The next day we would enter Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Wait, no, that can't be right. We were still days away from the Smokies. Sorry. No, the next morning we walked the four to nine miles to Winding Stair Gap, to try to catch a ride into Franklin, North Carolina, for a meal and resupply.
We left the shelter early, making a game of trying to stay ahead of the Boy Scouts, who were annoyingly swift and sure-footed hikers. Unfortunately, there was no real advantage to arriving at the road early, since Freeman or Merf, or some other responsible, intelligent adult, had already called the Franklin Motel to arrange for a free shuttle to bring us into town. We got to the road ahead of all but two of the Scouts, and, having nothing better to do but sit around and wait, doffed our packs and relaxed in the parking lot.
Fortunately, we were not left without entertainment, as the Scouts were endlessly gullible, and there was some major weirdness going on in the woods to our north. We could not have been sitting there for more than ten minutes before literally dozens of State Policemen, Forest Rangers and National Guardsmen came pouring out of the woods. Some of them were heavily armed, and none offered us any explanation as to their presence. I speculated that there was a serial killer on the loose, particularly one with a taste for twelve- to fourteen-year-old boys. Freeman apparently didn't appreciate my feeble attempts at baiting the now-terrified Boy Scouts, and so reassured them that the serial killer probably just targeted un-funny liars instead. Specifically those named Major Chafage. I honestly don't know what he was talking about. I didn't know anyone fitting that description.
The shuttle driver was very polite about showing us around town, pointing out all the local businesses we could patronize to give Ron Haven our money. Ron Haven is a luminary on the trail, widely known for organizing the Hiker Fool Bash on April 1st, saving puppies from burning buildings, and owning every cheap motel from Atlanta to Damascus. We asked the driver to drop us off wherever it was convenient, which turned out to be in front of an ATM by the Franklin Motel's cashier's office, and then made our over way to Main Street Pizza.
Jason's impossibly cool aunt and uncle were on a motorcycle tour of the eastern seaboard, and just happened to be within a couple hundred miles of us that day. They had agreed to meet up with Jason in Franklin, so we all went to the Pizzeria and waited. It didn't take long before we heard the tell-tale rumble of the chopper as Jason's relatives rolled to a stop outside. Jason was of course ecstatic about seeing some of his far-flung relatives, while Bandito and I were merely relieved to have some more civilized company for once. If you could call them that, what with their anarchic leather jackets, matching spiked dog collars, and general face-singeing awesomeness. They bought us lunch.
I opted against having a beer, deciding that it was a better idea just to try to eat an entire pizza. Normally, I'm a pizza snob. Having lived exclusively in places synonymous with excellent pizza, such as New York City and suburban Connecticut, I've grown accustomed to and generally demand a quality pie. I suppose it must have been around this time on my trip that I started telling people about Ramunto's Brick'n'Brew in Hanover, New Hampshire, and their famous Garlic Knot Pizza.
"Imagine a crust of golden braids of garlic knots, drizzled with olive oil, enough garlic to kill a clan of vampires, and tons of parmesan cheese," I would tell people. "The pizza itself? A white pie, with sliced tomato, mozzarella, basil, more garlic, and even more parmesan."
Does that sound good to you? Well, Main Street Pizza was no Ramunto's, but it was the best pizza I'd had since going to Mellow Mushroom sometime while I was in Georgia. Which admittedly isn't saying much. Sadly, it would remain the best pizza I had on the trail until I reached Damascus. And that's not saying much either.
Tragically, and despite my best efforts, which included eating the last three slices all at once, my metabolism could not keep up with my foolish ambition. As soon as we left the pizzeria, I felt the need to pull into a coffee place to use the toilet. The barista was very accommodating, the bathroom less so. There were no stalls and the only door didn't lock. No matter. My needs outweighed my inhibitions, and I was soon raucously abusing their porcelain throne.
The barista wouldn't let me escape with my dignity intact, however, politely insisting I buy something for the privilege of doing whatever it was that I had just done. I guiltily bought a couple of biscotti and slinked out the back door, resolving to never eat that much pizza ever again. Franklin was trying to kill me, I knew it. It would come even closer to bumping me off later that afternoon.