“Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.” – Helen Keller
“The greatest of all mistakes is to do nothing because you can only do a little. Do what you can.” – Sydney Smith
I awoke, checked my beard for ticks, threw down a pop tart, and headed out. It didn’t take long for light rain to begin to fall, and it continued for most of the day. Mentally, I played a little game and told myself that every drop of rain that hit me today was going to make me stronger and more determined. That may sound silly, but it beats letting multiple days of rain wear you down mentally and physically. You play whatever mental games you must to stay motivated and hiking. I know of several hikers now off the trail, essentially because multiple days of rain took a heavy toll and they were no longer having fun.
By mid-afternoon, the rain let up just a bit, and I passed a series of poster board signs on trees announcing Trail Magic ahead! Signs are not necessary to draw hikers in, but they did build anticipation and made me drool just a bit. After all the rain, it couldn’t have come at a better time. As I approached the tent and chairs, I could tell this was going to be something special. They had a generator going to charge hiker electronics. Anyone who goes to that level of trouble to meet hikers’ needs is about to deliver some magic…and they did!
The Trail Angels were DeAnn and Dave Werner, from Pennsylvania, along with DeAnn’s sister, Deb, and her husband, Vince. Dave informed me that their daughter’s fiancé, trail name J-Bird, thru-hiked the AT in 2010 and had a wonderful experience. He especially appreciated all the Trail Magic and wanted to return to the AT in 2011 and serve as a Trail Angel himself. Unfortunately and sadly, he was diagnosed with colon cancer, died in 2012, and never got the chance to be a Trail Angel. In his honor, DeAnn and Dave have been returning to the trail as Trail Angels every first week of May since he died, giving the magic to hikers that J-Bird himself so badly wanted to give. Their Trail Magic was magnificent and truly honored J-Bird’s memory. There was a lot of food, including fruit, vegetables, hot dogs, and scrumptious meatball sandwiches. They also offered a mini-hiker store, with everything from batteries to wet wipes to hygiene supplies yet it was all free. There were all sorts of drinks and desserts. To top it all off, they had cards and pens so we could write messages to our loved ones, and also took care of putting the postage on and mailing them. Thanks to them, I was able to send a Mother’s Day card to Lil Jan. I thanked them from the bottom of my heart, and told them they truly had honored J-Bird’s memory in a big way. I left with not only a re-charged phone and battery, but a full belly and just an overall better outlook on life. That’s what Trail Magic can do for a tired hiker who has been busting his butt up and down mountains in the rain for several days.
After 16.1 miles, I rolled into Bland, Virginia and hitched a ride with Bubba to the Big Walker Motel. I was initially reluctant to stay at a town called Bland, but after looking at the map, I realized it was a better option than Boring, Iowa or Mediocre, Minnesota. Bubba was quite the character for a Bland guy. As a shuttler of hikers, he has seen his fair share of interesting things. Two of his experiences are particularly noteworthy:
– He once shuttled two female German hikers who rode in the back of his pickup truck with their gear. He noticed a car swerving behind him and looked back and the girls had removed their wet tops to let them air out. (In this context, I’m not entirely sure what “them” refers to.) He told them public highway nudity was not allowed in this country (except maybe in Mississippi) and they acted surprised. They were probably from Boobvaria. I told him it’s a good thing he handled the situation, otherwise the town would’ve been renamed Notso Bland. More on Bubba and this story at http://m.swvatoday.com/news/article_d8c02b40-f5eb-11e5-b883-531ab1bda78c.html?mode=jqm
– He also gave a ride, and later received a thank you card, from a hiker with the trail name Bismarck. He found out later that Bismarck had been hiking the AT for six years, to avoid being arrested for embezzling $8.7 million from Pepsi, his employer. The law eventually caught up with Bismarck at Trail Days in Damascus, Virginia, and he ended up in prison. Bubba told me they recovered less than $1 million and there are rumors that Bismarck stashed the money at various spots on the AT. I’ll begin looking immediately. More on Bismarck, the AT fugitive, can be found here… http://www.sbnation.com/longform/2015/7/1/8861183/james-hammes-appalachian-trail-bismarck
I checked into my room at the Big Walker Motel and checked the forecast. It was supposed to be cold and rainy all day the following day. Thus, I decided to take a zero day. That night, I ordered spaghetti and meatballs, a salad, and a large, family-sized order of cinnamon rolls and had them delivered to my room. After eating a few thousand calories worth of food, I took a hot bath and shower, and then hand-washed my clothes in the tub. I went to bed that night thankful for the Trail Magic I had received, and thankful to be clean, out of the rain, and full of pasta and countless cinnamon rolls.
Not wanting to do anything too exciting in a town called Bland, I spent most of the day resting in my motel room, eating more cinnamon rolls, watching a little TV, and blogging. I did venture out for a couple of hours to re-supply at the Dollar Store, have dinner at a gas station Dairy Queen, and pick up a foot-long Spicy Italian sub at Subway for tomorrow’s hike. I also called Lil Jan. As always, it was great to hear her voice and get caught up on family events. She always tells me she loves me and is proud of what I’m doing, and that is even more filling than the 18 cinnamon rolls I’d eaten in the past 24 hours.
I awoke, ate the last two cinnamon rolls, checked out of the motel, and took a shuttle back to the trailhead. The hike today was unusually flat, with overcast skies. I was beginning to wonder if the sun ever shines in Virginia. Just before passing the Jenny Knob Shelter, I reached the 600-mile milestone and celebrated with a Pay-Day candy bar.
As the skies darkened, I checked the forecast and saw that yet another thunderstorm was headed my way. After a 16.1 mile day, I stopped at mile 606 and quickly set up camp. As the rain started to fall, I took care of some business while hugging a tree at the recently named 20-Cinnamon-Roll Gap.
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