Dear Herm’s Hikers,
Paul on the road to Damascus! It sounds biblical, and, believe me, it truly is. The AT is not only a physical and emotional journey, but a spiritual journeyl as well. For a week or two, my alternate trail name was “The Apostle.”
Since my last entry, the AT has taken from Hot Springs, NC, thourgh Erwin, Tn, to Damascus, VA. Really glad to be in Virginia. It’s mentally uplifting to enter another state and to know that with each step I’m getting closer to Maryland. The last two weeks has been mentally tough. It seems that NC/TN just went on forever. Every mile started to look the same. Through the woods, down the gap and up the next mountain. And the weather has not been kind. This could be one of wettest year’s on the trail. Just my luck! It’s has rained for the past 2 weeks. As a result, I and all of my gear smells like a swamp. That’s the only way to describe the smell. Two nights ago, we were at a shelter on the other side of the mountain after Lake Wautauga when a severe thunderstorm blew across the mountain. It was a continuous wall of rain throughtout the night, punctuated with thunder and lightning. Thank goodness, there were no ground strikes. We had 8 people in a three-sided, 6-person shelter, praying very, very hard for the storm to end. At least, the shelter did not leak. Coming our of the Kincora Hostel the day before, I slipped and fell into the creek during a torrential downpour. It was raining so hard that I was blinded for a brief second and stepped on the side of the rock instead of on top of it. Down I went into the creek that was only about a foot or two deep. I was already soaked so a little more water really didn’t matter. The only thing bruised was my ego. It was a not-so-pleasant reminder the next step could be my last step. What really had me ticked was that I had just did my laundry at Kincora and had fresh clothes. That only lasted half a day.
The last week was, what I call, “The Great Hostel Run.” That means I had a roof over my head and a matress to sleep on. I hiked from Uncle Johnny’s, to the Greasy Creek Friendly, to the Mountain Harbor B&B, to Abby’s Place, to the Kincora, anf finally to the Hikers Inn at Damascus. Only had to sleep in a shleter for a couple on nights and only had to pitch the tent once. The hospitality at all of these places was simply just tremendous. At the Kincora, I got to meet the AT trail legends, Baltimore Jack and Bob Peoples. It was a great night with some great stories. I’m acutally starting to feel at home while being homeless. I’m even getting some sleep in the shelters. The running joke on the trail – the only difference between the homeless and AT hikers if Goretex.
And now the guardian angel story! About 3 weeks ago on a Sunday, I was hiking up Clingman’s Dome (highest point on the AT at just over 6,000 fett) in the rain, of course. I was doing a hard 18 mile day because I had to make it to Gatlinbug, TN, by Monday to make some urgent phone calls regarding my retirement, the FBI, and my former place of employment. More on that later! I was about 2 miles from the top of the dome when the trail started to go straight up. I was already cold and weak from a full day of hiking in the rain. To be more accurate, I was completely exhausted. About a half mile up the trail, I called out, partially in jest and more in all futility “Lord, I need some help here. I don’t think I can make it to the top.” About another few hundreds yards up the trail, I called out again “Lord, I know it’s Sunday and you’re busy. I don’t know if you heard me in all of this wind, but I still could use some help.” There was no reply from the heavens. About another hundred yards up the trail, I collapsed in a heap next to rock and called out again “Lord, what about it. I’m waiting.” Alll of a sudden from out of the fog at the top of the trail, this young man dressed in long pants and long sleeve t-shirt comes walking briskly down the trail. As he neared me, I just looked at him painfully and said half-heartedly “I’m spent. I don’t think I take another step.” This young man stopped, looked at me, and said “I heard you from up on top. It’s only about a half a mile to go. You can make it. Just take it one step at a time.”
That said, he disappered into the fog down the trail. Now here’s the strange part, the next shelter was 10 miles down the trail (south of where I hiked). There were no cut-off trails or roads that intersected the AT, and this young man did not have a packpack. And when he said that he heard me from on top, I almost fell off the mountain. He didn’t say that he heard me from on top of the mountain, he just said he heard me from on top. Yes, I believe it was a guardian angel. Always remember to hike with your angels, whether on the AT or the road of life.
Have to go! People are waiting to use the computer. Next week is Trail Days in Damascus! Can’t wait. Sorry about the spelling, I’m being rushed. No excuse for an English major! ‘Til w meet again, Happy Trails!