Monday, September 7, 2015

Day 74: The Dreaded Roller Coaster…

May 20: This morning was much cooler and less humid than the day before, so from the very beginning, it was looking to be a good day of hiking!


I stumbled onto this geocache early in the morning.
It was just sitting underneath a bench along the trail.


Early in the morning, the trail passed a trail junction with another trail that, according to my guidebook, led to a viewpoint 0.4 miles off trail. Most viewpoints are maybe 0.1 or 0.2 miles off trail and I’ll regularly go off trail to check it out, but this one was just close enough to tempt me but just far enough to discourage me from going and with the relatively long 18.4-mile day I was planning, adding another 0.8 miles seemed a bit excessive so I decided to skip it.


Unless I reached the junction and saw the trail heading off to the east. It looked completely and utterly flat and followed an exposed ridge. Being in the trees all of the time—the so-called “green tunnel”—gets kind of old after a while, but this 0.4 miles off trail looked pretty darned nice! And flat! And easy! And I immediately changed my mind and hiked out to the viewpoint. The wind was wicked strong, but it felt great having wind at all compared to the stale, settled air in the trees and the view was awesome. I was really happy about changing my mind and checking out the view!


Then I entered the Roller Coaster. Hikers had been talking about this for days with angst and worry. It was going to be hard. It could make grown men cry. What is the Roller Coaster, you ask? It’s a series of 500-foot mountains, one right after the other, with about a dozen peaks in all. Or something to that effect.


The truth was, I was kind of annoyed about hearing so much about it. I remembered the last time I hiked the trail the same worries and angst everyone had—including myself—then it turned out not to be a big deal. We’ve done a lot of bigger mountains. More strenuous mountains. More difficult trails. All-in-all, it wasn’t a big deal, but because the section of trail has a name, it seems to get a reputation that it doesn’t deserve.


Later in the summer, this section can be fairly dry as water sources wither and die and temperatures can be brutally hot. I remember that from my first thru-hike: Very little water and very hot temperatures. But the series of mountains that the section is named after… not really a big deal. And I happily told everyone who was worried about the Roller Coaster that it was much ado about nothing, which is exactly what it was.


The 0.4-mile side trail to a viewpoint looked so flat and exposed, I couldn’t help but take it! =)


I also told them that I had heard a rumor—and it’s only a rumor—that the reason the roller coaster exists is because the trail had to be routed around the secret bunker that the vice president of the United States hides in in case of nuclear attack which is the reason for the unnecessary ups and downs. And it’s true—I did hear this rumor. Honestly, I don’t put much stock into it because if I know where the vice president’s bunker is during a nuclear attack, I’m pretty sure that the Russians already know it too which makes the bunker pretty useless. =) But it’s still a story I liked so I’m more than happy to continue spreading it along the trail. Sometimes, the story is more important than any truth to it.


I took a short break at a creek when Heavyweight caught up with me on the trail—which surprised me because I thought he’d been ahead of me all this time. Where did he come from? He had gotten off trail for a short while to visit friends or family and gave me the scoop that Superman and him were planning to stay at the Bears Den Hostel further up the trail while Blueberry was heading to the Blackburn Trail Center (probably because it was free while the Bears Den wasn’t). I had stayed at the Blackburn Trail Center on my first hike, but this time I wanted to hit the Bears Den to see something different so I was happy to learn that I’d be spending the evening with Superman and Heavyweight. I hadn’t seen them in quite a while—for nearly a month. Together again! Woo-who! =)


Late in the day, I passed the 1,000-mile mark in the trail. Someone had created a giant 1000 marker on the side of the trail appropriate for such a big milestone, but it was gray rocks on a brown background and didn’t have the “splash” I felt it needed, so I picked some green leaves to outline the numbers with. Improved on the marker a bit.


Yeah, it was worth the 0.4 miles off trail to visit the view! =)


And at the end of the day, I headed into the Bears Den hostel. Heavyweight hiked ahead of me and was already there, and Superman was already there as well since he’d been ahead the whole time. We all got the hiker special: a pizza, a pint of ice cream, soda, laundered clothes, a shower and a bed for $30.


The building it’s located in looks like a stone castle and it’s officially my favorite hostel ever. =) They had a large poster with 2015 written on it that hikers could sign, and we all did that. The poster was mostly empty space—not many people had arrived before we did. But we looked at previous years which were absolutely packed with signatures. Tiny little signatures. Hundreds and hundreds of them. Maybe even thousands. It really hit home right then how many people must have been behind us on the trail. It was hard to imagine.


I also found the poster from 2003—the year of my previous thru-hike and could help but notice how empty it looked compared to more recent years. I had heard the numbers of thru-hikers has increased dramatically since my first hike, but this was the first time I’d been able to see it visually. On the trail, I felt like the numbers were about the same, but I know I started relatively early and hiked relatively faster than others so I was ahead of most hikers. But these posters were proof—there were a heck of a lot of people still behind me!


Heavyweight told me that Blueberry had a “surprise” for me, but wouldn’t give me any hints about it. I didn’t think much of it until a southbounder had arrived at the hostel. I was sitting in the bunkroom with Heavyweight on one side of me and Superman on the other. We were watching Seinfeld episodes on the TV and when the southbounder came in and found out I was Green Tortuga.


“Oh! I saw Blueberry at the Blackburn Trail Center, and he told me to give you a message.”


“What’s the message?” I asked.


“That the Four Horsemen are setting a trap for you.”


All three of us laughed at this. “Well, maybe Blueberry is,” I told him, “but I don’t think it’s a Horsemen trap.” I pointed to Heavyweight and Superman on each side of me. “These are two of the four horsemen, and I know the other one is now a couple of days ahead of Blueberry. Sounds like a Blueberry trap to me!”


But I still didn’t know what the trap was. Just that Blueberry had a “surprise” for me… or a “trap.” I’d have to catch up with him if I wanted to find out what it was…


This register entry really amused me about these four turtles “finding” their trail legs in a chest.


They really play up the roller coaster as being difficult! But it’s not… no more difficult than anywhere else on the trail, at least. (I’m pretty sure this is the EXACT same sign that was up during my first thru-hike as well!)


One thousand miles!!! I added green leaves to give the marker a splash of color.


The Bear’s Den Hostel


What a deal, indeed! =)


You can see my signature stamp a bit above the “2” in “2015”. Still lots of space available on this year’s poster! But by the end of the year, there won’t be even the tiniest bit of space available.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

But there are some classic golden oldies in those them hills, as well as Raven's Rocks ahead. Koyote, Rouge, Bull Dawg, Trailing Emerson. Great boxing memories on the AT Roller Coaster.