It’s All About the Journey: Travels With Dr. J. and Saint—The First Week of Hiking–Part 4

The Clemson Crew worked out a rotation. As I mentioned, Nate did not want to carry. He reasoned that he should not become part of the rotation, since he would be with us for only a shortened time. He did get into the rotation once when his father was having back issues. (Sean had surgery some years back in which he had to have metal rods placed along his spine.) Other than that, Nate helped out by carrying gear. Jimmy stepped up to carry first. He was most familiar, of the students, with carrying heavy loads because of field experiences in ROTC. Then came Brad. After Brad was Philip. Then came Lindsay. Sean brought up the rear of the rotation. Curiously, Sean was often the person carrying when we came into a camp or rest area. The kids teased that he was always the one getting photographed carrying in the photo opp.

The Katahdin group did not use hiking poles because they feared what they might do to me if they slipped and fell: they were concerned that I would be impaled. The Clemson Crew largely used poles. I taught them to help one another and be ready to give the Sherpa carrying a helping hand. I also taught them that someone needed to keep track of the time of the carries and someone needed to always go ahead to break trail. Breaking trail consisted of scouting the safest route (the one that was the least slippery/steep, etc.) and being ready to offer a helping hand. Jimmy had a watch so he volunteered to be timekeeper.

Before we headed off to climb Springer, we took off some layers. Honey hiked with us. At 84, she is amazing—can still hike for miles. The crew got a chance to get a feel for the Jac Pack and how to swap in and out of it. We made it to the summit of Springer in good time and got some photos. We also all signed the log book. Then we headed back to the trailhead to see Bear again and get the heavier packs. Sean would carry both a regular pack and a day pack with the Clemson University paperwork.

Once folks got the regular heavy packs, reality began to set in. The packs were very heavy—probably at least 45 pounds. This is considerably heavier than most thru hikers carry. And other than Sean and Nate, the Clemson crew were not seasoned hikers. But they never really complained.

Honey and Bear would be available to provide support to us for the whole week. We would really draw upon this. Every day they would meet us at a trailhead and bring us what additional things we needed for supplies. We would often have lunch with them. Some days they would help us do some yellow blazing—they would give us a ride around a difficult mountain, cutting down some on the crew’s wear and tear.

Because Campmor had donated so many Mountain House meals, Sean was committed to their using them for all three meals. But sometimes the kids preferred big sandwiches of meat and cheese that Honey and Bear provided. When we stopped and had lunch with them, it was a welcome respite to remove packs and for me to get out of the Jac Pack.

Sometimes the kids got discouraged that we were not making better time or covering more ground. But Hopper helped them to feel good about themselves by saying that they had already done more than many predicted. Apparently there were those who thought that we wouldn’t make it the mile up Springer Mountain. So given the low bar, everything else that we accomplished was gravy.

The first night we made it to Three Forks. Then we went about what would become our routine. We set up camp and sent people for water. Hopper would set up Saint and my tent and her own. Usually some of the kids would go for water. We knew that it was going to be a cold night, so encouraged folks to have something hot and put on all their clothes.

This was the night that we met Smooth. Smooth had thru-hiked the AT before. He had experienced a brain aneurysm some years before that had nearly killed him. He was in surgery for hours. That changed his perspective. So now he hiked whenever he could. He would work for a while, then hike. He was married. His wife understood and supported his efforts. He was quite interested in what we were doing and asked if he could help us out by doing a rotation. We said that we’d be delighted.

Our tent and sleeping system worked out wonderfully. On this entire trip, my best sleep has been in our tent, using the cot and air mattress. The Freshette has worked out really well also. Hopper got the stove going and we boiled water for our two meals. We ate them and visited a bit with the others. We went to bed as it got very dark.

We awoke early. People took turns throughout taking Saint somewhere to walk. She did fine in terms of covering the mileage every day. When we were in a camping area with other people (who were not part of our team), we would keep her on her retractable leash so that she would not bother others by getting into their possessions. Out on the trail, we often let her run loose. We kept on her vest so that she was easy to spot. Hopper brought me some hot oatmeal to eat while we were getting ready to break camp. I have a very hard time eating breakfast, but knew that it was important and having something warm seemed wise. It had gotten down to freezing during the night, but we had slept warm.

Smooth was as good as his word and lead us off on Tuesday, carrying me. He did really well. He said that it was definitely more than he usually carried, but it didn’t really seem to bother him. He was able to chat away the whole time. He isn’t a big man but is wiry and seasoned. He had folks take photos of him carrying me so that he could post them on Facebook. He stayed with us until he had done two carries. The kids were so grateful to have that respite. Then he moved on because he wanted to go at a faster pace than we were capable of doing.

As we have talked about doing this, we have met with lots of skepticism. When there are ideas outside of their comfort zones, people often push back, hard, saying that something is crazy and selfish. Some have become belligerent, saying that no one would ever help us. But even in the short time in which we were on the trail, we have had several people already help us. Interestingly, they were mostly older men. Women could also carry but they do not always seem to realize that. And younger people often tend to be in more of a hurry and don’t want to slow down—although one rotation wouldn’t make that much difference in their attaining their end goal, but it would make a huge difference to us and our freshness and ability to do our rotations. Perhaps as the word spreads we will get more help with a rotation or two.

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