“Dedicate some of your life to others. Your dedication will not be a sacrifice. It will be an exhilarating experience because it is intense effort applied toward a meaningful end.” – Thomas Dooley
I awoke and quietly got ready in the loft as the University of Florida students snoozed nearby. On the other side of them was Lost Gear, an African-American, retired Marine who was doing a 3-day section hike with an eye toward a thru-hike with fellow Marines some day. He was out of water and didn’t have a filter, so I hooked him up with some filtered water and enjoyed our brief conversation.
I then climbed the incredibly scenic Little Hump and Hump Mountains. As I climbed, I started channeling my inner Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I imagined being Mitty (played by Ben Stiller) as he climbs the Himalayas in search of Sean O’Connell (played by Sean Penn), who is on a summit photographing a rare snow leopard. Halfway up Hump Mountain, I stopped for a selfie. I glanced at it and asked myself, “When did you join the Taliban?”
Later on, I met a hiker named Chopper who got that name from having to be medically airlifted to a hospital while hiking. They told him he had drank plenty of water, but not enough electrolytes. He was a huge proponent of putting electrolyte tablets in your drinking water while hiking, and I’ve been doing so ever since. At mile 390.1, Doll Flats, I left North Carolina for the last time on my AT journey.
After a 9.2 mile day, I arrived at US 19E (Roan Mountain) and hiked .3 miles west to the Mountain Harbour Bed and Breakfast/Hiker Hostel. Upon arrival at the hostel, Hightop and his dog were kind enough to share their pizza with me. Sharing the hostel with us were Bevo (from Austin, Texas), Not a Bear (has a black backpack that sometimes other hikers mistake for a bear), Ptarmigan (named after a Colorado hiking club…and a bird), Morning Lori (from Maine), and Cactus (from Dallas). Cactus got that name by falling on a prickly pear cactus while hiking in the hill country of Texas. The cactus needles stuck into him all over his rear end and thighs. In severe pain, he dropped his shorts and underwear and bent over so that a friend/fellow hiker could pull out the imbedded cactus needles. Unbeknownst to Cactus, once all the needles were gone, the “friend” continued pulling out his butt hairs for several minutes, as others looked on smiling. That’s just wrong.
At the hostel parking lot I ran into Lost Gear, the Marine I had shared a loft with. He offered me a ride into town, where I picked up some groceries at Redi Mart and had a filling steak supper and peanut butter milkshake dessert across the street at Bob’s Dairyland. Needing a ride back to the hostel, I approached a young local guy filling up his pickup truck with gas and asked him for a ride. He agreed but said he’d need to clear out a spot for me. We walked to the passenger side and the seat was filled with what appeared to be his life possessions…pictures, glasses, clothes, thermos, lampshade, etc. I helped him move the stuff to the bed of his truck with his other possessions, and felt bad that he was going to this trouble for me. During our 5-minute drive, I learned that he and his girlfriend had just had a fight and that she had kicked him out, along with his stuff. He said, “it was all my fault,” to which I thoughtlessly responded, “probably so.”
By far the best thing about the Mountain Harbour Hostel was the optional, $12, all you can eat breakfast buffet. That’s about six times what I normally spend on breakfast, but I’d have to say it was the most satisfying breakfast I’ve eaten in my 50 years. Watching ravenous, hairy, rough-looking hikers walk up the stairs from the hostel to the up-scale B&B to line-up for breakfast was quite the sight. Like ornery 7th grade boys lined up outside the principal’s office, we were anxious, fidgety, and drooling just a tad. We finally were allowed in where we devoured a simply magnificent breakfast. I ate and ate and ate some more, and drank at least 20 cups of orange juice, cran-Apple juice, and coffee.
In my desire to attend worship services whenever I’m in a trail town on a Sunday, I did some Google-ing and eventually stumbled on a potential lead…Tom and Sandra Johnson from Roan Mountain, Tennessee and the Centerview Church of Christ of Elizabethton. I called them and explained my situation and they graciously agreed to pick me up at the hostel, take me to church, and then deliver me back to the trailhead. That’s what you call a very sweet couple and a very successful phone call. My brothers and sisters in Christ were so kind to me. The services were uplifting and they invited me to the front of the line at their potluck luncheon! While Catholics are known for rosary beads and Jews for the menorah, members of the churches of Christ can do casseroles better than anyone! Romans 12:13 reads, “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” My heartfelt thanks to Tom and Sandra and the rest of this church family for your warm hospitality!
I got back on the trail at 2:20 p.m. and was able to get in 9.2 miles of hiking. At mile 396 I passed a scenic wilderness cemetery and regretted no other hikers were nearby to tell my cemetery joke to…”Did you know none of the locals are buried in that cemetery? Yeah, it’s because they’re not dead yet.” At mile 398.5 I took a short blue blazed trail to get a picture of Jones Falls. At 399.2 I began a nice section along the Elk River, the longest riverside hike to date. I stopped for a moment and pulled my first ramp out of the ground, wiped the dirt off of it, and ate it. Ramps are delicious wild onions that can be eaten raw or cooked with Ramen noodles or pretty much anything. They trash your mouth out, but that’s not really an issue out here. At mile 400 I stopped to take a picture of a mile 400 milestone that someone had left. On the one hand, 400 miles seems like a long way to hike. On the other hand, I’ve gone less than 19% of the AT, so there’s a lot of work left to do.
That night I decided to sleep in the Mountaineer Shelter, a rare 3-level shelter. I was joined in and around the shelter by Black Bear (from Maine), SpongeBob, Sunshine, and OutStanding. As I prepared to climb up to the second level, I noticed shelter graffiti which read, “Brooks was here. So was Red.” Just for the record, so was Fob.
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