Trail Shenanigan's Part 3 (Trail Names & Hornets)

I hate hornets!  I never knew that I hated them before, but I now HATE them!  They are mean, thankless creatures that have a taste for blood and vengeance...I am not kidding on this one...they are vengeful.

It was day two on the trail and we had been happily trudging along all morning, with the exception of Sarah, my friend who popped her ankle on the trail the first day in.  The Appalachian Trail that we have been on so far is a twisting, winding, dirty patch of gnarled roots, rocks, mountain, blood and tears, and some random animal's proud poop piles smack in the middle of the trail, like land mines, waiting for you to depress with your unsuspecting boots.   However, the fantastic views once one breaks out of the trees and beholds the majestic splendor of something bigger than themselves, and higher than the sea level state we call home, is what keeps us pressing on .  (That and the promise of the best stone oven pizza and wings ever at this treasure of a restaurant we found in Bryson City before getting on the trail.  It was so good, I was dreaming about it on the first night we camped out.)  

Now, the thing you should know about Sarah is that she is tough and a trooper, she acquired her trail name this trip because of her fondness for packaged tuna and the sheer amount of it that she brought, and her toughness once she fractured her ankle and tore her ligament on that root the first day.  We all had visions of us making a gurney and carrying her out of the trail, in fact a good portion of our morning was spent talking about how we would construct such an item, but she would have no such thing.  Nor would she let my husband, who is a paramedic, wrap her enormous ankle and when he offered to "just cut it off for her"... of course she declined that too...it took me ten minutes to finally talk her into taking some ibuprofen for the pain (the vodka was much easier to talk her into for pain management, but we were out of that since last night) and once she accepted, I knew that she was really feeling it.  So we came up with her trail name, "Hardcore Albacore".  

Everyone in our group was impressed with her tenacity and determination, and Mike said he felt emasculated by how tough she was, even injured and still smoking almost everyone in the group. I had to admit, she was a formidable opponent even for my husband who was in really great shape, running on average 8 miles every day.   So she definitely earned her trail name.  

Tony's trail name was obvious, as he was the fastest of us all so, "Speedy" came to mind easily.  My trail name from last year, "Ole Prospector" still stuck this year due to the fact that I am slow and steady as molasses and have this sweet tin camping cup that attaches to the outside of my pack.  As long as I am moving, it scares away any bears, or other animals we might come upon on the trail, and it is my cup I put on the fire to boil my water for my re-hydrated meals and drinks.  And this year, Mike got his trail name too, "Condor".  
His ca-caw was less of a high pitched ca-caw sound, and more of a low sounding, muffled bird with his head buried, beak deep, in a carcass.  That paired with his shuffling gait and trekking pole stride made him appear like a Condor landing and finding his footing once he had found his prize.  

And Nate got his trail name too this year, "Sherpa Nate", as we so fondly called him after he decided that jeans were a good outdoor trail attire and that he could totally carry a bunch of crap up that mountainside and not bat an eyelash.  Anyone that knows my brother knows that his 6 foot frame seems a lot taller and more exaggerated due to the fact that he is ghastly thin, and takes very long strides.  So Sherpa Nate came through for us on the trail when Mike was trying to throw his food off the mountainside because it "weighed too much" and when we had a "water crisis" and we needed a pack to store the extra water on in order to make it the last few miles...(which after a few miles, we came to a perfectly good stream and he didn't need to carry all that water after all.)

So, back to mid morning of day two on the trail.   We had been hiking for a while now and everyone was basically just trying to "not die" or twist another ankle like Sarah.  "Hardcore Albacore" was injured so she was up front setting the pace, which was still fast, then "Sherpa Nate" was up keeping her company, regaling her with tales of God knows what, but probably some amazing fishing stories or horror stories of how we prank our friends sometimes when they fall victim to sleep...(that is always entertaining)...then myself, "Ole Prospector" tin clanking away on my pack, followed by "Speedy", who was not entertained by how slow and steady I was moving navigating the treacherous root system covering the trail...followed by "Condor" bringing up the rear.  The order of things were about to drastically change in a moment or two, and it was about to get a lot more interesting.  

We had just turned a bend in the trail on a downhill switchback that had a steep decline filled with roots, rocks, and loose clay.  When you are hiking with a pack downhill like this, your knees become your body's brakes and your poor toes and toenails suffer at the helm of your boot fronts.  Even with thick wool socks, I could feel my toes and toenails screaming against the leather.  Trying to slow down my gait and navigate the roots became a battle that I lost about 20 feet into the downhill.  I twisted my ankle on a root.  Luckily I was wearing over the ankle boots that offered good support, however, the twist was pretty good and I needed to tighten my boots around my ankle a bit more.  It was a tender step out of the way to let "Condor" by and I  decided I had to stop and tie my boot tighter right then.  "Speedy" became agitated that I had stopped, and I became frustrated that I could not lean down and tie my boot without toppling over, so I did the only logical thing and asked him for help.  He couldn't reach it either and I decided to leverage things out by placing my foot up on the mountainside hill on the ivy and clay...well, my foot placement could not have been worse, for beside my unlaced boot was an unforeseen hornet's nest.  It was like in the movies where the bear has knocked it down from the tree and they are erupting from the ground in torpedo like fashion, perhaps you've heard this term before, "mad as a hornet."  

One zinged out and got me twice on my  forearm in rapid succession, or maybe it was two...I don't know...then I knocked it down with my open palm, yelling and clanking while twirling around in a circle, swatting the unwanted invaders in full on prospector mode...out of the blue, another one stings the calf of my injured ankle near the untied boot.  At this point, all of my trail mates had stopped and were heading toward my screaming, flailing, crazed one boot on body.  

Sarah and Mike are laughing, Nate is concerned and Tony is mad.  

Sarah and Mike thought that all the ruckus was a result of me plummeting to my death, rolling down the side of the mountain, Nate was concerned and taking out his snake bite/ bee sting kit that he had "Sherpa-ed" up the mountain, and Tony was mad that I had hurt myself, stopped to tie my boot and just generally angry that I had got stung.  I saw Nate putting a gooey wad of tobacco into his mouth and spit it into his fingers.

"Sick!  What is that for?" I asked eyeballing the brown tobacco goo.

"Just trust me, it takes away the sting of the bite," Nate said smashing the tobacco onto my rapidly swelling stings.  "Put the band-aid on it to hold it in place."

"Okay", I said suspiciously eyeing the tobacco that was now drying to my skin, but it was working a little bit so I tolerated it for the time being.  I finally laced up my boot tightly on my injured ankle and hobbled up the trail, Nate bringing up the rear this time as Tony was too pissed off that I had stopped to lace up my boot.  I didn't want to be anywhere near him in his grouchy state.  (You would have thought he was the one that got stung.)

Finally, after a few hours of walking, he came back and made a peace offering to me of M&M's for being so mean and grouchy with me.  I took a few and handed him back his bag.  
He asked me if I would stay back with Mike if he and Sarah and Nate went ahead.  I agreed and brought up the rear as they walked on, meeting up with Mike in a few strides.  For the rest of the day, Mike and I trudged on together.  This was the day Mike found out that he was made of "blubber"...those were his own words, not mine...but, he would redeem himself on our last day hiking, and scarily so...(to-be-continued)
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