Wednesday, July 7, 1999

Llama an I spent a relaxing evening on Annapolis Rocks, cliffs overlooking the beauty of Maryland. Few hikers are moving today, the heat is rising and that seems to slow us all down. As the two of us hiked it felt like we were the only hikers headed north, we saw only a few people the entire day, it was a little weird. And of the hikers we did see, we didn’t know any of them. A few hikers we are friends with are pushing hard to gain some miles, but most people Llama and I know are behind us or no longer hiking. I looked over my shoulder a few times hoping to see someone coming up behind us with a grin trying to startle us, but it was always just the sounds of the woods that I was hearing. I did read a not from Moezass. He apologized to a few people for leaving them but Sam-I-Am and Sidewinder had been hurtful to him so he just left everyone and pressed north on the trail without them. 

Thursday, July 8, 1999

The moment I’ve been waiting for finally happened at lunch and it was not as I had hoped it would be. I was standing by myself at the Hemlock Hill shelter changing into a dry pair of shorts and applying Gold Bond to the sweat rash areas when I heard a crashing of branches and leaves in the bushes 20 feet away. I immediately begain to panic not because of the cause of the unknown noise but because I was without shorts on and naked for the word to see. I had just applied a very liberal amount of Gold Bond to my sensitive areas which had caused a cloud of the excess powder to get caught by the wind and form a minty fresh cloud around my body and falling like dandruff onto my boots when out of the brush walked a very large black bear swaying back and forth to his own theme song. He had a very cute little face, tan against his black fur. He seemed nice enough upon first meeting. I stood frozen with my hands holding my private parts (I don’t know why a bear would care to look), but he didn’t see to notice me at first. He started to walk towards me with no hurry or anger, or even curiosity, that’s a good sign. As he strolled towards me I kept thinking to myself, “I just Gold Bonded and he is going to eat me like a mint. I’m a living candy cane.” He walked right by me, I could have reached out and taken the stick stuck in his fur out had I felt generous. I didn’t move, not because my hands were protecting my modesty, or because I was taking in the beauty and majesty of nature, or because I was sadistic and wanted him to be called “hair stick”by his friends, I was just terrified, amazed, and overwhelmed at the power, strength, and rawness of the bear that could cause serious damage to my body had he wanted to. And as fast as he emerged he was gone. He didn’t even care I was there. I’m not sure he even saw me. He was just cruising through in his own groove looking for some bear lovin. I was thinking no one would believe my story when Llama came up the trail with her eyes large asking, “Did you just see that bear?!”  Again I panicked and scrambled to cover myself, ducking behind a picnic table with a large cloud of white powder stirring up again. 

Soon the two of us arrived at the Pen Mar State Park (Pennsylvania/Maryland) we were heat drained and beat down and looking for cold soda to wash down the dust in our throats. I was limping quite a bit from the blisters. I have even rubbed off the skin from the tops of four toes skipping the whole blister phase. As soon as Llama spotted the soda machine hidden in a cage we made a direct line for it. As soon as we got there, we throw our packs to the ground in a mad rush to release our burden and to get at our change. I was about to put our quarters in when we noticed that every soda choice had a red light lit, empty. Every choice. 

“I’ve just sucked one year of your life away. I might one day go as high as five, but I really don’t know what that would do to you. So, let’s just start with what we have. What did this do to you? Tell me. And remember, this is for posterity, so be honest — how do you feel?”  Princess Bride

“NO!! no, no, no!” I yelled out loud. Everyone in the park heard my cry and the sound of desperation and torment in my voice.

“Inigo Montoya: Do you hear that Fezzik? That is the sound of ultimate suffering. My heart made that sound when the six-fingered man killed my father. The Man in Black makes it now.”  Princess Bride

About 15 feet away from us, sitting at a picnic table sat two women and a man with a cooler and food grilling over hot coals. We didn’t mean to, but our eyes full of sadness and poverty were drawn in their direction. They looked around the park, at each other, shuffled their feet, ran their fingers through their hair, sniffed, trying to ignore our unashamed on-looking. We were turning to leave when they quietly spoke over to us, “if you want some diet Pepsi we have an extra.” We honestly weren’t even trying to yogi, yet and we hit trail magic.  Soon a huge family with many children surrounded us asking questions from all directions at once about our hiking journey. They belonged to the two women and the man but they had been playing on the park’s jungle gym. Once they decided they liked us, that our smell didn’t offend them, they offered us all the extra-long hotdogs we could eat…I was so proud of Llama, she took down 4 while thoroughly enjoyed ten. I didn’t mean to eat so much but they kept offering so I kept eating. I was just trying to be a gracious guest. They were good people and enjoyable company.

Opy showed up behind us, she walked over to us and said, “farewell.”  She is heading home because she is just not having fun anymore. This heat can suck the joy out of Santa. Drought conditions are hitting, which will force us to carry more water (warm water that goes down the throat but cannot quench the thirst) bearing us down with added weight to make us sweat more.  I think this is more dangerous for me than hypothermia in the winter months.  My body does not cool down well.

As soon as we left the park we hit the Mason-Dixon Line taking us from the “Appalatchin” Trail to the “Appalashun” Trail. I have officially made it to the northern states and my 7thstate, Pennsylvania.  

Llama and I didn’t hike too much further, when we found a shaded cool flat area in the mountains we stealth camped and ate mac and cheese, I was still hungry. Ohhh, I love cheesy mac and cheese. And the way I make it with extra butter is so good. I just happen to carry a squeeze bottle with me these days. I never knew how much butter makes everything better. This night would have been another night that would have blended into any other except at 1:30 a.m. a bear wandered into our camp looking for some fine tasting vittles or a side of Wadi. I felt the physical feeling of fear rise in my body starting in my chest and shooting up like a thermometer to the top of my head. I was lying on top of my sleeping bag, it was dark, I felt completely vulnerable. I tried to make noise but that felt foolish. I didn’t want him to attract him to come to the source out of curiosity or to shut that racket up. So I held my breath. Llama was sleeping next to me and then I heard her stir. She woke up needing to go to the bathroom, paused, then whispered, “Wadi, is there a bear out there?”“Uh hu.”I replied fearfully. I felt her go stiff next to me. I felt weak and helpless because I didn’t know what the bear would do or where the bear was. I held Llamas head to my chest and we just prayed, I didn’t know what else to do. I felt very needy and dependent on God tonight. I think that’s a good place to be even though I absolutely hate feeling that way. From childhood we are wired to become independent. To grow and to take care of problems, to strive and accomplish. And I even strive to be independent from God, “God I want to follow you but I don’t want to need you. I want to love you and serve you, but I don’t want my life to ever be at a place where I have to cling to you for desperation.”  Tonight I clung to God and I felt comfort and heard God say, “I love it when you need me.”

Friday, July 9th, 1999

In the morning Llama and knocked out some quick miles in the cool of the morning, excited to be walking and spending time together. Sierra caught up to us and passed us with news that Buttercup was off the trail because of her foot. She took a bus back to Portland, Maine and is hoping to return in three weeks after rest and healing. I don’t expect to see her again. Then in a blink, Sierra blended into the trail and was gone. The sun was out but it didn’t seem to get too hot. I felt like I was loose and moving fast and easy as I threw down a fast 13 miles and had pulled ahead of Llama. I hadn’t seen Llama in a few hours so when I arrived at a service road I unloaded my pack, grabbed a snack, pulled out a book and got comfortable in a small grassy area while I waited for Llama to catch up. 

I was certain I had a good half hour of reading ahead but within about 5 minutes there she was just plugging away down the trail at a fast pace. She says she’s not a fast hiker but she had some speed to her today. You could see in her face that she knew it. As soon as she saw me a huge grin spread across her face. She knew she had surprised me. 

About 20 feet from me her foot caught a very small root, her momentum pitched her forward and she brought her arms up to brace for a fall but they got tangled in her hiking poles. Her face turned to shock and panic. She fell in slow motion towards me with her pack weight slamming her down into the ground. She said she was watching my face as she fell, my eyes growing large and then my face was out of view and she saw the ground reach up to her face. She hit the ground with full force, her arms pinned beneath her, unable to catch herself. She saw the dirt and gravel smash into her face as she bounced and skidded upon it towards me.

Fear flooded my brain. I jumped to me feet. Out of a cloud of dust she lifted her head up and I saw blood pouring out of her mouth and down her face as she cried out, “Help!”Immediately I was running over to her crumpled body, I lifted her up by the backpack and turned her over. Her face had gone numb so she asked through spit and blood, “are my teeth still there?”

“Yes, there is a lot of blood and cuts on your face but your teeth are all there.” I assured her.

Her teeth and tongue were fine. Her teeth had gone all the way through the skin under her lip and her chin was gouged by rocks and filled with gravel and dirt. I washed it up as best as I could with the water we had but this needed more attention than I could give. She had tears streaming down her face and my heart just broke for her. 

The service road we were on led a few miles to a town that had her mail drop at the post office, so I loaded my pack on and then strapped hers to my chest turning me into what felt like a Sherman tank. She felt weak from the shock to her body but we made it a mile to a busy road where we tried to hitch into town. We stuck our thumbs out, tried to look pitiful, and I regretted washing all the blood off her face. Truck after truck after van and sports utility car passed us by without a head turning in our direction. A few cars waved at us but none stopped to help a cut-up woman and a man carrying two backpacks. So we pressed on, walking the busy road with no shoulder. I started getting very frustrated.  

When we got to town we first went to the post office to get her supplies, and then we started to try and fix her face. We started going around asking for help, trying to find a doctor or hospital that could help us. We went into a motel, they only told us that they were full and to move on. We walked into a restaurant and told they couldn’t help us. We walked into a bar, and a gas station and nobody would talk to us. Nobody would even share any information with us. I tried to explain why she needed help but people did not listen, they just walked away. How is this possible?

Finally a man pumping gas told us to walk up the hill to a retirement facility, he believed that they should have a nurse on duty who could look at Llama. So we continued trying to solve this problem. All we really wanted was someone to look at her injuries and tell us if she needed to get stitches and someone to clean the rocks and grit out better than we had been able to do. I was getting pretty angry and not being able to solve this quickly. 

We entered the retirement facility from the back doors and walked through cold echoing halls with quiet elderly people sitting watching us in wheel chairs and attendants walking around with eyes down on their charts. When we got to the front desk we asked for help but the receptionist coldly turned  us away without even looking at us. “We can’t help you, there are liability issues, there is a hospital about 25 miles away.”

“Do you see that we have no vehicle, we are hikers, that will take us two day to get there.”I said with my teeth clenching in frustration but trying to keep calm. 

She said, “I can’t help you.”And walked away to another room.

We left, me angry and Llama in tears. When we got to the main road we stuck our thumbs out only to have people pass. It was then that I thought, “Maybe we should ask God to help.”I told Llama my idea and I immediately prayed out loud, “God we need you right now, we need you in a tangible way to help Llama and for you to heal her.”

Within three seconds of completing my prayer a security officer from the retirement center pulled up in his car and told us to get in, “I heard there were some hikers who needed help and I just got off my shift. Ill take you to the fire department, they can help you.”We climbed in for a short drive to the fire station where there was an EMT.  Within a minute after we got dropped off, Suzie, the secretary treasurer of the fire station, took us in with a smile and rang the alarm to bring help. Suzie and Patsy, the Fire Chief were about to send us in an ambulance but then they talked quietly between themselves and then walked over and said, “We decided that since we have to drive to the same town as the hospital, just climb into the jeep and we’ll save you a bill.”They were very kind to us and wanted to make sure we were comfortable and happy. Their generosity made Llama cry again, this time for a good reason.

When we arrived at the hospital Suzie and Patsy gave us hugs and waved as were taken in by the friendliest workers who not only enjoyed their jobs but they enjoyed each other. Llama got a tetanus shot, received one stitch inside her lip and a glue bond on the outside of her chin due to the massive gouges of flesh dug out.  They took great care of her and then came out to give me directions to stores and a hotel for us. They gave us hugs as we left and then we saw Suzie and Patsy in the waiting room waiting to make sure we were ok. More hugs.  They even asked us to send a picture of our stand on Mount Katahdin (the end of the trail).  We left and walked towards our hotel when twice we were approached from hospital workers offering us rides back to the trail whenever we wanted. 

The difference before and after prayer was the most amazing thing I have ever witnessed. The two of us talked about that the rest of the night and praised God. I’ve never experienced anything like it.

“I love it when you need me.” God

Saturday evening, July 10, 1999

At 8 a.m. this morning one of the nurses that helped Llama, Roy, picked us up from our hotel and then helped us run some errands. He took us to the post office to mail off some letters, the store to get some extra supplies, and to the trail, releasing us to continue our journey. He was a warm friendly man who was patient and encouraging, and when we offered him money for his time and trouble he gently laughed at us, waved goodbye, and drove off.

Just past Quarry Gap Shelter Llama and I were walking and talking and watching where we put our feet as we navigated through a dry riverbed, when STING! YEOUCH!  Yellow Jackets started to swarm us, flying in at us from all directions, stinging my legs and cheek. Panic rushed in and I was throwing my hiking poles aside and deploying my pack off before sprinting down the trail pulling the angry insects off my legs and cheeks. I was smashing the buzzing crunchy insects between my fingers as they fought me. 

Llama had gotten away with only two hard stings, one where it meets the saddle, swelling up to a silver dollar size. I had a few stings and was nervous to go back and get our equipment that littered the trail. I approached cautiously but couldn’t see any signs of the wasps. Llama and I kept looking at each other with curios confusion expressions. We decided that there must be a nest under one of the rocks we walked and as long as we didn’t step on it we should be fine. We retrieved our equipment without incident and were about to continue on and lick our wounds, when we decided we should mark the area so no other hikers would succumb to the same fate or worse than us. 

We took out some paper and wrote a warning note, built a stone pile up and stuck a corner of the note under a rock to stop hikers. Then I wanted to place another note on the other side of the nest to warn hikers approaching from the other direction, but I wasn’t sure where that hive was. Apparently I misjudged where the hive was because I stepped on the hive a second time. They were more prepared this time and still angry. A swarm flew out from around my feet and engulfed me in buzzing darting attacks. Again I ran. Again I pulled them out of my beard and crushed more in my hands. I couldn’t believe I did that. Llama just shook her head in either humor, amazement, or the ridiculousness of me, I’m not sure. I knew where to put the second note though. And we hobbled down the trail, me with 8 yellow-jacket stings all over my body making me very uncomfortable throughout the rest of the day. 

We heard later from a trail maintenance crew that two kids had been stung earlier and had bad reactions, both had to be hospitalized, their faces swollen and unrecognizable. It’s easy to get angry at the wasps but in reality, they were just defending their nest and doing what it is they do. They weren’t trying to be mean, they were just doing what they do. 

Sunday, July 11, 1999

This morning I woke up and my body decided that the wasp stings were worth complaining about. My legs were swollen as I put my socks and shoes on. I felt puffy as I walked down the trail, a slight ache to remind me of my previous days silliness. What it feels like is when I accidentally had a stick puncture the skin on my thigh, break off and stick straight out from my leg two weeks ago. That ache is the same ache I have with the stings, times 8. But I had a huge motivation to get on the trail and move. Today is the half-gallon-challenge! I couldn’t be more excited. 

The Pine Grove Furnace General Store is about half-way between the beginning of the Appalachian Trail and the ending. And a tradition has developed among the hikers, to stop and eat ½ gallon of ice cream to celebrate the completion of ½ of the trail. 

Sierra, Wadi, Lau-Hu

Everyone had their own strategy for how they wanted to eat theirs ranging from flavor choices to techniques. Some people just didn’t care and chose whatever flavor sounded delicious at the moment. I chose mint-chocolate-chip while others chose vanilla, peanut-butter, cherry, or chocolate. Sierra and Lau-Hu and I sat around a small table challenging each other to eat more than we really should. 

A few quotes I was able to write down were: “I started at the back and worked my way to the front. I think I psyched myself out, I should have gone from one side to the other.” -Sierra

“It helps to go to the bathroom at the half way mark.” -Lao-Hu

“I’m going to wash my hands again, it seemed to help.” -Sierra  

“I think that if I stripped down naked it might help.”-Anonymous Badger

“Oh it hurts, it hurts so bad.”-Lao-Hu

As we sat around the table staring at each over our swollen bellies we exchanged gorging secrets. I’m so thankful to all the cows who gave of themselves who gave all they had for this prestigious tradition. Anonymous Badger chose to eat spoonful’s of salt to help balance the sweet of the ice cream. My secret was large aggressive spoonful’s and at times handfuls of the green dairy product smashed into my face and mouth. I completed in victory in 40 minutes while some took two hours having to drink a warm thick milky sludge at the end. A few like Llama just got too sick and had to stop or they would throw up. As soon as I finished my mint-chocolate-chip I turned to Sierra, who had quit on his peanut butter, and started to help carry him across the line by eating some of his. Nobody is left behind on this one. This earned a round of standing applause from all around. 

Lao-Hu said “I’m going to have nightmares about vanilla for the rest of my life.”  Kimberly ended with, “38 of the stupidest minutes in my life.”

And what is the reward? The sweet memory of success and a job well done.

Monday, July 12, 1999

Llama and I pushed 18 miles day in 5 ½ hours to get our glorious mail drops and letters in Boiling Springs, PA.  The letters and emails were a cool drink to a thirsty soul. The only thing better was an actual cool drink of Sprite we shared.

It has been estimated that some 3,500 to 4,000 hikers began the Appalachian trail this year. When I was in Harper’s Ferry I was almost the 600thperson to walk through and register. Its estimated that half of the hikers or more dropped off the trail before they ever reached Harper’s Ferry. There are more behind me but the bulk is believed to be ahead of me. I had no idea that many were pressing north. A few are south-bounders but I haven’t heard the statistics on them yet.

Boiling Springs is an 18thcentury iron-industry settlement that later turned into a tourist village. The natural springs here push up 22 million gallons of bubbling water per day at 53 degrees F.  Because it bubbles it looks like it is boiling. Historically this town played an interesting role in the underground railroad. The town was populated with abolitionists, fanatics, and some who simply opposed the south. In 1804 Quakers and free blacks nearby wanted to help fugitive slaves find complete freedom. And in1835 the movement got closer when a seventeen-year-old began hiding slaves in a thicket of yellow beeches just outside of town. He claimed to have successfully aided at least 60 slaves through this area from 1835-1848.

Even before Boiling Springs was here the land belonged to the Iroquois. They were skilled hunters and considered the animals to be their kindred spirits.  They took on animal names to identify clans – the beaver, deer, bear, hawk, snipe, eel, wolf, and the turtle clan. They were a matrilineal society.  The women owned the crops and the family name was passed on through them.  The women held the power and authority in the community.

The name “Iroquois,”means “real adders”or “poisonous snakes.”  They loved their warriors, it was a way to gain popularity and respect and honor among the clans. And if they were strong and skilled enough, one day they might earn the position of becoming a war chief. It was the Iroquois who stopped the French from expanding southward from Canada in the French-Indian wars.  They were cunning and strategic, they would mount raids northward into Canada pushing back the French, sometimes fighting alongside the British.  The British knew that they were very lucky to have the Iroquois as allies, making sure not to cross or betray them themselves.  If it weren’t for the Iroquois, the French language might have become the primary language in North America. And I’m so bad at French. When I was in high school I failed French in one month and was kicked out of class. The teacher kept getting mad at me for not responding to her when she asked me a question, I honestly had no clue she was talking to me, she was talking in French.