the first time i set eyes on "the general", we were at a small hostel in the heart of tennessee called kincora. he had arrived previous to us and was quick to inform us that it was a dry hostel. even more quickly, he informed us that because of this he would be spending time by the river. my husband and i liked him immediately.
we spent the evening crammed in a small living space with him and a few other hikers, listening to his stories. it wasn't a question whether or not he was going to be talking the night's length. for whatever reason, it was understood that he was talking and we were listening. i don't know if it was his sick military training or his thick British accent, but we didn't dare walk out without the proper break in conversation.
he was sitting on this old 70's style sofa, covered in the stereotypical yellow and orange print, and it was obvious that it had been a landing strip for hundreds of thru-hikers who had passed through over the years. this being said, i understand it was worn. however, i have never seen a piece of furniture buckle the way it did under the weight of a human being. for those who know "the general", he is a fit man. legs like tree trunks. but he's huge. sometimes, when looking up at him, his face was blurry-blotted out by the sun and the natural effect of perspective: things in the distance loose their detail.
the night was restful and full of laughter as we listened to the many and lengthy stories "the general" had to share. we all went to bed feeling safer than we did the night before (this is a personal assumption based on my own feelings) knowing that if the giant black bear we saw out by the highway busted in for some leftover pasta and a taste of hiker bone, that he would be fought off immediately by "the general"-undoubtably with a single blow of his fist.
we didn't see him again until hot springs, and even then we didn't "see" him. only the effects of him. my husband and i, along with a rather large group, were literally 1 day behind him. one hiker that hiked around us during this time went by the name "wmd" or "weapons of mouse destruction", known along the trail as the "night hiker". apparently "wmd" had rolled into a shelter in the middle of the night, hung his food bag on the mouse diverter, pitched tent a distance from the shelter (full of sleeping hikers-including "the general") and slept. when "the general" awoke and found that all hikers had hiked out, yet an extra food bag besides his own was left in the shelter, he didn't hesitate in strapping it to his pack and hiking it out, hoping to find the owner of such a valuable lost item.
let me pause and emphasize this point: anyone who has any backpacking experience would know that this act is selfless to the max. noone would be willing to carry around 10 EXTRA pounds of weight on their pack for anybody!
sure enough, we reached that shelter around noon for lunch break-the exact moment that "wmd" awoke from his slumber to find that "some idiot" had stolen all his food! how was he to hike 4 more days until he reached town without food?!?? we rationed out our food, sparing what we could to help the poor chap.
this continued for 3 days. even we grew frustrated with "the general" as our food inventory decreased daily. we thought surely he would grow tired of carrying around all that extra weight and leave it in a shelter with a note. but it was obvious that he was convinced that the owner was AHEAD of him and it was his duty to carry it forth.
finally "wmd" caught up with the culprit and was more than ready to give him an earful. but after only a moment of listening to "the general's" explanation, he walked away smiling, understanding the sacrifice. although, the whole scenario left us asking (and filled many trail miles talking about) who would beat who in a boxing match?
we bumped into him a couple of times here and there along our journey to the end. virgina, new hampshire, maine, & finally mt. katahdin. we summitted the same day. it is so fitting that the day we said goodbye to the trail was the day we said goodbye to "the general" forever. the trail was where we met him, where our paths crossed, and the trail is where we left him.