We pitch our tents at a picnic area, where we’re hoping we can’t be seen. I’m not sure if camping is allowed here, but I’m completely drained and cannot find the strength to hike any farther. A nonstop hike with the Honeymoon Hikers, led by the tireless Ratman, has left me thoroughly fatigued. I solo hiked 10 miles before I caught up with the couple earlier today on the trail.
The last time I saw the Honeymoon Hikers was at Waynesboro a few days ago, where I took a zero. After my separation from Magic, I welcomed a solitary day in a small town, where I could unwind and recharge. I’m now back on the trail, hiking ten more miles with the Honeymoon Hikers. making it a total of twenty for the day. It was a doable hike, still I like taking breaks; except we only took one, and a militant Ratman rushed even that lone break.
“Okay, break’s over, let’s move,” he says with a devious smile.
“I hate when you do that and we’re not friends anymore,” I say as I pick up my bag and follow him up the trail. His wife, Tumbler, follows close behind me.
The Honeymoon Hikers are highly motivated today, as they should be, they have a good reason to rush to the nearest town of Front Royal. Their close friends have paid for a 3-night stay at an Express Inn. After which the thru-hikers are taken to West Virginia for a night of bingo. Their friends also paid for the 85-dollar buy-in, which covers all the games, including the 10,000-dollar jackpot. To top it off, these same friends (who I now wish were my friends) gift Ratman and Tumbler a 150-dollars worth of resupply.
Damn, that’s one helluva trail magic.
With an early start tomorrow and Ratman’s battle charges down the trail, they should power-hike into town by early afternoon. Today we reached the last Shenandoah wayside, which will get them within 19 miles of the town.
The five rest stops, termed waysides, are along the portion of the AT that passes through the Shenandoah National Park and are popular with thru-hikers. For about 100 miles there’s no concern of food shortages; most waysides have a small restaurant or a lunch counter. They also offer small groceries, camp supplies, rest rooms and drinking water fountains. Word on the trail is that the wayside’s signature blackberry shakes are to die for.
During my pre-thru-hiker days I rarely consumed milkshakes, but with my appetite now having a mind of its own. I simply can’t get the delicious treat out of my mind.
So, a few days ago, when I finally consumed a milkshake at the first wayside, I expected the heavens to open and angels to fly down and reveal themselves to me. However, what I got was a somewhat tasty shake that was too thick to be sucked through a straw or perhaps it was the price that was too high to swallow. In fact, the prices on the small restaurant menu were not thru-hiker friendly at all. However, that didn’t stop my ravenousness ass from indulging.
In the days to follow, I hiked past the next three waysides and I was going to pass this last one, but hunger once again took control of the wheel. Wanting to make some extra miles, I probably would have hiked with the Honeymoon Hikers regardless; still a promised cold beer from Ratman sealed the deal and inadvertently caused me to reluctantly yield to his boot camp method of hiking. We finally arrive at Elkwallow Wayside and although we made good time, the continuous, fast paced hike has us frazzled. Yet, witnessing a worn out Ratman gave me a tinge of satisfaction.
Well worth it… damn, psycho drill sergeant.
Picnic tables are set around the wayside and as we drop our packs on one of them, I see Craftsman and Crappack talking to Chez-11, the first hiker that my canine companion Magic was following along the trail.
I’m informed that Crappack, is now called Professor because of his new safari-style hat, which makes him look like looked like a professor. He is holding a large wooden staff; similar to Gandalf’s in the Lord of the Rings movies. The unfinished carved top looks like Craftman’s work in progress. The guys bring me up to date on their inflatable raft adventure through Shenandoah. They tell me that this is a method some hikers use instead of hiking the actual trail by following the white blazes that pass the 101 miles of the park. Hikers can rent a canoe and aqua-blaze down the river through this section of the AT. However, this unorthodox group decided to buy cheap rafts at Walmart.
“Where’s Machete Mitch, Turtle and Steps? What happened this time?” I ask the venturesome thru-hikers.
“Well, the rafts sprung leaks and although we brought a lot of gorilla tape, we ran out and the rafts sank.”
“Yeah and soon after, Machete Mitch wasn’t feeling well, so he decided to go home. Because of boredom, Turtle left the trail as well. Steps was meeting a friend at McAfee Knob, so she stayed back. Not sure where she is now. Professor and I are the only ones left, but we are getting bored of just following the white blazes; it was great when we were bushwhacking. Now Professor and I are getting a ride into town, so we can try to buy or rent another raft,” says the Viking-like hiker, who I get a feeling I may not see after today. It’s safe to say that if you’re bored of the Appalachian Trail, it is not an ingredient for completing a thru-hike. Then again, I’m not sure it was Craftsman’s or the rest of his crew’s intention to finish the entire Appalachian Trail.
“Brother, I wish you nothing, but danger with daggers, axes and swords. I hope you find adventure or whatever it is you are seeking,” I say in the manliest voice I can muster up.
Their ride arrives and we say our goodbyes.
It’s Not Farewell, is my thought.
Damn, farewells to fellow thru-hikers really sucks.
After their ride pulls out of the parking area, I turn to the Honeymoon Hikers and sense that we share a common thought… food! Starvation has quickly replaced sheer exhaustion. We buy a loaf of bread and a pack of sliced cheese from the wayside. We sit outside on a picnic table and do not stop eating until it’s all gone.
To compliment our full bellies, the three of us share a celebratory bottle of red wine for our hiking efforts today. I sense another shift in my hike and this toast feels more like a farewell. My hiking friends will be off the trail for a few days and I’m aggressively moving on in hopes of finally catching up to Big Foot, so the chance that I’ll see my favorite hiking couple again are slim. Like the so-called real world, life out here changes, but it seems to be moving at a more rapid pace. We give a second toast to the Appalachian Trail, to what it has given and to what it has in store for us. Salud.
Morning comes and by 6 a.m., the Honeymoon Hikers are ready to hike. I can’t think straight before my caffeine fix, so they get a groggy morning adieu from me. Since they’re resupplying in town and I’m not, they give me what energy bars and snacks they have. Trail magic from the masters of acquiring trail magic… now that’s dope.
Just like when I watched Daddy Big Foot’s SUV taking part of the Moving Village away from the trail, I watch Ratman and Tumbler move on until they disappear over a hill.
There goes the most awesome hiking couple on the AT.
As I finish my morning routine, I keep glancing back at the area where I last saw Tumbler chasing after her fast-moving husband. I think, Yeah, it’s not farewell… I’ll see you guys again. I force a weak smile and then ready myself for another day on the trail.