Tuesday, May 11, 1999
It was a short hiking day to get into Kincora, a hiker’s hostel run by Bob Peoples. As soon as I got in I dropped my pack and headed straight for the shower. It felt so good I had to take a second one about 30 minutes later. When the grime was off and I felt fresh I was ready to tackle laundry, read my mail, sift through my drop box of food and supplies, and then take a mid-morning nap. Best start to a day ever.

Top Ten Reasons to Hike the A.T.

  • Stargaze like you’ve seen in the movies
  • You decide to take a break from your eight hour a day job, so you took a six-month vacation where you work twelve hours a day, seven days a week.
  • You really don’t need toenails anyway.
  • The thrill of victory, and the agony of the feet.
  • Lose weight without dieting (and then get in superhuman shape).
  • “One day I was sitting on my front porch and I just got up and started walking. I walked clear across the country of Greenbow, Alabama. After I did that I figured, why not walk the whole Appalachian Trail all the way to Main? So I did. When I got to Maine I figured, well, I’ve come this far, might as well turn around and go back…” Forest Gump
  • It’s free! (Except food, clothing, equipment, hostels, and laundry…) The simplicity of having everything you need on your back and everything you want in the next town. You are also free to wake up with no agenda other than to put one foot in front of the other. No meetings, expectations, bills, or errands. free to stop and enjoy that overlook, make a fire and stare at the stars, sleep in – whatever you want and whenever you want.
  • Embracing the unknown. It’s an adventure and you don’t know what’s around the next corner or rise of the trail, who you are going to meet or what you might conquer.
  • Experience overwhelming pride. 6 months and over 2,000 miles is a huge accomplishment… mentally and physically. You will feel like a boss when you are done and excited to take on new challenges in life.
  • Because it’s there!

I met Retro the other day on one of my lunch stops. He was sucking in air and water while trying to build his courage to begin climbing the next mountain. Retro is a 60-year-old doctor from Rochester, NY, who came out here to take on the challenge of the trail. He is a type “A” personality who planned on about 15-20 miles a day to conquer the trail faster than most. But because of knee problems he has not been able to do so. He’s very frustrated that his body is not keeping up with the determination and drive inside him. He thought that at this age of his life he would not be learning anything new about himself, and he’s been surprised that the solitude in the mountains have found a way to humble and grow him. He is just realizing how strong his desire to have control of all things around him is. And he’s getting angry and has even gone into a rage as he’s been confronted with his lack of control. He told me that he broke down on the trail sobbing and weeping at what he thought was defeat when he realized he could not control his pain, his injured body, and the circumstances of the trail. And what made him angrier was that he didn’t know where to direct his anger. He had nobody to yell at, no strategy to outmaneuver others in. He had to give up control, he had to look at his goals and motivations and learn to adjust and to relax and to let things just happen. He said that he keeps getting mad, lets it turn to disappointment and sadness, and then lets it slip into a form of acceptance. And then he said, “Its been a powerful liberation for me, I’m learning to give myself the gift of self. My struggle’s not over and I think I know how better to face this next time it comes up. Probably later today. I had no idea how deep this fear of not being in control goes inside me, how much I have to learn to release and work through it.” He is a day behind me so I hope to see him catch-up while I take this day off so we can talk more.

Famous last words:
“Well that’s what the profile map says.”
“I know it’s getting dark, that’s why we will take this short cut.”
“Hey Mom, its me.” “Who is this?”
“I don’t need toilet paper as long as I have these three leafed vines.”
“Why don’t those people stand closer for the photo?”
“I’m not going to purify it, but if you want too.”

Wednesday, May 12, 1999
Bob Peoples runs the Kincora Hostel and has a love of hikers and the trail like no one else I’ve met. His whole life revolves around supporting others hiking passions. He also likes to give a gift to those that want it, he helps hikers slack pack. He loaded several hikers into his car, drove us ten miles further up the trail without our heavy backpacks, dropped us off and then let us run the 10 miles back to the hostel (He will then drive us back to that point with our packs to go forward later. It allows us to get miles in, get a couple of good nights sleep, and give our feet a break from 50 pounds pounding our bodies). It was wonderful to feel as light as a feather, almost running up the mountain peaks. I felt released from a starting block and didn’t know I could move this fast. This felt amazing!

I decided to spend another night here at the hostel with Bob, who looks like a mix between Einstein and Mark Twain. He lives off his military retirement and his hobby is taking care of hikers for a suggested $4 donation a night. That includes shower, laundry, kitchen and a very comfortable atmosphere that invites healing. My feet could use more time away from my hungry flesh-eating boots. He drove us into town for pizza last night and loves to hang out with us. He is not sure but he thinks he gets more out of it than us. He also is the trail maintainer for the area and has done some serious engineering, he’s built several stone staircases on the steep parts of the trail that left me in awe as I climbed them. Much of his sweat and blood has gone into making my hike possible and safe. Thank you.
Gypsy is ahead of me, now in Damascus letting her foot heal. Sam-I-Am “the Hut” and the Jedi formerly known as Sidewinder got a ride into Damascus so he could also let his feet heal for a few days during Trail Days Festival. Moezass is now Darth-Moezass and he also caught up with us after about a week of separation and has now pushed onwards ahead of me. They are so excited for the new Star Wars movie, Episode 1. So they are changing their names in excitement and anticipation. Darth-Moezass has a friend who got him six tickets to the opening night of the movie in the only theater in the area with the new Lucas sound system. I feel so lucky and excited to be invited among the six along with Dawn Treader and Shiver. I am so excited!! Moezass said he has been trying to catch us for a week to tell us about the tickets, but we are just too fast.

Many people believe that those who live deep in these mountains are violent and dangerous people. They attribute it to their Scotch-Irish ancestry, which they believe are by nature both hot tempered and clannish. Some believe they are responsible for all the historical feuding bloodshed and the illegal whisky making. Some people believe that the family feuds originated with the clans in Scotland while others get on a soapbox and say it’s due to poor living conditions, illiteracy, labor problems, isolation, boredom, and the fatalistic, mountain rugged individualism.

Regardless, they were very creative people. They liked to drink a mildly intoxicating drink called methligen, made by pouring water over a honeycomb and then setting it aside to ferment. In pioneer days it was a favorite at barn raisings and militia meetings. Up North in the New York Catskills and other areas where fruit grew more abundantly, many drank the hard fruit drinks. But what the Appalachians are best known for is the corn whisky also called moonshine, white lightning, or white mule. Sometimes the only way farmers could get their corn to the market was to distill it, bring it in liquid form. There was so much corn on the market the prices were driven down demanding another way to sell their product other than on the cob. Home brewing became a financial necessity. The government tried to put a tax on it to get its share of the profit but it only brought a revolt. President George Washington took federal troops through Pennsylvania to put down the resistance but never really settled the issue, instead whisky making increased. And it continued in the mountains until after the Civil War when the government again tried to crack down on illegal, unregulated stills. So the stills were built deeper and deeper into the dark crevice’s of the mountains where they could be hidden and stay hidden during prohibition where they were used to supply the demand for the whisky being served up in Southside Chicago “speakeasies” and other towns.

Whisky making is not a difficult process. Grind corn into malt and put it into a large tub until the mash is fermented. The mash is passed through a length of copper tubing called a worm, which is resting in a cooling tub through which a stream of water is constantly being poured into from a nearby stream. The cooling condenses the steam, which falls into a “singling keg.” To get a higher-proofed whisky the liquid is boiled again and passed through the worm yet again. Pour some in a glass, raise it high, then drink to your hearts delight. I am personally not a fan of the nectar but I can appreciate the history of it.

A wise mountain distiller could determine the quality of his product by shaking it in a bottle and counting the number of bubbles or beads it would form on its surface. Then the whisky marker would take the brew and mix in spring water and place them in barrels ready for delivery and sale. The mash was not wasted but fed to pigs, claiming it would make better tasting pork.

Much of today’s whiskey is not like that of the old mountain days. Because they avoided regulations and oversight, some of it contained deadly poisons from lead salts derived from the use of old automobile radiators and galvanized tubs that were scavenged to use as part of the still. Many stills have been found with dead birds, rats, squirrels, and other vermin floating in the mash. There have been many reported cases of blindness and even death due to bad moonshine. Are the problems all solved? Is everything above board now? HA! North Carolina and Tennessee continue to be the moonshine capitols of the nation with at least 1,000 stills operating in each. Apparently the way to tell good from bad whisky is you light a glass of it on fire. If you light the whisky and it’s yellow, bad stuff. You want a blue flame to show its purity. The word “moonshine” comes, they think, from the fact that early whisky makers worked only at night to elude detection from the law. “Squirrel hunters” are groups of armed men, mountaineers who act as the lookouts and private security for the still operations.

I have been run off land before for trespassing on marijuana fields in Kentucky and had a gun shot at me, or near me to scare me off. But I have never seen a whisky operation and I doubt there are any near the heavily trafficked Appalachian Trail. I wonder if pot is the new moonshine of our day.

Friday, May 14, 1999
Bob helped a group of us slack pack 20 miles yesterday. He dropped us off so that we would hike the opposite way we have been hiking so we crossed paths with about 30 hikers trying to make it to Damascus for the weekend’s Trail Days. When many of them saw us slack-packing they would shake their heads in disappointment at breaking rules and mumble something about me cheating. I get it. I’m shaking up their view of what hiking is. I hike as much of this trail as I want and any way that I want to do it. This is my life, my hike, and my decisions. This is not a competition. It’s a trail that over the years people decided to try and walk as much or little of it as they wanted. And it doesn’t impact the decisions others make about whey they hike or how they hike. But people will still shake their heads and mumble if I do not adhere to their style of hiking standards. I grew up within a system of Christian legalism and feel like I have an allergic reaction when I get around any form of legalism. I just want to either fight it and punch it or run away and go get a shower.
When I got back to the hostel I found that sickness has hit the Kincora. Shiver went down as her body purged. Then Pickle came down with the same thing. She is the first vegan (ultra vegetarian) that I have met. The after her Squanto caught the bug and put the rest of us on edge wondering who would be the next to fall. It was Shure Paw. His name is pronounced like, “Hey son, want to ride into town?” “Sure Pa.” “Hey son, want to fetch some wood?” “Sure pa.” His was a bit different, along with the normal symptoms he had the worst gases escaping his body, mostly from his mouth. He was scared to sleep at night for fear of blowing up. It was dragon breath that could melt flesh. His burps made us run for the doors and windows, this would be pretty funny if I was exaggerating but no, it was horrid.

When Trail Days began it started exactly how I imagined it would be. Hundreds and hundreds of dirty, unshaven, rumpled, smelly, people walking the two-street town without direction looking for friends they’ve made this far on their trip. Everyone was limping, walking slow, or shuffling along enjoying the freedom of being without their packs, being in a town that doesn’t look down on them, and seeing what the festivities might bring. As I walked the street I would hear every few minutes a loud cry of excitement as friends unite from past years or even just a few weeks. People were hugging, shaking hands, and I saw a few people crying with joy at a very long-lost reunion. I ran into Lazy, who gave me a big hug and told me that my body is almost wasted away, I think that’s a compliment? Hyper Hydie, a former Olympian, was warm and friendly until she recognized who I was, then she got very excited. My beard has grown to a length that stops people from having an instant recognition of me. Sam-I-Am and Sidewinder had lunch with me and I found that Sidewinder’s foot may have a stress fracture in it. He saw a doctor in town who treats thru-hikers for free and found his foot was flattening out in his boot causing all his problems. Some people’s feet have actually grown four shoe sizes. So when they step down, their feet flatten out which is causing many the loss of toenails and bone structure problems.
Moezass made it in along with Iccy, who is 70 miles behind but hitched in with the slack-pack group and said he has been hiking with them. He said he has heard nothing of Boo except that she stayed longer in Hot Springs after he left. Ben and Blake made it in, Blake hiking in at 3 a.m. to get there. Gentleman Jim was reunited with his wife and son who came out to visit him. He has lost a lot of weight and is looking good. I hope his goal is being realized. Mac and Cheese, T-Max, the B52 Bomber… many, many, people I have met or just recognized are all showing up, plus another few thousand.
On one special stage, Earl Schaffer gave a presentation about his third thru-hike that he just completed this last year just before his 80th birthday. Before his first hike nobody believed it could be done in one straight continuous shot. Nobody believed it could be done and nobody believed in him. He hiked when hiking was not popular as it is today. It is because of him that I am able to hike this trail, that I would know it could be done, and that we would have this festival. Earl created this long distance thru hiking.
Bob came back and took a group of us back to Kincora Hostel for our wonderful fourth night. I love people, I love the fun and noise and celebrating, and I love more the times of quiet at the end of the day and the time to not be “on.” Most people think that I’m extroverted because I enjoy people so much. I’m an introvert. I love solitude and quiet, time to process and to feel. I heard that many people have been lured into staying longer at the hostel because Bob is so kind and welcoming. He has definitely gone above and beyond the call of duty for me. The calm and quiet of the hotel helped me take deep breaths and relax. And it lets me get to build a friendship with Ponderosa and his girlfriend Cessna (after the plane). Ponderosa got his name because the first few days of hiking he was giving out Jolly Rancher candies to others and he refused to take on the name Jolly Rancher so he took the name of the only ranch he knew of, the one from the TV show Bonanza, the Ponderosa.

Saturday, May 15, 1999

The Official A.T. Answers
15-20 miles a day
yes, I’ve seen bears
Mac & cheese
50 lbs. or so
In a tent
4-6 months
Over 2,000
Yes, I walked here!

Our friend Bob took the group of us again to Damascus to join the festivities. This time he dropped us off for the last time. He’s a generous kind man and I’ve enjoyed my time with him and at his hostel. Hikers were walking around checking out the shops, sitting in groups in grassy areas catching up, and some out checking out the trade booths in a parking lot. Many different outdoor companies were selling their hiking products and answering questions about their equipment. Some booths even had people there to repair equipment that was showing significant wear or damaged, and if they couldn’t fix it they would replace it for free. I headed over to the Gregory table because I wear a Gregory backpack and the belt I use around my waist couldn’t cinch any tighter, it didn’t fit my more fit body size. The owner Gregory himself was there and fitted me for a smaller belt and just handed it to me. Thanks Gregory. Some hikers were being given hundreds of dollar’s worth of equipment and repair. These guys are taking care of us and standing behind their product. Very cool.
I figured I should try and find a place to set up a tent and put my equipment for the day so I started walking down the main street headed towards a grassy area near the river where most hikers were setting up their tents. That’s when I ran into an old friend. “Boo!!!” She looked exactly as I left her, bright and cheery and looking healthy and strong. She told me that her leg is better and that she is back hiking on the trail down in Irwin. We hugged and talked and laughed. I doubt that I will be hiking with her again, she’s still taking things easy and won’t be catching up to where I am on the trail.
This is the thirteenth annual Appalachian Trail Days and the height of the celebration is the parade. Every hiker gathered at one end of town cheering and celebrating and building up our excitement as we waited for Earl Schaffer to lead the procession. We gathered in groups based on the year the hike was completed. I stood with the largest group behind the banner made to celebrate the class of ’99 with the signatures of all who are attempting to thru-hike.
The crowd swelled with anticipation full of bearded crazy eyed men and hairy-arm pitted earthy women. Earl Schaffer got in a jeep and began to lead us through the town’s main street and to the battle that awaited us. Yes there was a battle. Hidden behind every third person of the crowd, ready, waiting, and poised were friends, family, and locals waiting to ambush us with water balloons, squirt guns, super soakers, water buckets, and other implements of water saturation devises. The battle began as soon as we started. Balloons began flying high above us and then arcing down and landing on our heads and feet. Quickly they were spotted and retaliation began. I had no idea this was going to happen, I was empty handed. Hikers in the parade began pulling out their implements of water saturation and returning fire. Nobody was safe in the parade or on the sidewalks. Everyone was getting hit by streams of water and you would get even more wet if you were near any of the mad balloonist. Children, teens, parents, community members, elderly, women and men all joined in to saturate and hydrate us and we did our best to return the favor. It was so much fun laughing and dripping at the unique parade.
Because the town is small the parade moved as slowly as it could to savor and enjoy our 20 minutes of fame as well as to extend the fun of the water war. Behind the groups of hikers followed the local boy scout troop, the local Shriners chapter, the fire department, classic Jeeps, horses and an ambulance. The parade ended at the North end of town where the fair was set up with food, funnel cakes, dunking booths (because we didn’t get wet enough in the parade), music bands on a stage, and crafts. As we disbanded Earl Schaffer was waiting to shake hands and grin a toothless smile at each of us.
The talent show was had some cute songs and skits by kids. Chico Man the thespian actor, did a monologue of the lion from the Wizard of Oz, looking royal with his bandana for a crown, shortened hiking pole for a scepter, and his Gore-Tex jacket with his arms coming out through the pit zips to be his cape. He was the King of the Appalachian Trail. No matter how bad an act or song was, everyone who participated won some equipment. Hiking poles, water purifiers, sleeping pads, Nalgene bottles, boots, and the grand prize being a new pack.
I did get a little sad as I walked around town later that night. It seems that all these people around town, crowding about, drinking together, eating meals, sharing memories, I feel that I am close to no one but Dawn Treader and Shiver. Maybe I spend so much time with them. I try and give them space when it feels like they need it but I don’t know that others really get me either. I think I’m an odd duck. I spent most of my time by myself with the odd moment of a catch-up conversation. I was also sad because I had spent the day looking for Stray. I looked in every store, sat at street corners watching, looked in every restaurant and asked everyone I knew about him. I never found him or heard any news of him. If he were here I would have found him.
As night fell and darkness covered the town, alcohol was brought out without fear of detection. Joints were rolled, pipes were lit with marijuana, and some people took a hit or two from things I could only guess on. The smell began to fill the town and there didn’t seem to be a safe from it.
I didn’t know what else to do so I headed down to my tent to read. Unfortunately, that seems to be where most of the party had gravitated towards also. The grassy area down by the river is where most people tented, many for this very night life, while some of us camped here because we had no idea of where else to tent in the town. A bonfire was lit gathering people to it like moths. Then the drums started showing up. As the beating noise filled the air, more and more drums continued to show up bring a rhythm to the night. Hands slapping the skins of the drums in unison creating a chant that people were mesmerized by. Where did all these hikers get drums from? They are not hiking with them. I am starting to wonder how many of these people are hikers and how many are hippies who are crashing the party because we look and smell the same right now. People swayed or danced but most just sat staring at their hands hypnotically as they were illuminated by the fire. I put my earplugs in and did my best to crash while staring at the ceiling of my yellow and gray tent. The party continued into the late hours of the night and then into the early morning, drums, yelling, shout outs, whistles, people continued to drink and make merry and yelling out to others to try to get them to join them. I laid there listening to the noise and just sad in the feeling of sadness and aloneness.

Sunday, May 16, 1999
Dawn Treader and I met up with T-bone and Buzzard for a morning hike. The two of them had a friend who could drive us back 22 miles down the trail for us to hike back up to Damascus to complete the section that we skipped to make it to Trail Days. We piled into their friend’s truck and ended up not at the trailhead but a Shoney’s all-you-can-eat breakfast. They wanted to treat us to breakfast. How can you turn down a gift like that? So, we ate, and ate, and ate, because we can. We wanted them to feel like they got their money’s worth, but we over did it and loved every bite.
Buzzard is usually the quite one who listens and processes the conversation but this morning she was vocal and engaged. She talked the whole time at the restaurant and then the whole drive as we sat in the back of the truck on our way to the trail. She met T-Bone years ago while they were caving, (cave exploring), which is how she met the last four guys she has dated. She is a 44-year-old grandmother who loves adventuring and enjoys how wild cavers are. She thinks hikers are tame in comparison and a little disappointed at the discovery. She likes having Dawn Treader and I around and hopes we will catch up with them after our days off to watch Star Wars.
When we got to the trail we immediately set off towards Damascus. After an hour Dawn Treader started to not feel so good. We both had an urge to throw up and find relief out the other end. After several more miles Dawn Treader started to feel really sick and wondered if he had caught the virus that is hitting many hikers. His fear made him try to hurry to get his miles under his belt, so he kicked his speed into a jog. I held back to my steady pace and didn’t see him for another four miles where he was taking a long break. I was feeling better by then but for Treader, his problem had moved further down and was freely flowing, causing him to stop every few miles to dig a quick hole. Thankfully we had grabbed toilet paper from Shoney’s because we were now in great need. Then it hit. Diarrhea ripped him apart. He continued to walk down the trail cursing the whole time at the pain down below. All his wiping caused chaffing leaving the feeling of fire where it meets the saddle. He tried walking on his toes to alleviate friction but that didn’t help, wedging paper between his cheeks didn’t work, and he almost decided to just sit in a cool mountain spring to relieve the pain.
We did run into Retro on the trail as he was hiking towards Trail Days. He had taken four days off to heal his knees and to rest from the now familiar sickness going that had hit him. He has enjoyed the temporary peace on the trail as everyone is in Damascus celebrating. It wasn’t that big of a deal for his to make it there. People getting trashed and smoking weed, that phase of his life is past. I get it.
We talked a lot as we walked close to each other to try and focus on something other than our bodies struggles. I opened up and got pretty vulnerable, I decided to take a risk and go deeper. I don’t have many close male friends and I wish I did. I’m pretty bold so I’m used to being the first one to open up, but it doesn’t always produce a friendship like I want. I shared some of the things that are causing me pain, some of my struggles and junk, and some things that I fear deeply. Sometimes when I share with another you feel like your heart was heard and understood, and other times its feels like they have no idea what they just got themselves into and you immediately regret getting real and feel embarrassed. I would love some support but I’m not sure Treader can go there with me. I don’t know that’s what he wants to do on this trail. I was met with a lot of silence.
This was the worst 22 miles of Treaders life. He walked the entire 22 miles in anguish with a pinched face and clenched fists. Such determination. Maybe he couldn’t talk because of the pain. Maybe that’s the reason for the silence. Maybe I just had really bad timing in when I chose to share. I’ll give him some grace and patience and see where this might lead to.

Monday, May 17, 1999
Today I headed back into the woods but it wasn’t a fast exit. I mailed home my fleece pants, gloves, hat and some film thinking I was done with winter. Then I hefted my pack onto my shoulders and it still felt like a crushing weight. So, I decided I had to see if I could solve this. As I prepared for this trip this last year I went and visited a few outfitters to help me get the equipment I would need. I wasn’t a hiker and I had no clue what I would and wouldn’t need. I believed that an outfitter’s goal is to help hikers and campers be prepared for the adventure of hiking in the mountains. They kept telling me over and over that I needed more and more equipment to be prepared for everything I might encounter and be ready for any survival situation that might occur. So, I bought all the items they told me. Now I look at much of the stuff I carry and I still haven’t touched it. And the weight is damaging my body. I started to get angry, I’m feeling like I was deceived and being used for just a sale. Or maybe they have no idea what they are talking about. Maybe they have no idea what it takes for a long-distance hike. Maybe they only know how to outfit weekend hikers.
The ounces of weight on my back add up and over the course of days, weeks, and now months, hiking up and down these mountains with unnecessary weight can cause serious injury or just the anguish of the burden that can emotionally ruin a trip. When life is nothing but walking up mountains with no end to the lifestyle, weight is one of the most serious issues that must be addressed. Today I ended up buying a 1 lb. 3-oz tarp and mailing my 4+-lb. tent home along with it my 1.5 lb. purifier which I am going to miss. I am now in the small circle of bleach users. I add about 3 drops of bleach per liter of water, which is supposed to kill all the junk that could hurt my body. It doesn’t taste any different from city water and saves both weight and space. I may still have some floaties but I’m good with a little ruffage.
I laid out all my equipment and went meticulously through it. I cut straps on my equipment that were too long. I cut my toothbrush in half. I minimized survival equipment and started to toss anything I haven’t used yet. I have shaved body weight (I am personally now down to 170) and my pack is at 51 lb. with full water and food. Ouch! That is still too much and I will continue to work on this. Soon I am going to buy a fleece blanket and mail home my sleeping bag. If I had the money I would completely re-outfit myself with better but lighter equipment that is not pushed by the stores for their profit.
I hiked my first official blue blaze today. On the trees along the trail, every so often you will see a painted white rectangle to let you know that you are still on the correct trail headed north. If you take a side trail it will have a different symbol painted on trees to let you know what trail you are on. Every so often when the white blaze of the Appalachian Trail goes over a tough climb mountain, there is a gentle blue blaze (a blue rectangle painted on trees) trail that will go around the mountain as an alternate route and reconnect you to the AT further up on the trail. Sometimes a blue blaze was created to take a hiker down a more beautiful path but you won’t know until you try it. This blue blaze trail was called The Virginia Creeper Trail which follows the Whitetop Laurel Creek, though I would swear it’s a river. It is a well-groomed path that leads out of town and lets you enjoy the sounds of tumbling water and have a peaceful walk. Apparently the thought of a gentle and beautiful walk lured many hikers as we adjusted back to the trail after taking several days off. I was surprised at the number of hikers that choose this path instead of being purists. Many hikers even rode down the path on mountain bikes enjoying the lush vegetation, the flowers blooming, and the many wooden bridges and rapids to be seen. They are taken up the mountain 17 miles by a local bike rental company and then they mountain bike the gentle descent, coasting for much of the way on a groomed gravel path back to Damascus getting their “exercise.” I was told that pedaling was optional. But for the beauty I cannot blame them for whatever means it takes to enjoy this journey.
A group of us only hiked about seven miles before we found a beautiful place to set up camp by the river. Soon we had a good-sized crowd joining us. Ponderosa, Cessna and her dog Pooh, Squanto, V.P., Humbolt, and Lemur, a new guy who looks like a young Donald Southerland, he’s about 25 years old. His passion is fishing so as soon as his tent was up he was down with a line on a stick hoping to catch his dinner for himself.
V.P. is a man who is aggressively seeking truth. He enjoys reading the Bible, especially the book of Ecclesiastes because it outlines all that is not of worth. He believes God is to be sought after with all strength but does not yet know what the religious form will be. He was raised in a Christian family but is not sure if that is the path he wishes to walk. Of all those who say they are searching for God, I actually believe he is. He desires to live a life of simplicity away from all the trappings of American values, especially materialism. He gets frustrated with Christianity because from what he has seen and experienced, Christians often seek wealth and status then say, “it is the blessings of God.” Then it becomes a karma mentality of not wanting to share the wealth with others or raise up others to a place of authority because God is to do that, and not them. They were good so God raised them up. Others were bad so that explains why they lack. That doesn’t line up with his thoughts on brokenness, giving, and being poured out that he sees as the real message of Jesus. He cries out that there must be a better way to know and experience God. And that is it. He see’s a lot of the forms of Christianity, a lot of lip service to God, the right prayers, the right dress code, they go to church on Sunday and memorize the right verses and want others to see that they have the right image of a successful sanitized redeemed, but do people really want to experience God? Do they want to hear the voice of God and be shaped by that voice? And he wants to know, “How do I hear that voice?”
V.P. is also thinking of leaving the trail, it is just not fun for him anymore. The day-in day-out is getting mundane for him so he is thinking about taking his new beat-up old motorcycle and just hitting the road. I was surprised when Dawn Treader echoed similar thoughts. He feels that he has experienced the Appalachian Trail and is ready to see the beauty of the end in Maine. I think I can understand that. But I also feel like I’m learning so much that I don’t want this to end. I may not enjoy the pain of blood and blisters and exhaustion, but I’m loving how this is shaping my heart and thoughts. And I don’t know what I’m doing next in life and the idea of getting closer to having to make decisions puts a little fear in me. It’s hard to decide when I don’t know what will excite me next. My future is a blank page and I don’t know what to fill it with. So, I’m glad I have months to go before I need to have my next step figured out.
Wylah is Humbolts psycho dog. In the Smokey Mountains dogs aren’t allowed on the trail so she boarded her up. Wylah didn’t like that being in the kennel and made a jail break…she broke free and made a dash. A police officer was able to find her and as he recaptured her he was bitten for his troubles. Wylah barks at every hiker she sees. Wylah supports the reason most hikers don’t care for dogs on the trail.
I am no longer a tenter but a tarper. Using small rope, I tied the corners up to trees and then snuggled into my fresh air shelter. It felt weird to not be enclosed but I figure it will just take a little time to get used to it. In the middle of the night something started to scrape my shoulder. My mind was foggy with sleep so I slowly started to move to see what was scraping me. Then teeth started to scrape the back of my head as I was being bit by something. My mind became alert as adrenaline flooded through my body. I was in danger and I became very alert. It was dark and I couldn’t see what was happening so I yelled out and swung with me arms and fists to fight off whatever was trying to make a midnight snack of me. My head was in her warm slimy mouth! The first thought going through my mind was that I was under attack by a bear. That brought on panic. I reeled backwards to the end of my tarp and turned to see what was after me. It startling the attacker who barked at me, drop her head and tighten her body to go into an attack. Wylah was growling at me preparing for a lung. Before she could attack me Humbolt yelled at her dog to return. Wylah gave me one last look and then retreated back to her bed. It wasn’t a bear but I was still alert and jumpy the rest of the night. Every time the wind stirred the trees, a stick fell to the ground, or someone in their tent moved I was up shining my light looking for devil dog eyes. I was a little freaked out. That dog should not be on the trail. I’m re-thinking this tarp idea.