Wednesday, November 27, 2013

169. It's Only 15 Seconds from Stranger to Friend

The first time I met Hotdog and Whistle, it was on a blisteringly freezing night in the Smoky Mountains. Apollo, Dumptruck and I had just hiked 12 miles from Mollie's Ridge Shelter to Derrick Knob Shelter. The previous day had been a zero because of blizzards and my need to recover from my rollicking ride on the hypothermia train.

For some reason, the last 6 miles of the day were excruciating. Apollo, Dumptruck and I all agreed that it was ridiculously hard. Even though the sun was out and brightly shining, the snow was still knee-deep and regularly swallowed our hiking boots. For the last 4 miles or so, Dumptruck and I became increasingly hysterical, convinced that we must have somehow missed the shelter. We mused that when we finally did arrive, instead of a shelter, there would only be a pile of rubble with sign displaying the word "BUPKIS" and an image of a rude hand gesture etched into the wood.  

These 12 miles somehow took longer to hike than the 12 miles we had hiked 2 days prior in the oncoming blizzard, near-death hypothermic conditions and frostbite. This was unconscionable for me. It made no logical sense whatsoever. When we arrived at Derrick Knob Shelter, I stomped inside like a 5 year-old attempting to look big and mighty. I punched my fists up and down and marched around the small floor-space in front of the sleeping platforms, demanding one word of the universe with every stomp of my feet:


I wasn't angry, I was simply confounded. How was it physically possible that hiking straight up a mountain in a gigantic blizzard with serious health problems took me 8 hours, but hiking 12 miles across a ridge line took me 10 hours? At this point the only other people in the shelter were a pair of kind looking young women, and Apollo, who had arrived at least an hour previously and already had all of his stuff set up. He hiked fast normally, but he hiked even faster when wearing mesh trail runners in the middle of winter. If he slowed down, the water in his shoes would freeze into blocks of ice. This is otherwise known as motivation.

The 2 girls in the shelter commiserated with me, expressing that the last 6 miles felt impossibly long and difficult for them as well. We eventually surmised that the difference was a lack of switchbacks - that we had gotten used to a certain number of peaks-per-mile, and that number had dramatically increased since getting into this particular mountain range. There was also the snow, ice, and cold conditions to think of, but that wasn't good enough for us. We bonded through deciding that the rangers in the Smoky Mountains were tired of thru-hikers, and were attempting to kill us by putting up signs with false mileage.*

After I calmed down from my snow-induced drama fake-rage, Dumptruck and I set about making dinner. Meanwhile, Whistle and Hotdog produced two MRE meals. If you aren't aware, MREs are strange meals given to soldiers, that self-cook within their packaging. Rather, they self-cook when it isn't below freezing outside, and being operated by 2 desperately hungry hiker women. These particular MREs had been bequeathed upon Whistle and Hotdog by a different hiker who had decided to bail from his thru-hike because of the weather. Because we were likely going to be trapped in the mountains for a while, Hotdog and Whistle decided to try and eat the MREs because, hey, free food is still food. Even if it's inedible.

A series of strange exclamations came from their corner of the shelter as they attempted to make the MREs function:

"Oh god, is it supposed to be making that noise?"

"This smells weird."

"It says it's supposed to be getting puffy. Is yours getting bigger?"

"Mine is frozen solid."

"The steam is burning me but the packaging is freezing cold!"

"I'm going to try and eat mine... It's like a brick."

"I think I like my teeth too much to try."

"...I'm eating my snickers bar."

"I thought that was frozen, too?"

"I've been sitting on it inside my sleeping bag! My butt is like a microwave."

"Try putting the MRE in your sleeping bag!"

It did not work. The MREs were undeveloped and inedible. But both ladies packed out the sadly inedible pseudo-food with dedication.

I decided I liked these girls. Well, I like most everyone, unless we get into a slap fight within the first 5 minutes of meeting each other. But I could tell that I was going to be friends with these 2. Their names were Hotdog and Whistle, and they were destined to become very special to me. My initial positive impression was further proved when later that night, Whistle and I spent several hours sitting in our sleeping bags without headlamps in the complete darkness talking about the Game of Thrones book series. Specifically, we spoke about how George R.R. Martin was treating us like the Smoky Mountain rangers by setting up signs of false mileage, knowing we would keep following his crazy trail no matter if it killed us. 

And thus a beautiful respect and friendship was born between the ladies of Derrick Knob Shelter, and Apollo, Dumptruck and me. Together we formed a raggedy band of misfits, destined to fall, stumble, trip, and eat dirt on our way down the trail. But we had each other to help us to our feet.

Clever Girl

*Of course the rangers don't do this... OR DO THEY?!

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