Overmountain Shelter - 8.4 - Elk Park/Roan Mountain

We had all hoped to wake up early enough to see the sun rise over the valley east of us. Snail-No-More was the only one to even get up, though he wasn't awake enough to care much about the sunrise. Crag, Snail-No-More, High Tech and I eventually rolled out of our bags around 10:00 AM. We all ate our breakfasts, savoring our time at the beautiful Overmountain Shelter. All of us took our turns photographing the place, Crag being sure to moon each of our cameras at the crucial moment. (I've decided to spare Crag and leave my picture of his nether regions on disk, and not in the ether.) One by one we drifted packed up and drifted out, talking little. The morning was bright and misty, and we were treated to an immediate climb. This brought us back together, huffing and puffing in one another's ears.

We were on The Humps before long. The Humps are a series of beautiful balds with great 360 degree views. Years ago, The Humps were preserved as a result of the successful "Save the Hump" fundraising campaign, spearheaded by Stan Murray. The project raised $1,000,000, protecting The Humps from development. The four of us grew more spread out as we went up and down the hills. We stopped after ascending the second big up, Crag hopping between the huge boulders atop the bald, me on the phone with Asolo about my dying boot.

My boot, you see, had begun to develop a hole in the sole. I decided that to call from the trail (as opposed to waiting for a trail town) would be wise, in that it's a lot more desperate sounding in explaining the situation. The woman at Asolo was very helpful, explaining to me that the problem stemmed from having the Asolo 535s, which are far too lightweight for such long distances. She said, however, that she would send a new pair immediately. She sent some 3rd Day Air to my house, where I planned on being in just a few days. I guess I need to further stray from my story of The Humps to explain that.

I decided that a break was in order. Just a short one. There were a few reasons. The first is that I just needed a couple of days off, a little fresh-squeezed OJ, and some real computers to work with. The second reason, the more important one, was that two good friends of mine would be graduating from High School in just a few days. Shawn Evergreen and Amber Dinan, both considered, at one time or another, to be ungraduable, had done quite well with their education and would finally move on to Bigger and Better Things. (Whatever those are.) I wanted to make a surprise visit to the graduation. After a month of hiking, it seemed to be a good idea.

OK, back to the day's events. Crag also used my phone, taking advantage of the occasional reception, to call Avocet about his broken watch. He had to dial nearly 100 times before the cheesy cell service in Georgia would work. He frequently got, as did I, a recorded message stating that the area code had to be dialed to reach the party being called. This, despite that we were both calling 800 numbers. Eventually, however, he got through. They said that he would have to mail in his watch to be repaired -- no trade-ins allowed.

The four of us danced our way across The Humps (I mean this literally -- we were Time Warping, though we kept forgetting about that "knees in tight" business.) We stopped just after 1:00 for lunch, keeping one eye (well, four eyes, between us) on the rapidly approaching thunderstorms. Something wonderful occurred to be on that bald. I remembered my invitation, from a couple living near Elk Park, the town we were just a few miles from. They, Deb Caughron and Michael Follo, had e-mailed me in late April, inviting me to their house when I hiked by. Deb thru-hiked back in '78 (when I was born, I had to point out to her), and had spent the last 13 years as an Outward Bound instructor. They told me that I could have a shower, clean laundry, a couple of hot meals, a futon and dogs to play with -- Daisy and Gus. Well, how could I say "no" to that? So I called them, from right there, on that bald, and said "I'm here!" Deb offered to pick me up, along with my three friends, at 6:00 PM on US 19 East.

I've seldom seen such joy in the face of a hungry bunch of thru-hikers. Crag jumped up and down, High Tech high-fived me, and everybody was re-energised for the remainder of the day's hike. This solved another big problem of the stories that we'd heard of Roan Mountain and Elk Park, the two nearest towns. They sounded downright scary, much worse than the false rumours we'd heard about Erwin, Tennessee. We'd been told not to talk to locals, not to even try to hitch, and to follow our instincts, not the signs, which may have been changed. Well, this way we wouldn't even have to hitch! I think I'd convinced Snail, Craig and Tech that technology may, after all, have a place on the trail.

The remainder of the miles passed quickly. We had to wear our fleece jackets for a bit, until we got off of the humps. Taking our time, we strolled down to Apple House Shelter, which was not a quarter mile from US 19 East, where we were to meet Deb. At Apple House Shelter we met Stomach on Legs, a southbound thru-hiker from Quebec. He gave us all kinds of advice about the trail ahead. At one point, one of us asked him how the trail ahead was. "Oh," he said, "it's pretty flat until...um...New York."

Apple House Shelter, I should point out, was a pretty weird shelter. It's an old explosives shed, tall and narrow, not like most shelters. I think it would be safe to call it cube-shaped. The entrance was only big enough to have two people sit in the doorway at once, so little light entered the shelter. I decided that I didn't like it.

We walked ten minutes to get to the road, arriving at 5:55. We only had to wait ten minutes for Deb to show up, but in that time we found out exactly how friendly the town was. We had two seperate people, while driving by, give us the finger, three honk angrily, and countless people scowl at us. This was a really unusual experience for all of us. We're all white, middle-class males raised in a society that caters to us. To have people immediately dislike us, en masse, was totally new. As Crag put it, "I've never had this happen before. It's like racism."

Before long, however, a station wagon pulled up, adorned with bumper stickers and steered by a short, smiling woman, appearing to be in her 30s. She stepped out, greeted us, and immediately picked me out as Waldo. We did the introductions, giving both trail names and legal names. Deb, as she later told us, never acquired a trail name during her thru-hike, so she was just "Deb". As we talked on the 45-minute drive, I noticed that all of us were treating her in a very "You-look-lovely-today-Missus-Cleaver" manner, which her presence commanded, in a motherly sort of way. She was very open, very friendly, and very understanding of our lack of knowledge of current events.

Me: (Looking at billboard) Arch Deluxe? What's that?
Deb: Just a burger.
Me: But...why wouldn't kids like it?
Deb: I don't get it! It's just a regular burger.

Apparantly, everybody else in the known universe had been bombarded with McDonalds' ads. We were glad to have missed them.

Before too long, we arrived at Deb and Michael's home, where we discovered why she referred to it as "The Naugahide Palace". "We're just renting it," she was quick to point out. It was the first time I'd seen an octagonal house. We dragged our packs through the fog, into their basement. We all stacked our packs next to a couple of kayaks, near a few mountain bikes. Upstairs, we all took our turns in the shower ("You smell," Deb eloquently put it), played with their dogs, Daisy and Gus, and munched on goodies. They didn't have a cat, which we got to play with, too.

I've got to explain that. There's a cat that's been hanging around their house for weeks, mostly skulking around on their wrap-around porch. They don't want to name it, or even call it their cat, lest they end up keeping him. They were preparing to move to Maine while we were there, and they just wanted to pack up and go without the cat. So, as a result, they refused to acknowledge the cat.

Her husband, Michael, a tall, somewhat quiet, friendly fellow, had baked chocolate chip cookies for us, which we dipped into before dinner. Deb and Michael made salad and burgers while we cleaned ourselves up and listened to music. (They had great taste in music -- David Byrne, Lyle Lovett, REM, Paul Simon, all kinds of groovy stuff.)

Dinner was delicious. We all sat around in their living room, discussing current events, exchanging hiking stories, coaxing stories out about her hike, and just chewing the fat. (I use that as a figure of speech -- the burgers were great.) With the final blow of ice cream for dessert, they managed to fill us all up. They went to bed around midnight, leaving us yahoos up to talk, clean our equipment and figure out what we had to buy the next day. I claimed the futon, the other three took the floor. I popped out my contacts and hit fell asleep on the futon, full, warm and happy.

Song Stuck in my Head Today: Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Give It Away"