Dear Herm’s Hiker,
Greetings from Front Royal and the northern terminus of the Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah National Park! It was a tremendous week to hike. The weather was good (There were a number of violent thunderstorms in the evening, but they were in the evening after we had stopped for the day) and the trail was relatively good. Of course, there are no easy miles on the AT so “relatively good” means each day wasn’t a hike up and down Mount Everest. There were a number of steep climbs even though the mountains only topped out in the mid to upper 3,000 ft. range. So why was the week so tremendous? The weather, the views, the fact that I was finally heading out of Virginia. Well, possibly, but not the correct answer. The week was tremendous because I had the chance to hike with my younger brother Mark. Mark met me in Waynesboro and together we hiked over 100 miles and shared hundreds of memories about our childhood and lives. It was a sheer delight to have a steady hiking partner. We were just 2 guys over 50 enjoying the great outdoors and leaving the worries and cares of everyday life far behind. It doesn’t get any better than that. Road gypsies for a week! Before I recap the week, let me congratulate my brother on his section-hike. It’s not easy stepping away from your desk for a week, grabbing your hiking boots and backpack, and hiking 100 miles on the AT, no matter what section of the trail. But he finished the hike in the finest tradition of an Army ROTC cadet and Army officer he once was. Some of the mountain ascents were tough, and some of the mountain descents even tougher. The hike from Mary’s Rock was a 1,200 ft. descent in less than 2 miles over of trail of rocks and boulders. Every footstep had to be carefully placed to avoid a fall or injury. The journey was slow, tedious and meticulous but my brother soldiered on without complaint despite having sore knees. Even I had sore knees afte that hike. And to boot (no pun intended), my brother is a rather big-boned guy who played defensive line at Washington & Lee which makes his success even more remarkable.
Our first night we camped at the Loft Mountain campground which has campsites covered in lush thick grass that was like a shag carpet. It was nature’s top of the line mattress to sleep on. We had a great night’s sleep while the deer roamed freely around the campground. But the first night almost proved disastrous when I lost my green change purse that contained all of my money and personal ID cards. I was ready to slip into my sleeping bag when I checked my pants pocket to ensure that everything was properly placed. To my horror, the purse was missing. It was already dark but I had no choice but to retrace my steps with the hope that I would find it. Of course, the first thing I grabbed was my headlight to begin the search. And as you could guess, the light wouldn’t work because the metal contact was bent after the battery cover fell off in the backpack (I did manage to fix the light in the morning). I even hiked about 1/2 mile down the road to the campstore with no luck. I retraced every step since I arrived at the campground. Finally, I gave up hope and crawled into the tent and my sleeping bag. Needles to say, I was very distraught and upset because no money and no ID’s meant that I would have to get off the trail. That was the last thing in the world I wanted to do since my brother was a guest hiker, and we had such a great day hiking together. Once last time, I crawled out of the tent to retrieve my backpack from the picnic table when I crawled right over the green purse in the darkness. Miracle of all miracles! All I can say is “thank you” St. Anthony (patron saint of lost items) and all the saints in heaven. I prayed silently that I could find it while walking down the road, and my brother told me that even he said a prayer when I was searching at the campstore. What was strange and supernatural about the whole event? The tent area was the first placed that I searched with my brother’s headlight.
After that episode, the rest of the week was a breeze. We averaged around 13 miles a day and got a chance to really expereince the full spectrum of the Appalachian Trail. We camped under the stars, we slept in the shleters, and we treated ourselves beds and linens at the National Park lodges in Big Meadows and Skyland. We hiked in the mountains, the grasslands, and the meadows, and we hiked in the cool of the morning and the heat of the day. We dined on camp food and feasted on gourmet dinners at the lodges. We met some wonderful new hikers along the trail (Gingersnap, Mary Alice, and Susan and her son), and I met some hikers that I first met in Georgia. My brother got to meet some of the more eccentric and ecletic hikers that I had talked about. Even my brother’s trailname (“The Postmaster”) was a hit with the fellow hikers. So what do you do for an encore? You take a zero day at your brother’s house in Manassas and feast on some fine home-cooked meals (deep fried turkey and fried chicken) and southern hospitality. So my brother goes back to work next week, and I go back to the trail. Looking foward to Haper’s Ferry which is only 3 days away. That’s the unofficial halfway point and the home of the Appalahcian Trail Conservancy where you register as a thru-hiker and get your picture taken for the register. But even more important, Haper’s Ferry means only a few more miles to Maryland and a few more zero days with Rainbow Brite (Mrs. T). In all honesty, I’m beginning to feel the full effects of weeks on the trail. Gradually, step by step, the trail is wearing down me and my fellow hikers.
Yes, we did finally see a bear at the end of the week as we were coming down a side trail to one of the shelters. He scampered in the woods parallel to the trail and then sat between two trees, staring at us as we passed. I grabbed the camera from my pocket, but by the time I could open the battery cmpartment and insert the batteries, the bear bolted into the woods. It seems that my camera sucks the life out of my batteries when I leave all three batteries in the camera. I think this phenomenon might have something to do with the fact that I fell on my camera a couple of weeks ago and heard the plastic housing snap, crackle and pop when I hit the rocks. But it still works, although the case has quite a bit to scotch tape around it.
The spiritual ministry of the hike also continued in a way that I could not have imagined. My brother brought along a number of poems that were written by his son Justin who tragically passed away at the age of 12. The poems about mountains, clouds, trees. life, love and faith were placed at various scenic overlooks and mountaintops. What a touching tribute to such a talented poet and beloved young man. His words will now live forever in the Blue Ridge Mountains, a befitting epitath for these mouments of stone that mark the glory of God’s creation. I hope to continue the “placing of the poems” as I continue the hike. In addition, my brother also placed “memorial tributes” for two young sons of his friends. These two young men were also called to the Creator early in life. These tributes alone made the hike an overwhelming success! I never felt a deeper sense of purpose with each and every step. The guiding hand continues to lead me down the trail and for that, I am most thankful.
To Harper’s Ferry, one of my favorite spots on the planet! Keep me in your prayers! The miles are starting to accumulate! Hike your angels and hike in peace!
Keep spreading the word about the hike!
*******A belated thank you to the following donors. My apology in not recognizing you sooner.
Pam and Doris at the Lewis’ Grocery – great 1877 ham sandwich
Circuit Rider and Sherlock