AT Thru-Hike #14 – Swiss Cheese

“You fill up my senses, like a night in the forest, like the mountains in springtime, like a walk in the rain…” – John Denver

Day 13

I awoke ready to get back on the trail, but Franklin had a final parting gift for us hikers.  A local church picked us up at 7:20 and took us to their church building for a full-up pancake and bacon breakfast!  (On the bus, I met Cahootin, who earned that classic trail name because that’s how he pronounces Katahdin.  He also has earned the title of worst smelling hiker, amongst many worthwhile contenders, including myself.)  The church serves this breakfast every morning during the 2 months or so of the main AT hiking season.  On top of that, they took a picture of each of us to send with a note to a loved one of our choice.  (I narrowed it down to Lil Jan and Jason Witten but Jan won out.) On top of that, one of the ministers shared a brief devotional message about God’s love and the saving power of Jesus’ blood.  I love how this church uses their position along the AT to support and encourage hikers and share the Good News with them.

God did this.
God did this.

They returned us to the Budget Inn where Ron Haven loaded us up and returned us back to the trail.  Interestingly, several hikers stayed behind to take a zero because of the likelihood of strong thunderstorms/possible tornado conditions later that afternoon.  The next several hours of hiking were especially beautiful in that there were more meadows and balds than usual.  At Silers Bald I met Moose, a high school student from Clemson SC.  As a former Dean of Students, I asked him why he wasn’t in school and where his hall pass was.  (Private school…took extra courses to finish 11th grade early…I bought it and didn’t give him a demerit.) I also stopped to treat another right heel blister.  At mile 119.9 I reached Wayah  Bald and was rewarded with a cool stone tower and the best views of the day.

View from Wayah Bald Observation Tower
View from Wayah Bald

After 11 miles I reached my target, Wayah Bald Shelter, and called it quits about an hour before the thunderstorms began.  Thunderstorms are the main reason to stay in a shelter…added protection and not having to pack a wet tent the following morning.  My first shelter experience was a doozy.  I was joined inside by T-Rev, Squid, Stitch, and 3 Swiss hikers.  The third Swiss dude fit by laying sideways along our feet.  Several later arrivals, including a dog, tented in the thunderstorms which lasted off and on throughout the night.  We all ate, laughed, shared stories, and even made a short Happy Anniversary video for Lil Jan.

Wayah Bald Stone Tower
Wayah Bald Stone Tower

As I tried to sleep along a row of hikers, I kept thinking about all the shelter mice I had read about in AT books.  Would they crawl over me?  Would they get in my sleeping bag?  To my knowledge that didn’t happen.  What did happen was my usual urgent need to pee at 3am…in a crowded shelter, with no bottle, and Mr Swiss family Robinson at my feet blocking my exit.  I crawled out of my sleeping bag, flipped over, and did a crab walk over this young foreigner, here on a 6-month visa.  As I passed over him, with my butt a mere 6″ from the tip of his nose, I kept thinking…keep the hips high and don’t cut any (Swiss) cheese.  In the morning I awoke with a clever collective trail name for these foreigners…ABBA!  As I proudly shared it with them, the young lady responded, “We are from Switzerland, not Sweden.”  Switzerland… Sweden…whatever.

Swiss Miss Lovin' on Dog
Swiss Miss Lovin’ on Dog

Day 14

It was a cold rainy morning as I climbed out of Burningtown Gap toward Cold Spring Shelter.  My feet ached along with my left knee.  To make matters worse, I switched my music to shuffle mode and Always and Forever came on…perhaps the worst song ever to listen to while hiking uphill.  At the shelter a section hiking couple offered me a cup of coffee.  Later, after the long climb out of Tellico Gap, I reached the Wesser Bald observation tower and was rewarded with arguably the most scenic, 360 degree view to date.  As I made the long, wet descent, I came across my first…(drum roll)…snake!  This black snake was just hanging out in a tree stump.  I told him my name was Fob and took his picture.

First AT Snake
First AT Snake

After a pretty grueling 15.5 miles, I arrived at A. Rufus Morgan Shelter and set up my tent downhill from there by a stream.  Up at the shelter, T-Rev and The Hikers Formerly Known As ABBA were settling in for the night.  A short time later, BooknBoot, the friendly Aussie who had slept in the bunk under me at Neels Gap, arrived and set up her tent.  Later, Stitch arrived…she’s a really cool former Army troop from Gainesville, GA (not FL) who laughs like Stitch…and does so each of the 10 times she’s heard me tell the story behind my trail name.

My 1st AT Bun Warmer
My 1st AT Bun Warmer

I built my first campfire of the trip and then retired to my tent to enjoy a heartwarming 28th Anniversary phone call with my wife. John Denver was right…nights in the forest are enchanting.  Mountains in springtime are majestic.  And walks in the rain are exhilarating.  But nothing fills up my senses like a moment shared with Lil Jan, my best friend and love of my life.

Fob

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AT Thru-Hike #13 – Fob vs Albert

“I’m a hiker, not a thru-hiker.  You can’t go for a jog and then call yourself a marathoner…or take a few courses and then put a “PhD” after your name.  I’ll be a thru-hiker when I reach Katahdin.”   – Sir Fob

Day 11

I awoke refreshed, re-charged…and to a roaring campfire.  (Thanks, Night Whisperer!).  Albert Mountain notwithstanding, this had the potential to be a big mileage day.  My heels felt much better and I wanted to get within striking distance of Franklin and a hot shower and meal.

I ate a pop tart and half a Baby Ruth candy bar, turned on my AT Playlist, and motored out of camp.  I played Leap Frog with Once a Day…not the actual game as that would have been awkward and inefficient…rather, we kept passing each other as we stopped for water, snack time, etc.

As we approached Mooney Gap, I spotted a car, some chairs, and a table of food…yes, it was time for some Trail Magic, courtesy of The Wanderer!  I had a Coke, a glazed donut and a hot dog with 2 Advil and mustard on it.  Bert arrived shortly after me, and bummed 2 cigarettes off The Wanderer…gutsy move.  As I sat there in pure hiker bliss, I told myself that somehow, somewhere, someday, I’m going to set up a magnificent trail magic stop along the AT and encourage others the way these stops have encouraged me.  Little did I know I would shortly be burning every one of those calories to conquer Albert Mountain.

Mooney Gap Magic
Mooney Gap Magic

Albert Mountain…where to begin?  I measure difficult climbs by the number of times I have to stop, catch my breath, and wipe the dirt off my tongue.  Albert…Big Al…Fat Albert…takes the prize, so far, as the  toughest climb for me.  It was also the first time I had to scramble, i.e., put the trekking poles up and climb hand over hand up and over boulders and things.  I climbed to what I thought was the summit, only to find there was another section.  After grinding up the second phase and thinking I was done, I looked up and saw a fire tower still another quarter mile ahead and straight up.  Halfway through the vertical scramble, as I gasped for air, 2 young day-hikers with Fannie packs blew past me talking and laughing.  I tried to trip the second one with my pole but wasn’t quick enough. In another moment of exhaustion and moral weakness, I may have, under my breath, called them “loser punk kids.”  My reward for grinding it out was a magnificent view, although the top of the fire tower was locked.

Oh, so that's the summit
Oh, so that’s the summit
View from Albert
View from Albert

On the long descent off Albert, I paired up with Maia, the pastry chef from Indiana.  Over the next hour, I learned more about the pastry business and kitchen drama than I ever thought possible.  As she talked, I seriously considered changing my trail name to Creampuff or Strudel Steve.  I also learned that Maia hasn’t slept well and has way too heavy a pack…so she’s wondering whether to continue.  I tried to encourage her and we discussed ways to lower her pack weight.

Snack break, halfway up Albert
Snack break, halfway up Albert

I stopped for the night at about mile 108.2, on the mountain between Wallace Gap and Winding Stair Gap.  It had been a fun 17.5-mile day, my longest yet.  And I had positioned myself for a short hike to Winding Stair Gap in the morning to catch a shuttle into Franklin.

I zipped myself into my cocoon and put my earplugs in.  Then, as I laid there alone on that mountain top, my thoughts turned to my wife…and warm pastries.

Day 12

I awoke highly motivated to get to Franklin, my next trail town.  I broke camp and hiked 1.6 miles to Winding Stair Gap.  As I approached the parking lot, there was a couple set up to provide some Trail Magic!!!  Not just any magic, but piping hot breakfast burritos, courtesy of Jim and Beth!  He is a former Special Forces soldier who worked at Joint Special Operations University…so we knew some of the same people and shared some stories.  Really cool of them to be out on a chilly morning feeding hot food to hikers.

Trail Angels, Winding Stair Gap
Trail Angels, Winding Stair Gap

A short time later the shuttle arrived, driven by the one and only Ron Haven.  Talk about an interesting guy.  He’s been a professional wrestler.  He promotes gun shows.  He’s run for County Commissioner.  And he’s well known to hikers for offering a free shuttle and owning a hiker friendly hotel and hostel in Franklin.  On the drive in, he gave us an overview of Franklin and key points of interest.  He made it clear that he offers the shuttle to one and all, regardless of whether you stay at his Budget Inn or hostel.

Ron Haven, a friend to hikers
Ron Haven, a friend to hikers

I ended up getting a room at Ron’s Budget Inn and began working the trail town checklist…hot shower…check.  Laundry…check.  Chopped sirloin steak wrapped in bacon + fries + salad + bread + 2 waters + 2 diet cokes at Normandie restaurant…check.  Re-supply at Ingles…check.  Outfitter to replace carabiner I gave Matt…check.  Print $20 Smoky Mountains National Park permit…check.  And then I spotted a t-shirt shop across the street and had an idea…I’ll leave that one for you to figure out.  I returned to the room to rest and get caught up on March Madness.

Being a Wednesday afternoon, I researched options to attend Bible study that night.  I found a Westside Church of Christ and called its contact number.  John, the preacher, answered. He and his wife, Joan, were not only willing to pick me up, but insisted I let them treat me to the restaurant of my choice.  Wow…just wow!  God is so good.  I chose a local Mexican place and devoured 5 scrumptious enchiladas and enjoyed chatting with then.  We shared a lot about our respective families.  One of their sons has written a Christian evidences book, Unraveling Evolution, which I plan to read.  Another son has faced some challenges related to his prior military service and time in war zones.  I plan to call him to tell him about his awesome parents and see how he’s doing.  After dinner, I enjoyed our Bible study…ironically, it was on benevolence.  As John taught the class, I kept thinking here’s a guy who, along with his wife, just practiced what he preaches. I’m thankful that, once again, God has put people in my path to encourage me.

Verdict:  A+ grade to Franklin, NC…this town loves and supports its hikers.  And they would have one final parting gift the following morning…

Fob

 

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AT Thru-Hike #12 – Baby, It’s Cold Outside

The cold never bothered me anyway.”     – Elsa, Frozen

Day 10

Elsa lied.

I awoke at Rich Cove Gap to brutally cold temperatures…mid-20s with winds gusting at about 20-25 mph.  The good news is that my Western Mountaineering Alpinlite 20 degree sleeping bag + Sea to Summit Thermo-Lite Liner form a cocoon that keeps me warm at night.  The bad news is that if I’m ever going to make it to Maine, I have to be willing to depart the cocoon and take on the elements.

I spy a bear bag
I spy a bear bag

After getting dressed inside my tent, I stepped out to find an inch of snow on the ground, howling winds, and freezing temps.  Job 1 was to relieve myself in the snow by a nearby tree.  (TMI Alert).  I took my gloves off causing my cold hands to get the kind of cold where they start hurting.  Trembling, I unzipped my fly and reached in.  To my dismay, there was nothing there.  Felt around…nothing.  It seems the body part I was looking for had recessed into my body cavity and was lodged in a defensive position somewhere behind my gall bladder.  I was not a happy camper.  Shaking all over, I sang a couple of Mountain Dew ditties to coax him out…and then spelled “AT 2016″ in the fresh coat of snow.  Only I ran out before I got to 6, which left the impression of a 3rd Century hiker.

I packed up camp as quickly as possible, knowing the best way to warm up is to hike.  The snowy scenery was gorgeous, but I was focused on not falling, and trying to get the pain out of my hands by squeezing the trekking poles and wiggling my fingers.  I was so focused, in fact, that I missed the iconic sign marking my crossing of the border into North Carolina.  1 down, 13 to go!  As I climbed Bly Gap, the snow deepened and would run 1″-4” deep for the next several hours.  At the top of the Gap, I stopped, out of breath, hands hurting, wind blowing…and decided this was easily the low point of the first 10 days.  I celebrated this low point by gobbling down brown sugar cinnamon sawdust (aka, a pop tart)…which instantly stuck to and dried out my mouth.  I reached back for my water bottle and discovered it was frozen…thus creating an all-new low point.  (Lesson learned: put at least 1 liter of water in the tent with you on cold nights.  Just don’t confuse it with the other bottle.)

God did this.
God did this.

So with sawdust stuck to my tongue and cheeks and snot running unabated down over my mustache, I decided to…hike!  You just keep walking.  You suck it up and remind yourself that things will get better…and they did.  By the time I reached Standing Indian Shelter, the sun had come out and my hands had warmed up.  I met two Aussies while squeezing water.  They live in a desert and had never seen or been in snow before that morning.  Looking over at me, they also saw their first American snotstache.

I continued hiking and passed Once a Day, who I had met a few days earlier.  She is from The Netherlands.  She fell several times on each of her first few days on the trail.  A fellow hiker told her that if she must fall, she should try to do so only once a day…and the name stuck.

5435' Elevation...highest so far
5435′ Elevation…highest so far

The afternoon was slightly warmer and manageable…high 30s.  After a fairly exhausting 13.7 mile day (longest so far), I pulled into the Beech Gap tenting area (mile 90.7).  One thing I’ve learned about myself on the trail:  If I interact with a lot of people during the day, I tend to like the solitude of a remote mountain top at night.  However, if I’ve had minimal human contact during the day, then I kind of like  being around others at night…at a tenting area or near a shelter.

This would turn out to be an enjoyable night with several interesting hikers.  Introductions…

  • Maine Mike – older guy, from Maine (duh), told lots of interesting stories about hiking in Maine.
  • Night Whisperer – so named because he talks in his sleep.  From Connecticut.  Handed out mini-Reece’s peanut butter cups to arriving hikers.  Built a great fire that night and the following morning!
  • Bert – young guy from LA.  Near-term goal is to get drunk in Franklin.  Bummed a highly coveted (for smokers) cigarette off Maine Mike, and then another…behavior which eventually will earn him a trail name.
  • Maia – pastry maker; 120 lb young woman carrying a 40+ lb pack…not good.  From Colorado, now lives in Indiana.  After the trail plans to move to Poland where her mom is from.  Hadn’t slept in 3 nights because of the cold.  I lent her my sleeping bag liner for the night…no worries, I didn’t come with it.
  • Sir Fob W. Pot – older dude, reeks of manure.  Misses his wife.  Handed out Girl Scout cookies around the fire, courtesy of the Crum family.  Big hit!

After sharing war stories around the campfire, we retired around 9 p.m., aka hiker midnight.  The bonding around the campfire drowned out the brutally cold morning we had all endured.

Zoom in on sign
Zoom in on sign

BTW, here’s the final Georgia AT tale of the tape:

Toughest climb – out of Unicoi gap (due to slope, heat, and heel blisters)

Toughest descent – off of Blood Mountain

Falls – 0

Wildlife seen – 1 squirrel, 1 salamander, ~ dozen birds, including 2 owls, 0 bears

BMs in the Woods – 1 (@ newly named Quesalupa Gap)

Weight gain/loss- Unknown

Finally, a contest…by comment on this blog or on Facebook or on Trailjournals, guess when Fob will see his first bear.  Be specific…a shelter or mountain or gap or town (unlikely) or mile marker…not “Virginia”.   Yes, there will be a prize.  Entry deadline is this Sunday night, 3/27.

I wish I could write more…but baby, it’s cold outside.

Sir Fob

 

 

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AT Thru-Hike #11 – Luck or Providence?

Serendipity – Luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for.

Providence – The means by which God directs all things, both animate and inanimate, seen and unseen, good and evil — toward a worthy purpose, which means His will must finally prevail.

The lucky twists, the fortunate breaks, the way a series of seemingly random events can work in conjunction to produce an unexpected favorable outcome…do you call them serendipity?  Or is it God’s Providence at work?  The older I get, the less I believe in luck or randomness…and the more I believe in a loving God orchestrating a few twists, and engineering a few breaks, to provide and sustain his children.  Even when bad things happen, God is there bringing out the good and maybe teaching us some things in the process.

Day 9

I really wanted to attend worship services Sunday morning in Hiawassee, because I need that and know that opportunities to do so will be limited over the next 6 months.  The church, though, was 10 miles out of town…hike-able, but hikers don’t really like hiking non-AT miles unless we have to.  So I googled a number associated with the Hiawassee Church of Christ…and got the former minister who is no longer there.  He gave me a possible contact of Robert Jarrard…there are a few of them.  Left a message for the first one.  The second one, Bobby, answered and said he doesn’t go there but his brother does.  He also offered me a ride!  On the way to services, we drove by his beautiful lakeside home and I commented on it. He said, “you should see inside,” and then he pulled in and gave me a tour of the place.  A kind man…being used by God to give me a “good break.”

Thank you, Bobby!
Thank you, Bobby!
Bobby's Lake View
Bobby’s Lake View

Really enjoyed worshipping with the good folks of H CoC.  They average 12, but had 17 that morning due to several visitors.  A faithful group, despite small numbers and their long-time preacher being out for some time with an apparent serious illness.  They even extended the invitation for me to teach in their Sunday School class, so I taught on “spiritual applications from hiking the AT.”

Good Folks
Good Folks
Small Numbers, Big Enthusiasm
Small Numbers, Big Enthusiasm

Meanwhile, there was the issue of getting from church back to the trail…about a 20 mile journey.  How would God come up with a “lucky twist?”  Well, from out of nowhere I hear from Mark Crum, a high school (and Facebook) friend I haven’t seen in 32 years.  He said his family would be in the area and would love to take me to lunch and then deliver me back to the Trail.  Cha-Ching!  He has an adorable and extremely kind wife and 2 children….such a sweet family.  They took me to Brothers at Willow Ranch where I feasted on the Chicken Alfredo and salad.  Then, before dropping me back on the trail, they gave me a bag of assorted Girl Scout cookies!  Thank you, Team Crum!

Northern Burlington, Class of '84
Northern Burlington, Class of ’84

I got on the trail at 2:20 and banged out 7.4 miles to Rich Cove Gap (elevation 3532 ft).  The temperature was dropping quickly and my watches barometer was trending downward.  As I pitched Big Agnes, the snow began to fall.  Just after getting camp set up, eating, and crawling into my tent, the snow turned to freezing rain.  Perfect timing, and luck had nothing to do with it.

Sir Fob

 

 

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AT Thru-Hike #10 – Diguidou!

“Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.”   – Stephen Wright

Day 6

As I broke camp on Rocky Mountain, two hikers came by with their dog and stopped for a rest.  The older bearded guy, Relic Hunter, was straight out of Deliverance…and I mean that as a compliment.  He completed half a thru hike several years ago.  While on the trail in Virginia, a bear grabbed a hold of his backpack which was leaning next to a tree by his tent.  He got out, changed underwear, and followed the bear at a distance.  It eventually dropped the foodless pack and moved on.  Today the pack, with 3 bear claw punctures, hangs in his garage.

Swag of the Blue Ridge (for Julio Colon)
Swag of the Blue Ridge (for Julio Colon)

The younger, thin guy, Loud Owl, looked pretty tired and worn out.  I asked him where the trail name came from and he explained that “owls can get pretty loud.”  Fair enough.  I reciprocated and told him about a time my offspring defiled a trail and that made him smile.  I also learned that he was about out of food. So I gave him my relatively heavy bag of trail mix.  His face lit up like a Christmas tree and he said, “thanks, Fob.”  It seemed like a good and decent thing to do, but I had some other motives: 1) I’ve learned out here that I never crave trail mix…especially the sweet, messy kind.  I was just carrying it up and down mountains; and 2) Reducing weight whenever possible is always a good thing.  It was a Win-Win for me and young Loud Owl.

Later, I came across Driftwood who is hiking with her 20 year old special needs son, Wildwood.  He doesn’t speak, but can communicate with basic sign language.  I spent some time with them at Neels Gap and observed how good and caring and patient she is with him.  It was good to see them and I find them very inspirational.  I really want to see them finish this hike.

I descended Rocky Mountain and then began the long climb up Tray Mountain, the 7th tallest in Georgia.  On the way up, I squeezed water out of a stream while a nearby brother and sister ginger team, straight from Hogwarts, washed their hair.  It just never occurred to me to wash my hair in a Georgia stream in March.  Next, I stopped for a break and met a French-speaking Canadian from Quebec with the trail name Diguidou!, which is slang for “everything’s good”.   Neither of us spoke the other’s language, but I wanted to impress him and make him feel at home…so I said the only French words I know…”Oui, Oui, omelette du frommage” which means, “Yes, yes, cheese omelette.”  He looked at me, understandably puzzled, and decided break time was over.  I probably set U.S.-Canadian relations back by 20 years, and for that I’m truly sorry.

Water Stop, Tray Mountain
Water Stop, Tray Mountain

At mile 60.9, I stopped and had a candy bar at Young Lick Knob which is followed by a dip at mile 62.2 called Swag of the Blue Ridge.  I’m guessing the Native Americans who named these parts had a pretty wild party that night.  At Addis Gap, I hung out with Castaway, a sailor who I met on the trail on Day 1.  He’s trying to make it to Virginia in the time he has off from work.

After a final climb over Kelly Knob, I descended into Deep Gap Knob and set up camp near the shelter there.  There were around 25 tents set up in the vicinity, and some lively dinner conversation around the picnic table.  Most hikers were in their early to mid 20s, and the topic that evening was student loan debt and how to avoid paying it.  Options ranged from “just vote for Bernie Sanders” to “just don’t pay it…education is not like a house they can foreclose on…once you have it you have it.”  A ginger, with remarkably vibrant hair, suggested college was a complete waste of money.  I had thoughts on these subjects, like one should only borrow money if one has the intent and ability to pay it off eventually.  But I kept those thoughts to myself and instead focused on keeping my fettuccine Alfredo down.  It wasn’t the time and place for a lecture from an old conservative guy sitting on a log with salt formations in his Spanish Moss-looking beard.

Later, I noticed 2 German guys sitting off by themselves so I went and talked to them about trail names and my time stationed at Spandahlem Air Base.  Even later, I struck up a conversation with an impressive young man from Jackson, MS, who turned out to be The Beaver…the son of a friend of a friend who I had been asked to track down.  I only wish Diguidou  from Quebec had been there to see that I had tracked a beaver in the wilderness.

Fob meets The Beaver
Fob meets The Beaver

Day 7

I woke up highly motivated at 6am, because I needed to hike 3.6 miles to catch the 9am shuttle into Hiawassee for some time off.  I packed up everything in the dark and departed at 6:45am while everyone else was still in their tents.  I got a chance to use my headlamp for the first hour, and enjoyed hiking in the dark.  Just gotta watch the steep ledges.  About a half mile from the pickup point at Dicks Creek Gap, I went by a trail maintainer who was blowing leaves off the trail.  I knew these folks removed trees and limbs, but it never occurred to me they used leaf blowers to keep the trail clear.  I thanked him.

God did this!
God did this!

I arrived at the Budget Inn and signed up for 2 nights, in order to get a full zero day on Saturday, give my heels some time to heal, and to hopefully get to church services on Sunday.  It’s not a race and I plan to enjoy these trail towns while I’m here.  While waiting for my room to get ready, I met Pat and Meagan, a mother-daughter thru-hiking team from Vermont.  Meagan graduated from Dartmouth, taught English for awhile, and is getting married in October.   It was her birthday, and we were all craving coffee, so I took them for some coffee and conversation at the nearby Dairy Queen.  They filled me in on the Green and White mountains I’ll face up north.  Fun, random fact:  the Asian guy who made our coffee was the first non-Caucasian person I had seen in a week.

Vermont Buddies
Vermont Buddies

Once my room was ready, I took a long hot bath followed by a long hot shower, did some laundry, and then headed straight for Daniel’s All-You-Can-Eat Steakhouse!  It was so, so very good!  I had a salad, bread, potatoes, fried chicken, fried fish, fried shrimp, pees, Mac n Cheese, baked beans, strawberry dessert, 2 waters, 2 diet cokes, a tall glass of chocolate milk, and a cup of coffee.  Did I mention it was really good?  Maybe I won’t lose weight after all!

As I walked back to the hotel, I re-supplied at a Dollar General and then headed back to the Budget Inn.  Several 20-something hikers were gathered around a campfire next to the Inn drinking, smoking and sharing hiking war stories.  I stopped by for a few minutes to chat, then headed off to bed…actually a sleeping bag on top of the bed.  It was good to be in civilization.

Day 8

Saturday…my first Zero Day!  My goals were to eat, rest, take a nap, prepare my backpack, and call my wife and father.  I was able to get all that in.  I had a foot-long Italian BMT sub at Subway for brunch, and was joined by a traveling soccer team from Francis Marion University out of Florence, SC.  I finished off the day with a Quesalupa combo and a beefy 5-layer burrito for dessert.  Glad I got a single room.

It was a great zero day and I love Hiawassee.  But I’m anxious to get back on the trail tomorrow and get some more miles in.

Everything is going well.  In fact…Diguidou!

Sir Fob

 

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AT Thru-Hike #9 – The Hunger Games

“I intend to make Georgia howl.”  – William Tecumseh Sherman

Day 4

It’s only fitting that The Hunger Games and The Walking Dead were both filmed in Georgia.  In my first week on the trail in Georgia, I have experienced zombie-like stretches when all I thought about was food.

Hiking Boots in Tree, Neels Gap
Hiking Boots in Tree, Neels Gap

Fortunately, as I awoke at the Walasi-Yi hostel on the morning of day 4, hunger was not going to be an issue.  A friend and fellow sojourner, Maureen Welch, arrived with her family at 9am with a ton of McDonalds food and coffee!  God bless her dear soul!  There was enough for Matt and me and others to devour sausage and egg biscuits and cinnamon thingies.  I enjoyed meeting her family.  After sharing a few hiking stories, we prayed together, and I specifically thanked God for Maureen being a true trail angel early in my journey.

Maureen & Family wit McD's!
Maureen & Family with McD’s!

Matt’s legs were really bothering him, so he decided to take a zero and stay another night.  Since the weather was nice and I was feeling good, I decided to head on out.  As I left Neels Gap, I thought of my Uncle Phil who hiked the 40 miles from Amicalola Falls to Neels Gap as a 65-year-old about 15 years ago.  (Mad respect for you, Uncle Phil!)

It was another warm day and I was glad I had done a good bit of my training in Florida.  Mid-afternoon, I descended into Tesnatee Gap and discovered more trail magic!  King Tut and Angela were serving snacks and drinks, answering questions, and offering crochet winter hats courtesy of the Crochet Group from Bethlehem Georgia’s United Methodist Church.  I took one and now use it as my clothes bag cover, which is also my pillow.  Thanks, ladies!

Hostel friend
Hostel friend; she’s lucky I’d already eaten

The climb out of Tesnatee was the toughest to date, especially for my blistered right heel.  I missed Matt, but enjoyed taking a few breaks and getting to know other hikers.  First there was a guy from California who sold all his possessions and is traveling around the country in a van with his dog.  (I thought, what kind of a nut job goes and does something like that?)  Next were two ladies hiking together, one of whom lives near Tinker AFB, OK (our first AF assignment).  At Blue Mountain Shelter, I met a medically retired Marine and his girlfriend.  We shared stories of our time in Afghanistan.  He was in the lead vehicle of a convoy in Helmand Province when an IED exploded, sending him and others flying through the air.  His face was torn off and had to be reconstructed.  Kudos to his docs, because his face looks really good.  He doesn’t have a trail name yet, but it would be alright with me if people called him Hero.

First Mountain Flower
First Mountain Flower

After 10.5 miles, I called it quits atop Sheep Rock Top mountain.  It was a good warm day of hiking.  In fact, as I settled in for the night, I noticed salt formations from my profuse sweating had formed on my backpack straps.

Day 5

I woke up to a beautiful sunrise this morning.  Before heading out, I spent a fair amount of time building moleskin patches for my blisters on both heels.  I descended into Low Gap Shelter to get water and then spent this 12.1 mile day doing a series of small ups and downs.

image

At the Blue Mountain summit, I spoke with a young, fast-hiking, red-bearded guy from Murfreesboro TN.  He spent 22 years affiliated with the churches of Christ and then moved on to the Baptists and then another group.  He said he was out here to find himself and figure things out.  I hope he finds what he’s looking for and can use this experience to re-connect with a God who loves him and is evident at every turn.

The final climb of the day out of Unicoi Gap was intense.  I try to take those fairly slowly and just keep putting one foot in front of the other.  I also think of weird things to focus on.  For example, I wondered what it would run me to have my friends Adam Key and Mickey Shrader do mold remediation on my body after the hike.

Exhausted, I set up camp on Rocky Mountain, with wonderful views from 4017 feet.  I fired up some chicken and rice on the MSR Pocket Rocket and gobbled it down way too quickly…a losing play in The Hunger Games.  I called Lil Jan and was thrilled to hear her voice.  Unfortunately, as she updated me on happenings back in the real world, I had to put her on speaker as my acid reflux kicked in and I started throwing up.  It was like, “Yes, dear” (barf)…”that’s good news” (gag), etc.  Sorry, honey!  And sorry I missed out on those carbs!  It wasn’t the most romantic, mountain top phone conversation I’d ever had…but then again I guess it was.

Fob

 

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AT Thru-Hike #8 – Sir FoB W. PoT

After much reflection and consideration, I have accepted the trail name…Sir Fob W. Pot.  It can be shortened to Sir Fob or simply Fob.

I will share the back story, or at least a version of it that I know.  I don’t know all the specifics, but I think I have the general gist of what went down.  Several years ago, when my youngest son Kyle (now a college senior) was in about 9th grade, he went on an Adventure Trek with Larry Alexander and 20 or so other teenagers.  Larry is an AT and PCT thru hiker (trail name: Baro), friend, author, and my AT mentor.  He takes groups out into the wilderness for several days of team-building, hiking, and rappelling.

One evening, as the group descended into their campsite, Kyle was left with the impression that they would be hiking out the opposite way the following morning.  About 10pm, nature called in a big way.  Kyle felt the rumble in his tummy and needed to act quickly.  As there was no privy, the proper procedure was to go into the woods, a good 30-50 yards away from camp, dig a hole, do your business, bury it, and return to camp.  Above all else, you are to “leave no trace.”  This is an established camping principle dating back at least to the time of Noah.

Kyle, with a still developing frontal lobe, decided to divert from the operating manual.  Maybe he was scared…or lazy…or simply trying to beef up his résumé to get into the Knights social club at Harding one day.  Whatever the motivation, he headed back up the same trail the group came in on, dropped his trousers around his ankles, and in a moment of moral weakness, in the light of the moon, took a massive dump in the center of the trail.  Perhaps immediately realizing his grave mistake, he sprinkled a few leaves on top for good measure and walked back down the trail to camp.

The next morning, Baro assembled the young hikers and told them they would be hiking back out the way they came in.  Kyle’s eyes widened and he immediately got a big lump in his throat (but not nearly as big as the lump he had criminally left sitting 50 yards up trail with a few leaves on it).

As they approached the Kyle pile, Baro immediately spotted it and tried to shield the eyes of the younger hikers, but it was too late.  An avid outdoorsman, Baro closely examined it and revealed what others suspected…this was a pyramid of human waste.  So he circled the troops around this disgusting mound of filth, and gave a short speech on the sanctity of trails, leave no trace principles, and accountability.  They weren’t leaving until someone owned this horrendous trail violation. After a few awkward moments of silence, Kyle shrugged his shoulders and sheepishly raised his hand.  Baro sighed, shook his head, and gave Kyle his official trail name:  Trail Pooper.

Fast forward to last week…as I began my AT trek, Baro suggested I be named Fob W. Pot…Father Of Boy Who Pooped On Trail.  My first hiking partner, Matt, loved it.  He suggested I add Sir in front of it to make it more dignified…and because I was the oldest person he’d seen in 3 days.  I discussed the name with several other thru hikers and they loved it and the story behind it.

In addition to the great story, it connects me to family (Trail Pooper), to my AT hiking mentor (Baro), and to my first AT hiking partner, Matt. It’s a name I earned by virtue of being partly responsible for the birth of Kyle, the Trail Pooper himself.

And who knows?  Maybe someday Kyle and Laci will have a son, an adventurer type, and all the hiking world will come to know him as Sob W. Pot.

Fob

 

 

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AT Thru-Hike #7 – Prostration by Prostate

TMI Alert — You’ve Been Warned

Day 3

Since about the time I turned 40, I’ve had 2 health things to deal with…acid reflux and frequent urination.  Both problems joined forces and made for an interesting night on Ramrock Mountain.

The Beef Ramen noodle, Chicken Ramen noodle, and tobasco sauce trifecta began working their magic both north and south of my stomach.  I popped some Tums at 2 a.m. which quelled the reflux.  The real issue that night, though, involved urination.

Apparently as men get older, their prostates grow.  I believe mine is probably about the size of a can of tuna.  The doc told me it pushes on the urethra (which, quite frankly, sounds like something only women should have) and this irritates the bladder walls, which contract, making you have to pee.  So for most nights over the past decade, I get up at 3 a.m., shuffle to the bathroom, relieve myself, then crawl back into bed.  In an RV this is really easy because you just take one full stride, do a left face, and fire away.

That’s all well and good in a house or RV, but not so fun in the wilderness at 3 a.m. in all sorts of weather.  So I brought a Mountain Dew pee bottle.  Before judging me, hear me out.  It’s ultra-light.  It fits neatly in the side pocket of my backpack.  I’m in a Flycreek 2 tent, which implies pants fly and creek or stream.  There’s a technique that can work…and did work at 3 a.m. on our first night on the trail. First you get up on your knees, placing the top of your head at the top of the tent.  Ideally you’d have 3 hands…one to hold the bottle, one to aim with, and one to hold a small flashlight.  (Headlamps are not recommended as they illuminate the tent and may cast an awkward silhouette.)  With only 2 available hands, this must be done in the dark.  You assume the position, aim, fire, put the lid on tightly, and go back to sleep.  Then empty the bottle the next day.  Why no one has written about this technique in all the AT guides and books I’ve read is beyond me.  It’s called The Johnson Method and it worked beautifully on night 1 near Hightower Gap.

Night 2 at Ramrock…not so much.  I made a critical mistake.  As I rose up on my knees, they were on the air mattress rather than straddling it.  I grabbed the bottle, aimed, and fired.  About 6 ounces in, all was well.  As the Mountain Dew bottle warms up, you know good things are happening.  Then disaster struck.  About mid-stream, my left knee slid off the side of the air mattress, sending me in to a topple.  Your instincts are to reach out and catch yourself, but there were no available hands!  In moments like this, mid-stream, job 1 is to keep the Mountain Dew bottle connected to the mother ship.  So I held on for dear life and fell over sideways with my head and shoulder hitting the side of the tent.  But I kept firing.  At age 50, there’s no way to turn off the spigot until the tank is empty.  I laid there for a moment…relieved that I wasn’t injured…and just relieved in general.  As I lay there on my side, my next issue was that the bottle cap was on the other side of the tent.  So with all the energy I could muster I swung my legs around while maintaining the link up with the mother ship.  I grabbed the bottle cap with my toes like a ballerina and swung back around.  I then leaned the bottle up, capped it, and rolled back onto the air mattress.  Tragedy averted!  It’s the unexpected things on the AT, the surprise moments, that will make or break you.  Ya gotta rise to the occasion or urine big trouble.

Matt an I on Blood Mountain
Matt an I on Blood Mountain

Matt and I left Ramrock about 8:15.  About 20 minutes into the hike, I got that rumbling in my stomach.  The tobasco-laced Ramen noodles had worked their way through my digestive track.  I knew Woody Gap was near and had an actual toilet.  And so, in answer to the question, “Woody finally go on day 3?”…the answer is he would.  In honor of the occasion, I renamed the location He Would Gap.

After a peanut butter, trail mix, and beef jerky lunch at Jarrard Gap, we made our way toward Blood Mountain.  It is the 6th tallest mountain in Georgia and the tallest AT mountain in Georgia.  Some say the mountain was named after a bloody battle between the Cherokee and Creek Indians.  Others say it’s based on the reddish color of lichen and Catawba near the summit  Others say the Bloods beat the Crips there in some gang warfare. (Just 1 person said that.)  Sadly, what’s for certain is that it was the location where a hiker named Meredith was murdered in 2008.  The killer is in prison for life.

We ascended blood mountain in the rain.  On the way up, we saw a few birds…the first wildlife of any kind so far…besides one salamander.  It was a long ascent but not too difficult other than my right heel was bleeding a bit.  We hung out with some hikers at the Blood Mountain shelter for awhile and shot a video clip that wasn’t audible due to the wind.  The descent was more challenging due to the wet rocks (lots of them to scramble over) and the wind.  I’d hate to be a south-bounder going up that side.  On the way down we passed 3 New Yorkers also planning to stay at the Walasi Yi hostel for the night.  That would prove to be a key pass, as when we got there around 5, we got the final 2 remaining bunks.

Large Pizza Appetizer
Large Pizza Appetizer

First order of business, even before showering, was to eat.  I drank a Diet Coke that was magical.  Matt and I then split a large 3-meat pizza.  I then ate a burrito and then an apple and then drank a Ginger Ale and a PowerAid. I was just starting to fill kinda full when 15 students from Armstrong State University in Savannah came rolling in with baked ziti, salad, and bread. So I ate it.  These youngsters do this on Spring Break as part of a Christian ministry outreach and we really appreciated it.

Ziti and The Matrix with new friends
Ziti and The Matrix with new friends

We got a shower, did laundry, and got to know a wide assortment of humanity.  Among the cast of characters was Book in Boots, an Australian lady who bunked below me.  There were two Indiana University ladies who we shared a bear bag line with on Ramrock…one is a competitive cyclist and one wants to be a brain surgeon.  Next there was Emily, a very kind and interesting transgender photographer from Houston.  A lady about my age named Driftwood was there with Wildwood, her 20 year old special needs son.  They are attempting a thru and I really admire that.  Several of us stayed up til 10:30 watching The Matrix and burping ziti.

Just a Flesh Wound
Just a Flesh Wound

My final challenge of the night was climbing up to the top bunk with sore feet and a sore body.  I finished off the day listening to an excellent sermon by my friend and former fellow teacher, Donald Ballard.  (Thanks Ross and Crafton for putting these on the web.)

I was in a warm bed, with a bathroom nearby, and my Mountain Dew bottle was securely tucked away in my backpack.

Big Steve

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AT Thru-Hike #6 – Support Can Be Beautiful

The mountains are calling and I must go.  – John Muir

I don’t know how this hike will end, but the beginning was fantastic!  A fellow sojourner, Maureen, arranged for Lil Jan and me to spend 2 nights in a cabin not far from Springer Mountain.  The cabin belongs to her friend, and our new friend, Arlin…thank you, sir!  Turns out Arlin is the father of Terry Chapman, who we know from our FL Bible Camp days.  Small world.  The cabin was right on the Toccoa River and a perfect place to be.

On Friday, we headed to Amicalola Falls State Park with Maureen and Arlin, and met up with a bunch of family…my Dad, sister Ellen, her hubby Vin, her daughter Lizzie, Jan’s sister Carol, her hubby Scott, and Vin’s brother Tim.  We hiked up the Falls (killer steps!), ate at the lodge, and checked out the visitors center.  I also registered for my hike…I’m hiker #564 to start the trail this year.  That night Janet carbo loaded me up with chili and pasta.  I slept surprisingly well, even though I was a tad anxious.

One small step for Big Steve...one giant trip ahead
One small step for Big Steve…one giant trip ahead

Saturday morning we all rendezvoused at the Springer Mountain parking lot.  That was no small feat as the 6 mile Forest Road 42 leading to the parking lot was gravel and full of potholes.  Thankfully we were in a Honda Fit.  ?  We then headed up the .9 miles to the Springer Mountain summit and southern terminus of the AT.  We took some photos, I signed the logbook and then I took the first of what I hope will be about 5 million steps.  Back down at the parking lot we circled up and Vin led us in prayer.  I then hugged everyone, kissed my wife, and almost cried.  So many emotions were going through my head.  I can’t express how cool it was having all those folks there.  Or the texts and Facebook posts from all over…even high school friends that I haven’t seen in 30+ years!  I have truly felt the love and support and encouragement.  I carry a piece of each of you with me.  If you want that piece back, see my son Jason…he does prosthetics!

First Privy
First Privy

About 100 yards down the trail I sensed a guy on my tail.  I turned and asked him if he was going to Maine.  He said yes so I gave him a fist pump and we’ve been hiking buddies ever  since. His name is Matt and he recently graduated from UNC-Wilmington.  Loves jazz music and reminds me a lot of Luke Larsen, for those who know him.  He decided to take a year off before starting law school.  He’s a competitive rifle and pistol shooter which I thought might come in handy hunting wolverines but he’s not packin.  He has a slightly faster motor than me on the up hills…probably because hes’s not 50 and chunky.

Beef Stew
Beef Stew.

Our first day of hiking was beautiful and unseasonably warm.  I stopped at the Stover Creek Shelter privy to relieve myself because apparently the thousands of trees in every direction weren’t good enough for me.  We met several other hikers there and later at the Hawks Mountain shelter.  We learned that a woman had to medically evacuated from there because she spilled boiling water on her leg while cooking.  Sorry to hear that.  Matt and I ended up camping on the top of the first hill north of Hightower Gap.  I had beef stew and peanut butter and crackers for supper.  We hung our bear bags, built a fire, and set up camp.  It had been a near perfect 8.9 mile day 1 and I dozed off to sleep about 9pm.

Bear Bag
Bear Bag

The heavy rain and wind gusts started about midnight.  I was kind of excited about it because I wanted to test everything out early on the hike.  I stayed warm and dry in my UL Flycreek 2 tent.  Matt didn’t fair so well in his hammock and tarp.  In fact he got soaked.  I felt bad for him but he bounced back pretty quickly.

I got up at 7:30, packed up in the rain, and ate the pop tart that had been sitting in the bottom of my food bag for the past 2 months of training hikes.  It was basically brown sugar cinnamon sawdust.  Sassafras Mountain, at 3347 feet, was my first butt kicker.  It’s not as difficult as what lies ahead, but it’s difficult because your lungs and legs are still getting acclimated to these altitudes.  The moderate rain didn’t help.  My glasses were fogging up so I took them off…causing my vision to fog up.

Justus Creek...cold but refreshing
Justus Creek…cold but refreshing

Our luck improved around noon as the sun came out and we had lunch and got water at the beautiful Justus Creek.  Later we paid a visit to Gooch Gap shelter and talked to several hikers.  One guy was a 50 year old pastor from Belleville IL (where we used to live)  who has a son who spent 2 years at Harding University where Kyle and Jason go/went.  A short time later, at Gooch Gap, we got our first trail magic!!!  A former thru hiker, Sticks, is spending his Spring break making hot dogs for hikers.  He asked if I wanted one.  That answer will always…ALWAYS, be yes!  Pretty cool, selfless thing to do on your week off.  I ate it in 2 bites.

Matt and I enjoying some trail magic
Matt and I enjoying some trail magic

We finished our 10.1 mile day atop Ramrock Mountain. It’s the 2 of us and 2 young ladies from Indiana University.  Don’t worry honey we’re only sharing a bear bag line as they didn’t have one.  It’s been a good day…the only downside being Matt’s soaking hammock (which eventually dried out) and a couple blisters on my heels which I treated tonight.  And I miss Lil Jan.  Supper tonight was 2 packages of Ramen noodles (beef and chicken) with a packet of tobasco sauce.  I haven’t pooped in 2 days so I’m hoping that will stir the pot.  (If that’s TMI for you,  you’re reading the wrong blog!)

Our view from Ramrock Mountain
Not a bad view

Very grateful to be here, and grateful for the folks cheering me on.  Looking forward to tackling Blood Mountain tomorrow and possibly getting to Neels Gap, where we may stay the night to shower and re-supply.

God is good all the time.

Big Steve

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sojourn: Mount Dora Christian Academy, Mount Dora FL

“He took his stick in his hand and chose for himself five smooth stones from the brook, and put them in the shepherd’s bag which he had, even in his pouch, and his sling was in his hand; and he approached the Philistine.”          – 1 Samuel 17:40

We spent our last six weeks in Florida at the Sojourners workshop and then on a sojourn at Mount Dora Christian Academy.  The workshop featured a combination of good speakers, singing, a banquet, games, future mission planning/sign-ups, and all-around fellowshipping with a tremendous group of people.  Workshops are how Sojourners sharpen the saw, re-energize, and re-connect.

Lil Zip Liner
Lil Zip Liner

The first highlight of the workshop for me was a visit on my 50th birthday by our youngest son, Kyle, and his fiancé, Laci.  The visit was made possible by Dr. Bruce McLarty, the President of Harding University.  Bruce was a keynote speaker and banquet speaker at our workshop.  His parents were there with us, and he knew that we were there and were Kyle’s parents.  So he invited Kyle and Laci to fly in with him on the Harding jet and spend about 24 hours with us.  Kyle mentioned to me that he and Laci would have to miss a day of classes.  I told him that when you are flying around with the president of the university, that’s probably an excused absence!  I really appreciated Dr. McLarty’s thoughtful gesture and can’t imagine a better birthday present.  We took full advantage of Kyle and Laci’s visit to show them around the Central Florida Bible Camp campus, go zip-lining, eat German food in Mount Dora, and get updated on the various details of their upcoming wedding.  I’m biased, but I think this young Christian couple is going to have a really powerful impact on the world.  In many ways they already have.

MDCA Sojourners
MDCA Sojourners

The second highlight of the workshop involved my upcoming AT thru-hike attempt.  As previously blogged about (AT Thru-Hike #3: Julio and “Amber Alert”), I’m using my thru-hike as a way to help our friends, Julio and Amber Colon, adopt a child.  A dear sweet lady, who will remain unnamed, approached me at the workshop.  She said, “Steve, I read the blog on your friends and I want to help them adopt.”  She then handed me a $10 bill and wished me luck.  I thanked her and she walked away.  A short time later, I learned that she has had some difficult family challenges and is certainly not well-off financially.  Suddenly her $10 donation took on increasing significance to me.  Mark 12:41-44 came to mind…

“Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.  Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

I’m not suggesting our sojourner friend lives in poverty.  I am suggesting her $10 was not an insignificant amount to her…she was not giving “out of abundance”.  It got me to thinking…I wonder if I should make a personal appeal to these fine people.  Asking for money is not something I enjoy doing.  I would fail working in a Development office.  When my sons were young, it even felt a little awkward watching them sell candles and cookies and things to raise funds for various causes.  Still, I felt like these folks should hear about the Colon’s adoption plan in order to decide for themselves whether they were in a position to give.  So I addressed the group and made a short appeal.  When we went on break, several sojourners made their way over to Janet to donate.  Long story short…within 10 minutes, they had pledged $1700 toward the cause!  News of their generosity spread, additional donations and pledges have come in, and our total is now at $3673.94… 68% of their $5375 balance!  I know of 3 additional pending pledges, and perhaps some others reading this will join in on this worthy cause (if so, contact Janet…703-403-8492).  Never underestimate what God can do with a couple of “small copper coins”.

Fence Removal Crew
Fence Removal Crew

Our sojourn at Mount Dora Christian Academy was a lot of fun.  The work included construction, demolition, repairs, painting, pressure washing and cleaning all over the campus and at the school’s thrift store.  Lil Jan primarily painted and pressure washed all over campus.  In fact, she may have found her sojourners calling with a pressure washer in her hand.  I helped remove a fence, replaced damaged patio tiles, painted, and helped Lil Jan with the pressure washing.  I may have also sprayed a lizard with a 2700 PSI pressure washer blast.  The MDCA team was gracious enough to provide our team breakfast and lunch every day, and we enjoyed getting the chance to interact with the students.  In fact, they were impressed with my tongue-twirling abilities and sought me out on campus so that I could show my trick to others who hadn’t seen it.

Lil Bridge Washer
Lil Bridge Washer

A final story once again showed God at work.  Tonya, one of the house parents at Mount Dora, made our team several delicious breakfasts while we were there.  Tonya has a love for God and a love for children that you might expect to find in a house parent at a children’s home.  On one occasion, we asked her what was on her wish list (because everyone has one of those).  She paused for a moment, because the thing she had in mind was, to quote her, “really big”.  I was thinking she might be thinking about a new car or perhaps a Hawaiian vacation.  Instead, she said they could really use a picnic table.  Yes, a picnic table was her big item.  I laughed, because in my mind it’s not that big of an item, quite doable, and well within the capabilities of our team.  But to her, it was a big deal, and she gets to decide that.  She didn’t have one simply because she hadn’t asked for one…perhaps because she thought it was “too big” of a request.  After initially planning to pool our resources and just buy her one, our team instead was made aware of one elsewhere on campus that wasn’t being used and just needed some TLC.  So we dried it out, planed it, sanded it, and stained it.  It looked as good as new.  In fact, it looked better and more solid than the one that was available for purchase.  So on our final day there, at our final breakfast with her, our team surprised her with the table and a new large coffee pot.  She was thrilled and touched by the gesture.  It wasn’t that big of a deal…really, it wasn’t…and yet to her it was.

After the sojourn ended and we were heading north toward South Carolina, Janet got a text from Tonya that I don’t think she’d mind me sharing:  “When Daniel (who is 10) came home yesterday and discovered the picnic table, he got all excited and shouted that his teacher had told them to go outside on a picnic table to pray and write in their journals.  He said, “Can I go sit at the picnic table and pray?”  He went out and I watched him sit down at the picnic table, fold his hands, and start praying!  He did it again today!  Already put to good use!!  Thank you all so much for blessing us!”

God works in mysterious ways.  He can turn a few fish into a feast for thousands.  He can use a small stone and a brave young man to slay a giant.  He can multiply a seemingly modest donation by touching the hearts of those who hear about it.  And he can use a simple picnic table to inspire a young man to journal and to pray.  Never under-estimated what God can do with the little and simple things in your life.  Give him a chance, and he can turn them into something big.

Big Steve

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