During the month before leaving, I dried ninety meals and vacuum sealed them into daily rations. I mailed five boxes ahead—four to hostels and one to a post office. Eight days’ worth of food went into my backpack with the gear: pot, stove, fuel, tarp, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, water filter, water bottles, clothing, first aid, toothbrush, toilet paper, etc.
Fully loaded with gear, food, and water, the pack weighed thirty-five pounds—the average weight of a four-year-old riding piggyback. If all went according to plan, I would carry it 383 miles, from Northern Tennessee, through North Carolina, and back to my home state of Georgia, in one month.
Five days into it, my plan was in jeopardy.
I drove a U-Haul truck three hundred miles from Georgia to the trail in Northern Tennessee. A friend, who was moving from Georgia to Vermont, let me drive one of his two trucks. His wife took over driving my truck when they let me out at Low Gap.
Fifty yards into the hike, gnats circled my head. One flew into my mouth, another into my eye. The others fell away at the crest of the hill when I picked up the pace. It was late afternoon, hot and humid—the kind of day where you have to make your own breeze. I tied a bandana across my forehead when sweat ran down and burned my eyes.
I talked with a tall, lean college student. He was thru-hiking from Georgia to Maine. Strider said he tried to eat five thousand calories per day. One of his favorite meals was a box of macaroni and cheese combined with a package of instant mashed potatoes—cooked together in the same pot. When I was in college, I ate a lot of macaroni and cheese to stretch the twenty bucks my father sent me weekly. Considering its ease of preparation and cheese-sauciness, I planned to eat it four times this trip—combined with different meats and vegetables.
My shirt was damp, but still smelled like clean laundry when I arrived at Double Springs Shelter—a brown cinder block shed with a tin roof that had been dented by fallen tree limbs. Eddie from Easton was there cooking chicken-flavored ramen noodles. I cooked beef stroganoff with a side of peas, plus vanilla pudding with graham crackers and warm bananas for dessert.
It wasn’t possible to hang my food bag after supper from any trees near the shelter using the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) method. None of the trees had a sturdy horizontal limb at the ideal height of twenty feet above ground. With the PCT method, the food bag hangs several feet below a tree limb and high above the ground, so a bear can’t reach it. I hung it from a shorter limb instead and tied off the cord to another tree. Eddie hung his food bag inside the shelter.
Eddie drove a limousine in Easton, PA. My sister lived there, so we had something to talk about. Eddie said to stop at Bob People’s Kincora Hiking Hostel, thirty-two miles to the south. I could take a shower and wash clothes there. While we got comfortable in our sleeping bags, a mouse ran along a joist under the roof. Eddie’s food bag hung from a string that was threaded through a tuna-fish can, which thwarts mice from climbing down to the food. It worked.