What an insane day! And now we have to do it again. I just want to go back to sleep. I am so tired. I want to stay here. Yesterday was too hard. I wonder if Kirk would want to stay here one more day?
I could hear voices outside coming from the shelter, a soft murmur with indecipherable words that every once in awhile punctuated the still morning with a laugh. The Others were up early and preparing to leave, off on his or her way to another day of happy hiking. Kirk and I remained in our tent, content to sleep a little longer. I closed my eyes hoping to fall back into a deep sleep. I settled for the “half asleep / half awake” drowsiness that came over me.Kirk stirred and stretched. I opened my eyes.
“Good morning,” he mumbled as he unzipped his sleeping bag.
“Oh my gosh,” I said trying to sit up for the first time, “I am so sore.”
“Yup. Me too. My shoulders and back and my knees are killing me,” he said, as he slowly got dressed, put on his boots, unzipped his side of the tent and stepped out. A cool, light breeze came into the tent. The air was fresh with the scent of dirt, bark, and morning dew. He zipped up the tent again and I lay back down.
I listened to his footsteps crunch away and then heard the bear hang rattle and squeak. I listened to his crunching steps come closer and then the heavy thud of a backpack next to the tent. Then, again, he crunched to the bear hang to rattle and squeak and retrieve the second backpack and then drop it next to the tent.
Dammit. He’s taking down the packs.
That meant I would have to get up. We had to make breakfast, clean ourselves up, pack up the sleeping bags and tent, and then … start walking. That dreaded physicality walking. I lay there a moment longer staring at the tent ceiling. The air inside was warm and musty. The air felt clean and fresh when he opened the tent. With it closed up again, there was a definite odd odor present.
What is that smell? Am I totally pitting out? It reeks in here.
Kirk was outside, unzipping and unbuckling the backpacks. The clatter of the cook stove meant he was taking care of breakfast. I would then take care of the tent, the stuffy and musty tent. I sat up and unzipped my side of the tent to let in fresh air. I reached for my pants at the foot of the tent floor. When I picked them up I and noticed that they were damp, wet in spots.
“Fuck. Did the tent leak last night?” I asked myself out-loud.
What on earth happened? What is that smell?
Then, as if waking up for the first time that morning, as if a light bulb lit above my head, it hit me.
Holy shit! The pee baggie!The baggie that I peed in during the middle of the night had failed to remain sealed. The water, the wetness, my pants, our sleeping bags, the smell … all of it urine. My urine. All over the foot of the tent. I had inadvertently “peed the tent.”
I bolted up and out Kirk’s side of the tent to the backpacks. I was in my underwear and hoping that no one from the shelter could see me. I grabbed one of our chamois towels and soaked it in water from my water bladder. I put the baggie, with its now minor volume of pee, in the Pack It Out Poo Concealor, wiped off the outside, and set it outside. I wiped off the items that had been at the foot of the tent and set them outside, rinsed the chamois, and set out to clean the rest of the tent. I mopped up the tent floor and rinsed out the chamois.
I tossed my pants outside and I wiped down the outside of the sleeping bags a few times, rinsing the chamois, and soaking the feet of our sleeping bags. They were wet. I grabbed the BFI powder. Since it was designed to dry out moisture, I sprinkled it on the feet of our sleeping bags and rubbed it in. I was hoping this would clear up any telltale sign of this horrible incident. Maybe I could keep it a secret and no one would ever know.
* * * * *
“What are you doing?” Kirk asked when he came back to tell me that breakfast was almost ready.
“Ummm … well … I don’t know how to say this, but …” I started.
“Why are your pants out here?”
“They have pee on them. Everything has pee on it. I peed in a baggie last night and it must have broken in the middle of the night. It’s on my pants; it’s on our sleeping bags. It’s everywhere. Fuck! I am so sorry.”
We stared at each other. I smiled and feigned a little laugh, as if to say, “oops.” Both of us were thinking that this was just one more item for the ‘no one is going to believe this’ list. This hike was just getting more ridiculous every day.
I was sitting inside the tent in my underwear cleaning, laughing, swearing, apologizing, and feeling like an idiot. Kirk dug into his backpack, pulled out a pair of shorts and tossed them to me. He smiled and shook his head, as if to say, “oops is right,” and then walked back to the shelter to eat. I put on the shorts and my boots and pulled the feet of the sleeping bags out into the daylight to dry off. They were white and dusty from the BFI powder.
* * * * *I walked to the shelter to eat breakfast and watch the others packing up their backpacks and preparing to leave. We all participated in idle chitchat about who was heading which way, on what trail, and where we were to end up that night.
Walking Man was up and about. He was tall, thin, craggy, and weathered. He told everyone to fill up with water from the big water jug. He seemed pleasant and calm. We talked with him for a few minutes about our hike in and our final destination. He was a “through hiker,” which meant that he was hiking the entire Appalachian Trail.
Another man walked up the trail and into the shelter. He was dressed in an official-looking brown uniform with patches and badges. He had a small backpack with a sleeping bag, walking sticks, and a walkie-talkie. He was a ridge-runner. An older man with a larger backpack who was, obviously, a hiker followed him.Ridge Runners manage sections of the Appalachian Trail. They work on the trail for five days a week and hike from shelter to shelter in their section. They check on hikers, ensure that rules are followed, verify that shelters are being maintained, answer questions, and report any maintenance issues they find on the trails.
The Ridge Runner asked if any of us were through hikers. Walking Man and Beatle Juice raised their hands. He asked who pitched tents. Kirk and I raised our hands along with the older man. He asked who had reservations for the shelter. Everyone said they did.
“Let me explain something,” he said commanding everyone’s attention, “If you have a reservation in a shelter, you must sleep in the shelter. Shelters accommodate up to twelve people. You are not allowed to pitch tents on the AT. The only hikers allowed to pitch tents on the AT are through hikers; however, if there is room in the shelter, you must sleep in the shelter. If you arrive at a shelter and there are more than twelve people, those with reservations have priority for sleeping in the shelter, and they must sleep in the shelter. Through hikers have to either move on to the next shelter or pitch a tent.”
There were many rules, but he answered questions and was pleasant to talk with. He explained that there used to be over one-hundred Ridge Runners at one point, but when budgets were cut, the position was eliminated. This lasted roughly twenty years, but recently, a budget was reinstated to support a new staff of Ridge Runners to assist Rangers with trail maintenance and rules enforcement.
“We can’t write citations, only Rangers can do that,” he explained. “Make sure you have your permits. If a Ranger asks for it and you can’t produce it, you will be fined. Also, if a Ranger catches you pitching a tent when you are supposed to be in a shelter, they will fine you seventy-five dollars per person per night you are planned to be in the park.”
We told him where we started our hike and where we were heading. We told him about hiking the Eagle Creek Trail and how it affected Kirk’s knees and my hips. He was kind and told us to take it easy. He explained that the trail we were taking today would be challenging leading up to Rocky Top, but beyond that, it would be relatively level to the Derrick Knob Shelter.
When he left, he reminded us all to pick up our trash and to leave all shelters in better condition than we found them. He headed East on the AT towards the Siler’s Bald Shelter, one shelter further than where we were headed. He was going to sleep there overnight, head to Clingmans Dome the following day, and then reverse his route. He covered Clingmans Dome to Molly’s Ridge, roughly twenty-six miles.
* * * * *
Beatle Juice was packing up her backpack and brushing her long blond hair. She had mentioned earlier that she ran out of food and cooking fuel and was now expressing worry about how she was going to eat for the rest of her hike. Someone gave her some food packs. Kirk and I had packed too much fuel and decided to give her a can of ours to pay forward the kindness that Princess showed us with the lighter. Besides, it would lessen some of the weight from our packs.She appeared grateful. The dad and the son, who were not very talkative, put on their backpacks, said goodbye, and headed West down the AT.
“Do you have nowhere to go after this?” Beatle Juice asked Walking Man.
He looked confused and muttered something.
“Are you homeless, too?” she asked, emphasizing the ‘too’ so that we all understood she was homeless.
“Uh. No. I have somewhere to go. I am not homeless.” He replied, clearly annoyed that she assumed he was homeless. Granted, he looked like he could be, but he had been on the trail for five weeks.
* * * * *
I finished my breakfast and went back to the tent. Kirk cleaned up the breakfast and boiled extra water for me. I washed my pants and laid them on the tent top to dry out. The sleeping bags were still resting in the sun. The faint smell of wee-wee was noticeable.
“Homeless my ass,” Kirk said. “Did you see her outfit? New boots, great hiking pants and shirt. And her backpack is top notch. She is not homeless.”
“I didn’t really notice,” I was too consumed with guilt from accidentally pissing on everything and was thinking about how long it may take everything to dry out.
“And, she was talking about going to a wedding when she got to Gatlinburg, where her car is. She is a con artist. I wish I didn’t give her that fuel.” Kirk said.
He was annoyed with her, with the hike, with his knees, and with the situation. I was moving very slow and stalling. I did not want to walk, but I did not want to say that I wanted to stay another day. Besides, all the wet things needed to dry out and I assumed we would wait until then.Kirk had dismantled the tent, unpacked our backpacks, and started the process of repacking. We had learned that each day they needed to be repacked and re-organized. I rolled up the sleeping bags and our sleeping mats and then went to brush my teeth and wash my face.
I sat in the shelter and reviewed the map and where we were heading. Today, we would cover a little over six miles. We would climb up to Rocky Top at 5,441 feet and then descend to Mineral Gap at 4,527. From there the trail would be pretty much level until we arrived at the Derrick Knob Shelter.One by one, the others left. Walking Man was the last of the others to leave. He was heading to the same shelter we were and we would see him that night. It was nice to know that there would be a familiar face there, even if that face looked like it could belong to a serial killer.
“Ok, let’s get going,” Kirk said as he brought our backpacks in and set them on the platform.
The sun was getting warmer and there were no clouds in the sky. Now that everyone was gone, the shelter was quiet and peaceful. The occasional fly buzzing around broke the silence. It was going to be a hot and clear day. There were a few flies buzzing around my backpack.
“Where is the permit?” I asked.
We looked through the outer pockets of our backpacks looking for the permit. Not there. I checked my shorts pockets. Not there.
“I thought you had it,” he said.
“Nope. It was in the ceiling loft of the tent,” I said, which is where I placed it every night following my personal organizational set up of the tent.
He sighed, unpacked the tent, unrolled it, and found the zip-lock baggie with the permit inside. I took the permit and put it in an easy-to-access pocket in the front compartment of my backpack.
“The permit will stay in this pouch,” I directed, “That way we will know where to get it when we need it.” For some reason, I felt like I needed to make a statement. Yes, I fucked up this morning with the pee, but I know what I am doing with the permit. It will stay with me and will be safe.
Kirk repacked the tent and sat down to sign the shelter book. This was another custom of the Trail. Everyone that stays in the shelters writes a blurb in a spiral-bound notebook that stays in a larger zip lock baggie.I read entries from the wintertime. People mentioned how muddy and cold they were; or that the rain was so hard they were soaked through and there was not enough dry wood to start a fire. I was thankful that it was sunny and warm and that we were dry. I was thankful that we did not have major weather to deal with.
I wondered how Victor was doing at home. Was he being a good boy? Did he miss me? I was starting to miss him. I pulled out my iPhone to look at pictures. I was astonished to see that I had a connection. I went to send a text to my mom, my sisters, and few others. People had expressed worry about us taking this hike before we left. It was as if they thought we were going to die or something.
Yes, it was hard, but we weren’t dying. Even though we were sore and stupid stuff seemed to happen to us each day, we were learning along the way. We were not fighting, we had not caught dysentery, and bears did not eat us (yet). We were experiencing nature and loving what we were seeing, hearing and smelling – except for the faint smell of pee that every once in awhile would lilt into my nostrils.
Day three has begun. Not sure you’ll get this. We head to Rocky Top and then come other mountain. We’ve worked really hard. Yesterday we climbed 2700 feet yest on a steep grade. No need to reply. Just letting you know [we’re] alive and it’s awesome!!!! Clingmans [Dome] on Saturday. Bye all!!
Kirk took a few pictures and then we talked about the day’s trail. We talked about our soreness and the need to take it slow today. Having only 6 miles to go, we felt we could take our time. We stretched and we put Bio-Freeze on our legs. We laced up our boots and put on our backpacks. Kirk wanted to get a little sun and decided to hike without his shirt. We said good bye to our first shelter.
|the interior of the shelter|
|the shelter's exterior|
We headed back into the woods on a level path that would eventually take us to Rocky Top.
“Remember when I said we were going to the Big Rock Candy Mountain?” Kirk asked as the clearing disappeared behind us and we entered once again into the trees.
“Yes,” I said, smiling.
“And you said, ‘Are we really going there?’ thinking it was a real place?” he laughed.
“Yes,” I giggled. How ludicrous it must have seemed that I thought it might be a real place.
In the distance a bird sang its’ morning song. Good morning Scott. Good Morning Kirk. Good morning Scott. Good Morning Kirk. The air was breezy and the day was bright. The sun was warm and the heat of the day was coming on strong. The morning that had started off franticly and stressful was becoming lighter and blissful. The level path was easier to hike and the pain in my hip was not excessive.
Good morning Scott. Good Morning Kirk. Good morning Scott. Good Morning Kirk.
Keep walking Scott. Keep walking Kirk.Keep walking Scott. Keep walking Kirk.
* * * * *