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Week Eight: Claudia and "The Clan"

Sunday May 29th, 1983
Hiked 14.2 miles today to Trimpi Shelter. I decided to stay here since the next shelter is 17 miles away which would make an over thirty mile day and that is just too much.

It threatened rain all day, but I was fortunate to get through unscathed. I had hiked by myself today, but upon arrival at the shelter at 3:00pm I found Smitty lying around and munching out.

I usually got up early so I could hike at a moderate pace yet get a prime spot at the next shelter. This worked out especially well when threatening rain or if it rained all day. Some of the shelters leaked, and I learned early on that I could get a dry spot in the shelter if I came in first. When getting into camp I first would recon the shelter (check for evidence of leaking, floorboards with protruding nails etc,etc,etc). Establishing my spot in the shelter involved laying out my ground cloth and placing my sleeping bag on top of it (usually next to a wall). Next came finding the water source and filling my Nalgene bottle, myself and my gallon water bag. Only then would I remove my hiking boots, proceed to cook food and begin reading the shelter register. After dinner came pots and pan cleaning duty, and eventually trade stories if someone was there to engage with. Finally, I would write a short blurb in my journal.

With nothing else to do, I joined Smitty, and began writing a letter to Harry, my older brother by ten years. As I wrote, I noticed there is a bird building a nest in the rafters of the shelter. I smiled and thought how neat it is to be watching her do her thing.

Oh yes, Frank made it to Trimpi Shelter late this evening.

Tomorrow will be a 17 miler to the next shelter for all of us.

Monday May 30th, 1983
Woke up at 7:00am, got packed, and was ready to hit the trail when Frank told me that he was having problems with his stove. It took me thirty minutes to get it running correctly, but that made him very happy. I think Frank carried a Coleman stove. Those suckers had a habit of bursting into flames, but in his case it wasn’t throwing up a flame at all. I disassembled it, and cleaned out the orifice. I had a small repair kit for my own stove (an Optimus) which included a cleaning pin that seemed to work.

I left the shelter with Smitty, and the miles flew by. By 12:30pm we had already done 10 miles. At one point we timed ourselves and calculated a 3 miles per hour pace!

We stopped at the United States Forest Service Headquarters for a quick break. There were interactive displays inside the headquarters, but no personel -which felt weird - so I got a drink, filled my Nalgene, and kept right on going. Besides, I was thrilled that we were making such good time that I really didn’t want to break stride for too long.

From there it was another 7 miles to Glade Mountain Lean-To. Inside the shelter we found Claudia sacked out. She said that she had hiked all night and got lost at one point. I did not know what to think. Sometimes it's tough to be an AT purist. Anyhow, tomorrow I am off to Atkins, Virginia.

(2016 Note: Claudia was all over the place. She hiked around sections sometimes when she got bored, got rides, or hiked nights. I remember at some point finding her doing a section flip-flop and meeting her traveling south. She was being free and careless - and while it irked me, I also liked that about her. I was fixated on doing it the “right way” - like there is a right way. Foolish man!
I did not know at the time that she had already done the Whites in New Hampshire earlier in the season. She may have told me, but at times she did prattle on a bit and I may have missed it.
Thank to Claudia’s kindness in giving me her antibiotics I did not leave the trail. Who knows if I would have ever been able to get back on and reach Katahdin before the October 14 deadline. She may have saved my trip -and my goal - and for that I am eternally grateful. I told her this years later just before our 30th anniversary meeting in PA. She was pleased that I had acknowledged her generosity. I could see her virtual smile through the wonders of Facebook.)

I've been expecting to see The Robots (Jim Hassan and Eric Watkins) all day but so far they are a no show.

Tuesday May 31st, 1983
I was at the Atkins, Virginia post office by 9:00am to pick up care packages and letters from home. Claudia came in thirty minutes later, and "The Robots" a half hour after her. Both Claudia and I got rides into town, but The Robots had to walk all of the way in and they weren't happy about it. I guess not...the town is about three miles off the trail.

Claudia and I left town together and proceeded on about 10 easy miles to the next "shelter". I don’t remember getting a ride out of town, but maybe we did. One of my strategies was to hang around Claudia while heading in or out of town. To me it seemed that girls always got rides .... with no women- the Robots were out of luck.

For us, the next shelter was actually a picnic pavilion and we will be sleeping on the tables. We chose not to go on to Knot Mole shelter because we figured it would be crowded. Plus, the pavilion afforded shelter from the rain, and picnic tables to keep us off the ground, which meant no need to set up a tent. I avoided setting up my tent as much as possible so I could get a quick getaway in the morning in order to get to my destination early.

Tomorrow - mega-miles I hope. Everyone at home is surprised at my progress on the trail.

Wednesday June 1st, 1983
Last night, Claudia and I had quite a start. At about 10:00pm some good ol' boys decided to party in the parking lot next to the pavilion. Not knowing whether they were friend or foe, we decided to quietly and discretely pack up and head for the next shelter. Just then the basketball they were playing with got away from them. Naturally it rolled next to the pavilion where we were packing.

We hid as they repositioned their car and headlights to illuminate the pavilion in order to find their basketball. The ball was found and luckily we were not discovered. It happened a second time, but this time the ball was much closer. It is still unknown to us if we were spotted, but once their ball was retrieved the second time they all jumped in their car, and slung gravel. Meanwhile we finished packing, found the path after ten long minutes of searching and headed for the next shelter just over two miles away. Claudia was quite scared, and I was calm, but very alert. We got to Knot Mole Shelter to find The Robots and Smitty there. We quickly recounted our story, laughed about the whole ordeal, and just as quickly, headed for dreamland.

Today I've come only 10 miles to a rock hut on Chestnut Ridge just south of Walker Gap. Rain and fatigue have suspended my hiking farther for the day. Claudia has joined me for the night once again as I suspect that she is too weary from last night's episode. Tomorrow will be mega-miles!

Thursday June 2nd, 1983
Got up at 5:30am today in hopes of racking up some mileage. I was up early enough to watch the dawn break as I hiked, and it was beautiful. Chestnut ridge is also very pretty. The whole ridgeline is a grassy field and one can see for miles. By 11:00am I had put in ten miles and ate lunch at Jenkins Lean-To. It was such a nice day that I also took a twenty minute catnap after eating lunch. As I departed the lean-to, Claudia hiked in.

Along the trail there were notes left by another hiker, or someone, recommending a stop at "The Corner Diner" on Rt. 51. When I got to the road I felt quite hungry so I opted to hike the extra mile down to the diner. The first thing Levi (the owner) said was "come in friend, you are among friends here" and I felt that I was. While eating he told me of his friend Warren Doyle, of the new shelters they will be building shortly, and of all the hikers ahead. He even had a register from the forest service, and Warren Doyle's personal register. When I was done consuming a fantastic and filling meal, he drove me back to the trail head. I hiked only a few hundred yards before I found Claudia sitting next to an old bathtub which was sunk in the middle of a stream. The tub was naturally filled with water coming downstream making it into a kind of jacuzzi, without much imagination needed. Next to the tub was a mailbox with two registers. Both were from Warren Doyle and so was the tub.

The first register was a run of the mill one that anyone could sign, but the second one was stricktly a thru-hiker register. I signed it, and found myself to be the 95th north bounder this year (based on those who signed in) and there were also about 10 south bounders. The tub was quite inviting, and even though it was late I took the time to wash my hair. Claudia departed before me, but soon after her I left as well. We almost ended up together again at the next shelter, but I somehow passed the trail to the shelter by two miles so I made camp on the trail, thus ending a 26 mile day.

Friday June 3rd, 1983

Got up late today, and just finished packing when Claudia came bouncing up the road. Although it might sound like I did as you read this story, I did not hike with her very often at all. By now I had established my rhythm. I got out of camp early (except today) and if anybody followed and hiked at my speed then we would hike together. But I thought of myself as a true solo thru-hiker. If my hiking coincided with others - then so be it. Usually I would hike alone, but met the same people at the next shelter. People would come and go depending on town stops, hiking pace, longevity and so on. I talked only for a few minutes with Claudia before we parted company.

I stopped for lunch at 11:00am and not long afterward Claudia pulled in and told me she was suffering from a lot of knee pain. I advised her to go back to the diner where she could get help. She agreed, so I pushed on in the other direction.

Around three o'clock it started to shower. Fortunately, I was on a roadwalk and waited the shower out on the porch of a home located beside the road. Unfortunately, later on during the last six miles of my hike today I was subjected to a pouring rain. On my way to Wapitu shelter I encountered a large caterpillar type tent near the trail. Standing in the pouring rain, I called out to see if anybody was in there. Sure enough the occupant called back and we spoke for a bit. He asked me where I was going in such a calamity, so I told him that there was a shelter up the trail. He said he was not up to hiking in the downpour and was staying put for the night, so we bid our farewells and I continued on.

As a result, I was drenched, and definitely happy to see Wapiti Shelter when it came into view. After last night, I had begun to worry that I may have missed this one also. I reached Wapitu shelter at the cusp of darkness along with a heavy, dense, fog that had followed me there. It reminded me of a dense fog that had enveloped me on Narragansett Bay when I was a child on a fishing trip. Then, as now, my world shrunk to only a few feet of encirclement. The day on the bay was indeed made perilous by the possibility of a large vessel plowing into us and continuing on without even knowing the carnage it would have left behind. Today; however, was more abstract. There was no clear danger, but only one of dreary gloom and foreboding. The sounds only a short distance beyond my vision harboured a hushed voice. Never anything concrete, but a faint whisper of gloom surrounded me. There was a new floor in the shelter, and that would be a treat for most shelters having become quite old and subjected to carvings made in them by delinquents. I went about my chores as usual - the making of dinner, placing my tarp on the pristine floor, unfurling my sleeping pad and placing my bag atop. Changing into some dry clothes and socks and eating soup warmed my core and made me feel better. Soon I was in my warm bag reading the trail register. It was there where I read several entries telling of the double murder of a couple of thru-hikers here in 1981 and expressing their condolences to the victims. The bodies were found nearby, leaving a puddle of blood that soaked into the floor. I had heard of the murders, but thought that it was in the Wapiti II shelter which I thought was further up the trail. By now I was engulfed in darkness with my headlight piercing through the fog for only a short distance beyond the shelter. I slept with my knife close at hand that night. Tonight I am all alone. It usually feels good, but this is creapy!

Saturday June 4th, 1983
The word for today is "slack-pack" because that is just what I did. I woke up late, caught up on my journal, and got out on the trail at 11:30am. I hiked up to Sugar Run Mountain Overlook, stopped for lunch, which lasted 45 minutes, and then hiked two miles to Flat Top where I took some pictures. Another three miles farther to Docs Knob Shelter made for a grand total of seven miles, and it felt great not pushing so hard. Tomorrow it will be a big effort to hit Pearisburg for groceries, laundry and Pizza Hut.


Gonzo! Appalachian Trail Journals ©1983