Crossing our first state line was certainly exciting, but we still hadn't gone even 80 miles on the trail. I tried not to make too big a deal of it. Jason, on the other hand, sat down on a boulder overlooking the border and proceeded to call everybody he knew on his cell phone to brag about his progress. I contemplated doing the same, marveling at the fact that he even had cell phone reception there, but then I remembered that I didn't have any friends, or at least none who cared about or understood what I was attempting. Depressed, I hiked on.
The Muskat Creek Shelter was a dump at 4,600 feet. There were gaping holes in the floorboards and heaps of trash strewn about, some of it piled up under the shelter. I was amazed at what people had managed to hike up there only to throw away. There were several tarps, an old tent, a crappy sleeping bag, several beer cans, a rolling suitcase full of blood-soaked $50 bills, and what looked like a rotting corpse wrapped in garbage bags. I was horrified and disgusted, and that was before the other people started to show up.
Jason arrived, and we eagerly claimed the last two open spots in the shelter. The others there were an interesting assortment of characters. First, there was the old guy, who... Then there was a completely different old guy, who, when he snored, sounded like an asthmatic dragon trying to eat an active volcano. Then there was an older woman named Musher, who said her trail name was BJ. She was a section hiker, and I would always remember her as the one who taught me the invaluable lesson, promptly ignored, that hiking in the rain is miserable and should never be undertaken by anyone, ever. BJ was also noteworthy for having given Buckaroo his trail name. I flinched when she mentioned him, still stung by the memories.
The most interesting of the other shelter dwellers was Jib. A younger guy, maybe in his mid-thirties, Jib was trying to hike the trail for the third time. His previous, aborted attempts had all ended with him suffering some vaguely horrible injury, and he had ended up having surgery on both his knees as a result. Unfortunately, his young son had recently came down with some unspecified life-threatening disease, and was currently being treated, free of charge, at a Shriner's Hospital in Massachusetts. Jib had thus decided to try to hike the trail for charity, to raise money for the hospital. I wished him luck, but never saw him again. I hope he made it.
Others arrived in a slow trickle, gradually becoming a torrent just before nightfall. Some of the newcomers clearly had designs to squeeze themselves into the shelter with us, despite the fact that there was very evidently no more room. We pointedly did not make room for them. They got some semblance of revenge, however, by hanging out underneath the shelter's eaves chain smoking, talking loudly, making huge productions out of cooking their dinners, and by generally being grating, obnoxious, and insufferable. In retrospect, I probably should have tented somewhere between the piles of garbage to save myself the aggravation.
The worst of the lot was an inveterate pot head named Ziggy, who made a point of asking everyone if they smoked marijuana, if they had any spare marijuana on them, and if they wanted to smoke marijuana with him right then and there. He really loved marijuana. The only thing he seemed to love as much as marijuana was his dog, Lucy. She was an adorably runty little mutt, and was half-blind. Unfortunately, for all of Ziggy's affection, he couldn't seem to see that Lucy wasn't having nearly as much fun on the trail as he was. Long distance hiking is incredibly hard for even the stoutest, healthiest of dogs, and Lucy was neither healthy nor particularly stout. She seemed to be struggling mightily from the cold and from the physical toll exacted by the difficult terrain.
"What are you going to do when you get to the Smokies?" I asked. "Because they don't allow dogs on the trail there, except for service animals."
"Oh, but she is," replied Ziggy, flashing a sly smile. He produced a fake ID card card for Lucy that declared her a service animal. I was repulsed. And I wasn't the only one.
"That's disgusting," spat BJ, livid. "I train service dogs for a living, and that is no service dog."
"Hey," said Ziggy, shrugging. "Hike your own hike, lady."
"But she's not a service dog," I protested. "My father is blind, and that provision for service animals was meant to help people like him, not you. You're taking advantage of that, and that's unethical at best and criminal at worst!"
"Hey, hike your own hike" repeated Ziggy, losing patience, blowing cigarette smoke in my face.
"I mean, how exactly is she a service dog? Does she carry your pot?" I asked. "I hope you get fined. Or arrested. Or are at least forced to put her up in a kennel, like you're supposed to. So you can continue your hike. Because far be it from me to wish failure upon another hiker. That would be totally out of character, for me."
Ziggy gaped at me. He looked slightly stupid with his mouth hanging open, but then he always looked slightly stupid. "I would never leave Lucy!" he protested. "I'd rather quit the trail than put her up in a kennel!"
I shrugged, apathetic, doing nothing to discourage this notion. Fed up, Ziggy punched me in the face, flicked his cigarette ash in my dinner, and then stalked off to have forceful relations with my backpack, leaving me dazed, hurt, emotionally scarred, and violated.
I secretly congratulated myself for securing a moral victory, though, and vowed to continue always fighting for justice, no matter the personal cost.
I then cried myself to sleep, or at least tried to. The snoring was awful.