The G-Farm: Cows, Chaos, and Other Mania on a Regenerative Farm
Camping with the Cows at the G Farm provided both a comical misadventure with livestock but also highlighted the importance of regenerative farming for our food supply.
If you were to rattle around my brain for a few days, you would understand that I am paradoxically laden with a heavy dosage of imposter syndrome and an innate belief that I can be among the best at almost anything I put my mind to.
The latter assumption is laughably false. Yet it has led to many unhinged, gripping adventures.
After reading Bill Bryson’s excellent book, A Walk in the Woods, the serene natural beauty and history of the Appalachian Trail gripped my adventurous soul.
My brother, Drake, and our friends Adam (referred to interchangeably by his first name Adam or his last name, Loeber) and Andrew of other misadventures—such as our Benny Hill-style shenanigans running from livestock—decided that we were more than up to the task of a backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail.
At the time, Andrew and his fiancé, Sam, were living in Lafayette, Georgia, a relatively accessible base camp for the start of the AT, Springer Mountain.
We had never taken a backpacking trip, but overconfidence ran rampant amongst the group. Though it takes a grueling 5-7 months to hike the AT, we figured this was just a trial run for hiking the entire AT—maybe even approaching record time. After all, we were a reasonably athletic crew.
Camping with the Cows at the G Farm provided both a comical misadventure with livestock but also highlighted the importance of regenerative farming for our food supply.
The group has held that having deranged weekends—aka Freakends—can serve as a tool for mental and physical health preservation and renewal. Our theory is that we are like Buddhist monks who spend countless hours in transcendent concentration creating intricate, beautiful sand mandalas—only to wipe them away, showing the transience of life, beauty, and everything in between.
Our theory makes a kernel of sense—if viewed through a smashed kaleidoscope.
As some sort of bizarre spin on the Buddhist spiritual tradition—we posit that if we spend months building ourselves into peak physical condition, it is cleansing to throw it all aside in the span of a weekend of hedonistic binge eating and drinking.
This doesn’t make complete rational sense—as it’d be better to find constant meaning through moderation and mindfulness. But I think there’s something to it. It’s important to live healthily and take care of ourselves, but life is short—might as well burn things to the ground occasionally in the pursuit of a good story.
With that context, we wondered what we could pull off to make our AT trip as hedonistic and ridiculous as possible.
My grand idea was to put a mini keg of beer in my hiking backpack and offload some of my gear to the three others. I figured there could only have been a handful of people—maybe we’d be the first!—on the AT who had done something as ludicrous as lugging a mini keg around on the trail. It was our chance to make history. I was more than prepared for this sacrifice.
While I would have gone through it without hesitation at the Herculean task, we eventually nixed the idea.
As our late-October trek approached, Andrew proposed that instead of lugging around the significant weight of a mini keg, we settle for something more compact and buy a few bottles of liquor instead. A mini keg weighs roughly 13 pounds—however, I figured this would quickly lessen after one night of drinking lukewarm beers.
With some reluctance, I caved at Andrew’s suggestion. Thirteen pounds, in itself, is not an insurmountable weight. However, when added to an already-heavy camping gear, it does perhaps exceed foolishness.
While prescient, part of me still dreams of the shocked faces of fellow hikers seeing a group of dullards carting a mini keg up the mountains.
As our band of merry fools continued to prepare, we were continuously waylaid by the romantic pursuit of insanity.
As I was the only one with appropriate backpacking gear, we aptly decided it was important for the four of us to comprehensively talk through the equipment needed for a relatively safe trip.
Naturally, the planning was derailed by the sharing of a ridiculous gimp suit in our group chat. There was heavy momentum toward us buying cheap gimp suits we had found on Amazon. The sole rationale was the absurd notion of what would happen to someone’s brain if they stumbled upon four men in gimp gear trudging along the AT.
Just try to put your mind in the position of being on a remote trail beaming with great aspiration—the most extraordinary physical feat of your life surrounded by the near complete serenity of Appalachia—only to see four scantily clad gimps dragging a mini keg. Would your brain pop?
Beyond our puerile nature, there was another significant barrier to preparation—significant financial limitations.
Andrew was the sole one of us with a full-time job and a livable wage. Loeber had the least gear of us. We felt guilty about the proposition of him having to spend hundreds of dollars for the trip. We scrambled for ideas on how to lessen the costly burden of backwoods gear.
Among the monetary challenges was the discovery that Loeber did not own a pair of hiking boots. Though quite costly, we were aware that they were necessary for a journey on the AT.
Luckily, we had a solution.
My father, John, is a large man, easily above six feet with large, wide feet. Our dear Loeber, meanwhile, is often referred to as “Man Small.” He’s roughly 5’ 8’’ with the body of a cross-country runner (as he and Drake were in college). Comically, Loeber’s feet are approximately the same size as my father’s—classifying this so-called Man Small as a legitimate hobbit.
Due to PTO constraints and Loeber having to work Monday morning, we decided that a long weekend would have to be enough for our trek. So, on a Thursday morning in October, Loeber, Drake, and I made our way to Lafayette for our grand adventure; our trip would be somewhat condensed. After 12 odd hours of driving, we arrived at Andrew’s apartment.
We spent the night preparing in the most thoughtful way possible—devouring the delicious feast of gourmet tacos Andrew’s fiancé Sam had kindly prepared for us road-weary travelers while we gulped down bourbon.
At an unreasonable hour, we finally went to bed to get some sleep.
Drake and I claimed the futon bed, and Loeber slunk to the floor.
Sam and Andrew had rescued a blind, decrepit, and haggard chihuahua named Sabyr. Sadly, Sabyr had endured years of trauma and abuse before Andrew and Sam took him into their home and showed him love.
Throughout the night, I would wake to Sabyr rousing and then fearfully shaking in a blind circle around Loeber—perhaps as an act of grim canine prophecy.
Sabyr would eventually free himself from this mortal coil by casting himself off the foyer of Andrew’s parents' house. Rest in peace, King.
We realized the importance of departing early in the morning to give us adequate hiking time.
We urgently departed from Andrew’s apartment around noon to embark on our two-hour drive to the start of the AT, Springer Mountain. After some deliberations about taking Andrews’s Volkswagen CC, we decided it was better to take my Jeep.
This was a fortunate decision. The drive involved a tumultuous drive up treacherous dirt mountain roads. We did so while maniacally laughing as we violently bobbed around in our seats. There was little chance that Andrew’s sedan would have made it through the precarious conditions.
Finally, we arrived at the Springer Mountain trailhead.
We planned to head as deep into the mountain trail as possible until returning to our starting point in time to return Loeber to Wisconsin for a work shift.
Oddly enough, our desired midpoint before heading back was none other than the … Gooch Mountain Shelter. While our immature crew had no idea that Gooch Mountain existed before our arrival, its shelter was a distance of a mere 16 miles away—nothing less than a sign from god.
With fresh legs, we set off at a frantic pace, following the famous white blazes of the AT, marking the path every 70 feet or so. The 30 or so pounds of hiking gear each of us had in our packs barely slowed our step.
As we scampered up and down the challenging terrain, and goofed about, the raucous thunder of machine guns echoed about the mountains. We gleaned from fellow hikers that the start of the Appalachian Trail is near Camp Frank D. Merrill Army Base. Camp Merrill is a training ground for U.S. Army Rangers. The proximity to the AT provides a valuable setting for training exercises simulating harsh mountainous environments of foreign lands.
As we scampered along, telling deranged stories and arguing Seinfeldian-type absurdities, we were almost certain that we were catching glimpses of men in ghillie suits stealthily observing us.
It was a most heightened contradiction.
As dusk approached, we had already traversed a brisk nine miles through the mountainous terrain. After some debate, we decided it was time to make camp before making our final push to the Gooch. Though we were confident that we could make the last seven miles, we were concerned about the danger of hiking the rugged terrain in the dark.
Taking into context the group’s collective tendency towards insanity and overconfidence, we realized that if we were unsure if we should push forward, the scales probably tipped towards making camp.
We tracked back around a mile to Hawk Mountain, which had an enclosed shelter for backpackers accompanied by space for a few dozen tents. We discovered that there was an outdoor pit toilet some several hundred feet further down the trail. Admittedly, while I am a fervent outdoor enthusiast, the prospect of digging a hole, shitting in it, and burying it were less than appealing.
For the most part, the gang (and most of those living in affluent societies) felt the same way.
As our trip was in October of 2020, COVID precautions were still top of mind. The pit toilet itself was a semi-open aired, austere structure. There was no door to the toilet, only an entrance in which anyone could stumble upon you at any given moment.
The entrance was adorned with a message from the National Park Service noting that the toilet was closed indefinitely due to the ongoing pandemic. We paid little heed to this warning, as a solitary, open-aired toilet hardly seemed like a breeding ground for SARS-CoV-2.
One-by-one, each of us utilized our blessed discovery. After trudging along through dense mountainous woods with few available scenic openings, we all came to the same conclusion: The view from the bathroom was by far the most picturesque thus far.
The toilet faced an open gap in the foliage where one could appreciate the rolling mountains of North Georgia. The fall colors created a beautiful mosaic highlighting the Appalachian Mountains' natural wonder.
We made camp several hundred feet from the trail shelter. Even though the shelter would have theoretically served our purpose quite well, we were cognizant that the dozen or so hikers that had made camp for the night would likely have found our hedonism troubling. We set camp on a nearby secluded hillside.
In A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson decries an obnoxious group of hikers who drank and partied the night away in a trail shelter. This was part of the reasoning for finding a solitary site—we were fully aware of our clownish behavior—and that it shouldn’t damage the transcendental experience of anyone else hiking the AT.
We set up our tents—including the family-sized tent I jammed into my hiking backpack and Andrew’s more suitably sized one-person hiking tent.
As temperatures plummeted in the cool mountain night, we were hellbent on having enough heat for a ruckus. We set upon an hour-long frenzy to pick up every bit of dead timber we could find. On the AT, your firewood is whatever dead wood and sticks you collect. A normal, peaceful small mountainside fire was out of the question.
Being mindful of the danger of wildfires to local ecosystems, we carefully cleared the area of dead leaves and small kindling while keeping our campfire to a relatively small inferno.
As night fell, Andrew prepared a feast of Meal Replacement Equivalents (MREs), along with an abundant supply of tuna and Velveeta mac and cheese.
In lieu of our mini-keg, we cracked open our bottle of rum, taking pulls from the bottle while Andrew cooked over a small propane camping stove.
While gathered around our brushwood bonfire, a wayward hiker asked if it was cool if he set up his campsite 30 or so feet from ours. Reluctantly, we said it was cool.
Out of respect for the latecomer, we endeavored to keep relatively quiet for the night.
We each crafted chairs out of dead wood and began our feast. We, at first, enjoyed the MREs; however, their saltiness became overbearing. Our focus then turned to devouring the tuna mac and cheese.
Wrapped in a libation-fueled sense of warmth and peace—and a ravenous appetite fueled by a strenuous day of physical activity, we murmured about how the tuna mac tasted as the gods themselves had cooked it.
Having already been waylaid by terror by a bovine rampage earlier in the summer, Loeber shared some of his other most profound fears. One was his fear of open waters. Then he described his greatest fear as a fear of dark spaces, where you cannot see what lurks just beyond your illuminated line of sight—whether it be bears, people, or something worse. This was eerily similar to our current circumstances.
Was Man Small right? Should we be afraid?
Visions of long, dark figures crept into my head.
Loeber had also neglected to bring warm enough clothes for the cool mountain night. Despite loaning him an extra sweater that I had brought, he began to shiver as our fire died down. We decided it was a good time to go turn in. We locked our food in a nearby bear box and went to bed.
As the sun crawled over the mountain horizon, I was wrenched from the peaceful grip of sleep by clattering noises reverberating throughout the mountain in the early morning hours.
Every five minutes or so, a strange hacking noise sounded out nearby. I had little idea what was creating the awful noise but was thoroughly annoyed.
Eventually, I resigned to the fact that I would not be able to sleep any longer and emerged from our tent.
I quickly realized that the coarse hacking noises were nothing ethereal but, in fact, were coming from our neighbor.
Our fellow mountaineer also had decided that the serenity of nature wasn’t something to take on with sobriety.
He sat affixed in the door of his tent, with a bong in his lap. Every five minutes or so, he would take a hit and proceed to cough violently. Andrew soon crawled from his tent, and we commiserated about the stoned man stirring us from our sleep.
Though I can only imagine how high he was after taking hits from his bong throughout dawn, our interloper turned out to be quite friendly.
He told us about how he hikes on the AT most weekends. Most notably, he shared how he woke one morning on the AT in Virginia amidst the dense fog. Finding himself bewildered in the diminished visibility, he sought a place to relieve himself. After some time, he found a sufficiently secluded sight.
A few hours later, the rest of his caravan rose from their slumbers.
After the rest of his caravan sprung from their tents, he heard the cries of several people declaiming the audacity of who would have the nerve to take a shit in the middle of the AT.
It was apparent that in—what I assume was a weed-fueled quest to relieve himself—he circled back onto the trail. He noted that none of his friends knew the true culprit. So, I suppose this revelation is a slight betrayal to our stealth shitter.
He set off on his own, and we wished him godspeed.
After wishing the lifted site mate farewell, Drake and Loeber crawled out of their tents—with Loeber pretending the tent was giving birth to him.
We divided the tasks needed before resuming the quest for the Gooch.
We packed up our tents. Andrew chucked a massive stone that was lodged under his tent. We cackled, knowing that he had slept on a large rock all night. Though there was some precedence for our gleefulness.
Andrew, Drake, and Loeber were roommates in college. Each time I visited, I would grab a Coors tall boy from the fridge and tuck it under Andrew’s pillow. Eventually, this lost its luster, and I needed something more.
So I placed a Coors under Andrew’s mattress. To my shock, the next time I visited, the Coors tall boy was still there. Each visit, I would add another Coors. The bed began to have a visible lump. One day, Drake, angry that Andrew was being an “asshat,” put a six-pack of beer bottles under the bed.
Andrew began to complain of back pain and started sleeping on the couch.
Finally, upon graduating, the four had to move out of their apartment, aka “Man Mountain.” As Drake was cleaning, he heard a dozen or so beer bottles and cans crashing on the floor and Andrew yelling, “What the Fuck!” He had finally discovered the beer bed.
Now, on a new Man Mountain, nature had also successfully pranked Andrew.
As Andrew cooked our morning meal, Drake and I went to refill the various assortment of water bottles that we had stuffed into our packs. However, this simple task had its own challenge.
At my instruction, Loeber and Andrew brought life straws for the trip; however, we quickly realized that they were somewhat useless. Lacking a reservoir, they were of most use when used to drink directly from a water source, such as a river. As we would lose direct access to water once resuming our hike, a filtration-as-you-go system was of little utility.
Drake and I headed to a nearby riverbed with the one-gallon-sized filtration system that we had brought. Each gallon took an agonizing 30-40 minutes to filter. Had we had another bag or two, the process would have been much less fraught. However, it took well over an hour to secure our fresh water for the day—meaning we would again leave later than we had hoped.
We departed mid-morning—still confident that we would easily reach our destination with plenty of daylight left to turn back and make a significant amount of progress back to the trailhead.
A cold dose of reality soon slapped us in the face.
Our packs which had seemed so light the day before felt like boulders on our now tired shoulders. Our legs burned with each step. The crew fell into a semi-silent grumble as our fatigue snowballed.
Our bodies ached with pain with each step up and down the steep trail. Our quest for the Gooch felt less attainable by the hour. Nonetheless, we made a steady pace for the next several hours. After an agonizing crawl up Sassafras Mountain, we were heartened by a small opening in the treeline revealing a stunning landscape.
Despite only being a mile or so away from our destination, we succumbed to the prudence of turning around for a return trip to Hawk Mountain. We surmised that if we left now, we could make it back by dusk.
We also had left behind a brush pile of wood that we had not burned the night before, which would give us some extra time in the night.
Before turning back, Loeber took off his boot and waved it about, chuckling as the sole of the boot hung by a thread. I took some Gorilla Glue out of my pack and fused Loeber’s shoe back together.
We started heading back in good spirits, laughing about how we were such a ramshackle crew that our gear was literally being held together by glue.
Knowing that we had a feast and drunken revelry ahead of us, we had some extra bounce in our step and made it back to Hawk Mountain before dusk. To our pleasure, no hikers had claimed our secluded site nor our woodpile.
After setting up our tents for the night, the four of us ventured back to the riverbed to gather cooking and drinking water for the night. On our way, we passed a platoon of heavily armed young men in ghillie suits. Army Rangers in training nodded at us uncomfortably.
We refilled our water and prepared a fresh feast and fire. No longer needing to contain our delirium—due to an absence of nearby campers, we broke out the tequila and prepared a feast of tuna mac.
The sound of machine gun fire began to rip through the mountains. With a comical air of nonchalance, we once again began relishing in the deliciousness of mediocre mac and cheese with tuna.
As darkness returned, the clapping of gunfire grew closer and closer. We joked about the dark absurdity of getting gunned down drunk and cackling on the Appalachian Trail.
As we became encompassed entirely in darkness, the gunfire drew to the immediate surroundings of our site. Suddenly, ghillie Suited men were swarming all around us, casting eerie red shadows with red headlamps.
The ghillie men continued some sort of bizarre training exercise, firing blank rounds of automatic weapons at some kind of imaginary enemy into the darkness of night—looking somewhat perplexed at us as we howled with laughter while watching the spectacle.
I assume that the Rangers were somewhat befuddled to stumble upon us, as most hikers spent the night in the immediate surroundings of the shelter some several hundred feet away—then again, we were not most Appalachian trail hikers.
We chuckled about the comic nature of some of the most advanced military special forces conducting training exercises in the immediate vicinity of four drunken morons feasting on tuna mac and swilling on tequila.
We guffawed into the deep night, telling stories of our other bizarre adventures and ideas for future deranged escapades before locking up our food and slinking off to our tents.
Once again, I stirred from my sleep just as the darkness of night gave way to the lighter shades of morning.
With my head positioned near the outer wall of our cramped tent, I heard an animal sniffing around my head. For a brief second, I was alarmed, thinking it may be a bear, but I quickly returned to a relaxed state.
Drake and I had heard the sounds of animals sniffing and huffing around our tent while camping in the Badlands. While we were quite certain that it was the sounds of a mountain lion or some other monstrous beast, when we examined our site in the morning—judging by the small pellets around our tent, it was readily apparent that the nocturnal beasts were just deer.
As the animal sniffed about, I rested assured that it was just another deer incident. After a little while, I crawled out of my tent.
I noticed that our gear was strewn about the site in a haphazard manner. As I examined the site, Andrew’s head emerged from his tent and asked, “Did you hear the bears in our site?”
We noticed that some of our gear had large tooth puncture marks. Campers from the shelter below checked in on us, asking if we were okay, and shared that three bears just came through their site. They showed us some of their water bottles punctured by the bears.
So apparently, I had a bear sniffing my head as I lay there too unconcerned to be bothered.
This time, we hit the trail early in the morning. Too early, as it turns out.
Loeber had to report to work at 7 a.m. the next day, so we had a hard out. Factoring in the looming 12-hour drive back to Wisconsin, we didn’t have much time to spare.
To save time, we only filled half of our water bottles up by the river. We figured that we had hiked from Springer Mountain to Hawk Mountain with relative ease, so we would have more than enough water. We were more concerned about the time. Mistake.
The temperature soon rose to an unseasonably warm mid-70s—our hiking was immediately labored. Each step soon felt like a monumental task. We also realized that the first day of hiking was easy, partially because it was mostly downhill. Now we were being punished with an uphill slog.
Profusely sweating from the strain of lugging heavy packs up the mountainsides, our pace was tremendously slower than the two previous days.
At the sight of familiar landmarks, we kept raising false hopes of near completion. Our water supply diminished quickly, and our hopes flagged. Part of me silently hoped we would cave to the collective strain and set camp for one more night, cutting the grueling journey with a night of sleep.
Earlier in the summer, during our Cows, Chaos, and Other Mania on a Regenerative Farm, we faced our harrowing First Great Dehydration. Now, we were feeling the consequences of our hasty morning departure.
Despite the impeccably well-marked nature of the AT’s white blazes, we found ourselves tramping through increasingly thick brambles. As ridiculous and unprepared as I am on the surface, I do have some survival skills in the dark recesses of my brain. I recalled that if you are lost in the woods, the more traveled a trail is, the less thicket and brush it will have—and the more traveled a trail is, the closer to civilization you are getting.
With this knowledge, I cautioned the group that we were off course. Andrew crankily exclaimed that we had passed our current trajectory on the way in, so we were still on the right trail.
Eventually, the brush grew too thick to pass. Andrew admitted that he was no longer certain we were on the right path. And to Andrew’s defense, all of our critical thinking skills and patience were wearing thin.
As our predicament worsened, I was so bewildered and frustrated that I wanted to cry—I think this feeling was universal in the group.
We retraced our steps and found the AT again. After another grueling couple of hours, we finally reached the trailhead with a profound sense of relief. Andrew exclaimed, “That was the hardest thing I have ever done!” We all scoffed at the remark—but in hindsight, maybe he was right.
We cast off our backpacks and stumbled into the car. We chugged Gatorades I had left for our return drive, but it was not enough to quench our delirious thirst.
As the Jeep drove down the mountain road, we sat in solemn silence.
I began to feel worse and worse.
Finally, we emerged onto a paved road, and we made our way back to Andrew’s apartment.
On the way to a gas station to get more liquids, I traveled through a roundabout and circled several times before heading in the correct direction. I—and we—realized that I was no longer fit to drive.
After buying several sports drinks each, to my relief, Andrew took over driving. Andrew zipped through Atlanta traffic at—for any police reading this—a totally legal speed.
We arrived at the apartment and helped Andrew take in the supplies he had brought. At this point, my physical unwellness was reaching a climax. Extremely nauseous and exhausted, I wanted nothing more than to collapse on Andrew and Sam’s futon. However, we still needed to get Loeber back to Wisconsin in time for work.
I asked Sam if they had any Alka-Seltzer. With a concerned face—clearly aware of my precarious physical condition—she said they did not but improvised and gave me baking soda water. I gulped it down and felt even more nauseous, and stumbled back to the Jeep as Drake took over driving, and I collapsed into the back seat.
Drake and Loeber decided it was a good idea to get food before heading back from Atlanta. So, in the interest of time, Drake pulled into a McDonald’s parking lot. Loeber asked if I wanted anything, and I replied that I was too sick to eat anything.
They returned with extra fries “just in case I get hungry” and resumed our return journey.
As Drake negotiated the chaotic mess that is Atlanta traffic, Loeber was in charge of directions.
I was deliriously slumped over in the back, growing ever more despondent as I heard Drake’s frustration rise over Loeber’s substandard directional guidance. Loeber chuckled that he would be “a better navigator as soon as I finish my burger.” To this day, anytime a friend gives a wrong direction, we exclaim, “I’ll be a better navigator as soon as I finish my burger!”
After a few hours, I began to feel better, and the cheerfulness returned to the car. Impressed with both our achievements and comical blunders, a sense of accomplishment came over us.
Over halfway through our return trip, nearing midnight, it was time for a gas stop. Drake pulled off the highway northwest of Indiana and pulled into the first gas station he could find … a strange place dubbed Bonkerz.
Already chortling over the absurd name and comic sans-esque sign for Bonkerz, we took a restroom and snack break.
The men's bathroom was cordoned off with caution tape. While I doubt that Bonkerz is a bastion of gender inclusivity, the women’s bathrooms served as the all-sex bathroom. Drake ventured into the bathroom first; after he left, I passed him, and he muttered, “the bathroom is fucked.”
And, yes, the bathroom was fucked. All matter of human and nonhuman waste was in the toilet. The walls were smeared with grime. A condom dispenser exclaimed the availability of Rough Rider studded condoms. I can only imagine the fear of the victims of those who purchased Rough Riders from a Bonkerz bathroom.
After leaving the bathroom, as Loeber passed me, I muttered, “good luck,” and I heard Loeber say, “Why would I need good lu—OH GOD!”
Indeed—What god would let the Bonkerz bathroom happen?
Returning to the car, Drake shared that when he purchased snacks, the Albino cashier with a bowl cut did not mutter a single word but only stared at him.
We speculated that if the women's bathroom was as heinous as it was, we could only fathom what lay within the men’s bathroom. Even the dark recesses of our minds shuddered at the thought. Did the cashier kill someone and hastily stuff the body in the bathroom? Probably.
Around five in the morning, we dropped Loeber off back in Watertown—aka Watertucky—Wisconsin. We wished Loeber good luck on his sleepless workday.
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