Saturday, April 10, 1999

Before I began this hike, I had some expectations about some of the things that might happen.  I believed that as my body got in shape and my mind adjusted to the rhythms of the trail that this journey would get easier.  I thought it would happen within a week.  I think I have to change my expectations.  Every day this seems to get more difficult emotionally more than physically.  If it were possible to quit and walk off the trail today I would have.  I’m surprised that my desire to quit has already settled in. 

The sun beat down on me at 83-degrees.  Sweat poured out of my pores soaking even into my backpack.  I was a living stream of sweat.  As I hiked up Kelly Knob (4,270’) I had to take several pause to wring out my sweat soaked shirt and to change out my shorts.  I realized that wet skin is more prone to chaffing and I started to feel raw skin in new places.  I felt frustrated and discouraged that I wasn’t stronger physically and emotionally. Then as I tried to drink from my water supply I realized I was on empty.  I opened up my map and try to see where I would get resupplied and noticed I had to fight to the top of the mountain and get to the other side to find relief. Where is my instant gratification? Deep breath, and then move forward because there is nothing else I can do.

As I pounded my feet up the dirt trail I started to feel nauseas.  I took more and more breaks but was tired of taking breaks.  I noticed my energy level fading.  I got tired of praying for strength.  I knew this wasn’t a life and death situation but I was tired of sweating, tired of it looking as if I was not making any progress in the climb, tired of false summits and turns in the trail and tired of the challenge.  I was tired of being alone.  So I sat down because my emotions were overwhelming me. Stray caught up to me and then never left my side as he struggled also with his massive burden on his back.  Its possible that this is hurting him more than me. The top of the mountain just never seemed to come. 

When we got to the top Kelly Knob we took off our shoes and I removed my moleskin from under my arch.  Both of my heels are raw and bloody.  My socks were sticking to the fresh wounds but I needed the socks off to get the balled up skin inside.  I tried to cover it with mole-skin, mole foam, second skin, Band-Aids, Blistex, Duct tape and everything else I could find in my backpack, but none seem to be able to remain in place once I start walking.  Once I start hiking, my sweat soaks them and they slide off.  My boots feel like clogs rubbing my feet with fire with ever step.  Blood covers the back of each sock staining them.  I wash them out but I don’t have much opportunity to keep them sterile and I don’t carry extra pairs.  As the pain continues I’m not getting used to it but I am getting tired of verbalizing it. Complaining isn’t helping me move forward and just discourages me more.  My hope is that my brain will see that it’s no use complaining so it will begin to ignore the sensory input.  

Everyone in the group ended their day at the Deep Gap shelter which was buzzing with people and noise moving in many directions. Getting into the shelter later than everyone caused a small problem for Stray and I.  The shelter had been taken over by a boy scout troop that was out on a weekend adventure. There were a dozen boys running around playing tag, throwing rocks and sticks, yelling, laughing, and having fun. I love that they were out experiencing nature and bonding with each other. I’m jealous of them because it’s something I never experienced at their age. And it wasn’t what I wanted to be around. So Stray and I purified a few liters of water and shuffled our sore feet another mile down the trail until the two of us found a mountaintop view that had good tenting flat spots.  

Over the last week I hiked 64 miles.  I know the number is pretty small but I’m so proud of what I’ve done and that I haven’t left the trial. Every day since my first day I’ve heard from others that people keep leaving the trail for home.  I completely understand why.  And I have seen God in the trees and sky.  I’ve connected to God as I’ve connected with others. And I thank God for filling me and bringing me through my first full week.  

As Stray and I let darkness come over us, we felt a little isolated. I laid in my tent down and began to set up the poles and place the stakes.  We hung our bear bags from a nearby tree and wondered how many bears, mountain lions, and flesh-eating deer might be watching us, just waiting for us to settle down.  

A few months ago when I was in Israel I went to a mountain top called Masada.  “Masada”in Hebrew means “the top, the summit of a mountain, a place difficult to access.” As we sat in our tent, I turned on my headlamp and I spent time reading in my Bible, I read Psalms 18. The author David wrote “I love thee, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock (My Masada) and my fortress and my deliverer. My God, my rock in whom I take refuge; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”  The sounds of the wind blowing through trees and tree frogs calling out were the soundtrack to my sleep.  I do trust in my Masada.  

Sunday, April 11, 1999

I woke up to a  bright crisp morning with the sun warming the trees.  It was a morning you just smile and you don’t want to get out of bed and lose the moment.  I waited until I heard Stray moving for me to get up.  I just laid in my cozy sleeping bag with a smile at where I was and what I was doing.  Once Stray started talking I got up, made my standard instant oatmeal and coffee on my Primus burner.  I packed up the tent and collapsed my life into my backpack before hiking three miles to the nearest road intersection.  When I got there a phone booth was in a parking lot and I called the Blueberry Patch hostel a few miles away.  I had a package waiting for me there and mail.  

            Gary the owner drove out and picked up a group of us that were waiting and took us back to their place to stay.  They have a bunkhouse and showers for hikers to rest and get refreshed.  I took my first shower since beginning my hike.  It washed more than dirt away, it washed exhaustion off my body.  As I stood there I had the feeling that I was in the exact place I need to be in my life.  I had no doubts or anxiety.  I was where I needed to be, where God wanted me, and doing the things God wanted.  As soon as I showered I put on my best clothes, black fleece pants, long sleeve black shirt, and my black hiking boots. I trekked back up to the main road and started to hitchhike into Hiawassee, GA to try and go to any church I could find. 

The name of the town “Hiawasse” was the name of a Cherokee Princess who was in love with a Creek warrior. Because of the animosity between the two groups, they were forbidden to be together and marry.  So they did what young love does, they ran off and killed themselves.  “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” I hear them say.  I read some information that tried to tell me that it’s important for me to believe that this was not an emotional compulsive decision they made but one based on wisdom and maturity.  Who wrote that propaganda?  I’m, not buying into that.  I totally get compulsivity, I’ve done it way too many times and I bet I would do it again for love.  And why did the town think that was a great name to wrap their town name around?  

Cars whizzed by one after the other for ten minutes as I had my thumb stuck out but no one even turned their head to acknowledge me.  So I prayed “God, if you want me to go to church, you stop the right car.”  The next truck coming by stopped.  An older couple pulled over and rolled down their windows.  The gentleman with white hair and a grizzled voice asked where I wanted to go.  I told him I was heading to church, any church on his way.  They were heading to church themselves so together we went to the North Mt. Zion church of God.  They told me they saw my Bible in hand and had to pick me up.  I never mentioned what I was carrying was my black journal, I didn’t want to cause any doubt on their part. 

The people in the church are warm and inviting to me even though I was not dressed up in a suite and tie like every other man. Many of the men can pass for being a Televangelist with their plastic haircuts and perfected grins.  Having lived in Mississippi for a few years I came to understand the culture of dressing up and the sideways glances for those that didn’t. If there were any critical looks, I just pushed past them and shook hands with everyone I came near and smiled warmly to them.  It doesn’t take much to break fragile masks and to make friends.  I think most people just need a little help getting past themselves.   

As soon as I took my seat, the church began to fill with the sounds of thumping drums, a wailing guitar, and a banging piano that brought southern gospel alive in this church.  The people in the pews dancing, clapping loudly and singing full open praise to Jesus.  This isn’t a spectator event but a full participation activity.  Then there is the choir in their robes flowing and swaying as they jump and shout.  I feel like I’m sitting at the Bear Jamboree at Disneyland. What a fun time!  The piano player pounding out the notes with one hand and waves the other in joy.  This is a celebration.

After church I met Rudy Roach who was kind enough to drive me back to the Blueberry Patch.  He is a man who has lived in Hiawassee his whole life and loves the town with his every bone.  For 19 years he was the sheriff as “a matter of course and not desire,”as he put it.  He was working part time for the original sheriff when that man got busted for drug running.  He kept his head down and tried to stay out of the spot light but one day the Governor of Georgia notices him and appoints Rudy as the new man in town.  The man to lead the community, the head honcho.  The city did not have a strong presence of law and authority, so many people in the community pushed back.  There were shoot outs and gang rebellions and that led to public outbursts and frustrations.  A few of the stories he told me sounding like he was living in the rebellious wild west.  

He just kept driving around the town and sharing more and more with me.  For 19 years he worked and fought to make this a place people could raise their families in peace.  When he finally stepped down from office he left the city nationally recognized as the “safest town in the states.”He said that most difficult part of his job was seeing innocent kids murdered and all the suicides that took place over the years.  There was never a holiday that he did not think of those that passed away. They began to haunt him and consume his nights when he was alone.  

  He took much of the job deeply to heart and allowed it to consume his time and energy. It was so hard on him and his family that it split it up.  He has two daughters, 23 and 25, both high school teachers.  He is now into real estate watching the city grow in tourism. The area has transformed and is now seen as a safe destination for young families who are wanting to raise kids in. 

It is an beautiful valley with colorful mountains and a peaceful meandering lake.  Rudy told me that he is a lonely man, that when he puts his head to the pillow at night and waits for sleep to take him, the images of the dead still fill his mind. But in the end he still clings to his rock, the faithfulness of God.  We finally made it back to the Blueberry Patch and he gave me a big hug as we said our farewells.

The Blueberry Patchhostel is great, for $17 they give you a straw bunk bed mattress to sleep on and they feed you a huge blueberry pancake breakfast with their own blueberry syrup that is sweet and tangy amazing.   Homemade biscuits, hash-browns, sausage, and eggs are equally wonderful but they only play a supporting roll in the meal.  We had orange juice and real coffee, real coffee.   And we all sat and ate like a big family sharing stories, telling jokes, laughing and enjoying each moment with each other.  Michael Card music is playing in the background to feed the soul.   I took a second shower and dressed in fresh clean clothes that they had laundered for me.  Gary and his wife Lennie run the Hostel which gives them time to farm their blueberries and other organic vegetables.  They are a wonderful generous couple who thru-hiked with their son nine years ago.

This is land that the Cherokees once lived on. When they were moved against their will to Oklahoma the state of Georgia knew what to do with the land.  Through a lottery system they distributed the lands to men who would develop plantations.  The Appalachian Mountains cut right through the land that were once the Cherokees and continues north.  They are named the mountains after the Apalachee Indians who lived in what is now Northwest Florida, near the capitol of the state, Tallahassee.  The tribe was known for being great farmers and great warriors, but they are now extinct with the mountain range name only a quiz question for elementary students.  

In my free time I sat with all my equipment and supplies spread out on my bed and tried to thin down the weight.  I am carrying too much.  This weight is jarring my bones and muscles, this is not a sustainable pattern.  If I can’t shed weight off my back, I won’t make it 2000 miles.  I left more trail mix realizing I would never eat it.  I ionly carried huge bag of it for emergency hunger.  But of it hasn’t happened yet it has to be placed in the trash.  I then looked at the New Testament Bible I was carrying. Was I really going to read the entire book over this hike?  Why not choose the books I wanted to read and get rid of the rest?  So with a razor blade I extracted the books I wasn’t going to read over the next months.  A few hikers were deeply offended that I would cut the Bible.  I asked if they wanted to books I was removing and they declined.  They didn’t read the Bible but believed there was power there and believed instinctively that I could get in trouble for what I was doing.  That was very interesting to me.

I didn’t have the finances to stay a second night though I would have loved to have another celebration breakfast, so I got a ride back to the trail just before sunset.  Many of the others hikers I’ve come to know came also, reluctantly.  

Tuesday, April 13, 1999

I use a RidgeRest foam pad to sleep on.  It doesn’t seem to help much on the hard floors of the shelter.  Every night I toss and turn, roll and flop, and then shift and shuffle trying to find a comfortable position all the while praying for sleep to come. I’m not alone in my discomfort. I heard Stray toss around most of the night also.  He told me in the morning that the reason he struggled to sleep was because of fear. He said he was laying under a black widow spider nest full of pulsating eggs.  He saw mamma sitting next to the sac just staring at him.  He was scared to kill the spider so he dug down deeper into his sleeping bag, but then he kept his eyes staring at her, never blinking his eyes, focused on her and her sac of babies.  All night fearing the hatching would come and they would be hungry. 

Moses was another who also struggle through the night.  He had an accident in his sleeping bag in the middle of the night and then it chilled him as the temperature dropped in the early hours.  He got up early before dawn, packed his equipment up, and then hiked back four miles to the road.  He made the public excuse that he left his credit cards back in town, embarrassed.  When he got there, he didn’t have to wait too long until he was able to hitchhike back to town to wash and dry his bag at a laundry mat.  My heart hurt for him as he had to work through the shame of something he could not control.  He was sad to leave the group knowing it might be a few days before we would see him again.

The trees were filled with mist when I woke up and the air was cold and beautifully brisk.  A gentle breeze swirled the mist into dances while the sun fought to shine through. I felt accomplished as I crossed into my second state on this journey.  Leaving Georgia, I enter into North Carolina! The official state boundary sign has been stolen so many times by people that nobody replaces it anymore.  I was told to look for a large gnarled oak in the middle of the trail and that is the state boundary marker.  As a welcome from the new state I was thrown a tough steep mountain climb party.  I sweated and pounded up the trail only to receive no summit views. It appears that this new state isn’t going to reward me anymore for my work than the previous one.  The trail was covered with fun overgrown rhododendrons with the trail running through them like tunnels.  Bluets and Spring Beauties started to carpet the hillsides with their tiny flowers letting me know spring is coming.  If it weren’t for these flowers it would look like fall with the mountains still covered in fallen brown leaves waiting to decay or for someone to rake.  And the skeleton trees gave no shade or comfort.

When I arrived at Indian Mountain Shelter, hikers were talking about how there were some pretty aggressive mice nesting there and to be on guard.  I was warned to set up traps, hang all bags, and to always keep both eyes open at all moments.  Apparently they like to get in sleeping bags, crawl in people’s hair and jump up and down on sleeping heads.  I decided that the shelter might not be for me.  I’m such a light sleeper that any noise from scurrying rodents and the fear of attacks in the dead of night would cause me just toss restlessly, so for me it was another tent night.  I sleep better in a tent but most times I just don’t want to set the thing up. At the end of the days hike I just crash physically and it is just one more chore that is optional.  There is usually room in the shelter for another sleeping bag but I know that in my tent I will sleep in peace and have better rest.  Just a little more work allows me to sleep better, and in the morning I get to thank myself.

Wednesday, April 14, 1999

My first day of sleet came during the night and the cold air in the morning woke me up.  I hunkered down deeper into the depths of my sleeping bag seeking warmth and comfort.  The cold seemed to be sucking motivation for hiking right out of me.  After a few minutes of talking to myself about the pros and cons of staying in my tent all day or hiking, I decided to at least look outside my tent.  I stuck my head out of the tent and saw that the weather was exactly what I thought it was. The wind was blowing cold air and stripping the blossoms off of trees. Ugh. I can’t stay here.  I’m bored.  So I got up and made a hot breakfast and coffee and that helped move me forward.  Sadly the weather didn’t get much better as the day progressed.  

Just as I was about to head out, Moses showed up for a very happy reunion.  After leaving the previous morning he made it to Hiawasse, got his sleeping bag washed and a laundromat, then ate a big lunch at Hardee’s.  He inhaled a big burger and biggie fries as if it was in a shot glass, and then started to hitchhike back to the trail.   An older man, around 55, who had been in line with him at Hardee’s recognized him and picked him up.  Just before they got to the gap where Moses would get out, the man turned to him and asked Moses for some sexual favors.  Moses, with his natural bug eyes said they nearly popped out of his head. His jaw dropped, he panicked, fear rose up his body, he sat in silence processing what to do, stared straight ahead stunned, then put his hand on his fanny pack and thought about jumping out of the moving truck if he had to.  When they got to the gap the man pulled the truck over and parked.  He turned to Moses and ask again, this time placing his hand on Moses’ left knee.  Moses quickly replied in a shaking voice, “I’m batting for the other team.”  He then jumped out as fast as he could, slinking away under the mans hand, turned to the truck bed and grabbed his pack out as fast as he could.  His mind was whirling with fear and embarrassment and kept his eyes on the truck to see if the man might come after him.  He ran into the woods, he hiked another 13 on top of the 4 ½ he began the day with to make sure he was far away from that man. He kept thinking the whole time, “just get me back to the mountains and forest where things are safe.”

I’ve been a little discouraged the last two weeks at the lack of scenic views when you get to the top of a mountain.  As you labor with each step up a mountain you focus your eyes on where you will place your steps.  You are always looking down.  Placing your feet onto the rocks you want to step on and which ones to not step on so your ankle doesn’t roll.  You look for tree roots that could trip you and holes or snakes that could cause problems. You look down more of than you look up. And when climbing a mountain you put your head down and just power up the trail as sweat drips down your face. 

So when you come to a mountain top, you want to take a deep breath.  You want to take your pack nemesis off for a few minutes to rest.  To take a big drink of water that your body is craving. Maybe eat a snack.  And your eyes look for something to rest themselves on that fills them with something other than the dirt and rocks they have been focused on. Clouds, sweeping mountains, the big picture.  Something to fill your soul.  To make the pain seem that it was worth it.  

And then I climbed the tallest mountain on the trail so far, Indian Mountain.  It stands at 5,498 feet and it gave me the best view, I got what I was craving. YES!!  I celebrated as I took in the view at the bald spot on the peak where a fire tower used to be located.  It was once used as a spotting station for lonely men to look for fires. I don’t know which would be worse, to man a fire tower or a lighthouse?  I’ve heard once that British Lighthouse keepers would eat their candles in their isolation and that was just common knowledge.  You work alone, you must eat candles. 

The candles were not the wax that I melted on ants when I was a kid, they were made of tallow, a the nearly colorless, tasteless solid extract from animal or vegetable fat.  Still not making me want to try them.  I’ve read that there are accounts of starving Roman soldiers consuming their candle rations as a normal practice.   Did these men just not know how to cook?  Did they not care about flavor?  Was it like eating rice cakes?  Maybe it was an early version of gum, it was just something to put in your mouth.  

If this was an issue of starvation I could completely understand.  But were they eating it like beef jerky, just gnawing on it?  Did they just not want to spend time cooking?  What am I missing?  Are they in fact a culinary secret?  Is it like eating a bacon stick?  That would be amazing.  Bacon sticks. I cannot stop thinking about food.

With all the weight that Stray carries in his pack, its taking a toll on his ankle.  It has been hurting him for a few days and he has developed a noticeable limp as he walks down the trail.  The two of us stopped in at Carter Gap shelter after a seven-mile hike limp and he was done for the day.  I started to wonder what my responsibility to him was.  Do I stay with him?  I really enjoy him and I want to keep growing a friendship with him, and I want to cover more miles to stay on schedule.  Is this trip about my goals or about relationships?  I guess I have to decide what my goals are for this trip.  It is to journey north and see what God is going to do or is it to experience everything in front of me as what God is doing? 

I will stay with Stray.  He is more important than my goals, it’s only a day.  Tomorrow he decided that he would detour down a side trail we saw on the map to get to a road where he would then be able to hitchhike into Franklin, NC.  There he would be able to find a medical center to have an x-ray taken of his ankle which would give us answers.  Nine days I have hiked with this man and I feel like I have really bonded with him. I really like him.  I am not ready for our journey to end with him.  It is so hard to find good friends in this world. It’s easy to feel lonely and yet it’s hard to really enjoy and connect with others.  I don’t understand.

Thursday, April 15, 1999

The sound of rain tapping on my tent woke me up. Why don’t I want to get wet?  I’m just going to sweat all day and be soaked one way or another.  I don’t know why this makes me move slower and steals any desire to hike.  Maybe its because I don’t want to pack up a wet tent and then carry soaking equipment.  My pack is heavy enough without adding to it 5 pounds of water weight. And I can’t stay and wait this out because I have no idea of this will continue for the next week.  If I don’t hike I will slowly starve to death and who really wants that to happen?  Ugh.  I feel forced to face the thing I dread the most. My attitude is soured.

So what can I do to change my attitude?  I do like the feel of the water pellets hitting my face.  I like that it’s not boiling hot.  I like the look of the clouds nesting amongst the trees.  I like the smell of wet leaves, trees, and dirt in the air.  It reminds me of growing up in Oregon which is mostly good memories. This helps a little but I still hate hiking with wet boots. And I already hate my boots.  I hate them.  I hate my boots.  I hate blisters and blame my boots.  

When I began this hike I knew two other people who were attempting it also, Dawn Treader named after a book by his favorite author C. S. Lewis and his wife Shiver, because she is always cold.  I caught up to them today as they were sitting beside the trail eating a block of cheddar cheese.  Even though they had left a few weeks earlier because he is recovering from pneumonia, the two of them have been going very slow to allow him to heal and let his strength return. I went to Grad School with them but never really spent time with them, I don’t know that I would call them friends but I always thought they were nice.  We just didn’t have common friends or run in the same circles.  I had wondered when I might run across them and see if I would be able to get to know them and see if we might enjoy each other.  They seem like a great couple.

Stray and I separated, he decided to take a shortcut and we planned on just meeting up in Franklin.  I’m concerned for him.  He was really hurting today.  He was walking slow and had the look of pain on his face. 

Friday, April 16, 1999

Franklin, N.C.

Nothing gets me more excited as when I walk into a post office.  I stand in line, my emotions growing stronger.  I always have a good idea about what will be in my food box but it’s the unknown that gets me excited.  Letters from friends and family are starting to come in and that fill my heart more than any view or summit.  I am so grateful for those who have sent cards or e-mail through Alison my food dealer and also my mom.

My friend Alison gets a call from me every week as we talk about my schedule and what to put in my food box.  I had 6 months of food set aside in boxes and in a freezer and she goes and fills the order for me.  She resupplies my Advil or any other equipment I might need.  She is the kindest woman and I couldn’t do this trip without her.  

As I walked into a restaurant to grab a meal last night I saw several couples carrying in six-packs of different beer with them.  They were seated without anything spoken about the beer, and when they got to their table they set the beer either at their feet of  on the side of the table.  Glasses were brought out for them by a waitress and then they opened and filled them themselves.  What is going on?   I had to know, so I walked over to one of the families and asked what kind of crazy was happening.  

It turns out that Franklin used to be a dry town until just recently when the law was overturned at a city election.  They still can’t serve beer in restaurants but customers are allowed to bring in their own beer and they will give you a glass and charge you a $1.00 corking fee.  They will even bring out for you a bucket of ice to put your beer in, they just can’t sell it.  The exception is that they can sell other alcohol like rum and coke, Bailey’s in coffee, Bloody Mary’s and Margaritas. This is not making much sense to me but I don’t think I curious enough to seek out more answers.  It’s funny enough to leave this one alone.  As long as it works for them.  

The Cherokees call Franklin “Nikwasi” a name that expresses their belief that this is where their ancestors originated at the beginning of time.  The Cherokee Indians thrived and grew and lived and built a network of villages bordered by natural barriers.  Daylong walks separated the villages.  They planted fields, gathered the nuts and berries, cured meat, smoked tobacco and lived a life that adhered to a high ethical standard.  The center of their life was “fire” to heat their homes and cook their food becoming the Cherokee word for “home.”  I like that.

I don’t know where Stray is, nobody’s seen him. I had his contact information so I know I could eventually find him.  I didn’t know what else to do so I started to hike again.  As my body began its rhythm my mind began to wander and to process.  Dwight Moody said, “character is what you are in the dark.”  I have been thinking about that these last few days.  There are dark places in my heart, in my life, of varying sizes and depths.  My mind began to think about a friend of mine back home and how they frustrated me. Then its like I was slapped across the face as I realized my hypocrisy.  I broke down in the middle of the woods in shame.  I have so many issues in my life.  Issues I had refused to look at back home, refused to even recognize.  I spend so much of my time hiding from the things I don’t want to look at.  I spend so much time filling my attention with anything that is exciting.  I just sobbed on the trail hoping nobody would come walking up on me.  I was ashamed. Ashamed of ignoring my conscience, choosing ignorance.  It is so much easier for me to pray for others because when I pray for myself I have to actually acknowledge that I need to submit before God. Every day I have to do this, not just once years ago.  Today I fell before God today and asked for forgiveness.

I knocked out my six miles today and had a great conversation with Gentleman Jim, a man who knows how to use his tongue full of colorful metaphors.  He is a 40-year-old man who has wanted to thru-hike for 19 years.  He tried it as a kid and quickly learned that ambition and abounding energy was not enough.  He tried it in jeans, T-shirt, a rubber tarp, and very little food which drove him off very quickly.  But he vowed he would try it again and succeed some day.  He is a civil engineer with a wife and an 11-year-old son back home in Cape Cod.  

His desire is to live up to his trail name because in the last several years he has seen a hardness grow inside him and he wants to learn again how to be kind and generous.  When he found out I was thinking of being a pastor his colorful language stopped rather quickly and he confessed to me that he taught Sunday school in a United Methodist church.  HA!  When his son was born he thought it would be a good thing to give his boy a “proper” Christian education so he got involved in the church.  His struggle and question to me was “how do you know the Jew’s didn’t steal the body of Jesus to keep him from being a martyr?” “That’s a good question, let’s talk more about it.” I answered.

 As we walked to Rainbow Springs on the road, his loud booming voice echoed off the hillside. “I don’t know if I can buy all that crap the church makes you do.”  

“I struggle with that too.” I replied.

He continued to ask question and to vent some frustrations he’s been carrying around inside.  I just walked beside him nodding my head and affirming his struggles. He didn’t want to listen, he just wanted to talk and see if I was going to argue or try to fix him.  I was very content just being a sounding board for him. My goal in life is not to correct people or to fix what I might see needs to be fixed.  I don’t feel more superior shoving my beliefs down others throats.  I don’t even think its my job to defend Jesus.  I would have loved to share with him that there is more than a head knowledge and that there is an intimacy that God is desiring to offer each of us, but he didn’t have any desire to hear that yet.  He just wanted to vent.  

There is another hiker on the trail who goes by the name of Bible Bill.  People have told me that he tries to talk with everyone at the shelters to “save the lost and free their souls.”  He is loud, forward, combative, and has stepped on numerous toes.  Several people have charged after me when they discover that I’m a Christian because they’ve been damaged by him. I’m guilty by association.  It gets frustrating since I haven’t even met the guy, I am not like him, and I don’t even want to meet him.  I think that most people are searching for something, some peace, answers, a higher power… and Bible Bill headlocks them and gives them a Bible pile driver (wrestling slam) to set them straight.  Ugh.  Why do some people do that?  Many people close doors to a friendship with me before I open my mouth just because I believe in the same God has him.  I have to believe that God loves him and will use him to have some sphere of influence, someone that he can connect to.  But I also see in his wake people who become a little harder in their heart to Jesus.  What a moron.  He’s creating barriers that keeps people from the greatest relationship offered to us.

I met Hyper Heidi, Heidi Preuss, an Olympic skier in the 1980 Olympics.  She is trying to thru-hike but just had a small glitch in her plans.  Her parents had her next several food drops safely stored in their van but their van burned down to the tires at Wallace Gap, making the front page in the Franklin paper.  

At the shelter tonight a fire was lit and the hikers who make it in off the trail congregate around.  It is the center of our nights, it’s our home every night. It’s when we can slow down, it’s the setting of the sun on our day.  

Saturday, April 17, 1999

“When you’re safe at home you wish you were having an adventure; when you’re having an adventure you wish you were safe at home.”  Thornton Wilder

I walked the main ridge of the Nantahala Mountains going near the tops of seven balds above 5,000 feet.  For lunch I stopped at Wayah Bald (5,342’) to have an extensive view of the surrounding mountains, from Georgia to the Great Smokies.

The Balds have a place in Indian legend.  The Cherokee called them “Udawagunta” and believed a hornet like monster occupied them in ancient times.  This creature liked to swoop down from the heights of the sky to scoop up children and then swiftly vanish to devour their victims.  They didn’t want to lose any more children so they tracked the creature to a distant mountain cavern on a shear mountain slope. They were desperate for help so they convened a council and begged the Great Spirit for help.  He was very pleased to have been asked so he immediately sent a lightening bolt down to shear off the side of the mountain.  The monster Ulagu lay stunned from the blow giving the Indians time to organize and attack with spears and axes.  It didn’t take them very long to put an end to the monster.  The Great Spirit then pronounced that the summits would remain un-forested so that the people could station lookouts to keep watch for other Ulagus.  

Climbing mountains puts a strain on the muscles but going downhill is hard on the bones and apparently my feet.  For the last two or three days the big toe on my left foot and the “piggy who stayed home” have begun suffering nerve damage from the pounding they have taken.  I have heard that some people’s feet grow as they hike the trail, they spread permanently from the crushing weight put on them. Parts of my toes are going numb and don’t seem to regain feeling even when I spend a day out of my boots and wear sandals all day when I’m in town.  To begin looking sensation in part of my body, even a small piece of my body is weird.  

It has been fun getting to know Dawn Treader and Shiver (because she’s always cold).  I was shocked to run into them this soon since they had a great head start but I found out that Paul the strain of pneumonia that left him bed ridden for a week and now limits how far he can hike a day.  By orders of a doctor he is to hike no more than seven miles a day.  They were just as surprised to see me because they had heard I wasn’t leaving until the 15thof April and here I was with a scraggly beard and a smell to prove I walked my 98 miles of the trail. 

I’ve been surprised to find that we have more in common than I thought we would.  I didn’t understand how I could share so openly and vulnerably.  I was shocked as it was happening and loving it.  The three of us hiked through the hardwood forest up to Siler Bald with its grassy-covered summit which gave us expansive views in every direction.   

After a relaxing view soak we then then went down the other side and decided to find a place to set up camp together.  Dawn Treader and I raced our water purifiers to see who had a faster tool and then we shared dinner together.  The more time I spend with them the deeper my respect for them as individuals and especially as a couple grows.  I really like them.  As darkness came I sat in their tent journaling while they switched back and forth reading the Bible and writing in their shared journal.  Then we talked about one of our past professors, Dr. Donald Joy who taught “human development and family studies.” What I loved about Dr. Joy is his freedom to talk about sex in a classroom and weave it with faith. I have such a deep respect for him. Before I knew what I was doing, I was sharing my heart and my own sexual struggles, and they just listened and gave me a safe space.  I went to bed feeling frightened about what I shared and also a bit freed from some of the bondage of hiding issues I carry.

The temperature has dropped below 30 degrees and it is only 8:30 p.m.  I might have made a mistake by sending my long johns home last week in an attempt to reduce weight in my pack.  It had hit 83 degrees, I was certain or at least very hopeful that the cold winter was over.  I might have been premature on this decision.

Sunday, April 18, 1999

The quote of the day by Moses, “I could no sooner choose a favorite star in the sky as choose a favorite beer.”

As I walked in the early morning there was a fog that hung in the trees that looked like smoke.  The area was recently burnt from a fire that started at a shelter a few miles from Nantahala, leaving the area black and charred.  The trees were black standing sticks and the forest floor was grey and black.  The morning fog made me wonder if the fire was completely put out or if I should be a little nervous.  As I got near the shelter there was fire retardant on the ground, dropped from a plane spraying the area.   

I continued on into Nantahala in the early afternoon and got slapped in the face with colors, noise and movement from all the kayakers, bicyclists and tourists that flooded in for the day.  The Nantahala River is primarily a whitewater-rafting center so men are walking around in their wet suits and spray guards, which looks like small hoop skirts.  I ate, made phone calls and then pushed on a few more very painful labored miles.  It felt overwhelming so I got out of there with Shiver and Dawn Treader as quick as we could.

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