Althought Bandito and I had just met back up with Nature, Spark and Caboose at the Moreland Gap Shelter, it was destined to be a short reunion. Nature was headed to Kincora, a hiker's hostel just six miles away. Kincora was famous on the trail for being indescribably awesome, and for allowing its guests to stay in tree houses.
Kincora was run by notorious hard-ass and trail ambassador Bob Peoples, whose personal motto apparently was "If it ain't broke, fix it." Bob lived and worked uncompromisingly according to that credo. His influence was evident everywhere, from the switchbacks he had scouted up Roan Mountain to the rock bridge he and his volunteers had constructed over the Hardcore Cascade. We had passed over the bridge at Hardcore Cascade just the previous day, and, for better or worse, had hardly noticed it. Still, thanks to Bob, the sections of trail around Kincora were immaculately maintained, amongst the best anywhere in the state of Tennessee.
Nature was adamant about staying at Kincora, and would not be persuaded to deviate from her plan. Oddly, she was even considering yellow blazing from there straight to Damascus, Virginia.
"I have no intentions of climbing Pond Flats again," said Nature, shaking her head.
I had no idea what she was talking about. Pond Flats was actually a rather rugged mountain, and was neither flat nor a pond. Spark and Caboose needed to resupply, and were then planning to camp atop it. The rest of us were headed towards the Watauga Lake Shelter, which would become our jumping off point for the 40-mile dash into Damascus.
The day's hike was pleasant enough. We ran into some trail magic by a road crossing. Some trail maintainers were rebuilding a bridge nearby, and graciously shared with us their fabulous lunchtime spread of soda, cookies, candy bars, bagels, hot chocolate, coffee, Russian beluga caviar and fresh fruit. Spark, Caboose and Hobbes even snagged some miniature bottles of wine, which they ingeniously saved for later. And then there was the time, just before the Laurel Fork Shelter, when I was attacked and nearly eaten by a rather large, rampaging dog. Despite its owners vociferous claims of its harmlessness, the dog's crazy eyes and the flecks of blood mottling his spittle, foam-covered, razor sharp teeth spoke otherwise. So that was fun.
Things went pretty smoothly after that. Strider, Hobbes and P-Nut mentioned maybe stopping at the 420 mile point at 4:20 in the afternoon for some 420, but I don't know if they actually did. If they'd been there two days earlier, a wormhole might have opened up and sucked them into another dimension. Anyway, my memories of that afternoon are strangely vague.
I remember the air being heavy, and the strong smell of wood smoke, and then wondering why there were red and green glowing lines surrounding my body. Strangely, I also remember not being freaked out that there were. And I don't know why. I remember arriving at the Shook Branch Picnic Area, on the shore of Lake Watauga, and being delighted to find Lil Dipper and Redwing already there. Or maybe I arrived first. Everything was a little unclear.
The water in the lake was freezing, and I jokingly bet Bandito a dollar he couldn't stay submerged for even ten seconds. He promply took off his shirt and dove in, accomplishing the feat with shocking ease. True, he ran out of the water shrieking girlishly, and spent the next five minutes wrapped in a towel with his teeth chattering, but I still owed him a buck.
Disappointed, I impulsively bet Lil Dipper a Five Dollar Foot-long at Subway that she couldn't stay in the water for thirty seconds. To my surprise and dismay, she too managed the feat without turning into an icicle. Still, she couldn't help being affected by the cold, despite her stout English constitution. P-Nut gallantly offered to strip naked and cuddle with her inside a sleeping bag, to save her from hypothermia. Miraculously, she recovered almost immediately after that, and P-Nut mercifully kept his clothes on.
And so all of us sat on the beach, feeling oddly listless, finding everything weirdly funny. I think Bandito was freaking out about the poor quality of his last resupply, so he hitched a ride into town with a one-legged Army veteran in the sidecar of his motorcycle. And none of us were worried about this strange turn of events, because the one-legged man left his prosthetic with us as collateral. Because that makes sense. I even remember tolerating Strider, and really, really enjoying my dinner, which consisted of plain pasta mixed with about a cup and a half of Parmesan cheese.
Our euphoria slowly faded as the sun slid towards the horizon. If they had allowed camping on that beach, we might have stayed there for the night. But they didn't, so we didn't. I was the first to reluctantly pack up, and I led the group on towards the shelter. On the way, I thrilled P-Nut with a rendition of John Legend's It Don't Have To Change, which I was just then adding to my repertoire.
Caveman was at the shelter when we arrived. We told him we were doing the Watauga Lake Challenge the next day. He told us we were crazy, then immediately decided he was coming with us. Lil Dipper set up her brand new hammock, and seemingly everybody took a turn sitting in it and laughing hysterically when they sank immediately to the ground.
The shelter area was literred with pro-Christian pamphlets some hopeful proselytizer had left behind. Some still sat, neatly stacked, on the shelter floor, but most lay scattered about the forest, blown about by the wind. It was obnoxious, and insulting.
"I want to find the people who did this," Caveman lamented, "And tell 'em that the Bible says to follow the laws of the land, and this is goddamn littering!"
We decided the best, most sensible, most ecologically sound option was to use the pamphlets as a fire starter. Which we did. We sent Strider and Bandito to find firewood, and they somehow came back with an entire tree. That suspiciously resembled a telephone pole. They told us it had been cut down by trail maintainers. I marveled at their ambition even while silently doubting their sanity.
Having made peace with Strider, I dictated a note for him to write in the shelter's log:
So excited about making it into Damascus tomorrow and getting rid of the last pieces of the body of that drifter I murdered back in Hot Springs. I'll finally get my pack weight under 30 pounds! Hooray! Also looking forward to buying crack and hookers.
RedwingRedwing wasn't too pleased about my prank, and wrote her own note in the register:
Strider is a wanker. Also, so is Major Chafage.
RedwingI couldn't let it go at that, however, and continued the dialog:
How dare you! I'll have you know I haven't done that since January...
Major ChafageI did feel terrible about being mean to her, though. In truth, I was going to attribute the offending entry to Bandito, but I didn't think he'd appreciate the humor. Redwing was ultimately a good sport, however, and harbored no hard feelings. All in all, it was clearly a rather uneventful day. Perhaps that was appropriate, considering what we had planned for the morrow...