Thursday, May 30, 2013

More Pictures

OK, sorry, can't figure out why I can't turn the "sideways" ones right side up.  This is why I'm hiking instead of working on computers.  It's much simpler.
Double D, me and his 2 dogs - Dixie & Diesel 
I just have to take pictures of ducks on every trip I take.  I have now fulfilled my obligation to the duck god.

Pony!!!!!  It's actually full grown - the wild shetland ponies of Grayson Highlands.  I fed them my gorp, and a carrot I found on the Trail.

Home, Sweet Home.

Nevermind, I chose home to be my "toncho" that night instead of the shelter - very nice sleep. "Toncho" is a cross between a rain poncho and a tent - very versatile piece of sil-nylon.

This is Buckeye Cornelius - hiker extraordinaire, and doubles as Trail  Angel.  Thanks for all the help, Buckeye!

Trail Days!  This is Rocky and Jade - from Milwaukee!!!  We all danced up a storm.   I met them hiking a few days before Trail Days.

Also at Trail Days.  I'm sitting on the world's shortest tunnel.  But it's still a long way down.  Yup, this is also a fashion statement (crocs with a sun dress - at least I'm not wearing socks too)

Woods Hole Hostel.  This was my hiker vortex.  I could have stayed there forever.  Amazing food.  Check out their website... right now.

McAfee's Knob - this is my "hiker pose".  Are you convinced?  

Mom, this pic is for you.  Don't worry, I was perfectly safe.  Ummm, yeah.  Elevation is only 3197 feet.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Happy Picture

And because the last couple posts were a little more "down", I thought I'd post this.  This picture was in a newspaper in NC in an article about the increase of AT hikers in recent years.  This is Outside Dog, who was renamed Odie - because he's not an Outside Dog.  He's a fabulous friend, and I hope we can stay in touch post-Trail.

This was at the Bluegrass Fest where I met my Trail Angels.  We were "working" (no, really!) by helping point people to parking.  In exchange, we got free food - always good payment for hikers. 

Trail Days

Several days ago I was in Damascus for Trail Days.  There was an accident during the Hiker's Parade.  I was supposed to be in the parade as a thru-hiker, but at the last minute as I was heading toward it, I really felt that I didn't want to go.  So I watched the parade.  I was standing right where the parade stopped.  There was a lot of confusion as police, fire trucks, ambulances, and other city workers started moving all the hiker's to the side and ambulances and other vehicles whizzed by with people yelling to get out of the way.  In several minutes, we learned that a car had run over several hikers.  In a matter of moments, the timber of the celebration of Trail Days went from people squirting each other with water guns and lots of laughing and general noise to a strange hum of subdued whispers.  Then, people began milling about, looking for all of their friends.  There was a lot of "Patchouli!  I'm so glad you are OK.  Were you there?" 

I decided the best thing I could do was listen to people.  I looked for people who were especially dazed looking and just asked them if they were OK, if there were there, if they knew anyone who was hit, and if they needed to talk.

Here's what happened... a man who was the last car in the parade had a medical incident (don't know what nature of incident) slumped over his wheel and leaned on the gas.  The car was between 10-25 mph, probably, and hit several hikers.  A couple of hikers (and maybe a town worker too) were able to open the car doors and stop the car.  It stopped on top of a hiker.  The hikers then lifted the car to get her out.

Locals told me how horrible this man would feel and that he would never hurt anyone and they were so concerned how angry the hikers would be.  The hikers were merely dazed.  They talked about hearing the thudding of people against the car.  They talked about seeing the girl under the car. 

I talked specifically to two hikers whose backgrounds included being involved in a "terrorist" type attack where someone intentionally wanted to hurt a mass of people.  They were having a hard time coming to grips with what happened when no one was "at fault".  They wanted to be angry at the driver, but they couldn't because they knew it was a medical incident.  So, they didn't know what to do with those feelings of injustice and anger at friends being hurt.  It was very interesting to hear from many hiker's how their emotional background would color the present accident.

But... God is good.  With all that going on, only 5 were ambulanced to hospitals, and 3 were taken by medflight.  And, the girl who was under the car?  She suffered the worst injury of everyone... a broken pinky toe.  She was released and back at Trail Days with crutches that evening.  Everyone else (I've learned since) had lesser injuries and are all fine.  A car goes into a crowd of 1000 hikers, hits dozens, and all we get is a broken pinky toe.  I know the incident is unjust and scary, but it could have ended much, much worse.  I don't know why it happened at all, but I'm grateful that everyone did end up OK - including the driver (don't know about any charges he may face). 

Afterwards, I did talk to another hiker who said that this was a wake up call for him.  He said that he had come out to the Trail to do some thinking about his life.  I offered the opportunity for him to talk about it, which he changed the subject.  But he said that he had let the Trail distract him from what he needed to work through.  And this accident reminded him of his reason for being out here.  I hope he doesn't get distracted again.  I think I can use this as my own wake up call too.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


Friendships are... interesting out here.  I've met a ton of people, slept in their tents, changed clothes in front of them, carried their pant legs or underwear for them... all kinds of things that in "civilized life" we would never do with someone that we just met the day before.

In some ways, the people we meet out here feel very close very quickly.  I may only know someone for a few days, yet it seems like we have learned so much about each other that it seems we've known each other much longer.  I've mentioned in previous posts that banter can quickly turn to serious topics of conversation and people share fairly freely their darker secrets or broken history.

However, that seems to mean relatively nothing out here.  Of all the people I've met, only one has asked me for how to reach me once we finish the Trail.  I've seen lots of people passing phone numbers, real names, facebook info, etc.  But not me.  I attribute it to being older, a girl, and a Christian.  I just haven't connected to folks on a real friendship level.  They all like me, they share with me, they respect me.  But no one really wants to keep in touch with me.  Sure, I'm not even 30% done with the Trail, and that could all change.  It is just something I've noticed.  I'm not overly lonely, though there are moments I wish I could develop friendships out here on the Trail. 

However, there is another girl that I didn't realize that I've basically been hiking with since the second week out here.  Her name is HoneyB.  I haven't really hiked with her - she's a beast and can trail run (yes, run) miles and miles in a day.  She challenged me to do 24 miles with her yesterday - I did it!  (My knees are killing me today).  She's having a hard time in her personal life.  "Civilized" life is coming undone while she's out here hiking.  So, pray for her.  She told me that her mom really wants to meet me since I've been on the Trail with her daughter since near the beginning.  She's been with a different group, but we've been in the same micro-bubble of people.  I keep seeing her in town.  She gave me a dress to wear in town and while doing laundry (so I don't have to borrow a stranger's rain pants).  And... she told me she wants to get my contact info before we split again.  I hope that happens.  With the guy:girl ratio on the trail being 5:1, it would be nice to develop an actual friendship with another girl on the Trail.

So, this is a bit disjointed, but I'm just splaying a few more thoughts down.  Pray for HoneyB.  And I'm glad that I've had the chance to know her at least now.  And... I'm learning how much I appreciate the long term friends that I have.  That is a gift that may not be as easy to come by as I used to think it should be. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Random Thoughts from Patchouli

I know that I should update this blog.  Trouble is, I don't know what to write about.  My mind is quite full of many random pieces of information that haven't been fully processed, nor do they have a logical order or reasoning to all the thoughts.  So, what to write about?  Here's just a list of random thoughts in no particular order...

1.  I've learned to pee standing up and without taking off my pack.  This saves a great deal of time and is much easier on the knees.  It also helps with privacy on the trail.  However, I've also learned to verify wind direction and velocity on the summits.

2.  I've learned that guys on the trail are really randy, and they really don't mind if I'm 15-20 years older than them.  Huh.  Don't worry.  I will not Mrs. Robinson any of them.  Thankfully, they are also gentlemen enough to simply make randy comments - not to actually do anything too bad.

3.  There are two basic kinds of folks on the Trail - those that have a really deep running faith in Christ, and those that like to mock Christianity.  It's been surprising to see just how much people hate Christians and church.  Most of the Trail Magic is done by churches, and they don't preach - they just give out food, drinks, and usually have a few bibles or other things in case someone wants to sneak something like that into their pack.  It intrigues me that people who hate church will eat their food that they offer, then mock or harass them.  It saddens me - not because people don't like Christians, but that they say they stand for love, peace, harmony, etc.  and yet they seem to have this one place they feel they can discriminate, put down, mock... and they don't see any sort of inconsistency in that.

4.  There was a death on the Trail.  A guy I had hiked with and talked to in a few different places was found dead in town.  News of it spread up and down the Trail, but no one actually knows any details of how he died.  I remember talking to this guy about his faith, about his dreams, about his kid, about his mom, and why he was out on the Trail a few weeks ago.  It's a strange feeling to have known someone for such a short time and yet to know some deeper things about him, and then to find out suddenly that he is gone.  And I have no idea where he might be now.  I can't quite define that feeling.  It's not quite grief, not quite belief, and not quite numb.  It's just somewhat surreal. 

5.  There's a quote I saw on a bumper sticker on a 'hiker trash' shuttle (we're all called hiker trash - it's a compliment, really).  Red Beard said in 2008: "The AT is the most fun you'll ever have... interrupted by long walks in the woods."  So true.  All this time in solitude on the Trail, just trudging one foot in front of the other... just to get to the next shelter or town where you can unload all that solitude into social contact and verbal processing... and usually a lot of tobacco, weed, swearing, belching, and all sorts of other ill-mannered behavior. 

6.  I'm learning I have no idea how to be an oasis to anyone.  I'm attempting a new tactic.  I'm just going to hike my own hike.  To simply be. And if God uses that... so be it.  I'll spend my time "alone" thinking on whatever God gives me to think about.  And the social contact will simply be used as that, and if God uses that, then so be it.  I'll keep looking for opportunity... that's just my nature.  But I think I will not keep pestering myself and God about how I can always be that oasis for others.  Maybe I can just offer friendship - both to God and to others.  Here's my current worship song to God that I'm singing in my time of solitude: "Try not to get worried, try not to turn onto problems that surround you, oh, everything's alright, yes, everything's fine.  And I want you to sleep well tonight.  Let the world turn without you tonight."  It's from Jesus Christ Superstar - Mary Magdalene sings it to Jesus.  I think, rather than pestering God about what I can do for Him, I'll just let him know He can just relax, and I won't ask Him for much.  He can just hang out with me on the Trail. 

OK, I guess that's enough randomness for now. 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Mountain is a Harsh Mistress...

... but, man, is she fun.  That's what Bill (of Bill and Linda Trail Angels) told me as they dropped me off in the rain and fog and wind.  The wind was so strong it was whipping the fog across the balds as if it were smoke.  The fog was so thick I could only see about 20 feet.  And then I started climbing up in elevation and over the grassy balds.  So it only got worse from there.

Remember when you were a kid and you could lean into the wind and not fall over?  Yeah, and then you gained 100 pounds and became an adult and you couldn't do that anymore.  Well, I've been dreaming of the time I could do that again.  That dream came true on those balds.  I was wearing my rain poncho, and it was like a sail.  I got the idea of pulling it taut and standing into the wind.  I didn't actually become airborne, but I was blown back.  So, I took that off and leaned into the wind.  I stayed leaning.  Check that off my bucket list.

Then I decided to go over to a stone edge.  I assumed it was just a rock outcropping and there would be more grassy dome below it.  I fought my way over to it in the wind and looked over.  A wall of sheer white blew up at me and engulfed me.  It completely freaked me out.  Fog so thick I could feel it surround me and I was totally blinded for several seconds until it passed.  What an amazing moment.

This lasted the whole day.  It was desolate, but not lonely.  Especially not when I was singing "I got sunshine on a cloudy day" (including the background singers) at the top of my lungs and I saw a human disappearing in the fog in front of me.  It ended up being Indigo and she hadn't heard my singing (Thank God).

Overall, many people were disappointed by the lack of views and the cold and the windburn.  Me?  I had myself a really good laughing spell on that last bald in sheer joy of the experience.  Anyone can hike this on a beautiful, sunny day.  But I got to see a different side of the mountain, a side fairweather hikers won't ever see or experience.  I feel fortunate.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

And because I'm having fun posting pictures...

... you get more.  This time of what I see on the hike.

What YOU think I see when I'm hiking...

What I actually see when I'm hiking. It keeps me from faceplanting on the Trail quite so often (only one faceplant so far).
A gorgeous morning to start hiking

A large shelter.  This is what we hunkered down in during the ice storm.

Sometimes the trail is really rocky - the blazes may even be on the rocks instead of the trees.

How many ridges do you see?  How many ridges must we climb?  Yup, all of them.

Sometimes the trail looks like this.  So many ecosystems, depending on elevation and location.

Sometimes the trail looks like this.  Yeah, no joke. 

Looking down on the Nolichucky River from Lover's Leap (one of them at least)

Sometimes the Trail meanders through cow pastures.

Sometimes, you move a few feet off the Trail to get right to the edge.
Me in my tent last night.  First time I camped absolutely alone.  I slept pretty well despite the cloud that rolled in (see next picture).  Oy, this is a horrible pic of me, but I haven't showered in 5 days and just got done with 18 miles.  Not sure what excuse to use for my eyebrows though, oy.

This is the cloud I slept in last night.  It dropped rain, but it didn't actually rain.  This picture was taken on the Trail as I got above the cloud itself.  That was awesome!

Pictures of Friends

And since you all remember what I look like, here's some of my friends I've made, in no particular order...
Draggin' Fly & me at a shelter in the Smokies

Snail and Grin (Grin is grimacing from near-trench foot.  He got better.)

OK, this isn't a friend.  But it IS the cookies and scotch my family sent to me for my Bday!  I made many friends because of these.  Thanks Family!!! I love you!!!

Hiker' Ministry - very cool place - lots of free food ALL the time.  And couches - ahhhh.

Sole Sister plays a mean tub (far left) at the Bluegrass Fest.  She kept up with the band!

I'm sitting on St. Nick's lap.  Ummm, it seemed appropriate at the time.

Bonsai is playing Jedi's guitar.  Jedi is watching. 

Sometimes the Trail looks a lot like an interstate- see the White Blaze on the right? This is Draggin' Fly and Doodles.
From left - Noodle, Crittur, Mouse (in the blue shirt), and me.  Behind is Rambles and Limey (fom England)

Trail Angels

When I was at the Bluegrass Festival recently, I met an adorable couple, Bill and Linda.  They shared their phone number with me and told me to give them a call when I got to a certain place on the trail, and they'd give me a homemade dinner.  Well, I'm at their house as I type this.  Not only did they come get me from the Trail, they grilled out blackened salmon, pan-fried chicken livers, had TONS of salad and corn and MILK!!!  Wow.  Now, I'm munching on fresh strawberries and grapes because as Linda says, "You need fresh fruit and veggies.  You don't get any on the Trail."  So true, and who am I to argue?

My clothes at drying in the dryer.  I'm wearing one of Linda's robes in the meantime and I had a most luxurious shower.  Oh, and now she just gave me the rest of her chocolate chips from the cupboard because I mentioned I didn't have any chocolate in my gorp, and I missed it. 

These are my angels, Bill and Linda.
To think that in any other place, I would have looked at this couple suspiciously, taken their number graciously but never called it.  I love the Trail.  I have made so many friends out of strangers that I would never have taken the time for previously.  There's a trust factor that I think could be beneficial to practice other places outside of this little corridor of rocks and trees. 

It's called Trail Magic when somebody does something nice for a thru-hiker.  I've missed a couple of Trail Magic afternoons at the gaps recently, but people have set up tents with grills and given free hamburgers and gatorade out to the hikers that hike through those gaps.  The people who run those events, well, we call them Trail Angels.  Today, I got my very own, personal set of Trail Angels.  I'd have shared if anyone had been hiking with me, but apparently the Trail didn't think that anyone else needed this moment along with me. 

I've heard it said by many hikers "The Trail provides."  It sure does.  In every hiker box in town or at a hostel, I've had one friend who's been able to supply all his food from what others have put in there.  I've been able to sleep in a sanctuary - just me and a friend - and watch a meteor shower through the clear glass behind the cross.  I've stayed for free at a hostel for 3 days when I had only budgeted 1 day.

And just today, I didn't have signal to call Bill and Linda.  When I got to the gap, there was a lady in a car.  She said she had AT&T and needed to drive down a few miles to get signal.  I asked if I could get a ride since I also needed to make a call.  Wouldn't you know it?  We got signal just about where Bill and Linda lived.

Sure, you can say the Trail provides.  But I know better.  The Trail just brings out the best in people so that God can have His way better with them.  What if we all lived as if we could be Angels for whatever Trail we meet someone on?