“Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” – Proverbs 28:13
“In one long glorious acknowledgement of failure, he laid himself bare before God.” – John Grisham, The Testament
With the taste of leftover Boy Scout spaghetti still lingering in my mouth, I broke camp and headed north. At mile 818.2 I crossed the north fork of the Piney River, an area one hiker accurately described as a Yoda marsh. Described, he did.
I was initially surprised by the large number of day hikers on the trail today, and then I remembered it was Memorial Day weekend. I spoke with several of these clean, smiling people with Fannie packs and answered several questions about my hike. I also passed most of them on the uphills. This provided a small boost to my ego which had taken a hit earlier in my journey when I was passed by a woman and her wiener dog. Along with thirty other people, I stopped and scrambled up the scenic Sky Rock at mile 822.8.
By mid-afternoon the rain started to fall. Rather than take on Virginia’s steepest descent in the rain, I ended my 14.3 mile day at The Priest Shelter atop Priest Mountain. I was joined in and around the shelter by an assortment of hikers, including Hawaii, Clancy and his dog Findley, Spaghetti Legs, Gamel, and Pantry. The Priest is one of the more famous shelters along the AT because it is a tradition for hikers to write confessions to The Priest in the shelter log book. As the rain fell, I blew up my air mattress in the shelter, got out of my wet clothes, and began nibbling on and sharing the dried, salted green peas I’d purchased from the Amish Cupboard in Buena Vista. I started to wish there was an Amish Cupboard near my house, and then I remembered my house is on wheels and I can drive and live near an Amish store whenever I want.
I spent the next hour reading confessions from the log and writing several of my own. Other hikers confessed to things like…
– Not digging their cat holes 6 inches deep
– Getting another hiker’s Nalgene “pee bottle” out of a hiker box and using it as their drinking bottle for a month
– Not liking certain other hikers…even hiding in the woods to avoid them
– Not believing in God
– Not having showered or brushed their teeth in several weeks
I added my own dozen confessions, including…
– Attempting to smell southbound women hikers as they pass by just in case they’re wearing perfume
– Never having voted for a Democrat, or anyone pro-choice, my entire life (actually proud of that)
– Fishing without a license in various states along the AT
– The only time I can recall cheating on a test was a music test in 8th grade at Caesar Rodney Junior High School. One of the questions was a series of musical notes written on the chalkboard, and we had to figure out the song. While the teacher stepped out of the room for a second, a fellow student hummed the tune and that gave me the answer. That’s bothered me since 1978. I’m letting it go now.
Later that evening, I had a good chat with Hawaii, a mid-20s guy from…well, you can figure it out. We began by torturing ourselves by naming the food we most crave. His number one craving was duck, a food introduced to him by his Chinese girlfriend. I went with the Victoria’s Filet Mignon at Outback with the horseradish crust on it…with a Blooming Onion, bread and butter, a loaded baked potato, and salad. I’m counting that as one item…deal with it. We also discussed why, according to him, older people tend to complete the AT at a higher success rate than the younger, fitter crowd. His theory, and experience from hiking with many in their 20s, is that there are 3 main reasons:
1. Younger hikers tend to let their egos go wild and make unwise decisions about mileage, causing injury. They go for too many miles, too soon, and their bodies don’t play along. Older, wiser hikers generally have aged, less fit bodies to work with, and yet they know how to get more out of them without injury.
2. Younger hikers tend to run out of money, and that is often the result of vast sums of money spent on beer in trail towns.
3. Many (but not all) younger hikers begin the trail not having experienced many hardships in life. They may not have experienced the kind of physical and emotional challenges (serving in combat, dealing with loss or loneliness, etc.) that harden and toughen those who have. While I agree with Hawaii’s perspective on this, there are certainly exceptions. I have met millennials out here who are as tough as nails, having survived domestic violence, horrific war wounds to the face, and other hardships much more daunting than anything I’ve been through.
As I laid there in the shelter with rain falling outside, I thought of a few more confessions I should have made. I relieved myself too close to Ottie Cline Powell’s memorial, and for that I am truly sorry. I also might have loudly spoke an inappropriate word when I landed on my back and elbow at Dismal Falls.
Before dozing off to sleep, I coughed up a dried, salted Amish green pea onto Hawaii’s air mattress. I must confess to reaching over, picking it up, putting it back in my mouth, chewing it some more, an then re-swallowing it. I’m not proud of what I did, but when it comes to confessions, I guess we rarely are.
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