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  • Thursday, November 17, 2011

    The Appalachian Trail: The Hardees Bag

    Partnership Shelter
    I slept near the Mount Rogers Visitor Center last night, in the attic of the Partnership Shelter. This morning I checked the weather forecast posted on the visitor center bulletin board. The low temperature tonight, at my expected elevation, was nine degrees. Even if I thought I would be warm enough, which I didn't, last night's heavy rain turning to ice would make the rocky climb to the Mount Rogers summit a bit more challenging. Tomorrow will be a little warmer, and by the weekend the lows will be well above freezing. Anyway, I decided to play it safe and hitch to town for the night. 

    I figured with the snow blowing around me I'd get sympathy points and an easy hitch. No such luck. Car after car passed by without even a glance at my gloved thumb or snowflake speckled beard.

    A beaten down 4x4 passed by. It looked shady, so I wasn't too disappointed. Then suddenly, it slammed on its brakes and slid to a reckless halt. The reverse lights didn't work, but the truck sped toward me in reverse, spitting gravel as the tires fought for traction.

    The passenger got out to let me in the backseat. "Need a ride, bud?" 

    He struggled with sliding the front seat forward until the driver reached over and did it for him. 

    "There ya go, hop in," the driver said. He was covered head to foot in camouflaged clothing. "Sorry 'bout the mess. I purdy much live in this truck." A strange thing people with messy vehicles say, since nobody ever uses that excuse for a messy apartment. I set my pack on some trash and climbed into the backseat. 

    "Don't worry 'bout him," he said, referring to the black pit bull sitting bolt upright and staring at me from the other side of the bench seat. "He don't bite. Least I don't think he does," he added with a chuckle. The dog put his front paws in my lap then licked my face as if to reassure me that he doesn't.

    We peeled out onto the road and headed toward town. The driver used every bit of his lane, swerving back and forth, as he searched for his cigarette lighter. The dog gave up trying to keep his balance while standing or sitting and so plopped down on my lap. I scratch him behind the ears. He was much sweeter than he looked and loved the attention.

    "Now ur gonna smell like a dog when you get tah town," the driver said.

    "Oh that's fine," I said. "It'll probably be an improvement."

    "Hope ya don't mind, but we gotta make a quick stop. I'll take you into town after that," he said then turned to make sure his friend didn't mind going all the way into town. We pulled up next to a car that was parked in front of an abandoned business.

    "If you weren't planning on going further I can get out here and try to get a hitch the rest of the way," I said.

    "Naw, it's alright man. Ain't nobody gonna pick you up 'round here. Nothing but dicks in this town man."

    His friend got out and walked to the passenger-side window of the parked car. They passed him something in a plastic bag through the window. The bag was from the Hardees fast food chain, but I suspected it may have contained something other than hamburgers.

    "Man, I put a ton of money into this truck," the driver said to make conversation while his friend talked to the guys in the other car. The truck idled hard then relaxed repeatedly like an asthmatic chain smoker trying to catch his breath after a hundred-meter dash. With each breath, the hatch door, with a trash bag for a window, rattled loudly. I thought to myself, "A lot of money? You wouldn't know it to look at it." 

    "I know it doesn't look like it," he added. "But I put a new engine in it, transmission. And then I had tah get cheap when buyin' these tires. I regret it now. Use tah be able tah stop on a dime wit my old tires. They had tread on 'em like this." He held his thumb and index finger up spaced two inches apart. "See, in Virginia you have tah get yur vehicles inspected. Ain't no way this thang'll ever pass inspection, but I got some buddies that own garages, see.  One of 'em told me if I buy these tires he'd give me this sticker," he tapped on his windshield at a "Passed Inspection" sticker. "You know, without makin' sure all the lights work and all that."

    The friend got back in the truck with his Hardees bag and we got back on the road. They asked me questions about the hike for the rest of the drive to the hotel. 

    "Do a lotta people smoke weed on the trail?" the driver turned to asked. The stoplight in front of him turned red. He slammed on his breaks and grimaced while sucking air through his clenched teeth. "Man, I do not trust these tires." 

    "I've seen a few people smoking, yeah." I said, thinking about the contents of the Hardees bag. 

    "That's the only way I could ever make it," the passenger said. He reached in the bag and pulled something out.

    "Want one?" he said to the driver. To my surprise, he held out a Hardees hamburger.

    And that's how I got to my hotel and out of the cold for the night. I still wonder if it was just hamburgers, but I'm warm and safe, so that's all that matters. You gotta love hitchhiking. I'll be back on the trail in the morning.