Background: My buddy Justin and I set out in 2007 to hike the Appalachian Trail. (This runs from the state of Georgia all the way to the state of Maine, over 2,000 miles). At this point we had been on the trail for about a month and a half, probably somewhere around North Carolina/Tennessee area. We were feeling pretty good, gaining experience (this was our first major hike), meeting new people,etc…..things were looking up.
We had just hitched a ride into town to get some resupplies for the next week out on the trail. The idea is to buy what you can carry for about a week until you make it to the next town. We bought our standbys: pasta, instant oatmeal, tuna packets and peanut butter. We were set for another week, or at least we thought….
And the story: With each passing day we ate the food off our backs until we got to our last day of food. Up to this point there had been a town about every 6 or 7 days walk on the trail so we were expecting to be close. When we looked at our guidebook, we saw that he next town was another 48 miles away! At the pace we were hiking, that was about three and half days walk.
So there we were with one day’s supply of food and three days walk to our next re-ration. Crap.
To say neither Justin nor myself are good at planning things out would be the understatement of the century. We stared at each other in disbelief. “What now?”, we thought. There really wasn’t much of an option. We simply had to keep going. We decided that we would take those last three meals we had and split them up over the next two days and hike the last day on fumes.
So we kept walking… and walking… and walking. Walking 16 miles a day is hard enough. Hiking 16 miles a day on less than 500 calories for two days and then nothing at all for a third day is suicidal. And it’s not like we could have just called someone. We were miles from nowhere, deep in the Appalachian wilderness.
As painful as it was, we finally made it to the last day. We had about 15 miles left on the trail, and then we would still have to hitch a ride into town (another 3 miles down the road)! Over the two previous days we had done well to ration and had managed to save ourselves each one spoon full of peanut butter (approximately 80 calories) for that final day.
We ate it (the worst breakfast ever I might add) and started hiking. A few hours went by and we started feeling the hunger more than we had the last two days combined. I’m not just talking about being hungry; I’m talking about feeling my body breaking down physically, my brain functions and thought process shutting down. I’m talking about delirious to the point of almost collapsing right there in the middle of the trail. The only thing that kept us going was knowing that when we got into town there would be an all you can eat buffet waiting for us. (We read it in our guidebook the previous night). Every time one of us just couldn’t even get up from break to put our pack on, the other would entice him with all you can eat steak and ribs, potatoes and green beans, fresh baked bread and chocolate cake for dessert. It was all we had just to keep moving forward.
Now, if this doesn’t sound challenging or life threatening enough, try adding into the mix a lack of water for the last 4 miles of the walk. Yeah that’s right we got within 4 miles of the road that would take us into town and ran out of water. I thought to myself it’s over…..we’re not gonna make it. We took our packs off and sat there for a long while just sitting not talking, not even really thinking, just staring off into space.
I still wonder how long we might have sat there in the woods had it not been for this day hiker. She came marching by all happy with smiles and smelling of fresh laundry detergent. “hey guys, how’s it going?” she asked seeing we were on the verge of death. “you guys through hikers?” At first we we thought she might be a mirage. “you wouldn’t happen to have any food or water on you would ya?” was the only thing I could think to say. To our surprise, she pulled out a couple power bars and a bottle of water. We told her we’d pay $20.00 for all of it. She threw us a, don’t be ridiculous, look and said “just take it; you guys look like you need it more than I do”. And wasn’t that the truth…
Needless to say, we finally made it to town… and yes, we made it to that all you can eat buffet. Let me tell you, that restaurant lost money on us that day. We sat there, no joke, for like three hours just eating and drinking and eating some more. It was like I was tasting food and drink for the first time ever in my entire life. I never wanted to leave.
I’ve heard plenty of “Trail Angel” stories out on the AT, but to this day that day-hiker was the purest definition of a trail angel. Without her it’s hard to say if I’d be around to even write this story.
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