Day Three

Today was a hard walk. After “sleeping in,” Starfish and I hit the trail just after 8. There was blue in the sky and spring in the air, with fresh yellow-green moss giving the forest its first vibrant coloring of the year.

The trail climbed steeply over crumbling rain-slicked Sheetrock for the first mile. Within minutes, sweat streamed off my nose as my head bent toward the ground—I refused to look up because I knew there was only more up, ahead. I yo-yoed back and forth with Starfish as we took turns removing layers of clothing, taking water breaks, catching what breath we could.

Upon summiting the ridge we were greeted by magnificent views of a sea of powdery clouds that completely obscured the valley below. I climbed a tree, to further improve the view, and felt like a crow’s nest lookout on an old frigate, scanning the horizon for slivers of land.

We followed the ridge for fourish miles before descending, first through expanses of wide-spaced hardwoods, then dense thickets of shimmering magnolias. Then, up again, and more miles of ridge-straddling.

A Free Ride, a Free Tour

The final descent into Pearisburg was steep, hard on the knees and quads. Near the bottom of the mountain, Cath struck up a conversation with a couple who offered to drop us in town. My first hitch of the trail, and I didn’t even have to lift a thumb.

The couple had thick Virginia accents, and they spoke slowly and deliberately, as if afraid of speaking any falsehood. They’d lived in the area “on and off their whole lives,” and kept coming back. “It’s a hard place to leave. I never really thought about why I like it. I guess it’s just familiar. There’s everything you need and not much else.”

Cath asked if they hiked on the local trails often. “Well, no, and I don’t know why. I’ve always known they’re around but was never sure whether they’d be safe.”

As we headed for the local hostel the couple proudly pointed out the Pearisburg courthouse, a big, squarish fire engine red building with spotless eggshell trim. And it really was impressive, authentic, and still functional too. It’s rare anymore to see people genuinely proud of their small hometowns, who want to show it off. I’ll always welcome that type of showing off.

It so happened that the couple’s Catholic Church ran the hiker hostel. The man even offered to drop us back at the trail the next morning, after Sunday Mass. Then, when that hostel turned out to be closed, they insisted on driving us back toward another that was closer to the trail. And all the time, they assured us that these stops were “on their way home.” Now, I’m no expert on the geography of Pearisburg, but I’ve never driven up and back the same road three times to get to my own home. We’d added at least an hour to their trip home. They were just too nice to tell us otherwise.

After profuse thank you’s on our end and best of luck’s from theirs, the couple dropped us in front of a grocery store where we loaded up for the 70-mile stretch to Catawba.

Help All Around

We decided to take an urban hike back to the trail (neither me nor Starfish sleep well in hostels—it’s the snorers).

Near the edge of town a large family was barbecuing and playing yard games. They waved, then called us over. A stout, smiley man offered beer; his bubbly wife, pizza. Then the kids invited us to join in on a round of something called “sockhop.” Unfortunately, we had to say no to what would have surely been a story itself. The sun was low over the blue ridge, and we still had at least two miles to trek. They thanked us anyway, wished us the best, and waved us off into the cool evening.

Then also, when we missed the trailhead, another woman took a break from playing catch with her son to point us in the right direction.

Thank You, Pearisburg

Pearisburg, VA, endeared me once again to small town America. In just three hours no fewer than five locals offered two sweaty, muddy outsiders unrecompensed assistance. It was incredible. It was lovely.

Though big cities seem to get all the love these days, small towns still have all the heart.

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