5/15 Slackpackers (28.9)

May 15, 2013 at 1:32 pm

If some days on the trail pass by unremarkably, then some days also rush by you in a crazed fury, flapping their arms and squawking wildly like a mad duck. On such a day, you might wake up in a treehouse, get driven up windy forest roads at breakneck speeds by a cackling 70 year old man named Saco who has put more miles on the trail than on his car and then find yourself hiking nearly 30 miles into the dark only to be greeted by sleepy smiles and cold casserole.
Slackpacking, otherwise known as ‘Slacking’ or ‘Cheating’ in some hiker circles, is what happens when great people offer to carry your full pack by car while you hike with just a day pack holding water and food. This lets thru hikers do more miles and feel invincible. It also earns you some grief from the purists. But, when offered a 25 mile slack pack at the last minute as we were leaving the hostel, we jumped on board. We piled into Saco’s jeep along with Mama and Papa Smurf and rode the harrowing hour long ride to where the road intersected with the AT 25 miles, as Saco told us, from Kincora. We should be able to do it before dark without a problem, Saco swiveled around to tell us as he screeched around a blind curve using his elbows while his hands were engaged with his cigarette and crackers, respectively. (Saco also drove an injured couple of hikers to the hospital after dropping us off and waited all day for him. The trail has some really great people on it.)
We started out going South around 10AM at a good pace but ran into someone we knew every 5 or 10 minutes. The disadvantages of slackpacking SOBO immediately became apparent to us as we stopped to chat with half of the hikers and were mistaken for day hikers by the other half. We focused on speeding up and stopping less and found that without our packs we had hiked 11 miles in no time. We looked at the map and were very surprised, however, to realize that we still had 18 miles left. Throwing out our old plan to avoid night hiking, we started out again with a new determination. The day passed quickly and we found we were speedier and much less tired without our big bags and we soon found ourselves negotiating the reroutes that took us around the flooded trail next to Wautauga Lake. As we walked by, we could see picnic tables and whole trees swallowed by the water. We started up our last climb of the day on a well graded mountain at dusk and watched part of the sunset on top. We also stopped briefly for a bonfire with Uke, who told us we were cheaters but kindly traded us some Ibuprofen for cheese. By the time we had reached the bottom of the mountain on the other side, the fireflies were our main light source. With the moon only a little sliver, we used our headlamps for the last 3 miles which were unfortunately the 3 most difficult miles of our journey. Down through the boulders, around Laurel Falls, and up the cliff on the other side we climbed in the dark. The whirlpool was a mysterious noisy black pit that we clung to the rocks to avoid falling into. Laurel falls took us an hour and a half to navigate; We thought we saw the lights of the road with every bend we went around the last half mile, and finally we came out on the parking lot and hobbled back to Kincora. The cold leftovers from dinner were the best thing we had ever tasted. Thanks Kincora, Jack, Saco, and Bob; it would have been hard to make it 50 miles in two days without you.