Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Day 45: Trail Gang Initiations

April 21: There’s a bus that runs regularly from Marion back to the Appalachian Trail which, I heard, cost a mere 50 cents per person. It’s an incredible bargain, but the downside is that it only runs three times each day. The first run was at 9:00, and I missed it. The second run was at 11:00, and I didn’t want to wait for it. Not to mention that I still needed to run by the post office a good mile away to mail my laptop ahead on the trail.


So I did something I almost never do: I called for a taxi. It could take me straight to the post office, then on to the trail. No waiting for other hikers. No waiting until the next bus. I wanted to get back on the trail and get hiking on my own schedule—even if it cost 44 times more than the bus would! Still, at $22, that’s less than taking Amanda out for dinner. ;o)

So I called for the taxi, and a fellow named Tim soon pulled up and gave me a ride. The car looked like something that I might have rode in when hailing a taxi in Central America. It looked beat up and well used, although nothing obvious was broken—no cracked windshield or missing doors. I threw my pack, package and some extra food I had in the back seat and jumped in the front passenger seat and introduced myself to Tim. Tim was a nice guy who spoke with a thick Southern accent I found difficult to understand—listening to him required intense concentration on my part and I wished Amanda was there to translate for me. =)

He took me to the post office where I jumped out and rushed into line. It cost 25 cents per minute to make him wait so I certainly didn’t linger, and fortunately, there was nobody in line to be helped—praised the lord! That never happens to me, and the one time it really mattered, there wasn’t a line!

Another hiker was there filling out some sort of paperwork. I didn’t really know him particularly well having only met him once before at the shelter on the wet, miserable day a couple of days before. He had been in for the night and I passed through not staying for more than about 15 minutes. He had gone into town and was planning to go back to the trail, and I said I had a taxi outside already if he wanted to join me. Splitting the cost of a taxi would have been awesome, but he turned me down. He had been planning to take the bus back with the rest of his group—whose location I didn’t inquire about since there was a taxi outside with the meter ticking. He didn’t want a ride—that was fine, no problem—but I didn’t plan to run up my bill by standing around talking either! Time to go!


I already had the package all packed up and addressed—I just needed postage for it which I quickly paid then dashed out the door waving goodbye to the other hiker.

I arrived back at the Mount Rogers Visitors Center several minutes later. Tim called it the “Top of the Hill” since that’s essentially where it was located. I paid the bill and gave him a few extra bucks as a tip then pulled my stuff out of the back.

Before I started hiking, I walked down to the Partnership Shelter where I left the food that the section hiker freaked out over two days earlier. It was still perfectly good food!

This time, the visitor center was open so I wandered in to look around a bit and bought some postcards before hitting the trail and leaving civilization behind.


The hike was largely uneventful. The weather was dry and pleasant. The terrain wasn’t particularly easy or difficult. The views were few and far between. All-in-all, a rather boring day of hiking. The most interesting part of the hike was passing an area that clearly used to have a shelter that was no more. The old privy was still there, camping was available and the old stairs for the shelter were still there, but the shelter was completely gone. It seemed odd for them to leave the stairs behind, though.

I met Hook and Franklin playing a game of Magic the Gathering. I don’t really know anything about this game except that it’s a card game, and I watched them play for a bit moving cards around and turning them sideways and I was amazed at how complicated it all looked. When I mentioned that, Hook said it took her quite a while to figure out how to play it. She was apparently losing at the time, but only because she kept talking about Franklin killing her and not having many options left. I had to take her word for it because I didn’t have a clue what was happening!

I stopped long enough to eat a quick snack and continued onwards. At this point, I knew the Four Horsemen were ahead of me and I wanted to catch up with them. I didn’t really expect to catch them today—they had signed the register in the last shelter so I knew they had camped there and figured that they were about a half-day ahead of me and a couple of long days, I’d catch up with them. (Blueberry made a comment to the effect of needing the Green Tortuga to “take the reigns” of the Four Horsemen—a pun that was not lost on me!)


An hour or so later, I reached a small stream where I found Disciple camping—another hiker I’d been seeing quite a bit of since a few days before Erwin. He was hanging a food bag from a tree when I arrived, and behind him, I saw… horsemen! I was a little astounded to realize that I had caught up with the Four Horsemen already! They must have had a super short day of hiking today!

Blueberry was the first to notice my arrival and exclaimed, “It’s Green Tortuga! Green Tortuga is here!”

I heard Heavyweight—I couldn’t see him from my vantage point, but I heard him, “Really? No… you’re making that up!”

And Blueberry insisting that it really was me. I said to Disciple that it sounds like some of them are doubting my presence over there and I was going to wander on to reveal myself.


The Four Horsemen seemed as surprised to see me as I was surprised to have caught up with them. They already had a campfire going and they told me of their shenanigans since I last saw them including that wonderful photo of three of them laying shirtless next to the “I heart Green Tortuga” message Amanda had written in chalk on the road.

I also heard another story of Blueberry breaking a tree—a full-sized tree while making this very campfire. When they find wood to burn, sometimes it’s kind of thick and difficult to break, but Blueberry being the physics major that he is, he doesn’t let that slow him down. No, he found a couple of trees growing close to each other and wedges the downed wood into it then breaks the log in half by pulling the end of the log across it. Leverage—it’s a powerful force!

Except he did this on a dead tree and the force actually broke off the top of the tree which tumbled 50 feet into the bushes next to Blueberry’s campsite. I’m not sure if he was impressed that he broke such a tall tree with his bare hands or relieved that the tumbling top missed him and his campsite.

There was also a solid 300-pound rock that wasn’t quite positioned at an optimal location from the firepit, so I watched the Four Horsemen create more levers and move the rock into a position that Blueberry liked better while I set up camp nearby. I hoped none of them would injure themselves moving that rock—it was a remarkably large one that I wouldn’t have even considered trying to move.


I had planned to hike further, but it was good catching up with the rest of the guys and I decided to call it quits for the day. Despite my unexpected stop, I still managed a 17.6 miles for the day. Not bad considering the late start I had got.

After they moved their rock and my camp was set up, I joined them around the fire and pulled out the surprise I had purchased in Marion specifically with them in mind. I just knew they’d be up for it: tattoos! At the grocery store, they had a sheet of those temporary fake tattoos with various sorts of 70’s peace and love symbols for a buck and I couldn’t resist. I bought it and figured I’d try to find the Four Horsemen on the trail to present it as a gift of sorts. I hadn’t expected to find them so quickly, but I wasn’t complaining!

They loved the idea and I pulled out the sheet and starting cutting the individual tattoos apart, and each of them chose two tats. Blueberry didn’t seem to quite know how they worked and tried to put one on his forehead, but it didn’t work because he had forgotten to take the plastic off the top of the tattoo first. Superman showed him how it was done, putting a musical note on each of his cheeks. (The cheeks on his face—not talking about butt cheeks here!) Bostrich went for one his forehead, and Blueberry wound up putting his second tat on his forehead as well. (When Blueberry asked how long it would last, we joked that it would last for a few months. The happy face on his forehead, we told him, might even still be there when he finished the trail.) Heavyweight, who already had real tattoos covering quite a bit of his torso, added them to the top of his arms near his shoulders.

For my part, I added one to the back of my right hand (the word “Groovy”) as a test. It had been years since I ever tried applying one of these tats and wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing before I committed to the one I really liked which I wanted to put on my neck because a neck tattoo seemed like a badass tattoo. I still regretted not putting the henna tattoo from Gatlinburg on my neck. I would fix that now! =)

I might not have formed the Four Horsemen—I didn’t even count myself as a Horseman, in fact—but now that we all had themed tattoos, I felt like I had finally joined a real trail gang. Don’t mess with us! We all have tats now! =)

Disciple joined us around the fire but passed on the tattoos. I joked with him, “Come on! Everyone else is doing it! You want to be cool, don’t you?” I laid down the peer pressure thick, overly so—not really meaning any of it. As far as peer pressure goes, though, temporary tats that would come off within a few days is a fairly tame thing to do. Despite our assurances that they really won’t last more than a few days, though, Disciple took a pass. His loss! =) I still had five or six of the tattoos left, though, so I’d just save them for another day. Maybe more people would want to join this trail gang later. Maybe I’ll just plaster myself with them out of boredom someday. Who knows?

But I’ll have them ready for when the times comes that I suddenly want or need a tattoo!

We chatted some more around the fire and after dark, we headed back to our sleeping bags and nodded off to sleep. It felt good being back on the trail after spending the better part of a week in hotel rooms. Which, admittedly, had its own perks, but it felt nice being back on the trail again.

The trail passed this old school house built in the 1800s—and a sign enticed hikers to enter for there would be trail magic inside.

So into the school I entered… It’s so cute, and I tell you, if it wasn’t so early in the day, I totally would have been willing to camp in here overnight just to say I camped in an 1800-era school house! Although I’m not sure if they’d lock the doors at night…

And, indeed, there was trail magic available. These ice cold Cokes really hit the spot on such a warm day!

The AT crossed another set of railroad tracks. (I’m not actually following the tracks—just looking down them as I crossed over them.)


I’d be passing under Interstate 81—the first of several times I’d be crossing this particular Interstate for hundreds of miles to come.




I’m not sure what created these holes. I often times see small lines of holes in trees that I usually assume were created by woodpeckers, but these holes are gigantic!

Most of the deer I’ve seen on the trail have been so shy, I could never get a decent photo of them. They were always too far away, but this is the first one I had been able to get a decent photo of. (Not that he seemed particularly happy to see me!)

The trail gang showing off their tattoos.

Okay, you can’t see the tats very well in that last photo, so here are some closeups. This is Blueberry with his “happy face” tattoo on his forehead. Originally he meant to put a butterfly tattoo there, but he applied it incorrectly and ended up using his second choice tattoo for his forehead instead.

Bostrich went with the peace symbol, also applied to the forehead.

Superman had notes on each cheek. You can’t really see it well in this photo, but the notes have the word “Peace” written in them.

Heavyweight applied his tats to his arms right under his shoulders. The temporary stats are the colorful ones. The dark, large ones next to the temporary tattoos are real tats, because Heavyweight is a real badass unlike the rest of us who are merely faking it. =)

I applied a tat to the back of my right hand and a second one to my neck.

Nothing tells the world that you’re a badass better than a tattoo on one’s neck, right? Right…?


Honey Bear Clan said...

I *think* those holes were made by pileated woodpeckers. They're the biggest woodpeckers in the U.S., if you don't count the possibly extinct ivory billed woodpecker.

Benjamin O. Mayberry said...

What Honey Bear said - those holes are from a pileated. We get them (the woodpeckers and the holes) back here in Washington too.