“We can’t expect people to act like Jesus when they don’t know him.” – Rachel Elizabeth Johnson
I awoke to yet another cold morning and decided I was about ready for Spring to kick in. I heard from a fellow hiker, who heard from a foot guy at an Outfitter, who probably heard from an African witch doctor, that it takes 300 miles of hiking for your “hiking muscles” to form, and 600 miles for your “hiking tendons” to do the same. Having just hiked 300 miles, I was anxious to see if I noticed any difference in my hiking stamina.
After a few miles of downhill hiking, I saw a sign posted on a tree. It told hikers not to befriend or feed any dogs that they were about to see, and to even throw rocks at them if necessary. Apparently some dogs that lived there had followed some friendly hikers northward and never returned. It wasn’t five minutes later, as I approached a foot bridge over a creek, that I saw a pack of dogs barking and charging toward me from a distance. I have been bitten twice by dogs in my life, while jogging in Prattville, Alabama and Swansea, Illinois. I wasn’t about to be bitten again. Testing out my new 300-mile hiking muscles, I made an adrenaline-fueled 50-yard sprint for the footbridge, crossed over it, and spun around in a defensive position with hiking poles extended. My former colleagues at the National War College would have approved of this rarely used, single troop phalanx formation. As the sound of the pack of dogs drew near, the voice in my head said, “Spartans, prepare for glory!” The pack of six dogs arrived seconds later, barking ferociously at me from across the narrow creek. Their leader was a dirty poodle, flanked by a couple of schnauzers, an old hound dog with a limp, and two ugly mutts. I ran from these sorry misfits? Not a single Pitbull or German Shepherd or Doberman. I stood up, stared at my adversaries, and shouted, “Shut your pie holes, you sorry bunch of losers,” then turned and hiked on.
I climbed 4541-foot Lick Rock with a guy named Orange Pacer. He got that name due to a tendency to mix in a little vodka with his orange Gatorade. It helps him “set just the right pace”. I have no doubt. Later, I met 2 sweet ladies from North Carolina out on a section hike. They dream of hiking the AT someday and I told them to go for it. At Sams Gap, one of the ladies gave Orange Pacer and me her last two homemade chocolate chip cookies! Where there’s a gap, there’s often magic!
As I climbed out of Sams Gap, I was feeling pretty good about my stamina and 300-mile leg muscles. Then, from out of nowhere a young, blond, highly attractive gal zoomed passed me with a weiner dog in tow. I don’t mind being passed by a woman, especially one half my age wearing amazing, woman-smelling deodorant. But having a weiner dog with four 3-inch legs blow by you…totally demoralizing! If I had been carrying a bottle of mustard, I’d have squirted it down the length of his back as he went by. So much for having my trail legs.
After a 14.9 mile day, I tented with about 15 others at Low Gap, mile 321.3. There was good and bad around the campfire that night. The good…I met Cambria who not only is from my birth state, Delaware, but was born in the same hospital at Dover Air Force Base! Since leaving Delaware at age 12, I’ve never met anyone from Delaware, much less from the same hospital where I was born. We shared a few stories and she brought me up to date on the football rivalry between Caesar Rodney and Dover High Schools and other important matters. It was great to meet her and talk to her.
Not so good around the campfire…the pot smoking, which was accompanied by heavy cursing. Several in this group were dropping F-bombs like a common adjective, with the frequency that most people would use the word “the”. Drug use and cursing are really not compatible with my Christian faith. I don’t do it and I don’t like being around it. I also find it incredible, and a bit sad, that in an environment like the AT, with amazing sights, sounds, and sensations in every direction, that that’s not enough for some. They need additional artificial stimulation to enhance the experience, be cool, or perhaps escape something. I’m not judging them…God handles that and I need to worry about the planks in my own eyes. However, it’s my belief that the empty space in their lives that they are trying to fill with drugs can only be filled by a relationship with Jesus Christ. Such a relationship would likely do wonders for their vocabulary as well. I didn’t make a scene or go all “campfire preacher” on them. I did decline their offer of drugs, and retired early to my tent where I said a prayer for them.
Like the rest of society, the AT has its good and bad. Fortunately, my experience to date, including interactions with other hikers, has been overwhelmingly positive. Positive interactions with attacking dogs…not so much.
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