Day 27 – The Hitch

Hitchhiking is normal for thru-hikers. Often you arrive just a few miles from town and you haven’t had a way or desire to set up a shuttle, because you don’t know exactly when you will arrive or you don’t want to spend the money. Since timing your arrival at a road crossing is very challenging, many hikers will hitchhike on into town.

There are places where it’s known to be in “easy hitch” which just means that the town is so used to thru-hikers needing a lift, that the people are willing to pull over. Other areas are more challenging for hitch hiking.

When we arrived at Newfound Gap, Mexican Mainer and I were planning to hitch to Cherokee. We had heard there was a transit service from Cherokee to Newfound Gap, but when I had cell service for moment I found out there was not. There were plenty of free shuttles to Gatlinburg in the opposite direction, but we didn’t want to go there. We wanted to go to Cherokee.

We popped up into the gap and found it was a major tourist parking area for day trails and some good views. It was so foggy that day we didn’t really have any views, but as I came over the road a man asked if I wanted coffee and donuts. His name is Ed and he was a trail angel with a car full of wonderful treats and hot beverages!

Our friend Boorah had already been trying to hitch a ride for a couple of minutes. Boorah put his thumb out again and the second Mexican Mainer waved at the same couple in a truck, they immediately stopped.

We convinced them Cherokee was the very next town in the direction they were going and they let us pile into the back of their truck. It was pretty cold, so we bundled up and huddled together for 20 mile drive into town.

It was such a wonderful feeling to catch a hitch so easily and know we would have no trouble going to the town to stay overnight. We needed to resupply and the weather has been really awful the last few days so it was exciting to know we were going to be -in a warm clean bedroom with real sheets and hot cocoa and coffee in the lobby anytime we wanted it. We saw leafless trees whizzing by, winter was still there, and suddenly Mexican Mainer started singing a song of thanks to the great spirit in both Spanish and English. It was beautiful and I managed to pull my cold fingers out of their gloves and press the record button.

When they stopped to let us out we learned they didn’t even realize we were hitchhiking at first. They stopped because they thought something was wrong as there were so many people gathered around that parking area! Once they realized we were thru hiking though, they didn’t mind giving us a lift and had been talking about other people they knew who did long hikes. We spent about 10 minutes visiting with them after, answering questions about hiking and then getting their advice on hotels and restaurants to have stayed at in Cherokee.

When it’s just a short distance, it’s worth asking for a hitch. When you need to be certain of your ride, like I do next Saturday when I going to meet Melynn who is flying in to join me for a few days, then it’s worth setting up a shuttle and waiting a couple hours if you arrive early. Setting up a shuttle is usually not that difficult, but I haven’t managed to set up Saturday’s yet. No worries – there are plenty of shuttle drivers in Erwin and I will be able to get one last minute if I need one.

Coming back from Cherokee took a little longer, but we had two great people stop and give us rides, which took us back and the Baptist Church from another town had just arrived with its shuttle and set up another trail magic spot. So, before we took off on the day’s hike we had more coffee and donuts and put some candy bars in our pockets along with an orange and went on our way.

Day 8 Trail Names

There are a lot of ways to identify us on the trail. One is by the name you know us by, another is by the AT tag number we are given when we start. (It’s a bright orange rectangular tag stamped “AT thru-hiker” and a number matching the number of people signed in when you registered at the start.) My number is 1330.

The third and best way to identify someone is with their trail name. Names are usually given to you when something unusual or funny happens, although not always. Not everybody we now know has a trail name yet, but some do. Let me tell you about how Peppermint received his name.

Remember how mice are a problem at camp and in shelters? Well, Toby had a mouse problem back in Denver, so a family member gave him peppermint oil to put around as a deterrent. He decided to bring it on the AT. The very first night he was sleeping away in his tent on an otherwise lovely night, when he heard a mouse chewing very close by.

The sound brought him awake quickly as he realized it was his backpack just outside the tent which was being chewed. He had left some snack in a pocket. He hurriedly opened his tent, grabbed his pack and pulled it in with him. A few minutes later he heard the mouse again, so he switched on his headlamp and looked around. When he opened his pack he saw the mouse already inside it, which completely wigged him out. I don’t remember how he rid the tent of the mouse, but afterwards he put peppermint oil everywhere in the tent and in his backpack.

The next day many people commented on how much he smelled like peppermint, and… now Toby is Peppermint. Ironically, he since learned bears are attracted to the smell.

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So, that’s how we know each other on the AT. Karen chose Easy Bake for me, because I insisted on bringing silicone muffin cups to steam bake muffins on the trail. I realized I had accepted the name when somebody along the trail said “Are you Easy Bake?” as I walked into camp and I said yes. Easy Bake it is. Every night at camp somebody asks abut it and when they see the little muffin cups in my cook kit, they all agree it’s the right name.

Now, if only I could find some muffin mix and live up to my name. A muffin sounds pretty good right now.

When it’s time, just go

My daughter, our exchange student daughter and I were going to Taos, NM to ski. We planned to join a group of four others at their condo a block from the lifts. We had plans for a long drive up the next morning and arriving by evening. Then it occurred to me there was no reason to wait for the next morning. I asked the girls if they could cancel their plans for the evening and go right away. Then I called a friend about 5 hours away and asked if we could stay the night with her. Everyone thought it would work, so we left within the hour.

We had an enjoyable visit with my friend very late that night, and spent a few glorious hours in Santa Fe on the drive up. The girls fell in love with Santa Fe, and we found ourselves in galleries and museums, shaping glass at a hands-on studio in town, and generally being enchanted by the “extra” few hours we had to play on the way to our final destination.

The skiing was pretty terrific, yet we will always remember it a double-your-fun kind of vacation simply because we realized it was time to just go.