Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Trail Magic

     It was a crisp, clear Easter morning as we made our way towards US HWY 19 and the Nantahala Outdoor Center. It was day 14 of our thru hike of the Appalachian Trail, and we were looking forward to getting our resupply and spending an afternoon by the Nantahala River. The steep decent from Wesser Bald and “the jumpoff,” as the guidebook described it, had left my knee aching, swollen, and in need of a break. As the few buildings that comprise the N.O.C. came into view, they were accompanied by the rustling yet peaceful sound of the river. The first building we came upon was the Wesser General Store, so we decided to take a look and see what they had in stock. In addition to getting enough food to get ourselves to Fontana Dam where we had a mail drop awaiting us, we were hoping to find a phone card. My wife Lola and I had decided to deactivate both of our cell phones for the first part of the hike, but with it being Easter Sunday, we thought it would be nice to call our parents.
     As we walked the few isles of the store, the clerk, Hank, introduced himself and asked us if we were thru hiking. He had spent a lot of time on the trail and said he loved this time of year when the hikers start coming through. “Let me know if you got any questions or needed anything,” he offered. I did not seen any phone cards, so I approached the front counter in order to ask. “Nah, don’t carry any phone cards. Used to, but with cell phones and all, people don’t seem to have much need for ‘em anymore. There’s a gas station ‘bout a mile up the road. You could check there.” I disappointingly said thanks. Neither of us had any desire to walk an extra two miles for the mere chance of finding a phone card though. Hank quickly stood up from his seat, sensing our disappointment and realizing the needed to further explain what he had already assumed we should do. “Nah, nah, I don’t mean walk. Take my truck.” Utterly confused and taken off guard, my forehead immediately wrinkled and my eyebrows furrowed as I leaned in ever so slightly closer to Hank. Surely I must have misheard, I thought to myself, but he continued. “You got a driver’s license?” Yes, I nodded. “You know how to drive a stick?” I nodded yes again. “Well hell, take my truck. The keys are in it. You can leave yer packs right there underneath that table.”
     I clumsily slid my pack under the table, still completely disheveled. My brain was having such a hard time processing what just happened that it seemingly cut-off signals to my extremities and any dexterity thereof. Did this total stranger just offer us his truck? I was not sure if he was crazier for offering or if we were crazier for accepting. As we made our way out the front door, still unsure if this was really happening, Hank motioned to his white Chevy S10 and loving added, “Just be gentle when puttin’ her into first. She can be a little tricky.” I pressed down on the clutch and turned the key in the ignition. Had I been blindfolded, I would have thought I started a monster truck. The engine roared, the muffler backfired, and the entire truck shook like a dog at the front door ready to go for a walk. Lola and I looked at each other and couldn’t help but smile from ear to ear.
     We made it up to the gas station, the truck roaring and backfiring the entire way. We picked up a few things, but never were able to find any phone cards. As we got back in the truck, I fired her up and was about to head back down the road to Hank and the Wesser General Store when I noticed a man slowly walking on the sidewalk in front of us. As he walked by, he never stopped looking at me, and he was grinning, like he knew something that I did not. He made his way past the front of the truck and then stopped, raised his hand to wave, and yelled over the sound of the muffler, “Hank let you borrow his truck, huh?” I smiled, waved, and nodded in agreement. We were not the first hikers to experience Hank’s generosity, and I am sure we will not be the last.

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