I met Gambit on the Internet. I’ve been stalking Whiteblaze, a website for people who hike (mostly the AT, but other trails too) for a while, and I started posting at some point. I can’t remember why. In order to get approved you have to provide your city, so even before I started posting I knew there were several posters in Tennessee, including Gambit.
But a few weeks ago, Gambit sent me a message and said he realized we were both in the same area in Tennessee and we should hike together sometime. I said sure, only I’m not exactly in Tennessee right now; he said ok, but do you want to go to Roan with me? I said absolutely.
So that’s how I ended up hiking with a guy I’ve never met. We’ve been texting for a few weeks and he didn’t seem like a murderer. And some other people on there had met him and none of them had been murdered, so I met up with Gambit and his dog Ward at Carver’s Gap Friday night.
Well, that clump was taken, and so was every other clump, so we tented on the exposed bald. We had a great fire and stayed up chatting until about 1am. And then we went to our tents. That was a mistake. I staked my tent out like crazy but it was still collapsed on my face most of the night. The wind kept shifting so it didn’t do me any good to reposition my tent, even though I tried. I didn’t get much sleep.
Miles hiked: .8?
I woke up, went to go do morning things, and immediately tripped and fell in a hole. Then I came back and picked up the things inside my tent so I could pack up my tent. I stepped over a stake to get around the side and tripped over the tent pole. It snapped in two. I think it was already in material failure, due to the high tension load from the wind. My foot just put it over the edge. #materialsclass
So that’s two falls and I haven’t even had breakfast. I wasn’t having a great morning.
Neither was Gambit, despite the fact that he had a Hilleberg, which is a crazy bomber tent made for those conditions. He didn’t have all the guy-out lines on it though. He packed up, we got moving, and headed back down to Carver’s Gap to drop my car off at 19E and then drive Gambit’s car back to Carver’s and start our day. On the way down, I took my third tumble. I slipped on a log stair and face planted on the trail. It was impressive. My leggings ripped and everything.
We dropped my car off and headed back for the real hike of the day. Yes, I fell again. Tripped over a root. I had already had a Safety Stand Down with myself before we left the tent site, but clearly I needed another one. I was now bleeding from 4 different places on my knees. Eyes on Path; Slips, Trips, and Falls; Complacency. I went through all of my safety and HU Tools in my head but it didn’t help. I was just a clumsy oaf.
We took a side trail up to Cornelius Rex Peake. The rhodos were glorious. The creepy dark tunnels of the past few months had brightened into enchanted princess pathways, with floral carpets and birds flitting about. The sun was streaming in, and the bushes blocked some of the gusts of wind.
We didn’t have much further to the shelter. We had originally planned to tent on Big Hump, but since the night before had been so rough, and it was still so windy, we decided to bail and stay at Overmountain Shelter, which used to be a tobacco barn. We arrived at 11:10am. We laid down in the sun and napped.
A group of men came in for lunch at an appropriate lunch time. They gave me some guff about Gambit buying me a dress or jewelry to make up for my busted knees. “I’m not that kind of girl,” I told them. “I’m a hiker; all I want is food, and he already owes me pizza.” I don’t remember what he owed me pizza for (I think because I was winning the slips, trips, and falls competition) but an hour later I owed him pizza because I lost both Trail Jenga and Trail Pétanque. The men were mostly cool (there was another “you sure are handy! I can see why he’s dragging you around!” comment that was made, but I overlooked it) and they eventually left. Gambit and I had told them how much we hiked; I don’t know why they assumed Gambit was dragging me around. (I do know why.)
Puddlejumper came in. He’s sectioning now, but attempted a thru a few years ago. He was a cool guy, and we immediately hit it off with him. We played Uno, and I won …all of it. Uno Queen. Puddle jumper was meeting a Meetup group for a hike, but they weren’t quite at his pace, so we commiserated with him about how it’s fun to find anyone to hike with, but it’s hard to find people who are willing to do 20 miles in the rain. Good thing we all three found each other.
The fun thing about section hiking season is that people want to hang out, build fires, and stay up late. And boy, did we. A young boy played with Ward. A father and his son tended the fire. Two men and Gambit cut wood while I critiqued their form (people love me).
We sat around the fire and some drank and some ate and some listened and some talked. In pieces and out of order we learned names and occupations and secrets and hopes and fears. We gave advice and rolled our eyes and shifted away from the smoke of the fire, forming new groups and starting new conversations and finding new connections.
Section hiking season is different because we all know where we’re going when the hike is over; we can keep in touch and network and make plans to hike together. We were a good group, and it was a very good night.
When I said goodnight to my new friends and crawled onto the sleeping platform, tucked between Gambit and Puddle jumper, it was with the familiarity of something I’ve done a hundred times. Finding my pillow; straightening out my quilt; making sure my sleeping pad is in the right spot; adjusting everything just so; putting my headlamp and water and phone next to my head. My feet tuck themselves in to my quilt in a different way than they do at home. I have a different position for sleeping when I camp than I do at home. But it feels just as comfortable and familiar and cozy, especially when I’m doing it while teasing Gambit and Puddle Jumper and everything is shining in the bright moonlight streaming in the old tobacco barn.
MVP: naps in the sun
Miles hiked: 8+2=10?
I woke up to see the first colors of the sunrise stretching across the mountains, and then I went back to sleep.
I woke up again when some of the hikers started cooking on the sleeping platform. Not great etiquette, especially since the picnic table was empty. The sun was bright, and Ward came over to make sure I knew he needed attention.
Puddle jumper and I woke up slowly, but gambit was ready to go. I ate in bed, then packed up. Gambit, Ward, and I headed out, agreeing that puddle jumper would meet up with us and we would give him a ride to his car and all grab pizza together.
The weather was warm, and I started shedding layers quickly. I fell behind, and Ward kept running between me and Gambit to make sure he knew where we both were at all times. It was fun, hiking with a dog.
And we finally made it up big hump.
Gambit ran in to the gas station to get us “couple schnacks” (- inside joke from brew’s crew) which we enjoyed IMMENSELY. Then it was off to Hughes gap to drop off Puddle Jumper, then Carvers Gap to drop off Gambit, and then we all met back up in Johnson City for Scratch Brick Oven Pizza.
Gambit told us that he would buy the pizza if we would let him order. I was fine with that. Puddle jumper went off to buy beer (it’s BYOB) so I went to the bathroom to spend 10 minutes washing my hands and face. Just kidding, I don’t care about dirt that much. I just splashed some water on myself.
MVP: scratch pizza
Miles hiked: 9.6