Editor’s note: This is part two of a continuing series about Logan Miller and Nick Rutecki, both of Juneau, as they hike the United States.
Our first full day of walking on a hiking trail at Amicalola State Park, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, began in a cold fog and progressed to a still and muggy afternoon with dark clouds looming above the naked, leafless trees. One mile from the next shelter, a cold gust of wind signaled the inevitable siege of rain to begin, sending us scampering and sliding down the mud-slide path as a curtain of rain soaked our cotton shirts.
We arrived at the shelter by mid-afternoon and began unloading our dripping possessions into the loft, which we shared with two ex-military guys. Hikers slowly trickled in, emerging silently from the rainy woods and filling the shelter with their minuscule backpacks, featherweight cooking stoves, and dainty packages of dehydrated noodles. In the midst of their gear, Nick dropped his massive bag onto the ground and started pulling food out of his 70-pound backpack: a four-pound can of ravioli, a large box of Russel Stover chocolate truffles, two six packs of hot dogs, and a bottle of BBQ sauce, to start.
The hikers looked at his pile of food with wonder, disbelief and confusion as we began to cook. One lady couldn’t contain herself. “So… you just go to the store and pick out whatever looks good?” she asked.
“Yeah, pretty much,” Nick said, stirring his gigantic ravioli with a flimsy stick.
Unfortunately, most of the ravioli was burned because the girth of the can prevented proper mixing technique. After eating most of the burnt pasta anyway, we snuggled up with the two military guys in the loft, playing Spades and discussing detailed mouse defense tactics. One of the guys said that it’s better to just let the mice have free access to your food so they don’t chew through your backpack. He demonstrated the concept by leaving his granola bars and energy gel packets out in the open, next to his face.
Skeptical, I still bagged all my food and cinched my pack tight. Nick took the middle ground, placing his hot dogs in his pack, and the chocolate-covered almonds on the wooden beam above our heads. Again, Nick woke me (and everyone else), in the middle of the night, this time by attempting to smash a mouse that was gnawing at his almonds.
In the morning, we found that the mice had widened their entry hole into the almonds, while still refraining from consuming any nuts (possibly allergy-related?). Apparently angered with the meager almond offerings and irritable from the rain, the mice also found their way into Nick’s backpack and chewed a chunk out of his remaining pack of hot dogs. The military men, however, happily packed up their untouched granola bars and hit the trail.
We started out in the soft rain, and made a brief stop on the trail while Nick flung his tainted hot dogs into the woods. I watched as the juicy meat tubes soared, flipping slowly through the fog, softly falling, bouncing on the wet leaves as they tumbled happily down the hill. The chocolate-covered almonds were next, and they hovered and then fell in a brief, sad shower of turd-like rain.
The next day we traversed windy ridges and hollows carpeted in moist leaves, as the morning rains progressed to blowing sleet and afternoon snow flurries. We arrived at the mountain-top shelter 19 miles later, mid-blizzard. I peeled back the tarp covering the shelter and peeked inside to find five men on the floor, shivering and tucked into their sleeping bags like frozen sides of meat. They seemed very reluctant to make more room for us (but eventually did). Nick made the wise decision to cook inside the shelter, and I stubbornly decided to eat alone outside in the blizzard.
High on endorphins, and probably delirious from my massive calorie deficit (we hadn’t eaten all day), I just laughed and added more layers over my soaking wet cotton clothing. I eagerly started cooking as gusts of jagged ice particles blasted past, and successfully prepared a pot of instant rice and beans. Greedy for more calories but quickly losing sensation in my fingers, I boiled another pot of water, salivating as I thought about creamy garlic mashed potatoes.
As I shook the final contents of the potato mix into the pot, I knocked the pot off the propane stove and the sticky potato mix lept from the pot, coating me and my backpack in a shower of disappointment and soggy potato lumps.
I looked around helplessly for a few moments, then slowly shoved my soggy, potato-covered belongings into my garlicky backpack. Defeated, I crawled into the shelter and curled up in the corner, where I shivered throughout the night as the wind roared against the wooden walls and snow poured in through the rafters of the shelter. The next day, we trudged down the mountain through several inches of fresh white fluff, caught a ride into town, feasted on barbeque, and left the trail.
• Logan Miller grew up in Juneau. In 2015, he and fellow Juneauite Nick Rutecki began walking around America with backpacks and no plans. Read more at www.thewalkingtrip.com.