The Trail Always Provides: Blackberries, Trail Magic, and Family
“Happiness is not a goal. It’s a by-product of a life well lived.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt
Almost Heaven, West Virginia
Greetings from Charles Town, W.V. Our family is together! Ray’s mom (Bea) and our children (Kay and Jon) joined me for this special Father’s Day visit. The plan was to meet up at the half point of the Appalachian Trail in Harper’s Ferry. From reading our past posts, you know that our plans don’t always go, well, as planned. We picked Ray up at the trailhead, around mile 970 in Front Royal, Va., and scooted up to our rental home. Among the many highlights of the weekend, Ray was treated to his requested Father’s Day meal of pasta, meatballs, pork chops, salad, and garlic bread. Yes, that was one meal. We’ve had a wonderful, relaxing visit.
Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River
About 101 miles of the AT runs through Shenandoah National Park. OneFoot absolutely loved this section of the trail. After two days of rain, he experienced some of the best weather he’s had on the trail so far. He enjoyed the great company of Hank Hill, Jukebox, Squeaks, and Butterfly. With several food options available along the way in Shenandoah, OneFoot took full advantage of the opportunity to add variety to his diet. Well, variety in the form of blackberries – blackberry milkshake, blackberry cobbler, blackberry ice cream. He was a little like Forrest Gump with the shrimp. Jukebox joked with him that he ate everything but the bear scat with blackberries in it. Oh, and total bear count in Shenandoah National Park? Nine.
Too Good to be True
While at Lewis Mountain Campground having breakfast, Hank Hill was approached by a man with a too good to be true proposition. The man, going by the name of trail angel Max Factor, explained that for one week each year, he takes ten hikers per day back to his nearby timeshare for the evening. Showers, laundry, pool, hot tub, dinner, and breakfast are offered at no charge. Thinking this was extraordinarily generous, even for the trail, OneFoot and Hank pondered the offer. A group of hikers, having just returned from the night at Max’s, told them “do not miss this experience.” So they didn’t. They hiked on to Big Meadows Wayside where Max picked them up at 3:30 for the evening. For the past eight years, Max has done this for one week during hiking season. Each day he finds ten hikers to bestow his trail magic upon. The hikers are brought to his timeshare and given meals home cooked by Max himself; dinner and breakfast the next morning. He then brings them back to the trail after breakfast. What does he get out of this? In return for his kindness and hospitality, Max asks that the hikers take the time to listen to his story. It is a story of loss and pain. It is a story of healing. It is a story of paying it forward and giving back to a trail that has provided him with comfort and peace after the loss of his son. It is a story that is beautifully sad and hopeful and inspiring. It is what the trail is about, in one way or another, to so many. God bless you, Max Factor.
Bestowing Some Trail Magic of Our Own
Earlier in the week Ray mentioned the possibility of bringing a couple of hikers along for a night. I had a bit a flashback to when our kids were young and would ask, “Hey mom, can Brandon and Cara stay for dinner?” Without hesitation, we looked forward to welcoming those who have shared a bit of this journey with OneFoot. At the trailhead, we met Hank Hill and Jukebox. OneFoot and Hank had just hiked Shenandoah National Park together. Jukebox joined them for the last three days in the park. Bea, the kids, and I totally get the attraction of providing trail magic. You’d be hard pressed to find more appreciative folk than hikers. Hank and Jukebox joined us for our first evening in Charles Town. Shower, laundry, and as much food as they wanted including deviled eggs, nachos, steak and potato dinner, and ice cream cake for dessert. OneFoot got to show off his pretty famous breakfast sandwich skills in the morning. Man, I’ve missed those sandwiches! We enjoyed having the chance to talk with all three of them together and really get some insight into trail life, long-distance hiking and their individual journeys.
Putting a Quarter in the Jukebox
Gotta say that Jukebox earns every letter of that trail name. On Sunday morning, Ray suggested that I put a quarter in the jukebox and name a tune. And so I did. I was treated to a most amazing voice singing Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.” Our daughter came down the stairs commenting that it was the best alarm clock ever. It’s no wonder OneFoot has enjoyed hiking with Jukebox. What a gift.
Through a Mother’s Eyes
It has been three months since OneFoot’s mom has seen him. Phone calls and texts can only do so much in assuring a mother that her boy is OK out there on the trail. A mama needs to lay eyes on her boy. At first, there was the initial shock at his physical appearance. The weight loss is obvious but he just feels different. Gone are his broad shoulders and chest. Our arms go a lot farther in a hug around this version of Ray. After spending a few minutes with OneFoot, it’s clear that the changes run much deeper. His mom notes a happier and more social Ray. He seems more tolerant and at peace. We wondered what the trail would do for Ray and to Ray. All that we had hoped for him is emerging and becoming more definitive with each step north.
The Trail Always Provides
Jukebox said these words to Bea. It doesn’t take long in listening to the stories of those hiking the trail to know that is the truth. Whether it is a trail angel providing a sandwich, cold soda, or a place to stay for the night or the trail itself providing nourishment or clarity for the soul – indeed, the trail always provides.
Until the next white blaze,
OneFoot and Should be Good
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