Trail Update #13 – Solitaire’s Ugly Face

Solitaire!! Don’t make me come out there and give you a thrashing for not putting your hiking post up! You must share your experience with everyone (I shouldn’t be saying that after only having one post in about three weeks). Get on your horse Solitaire!

So as many of you probably don’t know, Solitaire is a person very close to me. And obviously, Solitaire is his trail name. I also had a few others come out to visit me. Namely The Googan, Scuba Springsteen, and Joe Don the Megaladon. The Googan’s trip has already been rehashed in a previous post (Matt is The Googan). Scuba Springsteen came out with Solitaire, and I will be posting about Joe Don the Megaladon’s trip in due time.

But for those of you who need a clue about who Solitaire really is, here’s a picture of him:

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Solitaire, this is your last warning! If you don’t post your update, I’ll continue to post amazingly weird pictures of you for all to see!

Now that my baseless threats are done with, I’ll move on to some other things that I have been slow on reporting. As you know, the first half of my trip only went through five states (Georgia, N. Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia). Most of it, roughly 500 miles, was through Virginia. It almost gets to the point where if feels like you’re not going anywhere in Virginia. It’s a somewhat tough section due to the psychological aspect of being in a single state for that long. A lot of people wind up slightly losing their minds during this stretch. But once you leave Harper’s Ferry, the states just absolutely fly by! Believe it or not, since leaving the half-way point, I have gone through Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and I am about halfway through Massachusetts. Hitting all those milestones has made this portion of the trip a bit more easy from that standpoint. Here are some of my border crossing pictures (unfortunately, some borders aren’t signed):

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Crossing into New Jersey was a lot more invigorating than I had thought it would be. Because I was actually closer to home in PA, I thought crossing into NJ would just kind of be moot. But it was a great psychological boost for me. It was really neat to cross the Delaware and get back to NJ. Every milestone along the journey is a great one, but getting back home (although it was way up in north Jersey), was a great feeling. It was something special. Unfortunately, the picture didn’t capture the feeling I was having. Yes, this is the best picture I have of me crossing into NJ.

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But let me get back to my time in Pennsylvania first. So you need to understand a little bit about how much thru hikers hear about the dreaded rocks of Pennsylvania. I mean, literally, I’ve been hearing about these dang rocks since the Smokies. The Rocks of PA, Rocksylvania, etc, etc, etc. Everybody talked about these dang rocks. So I had this conception of crossing into PA from Maryland, and somehow the whole landscape would change. I’d go from nice smooth stuff, to rocks galore. Which obviously didn’t happen. It turns out, I actually enjoyed about 75% of PA – it was nice. However, the last 25% or so was absolutely dreadful. The rocks finally made themselves manifest. It was just walking on completely exposed, completely irregulary shaped rocks. It was absolutely terrible. I probably dropped my miles per hour to the lowest I’ve walked on the whole trail, somewhere around sub two miles per hour. It’s just horrible. You can’t go fast, and your feet hurt. But at least I finally figured out what all those people were talking about.

And, like the genius that I am, I decided to pull my longest day over all the dreadful rocks of PA. Yes I have pulled off a 34 mile day! Let me explain my reasons for doing so first, in an attempt to rationalize my somewhat masochistic actions. But first, here I am midday through my 34. There was this cool painting on the side of an rock after a nice climb:

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So, after leaving Solitaire and Scuba Springsteen, I was twenty or so miles behind a lot of my buddies – namely Indy, Hotshot, and Patches. So obviously, I wanted to catch them up. Unfortunately, my push to catch them up occurred right around where the rockiness began. So I began my day planning on doing about 20+ miles – a solid day. However, as I was texting my friends after leaving Solitaire and Scuba, I realized that they were actually a bit closer than I had originally thought, so I upped my plan to about 25 to 30 miles in order to close the gap a bit more. However, at about mile 28 or so, I was very low on water. I checked my guide book to see where my next source was – only a mile or so, all good, but about a half mile off the trail. Ok, fine, I’ll get my water, and then I’ll camp near the spring. That’s fine. I’m cool with a 29 or 30 mile day – that’s great.

So I trek straight downhill the half mile to the spring. As I approached, I saw the sign for the spring, but something was not right – and it was the sound. I heard no moving water. The spring had run dry, as well as my water bottle – brutal. So after a minute or two of staring at a dry spring, I walked the half mile back up to the trail. The next water source was a shelter, about four or five miles away. And I tell you, I think I would have walked ten more miles for some water at that point. This thirst is one of the most intense sensations I’ve felt on the trail. So I strapped my headlamp on (it was a bit after dark at that point), and began my five mile trek over the rocks to the shelter. Now, as you know, I obviously made it to the shelter and completed my 34 mile day. I drank about three liters once I got to the shelter. It was delicious water.

However, I need to tell you about what happened in the five miles from leaving the dry spring to indulging in the beautiful water of the shelter. Looking back at it now, it is hilarious. But I must say, I got the absolute biggest fright I have had in many years during my night hike to the shelter. I’ll try to explain a little about how I feel when I night hike. I’ve spoken to other hikers about this, and some feel the same way, so I don’t think it’s just my insane brain. I dislike night hiking immensely. And I’m talking about PM night hiking. I love hiking in the dark in the AM. For some reason, they have completely different feels to me. But anyway, talking about PM night hiking here. It is just a very bizarre experience. Honestly, I feel drugged while night hiking. Everything seems to swim in front of your eyes – there is only the single light source from your lamp that bounces around the trees – you are looking down at the path the whole time with no peripheral vision. And then of course, tack on the inherent fear of the dark and the night. With all those aspects, I have this sense of dread that sits in the back on my mind whenever I night hike.

So of course, some guy in a hammock had to scare the life out of me. I was just trucking along the trail, head down, focusing on the rocks, and my footing, and the lighting. And next thing I know, I hear the frantic yelling of a man who sounds like he is dying of fear. It’s this dreadful series of inhalations and muted yells, as though he is coming to slowly realize that something terrible is happening to him – which in fact he was. I looked up to see this:

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Just kidding. I did not see Solitaire out there again. Solitaire is a weirdo, but he doesn’t scream in the middle of the woods for fun at night. What happened was this poor guy, hammocked up only about five feet off the trail, had been having a nightmare when I came by. His yells were one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever experienced. Obvsiouly, I had no idea what was going on. When I heard the yells, I could tell they were amazingly close to me, and when I looked up, all I could really see was something writhing around in a hammock about ten feet from me.

I now understand how people can go into shock from fear. I literally felt like I was in my own nightmare. I remember speaking to him, repeatedly saying “It’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok.” But my words were choked, and I can’t recall doing anything but repeating those words with one hand outstretched to him, I think primarily in a defensive posture. Horrifying – absolutely horrifying – for both him and me. I got the chills from this poor guy’s yells that stayed with me for a while after leaving him.

Turns out, this poor guy has knee issues, and he takes some meds to help him sleep at night, and which obviously cause him to have some vivid dreams. Once he kind of completely woke up (it took him about five seconds – all the while yelling like a dying man), he was very nice and apologetic. It was just one of the most awkward departures I’ve ever had from anyone. He said sorry, we both regained our composure, and I turned to walk away. As I was leaving, he hilariously said, “Well, maybe I’ll see you tomorrow!” I never saw him again – not sure if that’s a good or bad thing. But anyway, that was by far the most terrifying experience I’ve had on the trail. Horrifying.

So sorry to go on such a long winded story about my most scared moment in years (it doesn’t sound all that scary when I type it up), but I had to share.

Next up, I’ll have a pretty awesome account of my hiking with Joe Don the Megaladon. I’ll also share his account of it that he wrote every night via Facebook. His account is amazing, so tune it.

The Esteemed Stooge, Sir Charles Guilons, signing off.

 

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