The story you are about to read is true; photographic existence of the parties mentioned has yet to be discovered.
Straight up and down; then straight up and down again! Georgia trail maintainers seemed clueless about the need for switchbacks on the Appalachian Trail, which made the footpath through the infamous Georgia gaps more of a roller-coaster endurance test than a pleasant trail. Fortunately for backpackers and hikers tracing the AT through the southern Appalachians Jack and Wayne were there. Or maybe not.
Jack and Wayne appeared with a shock – all laughs and boisterousness – on day three of my hike. The rigors of the trek had thinned the crowd into unplanned clumps of three or four backpackers. I was hiking with three souls. I don’t remember the third hiker, (who soon left the trail due to a knee injury) but Jack and Wayne: who could forget them?
Staunchly descended from Georgia roots, Jack and Wayne came in one color – camouflage (with a touch of Jerry Garcia thrown in for good measure). Each man was saddled by choice with at least eighty pounds of gear. Every needed or frivolous item could be found in their packs, right down to the quaint Sony cassette players with earphones jammed in their ears and Lynyrd Skynyrd punched up at full volume. Jack and Wayne sang along at the top of their voices. One need not have earphones to hear their musical gusto belting forth. It screeched from their earbuds, rebounded from the hills, and poured from their parched lips.
You might say Jack and Wayne were ready for the trail, if survivalism was the goal. Each was clad in long-sleeve shirt and trousers made of thick material with a camo pattern. One might think they had ripped them off a band of Army Rangers, who frequently engaged in military maneuvers in that area of the forest. But, no, they bought them at an Army-Navy surplus store.
All beards and bright bandanas, I first came upon the duo who were plopped right in the middle of the trail on a hot Georgia spring afternoon. A backpacking stove, which doubled as a small model of a NASA lunar lander, was at full blast. They were making popcorn.
“Want some?” Jack asked, his eyes all sparkle and vigor. I was speechless. “A bit early for snack time, isn’t it?” I said. Jack and Wayne both grabbed handfuls of popcorn and pushed them on me. I accepted, hesitantly. After a few pleasantries I walked on, leaving them in avid discussion about the Grateful Dead, each pulling playfully on their beard, laughter peppering the humid air.
Later, at a lean-to which would be my home for the night, I arrived. Jack and Wayne came in soon after, pots banging outside their packs, right next to their cutlery, which included of two splendid, fear-inducing machetes.
Now, I have to admit to having once owned such a blade, when I was younger. But I used it for strict utility purposes, striking off offensive limbs and briars in my back yard. But Jack and Wayne seemed to believe we were somewhere in the upper regions of Amazonia, and commenced to clearing some brush nearby and then used their machetes to cut firewood — lots of it! Soon, a fierce blaze was adding to the ambiance, though I thought it a bit too close to the shelter for comfort. Jack and Wayne cackled and hooted and continued cutting and piling on the kindling and fuel. I retreated from the heat. Jack pulled out the stove and, yes, “It’s popcorn time!” he screamed. Soon the shelter was filled with the combination of roasting popcorn – and pot smoke. Ah ha! I had discovered the substance which fueled the roaring laughter and stories Jack and Wayne regaled me with that night. Admittedly, I was soon laughing along with them as they told tales of “rabid” black bears roaming the woods, forest ghosts, and various hand-fishing encounters they’d had. When I asked why they were hiking the A.T., Wayne said “We’re on a bus-tour of southern Georgia!” This made little sense to me but it was clear they were, indeed, traveling, albeit “herbally” fueled.
Snorers? Jack and Wayne held the medal in that category. But by next morning, they had clanged out of camp and were northbound while I was wiping the sleep from my eyes. The last I saw was the back of two huge backpacks (also camo!) on which were strung Coleman lanterns, the infamous machetes, bungee cords, a $20 K-Mart store tent, and other elements of their traveling circus.
I only saw them once or twice more, but they quickly became legends among the AT hiking community. I also have no photographic evidence of what they looked like, so you’ll just have to believe they were as colorful as I’ve tired to portray them (also see above “guesstimate” photo). Last I heard of them, they had completed seven stops of their southern Appalachian bus tour. I’m not sure if they reached stop ten, but the memory of them is drifting in a cloud of laughter somewhere on the Appalachian Trail.