I was driving back from South Carolina last Wednesday and decided to come by way of the North Georgia mountains. Early morning, blue sky, much better than driving through Atlanta. This route parallels the Georgia/North Carolina line and the road crosses over the Appalachian Trail about 10 miles east of the town of Hiawassee, Ga. I came about the trail crossing and standing in the car pulloff area were two hikers trying to hitch a ride down to Hiawassee. They looked ligit so I pulled off and they loaded their packs in the back of my pickup.
I soon learned that they had started their walk back in June and met each other for the first time, after about a week on the Trail, up in Maine. These two are known as "through walkers" who will walk the entire Trail (about 2,200 miles, I think) non stop. Both were college graduates and apparently decided that this trip would be a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, now or never. He (Joel) was mid 20's, long beard, wearing one of those goofy knit hats with long ear flaps. She (Peanut, I hope a Trail name) was early 20's and about half his size, also with a knit hat that only showed her cute, pink face.
"Are you going to Hiawassee to re-stock your food supplies?" was the first of about 100 questions I would ask. "How heavy are your packs, how much weight have you lost, what did you major in, what college, etc., etc. I was bored, but not for long. "No", Joel replied. "We actually were in Hiawassee yesterday and were back on the trail late yesterday afternoon. After we set up camp for the night, we realized that I had lost my camera somewhere in Hiawassee. I fancy myself as an amateur photographer and I had over 2,000 pictures on that camera, a complete photo chronicle of every step of the way and everyone we met. You can't imagine how distressed I was when I realized that all of that had vanished." Then she added that "we both decided that those pictures were too precious to at least not try to find the camera. We only have 70 miles to go and we both want to be home for Christmas (six days away), but the slight chance (impossible chance) that we might find the camera was worth the sacrifice." I was driving with two delusional people; been on the Trail too long.
So, off to the town of Hiawassee to find a small camera and I'm their only source of transportation. Their theory was that they might see the guy who gave them a ride back to the trail, that maybe the camera had fallen into the back of his pickup truck and he hadn't noticed it or that it had not been stolen. Or maybe it was on some sidewalk that they had walked on or in some store they had visited, still right where they had left it. Man, these two must be malnourished and not thinking clearly and here I am going right along with this morning of insanity, a fruitcake chauffeur was I.
"If you don't mind, the man that gave us a ride stopped at an insurance office and dropped off some papers, maybe they will have his name." So we stopped, inquired and, no, not a soul remembered any such hitchhiker picker upper. Same story at the Ingles' Supermarket, the convenience store, the landscaping office (they thought he might be a landscaper because some mulch was in the back of his truck). All the sidewalks were clean of cameras too, what a surprise! At some point along this quest, when my sympathy took over, I surrendered my own sanity and was willing to spend as much time as their delusion would provoke. "Why don't we try the Police station as a (hopefully) last resort," I asked/begged. Another 20 minutes later, Joel dejectedly announced that in spite of the police officers' conviction that they knew everyone in town, they knew no such pickup truck or its driver. "Well, you two can at least say you tried and that you have done every thing you could. Shall we now go back to the Trail?" Please, please.
Peanut asked if I could drop them off at a local restaurant and get a biscuit and some coffee. "Of course," I quickly replied, liking the words "drop off". So they unloaded their back packs and waved good-bye. Dear God they had determination and I wished them well.
I drove on towards Chattanooga. About five minutes later, Joel calls me (he needed my business card to write something down) and said, in a trembling voice, "Guess what... when you dropped me off I saw the pickup truck in the parking lot next to the restaurant. We walked up to the truck and the camera was still in the back of the truck!" I've never heard more excitement in one man's voice.
Peanut earlier told me that through walkers have certain phrases on the Trail and one is "Trail Magic."
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Great story, Henry.
Congrats on a random act of kindness, so lacking nowadays.