Honeybuns and I met in Hanover. I walked into the city alone, planning on finding Wokman and the Count at the pizza place with free slices for hikers. The only problem was, I had no idea where that was in the busy college town.
So I wandered around, hair already dry from the quick bath I’d taken in a stream (one of the few deep enough to soak a bandana in, in the relentless summer drought).
Just past the gelato place, I saw (and smelled) a hiker. Ridiculously bright, way too short shorts. A T-shirt stained with sweat and dirt. A really huge beard.
“NOBO or SOBO?” My brilliant opening line.
“NOBO,” he replied. We walked off together to find the crew I’d met earlier that day at a trail angel’s house.
And we did. That weekend was blueberries and swimming in the river. Crashing Dartmouth fraternity parties and looking at art. Eating fresh maple syrup and drinking local apple cider. We watched a meteor shower from the baseball field. And then two days later, I took a bus and a train and a bus down to Vermont to continue on my hike (and shortly ran into Brew, Danger, and Red Dragon, and then met Bent, without whom I would not be the person I am today!
Honeybuns, he of the pink shorts and the huge beard, finished his NOBO hike. He went back to Florida, but we kept in touch. We decided that we’d go to Virginia for a section together.
He got to my apartment at 9pm on Friday. We loaded up my car and left for VA 42, almost immediately bashing the front of my car on a terrible bump in a bridge (not even in South Carolina yet, which is literally less than a mile from my home).
We arrived at the trailhead at 3am. We scouted out a likely area in the far back corner of the shelter — a small gravel clearing still under the shelter but free of picnic tables. We fluffed out sleeping bags and puffed up sleeping pads and went to sleep.
At 4am, a man drove up in a truck. The truck sat there for 20 minutes or so, then drove off. Judging by the baby wipes he left behind, there was some sort of emergency situation going on. I will not speculate further.
At 5am, we heard voices and saw headlamps flashing. 3 or 4 men came through the parking area to the shelter. I caught snippets of their conversation while dozing off. “Bob! You want some of this oatmeal!” Etc.
One of them nearly stepped on my face. I pretended to be asleep.
Another started pulling down his pants not 3 feet from us. “Honeybuns! He’s going to pee on us!!” Honeybuns turned over and said, “good morning!”
The man turned off his headlamp and then changed his pants. I guess he never intended to pee on us, but he DID intend to change clothes next to our heads. I’m still not sure if he just didn’t see the two bodies in sleeping bags stretched out right in front of him ??
Anyways, we played dead until they left at sunup. Which also meant I didn’t sleep much.
We got up once the shelter was empty and made breakfast. Well, I gathered twigs and got started on coffee, using my wood stove.
Here is my opinion on the wood stove: it is great fun, if you’re not in a rush. Starting a fire on the AT is rarely easy (it generally rains or is damp most of the time, except when it’s all literally on fire) but it IS one of the most time-honored forms of hiker entertainment. So if you’ve got a good 30 minutes to cool around with a tiny fire, by all means, carry a wood stove! But be prepared for everything to be stained with soot.
Anyways, we headed off around 10. It is important to note that, for reasons I will not get into here, Honeybuns took off in front of me and I hiked alone.
I was slow and out of breath and my foot hurt, so when I came to Knot Maul Shelter after 2 miles, I sat down for a snack and a break.
And then I stood up and started walking. An hour later, I figured I’d gone about 2 more miles but didn’t stop to check the map. I kept walking. I noticed a parking lot with several cars. Hmmm, lots of people out this weekend.
I noticed a picnic shelter. Funny! Just like the trailhead where we parked. I looked back at the cars. That one looked like mine….
And then I checked the map. Yes. I had walked another 2 miles. In the wrong direction.
I screamed in frustration, though about just driving to the end, but my conscience (my older sister) told me I’d be sad if I did. So I started walking again.
I met up with Honeybuns again at a stream. I’d passed a few SOBOs, who were very nice and reported that he was just ahead. And also that I was very close to the top of the mountain.
I stopped and had a snack and some water once I found him, and then we set off again.
The four miles before the shelter were 100% uphill. And boy, did I feel it.
We eventually got to the top of the bald, emerging from the woods into a cloud. We stopped for water and then hefted our heavy packs onto our backs and trudged up further.
The shelter was an old fire warden’s cabin. It was a great size and fully enclosed, a real boon on such a damp, misty afternoon.
We approached the door and heard a dog barking. Wouldn’t you know it, F-Stop and Leif (the dog) were inside. I’d met F-stop and Leif in New Jersey this past summer. She was finishing up the last few hundred miles of her thru hike. We caught up, then Honeybuns and I set up for the night. Snacks and an early bedtime.
I slept pretty well. F-stop left early, and I got up to see if there was a good sunrise. There was.
A long 30 minutes later, I had my wood stove going for coffee. A leisurely breakfast, and then back into the woods for the last few miles before our shuttle.
It was still a challenge. My legs were sore. I was out of breath. It made me appreciate the athleticism that I’d lost.
But then we hit the trailhead and our shuttle showed up as soon as I’d changed my shoes. A long drive down the mountain road, and we were off again, back home.
Some key takeaways:
1. WOW I am out of shape
2. Wood stoves are fun unless it’s wet
3. The trail community is very small
4. Always check your direction.
Trip total: 17.7
MVP: New insoles
LVP: the muscles that disappeared!