Report #20 part 1 (Click NEXT to see part 2)
On Sunday morning, July 25, I drove to Kent, Connecticut, to pick up Dream and RickRock. Despite my husband's misgivings, finding them proved effortless. I brought them back to our home for several days during which they ate, relaxed, washed clothes, ate, refilled fuel tanks, repaired damaged equipment, ate, wrote post cards, and made phone calls. And they ate-did I mention that? On Wednesday, July 28, I drove them back to Kent. They intended to pick up the trail where they left off. But a forest fire in Macedonia State Park scuttled that idea. Resourceful men that they are, they quickly concocted Plan B.
Having back-ups are critical. That could mean iodine tablets in case a water filter malfunctions, a compass in case a map gets destroyed÷or a resourceful friend.
In every phone call preceding my drive to Kent, my husband expressed serious concern about my ability to find the trailhead, often no more than a narrow, unmarked footpath. I knew it was somewhere along Route 341 and assured him that since I have both a good sense of direction and no reservations about asking for help, I would find him. Tongue in cheek, I added that if both failed me, I'd simply look for a big sign saying "Appalachian Trail."
Kent is a small town nestled in the northwest corner of Connecticut. The only roads in and out are the two-lane rural variety that snake through dense forests broken by villages with names the likes of Cornwall Bridge, Falls Village, Lakeville, and New Canaan. Kent is as charming as the others, with art galleries, cafes, and boutiques lining the main street. The town is also home to a prestigious prep school and several movie stars.
At eleven o'clock, I drove into Kent on Route 341, slowed down as I approached the junction of Route 7, and pulled into the gas station on the corner. I didn't need gas and I wasn't lost. But I saw two men with beards and backpacks and figured they must be thru-hikers. They were. The older of the two men had a red beard and the satisfied look of a man who'd made a conscious decision to enjoy life. The younger man was taller, with a dark curly hair and a beard to match. Both had ready smiles and looked at ease with the heavy loads on their backs. In answer to my question, they said the trailhead was less than a mile farther down Route 341. They said I couldn't miss it. Even if the cars that were there earlier were now gone, I'd be sure to see the sign saying "Appalachian Trail."
The older of the two asked if I was looking for someone in particular.
"RickRock and Every Hiker's Dream," I said.
The man cocked his head. "You mean Dick Christian?"
"Yes! He's my husband!"
He grinned. "You must be Zita."
"Yes, I am."
"Hey, I slept with your husband last night."
"How about that. I'm going to sleep with him tonight."
We all laughed, and then the younger man spoke up. "You're supposed to meet them at one o'clock, right?"
"Yes, but I didn't know how easily I'd be able to find the trailhead so I allowed myself plenty of time." I paused. "How did you know?"
"They talked about it all last night. I know they were pushing like hell today to make it here on time."
I turned and grabbed my ever-present notebook from the front seat. "What are your names?"
The older man said, "They call me Single Malt." When I looked perplexed, he added, "because I have an appreciation for fine whiskey."
"And you?" I asked the younger man.
In answer to more questions, I found that Galahad was from the Lake Winnipesaukee area of New Hampshire, that he was on his way to a phone booth to call his wife, who had started the hike with him but was forced to go home when her knees gave out.
Though I have never offered a ride to a hitchhiker, I eagerly asked if I could give Galahad and Single Malt a lift somewhere. Both declined, saying that since they were already in town, they'd be fine. So I got back in the car, said good-bye, and took off down Route 341. Less than a mile later, on the right side of the road, I saw the pretty white oval wooden sign "Appalachian Trail." On the left, I saw my husband sitting on a rock, waving to me with one of his hiking sticks.
I turned the car around and pulled over. Piece of cake.
As it turned out, RickRock had just gotten a ride into town to buy sandwiches. Dick stayed behind with the packs. After loading them in the trunk, I drove us back to town. Approaching the gas station, we saw RickRock. Galahad said he could still see the tail lights on my car when RickRock arrived at the station.
I told Dick it was fortunate that RickRock hadn't already purchased sandwiches because I had packed a lunch and thought we could stop at a state park along the way home and have a picnic.
My husband chuckled. "Hey, Rick, we're going to eat in the woods. Won't that be fun?"
A few minutes later, we said good-bye to Galahad and headed for home. Along the way we stopped at a state park and had lunch. I had packed two overstuffed sandwiches and one little one, three bananas, a big bag of chips, six chocolate cookies, and a cooler with four beers and two iced teas. The rate Dick inhaled his sandwich gave me my first clue to the eating machine he had become. Twenty minutes later we were back on the road with nothing left but one iced tea.
The ride home took an hour and a half. Along the way, I learned that, as of today, Dick and RickRock have been on the AT for 110 days, hiked 1450 miles, for an average daily total of 13.18 miles. I also learned that last night they, and every other hiker in the area, sat in a creek and soaked for hours. The heat has been oppressive.
Our neighbors, Roger and Terry Hlobik, joined us for a cookout that night. We share a common section of deck railing and many a time I've leaned across to show them pictures of Dick, to share the news of his phone call, or to voice my concerns about the hardships of the trail. When I wanted to put up seven new window boxes around my deck, Roger meticulously measured and marked where I wanted the boxes to go, then used an electric drill to make all the holes, and assembled the brackets. Without his help, I might still be out there with my screwdriver. He keeps an atlas in his dining room so he and Terry can follow Dick's progress.
We grilled filet mignon and skewered vegetables drizzled with basil flavored oil, to go with the baked potatoes smothered with sour cream and sprinkled with chives from the garden. While we ate, RickRock told the story of how Mothball got his name, including the trail name he almost had.
It seems that one evening, early in the hike, several hikers were bedding down in one of the shelters. They noticed a young man known only as Brad scattering mothballs around his sleeping bag and his pack. One of them asked why the mothballs. He explained that they were to keep the mice away. Another hiker asked if the mothballs ever contaminated his food. Brad thought a moment, then said that the mothballs had tainted his apricots. That's when RickRock blurted out, "Tainted Apricots! That's what we'll call you!" Brad didn't respond as enthusiastically as RickRock had expected, and when someone else quickly suggested the name "Mothball," Brad accepted.
Over coffee, homemade cherry cobbler and vanilla ice cream, we learned that while it had rained quite a few nights on the trail, it had rained during the day only five times. Dick said he never bothers to put on rain gear. As he put it, the rain is just as wet as sweat, only it smells better. Dick and Rick both talked about the oppressive heat in New Jersey, day after day of temperatures over 100 degrees. They felt like dishrags. We made a note to buy salt tablets.
They talked about other hikers they'd met: Jo-Jo, one of the few women on the trail, retired from the Navy after twenty years, Slugger, Bug Bait, Ahab, and Only Tony. I told them about the meeting I had hosted the previous month for the International Women's Writing Guild. When I mentioned to the women that my husband was hiking the AT, one of them said that her son was also hiking the AT. His trail name was Gepetto. RickRock said he remembered having spoken to him. Dick ("Every Hiker's Dream", in case you forgot) received his name from Kissing Tree, a woman who, after successfully climbing her first mountain, kissed a tree at the top.
The next morning, I prepared assorted fruit, cereal, and bagels. The speed with which it disappeared told me I might try something more substantial the next day.
Before then, however, I asked RickRock about his pre-hike preparations, particularly concerning food shipments. He had already seen my makeshift hiker's pantry in the hallway between our kitchen and garage. It's piled with empty boxes of assorted size, as well as boxes filled with canned meat, packages of dehydrated noodles, rice, tins of peanuts and raisins, tempting bags of M&Ms, and assorted plastic bags, trail maps, batteries, one-use cameras, miscellaneous items Dick had mailed home, and a roll of duct tape. Each time I pack a box for Dick, I get creative. I've been known to tape a note to a can of Vienna sausages and suggest he prepare them with a box of macaroni and cheese. Or I'll suggest mixing a can of chicken with a package of noodles alfredo and brocoli. I know for a fact that no two boxes have ever been alike.
RickRock, on the other hand, is organized. That's ORGANIZED. Before he started the AT, he computed how many miles (down to the tenth) he would cover each day, where he would sleep each night, where the mail drops were, how many days between each drop, how many meals he could eat at hostels or in towns, whether that meals was a breakfast, lunch, or supper, and how many meals he would have to carry. Then he purchased food in bulk, prepared two bags of gorp for each box, and pre-packed and labeled 27 boxes, one for each selected mail drop. On designated days, also precalculated, his parents mail each box. The system has worked well in that Rick has suffered no shortages. But it has also meant no surprises.
Rick had also reduced this information to a chart that noted, for example, that Box 23 would be shipped to Glencliff, NH, (address included) for an anticipated pick-up date of August 19 and would contain 6 breakfast items, 8 lunch items, and 7 supper items. An asterisk noted that Box 23 would also contain cold weather clothing.
I was astounded at the work he must have done. That's when I learned that RickRock is a computer programmer-a very good one, I'm sure. That's also when I learned how he and my husband met back at Springer Mountain, on April 7, the first of the three-month "hikers' rush."
With so many hikers and so many different types of gear, Dick and Rick quickly noticed that they each carried similar brands. They struck up a conversation and also learned that each planned to thru-hike, that each was realistic in his approach and serious in his intent, and that each valued having a plan. That's when Rick talked about his computerized plan and asked to see Dick's. Dick hesitated. His "plan" was to call me every few days and tell me what he needed and where to ship it. He asked if he could take a look at Rick's plan. Rick handed it over. Dick scrutinized it, handed it back, and nodded. "Yep, looks just like my plan." I think that's when Dick decided that hiking alone wasn't such a good idea.
The stories continued all day.
At lunch, I sliced two big tenderloins left over from the night before, made gravy, and served it over toasted English muffins, along with a tossed salad, and more cherry cobbler. And a bowl of fruit. And a plate of cookies.
I told Dick and Rick that I wanted to make a comparison of their equipment and get their opinions on at least the major items (Part 2 of this report). Both use a Pur water filter. Rick mentioned that they also carry iodine tablets. Dick shook his head and said he carried only the filter. Rick looked surprised. "I can't believe you're not carrying iodine. What if your filter fails? What do you have for a back-up?" Dick grinned. "You're my back-up."
That night I told Rick that I've been toying with the idea of writing a book about their journey, but that as of yet, there hadn't been any drama. Without it, I wasn't convinced there would be an audience. He thought for a minute then said that maybe Dick could come close to falling off a cliff and Rick could rescue him just in time.
We all laughed, but I wondered if the day would ever come when Dick would either serve as Rick's back-up for something or would rescue him in some way.
As I told my agent, the Appalachian Trail may be narrow, but destiny is a wide road.