“A good character is the best tombstone. Those who loved you and were helped by you will remember you when forget-me-nots have withered. Carve your name on hearts, not on marble.” – Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892), English Preacher
Sadly, my reunion with Lil Jan had come to an end, and she drove me back to the Shook Branch Recreation Area. Her parents (MawMaw and Papa) and sister and brother-in-law (Carol and Scott) were in the area visiting Janet’s other sister and decided to stop by and hug my neck. It was great to see them if only for a few minutes. After saying our goodbyes, and giving Lil Jan a final kiss, they departed.
One thing that will help take the sting out of saying goodbye is a bit of…Trail Magic! Yes, right there at the Rec Area a group of 2015 thru-hikers had reunited from different parts of the country to set up a magnificent cookout. I knew it would be special because those who have hiked the trail know just how to serve up some magic. Among many possible options, I went with a bacon cheeseburger, chips, soda, and dessert. I sat there for 30 minutes picking their brains about their experiences and what to expect as I head northward. So, I want to give a big shout out to Rock Boat, Forward, Jeopardy, Doc, Klank, and Poboy for the conversation and the magic. (I would learn later that Forward is friends with Karen King, a church friend from our Virginia days.)
One of the last things said to me by Rock Boat was, “There were lots of good and bad things that happened on the trail, but I only remember the good stuff.” His comment gave me something to think about as I headed out for the beautiful, several mile long hike along Wautaga Lake. Did he actually forget the bad stuff that happened on his thru-hike? Or, was the bad stuff, in the context of the overall hike, eventually considered to be part of the good stuff? For example, was the hike through a thunderstorm (considered “bad” at the time) ultimately considered part of the “good” because he had overcome it, survived, and developed a closer bond with other survivors as a result? In James 1:2-4, James writes, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” I’m trying to take these verses to heart and really apply them out here. I’m trying to find joy in the thunderstorm, the foot/toe numbness, the homesickness, and other trail trials, knowing that God will somehow use them to make me a more mature and complete person and Christian. Overcoming some “bad” stuff has already increased my trail perseverance, resolve, and “bad” tolerance levels, and a goal is to have that translate back in the real world. I want to more consistently find joy in the seemingly good and bad, and know that God will use both to mold me into the man he wants me to be. I also want to have a much higher percentage of bad stuff…daily annoyances, perceived slights, inconveniences, traffic jams, cold showers, etc…be small stuff that I don’t sweat.
As I hiked along the lake, I passed the Wautaga Lake Shelter that has been closed due to bear activity. I also passed a 1/2 mile long section of the trail which had burned in the recent forest fire (arson suspected). Later, a group from the Centerview Church of Christ, where I had worshipped the preceding Sunday, passed me from the other direction. It was great to see David Irick, one of their ministers, and other familiar faces, out on a day hike. We spoke for a few moments and David was kind enough to give me my first Yoo-hoo chocolate drink. Later, near Wilbur Dam Road, I enjoyed one final parting gift from the Centerview congregation…a cooler full of Throwback Mountain Dew!
After a fairly easy 9.1 mile day, I stayed at the Vandeventer Shelter with a gorgeous view behind it. The shelter and surrounding tent sites were full that night, with a cast of characters including 5-Star, Odysseus, and NesQuick (my hiking buddy from the Great Smoky Mountains Bubble). There was also a rather odd fellow (section hiker) who said he and his fiancé had been robbed of their food and money while getting water at a shelter a few days prior. Then they had a big fight and were now hiking in opposite directions, even though they were “on their way to Texas.” I wondered if he knew the AT doesn’t go through Texas. He had no food, no stove, his phone was dead, and he never got out of his sleeping bag. This all seemed rather bizarre to me. Although he didn’t ask for any help, the aspiring thru-hikers passed around a large ziplock bag at campfire that night and filled it with snacks for him. That night, I did my best to find joy in the loud snoring of the hiker right next to me in the shelter. Maybe his snoring kept the mice away.
I awoke and immediately had two things working in my favor: an early start (6:50 a.m., to get away from Sir Snores-a-Lot) and a relatively flat topography ahead. This had the potential to be a big mileage day, although that’s rarely my goal.
At mile 444 I passed the Uncle Nick Grindstaff Monument. According to his tombstone, he was born December 26, 1851 and died July 22, 1953. He lived as a hermit on Iron Mountain the last 40 years of his life, and his tombstone reads, “He lived alone, suffered alone, and died alone.” For more on his life and story, check out… http://appalachiantreks.blogspot.com/2012/07/uncle-nick-grindstaff.html?m=1
As I descended Iron Mountain, I looked down at my sweaty right forearm and noticed my first AT tick walking along it. I brushed him off and spent the next mile running my fingers through my hair and checking various body crevices. I fear ticks and the diseases they carry more than I fear snakes and bears combined. (Although a combined Snake-Bear would be fairly intimidating.)
At mile 447.3 I began a peaceful, scenic walk through a pasture. Out here on the AT, I love how God can just flip a switch and send us from mountains to pastures, from wind to stillness, and from shady laurel valleys to sunny ridges in mere moments. If you don’t like the scenery, keep hiking and wait a few minutes. Halfway across the pasture I stopped and visited with Mountain Man, a rare southbound hiker. We exchanged trail notes and our beards posed for a selfie together. Later, I came across a metal cage full of…Trail Magic! I had a soda and a snack, courtesy of the Girls in Action, a 4th-6th Grade mission group from the Nelson Chapel Baptist Church, Mountain City, Tennessee. I hope my fellow hikers and I don’t just see and appreciate the magic, and the Trail Angels, but also the faith in Christ and desire to live like Him that motivates much of it. In other words, I hope they receive not just the Mountain Dew, but ultimately the Gospel Message that can really change their lives, and mine.
As I descended Locust Knob, I met a couple from Johnson City out on a day hike. They have hiked local AT sections and other area trails for the past decade and have set up numerous off-trail secret campsites behind rock formations and other barriers for their own use. He asked if I noticed the two mating butterflies floating around about 30 yards south. I told him I had, but wasn’t sure if they were mating or just holding hands. He asked, “Did you notice they were two different species? That’s just wrong.” I suggested maybe a third species would result, but that didn’t satisfy him. He also told me the green plant I had been seeing in abundance all day long was a May Apple.
After a 20.2 mile day, I stealth camped near a spring at mile 456.1. A short time later, NesQuick (who is having serious foot issues) and Dawn (aka Slim Rim, from Vermont) joined me and tented nearby. As we ate supper (for me, that meant Mountain House Pasta Primavera with 2 Parmesan cheese packets), she asked about my family and I bragged on my sons for a few minutes. She replied, “That’s really cool. I hope my dad talks that way about me when I’m not around.” I hope he does too.
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