Tuesday, July 13, 1999

Today is my 100thday out on the trail and I still love it. I still love the challenge, I love the people I meet, I love the smells, the conversations with God, the conversations I have with others about God, the emotional pains I’ve worked through, the miracles I’ve seen, and meeting the coolest Llama I’ve ever met. What I don’t love as much is that I still find areas of growth needed inside me, the pain and sweat, the conversations with God that don’t end the way I want them to end, and the blisters and deep bone aches that give me some concern. I started thinking about worst case scenarios in my mind should the bone pain be a real problem. Maybe I have a stress fracture and would have to pull off the trail to let it heal. If that were to happen that would depress me not because I didn’t complete the trail and am forced to face some misplaced pride, but because I love what I’m doing. I don’t want to do anything else right now. I have a job waiting for me when I get off the trail and I’m in no hurry to start it. I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing in my life right now, I don’t know that I’ve ever felt that way before. I love how my life has adapted and grown to love my life in the mountains. I’m not scared of the wilderness anymore. God has grown me to listen. God has grown in me to see that I am smart enough to figure out problems that can arise. Spending time in the wild has become a place of comfort and desire to want to spend more time out here, this is so far from where I was four months ago. 

Llama and I filled up our packs with as much water as we could carry. Because of the heat and drought to the area, water is getting more scare to find in the woods. The creeks are drying up making it difficult to know how to ration our water. Some of the creeks I come across are just damp wet spots on the ground. One was just sludge and baby mosquitos hatching out of their eggs. We loaded up with all the water weight our containers allowed and pushed to attempt a 21 mile day to where we hoped we would find a fresh clean spring at a shelter. 

It was a dusty difficult sweaty day. When we arrived at the shelter we found that there was a spring with water there but it wasn’t gushing or even flowing very much. It was enough that it could meet our needs. It was warm though. It wasn’t refreshing and it was not clean. We each still had a little water in our packs so we poured it down our dry and cracked throats as we purified new water. We sat looking at each other as we did it. It was hot out. Bugs flew into our faces. Large drops of sweat steaked our trail gritted faces. I knew what she was thinking. She knew exactly what I was thinking. A smile started to grow on both of our faces. It was early evening and the sun would be out for a while longer. We only five miles short of the next town. We strapped our soggy backpacks back on, and began to push north to the next town, 5 miles away where we knew we could find Sprite.

The rocks rolled under our feet, the snakes tried to stop us, new blisters formed and popped screaming at me to stop, the hills tried to slow us, but we endured and pushed on for that cold Sprite. Before hiking the trail I never once sought out the drink, but now its the drink of choice, it’s the drink I crave because of the cold, sweet, grime scouring carbonation which takes the trail out of my mouth and throat. Nothing like it. We pushed on making my 100thday my largest (27 miles). Ouch!  It wasn’t that bad of a day until the last two miles. That’s when I developed four blisters and rubbed my skin raw on parts on every toe. Llama and I knew we were taking a day of rest to heal and let my feet breath. Zero mile day tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 14, 1999

One of the most common questions I field when I talk with people in towns is, “Is this is fun for you? I could think of many other things that would be more fun than that.” That’s a great question. “Is this fun?”I ask the same question to myself every day. I don’t know that fun has ever been my motivation for hiking and I don’t think it’s even on my list of expectations. What this hike is doing is giving me a sense of connection to God and its breaking me and growing me. I think that if I was after fun then this trip would have ended by day 3. I’m finding myself settle into the process of allowing pain and growth. I’m finding satisfaction in the rhythm of hiking and listening. I do have fun but that’s not nearly as important as I think others must believe it should be. It all started with wanting to see and experience God in new and creative ways. I believe God pulled me towards this trip and I was being obedient to follow.

I think they could ask better questions like, “How are you growing? What is one thing that’s happened that was unexpected? How many blisters do you have? How have others impacted your life? How has solitude and extended times of silence affected you? What’s your favorite trail meal? Have you heard the voice of God? And if you have, what did God say?”

What’s crazy is that I feel like I’m finally entering into adulthood at age 29, far behind everyone I know. I’ve just been floundering, floating around, trying to figure out what I want to do in life and where I want to do it. I think I’m slowly changing my own questions. “Who do I want to be and what kind of man do I want to be?” I used to care about my own pleasure more than my own character. I wanted to go into ministry (supposedly to love and serve others) but I didn’t care too much about how I hurt others or how I used others. I’ve been a real jerk and I don’t know how I could go so long in life without seeing it. Did others try to tell me? Maybe. I don’t know, maybe I ran from them before they could say anything. Maybe I ran from them because they did say something. I think that’s why I’ve been scared of getting serious with a woman, I don’t want to have to make good decisions that would facilitate a healthy growing relationship. I liked crossing boundaries and going to the edge of a cliff and then jumping. I choose quick pleasure over sustaining satisfaction and security. I knew that I was deeply broken and I ran daily from the pain of growth I knew I would have to walk through if I was to grow up and I feared the pain. And I’m so tired of my short-sighted, insecure, co-dependent, father-figure hungry wounds.

Other cultures make it much easier to grow up. The Plains Indians in the west would use tortuous ways to give an experience that could elevate them from childhood. Strips of skin were cut from their arms, fingers would be chopped off, and they would swing themselves from tall poles with straps and hooks inserted under the muscles of their shoulders. Others would go into the wilderness for extended periods of time without food or water, all to gain wisdom, truth or visions, to become an adult. That seems so much easier that what I have done to myself. 

To grow me, God is slowing me down and face the things in my heart that God wanted me to look at. And I hate knowing that I’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg of my heart. That scares me. And I wonder who I would be if I never addressed my issues?

Thursday, July 15, 1999

God revealed Himself to Moses and an entire nation in the wilderness through mighty signs and wonders. John the Baptist was transformed in the wilderness by God. Jesus went to the wilderness to connect deeply with God and prepare himself for telling others about the kingdom of God. It seems like God does some of His best work in the wilderness. That gives me a small bit of hope because I’m in the wilderness. I feel uprooted from all my normal distractions and put into a place to listen and to be found. I am gaining a better sense of reality than I have had before. I am gaining a deeper sense of personhood, a stronger respect for the lives of others and creation, a love for this world, and a expanded view on the reality of God’s love. It’s pretty amazing.

Friday, July 16, 1999

I’m so hot, I have no desire to even write.

I saw three foxes, a dung beetle actually rolling a ball of dung like you see in National Geographic shows, and a grouse (the state bird of Pennsylvania) which flew out of the brush in front of me giving me a good scare. Firefly, whom Llama and I have been hiking with the last four days, had a rattlesnake strike at her, but it hit her hiking pole just in front of her leg. She screamed and ran forward until she was a safe distance then turned and saw it coiled on the trail ready to strike again. 

Saturday, July 17, 1999

It was a painful and dangerously hot day as the news said it would be. Life is miserable when you’re hot. The radio said, “nobody should be outside today exerting energy if at all possible.”By 11 a.m. after having hiked six miles, I was starting to agree. Llama and I came upon a large group of hikers hiding in the shade under a bridge seeking refuge from the blistering heat. Nobody wanted to hike. Nobody wanted to move. We all had our shirts off and were sprawled on the ground staring at the sky. It was another record-breaking day for the state continuing to create drought conditions that have not been this bad since the 1960’s.

As we all dreamed of a swimming pool, Shure Paw mentioned that he had heard of a beer festival being advertised in Harrisburg on the radio, which was all it took to make everyone sit up and look at Shure Paw.  Neither Llama nor I wanted beer, but where there is beer, soda is bound to flow.*   We all stood up, strapped on our packs and hiked in a large mass to the nearest interstate a ½ mile away. It is illegal to hitch on an interstate but we had no choice and we just didn’t care, we were on a mission. 

When we arrived at the interstate we began to lengthen out along the road with our thumbs held high in hopes of quickly attracting a ride. The nine of us stood beside two dead deer, one was just sun-bleached bones and the other just skin on bones. Both had died earlier in the morning. Within minutes an empty van pulled over and asked what we needed. We told him about the beer festival and the driver was more than excited to help us achieve our goal. As the six of us were climbing into the van another vehicle pulled over and picked up the other three. Dave the driver and drove us the 30 minutes to Harrisburg, straight to the festival. This day is going to be awesome. But then we found out it was $26.50 to get in, and I didn’t have that much cash on me. I looked at the festival and saw a sign that mentioned that art of the proceeds were to be given to the Appalachian Trail Conference. That’s interesting. So I called the manager over and told him of our plight with the price as poor thirsty Appalachian Trail hikers. “How about a $10 hiker fee?” He asked. “Done.”

Inside the microbrewery were dozens of other breweries with tables set up giving samples of their different beers from all over the east coast. They had music playing, people having conversations about beer with the vendors as they were trying to understand how the different flavors and subtleties were achieved. But my eyes were fastened with superglue to the German food buffet. When I got up the the buffet we were handed small plates and were instructed that we were allowed to only go through once. “how high can I build my plate up and can I have different layers of plates to separate the foods”I asked. I was crushed when I was told I could only have the one plate and “please be respectful.”  

I don’t think they understand the amount of fuel our bodies need. Everything seemed to be working out for me so far, so I found the head cook and told him how much we appreciated the his dishes and what a great job he was doing. Then I told him of our desperate hunger situation.  His reply through a huge grin was, “eat as much as you want,”Yes! After we had eaten we began to wander around the festival listening to the laughter and conversations all around us and sampled all the beers we were given. Because this was to raise awareness for the Appalachian Trail, many believed we had been invited to share first hand accounts of hiking. People freely came up to us without hesitation and would ask us questions about our experiences and our concerns for the trail. And the vendors would just keep putting beers or ciders in our hands as we shared stories all afternoon.  

As we were walking around we met two of the Ridge Runners in the Pennsylvania section. Their job is to check the shelters in their area, check for hazards, record where water is or is not flowing, to help educate hikers who need it, and to also do any maintenance needed where the trail has been damaged. They were super friendly humble guys. One of them, Pete, even offered Llama and I a ride back to the trail later on while the other gave us a pass for a huge prime rib dinner reserved for the vendors.

I was ready for a second meal, so we made our way to the tent reserved for the vendors. My mouth began to water as soon as I walked in. The prime rib was almost an inch thick and covered all the food on my plate like a blanket and even hung over the side. I had never in my life had such a large piece of meat set in front of me and I have never in my life been more prepared for the challenge of eating the entire thing. I went to a table and sat down and just looked at it. “This is what I’m supposed to do today. I was brought here to eat this. This is a holy moment.”I prayed and then began the process of savoring each bite, making the whole consumption a spiritual experience. I at the entire meal.

When Pete was ready he loaded Llama and I up and drove us back to our trail. We slowly moved forward. The heat and full bellies really hindered our progress. We made it four miles but they were very painful. We had hoped to add a few more but the painful Pennsylvania rocks slowed us down. The rocks are the size and shape of a Rubik’s cube, and when you step on the rocks they have a tendency to roll, wanting to break your ankle. There was no way I would hike this state in the dark, too many ankle breaking rocks and too many rattlesnakes ready to eat hikers with broken ankles. 

I’m finally about to ditch my Death Blood Boots as I like to call them. They are pretty worn out by the 1,200 miles they’ve logged. They also smell rancid and I’m just so angry at them when I look at them. I need my second pair that I have no emotions one way or another towards. I only have to wait one week. I’m pretty excited for the new boots. I think I might hate all boots even though there is a rich history of the footwear. They originated as footwear for battles among ancient cultures. I think it is the Assyrians that have left us the oldest record of their beginnings, around 1,100 B.C.  Oftentimes in cold weather they were lined with fur and hanging out of the top dangled an animal paw or tail. Either way, I’m getting rid of my nemesis.

*In the original translation I believe this was written to not shock my mother because this is not a true statement. I love beer and hard cider and was really looking forward to a pint of a wonderful amber. I just didn’t want to cause my mom to cry.

Sunday, July 18, 1999

Another hot and painful day. The Rubik’s rocks are getting worse as they roll and jolt the whole body with every step. Thick humid sweat covers every inch of the body. Warm sludgy drinking water turns my stomach but I need to win the hydration battle. The heat takes away all my energy so I don’t even want to swat at the flies and mosquitos that land on my face and neck. The oppressive heat shrivels up my motivation to want to hike. I have no desire to be out here today, I think if I were at a place to exit this trail I would quit.

My feet never stop bleeding. I get angry when I see others dancing down the trial with happy feet. Why can’t my feet be happy? I almost want catch up to them so I can steal their shoes or beat them up. Maybe I just need a good night’s rest.

Monday, July 19, 1999

Soon after I started out on the trail I almost tripped on a fat old green rattlesnake basking in the morning sun. He must have been a skilled hunter because he was fat and full. I pulled off the trail and just sat back letting him have all the room he wanted and to have all the time he needed to go where he was going. Then I thought, “Llama needs to see how big this guy is, I can’t let him leave yet.”So I found a small pebble and tossed onto his tail giving. He did not like that, instantly he reaction and wound himself into a coil looking around for his provoker. He tensed and looked right at me with his angry black eyes. I was about 5 feet away at this point so I just smiled and waved. I know I shouldn’t have done it, but I did. Within a few minutes Llama came up the trail wondering why I was just standing around leaning against a tree grinning, then she saw what was waiting in the middle of the trail ahead of us.  She gave a loud startled yell as she jumped backwards. Then after a few deep breaths she walked up to me and punched me in the arm for not preparing her for the surprise. She convinced me to let him have his way, to not tease him, so we blazed through the bushes steering far clear of him, and then continued onward.

I noticed that as the heat rose and the humidity grew thick so did my emotions. Trail dust clung to my body and then my sweat created streaks of mud through it. Llama and I arrived at a shelter that was supposed to have water in the early afternoon only to find that it was a small larvae infested mud streak, murky and full of flies. We had passed three other creeks that should have had water and all of them were dried up. We had run out of water and were really counting on this shelter being adequate. We were tired, hot, and very thirsty. Our bodies were shedding sweat and were craving to be replenished. We sat on the dirt just looking at each other. We have to move on another 9 miles to get to the next water source. That’s a long way, a lot of sweat and heat to press on through to get to our hydration supply. Llama started to cry. Nine miles to Port Clinton. We couldn’t stay, there were no options, so we loaded our packs on and started to walk.

As we battled boulder fields, stair step climbs we both fought back overwhelming despair. I don’t know how much danger we were in but our emotions were going out of control with fear. We were both getting light-headed and so tired. We came to a firebreak in the woods with a dirt road running down the middle. We stood there and talked about changing our hike for the day so we could get help. We were feeling exhausted and a little scared for our health. We wondered, maybe hiking up the road would get us to civilization quicker. As we stood there talking about it, both of us started to hear the sound of cars and trucks passing by. We herd a highway nearby. Immediately we started to head in that direction, up over one ridge and then down the hill. There was nothing there. So we stopped to listen again. We heard the traffic again and kept going towards it. After a few miles we fell to the ground exhausted. There was no highway. We were both hearing things that weren’t there. We felt foolish. But we did do one thing that was smart. Instead of pressing on into the unknown we turned around and headed back to the Appalachian Trail. Llama was shaking as she cried. Both of us shuffled slowly, very slowly but onward taking many breaks to rest. Soon our feet went numb and our emotions dulled. We just moved. Then we came to a service road and I had a map that confirmed that it would lead us off the mountain. We took it down off the mountain, and at the bottom there was a fast hard moving stream that surprised us. We thought it was fake at first, but when we stuck our faces in it we knew it was real. 

We sat there for an hour in the shade with our feet in the water and drinking steadily. As we were feeling our minds clear and our fears relax, a ranger showed with a huge grin on his face. He was surprised to run into us and very happy to see were were doing well. He told us that the drought has hindered the growth of the berries on the mountains which is why we kept seeing rocks turned over, animals are looking for grubs. I had been scratching my head for some time, trying to figure out why hikers were digging so many holes along the trail. He said he’s also had to help hikers get to safety. In the last week he’s pulled seven hikers off the trail who were quitting due to hard weather conditions. He offered us a ride into town and we were to grateful for the help and the kindness. 

He dropped us off at the Port Clinton Hotel where he told us we could get a room and a good meal. We walked into the restaurant and were quickly intercepted and told that we were not allowed in unless we took a shower first, with a hint of distaste in their words, “that will cost $5 or you can get a hotel room first and shower. It’s all legal, we checked it out legally.”  I stood thee silent, I couldn’t believe that’s how they welcomed us in. That was not a warm welcome after a very difficult day. 

Why are people unkind? I don’t want to go home but I don’t want to hike either, I’m just so tired.