“I discovered that if one looks a little closer at this beautiful world, there are always red ants underneath.” – David Lynch
“Go to the ant, thou sluggard; Consider her ways, and be wise.” – Proverbs 6:6
I began the day with the steepest descent in Virginia, a 3100-foot plunge over three miles. It was rocky and not easy, but I was better off than those climbing The Priest from the south. At the base, I crossed the Tye River suspension bridge and then reversed the process, climbing 3000 feet over six miles. Whoever said the AT in Virginia is flat has never hiked the AT in Virginia.
Halfway up the mountain, I caught Gamel and the two of us got water and finished off my dried, salted Amish peas at the Harpers Creek Shelter. She is a very sweet, East Tennessee lady in her mid-60s who lost her husband to cancer not long ago. I told her I was proud of her for being out here doing what she’s doing. Her face lit up and she said, “Thanks, Fob, you are the first person to tell me that!” It was a reminder to me that taking just a few seconds to recognize someone and show appreciation can really give them a lift. I have been on the receiving end of such kindness from family, friends, blog readers, etc., but need to make more of an effort to be a giver of such kindness. As I got ready to leave, a young, section hiking couple from Sterling, Virginia arrived to feed their infant, who was riding on her mom’s back. Future AT thru-hiker there, I bet.
Our long climb to the top was rewarded with a spectacular view from Hanging Rock Overlook. I met another young couple there on a weekend section hike. I agreed to take their picture but declined their offer of a beer. Speaking of beer, Gamel and several other hikers decided to get off the trail at Reeds Gap and go to a nearby brewery for dinner and to camp. I decided to press on, and ended the 17.3-mile day camping alone at mile 844.
After a tortilla with hard salami and sharp cheddar cheese supper, I felt a pain and sharp rumbling in my stomach. I mostly blame the Amish and their dried peas for this. Nature was calling and I was the only hiker around to answer. I rarely have to do my business in the woods these days, as I can usually can wait to get to a privy, hostel, or trail town. There would be no waiting tonight. I grabbed my toilet paper and quickly travelled around some bushes and found a nice, secluded tree about 20 yards off the trail. I dropped my shorts and underwear down around my ankles and assumed the 90 degree position with my back up against the tree. With my recent weight loss, and trail legs firmly under me, I can stay in that position for as long as I need to…even overnight.
About mid-movement, I just happened to glance down and, to my horror, noticed that my left foot was firmly planted in a nest of fire ants! They built their mound under the leaves I was standing on, and they had every intention of defending it. Faced with a contingency I had never considered or prepared for, I did what any other aspiring thru-hiker would do…I panicked! My first instinct was to hop directly toward their position, so I did. Then, as the lead fire ants set up a perimeter on my underwear, another platoon began scaling my left hiking sock toward my bare shin. I took a deep breath and dropped a bomb on their home base, striking the edge of their nest. The impact knocked several off their feet, and completely ruined the day of several others.
As the first ants summited my left sock, I raised up that foot and started shaking it, and swung my left hand down to swat at them. I then did a second hop, positioning myself directly over enemy lines, as hundreds of ants emerged from the nest. Just as the first ant stuck his mandibles into my left shin, I carpet bombed them, complete with sound effects. This was Day 3 at Gettysburg, and they were General Pickett. Their scouts were firmly entrenched all over my underwear and shorts now, but the villagers were in a full sprint to avoid the heavy bombardment. Once again, I raised and shook my left foot, and swung my hand down to swat at their antfantry maneuvering through my leg hair.
My counter-offensive continued for a solid minute…hop, drop, shake, and swat. Collectively, this technique is called doing The Fob. Put it to music, and you have a dance that could be every bit as popular as the hokey pokey. Sometime when you’re alone (or with that special someone) give it a try…hop (with half turn), drop (simulate by bending knees and wiggling rump), then raise and shake a foot, and then swat your ankle or knee. I find it works best while listening to You Dropped a Bomb on Me by The Gap Band…or the American Idol classic, Pants on the Ground.
Out of ordnance, I hopped away from the carnage, swat killed the remaining ants from my drawers, and then cleaned up. Although they inflicted a dozen bites on my left leg, I rendered their entire community uninhabitable. I suspect the survivors will move to Reeds Gap and start over again.
I was motivated right out of the gate today because my destination was Waynesboro, a popular trail town. Wayne’s-boro! Wayne’s-boro! Party on! Excellent! Near Humpback Mountain I passed a mother and daughter who were looking for and photographing butterflies. They were having the best time together and it made me miss my family. Jason and Kyle used to love going into the woods with me looking for butterflies. Not true.
At mile 856.3 I stopped to get water at a stream near the Paul C. Wolfe Shelter. The water source, Mill Creek, has a waterfall and an area deep enough to soak. If I hadn’t been so focused on getting to Waynesboro, I would have spent a couple of hours there.
After a 17.3 mile day, I emerged from the woods at Rockfish Gap. Waynesboro, to their credit, has a sign posted where the trail exits the woods and you enter civilization. It contains the names and phone numbers of locals who have identified themselves as Trail Angels and are willing to give free shuttle rides into town for hikers. I greatly appreciated the handy list and wish all trail towns would do the same. I walked down a highway ramp and stopped at a roadside gourmet popcorn vendor’s stand. Hungry, sweaty, and tired, I quickly consumed a hot dog, Mountain Dew, and Gatorade. I then called Tom “Southerner” Brown who said he’d be there in 10 minutes to shuttle me to town. How cool is that?!
Southerner was there in under 10 minutes and gave me a quick driving tour of the town, pointing out restaurants, the grocery store, laundromat, etc. He’s been giving rides to hikers for more than a decade and was very personable and helpful. He served in the Army Reserve, the IRS Criminal Division, and some other security related positions I’m not at liberty to share. I started to confess to him that on my 2013 federal tax return, I may have overvalued a Goodwill charitable donation. Specifically, the bag of old clothes probably wasn’t worth the $30 I claimed. I decided to keep that to myself, so that Southerner wouldn’t feel any pressure to make a phone call to his old office and make that problem go away.
I decided to spend two nights in Waynesboro so that I could take a full zero day. I also decided to take advantage of a hostel run in the basement of Grace Lutheran. Good call! They open the doors at 5 p.m. and provide cots in their air conditioned Fellowship Hall, showers (best I’ve had on the AT so far), Internet, breakfast, and a hiker lounge. It’s free, although they appreciate donations to cover their costs.
After showering, I walked across town to do laundry and then had a terrific Western omelette dinner at Weasie’s Kitchen. On the way back to the hostel, I re-supplied at a grocery store. Other hikers taking advantage of the hostel included Gamel, Legs, Verge, Hawaii, Tailspin, Chicken Feathers, Arrow, Apollo, and Two Ton. As I sat in the hiker lounge thinking the evening couldn’t possibly get any better, a fellow hiker popped in a VHS of The Shawshank Redemption…one of my Top 5 all-time favorite movies. I sat there on the couch with Legs and Verge (sisters) and a few others, happy to be off the trail for awhile, and happy to be enjoying a great movie.
I started my zero day with a wonderful breakfast courtesy of Grace Lutheran. I then showered and headed over to the YMCA. They didn’t have a hot tub, but they did have scales, and I came in at 199.5…down 35.1 lbs since starting my journey. I haven’t been under 200 lbs since college and it feels great.
That sub-200 weight wouldn’t last for long as I headed for lunch at Ming Garden’s all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet. I had four full plates of food and two desserts. I dare any ants to attack me now! I then spent the rest of the afternoon at the library…digesting, resting and blogging. I also did some research and tracked down John and Linda, a sweet couple willing to give me a ride to Wednesday evening Bible Study at Waynesboro Church of Christ. It is always nice getting back on the trail after having been fed spiritually, physically, and emotionally. John and Linda not only drove me back to the hostel, but stopped at The Cook Out restaurant on the way so I could get some dinner to go (great burger and shake, but 4 small onion rings do no make a good side order of onion rings).
That night, I called Southerner and he graciously agreed to pick me up in the morning and return me to the trailhead. I went to sleep that night thankful to have stopped in Waynesboro. I was also excited to take on the next leg of my journey…the magnificent Shenandoah National Park!
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