I don’t usually write first person articles, but this one is worth sharing because there is an element of hiking that I have never written about, but it is one that all hikers are very familiar with – trail camaraderie. It is that unspoken bond of the shared experience you have with those you meet on a hike.
Four years ago, my hiking group, The Grandfather Mountaineers (we range from 69 – 73) were on a primitive camping trip to Pig Pen Falls just off the Chattooga River in Oconee County (SC). The camp site we had chosen was the first one on the trail, about a half mile from the parking area. We don’t travel lightly when we camp so we decided to use wagons to get all our gear down the trail. We had several “hiker-powered vehicles” including a garden wagon and even a red Radio Flyer Wagon. So we loaded up and headed down the trail, which was more rooty and rough than what we remember when we hiked it. Aside from a couple of quasi-wrecks, we made it OK. The real problem was the noise. With all the rattling and bouncing and accompanying shouts among us “wagoneers,” we probably cleared out the bear population for more than a mile.
Remember our plan was to camp at the first campsite. We wanted to get there before anybody saw us or our “wagon train.” But that was not to be, the site was taken by a young (most everybody is younger than us) couple who were hiking the Foothills Trail with just what they could carry in their packs. To describe the look on their faces as “astonishment” is a gross understatement. We exchanged pleasantries as we passed their camp and invited them to come down and visit. As it turned out, the second camp site was vacant, about 50 yards further along, so we set up there.
Later that evening, Brian and Dawn made their way down to our camp for their visit. Given the wagon train, I’m not sure what they were expecting, but what that found was a fully-stocked camp site complete with a checkered tablecloth, cold drinks, and steaks. Dawn, after being on the trail for a week was dying for a cold Coca-Cola, of which we had plenty. Before they returned to their camp, I got Dawn’s email address so we could provide copies of photos we were taking.
For the last four years, we have kept up with Brian and Dawn. Although they live in Jacksonville, FL, Brian has considerable mountain hiking experience to include the Appalachian Trail. I would send photos of our waterfall adventures and we would hear of Brian’s long-distance treks.
At some point, I told Dawn that, if they ever came back into our area for hiking, The Grandfather Mountaineers would meet them on the trail and take them to a waterfall. That plan came to fruition in October 2014 when Brian and Dawn advised they were planning on coming up and doing some hiking in The Mountain Bridge Wilderness. Since that area is basically “home” territory for us, they could not have picked a better place for a potential rendezvous.
They then selected camp site 8 for that stay. Again, perfect, in that it is only a couple hundred yards from the Jones Gap State Park parking lot and is actually on the trail I had selected for our waterfall hike. So, that morning, we easily found them and set off on the 2.5 mile hike to spectacular Rainbow Falls. It was a grand time of sharing and getting to know one another better. Several times, the conversation turned to our first encounter and our infamous “wagon train.” Upon finishing the return to the parking lot, we introduced them to a ritual that is standard for us any time we’re in The Mountain Bridge Wilderness – a run to the F-Mart for hot dogs.
As I write this, photos are being shared and we all continue to talk about what a good time that was – bringing together a four-year plan that was generated from a grand example of trail camaraderie. Plans are already in place for somewhere out in the future, on some trail, The Grandfather Mountaineers will again link up with Brian and Dawn to hike another waterfall and to talk about the “wagon train.”