Tuesday, April 27, 1999
I had no idea that I could have blisters forming under blisters. How is this even possible. I’ve also come to realize that I assumed that these boots of mine would be on the same team with me. I keep yelling at them, “You are not my enemy!”They just don’t seem to listen. The last two days of downhill pounded have just thundered my feet. My feet feel like they have grown wider and larger, like they are swelling up and trying to break from their constraints. New blisters are growing around the old ones while the old ones still trying to become hard and callused. And more areas on my left foot are loosing sensation, part of me is concerned and part of me is relieved because it don’t have to suffer under the fire pain of all the blisters. Armadillo told me that she had lost feeling in her feet on a previous long distance hike and it took about three months after the hike for the nerves in her foot to heal. She didn’t seem to think that there was anything for me to worry about. My brain keeps talking to me, “No, no, don’t worry that your body is shutting down or is being pounded to destruction, don’t be concerned about that.”
This land that I’m walking through was originally where the Cherokee lived. I love the idea of walking where others walked before me. I get excited learning about other people groups and how they grew and developed and how they influenced the land and how the land influenced them. Learning their story helps me feel like I’m joining the rhythm of this land. I’m thankful for having spent the previous year studying the history of the states I would walk through, the people groups that inhabited these areas. The Cherokee settled this area and grew to a population of about 200 large villages. The villages lived and operated independent from each other but if there was a threat or danger they would quickly band together like brothers, they would back each other up against any enemy.
The discovery of gold in Georgia caused a lot of excitement among white people making them think it was a good idea to write laws and made decisions that would benefit them. They made a decision to relocation of the Cherokees and other eastern Indians to a state that might be better suited to “improve”the life of the Indians. President Jackson ordered their removal beginning what is known as the “Trail of Tears.” In Georgia the Cherokees were forced to sell their lands for almost nothing. Their homes and possessions were plundered without a head turning, nobody took notice or were concerned about the hurt they were causing. 7,000 soldiers under General Winfield Scott drove them from their homes at gunpoint. They became prisoners. They were herded into stockades with no thought or care for sanitation. Measles, whooping cough, and dysentery immediately took heavy tolls among them, many began dying. They were marched 800 miles west without adequate shelter, provisions or food. The goal of the soldiers was to move the people as quickly as possible and deal with any situation that might slow the process down in any way that suited them. And when white people would attack the Cherokee convoy, robbing them of what little they had left, the soldiers looked away. As many as 4,000 died en-route, most were left unburied beside the road because they were not allowed to stop to dig a grave. One quarter of their population was left scattered alongside the trail.
My sense of justice rises up with anger when I hear this. Where were there people to stand against their suffering? Where were those who could bring safety, comfort, and healing? How many saw the abuse and pain being caused and turned their heads? How many now turn their heads to the issues of today right around us? Where do I turn my eyes away from because I don’t want to get involved or feel guilty about? What am I doing to help those that are disenfranchised and on the fringe of society? Do I see them? I don’t want to see them if I’m honest. I don’t have a heart for them and then I wonder where my sense of righteous justice went.
I’m spending tonight at the Davenport Gap Shelter, inside another cage to protect us from bears. There were a few loud snores coming from some other hikers making it difficult to sleep. So I turned on my headlamp and read a little from the book of Luke until the noise couldn’t compete with my exhaustion.
Wednesday, April 28,1999
People shuffle in the mornings. Not too many people talk, their bodies are stiff and sore as they begin to loosen them up. I’ve been adding extra water to my instant oatmeal and powdered milk so I can drink my oatmeal like a shake. Then I drink my coffee and savor a Snickers bar to get me ready for the first challenge of the day. We begin with a 3,000+ foot climb. I am not appreciating Davenport Gap first thing in the morning.
I started my day off alone but after a few hours, I had taken a break and up comes Dawn Treader. After he had taken a breather and we were both ready to move forward, I fell in behind him and we talked and walked. After awhile we were just quiet, both of us thinking in our own heads when Dawn Treader startled me by stopped on the trail ahead of me, turned around, stared at me with a sparkle in his eye and excitement in his voice. He said, “I love shaved ice! I always have. For my birthday on August 15thI want a machine to make snow cones. My appetite has grown so much I am afraid already of getting fat after the hike.” He is so random I just burst into laughter.
It is true though, as we continue on this journey all of us hikers are getting more and more hungry. Our stomachs keep demanding more food. “You must eat more! More food! More Food!”it screams into our brains. One of my uncles told me that I would eat less on my hike than in the real world and that in all the hiking trips he took, he rarely would need more than a handful of granola. Ha! Well that might have been true for the first week as my body fed on itself and I was so muscle sore to know that I might be hungry, but now it demands more. My body is a machine that is needing more and more fuel. Obviously my uncle has never done long distance hiking to know how things might change over the course of a trip. I am getting close to mile 250 and my hunger has just started to really kick in.
I sat down for dinner last night with Dawn Treader and Shiver and I made up my spaghetti dinner. I threw my noodles into the boiling water with the “fruit leathered” tomato sauce, the dehydrated ground beef that was like granola, and them covered the pot and waited for everything to cook and rehydrate. Then I topped if off with some parmesan cheese I carried for special meals. I realized that my appetite just shot up and went huge. I knew my meal wasn’t going to be enough tonight. I knew it and I couldn’t do anything about it until I resupplied at the next town. I’m dreaming and craving anything with cheese, mostly pizza, and ice cream (especially Ben & Jerry’s), and also pasta, and chicken, steak, Sprite, Chinese food, meatball sandwiches, Philly Cheesesteak, burritos, more burritos, a hamburgers, no, 8 hamburgers…
As I dream of food I stare at the sky, storm clouds are rolling in. I just want more food. Pancakes, waffles, eggs, ripe pears…
My uncle offered me a job in Washington state before I left for this hike. He even flew me out to check out the job and to see if he could convince me to not go on my hike and do something more productive. He sat me down several times to impress on me that I was making a bad decision. He has always intimidated me and normally I would have caved to his pressure, but I knew that I knew that I knew, God was telling me to go on an adventure. Reluctantly my uncle told me that the job would be waiting for me when I finished my hike, but that he was very disappointed in me. He and his wife have always been disappointed in me and have always thought I was a bad influence on their kids, my cousins. Maybe I was. I could make an argument that he influenced me just as easily. I think I was a pretty innocent naive kid growing up, too scared to make a really bad decision. I think that going on this hike is one of my better decisions and I don’t know that I have the words to explain to my uncle why this is something that is of worth and value. I don’t think he would listen to me even if I had the words. Sometimes it feels like family is the most destructive force in my life.
I do think about my future vocation. Because I went to seminary it feels like I’m supposed to go into ministry as the next step. That’s what all my friends are doing, how come I’m not? It feels fake for me to go work for a church. I didn’t want to go find a job and sell myself. I didn’t want to lead others knowing what their expectations are. They want someone who knows the answers. Someone who is confident and charismatic. They want someone who has life better figured out and doesn’t struggle with things as much as I do. I’m glad I managed a coffee shop and worked in the seminary cafeteria for the last year. Many didn’t understand my choices but I enjoyed both jobs tremendously. I grew up watching my dad be a pastor in ministry and saw him get worn down and beat up by people in his churches. One of the elders in my dads church would write my dad his weekly paycheck, and right before he would hand it to my dad he would crumple it up and throw it at him. I don’t understand that. Why would I go into ministry if that’s what people are like. They say the want to follow Jesus and then they rip their pastor apart. I have enough struggles in my own heart and life, if I go into ministry I will be the biggest target anyone has ever seen. I have so many faults, some of them I even like, but I can’t hide them and I won’t hide them. When I hide them I go to a really dark place and then I sink to places that are difficult to ever come back from. I’ve been there, I don’t want to go there again.
I saw my first baby copperhead slither across the trail right in front of me. I don’t like snakes. Copperheads are the most dangerous because they don’t know yet how to regulate their venom. I just don’t like snakes.
Thursday, April 29, 1999
“The wind was cold off the mountain and I was a naked man with enemies behind me, and nothing before me but hope.” Louis L’Amour
The battle of the Mieces is begun. Moezass of the Ragamuffins drew first blood in the glorious red battle light of the setting sun. He struck a miece valiantly, his dark raven hair flowing out behind him. A metaphor for the dark curtain of death that was his hiking pole. I am sentry with the able eyes of Shiver, SideWinder and Dawn Treader. I am unafraid, even as the mieces surround the shelter.
3:03 a.m. Moses is down! The vermin crept in under cover of darkness and stole a stealthy coup on the hand of the Moses! Bitten! Bloodied! Still he does not waver. He has broken through their ranks en route to a hardware store in the nearby city for miece mauling accoutrements in the face of miece bite. They filled his pack with poison seeds but to no avail. He marches on this early morn and our hopes of salvation march with him. We shall fight our way out at dawn and join him in the hills. ‘Tis a glorious morn to die for God and country!
Rain,Rain, Rain, all night, all morning, pounding on my tent in Brown Gap. How is a guy supposed to get a good nights sleep? And how is this provide any kind of motivation to want to get up in the morning. My sleeping bag is warm and toasty while getting on the trail will only make me cold, very cold, and wet. Is this going to be a fun day? One thing that bothers me is that over the last week there have been many times when I secretly wonder where the fun went, is it leaving and will it come back. I know I’m not out here for fun, I get that, but it sure helps to carry me through these physically and emotionally draining mountains. Beyond the cold and the wet chills, the rain also adds extra weight to carry. My tent is wet, my clothes are wet, socks and boots soaked, it just adds to the burden. “More weight, great! I love it! Bring it on!” I yell to the sky. And I am a little concerned because there was a puddle in my tent when I woke up in the morning and my sleeping bag was a little wet because of it. There shouldn’t be water inside a tent. Is my tent defective? I am a little concerned because down sleeping bags don’t work when they are wet. My fear level just rose a little, and I don’t know if it’s a rational or irrational fear, but it just started to rise.
I finally crawled out of my tent and saw T-Bone and Buzzard sticking their heads out of theirs as they tried to decide what they were going to do. The decided to wait it out an hour or so to see if the rain might let up before moving forward. I like them. Buzzard is a nurse so I like to not get too far from her on the trail. We had spent the night on a service road so I wanted to go find a creek to get water from. The water flowing through my tent and down the side of the road didn’t interest me.
I made it to Walnut Mountain Shelter where I was able to get out of the rain and bitter cold to take a break for lunch. This morning I was ready to quit. I was so cold I could not even warm up my motivation. I wanted warmth inside and out. My bones felt cold. The temperature is dropping and not gaining. The longer I sat in the shelter the more I realized that it offers no protection from the biting cold. Its one of the older shelters on the trail. I didn’t know what to do so I just gave myself a bunch of motivational quotes and then I tried to suck it up and push on. That didn’t work. So then I pulled out my tiny radio and headphones and let the music distract me. I found a solution. Its amazing what music can do to change my spirit, I’m so grateful for having it today. It fills my head and gives my mind ideas to whirl about distracting from my numb fingers or the snot soaking into my ever-growing red beard. So I moved on down the trail. My right heel bleeding. That slowed me down a bit on the up-hills. My muscles wanted to charge up the hills but my foot just screamed at me. I’m planning of pushing on another 10 miles today making this a record distance day for me, 20 miles.
When I got to the shelter for the night, the rain and wind were still whipping around. The shelter was full of hikers I knew and many I didn’t, everyone was sitting inside on their sleeping bags eating, reading, or watching the storm. There were no open spots for people to put tents up. I pulled in and tried to find a place to set up, it was starting to get dark and I was tired and didn’t want to set my tent up in the rain and mud. I just wanted to cook a warm dinner and crawl into a dark corner to curl up. Nobody moved, nobody helped, I was talking to a silent wall of bodies. They didn’t want to share any space with a guy who looked like a drowned rat. They had their warm beds and I was an intrusion on their comfort. I had this fear growing in my mind about the tent not working and freezing in a wet sleeping bag, so I started to get angry that nobody would make room for me. I was tired from hiking 20 miles, cold, angry, and still without a solution.
So I angrily packed up my equipment after I ate dinner and, hefted my backpack onto my tired shoulders, cinched the straps on tight, pulled my hood down lower over my eyes, and walked back into the rain and the growing dark. The trail was so muddy my boots slipped and would get suctioned in puddles. My feet squished inside my boots, cold and soggy. I turned my headlamp on as darkness took over, and that’s when it started to snow. It started off with big wet flakes but they progressively got smaller as it got colder and it started to come down harder the closer I got to Hot Springs. What a name to motivate me. Not only am I cold, I’m actually really lonely. I struggle with being single. I would love to have someone to share this experience with. I would love to have someone who could change my life just by being a part of it. Someone who makes me laugh until I can’t stop. Someone who makes me believe I can succeed and encourages me forward. I want a deep friendship.
I made it another 4 miles but I wasn’t sure where to go to find the hiker hostile, with nobody around I made a guess. I turned left. After a half mile I knew this was the wrong direction so I backtracked. Then I went the other way and found a Catholic church that used to house hikers but is no longer open. Ugh. I had one direction left to go. Since I was completely soaked I no longer tried to avoid the large puddles around me, I now walked through them in a sort of mild masochistic vengeance glee until I found the hiker bunkhouse where I was instantly brought into a warm heated room and asked questions from the smiling hikers where were already warm and well fed. They showed me respected once they found out the 24 miles I had come. One guy even bowed down to me and told me he was not worthy. Miles gain respect to a hiker. What they didn’t know was that the last several miles I just dragged my leaded soggy soaked feet, sliding them more than lifting them up. I didn’t do it because I was so strong or gifted, I really didn’t have a choice because the snow was falling and I was freezing. I moved forward because I feared I could not keep my down sleeping bag safe and dry, I felt like it was a survival issue.
They had one last bunk available, a bottom bunk. I got in my bag, curled up in the corner against the wall, and thanked God. Then I fell asleep.
Friday, April 30, 1999
The hostel had a scale so I weighed myself, 170 pounds. I started close to 190 less than a month ago. I think four of those pounds were shed yesterday. Apparently, people were talking about me this morning because when I went into the common room, people come up to me with big smiles on their faces saying, “24” while nodding their heads with approval and respect. I don’t think they knew that I didn’t have much choice, I had to keep pushing forward. The post office in town had my mail in it so I shuffled down the road after breakfast and picked up my mail and food drop, enough to carry me another six days, it must weigh 15 pounds, it’s a huge burden. But the mail, that might be what carries me for the next week, I received letters from some close friends and it just feels good to not be forgotten and to still be connected.
Hot Springs, N.C. is a hidden treasure nestled in the mountains. It was named after the famous therapeutic mineral baths that have attracted people since the late 1700’s. In the 1800’s literature was sent around the eastern states to promoted the Springs as a remedy to “bring vigor to a wasted frame.”That is exactly how I feel today. I don’t know how many people traveled here to rest but I tell you that the trip here will make you need to rest. This town is perfect for exhausted, worn out hikers.
As I sat eating lunch in the hostel kitchen I got to talk and get to know Sidewinder better. He’s not enjoying this trip. He came out here because this hike was a challenge that his wife Sam-I-Am wanted to try. She attempted it last year and it almost killed him to be without her. So this year he will try it with her because of his love and desire to support her. It must be love because he hates physical exercise.
Sidewinder is a man of computers. He loves his work because it allows him to not suffer physical exertion. He reminds me of my brother who decided when he was 12 that when he grew up he wanted a desk job that would never make him sweat. And so far he has lived up to his dreams. Sidewinders said that his dream is to work in a boring job that is the same everyday, to work for a man who has no appreciation for his efforts and to get paid for it. The alternative in his mind is that he can hike every day so that it becomes mundane and boring, developing pain and suffering and not get paid for it. The more he talked the more anger started to seep out. This is not what he wants. His feet look like hamburger meat and that is not the pain that hurts him as he walks. It is the pounding of the bones in his foot. The deep bruising that feel like the pain of nails being driven into the muscle and splitting the bone. He wonders if maybe there is something to be learned or appreciated from this hike but he can’t see it at this moment. He’s hoping for some kind of truth that will become clear or some philosophical insight that can help him rationalize and justify this pain. Ultimately it doesn’t matter, as long as his wife is out here, so will he.
While in Hot Springs I visited the Jesuit House of Prayer, a spiritual retreat center, where Dawntreader and I were welcomed by a 72-year-old priest who showed us around and gave us some history of the Jesuits. They offer retreats in the structure of spiritual exercise in the tradition of St. Ignatius Loyola. He was the perfect gentle grandpa figure with loving eyes of a wise man and a warm inviting voice. They welcome any denomination, (Methodists stay the most), to come and find spiritual refreshment. I love the idea of a retreat center, it’s what I’m doing, I’m on a retreat in the mountains.
May 1, 1999
As I climbed up the trail leaving Hot Springs I passed by an outcropping called Lovers Leap that gives an amazing view of the French Broad River and the Pisgah National Forest. The legend of Lovers Leap was documented in 1906 by Sally Weir about a Cherokee chief named Lone Wolf, who ruled beside the French Broad River. He wanted his daughter, Mist-On-The-Mountain, to marry a powerful but old brave named Tall Pine. But Mist-On-The-Mountain fell in love with Magwa, a handsome young visitor to her village. Her father refused to let her marry Magwa, so he and Mist-On-The-Mountain traveled to the foot of the towering rock to meet and plan to run away together. But Tall Pine had followed and his jealousy was in full rage. He struck and killed the younger man while Mist-On-The-Mountain ran to get away. Tall Pine chased after her and cornered her on the high cliff, where she heard Magwa’s spirit call to her. She leaped into the river to be forever united with the one she loved and while Tall Pine stood in shock and anger, a panther attacked and killed him.
A man named Francis Asbury was very familiar with route I’m hiking on and traversed it almost annually from 1800 until his final trip through Hot Springs in 1815. He was a Methodist preacher who traveled by horseback a quarter of a million miles to share the story of Jesus to people living on the frontier. He must have needed this place to soak the area on his body where it meets the saddle.
Also located in Hot Springs, after WWI, as many as 2,800 German prisoners were interned in a detention center here. A prison was constructed to hold these German prisoners of war as well as many German-Americans just to make sure they would cause no trouble. They preformed band concerts and enjoyed their stay in the beautiful surroundings as much as you can while held against your will and guards with guns watching you. On one occasion, when it was rumored that they were to be transferred, some of them poisoned the drinking water, hoping to be made ill enough to prevent being removed. Unfortunately, they used too much poison and, as a result, some of the prisoners died. Many prisoners enjoyed the springs so much they decided to stay in the area after the war. The town is only about 650 residents, so to that many prisoners in the area was a huge population boost.
I finally received news about Stray. He had a stress fracture in his ankle and was forced off the trail for three weeks minimum to let his bones heal. I don’t know if he is going to continue once he is healed and risk damaging them again. Maybe he would start where he left off or I would love it if he would jump ahead to meet up with what is left of the Ragamuffins. I just hope he shows up at Trail Days Festival in Damascus, Virginia in two weeks. I’ve been wanting to know what happened to my friend and I’m sad to hear that our journey on this trail is most likely over.
I also found out that over four inches of snow were dumped in the mountains that I plowed through on my 24-mile day. I’m thankful I got through it safely. But today the sun is out and the snow is melting. It’s a good day.
Sunday, May 2, 1999
“Solitude is to the mind what fasting is to the body, fatal if it is too prolonged, and yet necessary.” Marquis de Vauvenargues.
I saw my first bear today, or at least part of him. As I walked down a hill I heard a loud crashing and breaking of branches to the left of me, and then I saw movement moving away from me down the side of the mountain. I didn’t even think but dropped my pack and went chasing after whatever I had scared hoping to get a sighting of whatever it was. All I saw was the bears furry black back disappearing into rhododendrons. It wasn’t all I had hoped and truthfully disappointing, but I saw my first partial bear. I have also seen several ticks in the last two days. Not the kind of wildlife that most people get excited to see and photograph but still wild. I have pulled three lone star ticks off of my leg, all before they had a chance to bite onto me, but I am not worried, it is the deer tick that carries the dreaded Lyme disease. There is a vaccine for Lyme disease but it takes three shots over six months and there can be a lot of damage done if not caught in time. So I’m on guard to more of those pesky guys.
Today was a tough day hiking mentally, so I turned on my radio at 4:00 p.m. to give me a little extra help. I found only two stations that were clear and one was public radio international, perfect. What was on was a cooking show I had never heard before, it was fantastic. I have never in my life been excited about listening to people talk food and recipes but it was I was so interesting to listening to a discussion on cooking problems and even the origins of recipes. I don’t know why history is becoming more and more interesting to me as I get older. I hated it in college, I struggled to stay awake in my classes and barely passed my tests. But lately I’m been inhaling books and journals that talk about history. Where was this hunger as I struggled through my Western Civilization at 8am? My mind was engrossed while by body flew through five miles without even noticing the pain of my bloody feet or exhausted legs. I even passing about ten people on the trail.
I’m enjoying that on this hike there is no predictability to what my day might look like. Yes I’m going to hike but I have no idea what I will see, who I will encounter, what problems might challenge me. I like not having my day, my week, or even my life mapped out. I trust that I have the ability to solve problems as they come, I’m smart enough to come up with solutions and I’m great at asking for help and guidance from others. Back home, I couldn’t hear silence in the noise of life around me. My self-important busy schedule, appointments, and even my commitments distracted me from hearing things that are really important. The silence in the ears does have a sound. How easy is it to hear God? Does God speak? Do I just not listen? If I listened would I hear you God? What would you say first? This land I am walking and the daily problems and struggles are unpredictable and I would have it no other way. Even though it is full of silence and loneliness, it’s exhausting and tiring, and its causes a dependence and trust in God and it’s helping me to listen to others. And I’m scared to listen to what God might say, so I don’t know that I’m, trying to fully tune in. I want God, I think I’m also scared of God.
Monday, May 3, 1999
The first lesson in hiking and in following the lead of God is that there will always be pain and suffering. It hurts. I don’t like it. I don’t have to like it. And I know I always like how I’ve grown when I’ve come to the other side. I would never want to be who I was again once I’ve grown. And I fear pain. I can’t stand it, I run from it, I avoid it, I don’t like the process of growth. I have unhealthy coping tools to deal with pain and I’ve damaged more relationships because I couldn’t face areas in my life that were damaged and broken. And I’m learning that I have to allow the process. I’m learning that pain doesn’t destroy me like I thought it would. So I’m choosing to sit in the raw, I’m choosing to sit in the rough and allow God to cut out infected areas. I don’t want to stay who I am, I like who God keeps growing me to be.
I’ve learned a lot over the last month about what it takes to hike long distance. I’ve gained a little practical experience and received knowledge from others hikers. I’m learning the difference between luxury optional hiking equipment and what is necessary survival equipment. I’ve discarded my camp chair that makes sitting around the fire with friends comfortable and relaxing. Now I fight for space on rocks, on the dirt, or using my sleeping pad. Extra rope was left at a hostel. I carried it in case I needed to hang a bear bag extra high or to support the tent. I gave away the extra duct tape and a ton of other “just in case”items. Things I kept to make me feel secure in the woods that I always had a plan if things went sideways.
But after weeks of carrying that stuff and not using any of it, its foolish of me to continue to pack it around on a long distance hike. Carrying too much stuff is what gave Stray a stress fracture in his ankle. He and I talked about getting rid of things out of his backpack and he couldn’t find anything he could live without. I can’t accept that answer for myself, I have to find more or I won’t make it myself. I think I’m down to almost nothing and yet I feel like I’m still too heavy. I have no underwear or deodorant (somewhere left along the trail), only one pair of shorts, two shirts, 2 pairs of socks, fleece pants (soon to be mailed home with the fleece gloves), fleece jacket, Gore-Tex pants and jacket, sleeping bag, Ridgecrest mattress, water purifier, stove, pot, fuel, shovel & toilet paper, drinking cup for oatmeal and coffee, 2-1 liter bottles to hold water, food bag, one fleece hat and one bandana, lightweight sandals for around camp (allowing my blisters to dry out), toiletries, and then my luxury items, a small book to read, my tiny radio, and my journal. In long distance hiking every ounce adds up. I broke my new toothbrush in half because it was too long and so it had unnecessary weight. Unnecessary? I used to think so. I still have a few things I am going to replace with lighter supplies but I’m getting close to being as low as I can go without ditching supplies (I did mail my tent ahead one week to try living without it and just stay in shelters.) My legs are continuing to get toughened and are better able to handle the mountains but its my feet that do most of the cursing, especially since they have grown at least ½ shoe size each. Not so much grown as flattened and been compressed out.
Final thought for the day: “Save the whales, collect them all.”