Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Apollo Saves the Day

Physics is troubling. In a general sort of way it makes sense to laypeople, in that I have a basic understanding of the connection between the pain in my foot and this brick that I have just dropped. However, it has come to my attention that physics is a fickle creature, happy to provide basic universal services so long as she is appreciated. The moment we cease acknowledging and being grateful to physics for the magic she gives us, is the moment we are to be punished. Physics has a wicked sense of humor. This is how we ended up deadbolted out of our own hotel room, surrounded by groceries, and nearing hysterics.

We woke up on Saturday morning in Gatlinburg Tennessee, a magical and nightmarish place nestled 18 miles downhill from the Smoky Mountains. Another hiker described it as "Hillbilly Disneyland." It has the same flavor and feeling of Coney Island or Wildwood, NJ, except that there is no ocean in sight. This bothersome fact in no way waylays the cackling visitors in short shorts, bathing suit tops and gold chains, who swagger through the streets like a colorful parade of insecurity and bravada. There is one main street with candy-saturated storefronts, a Willy Wonka fever dream of epic proportions. Everything, from the haunted mansion to the aquarium to the "5D!!!" theater is owned by Ripley (of Ripley's Believe it or Not), a fact that is advertised by the resolutely glowing neonsigns above every storefront. I have never been to a tourist location that tries quite so thoroughly to obscure the entire reason for the tourism to begin with (the mountains). It instilled in me a strange sense of feverish joy and deep, unbounded philosophical terror.

We arrived in Gatlinburg on Friday night via an absolutely delightful ride in the back of a pickup truck. We found out that 15 minutes after we'd gotten picked up, the one road up to the mountain crossing got closed for the weather, and we had narrowly avoided being trapped without resupply. We hitched a ride with the super fun and kind family from Florida (Adonna, Teak and Noah!) who let all five of us pile into the bed of their truck and drip melting snow all over everything. They gave us a pizza, soda and cookies, compelled to this by nothing but their own kindness. The mountains flew by us as we went downhill, though they kindly drove slowly, so as to lessen the probability of one of us getting launched out of the truck like a popping popcorn kernel. Hot Dog, Whistle and I sang Disney songs at the top of our lungs, serenading the wind and raindrops. We got out of the truck once we got downtown, and walked back through the main street with our packs, raingear and hiking poles, sticking out with startling contrast from the other occupants of the streets who skirted around us like we were alien, dangerous animals. We got to our Motel 6, and as per usual, exploded all of our posessesions over the room.

Dumptruck and I carried our laundry over to the neighboring motel to clean, and met an incredible lady named Beth, who gave us laundry soap and offered us sandwiches. As it turned out, she and her husband Bernie spend several months every year doing trail magic (food and kindness) for hikers. They gave us huge sandwiches, hot chocolate, coffee and many other treats, while we sat around the kitchen table in their large motel room, so happy and thankful.

We met up with Outside Dog, and the six of us went out to eat at a buffet. Whilst systematically doing our best to put the buffet out of business by eating everything in sight, I let out a thunderous, reverberating belch. Our waitress, who was passing at the time, turned to look at us with disgust and fell for my clever trick of shifting the blame onto Dumptruck through the simple expedient of pointing at him and blinking innocently.

"I'm surprised that came out of you," she said peevishly, looking at Dumptruck's thin frame. She had been less than impressed with our behavior since our arrival at the restaurant. We are as polite as possible, it's just that we don't quite fit in regular society anymore. Just because give it a shower, a grizzly bear will still seem out of place in a restaurant, even if you give it a fresh pair of pants to wear.

"It wasn't me!" He protested, and everyone at the table agreed, laughing and insisting that no, it was that pink-haired girl in the corner. I admitted my guilt. Our waitress raised one thin, penciled eyebrow at me and sighed,

"Well honey, you'll make a great wife one day."

We kindly waited until she was out of earshot, and then I burst into staged, devastated sadness, wailing into my wilting salad and macaroni that "One day! One day I'll make a great wife!" Dumptruck patted my back reassuringly, and agreed that, "Yes honey, one day that day will come."

On the way out of the restaurant, Whistle picked me up like a sack of potatoes, threw me over her shoulder and carried me out the door.

The next morning (Saturday), Beth and Bernie very sweetly offered to give us five a ride to the grocery store. Before we left, a clothing line got strung up across the room for drying clothing and sleeping bags, tied at one end to the door's deadbolt. It was one of those gold u-shaped slide bolts common to motels and convenient for opening your door a crack, peering out and doing general what's-all-thising. The type of bolt that can only be undone from the inside when the door is closed. The clothes line was tied to the end of the u-bolt and strung across the room. If this was a movie, at the mention of the deadbolt, the camera would swing Michael Bay style across the rope on the deadbolt while a jangling minor chord of music pealed out across the theatre. A subtitle would flash in large, clear letters: DRAMATIC FORESHADOWING.

We all piled in the back of their truck and went to the store to buy way too many supplies. Poor Hot Dog and Whistle had been trapped in the Smokies without enough food and had to ration, so we were all paranoid, which led to getting an insane amount of calories. After the supermarket sweep, we headed back to the motel, put the key in the lock, and discovered that it would only open 3 inches because the clothing line had deadbolted the door from the inside.

Physics. And how.

This was stressful, so I opened a bag of cheetos and we all turned our fingers and faces orange to calm ourselves. There was a solid 30 minutes of general hair-pulling, cursing and hysterics. We didn't want to tell the motel, sure we would incur some sort of locksmith fee. Apollo, calmly, asked us all to step aside, put his hands on his hips, and gave physics a stern, angry look in the eye. Physics quivered.

His bag of tent poles (the metal skeleton of his tent) was laying on the floor just inside of the door, and he was able to drag it out. He got his hands on some long, thin rope, squeezed his hands through the 3-inch gap, and tied one end of the string to the end of the u-bolt. He then assembled his tent poles into a large, orange spider creature and tied the middle of the string to the backbone of the poles. Then he slid the tent-pole assembly into the room through the gap, and closed the door, while holding the opposite end of his rope under the door. He crouched down and pulled the rope as hard as he could, causing the spider-poles to cartwheel away from the door, pulling against the u-bolt.

Apollo stood up, put the key in the door, and the door swung inward in a sheepish sort of way. We all gaped, openmouthed and stunned, as our hiker-stank poured out of the room, now the world's sweetest perfume. The silence was broken as Whistle, Hot Dog and I started screaming in joy and charged into the room, hugging Apollo and reveling in our messy, messy temporary home. We told Apollo that he was incredible, we were grateful, and he better start thinking of something equally impressive to do for tomorrow because now we had expectations, gosh darnit.

We spent the rest of the day enjoying each other's company and being generally grateful for not being dead. It was hard to know if we weren't just frozen half-solid back in Mollie's Ridge Shelter, hallucinating wildly. That night we went out to a karaoke bar for Outside Dog's birthday, and I sang George Michael's "Faith" to a crowd of whiskey-swillin southerners who sang along, while my little hiker family danced around in joy. We went to bed at 10:30 (way past our bedtime), and woke up on Sunday to the road to the Smokies being open. We climbed in a van, got back to Newfound Gap, and started back into the mountains for the second half of our roller coaster ride.

Clever Girl

Next update will include many more photos, update on the second half of the Smokies, and (potentially) a video of us girls singing Disney songs in the back of a pickup truck.


  1. Hooray for Apollo! So wise to default to Cheetos as the universal antidote for nearly any woe...and apparently increases brain power too!
    Where are you now? (We have to move your little push pin along on the map...) Here's to
    moving safely thru the Smokeys. You've hit the highest part of the trail...I think you won't be so high up again till Mt Washington.
    Be safe! Love to all...glad you've connected with Hot Dog and Whistle. Shout out to Hot Dog for having the 2nd best AT blog ever! :-) Love, Mom and Dad

  2. Apollo's Trail Surname should be McGyver. Keep on hiking you crazy hikers.

    El Jefe

  3. Way to go Apollo! You are doing great guys. Looks like real nice weather headed your way next week. Other than occasional rain. Love Mom and Dad