Well, I woke up to a beautiful view this morning from my little night hiking stunt. The view was absolutely worth the fear of blowing out my legs, the exhaustion, and the muscle stiffness that set in upon arriving to the site.
After waking up, I went to sit on the edge of the overlook to watch the lazy, blistering sun rise over the world and send down its bitter, scorching heat. As I sat on te edge, I turned around after finishing my morning routine of inhaling a pack of pop tarts and rollys and noticed little splotches of bird shit… Everywhere. Literally covering the entire rock I had just sat on. I did a quick check to make sure my pants were unsoiled, and was slightly relieved until I realized…
Everything I owned had been neatly distributed all over the mine field (due to the tendency of my backpack to explode in a 10 foot radius on arriving to camp). White and black smudges covered the bottoms of every single pouch. I was a tad disgusted at first, then the horror that my cooking utensils were in the affected area set on a paranoia like no other. I picked up the Crown Royal bag holding my spoon and pot scraper, and it had crash landed in a particularly large pile of droppings, to my dismay. Thankfully, the tools didn’t show any sign of liquid contact, but that sure didn’t stop me. I used the last ounce of hand sanitizer to my name on soaking both my eating weapons, and every infected area of every pouch that had been contaminated. After about a solid half hour of this work, I realized that I was going to town anyway and I could just wash all of it…
After that lovely morning fiasco, I pushed on to town to hopefully get scooped up by a trail angel, particularly a friend of a friend from Birmingham, who happened to live in Charlottesville, just up the way from Waynesboro. I called this mysterious friend (whom I had never even spoken to at this point aside from a few texts here and there) and informed her I was headed into town later that day and that I would be around downtown somewhere, looking like a homeless person with a brown Gregory pack and a painter’s hat. So from there, it was just getting to town.
The first 10 miles were brutal.
My right butt cheek (or to be exact, my right gluteus maximus) has been cramping like nobodies business lately. Every time I get to a shelter, I do my best to stretch out the tired and overused muscle, but today was particularly bad since I hadn’t had a chance to do my stretch routine. The annoyingly large amount of PUDs (Pointless Ups and Downs) just fueled the fire in my ass even more. And on top of that, the hiker hunger was a bit out of control today and I would definitely need to get a good resupply in town.
On arriving at the shelter before town, I came crawling/limping in and met a section hiker named Eric, who said he would have a shuttle ready when he got to the road and I was welcome to tag along.
“Honestly, I don’t know if I’m gonna catch you buddy. I gotta get a good stretching in before I push these last 5 out.”
And boy he was in a rush too! I figured I’d just give the thumb a whirl on the edge of Blue Ridge Parkway if he wasn’t there. After a little while, I put on the rockets and took off running down the trail. It was mostly a blur (as hiking in my Crocs always seems to do), and I managed to catch him right as he was loading his pack. HA! What a lucky strike!
They ended up dropping me off at some gas station that wasn’t even listed in AWOL’s guide. I assumed that maybe another mile’s walk would put me on the town map. As I pulled my stuff out of the back of the Subaru, I realized quickly that something was off… That this was not a typical trail town (despite the free camping provided by the town and the free showers given out by the local YMCA). No, I couldn’t be in Waynesboro. I walked in to grab a pouch of rollys, and bolted back outside immediately. There was a rough crowd outside: thugs, bikers, and other sorts of rough looking people (but not in the rough way that we trail walkers are), all giving me the up and down. Had I been in a place like this in Birmingham, I would have gotten in my car and quickly driven off. When placed in a situation where everything you own is on your back, a new mood sets in on a person. I realized there was nothing I could to but walk. So I did. As I crossed the parking lot, people backed away slightly as I approached and let me through, and trunk thumpers drove around me in a nice, large arc as to not allow my carbide tipped poles to scratch the new candy coat on their whip.
So I continued “east” down this road that would allegedly take me to the town I had pictured in my head, past projects and trailers, folks walking on the street giving me the same reaction as before at the gas station: a kind of reverence. It was a bizarre feeling. I felt almost invincible, as if I could shout “Who dare glance at this walker of the trail?!” in a booming Viking accent and they would scatter. But I digress. I continued on, smiling and waving as I always do, and was returned with wide eyes and stares.
As I continued on into town, I stopped by a Mexican food truck (OH MY GOD, I HAVEN’T SEEN ONE OF THESE SINCE I STARTED) and hastily made way for it. My friend Laura said she wouldn’t be in town for a few hours, so I figured a lengua taco or two wouldn’t spoil my appetite. I walked up to the truck, the menu plastered all over the side of the truck like a giant mural. I could smell the chorizo and fresh cilantro, the pictures of the tacos had no cheese on them. “Oh my god, this is REAL Mexican food” I thought to myself. I quickly ordered a few tacos and a quesadilla to go with it, and ordered a Mexican coke I washed down as I waited for the food out in the heat. I quickly became acquainted with the truck owner Alex, who I gave a brief summary of my reasons for being in town. He was super nice, and went back to prepping my feast.
Meanwhile, I sat down on the parking lot the truck was located in to grab a smoke. I rolled up a skinny one, thinking my food wouldn’t take long, and sparked it up before I hear to my left:
“Hey, are you hiking the trail?”
I turn to look and a man with a rolly walks over and stops to chat briefly. Very nice fellow. Earl was a Virginia native that was just hanging out at his buddy’s (I found out later his name was Bob) car lot, killing time. There was also a British guy in the little gang as well, who was memorable for his Jew-Fro he had very well maintained.
I rushed back when Alex called my name (he even called me by trail name!), grabbed the delicacies, and sat back over with the car wash guys for a while. We talked about some of the crazy shit we had seen on adventures we had been on throughout our lives. After a while, tobbacco came up as a point of conversation (I mentioned how cheap it was in Virginia or something), and Earl looks at me and says:
“Do you REALLY like tobbacco?”
“Well, yeh I suppose as much as one can enjoy the evil temptress known as nicotine” I said.
He chuckled. “Well, are you gonna be in town a while?”
“I’m planning to get back on the trail Sunday, but I have a friend picking me up half way through The Shennies (Hiker slang for Shenandoah National Park) and we will be coming back here for a day or so. Why do you ask?”
“Come back to the taco truck on Wednesday earliest if you can. I’ve got something for you I’d like you to try” he said.
Interesting… Well I’ll keep that one in my head I thought. I thanked them for their time chatting, and headed on into town to see what else was around before Laura came to pick me up.
I got to the downtown part (which wasn’t much, a couple of restaurants and such) and popped down close to a traffic light to wait for her to show up. The usual reactions of town folk from larger towns began to become obvious, such as walking in large arcs around me, avoiding eye contact, etc.
Finally, I get a phone call from Laura saying she is just up the street. Heading toward her SUV I could see from a distance, there was another hiker climbing in the vehicle. It was none other than Opie I had seen a few days before! We exchanged a laughs and such. Laura was shocked to know this was the second time we had ever met, and the first time being only for a brief 10 minutes. I asked her why she had picked him up of anybody.
“I just saw another hiker, and he looked cool and possibly needed a place to stay, so I figured why not?”
So onwards we headed towards Charlottesville in the hurdling hunk of metal and plastic. This being the first time I had ever met Laura, we hit it off quite well. We discussed much of Sam’s escapades back home and the mutual experiences we had shared with him. I felt a calm sensation of being back home in Birmingham with my friends for the first time since my journey had begun.
On arriving at her apartment, we met her room mate Abby who was super sweet as well. They had already had dinner started as well! My god, this is definitely the best trail magic I’ve had yet! A complete stranger taking me and some other strange hiker in to their home, to feed us STEAK! What an amazing experience the trail has been.
We had a lot of good laughs over dinner about the strange people and encounters we had over the duration of the past 2 months. I mentioned about this particular beer challenge my Dad had forwarded me in an email about drinking from all of the micro breweries along the trail, when Laura’s face lit up.
“Do you guys want to go work a beer festival tomorrow?”
When we couldn’t think it could get any better, I glanced at Opie to see him holding the same expression.
“Well, I can totally take a zero tomorrow if that’s going to be going on!” I cried.
“Same” he said.
So we managed, at the last minute, to squeeze into 2 volunteer slots for the micro-brew festival tomorrow. We would work the first half, and then have the rest of the day to pound down 12 tickets worth of high-gravity beers.
I slept restlessly that night, in awe of the amazing things that had occurred along the trail so far. “Is this real?” I thought to myself over and over again. This entire world feels like a dream at some points.