“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” – Leo Buscaglia
“A loving person lives in a loving world. A hostile person lives in a hostile world. Everyone you meet is your mirror.” – Ken Keyes Jr.
“Hey, Fob, the coffee’s ready when you are,” Darrell whispered in my face.
I slowly opened my eyes and tried to focus them. Darrell’s eyes seemed disproportionately large for his face and his voice was disproportionately eager for someone over the age of seven. Before responding, I looked at my watch. It was 4:37 a.m. That’s early, even for AT hikers. Really early. It was so early that it was almost yesterday. There are clearly differences between an active duty Army colonel his first morning on the AT and a retired Air Force colonel on his 92nd AT morning. I didn’t know whether to thank Darrell for the coffee, or stab him in the temples with my carbide-tipped trekking poles. Not wanting to squash his enthusiasm for the AT, I half-heartedly thanked him for waking me in order to enjoy fresh coffee. I was sure it would taste good after I slept four more hours.
Shortly after 7 a.m., Morning Coffee (Darrell’s temporary trail name) and I left the Blackburn AT Center, along with a hiker named Hammer. Just as we got on the trail, I asked Morning Coffee if he would lead the three of us in a prayer and he obliged. (Just before getting on the AT, I received a call from Darrell and he said a prayer over the phone with me. After 1000 miles, it made sense for him to say another one.)
The morning hike was mostly flat but it was hot and humid. I didn’t have a lot of energy which may have been a result of hiking a combined 80 miles, including the Roller Coaster, the previous four days. We enjoyed hiking with and talking to Hammer about his past business successes and difficulties, along with politics, religion and other topics.
By mid-afternoon, we crossed over into West Virginia (again) and made the descent, climb, and descent into Harpers Ferry. It had only been a 12.5 mile day, but I was exhausted, completely soaked, and my butt was chafing. At the famous Jefferson Rock, where Thomas Jefferson once said something profound while scratching his own chafing butt, we stopped for a picture. We then headed down the hill into downtown Harpers Ferry where a smiling Alicia was waiting for us.
Our next stop was Appalachian Trail Conservancy Headquarters which, unfortunately, was .6 miles uphill. That may not seem far for a long distance hiker, but I was completely spent and had two loggers in my underwear sawing my butt crack with sandpaper.
After trudging along behind Morning Coffee and Alicia about 50 yards, a woman got out of a car parked on the side of the road. She said, “Hey, Fob, it’s Kailah! Wanna ride?” “Is there room for the two loggers in my butt crack?” I started to say, but though better of it. Kailah, in addition to being an angel sent from heaven that day, is the niece of Chuck and Jana Leasure, some friends from our Virginia days. I met her years ago at a wedding and she has been keeping up with my AT journey through my blog. She knew about when I would be arriving in Harpers Ferry and figured I might want a ride up that hill. She figured right! She handed me an ice cold Gatorade (pure magic), a bag of snacks, and some unnecessary but appreciated lunch money. I thanked her from the bottom of my heart on the way up the hill and invited her to lunch with us. Unfortunately, she was on her way to a wedding and had to decline. But she wished me well on my journey and told me to finish strong. If I finish at all, it will be because of people like her and the Brimberrys and others who came along at just the right time to meet a need.
Despite my exhaustion and being drenched in sweat, it was pretty cool walking into ATC HQ with the Brimberrys and the loggers in my underwear. Although I’m more into actual halfway points than psychological ones like Harpers Ferry, it felt really special being there. I had been there a decade earlier with Janet, and I told her I would be back some day as an aspiring thru-hiker. Today was that day. I had my photo taken and signed the hiker book with my information. I was northbound hiker #607. Ninety-one days to Harpers Ferry isn’t bad for a 50-year-old who has taken two weeks off (for a wedding and spousal rendezvous) and is attempting to write a book along the way.
The Brimberrys and I invited Hammer and another hiker named Pocahontas to have dinner with us at a nearby Italian restaurant. Upon arrival, I headed to the restroom to rinse the loggers and sandpaper from my nether regions and to apply a copious amount of Gold Bond. It stung in a good way, like watching your final child graduate and leave the nest. I then changed into the clean set of Morning Coffee’s clothes that Alicia brought me. They will need to be incinerated.
We headed back to the Brimberry’s lovely home on Bolling AFB where the magic continued. I took a hot shower and then a cold one and then a hot bath. Not just any hot bath but a bubble bath, featuring their daughter, Holly’s bubbles from Frozen (the movie). I laid back and closed my eyes, just extremely blessed to be in that place at that moment. After dozing off for a few minutes, I opened my eyes and Frozen’s Elsa was staring at me from the bubble container at the other end of the tub. Like Morning Coffee recently, her eyes seemed disproportionately large for the rest of her head. I didn’t appreciate her bug eyes staring at my fobness, so I reached up and turned the bottle around. Little Frozen creep.
After my long hot bubble bath, I stepped on the scales and weighed 192.5 pounds. That puts me at my college weight, 44 pounds lost so far on my journey. I suspected Janet was going to tell me to eat more, and she did. The gorging would begin moments later as I sat down to a magnificent steak dinner, courtesy of Team Brimberry! Her instructions from Janet involved feeding me a lot, and I would end up gaining six pounds during my 32 hours with the Brimberrys.
As I laid in a soft, comfortable bed that night, I read the Fathers Day cards sent to me by my family. It was a great ending to a great day with two very special people.
Today would be a very special zero day because I was headed to worship at the Manassas Church of Christ where Janet and I were members from 2004-2008. It was great to see some familiar faces, especially brothers and sisters in Christ. After services, I went to lunch with the Brimberrys, Leasures, and Paul and Trish Johnson. It was good to be with long time friends and eat a filling pasta meal. I also appreciated the two bags of cookies that Jana Leasure gave me. After lunch, I went to a movie with the Brimberrys (where I ate a large popcorn) and then to Dunkin Donuts for a coffee and donut. After evening worship, we headed back to Bolling AFB for my final night of pampering.
I got my laundry together and made a few gear and clothing adjustments. Since I haven’t used my stove in a couple of weeks, I left it behind. While I enjoyed cooking at night when it was cold out (or even cool), I don’t feel the need in hot, humid weather. I’m perfectly content to have tortillas with salami and cheese, or peanut butter and honey, or peanut butter and coconut oil. It means a quicker dinner and no clean up. Not carrying a stove and fuel also saves some weight and space, and I don’t mind waiting until the occasional trail town for hot food. I also left behind my gloves, thick socks, and puffy winter jacket, which will eventually be sent to me with the stove when it starts to get cooler again up north.
Alicia and Morning Coffee had a final surprise for me. They set up a vibrating, heated, bubbly foot bath in the living room, which made me consider quitting the trail and moving in with them. As I sat there relaxing and soaking, I downed two large bowls of Corn Pops. Just before going to bed, Morning Coffee informed me we could sleep in and didn’t need to leave until 8 a.m. He seemed less eager than before, and his eyes were in proportion to the rest of his head. Maybe I’ll start calling him Darrell again.
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