Blood, Sweat, and Zero Days
On the windowsill are five tomatoes, a basket of apples and garlic, and a bag of what looks like thyme. Four of the tomatoes are red, one is green, and the apples have that slightly wrinkled look which tells they’re just passed their eating prime but still perfect for baking. The kitchen reminds me of the farmhouse outside of Toulouse where I once worked combined with a touch of my grandparents house in South Alabama. Cast iron skillets smeared in bacon grease on the stove top. A bouquet of bright flowers on the table. Humidity pours in through the open windows, mixes with my coffee, enters my belly and lungs. At one point in time, we breathed water.
This morning was the first in many that I didn’t have to wriggle out of a sleeping bag liner, shimmy to the head of my hammock, and unfasten the bugnet drawstring. I didn’t have to pull the net down, swing my legs out into the air, and gingerly place them on a small piece of Tyvek. I had no stakes to pull up, no tarp to take down, no bag to pack with practiced and dirty fingers.
I had no need to light my small stove; heat up water in a titanium pot; mix in two packs of Carnation instant breakfast, a tube of instant coffee, and two spoonfuls of peanut butter for a breakfast concoction.
Instead I awoke in a double bed with fresh sheets. I yawned and stretched overhead, pulling my arms to the left then the right. I placed my feet on a rug, covering hardwood floor that creaked and groaned, but not too much. I walked through a living room with couches and a box piano, past a white front door that opened up to a porch complete with two wicker rocking chairs, through a dining room where eight bird nests were on display, and into the kitchen. There was granola in a jar on the table, two duck eggs waiting to be scrambled, and coffee in a measuring bowl that served in place of the long broken pot.
This is how a mile-less “zero day” at Great Day Gardens goes. Operated by Michael and Arden, two friends from college, the farm sits outside of Lynchburg in Forest, Virginia, on Arden’s grandparents’ property. They grow mostly vegetables and bake breads. This morning I saw kale, onions, chard, beets, lettuce, and tomatoes in my brief walk around. Arden was halfway down the row of young sunflower sprouts, planting scallions. Her hands caked in earth moved down the rungs effortlessly and efficiently, a planting knife in her right hand piercing the wet soil, her left hand pushing the young plant into its new and permanent home. Michael is chief bread maker and was in the bakery house with an intern folding dough for multigrain and cracked-corn loaves, croissants, and pizza. He had already started a fire in the stone oven, a fire that neared 700 degrees, and will burn all day, equally dispersing heat, so tomorrow will be a bake day.
After 749 miles, Michael and Arden picked me up yesterday, at the junction of the Appalachian Trail and VA 43, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. It has been hot and humid the past few days on trail, and the air has felt thick and stagnant. With every hill climb, my body pours out sweat, and the already saturated air fails to evaporate it off me, so the sweat has no cooling sensation. It soaks through my shirt, underwear, and pants. It drips off bent elbows and the tip of my nose. My eyebrows fail in their evolutionary purpose, and the sweat falls over my eyes. I use my hands to fling the drops from my face, like someone rising from a pool before they open their eyes. When I bring the bite-valve of my Camelbak to my mouth, it tastes like the ocean. Salt builds up on my arms and legs and especially on my neck and ears. I welcome any stream as a chance to wash it off.
It’s not hell, though it’s certainly no paradise. This is the way the world works. Summers along the East Coast are hot and humid. Thunder rolls in in afternoon on twisted clouds, their gray underbellies sagging. This is why it’s green here; why water runs freely down hills; why lightning bugs come out at night, rise up from the grass on columns of heat, to the trees, to the sky, blending in with blinking stars. And also why I’m sitting shirtless at the kitchen table of my friends’ farm. A good day to take a rest.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.