The Foot Tickler Strikes in Marion and Other Short Stories

Somehow, in one resupply, I had my foot nonconsensually tickled by a complete stranger and we almost got my German friend deported. (Not quite but it felt like it.)

There we were, three lovely pieces of hiker trash, slouched on the side of some succulents for sale off to the side outside a Walmart. It was hot, so we had clustered in the outdoor plant section, one of the few shady spots outside.

Another bus passed by that looked like our shuttle, but again with another gruff driver who shook his head, spoke some gibberish into a walk-in talkie and barked that the next shuttle would be by in an hour. An hour drifted into two, and then three, and as the hours went by we settled on our best option: drinking and watching for shuttles.

My friends and I purchased only the best alcohol, three girthy glass bottles of Miller high life. Nothing but the champagne of beers for us! Back out to our packs we went, our golden trophies clutched in our hands like gleeful frat boys. I covered mine with my bandana in a cheap attempt to hide the liquid elixir, as my German friend cloaked his in a plastic bag, and my other friend just gave up and drank it as is.

Where I would rather be than getting my foot tickled.

I decided then would be a great time to roll out my foot with my cork ball. As I was drinking and rolling my foot out, a townie swooped by like a hawk closing in on a mouse and grabbed my toes, tickling them. I snatched my foot back and laughed out loud in shock, looking at my friends. Is this for real?! The townie giggled and skittered away behind the Walmart. Later on, as if the foot grabber had been thinking about how weird her actions were, she peered from around the corner and wished us a safe hike. She disappeared, like a strange foot grabbing leprechaun, never to be seen again.

With that experience, and our shuttle about as elusive as our will to make miles that day — another beer somehow made its way into my hand. We were about halfway through that one when three cop cars screeched up to the curb. A police office hopped out of each one, the three forming a v formation and coming straight towards us. A woman tried to walk up to them and ask them something but the police officer held up his hand and stopped her.

”Sorry ma’am, we’re on a call.”

Oh god, we’re a call?!

My heart jumped into my throat and I put the bottle down next to me. An officer loomed up from behind the potted plants (looking about as menacing as you can behind a bunch of potted zinnias.)

“How long have you folks been out here?”

“Um… a little while —“ My friend started.

“Uh we’re not drunk!” I chimed in brilliantly.

“— we’re just waiting for our shuttle.”

“Well yes I can see that you’re not drunk, but you know open containers aren’t allowed in this state… let me see your licenses to run them.”

“Why?” My friend interjected.

Oh hell we’re going to jail, I thought. Well at least they have showers and bed and maybe a free meal. Free hostel!

Our German friend was sweating next to the gerber daisies.

“Open containers.”

My other friend began nonchalantly screwing hers shut behind her.

“Let me see them.”

He fanned through our licenses and realized one friend was from Germany and my other friend was from Wisconsin and our third hiker friend, who was not drinking at all, was from Canada. Thank god he didn’t shift to mine: an old Virginia license that’s still the vertical one for underage people (I’m 22, just too lazy to go to the DMV.)

“Oh, you folks aren’t even from around here. Well so you know, here in Virginia, you can’t drink from open containers. Now you know.”

I nodded fervently, eyeing the purple lettering of my Virginia license peeking out from the top of his index finger.

My mind was here, but my body was outside a Walmart apologizing to the police.

“Y’all are thru hiking?”

We nodded again.

“How long to get here?”

“Just over 500 miles.” My German friend said.

“Well if I walked that far, I’d want a beer too. Right gentlemen?”

The two other police nodded.

“Alright gentlemen, this call is done. Now just don’t drink anymore and we’ll call your shuttle.”

They tipped their hats and were gone as quickly as they came. I giggled.

“Who the hell called the cops on us?”

“Probably that crazy foot lady.”

We all laughed. Two hours later our shuttle finally came, and we began our slightly intoxicated hike back into the woods, away from Walmarts, cops and most importantly, crazy foot ladies.

The Air Sack Snatcher

One morning in a shelter just past the Grayson Highlands, I put on the red light of my headlamp and checked for anything I missed. It was a rough morning — the night before I had woken up to two section hikers worriedly whispering about an aggressive mouse (there is such a thing) violently kicking up wood chips in the shelter.

The hike we had to look forward to after that night!

With growing dread, I realized the one thing I was missing: my air sack pump for my sleeping pad. It was right under one of the section hiker’s heads. The neon bag poked out from under her sleeping pad, and I gave it a few short tugs. It was useless. Maybe she won’t notice if I just yank it super fast, I thought. Just like one of those magic tricks!

I steeled myself for its retrieval. I slowly put my hands around it and gave it a swift yank to try and pull it out from under her sleeping head. It turns out I was no magician. The swift yank was more like a pathetic jerk. Her head was jerked around like a rag doll and I cringed. She gasped awake. Her eyes ogled upwards at my red headlight in terror. Whoops.

”I’m so sorry,” I whispered hurriedly, “I think my sleeping pad air sack thingie is stuck under your head…”

As I was saying this I realized the air bag was in fact attached to HER sleeping pad… and was not actually my air bag. She clutched it away from me.

I whispered a revised apology: “I’m sorry — I am a dumbass!”

I giggled a little at how I must look: a deranged thru hiker at 5:00 am trying to steal an innocent section hikers air bag. With that, I packed my bag in a hurry and left the disturbed section hiker and violent mice to find a peaceful in the shelter — without someone trying to yank out the air sack from under them.

A Brief Aside About Butterflies

Swallowtails flitted around the creek bank, just off the Creeper Trail after Damascus, light as yellow paper airplanes. The small rapids thrashed below them. They flew over the water, fragile beautiful things hovering above certain death. I watched several leaves spiral from trees above, slowly falling until they hit the water and were quickly sucked down stream. The butterflies could easily meet the same fate — but they don’t. They cluster around the river bank, clutching at grey pebbles, catching the sunlight in their wings.

Their wings hold odd poses, pressed against one another like bookmarks or a collection of beached tiny windsurfers. Trembling in the wind. A cluster of life. Existing beside my own. A body made of butterfly wings. A cluster of wings, trembling at the promise of a breeze. A puddle of sunlit veins. Shown through like a pile of stained glass.

They circle around each other in ancient patterns. Coming together as a promise of flight and new life, next to the river that could kill them.

I rise and they skitter away like leaves on a breeze — except upwards, forever falling backwards into the sky as the leaves fall down into the water below.


Before the foot snatcher, before the air sack stealer but after the butterflies — I had my first experience of walking somewhere on trail I had been before in a state that feels like home to me.

It was strange walking back into Elk Garden. Everything was familiar again — and it felt like I was just out on a day trip.

I realized where Elk Garden — where it became familiar was no different than any stretch of trail before it. As I walked through the ferns coated in dew, the soil a deep brown beneath me, the roots slippery and the birds sang to the morning — I realized I have been at home on the trail the whole time. The trail I would find comfort in during college; the trail I would escape from worries about work post-grad, all laid out before me: unchanged.



It came to me: how lucky I am for this trail that feels like home, no matter what state and no matter what people. It would be there for me forever as long as I have a body to walk it.

The only thing I could manage to get into my notes that day was: how lucky I am for this verdant morning. This verdant morning to celebrate the new growth beside me and the age old trail below me — and I found the same in my new ways of thinking and the 22 year old body I’ve lived in my whole life. As I find a home out here, I learn how to find a home in my own body.

Out here, I felt free to wander and take in the sights on the trail — whether it’s rolling mountains or a small snail — without worrying so much about where exactly home is. These days, I live in my shoes and where my feet take me, I will see.

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Comments 1

  • thetentman : Jun 13th

    The last pic was great. I can not believe that I am reading a blog by a trail criminal and town drinker. Do not tell my Mother. Loved the post.


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