Kidnapped and Sidetracked : The Chronicles of Squirt Continued
Let me say this: the trail is more than I ever imagined. The people are amazing, the trail is beautiful, the experiences are worth more than every dollar I’ll ever earn. But, the trail is also harder than I ever imagined. It is not that the actually terrain is terrible, but it’s the day to day impact on the body, the logistics, the bugs, the heat, the pain, the combination of it all everyday that makes it so much harder than I thought. I will not give up as long as my legs can move forward, but for now, I’ll say that I now know deep in my heart and soul that I am one strong, powerful, positive and worth-while human being.
I have put many miles in since my last post and although I have a hundred funny stories to share, I’ll keep it focused on the four most exciting things that happened to me: wild ponies stole my backpack, I was “kidnapped”, I saw the sunrise on McAfee’s Knob and I found myself in California for a handful of days.
- The Ponies– off in a mysterious place called Grayson Highlands State Park, there lives magical creatures called, “Wild Ponies”. They roam free, surviving off the salt of sweaty tourists and hikers who cross their path. Sometimes, they decide your particular backpack is the one with the best sweat/salt flavor, and they claim it as their own, usually with a very large and strong hoof. I apparently, have the gourmet variety of hiker sweat they admire, and one particularly strong pony claimed my pack as his own. Thankfully, my hiking pal, Whoopie, and I managed to lure this majestically docile beast off of my backpack (he managed to not crush any of my tent poles either… thank goodness) and before the next pony could claim my bag, I swept in precariously close to their hooves and reclaimed my pack as my own. Perhaps I could have offered a trade: they can lick my bag if they agree to carry it for me through the park?
So the Virginia Blues is definitely a thing, between the heat, the bugs and rocky patches that wish they were Pennsylvania, there are parts of Virginia that I felt pretty miserable in. When I hit Virginia, my knees decided to replicate the mobility of a 90 year old woman in need of knee replacements. One 17 mile day, I was particularly tired and miserable, having just done 24 miles the day before. My knees were at their limit, it was 95 degrees and my feet were on fire. I had just arrived at a site on top of a mountain called, “Dragon’s tooth”, a very rocky and jagged rock scramble. With normal knees, I would have loved it, but with 90 year old knees, I wanted to cry. So, instead of continuing down the mountain, I just dropped my gear, sat down and starred blankly into the sky. Around me, boyscout laughed and hit things with sticks. I saw one particularly gloomily boyscout and thought to myself, yeah, “I feel ya’ kid”. Then, out of no where, a handful of the most beautiful people I had ever seen in my life approached me. They looked like mountain gods. I’m pretty sure they were glowing and some sort of boyscout cherub started to sing. They said to me, with a soothing voice, “Are ya’ll thru hikers?”. After our confirmation, they asked if they could kidnap us. Now, usually, I would have asked more questions to have them elaborate on the particulars of this kidnapping, but in my exhausted state I just looked up and replied, “Yes. Absolutely.” So the group of mountain gods (we found out were thru hikers who completed the trail from last year and were having a little reunion), had us hike down the mountain to the road, where they would pick us up from the local hostel. They kindly packed us into their beautiful cars (which we quickly converted into a stink-mobile), and announced that we would be going to Roanoke to stay the night in an Art Gallery that was currently doing a show on the Appalachian Trail. They brought us to the largest grocery store I had seen so far on the trail (I then proceeded to buy large portions of coconut milk ice cream, kombucha and ginger chocolate). At the Art Gallery they grilled delicious meats and one of the thru hikers, Dandelion, made the best salad I had eaten all trail. They did our laundry and while our hiker clothes were being washed, a hiker named Solitude, gave me the most fantastic and ridiculous attire to wear from the evening (long kilt with a sequenced red tank top). We all sat around chatting late into the night about the crazy adventures we have all had on the trail. That morning I had been depressed and miserable. That evening, I had a renewed sense of adventure and excitement for the trail. These trail gods were incredibly supportive. They understood how I felt and reminded me about all the amazing adventures I had ahead of me. They all suffered through various bodily pains (I asked one guy when his knees healed and he said… “They kind of are starting to feel a little better… now”). If they made it, I realized, I could do it too.
- Sunrise on McAfee’s Knob- After our kidnapping, the trail gods dropped us off where we left off. The end of our hike that day would bring us to McAfee’s Knob- one of
the most glorious and photographed landscapes on the Appalachian Trail. With a big food belly and a renewed sense of confidence, I hiked passionately on to McAfee’s Knob. Whoopie and I made it by the late afternoon, late enough for all the tourists to have left. Zoultan, a fellow Appalachian Trials blogger and good friend of ours also made it up and together we enjoyed an evening watching the sun set on the knob. We hiked down to the shelter and Whoopie and I agreed to get up early so we could hike up again and see the sunrise on the knob. It was gorgeous and was another reminder of the peace and healing I felt in the mountains.
- Air blazing to California- I have been hiking with my friend, Whoopie, off and on since the beginning of the trip. He had to leave the trail for a few days to go to California to be the Best Man in his friend’s wedding mid-June.
I had never been out west and one day he jokingly suggested I go along with him. While he did wedding duties, I could go sight seeing and let my knees recover (which at this point were so bad I couldn’t see my kneecaps under the swelling). In another whim of spontaneity, I jokingly responded that I would go. We continued the joke for a while until eventually, it just wasn’t a joke anymore and we both had plane tickets. So, from Daleville we took the best unofficial Air Blaze (taking an airplane from the trail) to San Francisco. There, his friends and family became my tour guides and took me to see all the wonderful places you can see. I also made my way to Santa Cruz, where I spent a morning hanging out on the beach!!!
I had thought that the beach would be something I would never see this summer. They also dressed me up in beautiful clothes and delicately put makeup on my dirt-stained face so I could go to the wedding. At the wedding, I saw Whoopie dressed up in a tuxedo and was overwhelmed by how different he looked! I was used to seeing him in the exact same outfit everyday of our friendship and will admit, I was very impressed with what I saw. Besides for the bride and groom, I’m pretty sure Whoopie and I were the exotic entertainment for the family and friends at the wedding. Everyone called me by my trail name, Squirt, and wanted to hear adventures from the trail. I attempted to dance but my knees quickly reminded me that it would be only my arms moving wildly for this wedding. After a few days of healing, Whoopie and I boarded up on the plane (thanks to Jenn who gave up her WINDOW SEAT so Whoopie and I could sit together and plan our next leg). Jetlagged and sleepless, we set out for the trail again, amazingly, feeling fresh and ready for the trail once more.
So, where am I now? I am at my Aunt Gail’s house in Alexandria, Virginia. Whoopie and I were making our way through the Shenandoah National Park when our new friend, Hulk, informed us of a massive storm front coming our way, which would produce 2-3 inches of rain and damaging winds. Whoopie and I are adventurous folks, but we have had our fair share of rain and I decided to call my Aunt and ask if I could hang out with her for the worst part of the storm. Thankfully, my Aunt Gail and Uncle John were able to come and pick us up from the trail… taking us to DC! I was able to get new shoes AND celebrate equal marriage rights in DC the day after the Supreme Court voted. I could not have asked for a better off-trail rainy day.
SEE YOU ALL SOON!
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Thanks for the update, was wondering what you were doing, glad you’re safe and sound, looking forward to hearing about more adventures.
Air blazing! I live in Santa Cruz 🙂 Isn’t it amazing?