Saturday, April 6, 2013


Day 24: 10.4 miles. Newfound Gap to Peck's Corner Shelter (but Dumptruck and I tented outside)

Day 25: 12.9 miles. Peck's Corner Shelter to Cosby Knob Shelter (last night in the Smoky Mountains! Also, we tented here as well because the shelter was full)

Day 26: 10.7 miles. Cosby Knob to Green Corner Road (and a stop-off at Standing Bear Hostel to resupply, and to hang out while Whistle had to go back and find her hat)

Day 27: 9.8 miles. Green Corner Road to Brown Gap

Day 28: 10.2 miles. Brown Gap to Walnut Mountain (over Max Patch Bald, where we almost died AGAIN)

Day 29: 6.5 miles. Walnut Mountain to Garenflo Gap

There comes a point in every young woman's life where she completely loses her mind. Sometimes this happens as the result of a traumatic relationship, or because of financial or family problems. Or sometimes, in rarer cases, it happens because the young woman becomes thoroughly convinced that the weather and all bad fate is controlled by a couple of tiny, angry rocks. She, and her traveling companions will believe this so completely that they will gladly act in bizarre and foolish ways to appease the rock gods. Not Jim Morrison or Jimi Hendrix, mind you. The gods of old, old earth stuff crushed down with pressure until turned into solid bundles of mass. Rocks that, without a doubt, control the weather.

It began on my birthday (day 15) when Hermes presented me with a tiny plastic bag with two miniscule but beautiful stones in it. One was a purple amethyst, the other an itty-bitty tear drop shaped low-grade emerald. He said that last year, when he successfully thru-hiked from Georgia to Maine, he carried these stones for luck, and the weather was perfect and beautiful, he had exquisite luck the entire time, and he felt the rocks kept him safe. He said he'd like me to have them for my birthday, and for me to carry to them to Katahdin. Honored and pleased, I reached out for the little baggie.

"Of course," he said a little sadly, "they didn't seem to be that lucky for Prayer Walker."

I hesitated, hand in midair, suddenly regarding the small inocuous stones with new suspicion. I had met Prayer Walker briefly, a wonderful and kind thru-hiking woman who told me, endearingly, that she finally felt that the trail was her home, and that she was going to finish it no matter what.

"What do you mean? What happened to Prayer Walker?"

"Well," Hermes continued, looking into the campfire, "I gave her these rocks for luck, and then one day later the weather got so bad, and she was scared of slipping on the ice, so she quit the trail."

I goggled at Hermes. "Prayer Walker quit?! I mean, I respect her decision absolutely, but it makes me sad."

"Yeah, me too. So she insisted that I take the rocks back and give them to a new hiker who was going to finish the trail. I think that person is you!"

I regarded the rocks, sitting innocently in their bag, battling against the admittedly crazy part of myself that was hollering at me to slap the rocks to the ground and run screaming in the other direction. "Silly self," I thought, "those rocks gave Hermes luck, why should they be responsible for Prayer Walker?" Coincidence, my brain cheered. Coincidence!

I took the baggie, gave Hermes a hug, and tucked it into the breast pocket of my fleece jacket.

The following is an unedited, simple summation of the things that have happened to me and my hiker family since that moment:

Surprise blizzard, hypothermia, frost bite, near starvation, Dumptruck falling and briefly dislocating his shoulder, Dumptruck losing so much weight that he worries he might have to leave the trail for malnutrition, road to Gatlinburg closed, locked out of out own hotel room, trail covered in ice and slush causing Hot Dog and Apollo to get swollen terrible shin splints, Whistle falling on ice and seriously injuring her knee, getting to the last shelter in the Smokies and finding it full, such that Dumptruck and I are forced to tent outside during an ice rain storm, being completely unable to find any place to stay in Hot Springs, Whistle losing her hat and having to retrace three miles of the AT to find it, meeting a neonazi, Hot Dog's feet becoming two giant oozing uncontainable blisters, getting caught in a freak hailstorm on top of a bald with 70 mph winds, ice collecting so heavily on all the trees that the trees split crack fall crash and explode into a thousand pieces of wooden shrapnel all around us as we sprint through the forest, a mouse chewing through Dumptruck's clothing bag and nesting in his socks, Whistle getting hit with food poisoning such that she is up vomiting mysteriously neon orange puke into a ziploc bag all night long while Hot Dog and I sit up with her at a loss of what to do, and finally, Hot Dog and I both getting struck directly on the head with large chunks of falling ice.

The five of us have garnered a reputation among the thru-hiking community for bringing bad weather and bad luck, in spite of our unrelenting good cheer. They call us the five horsemen of the apocalypse. People like us, but we are (understandably) feared. However, we continue to sing whistle, laugh and enjoy ourselves somewhat miraculously given what we've been going through.

We five woke up on Friday morning (day 29) in the tiny shelter, Whistle shaking and pale from sickness, knowing we only had 13 miles to get to Hot Springs. Fog and rain surrounded us, discouraging us from starting the day. I took the rocks from my pocket and stared at them like a pair of dangerous snakes. They stared back at me, and I felt a distinct malice between us. I explained to my hiker family about the rocks, and Whistle's eyes narrowed at them from the small opening in her sleeping bag of sickness.

"You have to get rid of them," she whispered.

Wave after wave of tree limbs and huge chunks of ice were crashing down on the tin roof of the shelter, punctuating our conversation with loud crescendos of sound. I nodded, agreeing, knowing they would have to be put to rest with ceremony, lest their punishments continue to follow us beyond their resting place. A wonderful thru-hiker, Otto, who has hiked the trail many times came across us in the shelter, explaining how we could exit the trail at a small road crossing at 6 miles and get picked up by Chuck Norris, the proprieter of the Hot Springs hostel, the Laughing Heart (we had gotten reservations at the hostel after a long and complicated process resulting in Whistle's mom actually having to call to make the reservations). We were able to get in touch with Chuck and told him we'd be at the crossing at 1:30.

Whistle cried in relief of having to only go 6 miles. Us other four took all of Whistle's things from her pack to split up and carry all of her packweight, in spite of her protestations, so that she only had to hike with her empty backpack. The five of us then headed out into the fog, wind and rain, as ice-covered trees continued to explode with cracking sounds and sacrifice themselves onto the forest floor. The weather report had called for rain all day and decreasing temperatures. We could only hike at a snail's pace up the 2.5 miles up Bluff Mountain, as poor Whistle had to stop every 100 feet or so to take a break from the stabbing nausea. It was taking much longer than we had planned, and it quickly became apparent that we weren't going to make it by 1:30. Chuck was doing us a favor, so we didn't want to make him have to wait, so we tried desperately to call several times, sheltered under ice-shedding rhododendrons, but were unable to get a signal.

When we reached the top of Bluff Mountain, the fog whipped around us and the ice fell like ice from a refridgerator whose ice button is being pressed by a precocious 5-year-old, intent on filling the kitchen with frozen cubes. There was a ring of large rocks, and I stepped into the center of the ring, bending down and digging a deep hole in the earth. I took the rocks out of their bag and placed them inside the hole. I spoke as our little band of misfits stood around like knights.

"Thank you for keeping Hermes safe, and getting him to Maine. Thank you for making us strong and brave by putting us through these tests of our will and bodies: (I listed all the things I listed above, which took several minutes). You have given us the courage and tenacity to know that we will be able to finish this trail, because we have been through everything and none of us has given up. I know you are tired, and now you can rest. You can rest in peace, knowing we will carry your lessons to Maine. Thank you, and sleep well."

I covered the hole with dirt and wet frozen leaves, and placed a small heart-shaped rock over the spot as a marker. We all got to our feet and headed down off the mountain.

Within 30 minutes, this is what happened:

We got signal and were able to call Chuck who said it was no trouble at all and he'd come at 3, Whistle began to feel better and even started whistling again, and stopped barfing, THE SUN CAME OUT in spite of the weather report, perfect blue skies and 50 degree weather carried us to the road, we heard frogs chirping for the first time on the trail, birds flew around us, and for the love of god, Hot Dog saw a butterfly (well, it was a moth, but close enough).

We got the ride into Hot Springs, where things have been beautiful, friendly and gorgeous here at this hostel. It's Dumptruck's birthday today, so we're taking a zero and celebrating. Whistle (who is fully recovered) and I are going to make a cake.

I don't think of myself as a superstitious person, but there are some truths to the universe that should be respected. Like rocks that just need to sleep, and the fact that there's never as many potato chips in the bag as you expect.

Clever Girl

On April's Fool's Day, four of us went down to the shelter at Cosby Knob and asked all the people there (of which there were many) if they had seen Dumptruck, because we hadn't seen him for hours, and we were worried. Then, crashing out of the underbrush, Dumptruck tripped and slid down the hill to the shelter, wearing absolutely nothing but his underpants and hiking boots. The shelter fell silent as everyone watched him approach, half the people convinced he was hypothermic and the other half convinced he was blitzing on LSD. His ridiculously long, white limbs windmilled around in panic and confusion until he reached the shelter. He then yelled out "APRIL FOOL'S!" and fell into a puddle of mud. Everyone burst out lauging, and we felt quite accomplished. Just because you live in the woods is no excuse not to honor April Fool's.

Photos by Dumptruck


  1. Hi all! Bravo on your respectful handling of the stones...they were just plain tired of thru-hiking. "When do we get a rest?" You have served them well.
    If we were ever gonna get a picture of someone holding a snake I knew it's be Kit...I recognize those fingers! (If I'm wrong humor me...) Remember you're not in snake-friendly Maine...some of those southern snakes have an attitude. Take advantage of the Hot Springs to rest, relax, and put your feet up for a while. You've earned it.
    Love the April Fools story...too much.
    Love and kisses, Mom and Dad

    1. That's actually Whistle! We're hand twins. She's actually an insect/snake expert, so she knows what's safe. It's a Ribbon Snake!

    2. AWESOME! You should add to your trail rep by carrying large snakes with you...

  2. Way to go guys. Another death defying experience. Good riddance "lucky" rocks. RIP. Enjoy your zero days in Hot Springs. You have earned it. Happy Birthday Mike. Make it a good one! We love you, Mom and Dad.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. sorry - couldn't abide my terrible spelling typos, being a teacher and all :-p

  4. You are my hero!! I am so proud of you and your amazing hiker family :D So glad you aren't yet "tired of things happening to you that are supposed to make you a better person," because it's very entertaining (and nail-biting) to read about.

    Can't wait to see some of these photos in high-res, and really looking forward to the next entry, with less bad ju-ju (*knocks on wood furiously*)

    1. Concur with Nelle's thoughts about the pictures. Mike's hitting it out of the park! Really great stuff.

  5. PrayerWalker is back on the trail and has made it to Fontana Dam.

    You did the right thing by losing the accursed rocks.

    I have heard that there is now a constant overcast up on Bluff Mountain and people have seen strange lightning eminating from a circle of rocks. (just kidding)

  6. Beautiful photos. Keep them coming.