Monday, April 19, 1999

I am carrying a lot of anger towards the designer of this section of trail.  I don’t know that I would like them if I met them and I definitely wouldn’t drink coffee with them.  the person who designed the trial here omitted the use of switchbacks leaning the climbs to be very steep and slow going.  My muscles burned and not the kind of burning that makes you move fast to get away from the fire.  It was the kind of burn that I thought I was dying and going to be a puddle of goo on the trail for another hiker to walk around.  

 It was 14 miles of climbing and descending and it wiped me out. I’m not yet in the greatest shape but the last two weeks are the only thing that gave me the ability to conquer this day.  I’m certain I lost a few pounds on the trail which I’m grateful for, but I don’t enjoy the process of having it removed.  The last climb was the most difficult of the day a day. Halfway up I heard the voice of someone cursing and trash talk the mountain.  I found it mildly pleasurable to hear the suffering of another person, and then I realized I was the one talking.  I found myself insulting the mountains intelligence, strength, and its parents.  This caused me to laugh and that is the only thing that kept me from crying like a little boy.  I took the trail straight up.  I pushed and pushed and let my legs just methodically push forward.  I did not have to look for where the trail might turn or twist because I could see it all, straight up.  My arms used my poles to pull myself up each step. What were they thinking when they created this?  Voltaire said, “If we do not find anything pleasant, at least we shall find something new.” It was not a pleasant experience and it was so laughing frustrated I didn’t care if it was new

Hiker Manby Sleepy the Arab 

(A fellow trail hiker wrote this as he hiked.

Sung to the tune of Spider Man cartoon theme)

Hiker-man! Hiker-man!

Doing the things a hiker can.

Hikes a peak, any size,

Eats his noodles, swats at flies

Look out! There goes Hiker-man!

Is he strong? Listen Mac,

He can hoist and 80 pound pack.

Then he’ll walk 20 miles

Set up camp and be all smiles.

Hey! There goes Hiker-man.

When in town, he gets cash,

Food and laundry in a flash.

Then he’s back on the trail

Braving fires, bears and hail.

Look out! There goes Hiker-man!

Is he bored? Not one bit.

If he were, he’d just quit.

Hikes in sun, likes the rain, 

Given a chance, he’d do it again.

3 Cheers! 3 cheers for Hiker-man 

I’ve been learning that some, or possibly much, of my character is external.  I rely on circumstances to protect and guide me.  I have enough wisdom to keep myself away from most things that would be damaging, but some things slip through and I find myself in a situation where I compromise my beliefs and standards.  I get so angry with myself at how I sell out.  What I would love is to have my character grow to a point that when presented with some form of temptation I would instinctively walk away, “That won’t help me and that will only cause me pain in the end.” 

But what I do is think, “Maybe I can get away with this.  It won’t hurt me.  I won’t do anyone damage.  It’s not really that bad or dangerous.”  And then when I hear those words come into my mind I feel awful.  Sometimes it changes me, sometimes it doesn’t.  If the TV is on, late at night I might make choices to look for things that are only shown on TV late at night.  I can’t turn that dumb TV off.  So when I’m in the afternoon mindset I have the TV removed so I don’t struggle late at night.  Its not a bad solution but I wish I could just not be tempted by that dumb TV.  

One of the things I love about this hike is that its separated me from many of the temptations I fall prey to.  I’m loving it. I’m free from the temptation that continually trips me, knock me down to the ground, and I find myself licking dirt. And why do I have to think of all this as I hike?  Ugh.  

I came across a snake on the trail, just sunning itself, trying to get warm after these cold days.  It was a small rattlesnake and it was in my way. I stopped to try and decide the best way to pass it without getting bit.  Can’t go over it.  Can’t go under it.  I tried to push it with my hiking pole, but that just angered it.  It was getting annoyed with me so it coiled up in the middle of the path and stared at me with his black beady eyes. It was just waited for a good bite of me.  Dawn Treader and Shiver came up and Shiver didn’t even show fear or hesitation but boldly made a jump past it to the side. Immediately the snake shot out at her foot, just missing her heel by inches, going underneath her boot then making a quick slither exit over the side of the hill.  My heart was racing for her and I didn’t know whether I should be impressed with her courage or wonder if she was a bit shy of wisdom.  Whatever it was, she had iron courage while I waited and watched. I am not a big fan of snakes and I know that I will be experiencing many more on this trip which does not excite me. They need to invent snake whistles that you could attach to the top of your pack that warns snakes you are coming and drive them off, set at a pitch that you wouldn’t have to hear it yourself. Do snakes even have ears? 

I also came across some bear scat, which surprised me.  It has had a good diet of berries I think because it was all seeds in it.  I checked for human bones.  I don’t know that I expect to see any bears on this trail, they like to stay away from people and are quick to get off and find cover. If the bear is coming in my direction he is probably looking for a place to get off.  If he has his ears forward, his hair is standing up on its neck and back, and he is popping his jaws, I am pretty much screwed.  If that happens my job is to play dead.  It will be good practice for when I really die a few minutes later.  It would be no good to try and climb a tree because I once heard it said that a bear could climb a tree faster than a man can fall out of one.  I think it is ok for a bear to hunt man unless it is just for sport, that would be wasteful.

News traveled up the trail of an incident that happened back at Plum Orchard Shelter. It’s the shelter where Stray slept under a black widow spider.  Apparently that very same night another guy in the shelter was bitten by a spider and had to leave the trail to seek medical help.  Stray had good reason to have kept an eye open.

Wednesday, April 21, 1999

Today I decided that I shouldn’t hike.  This is what we call a 0 day, it’s a no hike day at one of the best shelters I’ve come across on this trail, Fontana Dam (The AT Hilton).  And it was my right foot that praised me the most so that maybe the blisters can scab over a bit and begin to heal.  Every step in my boots burns so today I show respect and honor to my foot.  I feel like I should move forward and I am consciously trying to let myself not to live by my schedule but to make the trip move at my own developing rhythm.  I’m making myself take time for all the special moments along the way that I share with only God, to open my ears and eyes and ask what I am to see and is there something I need to learn.  The goal is to hike all the way to Maine so it sometimes tricks me into thinking that I need to always be pressing towards that finish line.  I have to remind myself that is all the moments leading up to the end that I should be savoring.  Those are the things my soul needs and the things that will fill my tank.  

Steve McQueen once said “I’d rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city on earth.”  I’m learning to love being outside.  This is not my pattern of life.  I’m a concrete loving, city lights, AstroTurf addict.  But I’m settling into the smells and sounds.  I’m calming down as I learn the basic language of solitude.  I’m leaning to notice that I’m in the presence of God.  Some friends commented to me that they think I’m hiking to get away and hide from reality.  Maybe there is some truth to that.  I wasn’t living life very well and I wasn’t treating everyone the way they should be treated.  I think I’m hiking to get right in the middle reality to see if I can grow up.   I’m learning simplicity, moderation and discipline while shedding off instant gratification and consumerism that are my shadows that I like to hide myself in.  

The churches that I used to attend seem like places for people to meet together to worship God, they are built of bricks and lit by artificial lights that make my skin look pale and sickly.  The walls encase windows made of stained glass, windows that portray Holy symbols designed to point to lofty heavenly thoughts.  It’s not bad at all but it prevents me from seeing the life outside creating a sense of disconnect and loss.  Psalm 143: “The earthly choir of praise is the wind, weather, mountains, trees, animals, rulers of all nations…” I feel like God is challenging me to recognize his rule as Lord and to give praise alongside all of creation.  To join with nature to praise God as they naturally do it through fulfilling their purpose that God created them for and by their existence where God has placed them.

As I travel through this world of mountains, sky, trees and animals, I am seeing God more and more through His creation and I’m seeing Jesus at the center of this enormous community.  And what gets me really excited is that I am seeing God reveal Himself through who I am. That amazes me.  That God would care about the intimate issues of my life. I’ve spent most of my life believing that God loves me, I’ve been taught that from early childhood.  Every week in Sunday school I’d earn a candy bar if I could memorize a Bible verse that would tell me God loves me.  My parents taught me and instilled this knowledge in my head and I’m so thankful for their teaching and instruction.  
But it the head knowledge never sank into my heart and I don’t know if it’s their fault.  I don’t think it is.  Maybe a little.  Regardless, as an adult its now my job to take the responsibility to grasp God for my own journey.  This has to work for me.  And it’s not worked well up to this point.  I have always believed that God loves me but I don’t know that I’ve felt that God loves me.  I don’t know how to transition this knowledge from my head to my heart and I don’t know that its my job.  I kinda think its God’s job to do that.  

I love my dad and I don’t know that I ever felt intimate and close with him.  And I wonder how much this affects my understanding of God and what I expect.  I always thought I let my dad down with the decisions I made in life.  I know he loves me, but I never thought he understood me, and if he did, he wouldn’t really like me.  So I play the part, I put the mask on, I hid from him and myself and then get mad when he didn’t understand or see the real me.   I set him up for failure from the beginning. Or did I just learn that pattern as a survival technique?  It’s a good thing I have a lot of time on the trial to continue to process this.

It’s time for a little Sunshine.  Sunshine is a 24-year-old man who is loud and intrusive.    He is the first black man I have met on the trail, and the first person I have met who could get lost in a box.  He is trying to understand who he is, what he wants, and even where he is.  He came out to the trail to learn about nature, but does not seem to be learning much.  He brought a camp stove that requires lighting fuel, but could not figure out how to work it so he started pouring out his fuel on a stack of wood, soaking it. When he was satisfied with the large amount of gasoline on the wood, he threw a match into it with a “whoosh.”  It didn’t take but a minute to grow large with all the gas on the wood, but it seemed to him that it was not large enough fast enough, so he began to pour out more fuel directly upon the flames.  Dawn Treader told him casually from a distance, “I’ve seen a flame jump up the stream of fuel and almost got inside the can.  It could blow you up.”  Sunshine replied with a lagh and knowingly, “oh yeah man, that happened to me the other day, it sucked.”  Later Sunshine proceeded to try and haul a log over for his fire that was rain soaked and moss covered thinking he could get a great fire going out of that.  He mentioned that he keeps running out of food and water and can’t figure out why. A few other hikers mentioned in quiet tones to me as we watched him cook his dinner that then stumbles around literally and figuratively, hunting out people to supply him because he’s always losing his equipment.  He has dreams that one day he will get married to a Native American woman, someone he can love and support and care for.  He mentioned that his shoes were a gift from his last girlfriend, shoes she had found and taken off a dead person she found in their neighborhood, it was her way of showing her love affection to him.  Why did he not keep her?  How did he not see this as a romantic gesture?   He mentioned that that broke up before he began his hike, the long distance was just going to be too much for him.  He is quite the character.

Fontana Dam shelter is swarming with wood bees, large bees the size of golf balls.  They seem to be very interested in our cooking. Their food source I think is still from pollen but they bore into wood to build their hives. I’m amazed how fast they can flap their tiny little wings.  If I were to flap my arms as fast as theirs, my arms would break off.  If I remember correctly, I read somewhere that there is no possible way they are able to fly.  They can’t do it.  And yet there they are mocking our understanding.  Apparently we don‘t know enough to understand how they can carry their heavy bodies in flight with such slender wings.  I like how nature still confounds people.

It was not only a beautiful day to not hike, but I made sure to load up on as much food as I could stuff inside myself.  It’s impossible to overeat knowing how many calories I burn every day.  So I methodically consumed enough for a normal man to live off of for a week.  I won’t say my appetite has grown that much, but I should be named Hoover for my ability to such food down.  A group of us at the shelter went to an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet and gorged ourselves on crazy eggs, sausage, bacon, biscuits and gravy, grits, oatmeal, fried apple fingers (ohhh!), tater tots, coffee and juice.  We couldn’t move for over an hour after we had finished.  We just sat in joy, happy tears of contentment forming in the corners of our eyes.  We didn’t talk a lot, we just sat looking at each other with knowing smiles. Then for lunch, Lone Chair, an old thru-hiker who hiked a few years ago, brought us home-grown beef hamburgers, fruit, chips, cookies and sodas, all we could eat again.  So I tried to pace myself as I pounded four cheeseburgers, apples, oranges and a banana.  That’s it, stick a fork in me and turn me over, I’m done.

After our lunch nap, several of us went for a visit to check out Fontana Dam.  It is the highest dam east of the Mississippi and built for flood control.  What is really exciting and sure to draw the tourists (and every hiker) is the newly renovated visitor center offering sodas, candy, souvenirs and film.  Flying high around the dam were turkey vultures, soaring on the air currents with their enormous wings.  The turkey vultures don’t kill their own food so they must wait for an animal to die and then wait until all others have finished dining on the carrion.  Their claws are dull, talons are weak and their beaks are thin so they have to wait for a carcass to soften by decay or for it to be ripped open by another predator or they would break their beak.  Their digestive tract is amazing, it kills all deadly bacteria and continue through the excrement killing germs and viruses outside the body.  This disinfects itself all the way to the end and its surroundings after being exposed to any deadly germs.  Because the vulture removes the carcasses of discarded animals it has limited the spread of disease and prevented potential epidemics among both humans and animals.  When their meal is over the vulture will meticulously scrape and straighten every feather and clean the refuse on its own body.  I like knowing that there is a pride to how they look, they have standards. To clean its head it will stand in the sun to allow the ultraviolet radiation to kill any remaining bacterial.  They seem to have a good system worked out for dinning out.  

            It was relaxing to watch them soar to the heights by floating upon the thermal drafts around the dam and through the valley.  Then I started to get a little ticked off at them for being able to get so high without sweating and growing blisters.  I have a little jealousy I have to work through.  

Wilbur and Orville Wright began their study of flight around 1900 spending three years watching the natural flight of birds, particularly the great soaring ability and balance of the Turkey Vulture.  They made their first successful flight on December 7, 1903 thanks to the majestic bird. Maybe majestic is a bit much but I do think it’s a very interesting buzzard.

When the vulture goes after a potential meal it will begin with sampling the eyes because the eye is an involuntary muscle and it will respond even when the animal is unconscious.  So if the eye blinks or moves that means the animal they want to eat is still is alive. So the vulture will back off with great reluctance and patience until death arrives.  They know that if they try to eat before it is dead their weak beaks won’t be able to chew through the body, it would be like an old man trying to gum jerky.  

            The vultures work in groups watching the ground and each other.  When one of the group descends to the ground, the others follow because they know food has been found.  A sky that once appeared empty and quiet will quickly fill with a descending flock.  For defense they blow air through their nostrils making a low, hissing sound.  If that does not cause an animal to back away, they will resort to plan #2, they will projectile throw up any foul contents in the stomach, able to be accurate in hitting a target up to ten feet.  That is a defense not many animals would be proud to have.  “So how did you get away from that lion Bob?  I nailed him in the eye at ten paces with yesterday’s antelope.” 

Thursday, April 22, 1999

First thing in the morning, Dawn Treader and I walked to the post office to bounce some food forward instead of carrying it all through the Smokies.   When too much food is sent to me I usually just leave it in a hiker box for others to scavenger through and use, but when it is good stuff or just things I had to pay a lot of money on, it’s worth sending it ahead in hopes that I will use it later.  

Dawn Treader told me that before he left for the hike, when he would tell other married men about his upcoming adventure, he could see longing and pain in their eyes. These men were in the pattern of responsibility of work, paying off their car and house and trying to raise children.  Absolutely nothing wrong with those things. They love their life but they also felt like it was holding them back from something they deeply desired. My experience was a little different.  Many married men would look down on me and say, “are you going to go find yourself?”in a sarcastic voice.  Sometimes they would mock me for not knowing how to be responsible with my life, or degrade me for not being able to grow up.  I took mild offense every time.  

I don’t have a strong sense of self -worth and identity.  I tell myself and others that I do, but when I get honest, I ache inside. I don’t know myself and I don’t really think that going to the woods will magically infuse a sense of worth and value.  I’m not out here trying to find myself. 

If I did not know who I was before this trip, I doubt it would suddenly come.  Many think I’m just on a long vacation before I must enter “the real world.”  Maybe it is, but if this is a journey that God has put me on then it is not a vacation.  I struggle because I feel like I have to justify and produce growth in my character to pacify the critics.  

I wish I could maintain daily my motivation to be free from the voices in my head.  In my home life, I do want to take time for solitude, exercise, and nature.  I don’t know what I want to do for a job and I don’t know what I want to become.  Some days I’m ok with the ambiguity and other days I struggle, feeling like I’m failing in comparison to others.  Many people do not struggle with this but move forward with confidence or the outer impression of confidence.  Our culture guides me to needing to show outward success. I think I typically measure success on a different scale.  I struggle with trying to imagine what I would like to do with my life, what would make me happy?  I don’t believe I am lazy or I would never have gotten a master’s degree or made it these last 170 miles with a hunger to eat up more of the next 2,000.  I’ve got time to figure it out, I’m not stressed about it, I’m just thinking…

            I entered into the Great Smokey Mountains National Park this morning and into Tennessee, my third state. I was told that if a thru-hiker can make it this far he has proven his ability, the rest is just miles and time.  I think people will say what they need to, to motivate themselves get them over the next hill.  The hardest part of the trail is the southern end when my body is being toughened against it the rocks and ascents, the rest is more of the same. 

There are trees that grow here that predate the discovery of America, trunks measuring 25 feet in circumference.  Spruce, Hemlock and Fir that climb into the sky all around me.  The vegetation everywhere is so varied and so lush that the vapor it gives off from cooling and condensing through the mountains spreads a blue veil of cover over the land.  This is what is known as the “smoke”in the Smokies.  That is so cool.  One of the great fascinating cultures in the Smokies were the Scots-Irish settlers who funneled down the Appalachian chain. 

These mountains are not rugged like the Cascades where I grew up, but are worn down and comfortable.  The valleys and hills of the Smokies were not created so much from a heaving up of mountains but rather an eroding of the valleys.  

            The landscape is covered with Dogwoods, Redbud Laurels, Flame Azaleas and Rhododendrons that paint and texture the mountains.  When the Cherokee lived here they were gifted at cultivating trees.  In fact they loved and were addicted to the caffeine-laden tea they brewed from the leaves of a Holly tree they called the Yaupon.  They even transplanted a grove to the mountains from the coastal plain to keep it closer and more accessible.

Sunshine decided to follow us out today.  As we were climbing our first hill in the morning, when someone ran up to stop him. He forgot all of his clothes and his stove back at the shelter.  “Well that explains why my pack is so light.” 

I feel bad for the guy and I want to help him because he is his own worst enemy.  And I struggle because he’s not the easiest to be around.  He likes to talk, and talk, and talk, and he doesn’t always make sense or know what he’s talking about. He likes to get in everyone’s business, critique them, and then asks for hikers to give up their supplies to help him, and then making people feel bad when they don’t or aren’t able to help him.  He has gone so far as to put others in danger of losing fuel and food and causing several hikers to erupted in anger wielding sticks and stones to scare him off.  He really does not know how to hold his tongue or how to give others space. Even to look at him is tough because he is not a very clean individual, and that takes a lot because we’re all nasty sweaty, dirty, and stinky.  I know that all of us hikers have a stench to us and don’t shower for a week at a time, but we do try to clean ourselves off at night and to get a shower when we are able.  We are not certain he has managed to clean himself since beginning his hike.  Dirt is getting encrusted on him that resembles scabs.  There is food stuck to his hands and face that no one is sure how long has been there. People mention it to him but he just says he will clean it off later.  We have wondered if this is a joke, are we having a joke being pulled on us. We have all looked for the hidden cameras to see if our reactions are being filmed.  I know this has to be difficult for him so my heart goes out to him, and he’s a hard one to love.

“Whatsoever we beg of God, let us also work for it” Jeremy Taylor

As I walk these mountains I am thinking about God far more than have the last few years and that surprises me because I just graduated from seminary.  I wonder at my teachability, am I willing to be adaptable to grow where God wants to grow me?  What kind of man do I want to be and what kind of man do I want others to expect me to be?  And then I settle in on the question, what kind of man does God want me to be?  That might be the most difficult question because that means I need to be broken.  I hate being broken.  I know people who have prayed to be broken, that is not a prayer that I would ever intentionally pray.  I hate it. I avoid it.  I try to get through it as fast as I can when I’m in it.  I think God will break me when and where I need to be, so I’m patient to wait for God’s timing.  Why would I invite something I can’t stand?  And I also love who I am more when I’m on the healing side of brokenness. I admire myself more.  I respect myself more.  When I’m on the healing side I say things like, “I never want to be that old person again.  I’m so glad I finally learned to stop…”.  I do have ideas of who I’d like to be seen as by others.  And I want to be at peace in my own heart and mind.   That might be what I want most from God.  Just to be at peace in my relationship with Him and at peace with myself.  My mind is a dangerous place to go into.  It’s like a bad neighborhood, I should never go there alone.  God grow me please, give me Your peace. 

  I saw my first white tailed deer today as two jumped across my path and then stopped to much on a bush.  They stood about 30 feet from me bobbing their tales up and down and twitched their ears.  They were so beautiful and delicate.  When they noticed me they nimbly and quickly danced off into the growth.  

I hiked much of the day with Dawntreader passing the much of our time by giving each other mind games and riddles.  Hours, pain, and mountains melted away as we talked and laughed.  He is a sharp minded man with a very gentle heart.

  Of the American Indians the Cherokee are the only ones who developed their own alphabet.  Sequoyah, the man who invented it, was not widely supported in his endeavor but he pushed the idea forward regardless.  For years he would labor in a shack behind his house, working on his creation.  People thought he was lazy and also crazy for spending his days making chicken scratches on paper, including his wife who tried to save him and help their marriage by burning all of his work to ashes.  But he was not stopped.  He began again with more enthusiasm and renewed passion.  When he completed his project he called all of his friends and neighbors into his home to give a demonstration of what he had created.  He sent his daughter out into the woods and had a person choose any word they liked.  He made marks on a piece of paper and then called his daughter back in to look at the paper, she confidently spoke the word he had written which brought immediate fear into the hearts of his friends.  They all ran out of the house in panic believing he had used witchcraft and wanted to be nowhere near the evil man. 

He created his alphabet in 1821, made up of 86 characters. It actually caught on once they got past the witchcraft scare and within a few years almost the entire Cherokee nation had become literate.  As their literacy level rose, their level of education and living standard rose, ranking them among the highest of all Native American tribes and even brought envy from their white neighbors.  I love that they created ways to communicate.  They found a way to share ideas and to extend wisdom and knowledge.  My mind wonders what would they have developed into had not their timeline been intersected by other people groups.  

Our shelter is fenced at the entrance.  Its covered to keep the bears out because apparently there are enough aggressive bears to need to put a fence wall over one side of the shelter.  We put bears in cages at the zoo to look at and observe, but here they put us in cages to let the bears watch us.  Many of the hikers have seen bears as they are hiking but I have yet to sight one, just their scat.  Not quite the same experience and I’m ok not seeing one.  I have some fear for safety and I think it’s still at a healthy level.

We had trail magic at the end of our day.  As a group of hikers, we sat at the shelter relaxing from the hike, the fog had settled on the mountain ridge and the trees became shrouded in the white. The campsite took on a mystical feel that only increased when eight horsemen materialized out of the fog and light mist on the trail, each clothed in a trench coat, cowboy hat, and riding skillfully through the trees with a cheap beer in one hand and reigns in the other.  It was a powerful image of beauty yet laced with a bit of hesitation.  Their saddlebags were full of ice and beer to supply them for a morning ride into the wilderness, to get away from the stresses of their lives.  As soon as they neared the shelter they threw Dawn Treader and I each a beer, they were excited to see hikers and to share their gifts.  We talked with the men and struggled to translate what they were saying through their thick molasses southern accents.  But we smiled, laughed a little and nodded our heads as we drank our beers. They laughed at us for being so skinny and underdressed for the weather, and we laughed back because they were eight men on horses in trench coats.  I’m not a huge beer drinker but this tasted amazing and so deeply refreshing.  I’ve never finished a beer so quickly and been so disappointed when I had completed it. “Would I like a second beer?  I think I might offend you if I turned you down.”  

Saturday, April 24, 1999

Today I walked with one foot in Tennessee and the other in Carolina.  I didn’t seem to have much trouble with it, I thought it would cause some sort of chaffing or something, but it only mildly affected my balance.  After awhile you got used to it and just kept going.

It was wonderful to leave the Rhododendrons and to get to hike in the hardwoods.  The fir trees were wonderful and smelled so rich and musky in the air.  I like the feeling of being surrounded by trees and not overgrown bushes.  

I climbed Clingman’s Dome, which was known originally as Smokey Dome, but renamed for Thomas Lanier Clingman.  He was a senator, a mining prospector, and a Civil War General who explored these mountains during the 1850’s and enthusiastically praised its beauty.  A guess that is reason enough to have a mountain named after you.  

            Clingman’s Dome is the highest peak in the Great Smokies and is the highest point on the entire Appalachian Trail.  When I got to the peak I was shocked that suddenly there were regular people, tourists walking around with their dogs on leashes, strollers, and kids running around. I was surprised that I could smell them. I could smell their clean clothes, deodorant, shampoos, conditioners and fabric softener scents.   Instead of backpacks they carried camera bags and big water bottles and cans of soda should they get dehydrated on their 100 yard hike up a concrete spiral lookout.  

I was instantly frustrated at the assault on my senses and ashamed that I was frustrated with all these people.  I think I was just surprised and truthfully a little arrogant thinking I was better than them or that I earned this space more than them.  I hate that my mind ran there. And I was frustrated  that there were so many people looking at me as if I was the one who didn’t belong.  I found a place to sit down in some shade to settle my emotions.  I do smell.  I do look bad.  I look awful and they are just reacting to what they see.  They are doing nothing more than I did to them, judging based on the externals.  I can’t change them but I can change my attitude and not react to them or let them ruin my day.  

I was sitting with some other hikers talking and having a snack when a woman walking by us, paused and looked at us, and said to her very overweight significant other a comment about our backpacks with all of us able to hear, “Eyou theenk eyou culd carry won of them things on yer back?”His response was a simple “Why wood I?”  They stared at our backpacks for a minute and then at us without any expression, then they turned and moved on.  I was proud of the hikers I was with, they didn’t respond, we all just stood up, hefted out backpacks on and we silently walked back towards the woods.  The cement underneath our feet felt hard and unforgiving.  It felt good to walk back under the trees, on the dirt and leaves moving forward on our journey.

Several of us have were just talking about how we have really been missing Moezass (Moses) and we finally caught up with him at the next shelter.  He introduced us to some other hikers. SideWinder, named because one day his feet were so bloody he climbed up a mountain with his feet sideways to relieve some of the pain, his wife is Sam-I-Am. Moezass was trying to feed a red squirrel saying “here little red bastard, here little red bastard”Then he saw me, eyes went wide, he jumped up and ran over to me to give me a huge hug.  That feels so good to be loved.  

Campfire meals are turning into community potlucks.  It may not be the cleanest thing to have six spoons dig into one pot, but we get to sample six different meals, variety is what it is all about. Everything is so filthy and unsanitary it just doesn’t seem to matter at this point.  So what you have is a campsite full of dirty, hungry people walking around, milling about with spoons in hand held upright at attention waiting for the next pot to complete cooking.  One of the fun parts of sleeping in these shelters is that you get to join an outdoor club meeting every night in a new location.  You get to discuss new equipment that fits well or works poorly, how to strip more weight, or camp recipes that add flavor back into the meal.

When it got dark I went into my tent, snuggled into my sleeping bag, turned on my headlight and started reading II Peter. I feel like I heard God talking to me again. I forgot how to hear.  I forgot how much I need to hear God.  Usually I get scared of God because I think He’s just going to condemn me or throw clumps of pain at me.  I live with a lot of shame and I think God’s just going to press on my self-inflicted wounds deeper.  But that’s now how its been lately.  Its just, presence.  Maybe its not that I’m hearing God, I think I’m just feeling God.  I do have some destructive habits, its not what I want to do.  What I really want, if I could make it happen is to no damage others and myself.  I’m tired of hurting others because I’ve used them in one way or another. I’m tired of burning bridges.

Sunday, April 25, 1999

I woke up feeling alive and excited.  I’m not a morning person and I can’t make mornings like this happen.  But there was a calm to the morning.  It was quiet, nobody was moving around when I woke up, it was just peaceful with the early morning sun shining through the trees.  I wanted to move.  I don’t know why I was so excited to explore and move but I had a fire underneath me to get out on the trail as fast as I could and to just enjoy the beauty of the morning.  I was so excited I flew down the trail, 5 miles in one and a half-hours in the early morning, a great pace for me.  I was the first person to walk the morning trail, I was certain because there were hundreds of spider webs crisscrossing the trail trying to catch their morning breakfast that I kept walking through. The low sun shone through the trees lighting up the morning dew into millions of jewels, and the spider webs looked like strands of diamonds strug through the trees.  I spent most of my hiking with my hands up at head level, I was trying to catch the webs in my hands and not in my eyes or mouth.  It was one of my best mornings ever.  I was excited to be alone, my heals weren’t burning, I was feeling confident, and I knew that I was going to be getting a huge monstrous lunch at an all-you-can buffet in Gatlinburg.  203.2 miles I have now achieved. Yahoo!

            For lunch a group of us hikers went into Gatlinburg to the Smokey Mountain Brewery and ate the greatest feast.  The food was so flavorful, tender meats, gallons of lemonade, and everything had an abundance of cheese on it. Afterwards we found a small local hiking supply store and I  bought a few supplies before I headed back to the trail where I hoped I could regain the joy and momentum of hiking.  

Over the last several weeks I have heard many people refer to me as a priest, a religious man, or a spiritual person.  It would bother me a little if it weren’t followed by, “Oh, he is cool about it,”or “but he is a great guy anyhow.”  That is a compliment to me. I love talking about God.  I always have.  And I don’t know that I have many answers nailed down but I love to learn, listen, and wrestle with God and others about God.  I’ve always thought that God was important.  I always thought I had some sort of relationship with God, even it was a bad one, I knew who it was I was wrestling with.  When I was at seminary I actually had the most difficult time talking about God.  That’s where I found the most people I’ve encountered who seem to have all the answers and were free to share with me how wrong I was, how immature I am, or how I’m going to damage others through my lack of correct theology.  I left seminary sadder and more discouraged and with a deeply wounded self-confidence than when I entered.  I think seminary was a powerful growing, head filling, worldview opening, firehose experience that I will never regret.  But I found that I didn’t fit into the mold of students that would earn you the gold star and admiration of your peers.  I graduated over a year ago and I think this trip is helping me let go of some of my pain and disappointment.

What I learned from my professors is not to go with correct theology or to approach people with all the answers but that I am to go to people, live among them, learn from them and be teachable, fall in love them and let them fall in love with me, to listen to what God is doing in their hearts and lives and start there, then let’s take a step forward together in our understanding of God. 

            So I guess one of my goals for this journey is to walk and live with hikers on the trail and develop relationships with them. I want to spend time learning and understanding this culture as we live together and as we are all shaped and grown by the experience.  And one of the best way to build friendships has been through food.  Sharing food and always being generous with snacks and treats.   

I don’t know it all.  I have no right in this world to get arrogant or prideful.  Do parents boast over their kids about how much they know or insult their kids for their lack of understanding?  What kind of parent would ever do that?  It is in confidence in who they are and what they know that they can invest in others, listen to their questions and growth, and then with kindness and affirmation help them take another step in their growth.  And I hear parents tell me that they learn the most as a parent, they are the ones who are learning.  And as I listen and show respect and value of others opinions, maybe they will one day ask what I think.  Firstly, I just need to hear the voice of God for myself.  Then if God wants to use me, I just want to be a signpost and not a model, only Christ can be a model. I just want to point to the one worth knowing and being like.

            As I hiked today I had to cross over several fences that protected forestland from boars. Nobody told me there was going to be bacon nearby.  This hike just keeps getting better. In 1908 a wealthy New York sportsman George Gordon Moore, took a lease on an extremely isolated tract of mountain land in the Snowbird Mountains in N.C.  He had a dream of building a huge wild game hunting preserve and invested the next three years to plan and prepare it.  Ton after ton of wire was brought in, hauled by wagon to the crest of Hooper Bald to make huge pens to enclose the big game.  He brought in wild European boar, elk, mule deer, bear, buffalo and all sorts of game birds and animals.  Ultimately the game preserve was a failure because it was too isolation and there were too many poachers.  The problems culminated in 1920 when roughly 100 of the wild boars in a daring escape broke out of their stockade, ran into the mountains and found safety there. Today it is estimated that about 800-1000 boar live in the area and are one day going to rise up and start a new rebellion.  Some people hunt the boar for sport but are always very cautious because they are a very dangerous adversary.  

The boars weigh several hundred pounds and are extremely fast and agile with the ability to glide silently through the forest.  They have two long tusks that grow seven or eight inches in length and are razor sharp.  Because of their great speed and agility they are hard targets to catch and kill.  And if speed and agility weren’t enough, a defenses of a thick hide that covers it’s neck and shoulders. The shoulders are also padded with a thick layer of cartilage making it difficult to bring down. And when a boar is wounded it becomes an enraged and treacherous animal that will thrash and go into a frenzy attack mode making it even more dangerous. Some mountain people believe that the real reason they are such dangerous animals is because of the small size of the brain that doesn’t giving them the sense to turn, run, and hide.

            The hike out of town and back into wilderness was a hard one as my belly was very full and the rain was pouring down.  I got soaked to the skin and it was a cold rain.  Several hikers piled up at the trail head trying to motivate each other to move under cover of trees and to press on towards our evening shelter.  I got going but was soon passed by Sam-I-Am as if I was standing still.  Soon I saw her husband…I heard her husband before I saw him.   Sidewinder was yelling cursing at his blisters and walking sideways to relieve the pain as best as possible.  The clouds settled onto the mountain which kept me from seeing more than 20 feet ahead of me. It just didn’t matter.  My head was down as I stared at the trial to avoid slipping on a wet tree root or a puddle.  The rain poured down.  Water was under my rain coat and I could feel small streams and rivers forming on different parts of my body.  I don’t like being wet.  What good is this rain gear doing if it won’t keep my dry?  if I did decide to steal a look around the rain would pelt me in the eyes. So I kept my head down and just moved forward slipping in the mud.  

When I got to the shelter it looked more like a cave built out of large boulders.  Across the front of it like the others was a chain fence, again it felt like a cage that I had to sleep in.  I wasn’t going to set up my tent in the rain unless I had to so I moved in with the other hikers, fought to find a place to unpack and organize and to set up my sleeping pad and bag.  Once I was in my bag I just sat there staring at the rain falling down in sheets.  I was cold and miserable, I stripped down in my sleeping bag to get warm and to try and dry off.  Everything was damp and swampy feeling.  Nobody really talked as we all sat in the cage, we all just sat listening to the rain fall until it was time to sleep.

Monday, April 26, 1999

Sitting around the campfire at night staring at the flames or repairing damaged equipment or bodies, taking a break in the day to eat a snack or lunch, moments of a view to admire, they are often times moments where we sit with others and connect. Where we share the things we think about as we hike in solitude.  We share about our lives before the trail.  We talk about loneliness and share jokes.  The last few days several of these situations matched up with Moezass bringing some heart insight moments.  He told me that he respects my beliefs in God believing that I have spent time listening to understand other religions besides Christianity.  And after wrestling and even while in the middle of wrestling I made a jump to faith in Jesus.  I think those are true things.  And as he talked with me he came to the realization that at some point there won’t be enough answers to get him past the point.  To be caught requires a jump and a hope that there is something to catch him.  He said that he’s had several great conversations with Dawn Treader also, giving him several people to bounce ideas around as he processes this God relationship. He knew when he left for this journey that he needed to get right with God, to move forward with Allah, the Supreme Being, Great Spirit, (whatever spiritual name fits).  But he is now feeling a call in his gut.  He says that he is feeling an urgency to know this Creator. Like he is walking downhill and gravity is pulling him to go faster.  He is trying to move with the momentum and he is very scared where this will take him.  

When he gets home he said that he’s going to take the Holy books of the big three religions and pour his energy and heart over them to find what makes sense to him.  Huh.  That wasn’t what I was expecting to hear from him.  It just surprised me because when I think of urgency I don’t think of it being a half year away.  But this is his journey and not my timeline.  This is his life and he gets to make his own decisions.  I think God is talking to him and has been calling his name for years trying to get him to fall in love with Him.  Life will grow and it’s not my job to make it happen.  

What I love about Moezass is that He has a unique gift that too few have- people like him. All types of people from all walks of life love this boy.  People are at peace when they are with him.  People enjoy themselves more when they are with him.   He’s honest and vulnerable and shares unfiltered what he’s thinking and feeling. And people always seem to respect and love him.  I wish he could have complete peace with himself and with God.