It’s All About the Journey: Travels With Dr. J. and Saint—The First Week of Hiking–Part 2

Honey and Bear came back from their trip to an outfitter (at Neel’s Gap?). They had bought two sets of ice cleats—really chains that would slip over hiking shoes. Hopper asked them to get two sizes: medium and large. She figured that one or the other of those sizes would fit whoever was carrying me if we ran into ice—and ice had been reported on the trail. The cleats would provide much more stability.


Earlier in the day Bear had asked me to join Honey, Hopper and him at a family-style restaurant, Dutch treat, for dinner. (He would pay for Hopper, since she is like family to Honey and him and has done so much for them. I was to learn more about this in the coming days. Without Hopper’s help through the years, Honey and Bear wouldn’t have been able to keep their hostel, The Cabin, open. It wouldn’t be open now without her. But the help goes both ways. When Hopper has been in need, Honey and Bear have been a home for her.) Bear gets tired more quickly these days since he had a serious stroke a few years ago. So he and Honey were going to go back to the campground so that he could rest before dinner.


After people had their packs straightened out, Hopper asked if they would like to get a feel for the carrier. So all of the students and Nate gave it a try. Nate was probably the strongest and most in shape of the young people. He probably had the easiest time carrying. But he made it clear that he did not want to carry. The other people, though, got a feel and began to wrap their heads around what they were going to do. Most of them did not seem to think that it was too bad. But then again, we hadn’t gotten out on the trail, yet.


Clemson had given/rented the Clemson Crew a suburban. They loaded it very full of their gear and themselves. I took some of their gear as well because what they had now included my things, as well. We all went to the campground. That’s where the Clemson Crew were staying, as well as Honey and Bear. Hopper had gotten permission to camp on the site with Honey and Bear.


None of the students knew one another or Sean before this. So Sean wanted them to have experience camping and bonding together the night before the hike. He wanted them to set up their gear, build a fire, make dinner, etc. It was very cold that night: it got down to below freezing, and we really weren’t even in the mountains yet. Lindsay had a tent, but the guys all slept in hammocks with tarps over them. And as a way to save weight, Sean had told them not to bring coats. So they had a chilly night, wearing everything that they brought with them for clothes. Early on I quoted Mike Smith (and others have said this before him) to the kids: “Embrace the Suck.” I also told them about the three types of fun. Type 1 is hanging out with your friends and family—really, no effort. Type 2 is when you experience something that’s basically fun and easy—it might have a bit of challenge, but overall you’re having a good time doing it. Type 3 just seems tough. You’re thinking, “Wow, this is terrible. How did I get into this? I can’t wait to get out!” You can’t imagine that you could ever look back on it fondly. But this is the type of fun that your gramma would say “will make you a better person.” And, for ill or good, gramma was right. When you share something really difficult with others, something that you didn’t know that you could do and that was really hard—but together you found a way to do it—it forms amazing bonds and helps define you as a person. It makes for great stories.[1] So not only do you come to embrace the suck, but you also embrace the Type 3 fun. That’s the kind that you remember and that ultimately makes you who you are.


Honey, Bear, Hopper, Saint and I went to the historic old Smith House for the family-style meal, for which it is famous. It sits on top of an old gold vein and dates back to 1899. We went in on an upper level. The restaurant is downstairs. I was able to go down in the vertical lift, but the lift was not powerful enough to bring me back up. The young woman who took our money and gave us our receipts so that we could be served explained that I could go out on the lower level and just roll around and back up the hill to the parking lot. The meal was fine: fried chicken, beef stew, ham, cole slaw, collard greens, creamed corn, mashed potatoes, gravy, biscuits, corn bread and strawberry shortcake for dessert. There wasn’t much that I could eat, but I wasn’t surprised. I had gone for the company and not the food.


We were to get to the trailhead for the mile hike back to Springer Mountain with two vehicles. Bear was going to take some of the folks in his truck. Sean was going to take Saint and me with him in the front of the Suburban. We were told be ready for 8 a.m.—all checked out and ready to go. Saint and I were ready way ahead of time. We went out into the lobby and got checked out at around 7:30 a.m. Then we proceeded to wait. And wait. And wait.


The first people to appear were Honey, Bear and Nate. The rest were still packing up. Honey and Bear had shared stories the day before about how they had sometimes, in their travels, eaten breakfast furnished by hotels at which they did not stay. (This was mostly innocent—they thought that they were restaurants until too late, when they realized that this was the complimentary breakfast that came with staying at the hotels.) Hopper had sent them for some hot food. This was really OK because breakfast comes with a room and I had not eaten anything there. They sat down and befriended a woman whose nephew was going to do some hiking on the AT. They had a nice visit. I asked Nate if he wanted something to eat, but he did not. The entire Clemson Crew had drunk a lot of Holiday Inn Express coffee the previous day when we were doing pack shakedowns. The rest of the group probably showed up closer to 8:30 at the earliest. I had parked the van down in back of the inn so that it was more out of the way. I had loaded it with our suitcase, duffle bag and food. Now we were going to get me into the Suburban and I would lose my mobility for the next several days.


Hopper had figured a way to support and rotate me so that I could get in positions to sit on different objects. She did this now. The seat was high, though, so a couple of the guys had to help me get up. Then Hopper got into Karma, put her in the van and locked it. We gave my keys to Honey for safekeeping. I had a down parka and gloves to wear. But since the kids didn’t have anything very warm, I also brought my down vest and peace fleece mittens, just in case. I don’t think that the vest ever got worn—and for a time, it went missing. But the mittens did help. I know that Lindsay, in particular, wore them. The Suburban was very warm—the kids were trying to get thawed from their very cold night. Their breakfast had not hit the spot. They had had dehydrated eggs, which many of the kids had said were “nasty.” Brad had liked them. I was to learn that Brad is rather like the Cookie Monster—he will eat and enjoy anything. He must have a very active metabolism because he eats far more than anyone else and is so slim. He would regularly polish off the remains of the Mountain House meals that the other kids didn’t want. That cold night, though, had helped start the beginnings of some warm bonds. The kids were starting to talk among themselves.

[1] I’m a storyteller. So whenever something happens, particularly something elaborate or detailed, I always think what a great story it will make. My dad recognized this in me when I was very little. He used to say: “Jac, most people just go through life. But with you, everything is an experience and an adventure.” And boy was he right.

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