Dear Herm’s Hikers,
On many days, the hike is the same, and that’s the reason for the blues, especially in Virginia where the trail (539 miles) covers almost a fourth of the AT. The present mile looks exactly like the last mile which is going to look exactly like the next mile. It can be a boring as hell! Just when you think that you can’t take another mile of woods and mountains with no scenic views, somebody comes to the rescue! What a great trail!
Out of Pearisburg, the hike continued to be rocky with a lot of steep ups and downs. The mountains still dominated the hike in this region of Virginia. It was a hard four days on the body and mind from Pearisburg to Catawba. The weather was mostly wet and cool. The few days of sunny weather were a tease to keep us moving north. Of course, that only brought thoughts of warm, sunny, summer days of hiking in the mountains. It was enough to keep me moving at a brisk pace and pray for the calendar to miraculously jump to June.
The highlights of the trip from Pearisburg to Catawba were the Audie Murhphy Monument and Cove Monument/Dragon’s Tooth. The Murphy monument is roughly a 4’X4″ chunk of granite/marble on top of the mountain where his plane crashed in 1971. It has an inscription about Audie’s war exploits and his death. There was a wreath, an American flag, a Texas flag, and a stone cairn next to or on the monument. I paused and said a silent prayer for Audie and his fellow WWII vets.
I couldn’t help but think about my father and his exploits in the Pacific. From Pearl Harbor to Peleliu, he fought alongside the Marines as a US soldier. The family always wondered why my father spoke so highly about the Marines (I think that’s what influenced my decision to join), and after some research we found out why. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Herm was with the 27 Infantry Regiment that supported the Marines as they swept across Guadalcanal. After OCS at Fort Benning, GA, he was assigned to the 81st Infantry Divison (321st Regimental Combat Team) who fought alongside the Marines in their sweep across Peleliu to dislodge the Japanese from their concrete bunkers in the coral mountains at Bloody Nose Ridge. While on patrol up that ridge, my father was shot in the foot/ankle after being ambushed by Japanese machinegunners. He spent a number of years in Army hospitals recovering from the injury that almost cost him his foot until being discharged in 1947. But like the rest of the WWII vets, my father did not speak a lot about his war experiences. Every once in a while, he would recount his exploits on December 7, 1941, calling himself a witness and not a survivor since he was at Schofield Barracks when the attack began on that Sunday morning. Regarding Peleliu, he would only say that he had a “gut feeling” that it was going to be a very bad day after seeing a number of dead Marines and burning tanks along the road.
But back to the hike. In every book, gallery, website about the AT, you see these intimidating, certainly eyebrow raising, pictures of a rock cliff with handrails to get you up and down. Well, this was part of the trail that we experienced just below the rock formation known as Dragon’s Tooth. It was crawling on all fours and sliding down the seat of your pants to make down the side of the mountain. At certain points, some hikers took off their backpakcks and handed them down the cliff. Thank goodness for those handrails! Don’t know how they got them into the solid rock, but they did, and they were certainly a lifesaver. I had a death grip on those rails and made it down safely with no incidents. One fall here and your hike was definitely over for the year.
For the rest of the way, it was a rocky, rutted, rooted hike to Catawba. All day long, hikers were talking about making it to Catawba to eat at the Homeplace Restaurant, an all-you-can-eat dinner just off the trail. Well, I finally made it the Homeplace at 8 o’clock just as they were closing. Things got worse when I found out the general store across the street had closed at 6. There were no hostels or motels. The only camping was behind the Homplace. While deciding whether or not to walk another mile west to an all-night convenience store (Man, did I have a craving for a pint of ice cream. That’s all I thought about while climbing down the Dragon’s Tooth on a rather hot and humid day), a pick-up pulled into the lot and stopped. The driver opened the passenger door and asked me if I needed a ride somewhere. Well, the first thing I saw on the back bumper were a number of Marine Corps stickers. My first words to the driver were “Semper Fi, 3rd Amtrac Battalion, 1st Marine Division.” He responded with “2nd Recon Rangers, Vietnam, 1966. Come on, get in the truck. You’re spending the night at my place.”
The driver, Jesse, AKA Red Rooster and Captain Courageous, was hosting other hikers to include the Stooges, three young men from Holland who had gained fame on the trail for dancing in the lead at the Trail Days parade. Thank you Jesse, for a wonderful evening that included beer, pizza, apple pie, coffee, and some great stories about the Marine Corps and your childhood. It was a great time! Another instance of trail magic by an trail angel in a beard and ponytail. It was a constant reminder the brotherhood/sisterhood of trail angels come in all shapes, sizes, colors, clothing, and appearance.
Out of Catawba, I pushed a 20 mile day to make it to Daleville/Troutville for a night at the Howard Johnson’s. Nothing like a mattress, bedsheets, pillow, and a breakfast buffet to keep the legs pumping. I even got a chance to watch the O’s (Baltimore Orioles) on TV. Yes, life can be good on the trail.
Out of Troutville, I finally reached the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP). It was a good sign that progress was being made in getting through Virginia. A very huge psychological lift. At the Montavale Overlook (It wasn’t raining or foggy and I was the only one in the lot), I stopped for a rest break to enjoy the views when a car pulled in with Georgia plates. When the couple in the early 60’s exited to take a picture, I mentioned that I had started hiking in Georgia. Of course, that led to a conversation about my hike and my story about the prayer circle in Damascus. After my story, the gentleman said that he would like to give me his business card. You could have guessed it! His business was God’s business! The gentleman was Rev. Wayne Reed from the Snellville Congretional Methodist Church in Snellville, Georgia. And you could have guessed it, the Reverend with his wife said a prayer for me, the hike, my parents, and everyone else that I meet on the trail. Another slice of great trail magic by some trail angels! But read on, it gets even better. Who is charge of the hike? Certainly, not me. I just pray to the Lord to pick’em up and I just put’em down.
THe next day was hot and humid with a most likely chance of shower which in the mountains translates to about a 200% chance. I passed through the Middle Creek Campground (a great place to stop with camping, cabins, camp store, pool, pond, and a freindly hostess in Susan), long enough to have one of the best cheesburgers on the trail. Headed out to beat the rain which I didn’t (It poured right after I got on the trail) and stopped at Bryant Ridge Shelter in the early afternoon. This tri-level shelter is more like a log cabin than a shellter. Indeed, it was a great place to stop for the evening and stop I should have, but the sun came out and dried my clothes so I thought it was time to move down the trail.
Just as I was leaving, two gentlemen arrived for a rest break with the trailnames of Circuit Rider and Sherlock. When I asked Circuit Rider (It’s an Old West nickname for a traveling preacher) if he was a man of the cloth, he chucked before saying that most hikers don’t pick up on his trailname. I responded that I am a huge Wild West fan who has seen all of the Clint Eastwood movies, Lonesome Dove, Deadwood and everything in between. Well, of course, we talked about his trail ministry and my trail ministry with Herm’s Hike. And, of course, the Reverend with his assitant (church leader) Sherlock prayed for God the Great Physcian to heal me, my father, my mother and family, not only physically but emotionally and spiritually as we deal with my father’s illness. Very powerful and emotional moment. My eyes were once again tearing.
After the prayers, we headed to the next shelter in the sun. Fifteen minutes later as we walked up the mountain we could hear the rain blowing and beating through the trees on the opposite side. Seconds later we were hit by a wall of water and a round of booming thunder and blinding lightning. Since I was following Circuit Rider, I figured he had a very good prayer to ensure our safety. And he must have, for we made it to the next shelter in one piece. Needless to say, it rained the rest of the day and the rest of the night. Thank goodness, there was room at the shelter because I was tired, wet, chilled to the bone, and in no mood to pitch a tent in a driving rainstorm.
Well, it’s off to Glasgow and hopefully another motel and restaurant. I need to dry out. My boots smell like a decaying swamp. Swamp funk, I call it, and believe me, it’s very nasty. To the next adventure! Until then, hike in peace and hike with your angels!