“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” – Galatians 6:9
“Age wrinkles the body. Quitting wrinkles the soul.” – General Douglas MacArthur
“Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever.” – Lance Armstrong
After having breakfast at the hostel, I headed over to the Waynesboro library. I was able to call (FaceTime) with both Mr. Reeve’s and Mrs. Wilkinson’s classes at Foundation Christian Academy where I used to teach. I can always count on these youngsters to encourage me, ask good questions, and make me laugh. One of them asked if I have been scared of anything out here on the trail. The answer is no, although I have been stressed a few times trying to find a flat spot to camp with a thunderstorm bearing down on me. I hope in some small way I can inspire these amazing young people to dream big dreams and push the boundaries of their comfort zones. Perhaps some day one of them will grow up and decide to hike the AT.
At 11 a.m. Southerner picked me up and returned me to the trailhead. As I was getting out of his truck, he said, “Fob, I’ve been giving rides to hikers for more than a decade. You’ve hiked over 860 miles. People who make it this far rarely quit. A family emergency or injury could take you out. But just don’t quit.” I appreciated his little pep talk and the two rides he gave me.
Just don’t quit. There is a lot of power, and potential, in those three words. I have only quit (resigned from) one thing in my life, and that was something I felt I needed to do. It was among the most difficult things I’ve ever done. Out here on the trail, there is always…always…a voice in your head giving you a good reason to quit (tired, homesick, lack of funds, rocks, bugs, bitter cold, gear failure, heat and humidity, etc.). There is also another voice giving you one or more reasons to stay. My reasons to stay are on my very first AT blog which I refer to regularly. My strategy, which has worked so far, is to have an overwhelming number of reasons to stay, which counteract and muffle the voices suggesting otherwise. In other words, leaving has to be more painful than staying. So, barring an injury or family emergency, I’m staying. I’m not quitting. Ever. Just typing those words and publicly making that pledge has given me yet another reason not to quit. The voice telling me to stay just got louder.
One mile into today’s hike, I filled out a registration form and entered the 103.2-mile long Shenandoah National Park (SNP). If you want to get an idea what hiking the AT is like, don’t base it on hiking the SNP. Hiking the AT in SNP is like spending a week at Disney World. For starters, the terrain is fairly easy, with only a few moderate hills. At times, it feels like you’re walking through an airport on a moving walkway. On top of that, you have several eateries throughout the park…just bring some cash as they aren’t cheap. I brought three days worth of food and only ate two days worth. You also have various campgrounds and resorts available along the way. If that weren’t enough, the park is full of bears, deer, and other wildlife. After 862.3 challenging, sometimes grueling, miles on the AT, I was ready for a week of pampering…or so I thought.
Given my late start, I only hiked 11.2 miles today. I passed a couple of Southbounders getting water, along with a day-hiking couple from the Netherlands. At mile 870, I passed a somewhat interesting milestone as that is how far Bill Bryson hiked (across various sections) before stopping to write his book, A Walk in the Woods.
That’s also when I heard the first rumblings of a massive thunderstorm headed my way. I had about 30 minutes before it (and sunset) would arrive, so I picked up my pace and began looking for a spot to camp. The first two spots I came to were perfect, except that hikers were already there and set up. I hiked on.
With about 15 minutes to go until the “yellow/red band” (severe thunderstorm) hit the blue dot (me) on my weather app, and with the thunder getting louder, I climbed toward Turk Gap as fast as I can hike uphill without actually running. At mile 872.5, the wind picked up, lighting struck nearby, and I felt the first drop of rain. I was tense, out of breath, and in an increasingly dangerous situation. So I stopped. I took a deep breath, gathered myself, and went through my options. The only good option was to go into the woods and carve out a place to camp…quickly. I dropped my pack and set up my tent in record time. I grabbed a few granola bars out of my food bag and then hung it in a nearby tree…also in record time. (Surviving a thunderstorm does you no good if you’re eaten by a bear.). As the leading edge of the thunderstorm hit and the heavy rain began to fall, I jumped into my tent and zipped it up. A minute later, lighting struck nearby. I can’t say how close, but it was loud and there was a flash-bang.
While I was still in some danger from a lightning strike or tree falling on me (see http://appalachiantrail.com/20150316/appalachian-trail-hiker-jason-parish-suffers-fatal-injury/ ), I felt safe and secure inside my tent. I stripped off all my clothes, blew up my air mattress, and stretched out across it.
As heavy rain, thunder, and lightning continued, I ate three granola bars for dinner. I thanked God for, once again, providing relative safety, warmth and comfort inside my tent. I thought about my first ten miles in Shenandoah National Park, the supposed Disney World of AT hiking, and wondered whether I should have vacationed on a cruise ship instead. I thought about my wife, sons, and daughters-in-law. I wondered whether lightning hitting my food bag would cause my pop tarts to be warm in the morning. I thought about a lot of things that night, but not about quitting. Why? Well, as my friend Southerner might say, you “just don’t quit.”
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