miles away from where I grew up, and that he had a similar plan to me beyond the AT.) and more so that of Smokes. (ex-military, tragic death of his wife and child, sometimes a son, sometimes es a daughter.) This was unacceptable to Smokes, when Wolve hitched into Damascus VA, there was a confrontation and Wolve got off trail.

Most of his tales lent to this persona that he must’ve thought was optimized to be attractive to women, a scarred veteran who overcame his dark past, has a rich family back home, and he can cook too! He introduced himself as “from Minnetonka, where the rich people in Minnesota live!” Claimed to work 18 hour days at a non-existant 5-star italian restaurant in St. Paul (it had a very generic name, I think it was “Italiano’s”), but didn’t know what a calzone was, and called tortillas “wet tacos” amongst some other food related oddities. He also had an absurd military story, something about 160 confirmed kills as an Army Ranger sniper in Nicaragua. I can’t help but  wonder what the real story was that led him to this existence.

From here we began to hike with Smokes, and would hang with him until Harper’s Ferry. Smokes is a larger than life character, he would get a carton of cigarettes in every one of his mail drops, which was every 4-6 days. He would chain smoke while hiking, even uphill, and he was fast, it was very seldom that anyone of us would be ahead of him. Last year he hiked the PCT, and he’ll make for the triple crown next year. Almost everyone I met on trail who were on the PCT in 2014 had at least heard of smokes. Rescue and I leap-frogged with Smokes, for a few days leading into Damascus. With the 3 of us and occasionally Eddy, and/or Ironman, who caught up to us just after Erwin, we formed a group, called ourselves The Fellowship, and began to head onwards towards where Nemo would return to Trail.

Losing Nemo

Returning to trail after Gatlinburg our party met Ox, another young man of thought. Ox had recently graduated with a master’s degree in theology from Notre Dame, and is perhaps the most philosophically religious person I’ve spoken at length with. We didn’t get near enough time with him then, as we split up at Hot Springs NC, but we enjoyed a couple of evenings discussing life, death, and Quentin Tarentino. Around when we met Ox, Nemo came across a dirty wool pullover hoodie and adopted it as his own, despite or perhaps because of Rescue’s protests and concerns of disease. In Hot Springs we got some business done, picked up our bounce box that Janeane had mailed for us back at Neel’s gap. I bought myself a new lighter and more appropriately sized pack, and started a bitter rivalry between myself and Rescue as to who can eat more burgers. This is still unresolved, but I am very confident in my guteral capacity. (It helps that I am still living hiker hungry on trail, and Rescue is back in school.)

A few days out of Hot Springs Nemo and I misplaced Rescue ahead of us, he left us a very sweet registry entry. His loss, the next day Nemo yogi’d us some glazed dounuts from a day hiker while I practiced cutting drills atop a shelter, we even caught up with him that night. We also got some bad news that night, Nemo’s great uncle had died. Nemo made plans to jump off trail for a while from Erwin TN. Nemo’s uncle played an important role in his family’s getting together, as it was told to me an amazing story of intrigue, eastern European politics, and Soviet Era espionage, but it’s his story to tell, so In brief and as I have left elsewhere, RIP Nemo Fam. Our next night, Rescue, Nemo, and I cut our day short to cowboy camp on an rocky outcropping, with a clear view of the sky, sunset, and sunrise. This night on the AT has stuck with me as we talked into the night about life and death, with fresh context and surrounded by earthly beauty.

In Erwin we celebrated St. Patrick’s day with Eddy Spoudazo, saw Nemo off, met Orange Crush, who would be the first finisher of the year, (it was obvious even then,) and spent a couple nights with Uncle Johnny while I got my systems swapped out to accommodate 1 person. There we met the first person on the AT that we didn’t like, but I’ll save that for next week.