We heard footsteps, which roused me from my light sleep. A man set his daypack on the picnic table and peeked into the shelter. “Howdy! I’m the maintainer for this shelter.” He pulled out a grocery bag. “Would you like some Oreos? I left some soda pop in the spring down yonder if you’d like that.”
John sprang into motion and retreived us two very cold Mountain Dews. Somehow that seemed appropriate. We commenced to chatting. Seems that Lord Willin – “no ‘G’ in these parts,” he said – was one of a rare breed we met along the southern AT, a trail maintainer who checked on his shelter regularly. It, and the privy, were the most immaculate we’d seen since Plumorchard Shelter near Hiawassee. “I wish our club were more like the PATC,” he said, referring to the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club that takes care of the trail from Northern Virginia through southern Pennsylvania. “Now there’s a group that knows how to maintain a shelter.”
As we rested, debating whether we wanted to hike on, he busied himself cleaning up the shelter, cleaning and restocking the privy, and taking care of the physical structure. How could we not stay? I thought of my disappointment the night before at Jerry’s Cabin. In 2001, I’d interviewed Sam Waddle, the long-time maintainer who’d looked after it. He had a playful streak, installing a non-functional telephone and lamp. We arrived there to find a shambles: the fireplace falling apart, trash everywhere, grafitti marring the historic structure, and worst of all, the privy full up to the lid of the toilet seat. I was sad and horrified at what had become of Sam’s long legacy for the Carolina Mountain Club. Meeting Lord Willin restored my faith a little.
We told him of our delight in discovering the Shelton Graves – with their quirky “Welcome Friends” flag and floral displays – as the first bit of history along the trail. He told us plans were in the works to relocate the AT away from that historic site because of conflicts with ATV use. I scratched my head. Why should hikers be on the losing end? It was outrageous to me, especially in retrospect, as we later ran across ATV trails crisscrossing the AT all the way up to Sam’s Gap. When you spend weeks in a long green tunnel, a moment with history is a breath of fresh air.
Lord Willin packed up to leave just as Flash came up to the shelter. He offered Flash some Oreos. Our cheerful trail maintainer stuck out his hand to greet Flash.
“Lord Willin,” he said.
“Amen, brother!” Flash replied.