It was a hard day, one of the hardest in weeks. Not because of the terrain or elevation gain, but a cold rain poured relentlessly until I was soaked to the bone. It didn't stop until I was finished for the day and under a roof.
Since most people don't want to pick up hitchhikers at night, I had to run many of the day's miles over slippery wet leaves in order to get to the highway before dark. A man in a white pick-up drove past and saw me pacing back and forth along the highway with my thumb out. As is customary in the south he was friendly enough to put on his brakes and come back for me.
"Hey, I can take you to Franklin," he said. "Let me just make some room for you." He had been hunting, so the cab was filled with camouflaged gear and guns. "I saw you standing in the rain with night coming and figured I should come back for you." He pulled out a two-pack of brand new raccoon traps that had been sitting in the passenger seat and set them in the bed of the truck. "That's my son's Christmas present."
The locals along the trail have been incredibly friendly, but in the south I think they make it there duty to search out someone to help. My driver dropped me off near Mulligan's bar and I walked in for a sandwich and hot coffee. When I finished eating, a woman and her husband walked up to my table. "Are you hiking the trail?" she asked. We talked briefly then she asked, "Do you have a place to spend Christmas?" I've been invited into so many homes along this trail, but it still surprises me that people will so quickly put up a smelly stranger they have only known for five minutes. Don't listen to the local news; America is, by a wide margin, friendlier than it is dangerous. "You enjoy the rest of the trail. And, for sure, you do have a place to go for Christmas?" she asked again.
Footwork and I decided to split the cost of a hotel room, so after finishing a second cup of joe, I walked to the Franklin Motel to meet him there. I went right to my bed and crashed. Soon after, my feet swelled up, as they tend to do at the end of a long day. My toes resembled fat little sausages that have been soaking in dishwater all day. I've gotten used to this. When I'm hiking, I feel like I'm in the best shape of my life. I can climb three thousand feet of elevation, without stopping for a break, and never feel that lactic acid burn in my muscles. At night, however, after I've stopped hiking for a few minutes, my legs stiffen and are so sore that I waddle around like Redd Foxx trying to rush to answer his front door on Sanford and Son. My knees ache at the end of the day so much that whenever I waddle into a public restroom and see those handicap bars next to the toilet, I rejoice. It's just one of life's little pleasures, you understand.
They say it takes as long to recover from an AT thru-hike as it does to hike it. As long as I keep moving I feel great. I guess the trick is to just never stop moving, ever.