Message from my father
This is Andrew’s dad and I wanted to write something in honor of the task these three men are about to accomplish. Andrew had been asking me to join him on the trail. It’s not often that your children ask you to do something with them so I was determined to share a portion of this experience. I left home at 4:30 PM on Sunday, December 15 and headed to Gatlinburg Tennessee, where they were spending the night in a hostel. While they were at the hostel the weather had gotten worse, it had already been snowing and sleeting and the guys decided to get a reprieve from the weather and spend a night inside. I had spoke to Andrew earlier that day and he said the road to the trail was closed due to the bad weather and they might have to spend a second night in the hostel. Since they were trying to put in a lot of miles everyday I decided now was my time to help the young men get home before Christmas. Even though Andrew had been asking me to join him on the trail It had been four or five months since I had seen him last and I wondered if he would be glad to see me or if he would regret asking me to join him. My original plan was to hike with them but since they were hiking a lot of miles everyday I knew if I tried to hike with them I would only slow them down and my goal was to help them. At 8:30 PM I arrived at the hostel and Andrew came out to greet me. He immediately gave me a big hug and told me he was glad to see me. All my reservations about Andrew wanting to see me were gone in an instant and he genuinely made me feel that he truly was grateful that I was there. I immediately rounded up the other two guys, Alex and Jared, and took them to my favorite steak restaurant, The Alamo, and treated them to a bone-in ribeye steak. Since it had been a while since they had eaten any substantial food they had to take most of it back to the room and they slowly ate on it for the rest of the evening. I noticed several things about the young men. They had formed a tight bond with one another that will probably last a lifetime. It seemed to me that a lot of the worries of the world had left their thoughts and their main concern was finishing the hike. However, I could tell that they thought a lot about food and their most prized worldly possessions were their backpacks. The place they were staying was not very nice but they talked about it like it was a palace. The next day was Monday, December 16th, we got up before daylight and I treated them to a hearty breakfast. Immediately following breakfast we drove to the base of the mountain where the road had been closed the day before only to find that the road re-opened just moments before we arrived. The young men were pleased to see the road had re-opened and they assured me that me being there had saved them a lot of time. I dropped them off at Newfoundland gap which is 206 miles from their final destination. Instead of me hiking with them my role has changed, I will be setting up a base camp for them every evening so when they come off the trail they can eat and go to sleep. I will tear down camp every morning and relocate it at a mutually agreed upon spot. Hopefully this will allow me to be an asset instead of a liability and will make them more efficient. The young men told me that there were approximately 500 people who registered to through hike the Appalachian Trail close to the same time frame they registered. Most everyone has dropped out and less than 20 people are still on the trail. These young men are to be commended because they are about to accomplish something that they will remember for a life time. In times past my son Andrew has asked me if I was proud of him. Son, I want you to know I’m very proud of you and this is a job well done. Love Dad.
From Rex Fortenberry
For Andrew “Alpacka” Fortenberry