Location: Unnamed Shelter
For the last several days, the temperatures have been low. I’ve been writing these journal entries with gloves on, so the handwriting is hardly legible. Between the slick fabric of the gloves and the shivering, I’m surprised I can write at all.
I didn’t sleep well last night. I had to pee all night but I didn’t want to get out of my sleeping bag. I fought with the urge throughout the night and occasionally drifted to sleep. I finally got up to use the woods at first light and then returned to my sleeping bag for another hour of sleep.
When I awoke again, Druid was gone. The Mafia was still in their sleeping bags and seemingly uninterested in moving. Shortly we were all awake, in our sleeping bags, eating breakfast as we leaned against the back of the shelter. Inside the shelter our bodies had raised the temperature a few degrees, but the thermometer of Dorothy’s pack read 24̊F. last night was cold, very cold.
The Mafia informed me this morning that they were going to hike to the nearest road and hitchhike into Bland. Since they hadn’t hiked 20 miles yesterday, they didn’t have to food to hike the trail all the way to Bland.
After about 10 miles hiking, I met the Bear Mafia at Wapiti Shelter. They were sitting in a row and eating lunch. I sat at the picnic table and pulled out bread and cheese for sandwiches. Minutes into the conversation, the Mafia informed me that they would be leaving the trail. They made plans to hitch to Bland and there they would wait for Jimmy Legs’ dad to pick them up and drive them to NC. They would go to Hot Springs, NC and hike some in the Smoky Mountains but then return home without completing the trail. The news shocked me. Yesterday they seemed so eager to hike big miles to make Damascus by the first of November, but today they have decided to go home.
The Mafia started the trail a day after I started. They made their way through hellacious conditions in Maine. Having persevered through a state that forced four in five southbounders off the Appalachian Trail, I cannot believe that the four of them have been overcome by the Virginia Blues, the morose feelings of hopelessness acquired while hiking through Virginia. Many northbounders decide that they will never complete the lengthy 535 mile section of trail through Virginia, and therefore they drop off the trail. Southbounders, though, have already completed over 1400 miles of trail, so I’m surprised that so many succumb to feelings of hopelessness because of a 500 mile section.
The Bear Mafia said that they were getting bored with Virginia. They weren’t having fun on the trail and all decided better to leave now before they possibly developed a hatred for hiking and the mountains. The length of state proved too much for the foursome. They had already given up before today, having yellow blazed over 100 miles of the state. The Bear Mafia is no more.
The news of the Mafia’s decision bothered me all afternoon as I hiked alone. I left the Mafia at a road crossing where they intended to hitch to Bland. As I hiked through the cold mountains, I thought about many of the hikers I have met who are no longer on the trail. I don’t think I ever mentioned that Hiker Bee, the acid and mushrooming tripping pothead from the Connecticut section of the trail has dropped off the AT. I found out just days ago that he had returned home to visit his family and never returned to the trail. So many have left the trail, both voluntarily and involuntarily, I consider myself lucky to still be moving towards the end. I could never count the number of close calls that I have had that could have so easily sent me home if the events had happened just a little differently. Everyone that has fallen off the trail has been equal to if not more of an athlete than I am. I don’t know to what to attribute my success thus far, perhaps to spirit and luck only.
I heavily carried the news of the Mafia’s departure all afternoon. When I reached the shelter this evening, I informed Druid. He was more shocked than I was when I heard the news. He hadn’t sensed in the slightest that something might be amiss with the group. They seemed as happy and eager to hike as he did, he thought.
I met a new hiker tonight, Rising Sun. He is from Arkansas but attended Vanderbilt. He will be completing the trail in Damascus. He ‘leap-frogged’ the trail this year, hiking from Springer to Damascus, Harper’s to Katahdin, and now Harper’s to Damascus. He has avoided most of the cold weather until now, his last week on the trail.
Rising Sun and I are sharing the shelter tonight. Druid has set up his tent on a thick pile of leaves he made. The forecast promises a cold night but clear skies. Game four of the World Series is rained out.