Friday, May 22, 2015

Day 28: Trail Magic!

April 4: During the night, thunder and lightning rocked the area, but it was the wind and the rain I was more concerned about. The wind was far stronger than I imagined it would be, and I wound up opening my umbrella to plug the “hole” in the open side of the tarp. It worked well enough, but when I tried to use my headlamp, it would only stay on for a few seconds at a time before it shut off leaving me completely in the dark to try and write.

The morning was cloudy, but very cold and windy!

So I was glad when morning arrived. The rain had finally stopped, and while the skies didn’t clear completely, at least I could see without the need of my headlamp. But it was still very cold and very windy.

I was tempted to skip breakfast this morning. A couple of days earlier, we had heard reports that a trail angel was making pancakes and eggs for passing through hikers each morning at Sam’s Gap and was still expected to be there through the week. It was also an hour of hiking away, though, and I’m hungry when I wake up. I ate my usual breakfast figuring I’d have digested most of it and would still have room for pancakes by the time I reached Sam’s Gap—assuming the rumors we’d heard were true. Sometimes, they aren’t.

An hour later, I arrived at Sam’s Gap, close on the heels of Strapped who’d been talking about the pancakes non-stop for days. He’s called Strapped because he’s “strapped for cash,” as it were, minimizing stays in towns and picking up trail magic wherever he can to stretch his finances. I knew without even asking that Strapped had skipped breakfast in anticipation of the pancakes.

Sam’s Gap, but there were no pancakes to be seen anywhere. =(

But there was no trail magic. No pancakes. No nothing. A few cars parked at the trailhead, but they all appeared empty. I was mildly disappointed, but glad I hadn’t skipped breakfast earlier. Strapped was still ahead of me on the trail and at a switchback going into the woods yelled back to me, “Where are the pancakes?!”

I yelled back, “I guess there are none!” But he kept hiking. It was too cold and windy to stop to chat in any case.

Several minutes later, I did catch up to him where a fold in the earth created a natural windbreak and Strapped had taken a rest to eat. Since he had skipped breakfast, he was hungry, and he went on about how disappointed he was about the lack of pancakes. I haven’t posted much about Strapped, but he’s one of those guys that I don’t think anyone could hate. He’s always got a big, infectious grin on his face and even now—despite knowing his immense disappointment about the lack of pancakes—he still had that giant, infection grin. I pulled out my camera to take a photo, which I did, then he goes, “Wait, take another one of me being sad.” He puts on an exaggerated sad face and holds out his pathetic breakfast—an energy bar or something. Even with this exaggerated sad face, he still had a happy aura about him. Later, he was telling people that he was so sad about the pancakes, that he might have even had a tear in his eye and I got it on film.

Since I had eaten breakfast, I continued onwards and soon passed a sign warning of trail magic ahead at Street Gap that started yesterday afternoon and would continue through this morning. Trail magic! Strapped would certainly be thrilled about that once he sees the sign!

The trail crosses Sam’s Gap right at the Tennessee-North Carolina border.

It didn’t say what kind of trail magic was ahead—just that something was ahead. Pancakes? Maybe the trail angel we’d heard about had moved locations?

I continued onwards eventually reaching Street Gap where a few other hikers had already stopped and gathered around a campfire chatting—the trail angel circle. Heck, just having a campfire was trail magic! It was still bitterly cold and incredibly windy, and the fire felt great. I was handed a glass of grapefruit juice and a couple of minutes later, a plate with scrambled eggs and bacon. Awesome! Yeah, Strapped was going to be in heaven as soon as he arrived!

He arrived about 15 minutes later saying he saw the sign and tried rushing here as quickly as he could to catch the trail magic before it left. The sign only said it would be there that morning, but it didn’t have a clear time that it would end and he wanted to make darned sure he would catch it.

More eggs were cooking, but with the arrival of Strapped and the other hikers already there, I figured it might be awhile before I could get seconds and I was itching to push onwards. Stopped, even at a campfire, I was getting cold in the brutal wind. So I pushed onwards.

That’s a good sign! =)

Later in the afternoon, the temperatures had started warming and the wind had died down to normal levels—much more comfortable for hiking. The skies even cleared for the most part leaving great views whenever a viewpoint was available.

And late in the afternoon, as I crossed the road at Spivey Gap, two people in a truck at the parking area yelled out to me if I wanted trail magic. Well… sure! Why not?! =) Some sort of childhood lesson about not talking to strangers who offer me candy popped into my head, but I ignored it.

“Sure!” I told them, starting to walk in their direction. “What are you offering?” As if I was really being picky. =)

They pulled out a bag of Easter candy and some Cokes, and I helped myself to both. Minutes later, Disciple and Mongoose also came out of the woods and joined us, then a father and son pair just behind them. The trail angels had been waiting for an hour to do trail magic, and just nabbed four of us in mere minutes. Strapped was still somewhere behind us—I last saw him at Street Gap eating scrambled eggs and with the biggest smile you ever did see. He would be disappointed if he missed this additional trail magic. And he might—his knees had been giving him trouble and he was thinking about slowing it down so not to permanently injure himself. He wasn’t sure how far he would hike that day.


The couple providing the trail magic were former thru-hikers—or at least the guy was. If they told me their names, I failed to make a note of it because I have nothing written in my journal, but the guy said he had hiked the trail years earlier and suffered some pretty bad snow in the Smokies when a trail angel provided him a much needed boost with Easter candy, so now he likes to do the same. He never actually finished his hike—he’d gotten a job offer while on the trail and as they say, it was an offer that he couldn’t refuse. Make that a lesson—if you ever want to thru-hike the trail successfully, don’t send out a bunch of job applications before you start! =)

I eventually continued onwards to No Business Knob Shelter where I met Quirks, a quiet German fellow section hiking the trail. He’d already set up his tent near the shelter, but the shelter itself was still empty which took me by surprise. Disciple soon arrived, however, but he only took a brief stop before continuing onwards. He wanted to get closer to Erwin so as to get to an Easter Sunday service tomorrow morning. Mongoose told me he was getting picked up at Spivey Gap and would likely be slackpacking from there to Erwin the next day, so I didn’t expect him.

Then Strapped arrived, who I was happy to see and he was grinning about the trail magic he’d scored at Spivey Gap—candy and a Coke. There was a note left with it for Thru-Hikers to help themselves, so Strapped hadn’t met the newest trail angels, but he still benefited from them. He was, however, disappointed when he found out that I had had two Cokes and a dozen pieces of Easter candy and the trail angels tried to get me to take some more with me for the trail. I refrained, not wanting to add the extra weight to my pack, and Strapped only took a couple of pieces and one Coke wanting to show restraint and leave something for other hikers. When he found out how much I had had, though, and that the trail angels had tried to foist even more onto me, he was disappointed that he had shown so much restraint!

Strapped puts on his “sad face” to show his displeasure about missing pancakes.

In reality, this is how he looked when I actually found him on the trail.

After Strapped had finished the Coke, we decided to use it to create a “rat trap.” Not so much a device to catch rats, but rather to thwart mice from being able to get our food. You run a rope through it and tie a stick to the end of the rope, dangling from the ceiling, and supposedly mice can’t get your food. They can’t get around the can without falling off onto the ground. The science behind it is simple, but I’ve always thought it seemed too simple—like mice ought to be able to outsmart the device, but in the hundred-plus times I’ve used them, I’ve never had a mouse get into my food so they must work.

So I cut the can in half and make two “mouse-barriers” for the shelter which, surprisingly, had none until then.

The father and son hikers never showed up and Strapped never saw them, so presumably they got off at Spivey Gap along with Mongoose, leaving just Strapped and I in the shelter and Quirks in a tent just outside of it. And that was it—just the three of us all night long!

I put on my warm clothes for the night. Weather predications had indicated that it would be a very cold night—down into the 20s. It was a good night to bundle up!


The trail magic circle around the campfire. On the far right is Disciple. Second to the right is Mongoose. I’m not sure what the names of the girls on the left are. They were section hikers I’d see several times during the week, but everyone always referred to them as the “three girls” who were hiking together and I always knew who they were talking about so I didn’t even think to ask their names. (When I first met them here, I thought they were part of the trail angels! It wasn’t until they left down the trail that I realized they were hikers.)

I’d already scarfed down the bacon before I thought to get a photo of the trail magic. =) Delicious!


Hiking up Big Bald.

Views from Big Bald. What you can’t see are the winds that are so strong that they can push you over!


I goof around at a viewpoint along the trail.

Our wonderful Easter-candy trail angels.


I saw this rock beside the trail thinking it looked like a small tombstone. I guess someone else did too, because someone had already written, “Here’s lies Noravirus.” I’d heard that a bad noravirus epidemic had swept this part of the trail the year before, so maybe this message had something to do with that.


One of the “mouse barriers” we had created for the shelter.

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