Archive for May 7th, 2023


May 7, 2023

“We don’t claim to be sane,” said Spur as he and Silvermoon left the Hogback Ridge Shelter at 9 p.m., heading north on the Appalachian Trail towards Erwin, Tennessee.  They arrived at the 3-sided wooden shelter as I finished my dinner.  For the last hundred miles, we had leapfrogged each other. They were about to jump ahead.

A month earlier the pair, whom I had learned were from Atlanta, decided to thru-hike the entire trail.  Spur, his trail name coming from his spur-of-the-moment thru-hike decision, ran a business.  Silvermoon was a florist.  I was “Voyageur.”  I never learned their real names.

Shelters occurred every 8-15 miles along the Trail.  While comfortably sleeping a dozen, an adage was “there’s always room for one more,” especially in a driving rain.  Unfortunately, most shelters harbored large populations of well-fed, pack-smart mice that ran over sleeping hikers.  I usually pitched my tent nearby. There was usually a logbook left by a hiker containing instructions to mail it, postage guaranteed, when the book was full.  Reading the past months of entries was a pleasant way to spend an evening and to learn about diversity of hiker goals, opinions, adventures, and equipment. In addition, because of travel in both directions, one heard about upcoming terrain and obtained reviews of the nearest town, emphasizing food, cost, and lodging, in that order.

That evening, I was in the middle of a 300-mile section hike from the Smokies to southwest Virginia.  The previous year, I had hiked from northern Georgia to the Smokies.  I was in better shape this time and had exactly what I needed, nothing more. “Ten (miles) Before Ten (a.m.)” was my motto, and twenty plus mile days were normal. The pack felt part of me.

I had stuck my head outside the tent to see how well their headlamps worked.  Seemed interesting. While the two were hiking under a waxing gibbous Moon, it was often cloudy in the Appalachians, so bright moons usually weren’t helpful. Probably more relevant, however, was that the AT was a green tunnel. I arrived on the Trail from Arizona with a full body tan.  After hiking in just shorts for two weeks, my tan disappeared.

Hogback was in dense, hardwood forest, dark even by AT standards.  Still, the idea of a night hike was intriguing. I missed out on a real treat.  I should have gone with them, even after 21 miles that day and even without a headlamp.

Three days later, I caught up with the two at a restaurant in Erwin.  They were staying at Johnny’s Hostel near where the Trail emerged from the mountains by the Nolichucky River. Everybody on the AT in Tennessee knew about Erwin and Johnny’s.  Hikers were good listeners in restaurants, since they were eating and not talking. I was no exception. Sitting down at a table across from Silvermoon, I rapidly spooned a quart of chocolate ice cream into my fat-starved frame, seldom looking up. It was really good.  

Silvermoon was still excited about their night hike. “After we left you,” she said, looking at my rapidly diminishing pile of ice cream with some envy, “we descended into Low Gap and climbed in pitch darkness up to Big Bald.”  The AT in the South has numerous descents into gaps and climbs to balds, grassy mountaintops. 

“Once we were on Big Bald, it was just us and fireflies everywhere, with lots of stars and a bright Moon.  We didn’t need our headlamps, so we turned them off.  It was even better then.” I actually stopped eating, visualizing the scene, having been there hours after they were.

“The miles just slipped by, with little flashes of light everywhere we looked. We finally slept up there in the open, with twinkling lights above, below, and around us.  It was magical.” Silvermoon smiled, then delivered the coup de grace: “And so much nicer than that dark hole where you were.”

See you on the trail. Watch for fireflies.

from the Obsidian Journal May 2023 at