“Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” – 1 John 3:18
“There is no more noble occupation in the world than to assist another human being–to help someone succeed.” – Alan Loy McGinnis
I awoke to the sound of rain, rolled over, and slept two more hours. After breakfast at Wendy’s, I grabbed a Subway sub for later and re-supplied at a gas station food mart. I really didn’t want to walk 2+ non-AT miles back to the trailhead. Fortunately, two Air Force Master Sergeants walked into the store. That was just the break I needed. Airmen have been helping me out since 1988 and I was about to call on them again. “Excuse me, MSgt Corl, I was wondering if there is any chance you and your friend could give a ride to a retired Air Force guy who is hiking the AT.” He replied, “Maybe…you’re not a mass murderer are you?” “I’ll be on my best behavior,” I answered. I enjoyed our short conversation as MSgts Corl and Lucas went out of their way to return me to the trailhead. In addition to being communicators with the 193 Special Operations Wing, they are now officially Trail Angels.
The day was mostly overcast, weedy and, of course, rocky. I ripped a part of the fabric on the upper side of my left shoe, and the right heel continued to peel along the edge. After 11.4 miles, I hiked into the very lively and full 501 Shelter near PA 501. This shelter is 4-sided with a solar shower. The nearby caretaker’s house has a water spigot and outside electrical outlets. In addition to all that, a local pizza place delivers to the shelter. I arrived too late to order pizza, but accepted my fellow hikers’ offer to finish off some leftovers.
The shelter was full of hikers including Mountain Goat (the Aussie piano player) and Pinto/TinkTank (the daughter of my sister Ellen’s friend). I overheard one hiker say, “Poor Two Pack got Giardia. He went into town for meds but returned quicker than the doc recommended. That night he diarrhea’d all over himself, his tent, and his gear. The next morning he threw away everything soiled, gave away the rest, and quit the trail for good.” That shows how quickly a thru-hike attempt can end.
After taking a brutally cold “solar shower,” I set up my tent behind the shelter and called my beautiful wife to tell her I love her.
Day 105 was all about rocks. Rocksylvania is officially messing with my feet…and brain. Rather than curse the rocks, I started making up and rapping songs about them as I hiked. A sampling….give me a beat…
I’m talking big rocks, little rocks, pointy rocks, and flat rocks.
Cracked rocks, mossy rocks, hidden rocks, and slanted rocks.
Crag and crust, minerals and ore,
I can’t take these rocks much more.
Wet rock, gravel, slab, and slag,
Trekking pole tips have lost their swag.
Chris Rock, Schoolhouse Rock, and cobblestone,
Rocky Balboa was Sylvester Stallone.
The Rockefellers, The Rockford Files,
so many rocks it’s hard to smile.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show,
can’t feel my feet, I walk real slow.
Rocks Anne, you don’t have to crush my soles tonight, those days are over, at least my Salomons put up a fight.
A little pebble, off trail, all alone,
Bet a fellow hiker passed a kidney stone.
Rock music, Rockabilly, and Raquel Welch, So much bouncing, gotta belch.
Rock, paper, scissors; and look, another boulder!
With each step my feet grow older.
Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble,
Lived in Bedrock, that spells trouble.
R-O-C-K in the U.S.A., dear Lord please take these rocks away.
Yeah, I probably need to take a zero day.
After 15.1 miles of…rocks, I tented near the Eagles Nest Shelter, along with One Feather, Long Strider, and a few others. I laid in my tent rubbing my numb, battered feet and listening to The Rolling Stones.
Several weeks ago I wrote about some amazing Trail Magic provided to me and others in southern Virginia by Dave and DeAnn Werner. These are the folks whose daughter was engaged to an AT thru-hiker (trail name Jay-Bird) who died from cancer a couple of years after hiking the trail. He never got a chance to be a Trail Angel so, in his memory, the Werners provide Trail Magic each May in Virginia. After I wrote about them, DeAnn contacted me and offered to take me out to eat whenever I got to their home state of Pennsylvania. Honestly, I thought it sweet of her to offer, but doubted it would ever materialize.
I’ve since learned never to doubt the sincerity or intentions of the amazing Werners. They tracked my progress across several states and offered to drive more than an hour to meet me at Port Clinton. I made a steep, waterfall descent into the town and walked across several railroad tracks. Next to them were the famous and massive Reading anthracites. I crossed over a bridge into Port Clinton and immediately saw Dave and DeAnn waiting for me. It was so great to see them and the cooler of cold drinks they had with them! Dave said, “This day is all about you. We have all the time in the world. Tell us where you want to go. And we have room for one or two more if you see any other hikers.”
Port Clinton had a community yard sale going on and our first stop was at a booth manned by the Blue Mountain Eagle Climbing Club. These are the trail maintainers for this region and they appreciated having an aspiring thru-hiker stop by. After eating a hot dog and Coke, we started heading out of town when I spotted a hiker on the corner. I didn’t know him but had a hunch what he wanted. With the Werners’ permission, I rolled down the window and asked if he needed a ride to Cabela’s. “Heck yeah,” he said and hopped in. We introduced ourselves and learned that his name is ET, because he has an extra toe. We headed to the largest Cabela’s store in the world in Hamburg where I purchased a new pair of Salomon XA Pro 3D trail shoes. Our next stop was Hoss’s Steak and Sea restaurant where the Werners insisted on buying ET and me a steak dinner, salad bar, and dessert bar. I was thrilled and ET was in a state of shock as this was Trail Magic of the highest order.
After stuffing our faces, we headed to a local grocery store to re-supply our food. As I was about to check out, DeAnn cut in front of me and paid for my groceries. She didn’t want to hear any of my objections. She said, “Fob, you hike the trail. We do food. We want to do this for you, so let us do it.” I wasn’t going to win that battle so I thanked her and accepted her generous gift. The Werners then returned us to Port Clinton where we thanked them again and said our goodbyes. As I reflect on the day, I can’t find the words to express how much their kindness meant to me. They made ET and me, a couple of stinky hikers, feel like royalty. My only regret is that I never got to meet and know Jay-Bird before he died. He would be happy to know his trail legacy lives on through Dave and DeAnn, two of the kindest people I’ve ever met.
I made the steep climb out of Port Clinton and camped with ET and a friendly, section hiking couple from California. Altogether, we had three tents, two cook stoves, and forty-one toes. I had logged 11.2 miles. More importantly, I had seen a real life example of a couple going way beyond the call of duty to help someone they barely know. I hope Janet and I can be that kind of couple in the years ahead.
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