Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Big Hump and Little Hump

During our stay with Woody we slack packed over Big and Little Hump. These bald mountains are just north of Roan Mountain and are two of my favorite places on the trail. I hope you can see why.
Long Horn Cattle graze on the summit.  No fences.

This horse was very friendly, and enjoyed licking the salt from Curse's trekking pole grips

Monday, October 26, 2009

My name is Woody Farmer

The key Woody gave me.
The story of Woody Farmer is surprisingly simple. I mean, we knew the man for less than a day. Still, it took us 10 states to complete his story...

Part 1: It all began back in New Hampshire when I and four trail mates (Yeti, After Dark, Lost Rob, and Curse) reluctantly awoke to the scuffling of an early riser. His trail name was Dancing Bear. He explained that the "Dancing" portion was somewhat mockingly bestowed since his hiking style was not graceful, often saturated with 'Texas Two Steps.' The "Bear" part was dead on. He had hiked into our already overflowing lean-to the day before making for a total of 9 bodies squeezed into a space built for 6.

And so there we were, awake earlier than expected, in a smaller space than expected, and in a more foul mood than expected. Dancing Bear's conversation was kind and he kept it simple, as it should be in the morning. He was animated and jovial. I liked him. And within his break-of-day-discourse I had discovered something to smile about. And so I did.

My grin caught Dancing Bear's attention and he pointed in my direction, "You have a pretty smile." I blushed and covered my mouth with modesty, flattered. "And whenever I meet a cute girl with a pretty smile I just have to invite her back to my cabin." Alarms went off in my head and we all shifted uneasily in our sleeping bags. Hmm...

Perhaps sensing the uneasiness, he quickly added, "Of course, your friends are welcome too." motioning to my trail mates. Instantly we relaxed and became excited. All of us...? A cabin? Seriously? He went on to explain that, yes, he had a cabin near Damascus and that he had been looking for some kind thru-hikers to host. I pulled out my journal and began to jot down specifics. His real name was Woody Farmer. "My real name is Woody--now don't laugh--Farmer." He told us to give him a call when we got to Damascus and he would provide us with good food, and a hot tub to boot! But, he said, there was just one more thing..."If she doesn't come with you, the deals off." I was okay with this.

Part 2: 3 months, and 1000 some miles later we arrived in Damascus. And by this time the original group of 5 that had met Mr. Farmer had been disbanded. Yeti and After Dark had left the trail up in New England. Lost Rob had sped on and was now about a week ahead. Curse, remembering Mr. Farmer's deal breaker remark, had stuck with me.

The story of Woody Farmer had become epic. We told and retold it to every thru-hiker we met, and each time I added better adjectives. I was nervous before I called him. What if I had gotten the number wrong? What if he didn't remember me or had changed his mind? I called, and perhaps he didn't remember me at first, but when I mentioned the phrase "thru-hiker," I knew we were in.

Woody's cabin.  Kitchen house on far right.
We had a lot on our plate the day we met up with Woody. We chose to "slack pack" (hike without our packs) 25 miles and to do it all before the late afternoon rain. We were carrying a few snacks, water bottles and that was it. It began raining before noon--a cold persistent rain.  I shook with the cold and mumbled through my words, but both Curse and "Skiman," another hiker we had met up with, helped keep me warm the best they could.

With limited cell phone reception, attempts to have Woody pick us up at earlier road crossings were foiled. All we could do was hike. We were hungry, and need to stop for a break, but stopping meant getting colder. That's the way it is out here.

Finally, we made it to the road and quickly retreated to a nearby hostel to get warm while we waited. Woody was there in no time. He took us to get some groceries and we went to his "cabin,"...ahem, MANSION.

His house is jaw-dropping-gorgeous. He used the recycled wood from 3 other cabins and formed his very own super dooper cabin. It had everything--sauna, hot tub, huge porches, high ceilings, modern conveniences like heat and running water and more modern conveniences like air conditioning, TV, and a sink garbage disposal.

Woody escorted us into his home and into our hands he thrust a bathing suit and a bath robe. He wrapped my robe around me and made me feel regal. Then he poured us heaping glasses of hot tea and told us to make ourselves comfortable. We downed the warm liquid and chatted, getting to know each other.

Eventually he told us to "grab a shower"--a request we were used to as thru-hikers. However, our showers were not to be in this cabin, but in one of our very own. Woody had built his cabin with a kitchen house. Traditionally richer families built the kitchen away from the main house in case of a fire. However, this "kitchen house" not only had a small kitchen, but also, a loft with twin beds, a living room, and a bath. It was just as beautiful as the main house, and it was all ours. The previous coldness of the day was soon forgotten.

We showered and thoroughly explored our new home. Then we rushed back to Woody's house and cooked dinner. It felt so good to cook again. I missed all the spices.

We spent the rest of the night in the hot tub, chatting about our lives and loves, and watching Roy Orbision. Then we tucked ourselves beneath cozy quilts and fell asleep.

Woody had to leave early the next morning, but he wanted us to take our time. So, he put a house key on a string and lopped it around my neck. "Enjoy yourselves," he said. And so we did.

From the first smile to the last, I thank you Woody Farmer. Your generosity and trust is hard to match. I don't know many who would do what you did for people they knew less than a day. Thank you for enriching my experience.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Bob Peoples: AT Legend

Bob Peoples.

Bob Peoples.

A name that makes babies coo, and criminals run for the hills. A man of amazing strength, intelligence and persuasion. The only man who could take down Chuck Norris. The man with all the answers.

And I was going to meet him.

"He's 65, wears hearing aids, hails from Boston originally, did his time in the military, and now devotes his life to taking care of the Appalachian Trail and the people who hike it. Bob Peoples, owner of the Kincora Hikers Hostel in Hampton, Tennessee, is one person that every thru-hiker should shake hands with."
--"Bob Peoples: Trail Magician," from Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine

We had been hearing about Bob since Maine. Declarations to him were on the shelter walls and every northbounder had their story to tell about how Bob Peoples changed their life. Needless to say I was very nervous to meet this man. I had no idea what to expect, but I'm pretty sure I thought he looked like a cross between the Grizzly Adams and the Hulk.

Curse and I hiked into Kincora after a leisurely 10-mile day--we weren't about to miss Bob Peoples, even if it meant loosing some time. The hostel was splendid, warm, complete with washer, dryer, shower, kitchen, living room and a pet raccoon. We pampered and stayed awake long past hiker's midnight to catch Bob who was on his way back from an ALDHA conference out of state.

When Bob finally arrived I was star struck. Everyone took their turns introducing themselves, and then Bob came around to me.

In one breath I quickly said: "Hello, my name is Happy Dipper. I'm so little to meet you." Fortunately Bob's hearing aid needed new batteries. He smiled, patted the top of my hand lovingly, and probably didn't hear a word I said. But everyone else did!

Bob talked the next hour away with tales of his recent thru hike of the Camino trail in Spain. I could listen to that man talk for hours. He's so inherently good and persuasive, that I'd do anything Bob asked me to. Many hikers take a few days off from hiking and head out with him to maintain the trail--dirty, hard work, but most of all, rewarding. You get the chance to see the work that goes into building and maintaining a stretch of trail. Impressive to say the least. At the end, Bob lets each hiker paint a white blaze. And you might think that its silly, but the idea of painting my own very white blaze makes so happy I get teary-eyed just thinking about it. How can I refuse?

And so, every year after Trail Days in Damascus, Bob leads a trail maintenance marathon called "Hardcore." He takes 50 current thru hikers and 50 alumni hikers out for 2 days. I'm going to try my darnedest to be a part of it next year. One of our jobs will be to switchback the south-side of Roan Mountain. Do you know how high that mountain is? And that just one of the jobs. I can't wait!

In closing I would like to I deny any claim that I have a crush on Bob. Although, he did live up to all the hype.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Grayson Highlands, or Ponies 101

This state park surrounds a cluster of bald mountains and was perfectly colored in the fall, when we were there. The main attractions, of course, are the wild ponies that graze on the mountain tops. Oh, I really wish I had had something to feed them! They were so friendly, but quickly lost interest in you if you were without a treat..kind of like hikers.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Thinking about your own AT hike?

Find out how you measure up.

Even after the month of rain in Maine we ended up running into a drought in Virginia. And so, while an abundance of fresh water is very good, Curse and I were happy to see this flood level marker in its entirety.