Gooch and Bacon were celebrities to me. And Lost Rob, their old hiking partner, had been raving about them every day for the last couple of weeks. It was always “Gooch this...” and “Bacon that...," "They’re so wonderful, blah, blah, blah." And really, he had to be right.
Lost Rob had dislocated his finger in one crazy and gory episode back near the 100-mile wilderness. Gooch tried to phone for help (a hard task in Maine, unless you climb a couple 1000 feet), and Bacon helped Rob to the highway carrying the weight of 2, so that Gooch could do all that running. Eventually they got Rob to the hospital. He ended up taking about 4 days off, and then got back on the trail. In the meantime, Gooch and Bacon had continued on south, believing that their friend had gone home and would finish the trail next year. Rob had been trying to catch them ever since.
I wanted to meet the men that had inspired this heroic tale. They had to be amazing. I would read their entries in the registers religiously and would ponder what they looked like. I even felt a little like the heroin in the movie “Southbounders.” And when I lost my hiking group in Vermont and had no idea how far they were behind me, I made it a goal to catch these boys.
It took me 2, maybe 3 days to catch them. I was doing big miles for the first time, driven by pure curiosity. The night before I met them I stayed at Lula Tye Shelter and they stayed at Big Branch Shelter. I was only 3 miles from them and seriously resisting a night hike.
Now, before I reveal the completely awkward display I made of myself when I met these two gentlemen, I want you to understand what its like for a thru-hiker to meet another thru-hiker ahead of them. The one behind has been reading about the one ahead for weeks, maybe months. You can start crushing on people just through what they say in those registers. You can also grow to dislike them. Either way, you want to meet them dearly, even though part of you feels like you know them already. When you meet them, its like meeting a movie star. You’re their biggest fan, and they have no clue who you are.
So the next day, I got up early without breakfast, flew through those 3 miles, and rolled into their camp before they were even out of bed. When I saw them, I was star-struck and speechless. But recovered quickly and soon I was bonkers, excited. I remember my arms tightened and I clapped my hands as a penguin might. Then, I made my introduction. Breathing perhaps twice, I'm sure I was nothing but impressive with my stream of consciousness speed. I told them of Rob, of myself, of my journey to catch them and of how long I had waited for this very moment.
Gooch was still in his sleeping bag with a groggy look. Embarrassed, I bit my lip and thought, “Daaaang." Then I left almost as quickly as I came, and hoped they wouldn’t decide to become northbounders.
I’m really glad that I didn’t touch them or ask for an autograph.
But, the damage couldn’t have been all that bad, since they made good time meeting me at Baker Peak. They revealed the secret of who was Gooch and who was Bacon, we talked about Rob, the others I had been hiking with, when I started, how many miles we averaged, our projected Springer date. The typical. They asked most of the questions. I already knew more about them than I cared to admit.
I did tell them that I was going to sleep on the top of Bromley Mtn that night. There isn’t an AT shelter up there, but there is a ski hut that’s open and a really great view from the observation tower. It was sure to be loads of fun...if they came along.
They told me they were going at least 3 miles beyond Bromley, into town to resupply and hike out.
Did I mention the excellent view ontop of Bromley?
I was really hoping they’d change their mind. I wanted to get to know them, and their plan meant that they'd get ahead of me again. It had taken 3 weeks worth of gaining to meet them at Big Branch Shelter that morning and I didn't know how long it would be until I saw them again this time. But I wasn’t going to change my plans.
I met up with them periodically throughout the day, and then Gooch and I finished it out together. That has always been my favorite way to get to know a person—over a walk.
When we climbed Bromley Peak I wasn’t expecting to see Bacon. I thought he’d be halfway down the mountain. But there he was, waiting with Six String, another thru hiker I had been dying to meet. They had decided to spend the night there with me. I was thrilled.
The sky was fairly clear, but had enough clouds to make for an interesting and beautiful sunset. I unrolled my gear on the deck--determined to sleep under the stars. The guys had put their stuff inside the hut below, where it was warmer and rain wasn’t a threat, but I hoped they’d join me.
And soon enough, Gooch and Bacon were up in the tower with their bags. When it became dark, I pointed out the constellations I knew, and we chatted until we grew tired. I felt...cool, like really cool. Before we went to sleep one of them said, “I’m glad we met you Little Dipper.” And the other agreed. I loved that.
I hadn’t gotten to know Bacon that day, I’m sure I only scratch the surface of what it means to know Gooch, and I don’t think our conversations were what one might consider “deep.” But, in a day I trusted them completely, felt like I knew them and they knew me, and was certain that I’d miss them tomorrow. I felt wanted. That’s how most friendships go on the trail. You have your friends, your own strength, and that’s it. Its kindergarten friendship simple. :)
Of course, that isn't the end to the Dipper, Gooch and Bacon saga, but that's how it began. And, its not necessasarily a good story, but its one of the first I think of when someone says, "tell me about your favorite day on the trail."