Grateful 2’s approach to the thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail is a partner system. They share a truck (sleeper for the night), one drops the other at the trailhead, then drives north to the final destination. The partners hike in opposite directions and pass the truck keys off when they meet along the path. The northbound partner then reaches the truck, drives back to the original trail head and picks up the southbound hiker. He and hiking buddy, Persistent, started this “key swap hike” on April 24 at Erwin, Tennessee. The hike went well for six days with the duo averaging almost 13 miles per day. Then on April 30, Grateful 2 had a bad fall, tripping over a root and finding himself experiencing a face plant that broke his nose and lacerated his forehead.
Grateful 2 was off the trail for seven days healing from his fall. Persistent needed to hike on, so Grateful 2 needed to find a new partner. He drove to Damascus, Virginia, and connected with Chip, a thru-hiker that was needing to rehab a foot. They hiked together for 11 days until the truck developed mechanical problems near Pearisburg, Virginia on May 18th. Chip needed to leave for a conference on May 20th so they needed to say goodbye.
It took several days to repair his vehicle but Grateful 2’s journal entry on May 21 indicated that the “key swap” will continue on the 22nd with another new partner, Peter Pan. In addition to transmission problems the truck needed a repair to the hydraulic lifter delaying the fix until May 26. Peter Pan could not wait for the repairs but Grateful 2 connected with some old trail friends, Bushy and Sparks that agreed to partner in his “key swap” approach.
They hiked 22 miles out of Pearisburg on the first day. The threesome were joined by Grateful 2’s wife and son, Carol and AJ, who planned to help with the slackpacking strategy for a couple of weeks. The hikers were able to see Dragon’s Tooth, an aptly named single massive stone of Tuscarora quartzite. It stands out on its own at the top of Cove Mountain. Bushy and Sparks decided to slow their pace and hike a more traditional hike, so Grateful 2 and his wife and son continued on while looking for yet another partner.
During the next three days, the three family members hiked past McAfee Knob, one of the most photographed spots along the AT, along Tinker Cliffs and into Daleville, Virginia for a rest day. The next day (June 2) they met Goalie and Ten, the next partners in the “key swap” adventure. They partnered for seven days, hiking under the Guillotine Rock (which looks a bit like the rolling rock in the first Indiana Jones movie), along the James River, past the 800 mile mark, over Cold Mountain, and to the Tye River – a distance of 100 miles. Goalie and Ten then decided to aquablaze (canoe) down the Shenandoah River, leaving Grateful 2 looking for yet another key swapper.
On June 9th, the day his wife and son returned home to Chattanooga. Tennessee, Grateful 2 connected with a young hiker, Sandals, in Waynesboro, Virginia. Sandals could only commit to a nine-day partnership until he had to leave the trail for a church mission trip, but they started out together through the Shenandoah National Park.
This “key swap” idea has some positive aspects to it – less pack weight to carry every day, a nice, dry place to sleep every night, and easy access to food and town whenever desired – but the down side so far for Grateful 2 are the mechanical difficulties of his truck and needing five hiking partners in 47 days. How hard will it be to continue this process? Only time will tell.