“Derick, did you get a trail name?” asks Soho as she breaks down her tent.
A meeting of the minds was held yesterday evening and a few trail names were assigned. Nora is now Doc, her brother is Three Week, Kevin is still Kevin and I’m…
“Well, Mr Fabulous is what Overdrive came up with. It sounds fitting, no?” I jest, deciding that if I’m going to stick with such a name, I should have fun with it.
In response, Soho gives a cute giggle and then says, “I like it.”
Well, if a pretty German girl likes my new hiker handle, then you’re darn tootin I’m keeping it.
I must remember to thank Overdrive.
I continue to be the last one to break camp, yet this time Overdrive waits for me. We start our hike an hour and a half after the rest of our newly assembled trail group, yet by lunchtime, we gain ground and then hike not far ahead of everyone for the rest of the day. Our plan for today is to reach a campground at Rocky Mountain.
My foremost thought of the day is, to be one with the mountain.
I’m a week into this thru-hike and every climb, whether it’s a mountain or a hill, is my biggest weakness. Although, up to this point, none of the climbs have been as hard as the approach trail from my first day, all form of incline has me panting and stopping to catch my breath… except for today. Today I made up my mind that something had to change, if not physically, it would be mentally. From this moment on, mountains will not be the bane of my Appalachian Trail existence. I’m going to conquer these energy-stealing mountains. No more dreading upcoming climbs, instead I’m going to anticipate, accept, and even enjoy every step up.
Keeping a positive attitude gets me going up Rocky Mountain. Halfway up, Overdrive stops at a stream for water. I’m feeling extremely energetic, more than usual.
Have I finally gotten my hiking legs?
Or is it the fact that today is the first day I’m hiking with a trail name? Evidently, being labeled as Mr Fabulous has confidence boosting properties. I’m feeling strong and energetic, stopping is the last thing I want to do.
“I’ll meet you at the top, Overdrive.”
“Go for it, Mr Fabulous.”
I hike on, enjoying for the first time, a climb and taking advantage of my newfound strength.
When I reach the summit, I wait awhile, but when there’s no sign of Overdrive, I continue on slowly, in hopes that he will catch up. As I merrily stroll down the other side of the mountain I just conquered, two hikers descend behind me.
“Are you Mr Fabulous?” one of them asks.
I smile at the question. It’s strange to hear someone address me by such a name.
I wonder what they think about my new trail name?
“Yeah, I am,” I say with what feels like the biggest grin that has ever taken over my face.
“Your hiker buddy Overdrive, I think that’s his name, said he will meet you at the Cheese Factory campsite.”
“Oh, okay thanks. Are you guys thru-hiking?” I ask, as I continue on.
The two guys follow close behind me.
“Nah, my buddy John here has done sections, I’m just tagging along for the day,” he says.
“What’s your name?” I ask.
“Dave. Quite a name you got there,” he says.
“Yeah, I got it yesterday, but so you know, I didn’t name myself,” I say, looking back at him with my best mischievous look.
“It’s a good one and if I had a choice, that would be my trail name,” says Dave.
We chat the rest of the way down the mountain. As it is, they are out for a few days and since they have jobs and other obligations, they can only do a few days every month. Hearing that reaffirms how fortunate and grateful I am for having the time to do the entire AT in one season.
A mile and a half later we get to the Cheese Factory campsite. Dave and John hike a mile farther to another campsite. I would have continued along with them, but I like the company of my small moving village. I’ll wait for my group to join me here.
The campground is the largest and grassiest I’ve seen thus far, with many sites to choose from. It sits halfway up Tray Mountain, which means I’ll have a climb to start my morning tomorrow. Still, it doesn’t matter anymore because I’m now a conqueror of mountains.
Let’s hope this suggestive thinking keeps working for me.
I start setting up my tent at a nice area by a campfire site. I place my tent just right for an expected fire I’m certain Overdrive will build. I’ll make sure to collect some wood after I pitch my tent. I begin to imagine our group around the fire joking and sharing stories of the day. I smile at the thought as I assemble my tent support rods. I look over at the south side of the trail and see hikers arriving.
Oh, good I haven’t seen anyone from my group in a while. It’s got to be Overdrive with his dad and Big Foot.
As they get closer, I see that it is not my group, but two guys and a kid.
“You must be Mr Fabulous,” one of them says.
I smile and say, “Ha, why do you say that?”
“Well, we were told to look for a guy with dreadlocks, and unless there’s another, I’m guessing it’s you,” he says with merriment.
“Actually, there’s a guy that just passed…” I begin, “nah, I kid, it’s me. So, you heard from my group?” I eagerly ask, hoping they’re not far behind.
“Yeah, the guy with a white bandana said that they’re camping on top of Rocky Mountain,” he responds.
The white bandana that he’s referring to is Overdrive.
“Oh,” I say, trying to hide my disappointed.
“One of them has a bad knee and couldn’t go any farther,” he adds.
My downcast turns to concern, “What happened? Do you know who it is?”
Suddenly this camp area feels too large for me.
“Are you guys staying here?” I say, hopeful for more bodies to fill the void at this campsite and the emptiness that I now feel.
“No, we’re going to Tray Mountain Shelter.”
“Oh okay, thanks for the news,” I say feeling my strength seeping out of me.
They move on and I’m left alone. I could head out as well, but my tent is pitched and much of what was in my pack is laid out on the ground. Nonetheless, I’m sure there will be hikers camping here soon enough. I’ll have company, no reason to fret.
After pitching my tent and not seeing anyone else for over an hour, I grab my water pump and walk to the water source. It’s odd, being out here alone, it’s as if I’m the only one on the AT. The seclusion feels like the Twilight Zone episode, Where is Everybody?… except I’m in the wilderness and not in a big deserted city.
When I return to my tent, I see someone tying a hammock to a tree on the other side of the large camp area where there’s several trees on the edge of camp.
Great, I finally have company.
As I get closer, I begin to recognize the hiker. He was at Low Gap Shelter last night, sitting at the picnic table with us as we ate. He and I didn’t talk directly, although stories were exchanged among all that were there. Still, I sensed there was something off with him. He seemed annoyed, as if his reason for hiking the trail was to give nature and humanity a fare chance, but then coming to the conclusion that it was a lost cause and that it just wasn’t working out for him.
He sees me approaching my tent and I give a wave hello. He waves back, and then continues with his set up. I decide I’m going to walk over and restore his faith in humanity.
“Hey man, I’m sure glad I’m not alone out here,” I express.
“Hey, yeah and such a big campsite,” he replies, as he continues to work on his hammock.
“Yeah it is. A hammock, huh? How is that? Does it get cold at night?” I ask.
“It’s great. It wraps around me, keeping me warm and I have a fly that protects me from the rain. It’s light and as long as there’s trees around, I’m good.”
“That’s cool. I didn’t even consider getting one. I was just happy to have a tent, being that I never slept in one before,” I say, now wondering if a hammock would have been ideal for me.
He seems to be busy getting settled, so I leave him to it.
“Well, I’m going to make dinner soon. We’ll talk some more, cool?” I say.
“Yeah, as soon as I get water, I’ll join you.”
Twenty minutes later we’re sitting on a long log by a campfire site preparing our camp food.
“What’s your trail name again?” I ask, relieved that I’m not alone in a Twilight Zone episode.
“Bam Coleman?” I say, not getting it, “What’s a Bam Coleman? How did you get that name?”
“I got it last year when I did a section hike from the approach trail to Atkins Virginia, from September 8 to December 1st…”
“What the heck… you were hiking late in the year?” I say, surprised.
I can’t imagine being out here on a cold November night.
“Yeah, it was a test for my thru-hike this year,” he explains, then continues, “Well, I was at Hawk Mountain Shelter, you know, the third shelter here in Georgia, and it was my first hiking trip. It was around suppertime, there were seven of us just shooting the breeze. Everyone had their Whisperlites, Jetboils and alcohol stoves, but I pulled out a ginormous butane stove that I used for catering and such. It suddenly got deathly quiet, then someone asked if it was a Coleman stove, someone else said, ‘look it says gourmet chef, like Emerill Lagasse, BAM! Bam Coleman, that’s your name!’ And it stuck.”
“Bam Coleman, that’s great, I dig it,” I say, amused.
After dinner, I set out to hang my food bag, something I haven’t done yet. The shelters had bear cables, Big Foot hung my bag at Low Gap, and there’s no need to worry about bears in the cabin we stayed at in Neels Gap.
I search for a branch, away from my tent that I can hang my food bag high enough from a bears reach.
How high is that? I wonder.
I find a branch that may work. It’s about, I’m guessing, twenty feet high. After I get my nylon rope over the branch and pull up my bag, it should hang about thirteen to fifteen feet up. It’s high enough, unless there are two bears. One might climb on the other’s shoulder and snatch my food bag.
What am I thinking, there’s no circus bears out here… is there?
Okay, I know from watching Big Foot and the other hikers that I can get my rope up and over a branch by tying one end to a rock and tossing it over. I thought about using a carabineer, but although it may be heavy enough to get my rope up and over a branch, the weight isn’t enough to get it back down to me.
I find a fist size rock, tie my nylon rope around it, then I ready myself like an Olympic athlete about to throw a javelin. I aim higher than the branch and over it. With the rock in my right hand and the loose end of the rope in my left, so it doesn’t all go flying away, I swing my arm back and release a throw. I watch it sail past the branch, hoping the rock doesn’t unravel from the rope. The rope stays on and I begin to lower it down. I untie the rock and tie a carabiner to it. I hook the carabiner to my food bag and then clip it to the rope. I pull the bag up until it hits the branch the rope sits on, then I reach up as high as I can and tie a clove hitch with a stick about eight inches long. I let it rise until it hits the carabiner, and there you have it.
That YouTube video I watched before I left for this trip was useful after all.
This form of hanging a food bag is what they call a PCT method, not sure why though? I hear that they don’t even use this method on the Pacific Crest Trail.
I could have just pulled my food bag up and tied the other end of the rope to a tree, but I just wanted to test this method. I like it.
The bag is now about thirteen feet high. I can let the loose end of the rope just hang, there’s no chance of a bear figuring out that it needs to pull on the rope to get the bag, still I decide to wrap it around an adjacent tree, just in case.
You never know about those circus bears, they are super smart.
I walk back to the campsite satisfied with my achievement.
Not bad for my first time.
I proudly tell Bam Coleman that I hung a bear bag and that he’s welcome to add his food bag to it if he cares to. Bam’s demeanor yesterday may have been dismissive or maybe I misread him. I was indifferent toward him, only realizing it fully when I was out here alone, and in need of company. With our talk, I understood him a bit more and was able to dismiss the image of the person I mistook him for.
And there you have it… another lesson.
I crawl into my tent, ready to read a book I brought with me. Yet, the sound of the wind blowing hard against my tent, gives off a scary horror movie effect. My mind wanders to the dangers that may linger just outside my tent.
Although Bam Coleman is not far from me, wrapped in his cocoon, this is the first night that I feel alone. I was so content, so safe with my group of hiking friends. It hits me that this trail is too remarkable not to share with others. I make a promise to myself not to take my new trail group for granted when or if I see them again. Hoping I do see them again I doze off to sleep.
In the morning, Bam Coleman hits the trail twenty minutes before I do. I slowly pack everything into my bag in hopes that Overdrive or someone from my group shows up before I finish and head out. By 9 a.m. I resolve to leisurely move on. While listening to a Spanish MTV Unplugged album, I start up Tray Mountain.
As I climb up, I suddenly hear a scream. I tear my headphones off and for a split second I suspect a bear attack. I mean why else would someone scream out here? But, then I realize that the scream came from the song I was listening to. Someone from the live recording in the audience was shouting with joy at the song being sung.
Damn, talk about being paranoid.
I check my pants, no accidents, so I continue to climb. I seem to be on full alert whenever I hike alone. Sudden nearby sounds, no matter how far or small, is a starting pistol for a full sprint from me. I’d like to think that I have unyielding courage and that I would not budge, but instead ready myself with some form of defensive pose. Except I’m fully aware that my first instinct would be to toss my backpack at the beast and run full speed in the opposite direction.
Will I ever be completely at ease hiking alone out here, I wonder?
An hour into my hike, I reach Tray Mountain Shelter. I’m still hiking alone, with no sight of my group. I leave a message in the register in hopes of seeing them again, if not, I’ll continue with my thru-hike, grateful that I met another solid group of people. This seems to be the way of the Appalachian Trail.
In for a break… I’m missing the Moving Village. I’ll wait for you guys at Dicks Creek Gap.
Peace, Love & All That Good Stuff!
Feeling groovy about finally signing with a trail name instead of Derick (no-trail-name-yet).
During my hike, a Prince song plays on. I then find it hard not to dance to When Doves Cry. Dancing is not an easy task when going down a hill, yet I find a nice rhythm to my steps and I begin to swing my trekking poles over my head. I do a quick spin, slightly losing my balance, but regain control with a Prince like squeal and if it wasn’t for my backpack, I may have attempted a half split. I then hear a faint sound other than Prince and myself singing. I pull off my earphones, turn around and see a hiker storming toward me.
“Huh… Overdrive!” I excitedly say.
He reaches up to me and we collide in a big embrace.
“Mr Fabulous! I was calling your name for a while, but you wouldn’t answer. I thought you were mad or something, until I saw you dancing like a madman,” he says excitedly.
How long has it been? A few weeks? A week? A few days? Nah, only one day, a day that felt much longer. Somehow time and space run on a different zone out here… one I imagine extraterrestrials have access to. (Fact: it’s how ETs travel through space. Yup, that’s the truth) Out here I lose all track of time. I don’t even know what day of the week it is.
“Good to see ya. Where’s the rest of the Moving Village?”
“I saw that you called us that in the register, that’s awesome. They’re behind somewhere. I was on Over-Overdrive trying to catch up to you,” he’s racing through his words and is much more enthusiastic than usual, something I didn’t think possible.
“I heard someone was hurt? Who is it?” I say concerned.
“Halfway was having pain in her knee. She wasn’t in any shape to go down Rocky Mountain. We divvied up her gear amongst everyone to carry, so she could make it to this really nice grassy site by the summit.”
He adds that their campsite was a half-mile past the water source and everyone was low on water. They were exhausted and some were hurting, so Overdrive volunteered to take everyone’s bladder and containers in his backpack and go back down a half-mile, fill them all up with water and hike back up the mountain.
“Dude, that is way cool. You are a hero, a leader, a kung fu fighting hiker.”
I say kung fu because they kick ass.
“Haha. Everyone was so done and I just felt energized,” says Overdrive.
“Because you’re an Overdrive,” I say to this machine of a hiker.
“I’m so amped up when I get to camp, I can’t sit still,” he says.
I get what he’s saying. I’m not as wired as he is when I get to camp, but I do like to socialize and unwind for a while.
We hike on, stopping at Sassafras Gap for lunch. We wait for our newly named group, the Moving Village. One by one they begin to show up, and with each new arrival, I share a big sweaty hug.
“The Moving Village is back together again,” announces Soho, who also saw my entry at the shelter.
When everyone finally arrives, we head out to Deep Gap Shelter.
“I saw that you were planning on meeting us at Dicks Creek Gap, farther than we were actually going to go, it’s why I put it on over-over drive,” Overdrive proudly says.
“You sure did. We may have to add that extra over to your trail name.”
“No, I’m not doing that again. I’m taking it easy the rest of the day,” he says.
I wonder how true that statement is? Is he actually capable of a low gear hike?
“Okay, race ya to the shelter!” I egg him on, as I lead the way.
He follows close behind.
It’s evening, we’re all in our tents, when I hear Downhill reading from his journal, “Day one: SORE… Day Two: ACHING… Day three: Refer to Day one and two.”
Lying in my tent, I’m heartened by the knowledge that I’m amongst my new trail family, the Moving Village. Nothing can harm me when I’m surrounded by hikers. I believe that and the fact that if there is a monstrous threat, then I may have a better chance of escape while it’s busy attacking someone else. It’s a comforting thought… one that eases me to sleep.
If you’re interested in reading more about my wacky, yet adventurous AT experience, check out my memoir, The Unlikely Thru-Hiker.