My friend and I once decided to go on a backpacking trip along the Appalachian Trail. It’s probably the best known hiking trail in the United States, and stretches all the way from Maine to Georgia. It climbs over some of the nation’s highest peaks east of the Rockies, and can be a challenge even for the most experienced hikers.
Steve and I were both Eagle Scouts and had gone backpacking on countless other occasions. We had full confidence we could pull this trip off. We were thinking of maybe doing a 20 mile stretch through the Massachusetts section, going 2 days in one direction and then 2 in the other. We knew it would be challenging, but challenges can be fun. So we did a tiny amount of research – getting all of our maps from the internet. Sadly, we thought this would be enough. We’d soon learn otherwise.
And so we went. We had perfect weather, and plenty of food, clothes and equipment. The trail was clear cut, well marked, and provided us with stunning views of nearby mountain peaks and the occasional waterfall. It was only minor ups and downs, and with the comfortable temperatures and lack of humidity giving us a boost in energy, we were finding ourselves way ahead of schedule.
By 3PM we had hiked our first full 10 miles and reached our destination for the night. It was an aging shelter filled with an abundance of annoying mosquitoes. I took one look at the shelter and said "you wanna just push on to the next shelter?" “Of course”, he said. So we pulled out the map and saw that the next shelter was only 3 miles down the trail. It was a no-brainer to just continue on.
Three miles came and went, but we there was no shelter. Another half mile, another mile… we were lost. Maybe the maps we had printed from the internet weren’t that great after all!
But we pushed on, it was crucial that we found the shelter because we were running very low on water and the shelter was our next source. "Keep going" we kept telling one another. But there was still no shelter. The sun was setting, we were starting to get blisters on our feet, and despite the comfortable temperature we were drenched in sweat.
We never found it. The sun had now set and our mouths were so dry we could no longer even talk. My tongue began to swell and I could no longer bear the weight of my pack. I dropped it on the ground, and without even saying a word Steve dropped his and began setting up his tent.
We looked around for any drop of water- no puddles, no mud. Nothing. We were in deep trouble. I thought that maybe if I tried eating my stew the water content could help somewhat, but my mouth was so dry I couldn’t even swallow it. I went to sleep that night wondering if I would even wake up. I couldn’t imagine having the energy to walk back to the nearest road. It seemed hopeless.
We woke up early the next morning, dehydrated, exhausted, and in pain. But somehow we managed to make it back to the road, and hitchhiked into town. The one bright side to our disastrous trip: our driver was a hot young girl in a bikini. It was a true miracle.
She dropped us off at some cheap motel where we crashed for the night and recovered from our miserable hiking trip. It was the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had.
One problem remained: we still had to get ourselves back to the car, and it was close to ten miles away. Once again we had to hitchhike.
But this time there was no beautiful girl in a bikini. It was a creepy redneck driving a beat up car from the 1970’s. He had two huge dogs in the backseat and as soon as he got out we were regretting ever sticking up our thumbs. He called us over and suggested we toss our backpacks in the trunk. “Let me just move this gun farther back so your packs don’t rest on it” he said. That should’ve been our cue to run, but for some unexplainable reason we still got in.
Once again we thought we might die.
But soon enough we saw our parked car coming up in the distance, and we made it back alive. We came back a day early and a bit humiliated, but we had a damn good story to tell.