Shortly before I met Gambit, I saw a post on Whiteblaze from a woman who was going to be in Gatlinburg for a conference and wanted to meet up with someone and hike for the weekend. “Perfect!” I thought (this was early in my search for people to hike with, so if you asked to hike with me and still haven’t heard back, I promise I’m not ignoring you!). I sent her a message, and we started planning.
We settled on Roan, for Reasons. Mostly because it’s the right geographic area, it’s incredibly gorgeous, it’s at elevation so it wouldn’t be *too* hot, and there are lots of good parking spots. And at that point, I still hadn’t stayed at the barn, so this was my chance.
As we planned, we switched to texting, and my nerves about meeting a random person to hike with for the weekend calmed. For one, she ran marathons in her spare time, so I knew she’d have a good fitness level. For two, she wrote with good punctuation and grammar, so I knew she couldn’t be too crazy. And three, she had multiple physics degrees and works at NASA as a researcher, so I knew we’d have plenty to talk about.
Thursday came, and I left work early feeling poorly. A trip to the doctor and a few hours sleeping and I was like new, more or less. I left for 19E late, but we’d already arranged to tent separately and just meet up in the morning. I ended up sleeping in my car. With my mouse friend.
In the morning, I drove down to Mountain Harbour Hostel to meet Tinkerbell (though at this point, she had no trail name). While I waited for her to finish packing up, I petted a goat! The day was off to a great start. We left Tink’s car (with her NASA stuff in it) at the hostel and headed down to Beauty Spot Gap. And I don’t think we stopped talking from that moment on.
We hit the flat cedar forest I had hiked through with Training Wheels months ago, on my 30 mile day. I had a sense of deja vu; another hike with a smart, determined woman, but vastly different circumstances.
“Well, that’s the plan!” I replied. “Are y’all staying in the shelter?”
“We haven’t decided yet. We might tent.”
The four looked at each other, then sat in silence. Tink and I looked at each other. Sharing the shelter was fine, but I would like to sit down and they’d taken up at least 8 mouse hangs with their crap.
“Well…when do you think you’ll make that decision?” I asked. I was never patient, and these hikers were getting on my nerves. They hadn’t moved to let us sit or anything.
“I mean, in a while, I guess.” Clearly we were all going to be best of friends.
Tink and I busied ourselves with other things while they burned out gears trying to make simple decisions. Eventually they decided to tent, but that didn’t mean they moved their stuff. Nope, these hikers were going to continue to inconvenience us.
We found out that we had come across Leapfrog, a NOBO who had just graduated high school; Love and Ditto, a testy little couple who were LASHers going to Harper’s Ferry or thereabouts before heading back for their last semester of college; and Hazmat, another summer LASHer with a year of college left. Love, Ditto, and Leapfrog were traveling together (the couple had met Leapfrog on the trail). Hazmat was on his own or trying to catch up to a group or something; it wasn’t quite clear.
I was on the verge of asking Tink if she wanted to move on when two older men walked in. They were loud and charismatic and I knew immediately that these would be our people.
Xanadu and Litterbug had been friends for 30 years. They’d attempted a thru, I think, and were now out for a 3 week section. They were hilarious and friendly (to us) and we decided to stay.
Tinkerbell learned to hang a bear bag.
We built a fire, and then played some euchre. Leapfrog popped out of his tent as soon as he heard the word euchre. I’d been pretty annoyed with him, mostly for some snide section hiker comments (“nice! Section hikers always have a fire! Thru hikers are just too tired after 15 miles to bother.”) but I guess he wasn’t too terrible. Or maybe he was. I didn’t really like any of them. (The LASHers said “we’re doing half the trail, so we’re practically thru hikers” and I immediately wrote them off.)
LVP: LASHers and Leapfrog
Tinkerbell got her trail name in the morning. I’d been considering Bear Bell or Tinkerbell (because she has a bear bell and also she is blonde and tiny). X and L came up with Tinkerbell independently, though, so it felt fated. She was dubbed, and then we set off.
The jerk hikers had already departed, because “thru hikers get up so early” (this is patently false, in my experience; thruhikers get up whenever they please, which is sometimes early and sometimes 10am).
Tink and I headed out, promising to save a space for X and L at the barn. We headed north through Hughes Gap. It’s funny; I remembered it being so steep and miserable (I did this SOBO on a 3 day trip of 27 miles, 27 miles, and Hughes gap was the very last of the final 20 mile day). But this time, it seemed…fine. Go figure.
Do you remember this view? When I was here before, it was just settling in to dark, and all I could see was a wisp of the sunset and the lights of…Erwin? In the distance. I was distracted by my feet and possibly the finger I had sliced open (can’t remember if that was before or after this) and I just wanted to be done. This time there was a not great dog and a lot of sun.
And then down and down to Carver’s Gap. The section SOBO was actually an LVP! Can you believe that? It was kind of pleasant NOBO. I did notice that a lot of water sources had dried up on this section.
But we made it to the shelter (after rescuing a poor day hiker named Tammy from imminent death) and even claimed the same sleeping platform that gambit and I had the week before! We spread out our stuff so that Xanadu and Litterbug could join us, and we waited and relaxed.
And so did a “SOBO”. He was wearing jeans and claimed to have left Maine in March. I knew the trail hadn’t opened until May, though, so something had to be off. He also had a thick East Tennessee accent. And he was wearing jeans.
Sure enough, word came soon that he was going back and forth between the barn and the hostel 9 miles north stealing from hikers. We made sure someone stayed with our stuff the entire day.
There was dinner and sunset and at 8pm, Xanadu and Litterbug came in (I won the bet).
We laughed with them, and found out that Litterbug had been asking people on the trail if they’d seen his wife, a redhead; shed ran off with a blonde. Tink and I died laughing. We all got the giggles and stayed up late slaphappy.
LVP: fake SOBO
We woke up damp from the clouds that had wrapped around us in the night. There had been no loud sunrise; just a quiet brightening behind fog. The four of us sat around talking for hours, waiting for the skies to clear, hoping to get a view on Hump. And the waiting paid off. (the jerk hikers did not wait and rushed off on a 9 mile hike and got no views from Hump. Ha.)
Hazmat in the background, for reasons unknown. Xanadu on the left, Litterbug on the right.
But we did get extra adventure on the drive to my car. For some reason, we forgot how long it took to get to Beauty Spot Gap, and convinced ourselves (*convinced*) that my car had been stolen. Fortunately, we found it. Two brilliant analytical minds, ladies and gentlemen. Lost a car on a gravel road.
LVP: possibly stolen car