Bandito had explained the plan to us that morning: his parents were coming to meet him at the N.O.C. to take him out for dinner, and we were invited to come along. Bandito assured us that we'd be able to stay overnight at a friend of the family's. We readily accepted.
Bandito's father was reserved and respectful, while his mother was more outgoing and inquisitive; both were polite and generous to a fault. It was impossible to see how Bandito was related to such charming people. They even displayed acceptable levels of personal hygiene. I was stunned, and immediately wondered whether Bandito was adopted.
Given the thru-hiker's natural inclination towards gluttony, almost any kind of AYCE dining can prove disastrous, yet I remained ever eager for punishment. One might have reasonably expected me to take it easy this time, given my recent record of over-indulgence. Sadly, I was and remain a deeply stubborn and sometimes foolish person. As I filled yet another plate with buttery breadsticks, I realized I was doomed to repeat this tragic cycle of overconsumption and indigestion over and over again. Or at least until I left the provence of Pizza Plus and entered the domain of Pizza Hut. Then I would be totally fine, and would never overeat with drastic consequences ever again.
Surprisingly, the other diners in the pizzeria didn't seem vehemently opposed to our presence. Perhaps our exquisite stench had not yet evolved to its grotesque, ultimate potency, or maybe the people of rural Georgia just smell really bad themselves. Either way, we didn't remain in the restaurant for long, and were quickly being shuttled to Jen and Zack's house, Jen and Zack being the friends of Bandito's family who had agreed to put us up for the night.
Ever the gracious hosts, Jen and Zack provided us with spare clothes into which we could change after showering, which they insisted we do immediately. Washing away seemingly weeks worth of grime felt wonderful, as did being able to walk into a room of other people and not singeing their nose hairs. Jen was a bee keeper, Zack an amateur astronomer, and after we cleaned up they were more than happy to entertain us with their hobbies. Jen's hive was still relatively dormant from the winter, but we had spectacular views of the stars through Zack's telescope, blessedly uncorrupted by light pollution from nearby civilization.
Before going to bed, we watched a documentary about the trail called "Walking with Freedom," staring a perpetually out of shape thru-hiker named Lion King. I didn't particularly care for the film as it dealt mainly with the boring parts of the trail: the terrain, the sights, the history, nature, the actual hiking experience, etc. It completely ignored the social aspect of the trail, which for me was the most compelling and important facet of the experience. I vowed to look into the matter later, and to mention this idea to my numerous contacts in the film industry.
Bandito was so enthused by the way Jason and I had acquitted ourselves that he asked both of us to spend Easter with his family. Jason, an avowed Pastafarian, was understandably a little leery of the idea. Besides, he wasn't the type to spend that much time off the trail. He wanted to keep making miles. And that was fine with Bandito. He understood. As soon as we made it back to the N.O.C., however, Jason was invited by Olive Oil to spend the day white water rafting.
"I think I'm gonna stay," he said, dropping back suddenly. "I mean, we're out here to have fun, right? Not just make miles. See you guys later!"
And he would, although not for a few days.
There was a nice older couple giving out trail magic in the parking lot, Homeless and Unemployed. Bandito and I chatted with them for a while, and happily gorged ourselves on their orange slices before starting our hike. Bandito had the fanciful idea to make it to Fontana Dam by the following day, so as to be able to take a full day off for Easter. Fontana Dam was 28.7 miles away, over the toughest, steepest section of the trail we would ever traverse.
It seemed we had no choice but to do our first twenty mile day, over Cheoah Bald to Cable Gap Shelter. We would be pushing ourselves harder than ever before, risking our lives and definitely our sanity.