AT 2017: Day 84, Rocky Mountain Shelters to Tom's Run Shelter

All we are is dust in the wind

I’ve spent many years thinking about and planning for this hike. As of today, I have completed half of it. Despite all of the time I've spent researching, following blogs, and watching videos of other hikers, I’m discovering surprising moments on my hike I could not have anticipated.

These unexpected moments are usually small, but they help to make my hike especially fun and meaningful.

Today was filled with such moments.

DateMonday, July 3, 2017
WeatherMostly sunny and warm, with a high temperature in the low 80s
Trail ConditionsWell-maintained and generally easy to navigate, except for one rocky section
Today's Miles19.2
Trip Miles1098.7

Stick and I hoped to put in enough miles today to cross the halfway point, which would require walking more than we did yesterday. We decided last night we should get going early today, but that didn’t quite work as planned.

Stick slept past his alarm. Selfishly, because I didn’t hear him rustling around I decided to snooze a little longer too.

In hiking, the reverse of the old expression “What goes up must come down” is also true. So today, we had to hike up the steep path from our campsite to the shelter and then up to the trail.

Once back on the ridge line, the trail required us to navigate over and around rocks and boulders. There were a couple spots where the path around a large boulder wasn’t obvious, so extra care was required to stay on the trail.

After the trail dropped down from the ridge it crossed a highway, then entered Caledonia State Park and followed a stream for a short distance.

During this time I was listening to an episode of DrupalEasy podcast, which is related to work I do as a web developer. It is hosted by some friends of mine.

The episode was titled “Easter Egg”, as in a hidden surprise placed somewhere unexpected for discovery and fun. To my surprise, I was the subject of the Easter egg.

At the end of the podcast one of the hosts, Mike Anello, told listeners that I was currently hiking the Appalachian Trail from south to north. He also said I had claimed to him that I listened to every episode.

Mike then said, "So Jim, if you are actually listening to every episode of the podcast I expect to hear some type of confirmation that you heard this message. It’s a little test.”

I stopped immediately and posted on Twitter a photo of myself with a reply, saying, "As a matter of fact, @ultimike and @liberatr, I do listen to every @DrupalEasy podcast, even on the #AppalachianTrail. Thanks for checking.”

I continued through the park without stopping, but did notice something unusual. Just after walking past a picnic area I saw a sign that said hunting was allowed here.

It wasn’t hunting season, but nevertheless, putting a picnic area in a hunting area just seemed dumb to me.

Leaving the picnic/hunting area, the trail made a steep climb up the side of Chinquapin Hill.

The American chinquapin, or Castanea pumila, is a dwarf shrub from the chestnut genus that is native to this part of the U.S. I didn’t notice any of it growing here because what caught my attention was the thick growth of rhododendron.

There were still some flowers here, which were especially nice to see this late in the season.

After passing through the green tunnel of rhododendron I arrived at Quarry Gap Shelter. Stick was already there and he introduced me to Jim Stauch, the maintainer of the shelter.

Actually, Jim prefers to call himself the innkeeper. His care for the shelter could be found everywhere we looked as we talked to him and walked around.

He told us he has been a trail volunteer for 42 years.

There were lots of unexpected details not normally found in an AT shelter, like hanging planters.

Homey knickknacks were placed throughout the area, sometimes attached directly to the shelter and sometimes set on rocks nearby. There were also board games and books.

A bench swing made for a comfortable spot to sit and relax.

Jim told us he has gotten into a few disputes with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy about some of the amenities he’s added to the shelter area over the years, but he chose to brush those off.

He said he designed and built this shelter in 1994, and wasn’t concerned about what the ATC thought about his extra touches.

I jokingly asked him for the WiFi password. Then I asked him if the shelter was too nice, that being so homey perhaps attracted squatters. No, he said, he hadn’t discovered that to be a problem.

I’m sure he would know, because it’s obvious he spends a lot of time here.

After Jim left, Stick and I decided to stay here and eat lunch. It was a little early to stop for a meal, but we were already stopped and this was such a nice spot it made staying a little longer worthwhile.

As we ate lunch, Cookie Monster arrived and joined us.

I also refilled my water bottles here at a stream that flowed just a few yards away. Another feature Jim “Innkeeper” Stauch had added was a cleared spot in the stream that made collecting water easier.

The remainder of the day was spent on mostly flat trail, which frequently crossed gravel roads.

At times the trail itself was so wide it seemed to be a road.

At other times the trail was bounded by thick patches of ferns. All the while, it was some of the easiest walking we’ve had in a long time.

When I arrived at the unfortunately-named Dead Woman's Hollow Road I saw RedEye, sitting on a rock.

Just up the trail from this spot was a marker to identify the halfway point of the trail. We took some photos here and reflected on the significance this place held.

It was a little hard to grasp the magnitude of the moment. I think we were all a little uncertain to know how to feel about it.

RedEye continued on, but Stick wanted to stay here a few minutes longer to do something he’s been doing at different spots along the trail.

From his start at Springer Mountain, he has been carrying a small vial around his neck containing the cremains of a dear friend of his.

Beau had been a member of Stick’s Boy Scout troop. From early on, when Stick talked about a long-time dream of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Beau said he would join Stick.

Tragically, Beau was killed a few years ago by a drunk driver. Stick vowed to keep the promise made to Beau and fulfill the dream they shared.

So it was here that Stick continued that promise by taking off the vial from around his neck, shaking out a few of Beau’s ashes into the palm of his hand, and blowing them into the wind.

It was now past 5 p.m. and we still had about four miles to go to reach our camp spot for the night. Fortunately, the path remained flat and easy.

When we arrived at Tom's Run Shelter, RedEye was already there, as were Boomer, Jason, and Maple the dog.

A SOBO section hiker named Rockeye arrived shortly after us.

I pitched my tent on a gravel pad intended for tents, but the ground was so hard it was difficult to get my tent stakes sunk deep enough to keep the tent tied down. A large rock was needed as a hammer to pound them in.

I never cared for the sappy song by the rock group Kansas that says, “Nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky.” It cynically prefaces that line by saying, “Don’t hang on,” apparently meaning nothing in life matters. It’s as if to say we have no reason to live.

Another line in it says, "Same old song, just a drop of water in an endless sea,” reminding us that the song's message is a worthless cliché.

Still, as trite as the message may be, there remains a truth in it. The moments in our lives are fleeting. What the song doesn’t say is the best we can do with those moments is remember them. Perhaps we can learn from a few of them.

There were moments today — hearing my hike mentioned in a podcast, scattering some of Beau to the wind, celebrating at the halfway point — that I plan to keep and cherish. I'm adding them to a vast and growing treasure I carry with me on the trail.

I know I will continue to carry them long after I’ve finished.

Now, don't hang on,
Nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky
It slips away
And all your money won't another minute buy

Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind

Dust in the wind
Everything is dust in the wind
Everything is dust in the wind
The wind

From “Dust in the Wind” by Kerry Livgren (Kansas)


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.