“Long friendships are like jewels, polished over time to become beautiful and enduring.” – Celia Brayfield
NesQuick and I took a selfie, broke camp, and headed north towards Damascus. A few miles into the day’s hike, I saw AT snake #5, a little guy slithering across the trail. At mile 465.1 I crossed the border into Virginia, the 4th of 14 states on the Appalachian Trail. I’ll be in Virginia for over 500 miles…over one fourth of the AT.
After a 12.9 mile day, I entered Damascus, Trail Town America, with NesQuick, Buckles, and Dirty Deed just behind me. We celebrated our arrival at arguably the best trail town on the AT by posing at the town welcome sign. After putting our shirts on, our first stop was Pizza Plus, where I ate a medium meat lovers pizza and a salad and drank 8 glasses of Mountain Dew. My eyes would remain wide open for the next 12 hours.
Among many good town lodging options, NesQuick and I shared a room at Dave’s Place, a cheap, basic hostel associated with the Mount Rogers Outfitter. After a hot shower, I crossed the street to spend some time with the foot guy at the Outfitter. I explained my foot pain and showed him the blisters on the edge of my feet. He listened and examined my feet, boots, socks, liners, and insoles in detail. He said my boots (Oboz Sawtooth Mids) were excellent choices, still fit well, and had plenty of tread on them. The socks and liners were also fine, but he recommended I rotate them with my other set about mid-day, and hang the sweaty ones on the back of my pack to dry. The issue was my insoles. They were too soft/squishy and had flattened out which can happen after 468.5 miles. He recommended I try Superfeet Green Premium Insoles. I did and I felt an immediate improvement! In fact, I jumped up and down in the store with no pain, and came awkwardly close to hugging the foot guy. Count me among the Superfeet fans. I wish I had started with them.
NesQuick and I re-supplied at the Dollar General. Then he, Conductor, several other hikers and I went to Bobo McFarland’s where I feasted on some fish and chips. I was asked to tell the story behind my trail name for about the hundredth time, and folks still enjoy it. Getting a lot of mileage out of Kyle’s trail poop.
Let me tell you about my dear friend, Jeff Battreall. When I arrived at McGuire AFB, New Jersey in 1981 (Christmas week of my 10th grade year) Jeff was one of the first people I met. He was a few years older, but we formed an instant bond. Our dads were both colonels and he lived a few houses down from me on Orly Place (Colonels Row). He was incredibly funny, witty, and sarcastic, and he had a license and really nice Ford Mustang. We shared a similar taste in music and sports (including neighborhood dunk contests on a 9′ rim), and dated the same girl (at different times). He has a larger than life personality and an infectious positive spirit. We would spend hours driving around, sometimes with our ladies, listening to and singing loudly with Queen, Duran Duran, Prince, Styx and the Little River Band. We’ve had extended arguments over who sounds better singing Styx’ Mr. Roboto and the meaning of Prince’s Little Red Corvette. More than anyone else, Jeff made my high school years fun. Beyond the fun, he is a loyal friend and we have remained in contact for the past three decades. He has even visited on a few occasions, including my Air Force retirement ceremony at MacDill AFB, Florida in 2011. I don’t know of a civilian who loves and appreciates the military more than Jeff. It was no surprise when Jeff heard that I was hiking the AT, and said he wanted to meet me in Damascus and hang out.
Before his noon arrival, I had two priorities to attend to. First, I went to a hostel down the street to do laundry. Second, I Face-Timed with Mr. Terry Reeve’s 6th grade class at Foundation Christian Academy. They are one of two classes following my AT journey and completing some related assignments. I enjoyed talking with them and answering their questions, half of which related to bears and going to the bathroom in the woods.
While waiting for Jeff’s arrival, NesQuick and I ran into my hiking buddy, Moses. He was considering hiking out, but I told him Jeff was coming and that meant we had wheels and a fun night in store. He decided to stay and join in on what would become a crazy fun night. Jeff arrived, hugged me, and said, “Here’s your duct tape. See ya later.” I introduced him to Moses and NesQuick and the four of us walked to Hey Joes Tacos and More for lunch. Jeff treated, which was cool of him. Whether it has been five days or five years since I’ve last seen Jeff, we always pick up right where we left off. I told him that in trail towns, hikers are either eating or planning the next meal. It’s what we do. We decided the next stop was the grocery store to get some ice cream, so Jeff drove us there. We then went to Beaverdam Creek and, like the Little Rascals, sat on the creek bank eating Ben and Jerry’s, talking, and enjoying a few moments off our feet.
We decided Jeff needed a trail name because “Jeff” as a trail name is as boring as they come. Jeff had an eye injury as a child which eventually resulted in him losing the eye as an adult. It was devastating to him at first but, consistent with his nature, he’s learned to take it in stride and even have fun with it. He looked at us and said, “How about Cy Clops?” It never occurred to us to name him after a race of savage, one-eyed giants, but in retrospect it was a brilliant choice. It also signaled that his one eye was fair game for some friendly banter. Eye, for One, loved the name. It’s a (Stevie) wonder we hadn’t thought of it sooner.
After stopping by another Outfitter and then a coffee shop, Cy Clops drove us back down to the center of town. Moses, appropriately focused on the next meal, suggested we drive to Abingdon for supper. That night we went into Abingdon and had fantastic BBQ at Bonefire Smokehouse. It was so good that NesQuick, a vegetarian who hasn’t eaten meat in three years, ate a plate full of pig and cow! As Cy Clops discussed the menu with the waitress, she suggested he consider the 3-meat combo…to which I replied, “he’s had his EYE on that ever since we got here!” NesQuick and Moses nearly spit water out as we laughed uncontrollably.
On our way back to Damascus, Cy Clops reached for the radio. I just knew he was going to play Eye of the Tiger, Hungry Eye, Don’t It Make My Brown Eye Blue, or For Your Eye Only. NesQuick was expecting Brown Eyed Girl, When You Close Your Eye, Private Eye, or Betty Davis Eye. Moses was holding out for In Your Eye, Eye Without a Face, You Can’t Hide Your Lyin’ Eye, or anything from Third Eye Blind. Instead, we returned to our roots and started rocking out to Queen, Prince, Michael Jackson, and the Backstreet Boys. Cy Clops and I shared lead vocals, while NesQuick and Moses handled backup vocals and lead air guitar and air drums from the backseat. We sang our hearts out. Prince would have wanted us to. It felt like 1983 at McGuire AFB all over again. We could have only sounded better had we been in a recording studio…and had talent. Cy Clops circled the grocery store parking lot two dozen times as we sang Bohemian Rhapsody. (See the video at https://youtu.be/ZeMyEXRbxbY )
As we sang, “Momma, just killed a man…put a gun against his head, pulled the trigger, now he’s dead” with the windows down, three concerned young skateboarders picked up their boards and left the parking lot. We cruised the “backstreets” of Damascus several times singing I Want It That Way. To Cy Clops’ credit, he kept one eye on the road…for he could do no more.
Cy Clops and I returned to the hostel and talked for a couple more hours. He told me about some of the celebrities he had met and interacted with during his many years as a flight attendant. The list includes Dr J (enormous hands), Kate Beckinsale (during a 30-minute conversation, he offered her his thoughts on a character in a tv series her husband produces), Nelly (charged his phone using Jeff’s portable battery), Larry Bird (told him he could lie down in the aisle if his back hurt), Prince Andrew, Vanilla Ice, Cheap Trick, George Carlin, Darryl Dawkins (Chocolate Thunder), Ron Howard, and Bo Jackson.
The conversation then became a little more serious. We shared our experiences and pain related to the deaths of our mothers…and he discussed the difficulty in losing his eye and the end of his marriage. It was a good “bro talk” and felt good to share some deep thoughts, something “bros” are not always good at. He showed me the SOCOM coin I had given him at my retirement ceremony, and then reciprocated by giving me a set of his flight attendant wings and a Paracord Survival Strap Bracelet with OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom) Veteran written on it. It was a very thoughtful gesture and I will wear the bracelet proudly on my thru-hike attempt.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…hiking 2189.1 miles and reaching Katahdin’s summit is my ultimate bucket list goal. But the AT is so much more about the journey…the interesting people, the views, the trail towns, and all the crazy things that happen along the way. That’s why I try hard not to get caught up in the mentality of having big mileage days and getting the trail done quickly. The AT is a magnificent, 22-course meal that is meant to be slowly savored a bite at a time. The last one from the dinner table wins. While I’m sure many great memories and experiences remain in store for me, I doubt there will be a more fun night than the one had by Fob, Moses, NesQuick, and Cy Clops as they cruised the Damascus roads and partied like it was 1999.
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