Day 0: Keep Up the Good Work. You Will Be Rewarded. (Asheville to Hiker’s Hostel)
I woke up on the morning of February 27th in Asheville expecting to be picked up by someone I had not yet met. A couple years ago, my younger brother Devin had allowed his friend Jordan to stay in the Asheville house for a few weeks while he was in between living situations. Jordan was more than happy to be able to return the favor and promptly arrived for our journey. We raced off through the winding roads leading to Dahlonega, near Helen, Georgia. If anyone is familiar with the famous “Dragon’s Tail” section of road in North Carolina, our last stretch of driving was the same State Road 129, just much further south in Georgia. Unfortunately, about a mile from the Hiker’s Hostel, Jordan’s brakes started making this horrible grinding noise.
We limped the car the last mile up to the Hiker’s Hostel (http://www.hikerhostel.com), which we were sure was going to be a run down, shack-looking place full of a bunch of dirty, smelly hiker types. What we found was a fancy log cabin style house… that certainly had a shack in the back somewhere for the hikers. To my surprise, the 3-story log cabin had 2 hostel rooms upstairs, a common area with TV and couches, dining room, and hostel kitchen on the main floor, and additional rooms, futons, common area and a hiker’s kitchen on the basement floor. Each area was nicely decorated with photos of various mountain landscapes, peaks in Patagonia and previous thru-hikers at the summit of Katahdin. The Hostel owners, Joshua and Leigh Staint, are a young married couple who had previously thru-hiked the AT together and recently renovated a classic VW bus formerly owned by Earl Shaffer (the first documented AT thru-hiker and the oldest thru-hiker when he did it again in 1998 at age 80). They were very friendly and were happy to answer any questions (or do your laundry for just $3). Shuttles went out each afternoon to Dahlonega’s Walmart and outfitter for no charge.
Josh showed me to my bunk bed upstairs. Another hiker had already spread out his gear on one of the lower bunks. I took the other lower bunk and introduced myself as Birdman. “Azalon” (trailname) is from Pennsylvania, but has Puerto Rican roots and a light accent. His giant backpack, 4-panel solar charger, tablet and droid phone are spread out in a sea of other gear. Azalon tells me that his nephew had originally planned on joining him but had pulled out at the last minute leaving him with extra gear, including a heavy Coleman 3-man tent that he referred to as his “log”. After shuttling to town to check out the outfitter and have a microbrewed beer at the local Italian joint (I do not recommend the beer or the pasta…), I offered to perform an equipment shakedown for Azalon, to which he agreed. He took out most of what he looked to have in his pack (though I know he was hoarding some things) and spread them out on the floor. Already knowing he was attached to his technology, I was looking for the next most obvious items to help him part with. Immediately, I noticed the Rambo-sized survival knife. I contained my shock and asked him, “Do you have more than one knife?” He responded, “Yeah. I think I have one wit my cook set.” I simply replied, “Well, you might consider just bringing one knife.” Azalon thought for a moment. “I guess dat’s true,” he said, as he put the Rambo knife in the large box of other things he had already set aside to send home. With little effort, we set aside roughly 15lbs worth of stuff for his box and celebrated by ordering Chinese delivery. My fortune: “Keep up the good work. You will be rewarded.”