Called to Freedom

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“There is within every soul a search for happiness and meaning.”
Thomas Aquinas

July 1 – Day 129
I start to wonder this morning if it is time to call it quits, the van is not running too well and maybe it’s time for a plan B. I have been off the trail and serving for 3 months today and my funds are running low and so are my spirits. This ministry has proven to be very rewarding and I firmly believe the hikers appreciate and even need the service I provide. Early on it was more intense, dealing with injuries, picking up hikers on the verge of hypothermia, etc. These days it’s more of a coke, sandwich and a ride.
I have to remind myself that it’s not about the levels of extremity in my service to the hikers and it certainly isn’t about whether I’m having fun or not. It’s simply about serving through Christ. As my hiking friend Hoosier said when I first started, “You are giving them this cup of water in the name of Jesus.” It really is that simple.

After considering several scenarios throughout the afternoon, I realize it is better to stay near the trail and serve, and honestly that is where my heart is. Abby and Megan will be here on the 25th so I have 3 weeks to spend in this area. I have decided not to travel any further north and stay within the Massachusetts area. It would be cheaper to go home but I do want to serve hikers some more.

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”
Galatians 5:13

The next thing to decide is what part of the trail I want to serve on. I decide to just drive south and see what I find for starters. I head down into North Adams Massachusetts and as I’m searching for the trail crossing I see two hikers walking down the road. I pull over and ask if they need a ride, they are headed to the Chinese Buffet in town and hop in the van to save a 2 mile walk!

We visit in the restaurant and discuss the basic hiker stuff: when did you start, who have you seen, are you having fun. Their names are Hiccup and Forge and have just stopped in for the buffet, after they have wolfed down several plates of food I take them back to the trail.

I have decided to set up “home base” in a town called West Springfield. It has everything I need to survive in a van for a few weeks and I will purchase a gym membership for a month so I can grab a shower and workout. It also has several locations for me to have Internet access.

I get things set up, do a little shopping and then head over to Walmart to call it a night.

July 2 – Day 130

I head to the gym and get a workout and a shower in then I basically explore the town to see what I have around me. I get out my trail guide and make a plan for finding a spot on the trial and I head west.

I find a little spot outside a very small town and park the van. I see a hiker coming down the trail and I greet him and offer a soda. His name is Long Nose and is a southbounder from Austria. We chat for a little bit and he hits the trail. A little while later another hiker comes through and he is a nobo, I don’t recognize him at first and then he tells me his name, it is Meadow Flapjack who I met at Kincora Hostel outside of Hampton Tennessee. We visit for a while then he gets back on the trail. Next I see Cody Coyote, who I have not seen since just outside of Damascus Virginia, Cody is doing a yo-yo which is means he did a southbound hike and then turned around and started north again. He hangs out for a while drinking sodas and eating chips. The last hiker to come through is Doodle. We talk for awhile and he is a nice young man, I ask him where he will be for the 4th and he says Dalton. I tell him I will se him there and we will have hamburgers and hot dogs.

After Doodle leaves I head back to my new home of West Springfield, grab some dinner and call it a night.

July 3 – Day 131
Not much going on today, I get a workout and a shower in then I decided to make my plans for the 4th. I contact Tom Levardi, a local resident in Dalton who has lived on the trail for over 30 years and regularly serves hikers. He is planning the same thing as me and invites me to join forces with him on the 4th at his house.

With a plan in mind, I finish the day shopping for supplies and reading.

July 4 – Day 132
I head out to Dalton to meet Tom and the hikers that are hanging around for the 4th. I get there just before lunch and most of the hikers are lounging around just taking it easy and enjoying the day. I introduce myself to everyone and help with the preparations.

Fourth of July Spread


I meet a lot of new hikers, Calamity, Silver, Little Rock, Wild Blue, Rabbit, Amos, Gfunk, Ocean Spray, B-Rocket, Sklut, Hoops, and Grandpa. We hang around most of the day and eat more hamburgers and hotdogs…Tom brings out hot fudge sundays he has prepared and our Fourth of July celebration is complete as around us neighbors set off their own fireworks.

A Few Hikers Relaxing After Dinner


July 5 – Day 133
Some of the hikers want to run to the mall and see a movie. Shepherd has his truck so between him and me we get all of them to the mall. We have with us: Shadow Wolf, Amos, Crazy Legs, Rainbow Braid, Mainaic3, Gonzo (formally Moviestar), Z, and Frost.

After the movie we stop for some resupplies and head back to Tom’s. Frost and I take a walk and have a beer and a good chat. He is still working on his documentary but is ready to appreciate the last few hundred miles of his hike.

Most of the hikers are leaving in the morning so everyone heads to bed.

July 6 – Day 134

I slack pack Shadow Wolf, Crazy Legs and Rocky to Cheshire and while waiting to meet up with them I hang out with Heart Rock, Tracker and Tall Boy they have picked up a dog on the trail and named him Daglebee or Dag for short.



They decide to ride into town and have lunch with me as I wait for the slack packers to get to Cheshire. We have a good burger and the pub owner lets Dag inside and even gives him some dog bones and water.

I get a text from Crazy Legs and head over to the Post Office to give them their packs, they are hungry so decide to ride back to the burger place with me. After saying all of our good byes the 3 boys load up in the van and we head back to Dalton for the night.

I head back to West Springfield so I can make church the next day.

July 7 thru 10 – Days 135 thru 138
Most of the following 5 days are spent in West Springfield. The AC clutch and the fan clutch went out on the van about the same time and I need to get them no fixed. I have to order the AC clutch and just hang around for a day or two until it gets in. When I have the part I drive over to Firestone to have the repairs done, one of the belts breaks on the way over and I barely make it in! Another $500 spent on the van and I’m running out of funds…I remind myself that I’m here doing ministry and God will provide.

July 11 – Day 139
I head back out to Tom’s place to see what the hikers are up to…I meet three new hikers: Johnny Walker and I can’t remember the other two! Johnny tells me there is a hiker in Cheshire who needs a ride back to Dalton to get a root canal done. we head over to pick him up and while talking about God I find out that Johnny used to attend some friends of mine’s ministry in Charlotte called the South Town Riders. These are the guys that got me started in wakeboard ministry many years ago. Just goes to show what a small world it really is!

While driving to the church hostel in Cheshire we pass Firehands, Kat and another hiker. I have not seen them since McAfee Knob area in Virginia, and we give them a lift to the hostel. We catch up on all the latest hiker news, share some hugs and sodas then we pick up Misery and head back to Dalton.

Misery Not Looking So Miserable


July 12 – Day 140
Johnny Walker and his friends head out the next morning and I take Misery to the dentist for his root canal. I hang around with Tom for awhile and then another hiker comes walking up his name is Colins, a former Marine, and I give him a ride to the Outfitter at the mall and Misery comes along for the ride…you know what they say…Misery loves company!

We all have lunch together, spend a half hour at the outfitter and then head back to Tom’s place. Colin packs up and heads on out for the trail.

Misery has to be back in Dalton in 2 weeks to finish his root canal so decides to take a bus up to Lincoln New Hampshire and hike south back to Dalton. I plan to give him a ride to the bus station the next morning.

When we get back to Tom’s 4 more hikers have joined the fun: Grey Cloud, Road Runner, Hang Man and Wolfman.

July 13 – Day 141
The 4 new hikers want to go into to town for the breakfast buffet and I drive them in around 8:00am. I run a few errands while they eat, the last thing I need is to pig out at a buffet! We head back to Tom’s and I load Misery up to take him to the bus station as 3 of the 4 hikers wait in a friend to pick them up for a couple of days off the trail in Rhode Island.

After dropping Misery off I hang around Dalton for a few hours until everyone is gone then head back to West Springfield so I can attend church the next day.

July 14 – Day 142
I attend service at Crossroads Community Church for the last time and say good bye to the few guys I met there. I had attended a small group on Wednesday, while waiting for the van part to come in, so I knew a few of the guys.

I have decided to head closer to the Boston area to be ready when the girls arrive and to take the opportunity to scout the area out a little. I will leave the next day after getting in a workout.


On The Road Again…

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“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both.
And be one traveler, long I stood and looked down one as far as I could…”

June 12 – 110
Not much to report today, just had many flight delays and ended up switching from American to Jet Blue to get to NYC. Took me almost 3 hours via subway and trains to get back to NJ…mostly because I was clueless on what I was doing!

June 13 – Day 111
When I got to Coffee Pot’s Dad’s house last night they had already picked up Heavy Weight and I had gotten a text from Hoosier looking for a ride. After waking up early as usual, Coffee and I head out to get Hoosier in the rain, when we pick him up he is shivering from the rain and cold and very thankful for a break off the trail. This is the same approximate area I had met most of my northern bubble a couple of weeks ago and the attitude is similar…they just need a break!

We get Hoosier to the house and he grabs a shower, the house smells delicious since Heavy has made a whole mess of fresh chocolate chip cookies! He has found my weakness, my kryptonite, and I get a glass of cold milk and some warm cookies and enjoy!

Hoosier and I head to an REI, he needs new shoes, and we grab lunch on the way and catch up…I have not seen him since Waynesboro. He was off the trail for a week for a wedding and now is back and going strong.

We get back to the house and relax, Coffee is having dinner with her mom so the rest of us make plans to eat at a local pizza place that also serves good salads. After dinner it is pretty much of the same, we watch a little TV and then everyone hits the sack.

June 14 – 112
Nothing much planned for the day, Coffee drops Heavy Weight and Hoosier back off on the trail and I take a 3 mile walk with Camaro and Chevy. Camaro would still like to get back on the trail and hike the 500 miles south back to Glasgow VA, her knees still hurt and she is waiting for her X-rays from Pearisburg so she can get an MRI. Coffee Pot got an MRI last week and she is done for this season. I continue to keep them both in my prayers.

After our walk we see two young guys walking down the street with back packs and realize these are the German brothers Starsky and Hutch, I have not seen them since Damascus where they got off the trail due to some knee problems. They have been traveling around the east coast until they had to head out in a few days and tonight are staying with us.

Coffee makes a really nice dinner and her dad treats to ice cream at the local shop, he is a really nice guy opening his home to strangers and feeding them as well. After the ice cream we rent a movie and watch it before bed.

June 15 – 113
I wanted to get a jump on my drive up into Vermont to pick Jason up at the Burlington airport, it was a 5 hour drive and I wanted to break it into two days. I cooked breakfast for everyone, said good bye to Coffee, Camaro and the German boys and then headed out for my drive. I leave close to lunch time and I figure there has to be a Chipotle in the area and a google search proves successful. There is one located in a nearby mall so I head that way. I have never seen anything like the traffic at the mall, it is worst then any traffic I have experienced in rush hour in Austin. After eating, it takes me 45 minutes to exit the mall parking lot…fortunately I’m not in a big hurry.

I drive three plus hours of my drive and find a nice rest stop to crash for the night. Jason’s flight arrives early afternoon so I have plenty of time.

June 16 – Day 114
I am looking forward to spending some time with Jason and hoping that he enjoys his adventures along the trail. Jason is the son of a friend and has had some difficulties lately and a two week escape from regular summer in Austin should be a nice break.
He was never a part of my student ministry but did hang out a little with us a few times, the plan to hang with Jason has re-enforced my conviction to continue ministry with teens.

I make a stop at a grocery store for some supplies and head to the airport, although it is an “international” airport it is one of the smallest I have seen! Jason is easy to find and we head out to meet with some hikers in Hanover, VT…home of Dartmouth College, the smallest of the Ivy League schools.

We have plans to meet with Ayce, Chino, Dirty Mike and Coups. We get into Hanover mid afternoon and inadvertently drive through the campus and then head back out to Main St. We hang out at a Starbucks until we hear from Ayce, they are in a small motel just outside of town and we head that way. After visiting for about an hour we head into a town about 5 miles away for dinner, Hanover is very touristy and prices are high, plus there is an all you can eat Chinese buffet and that is right up a hikers alley!

After dinner we sit around the small and crowded motel room and visit while watching some tv. The rooms are ridiculously expense and Jason and I will crash in the van by the trail head. Fortunately we can unload stuff from the van into the room to make room for two to sleep in the van.

We say or good nights and head out, we will be back in the morning to shuttle them into town so they can start their hike. We get to the trail head parking lot and call it a night, fortunately it has been cool lately so the temperature is comfy.

June 17 – Day 115
As always we are early to rise, which I think might be a little new to Jason. Sunrise is just after 5:00am out here and it is fully light by 5:30. We lounge around to about 7:30 and head to pick up our hikers. We drop them off and say good bye, chances are we will not see these guys again. They are scheduled to be done by mid July and I do not know if I will be able to get that far north by then. It is not like I will not see Ayce again, but this is probably the last time as a hiker.

Ayce, Coups, Dirty Mike and Chino at Dartmouth


We head out to Ludlow VT to meet up with Witch Doctor and Passover, I had been texting with them since yesterday and they are looking forward to seeing us.

I had mentioned in an early post that being a trail angel out here was becoming more about lifting morale by being a familiar face and not just free food. The northern bubble hikers are getting more and more isolated and you look forward to seeing faces you know. They had decided to get up at 5:00am so they could get a good early start and see us as soon as possible.

We find the parking lot and decide to hike a little south and see if we can meet them part way. About a half mile in we come to a really cool waterfall and stop for some pics and then continue our hike. We get about 3 miles in and then decide to turn around as it is looking like rain and we are not in any rain gear. Right after we get back to the van it starts to sprinkle and about 20 minutes later Witch Doctor and Passover arrive. It is good to see them!

After the customary Mountain Dew we make Witch Doctor a sandwich and as always I have hummus and crackers for Passover. We load up and head to Ludlow VT for another lunch stop, we are in a ski resort area of Vermont and find a nice little coffee and sandwich stop to sit out the rain. We then head to the small town of Chester to stay with my trail buddy Agent D, who I have not seen since early March.

As always it is so cool how people you knew for a few weeks welcome strangers into their home. We get showers and laundry done and then Agent feeds us a rack of ribs for dinner. His wife Heather is very friendly and hospitable and daughter Sally is very cute and fun. They have a kitten named Cody and Passover is instantly adoring the little fellow.

Passover and Cody Kitty


Agent D is making a home made Kevlar canoe and shows us his progress in a small workshop in the back. It is funny that the canoe plans call for an 18 foot design but he has scaled it down to 16 feet so it will fit in his shop. We visit for the evening then with everyone being pretty tired we call it a night. Tomorrow we will take them back to the trail then make final preparations for our couple of days on the trail.

Canoe in the early stages of the mold


June 18 – Day 116
Agent offers to drop Jason and I off at the trail head and pick us back up in a code of days so we can hike part of the trail. In this area the AT and the Vermont Long Trail are the same so we will be hiking both of them for the about 20 miles of trail we have planned.

After dropping Witch Doctor and Passover off at the trail head we say our goodbyes, again this is probably the last time to see them on the trail, and we head back to Agent’s house for final preparations to start our hike.

Agent drives us back to the same area that we dropped of Witch Doctor and Passover and we start our hike with a four mile climb and a light rain. We make good time to the shelter and are not really wet at all. Jason seems to be enjoying the hike and leads all the way.

There are three other hikers in the shelter, two students who just graduated from high school and an older guy from New York named Uncle Walt. They have been at the shelter for awhile, probably took a zero to dry off, and saw Witch Doctor and Passover as they briefly stopped by. I always discover that Zippy and Diddo stopped for lunch, I have not seen them since Back Step and I stayed with them at the Blackburn Hostel in Virginia.

We unpack our gear and relax a little, Jason is reading and falls asleep in his bag. I am reading myself, just killing a little time before cooking dinner for the night. I wait another hour then wake Jason for dinner. I teach him how to use the stove and we boil water for our Mountain House freeze dried dinners. After dinner I show Jason how to store and hang our food and explain why we take such steps. I think that he is developing an interest in backpacking, or at least hiking, and want to teach him whatever I can. E hang our food bag and then crawl into our sleeping bags as the sun, which has finally peaked out through the trees, begins to set.

June 19 – Day 117
When the sun starts to spill into the shelter no one is really moving and Jason and I have no reason to get an early start. We are hiking 9.5 miles today and we have plenty of time to get there. It is turning out to be a beautiful sunny day and we sleep in to about 9:00 and then start to break camp. We have pop tarts for breakfast and I show Jason how to filter his water. We break camp and start on the trail after saying good bye to our southbound friends.

Jason gets his first good view in the Vermont mountains


Jason takes the lead and hikes at a pretty decent clip, we have a lot of climbing to do today and he gets a little ahead of me then waits for me to catch up. He repeats this all morning and it inspires me to give him a trail name. I think this is pretty much what an army scout would do in days gone by so I decide on the trail name of “Scout” for Jason.
We continue our hike and Vermont is showing us some beautiful landscape and a challenging trail. We cross a really cool suspension foot bridge over a roaring stream cutting through sharp gorges that would be any extreme kayaker”s dream. After crossing VT 103 we start a really tough climb called the rock scramble which is pretty much straight up! Jason, who previously thought switchbacks added too much extra distance to the trail now has a fonder appreciation of them! I tell him that this is some of the roughest climbing I have seen on the AT and to confirm that he is doing really well for his first time out.

View after the suspension bridge


After completing the climb we come to a really nicely maintain shelter with a green lawn and some flower planters. As Jason goes down to the stream to get some water up walks a trail volunteer, who maintains the trail in this area. His name is Plans Too Much and is actually the first trail volunteer I have met. He is up with his German Shepherd, Cinco de Mayo or Cinco for short, and has an axe to clear some trail. We talk for a little bit about the trail in general, his 2003 thru hike and my work as a trail angel.

We see Plans Too Much further up the trail chopping up a good size tree blocking the trail, hats off to the volunteers that make our hiking possible and more enjoyable!

Plans Too Much, Cinco and Scout


We cross over Beacon Peak and continue our hike we are about 7 miles in and feeling it, we get down to Cold River road and we are met with a detour sign of 2.4 miles along the road. We make a decision to hitch to the little groceries store down the road and make a decision from there. Our concern is meeting our deadline tomorrow to met Agent D at the Inn at Long Trail.

We decide to alter our plans and head to the Inn today, we have had a good day and a half of hiking and look forward to the rest the Inn has to offer! We get a ride from a store employee to the Inn and grab a shower and eat our sandwiches we bought from the store.

We spend the remainder of the afternoon and evening in the common areas of the Inn which includes a small game room. We grab some dinner in the little Irish Pub and play some darts, I teach Jason how to play cricket and we play several games.

We head back to our room and call it a night.

Scout playing Cricket a popular dart game


Scout plays some pinball


June 20 – Day 118
Agent D is picking us up this afternoon, so we are in no hurry. We head down and have breakfast and pass the morning away in the game room and playing darts. After lunch we move outside to enjoy the sun and wait on our ride. Agent picks us up and we head back to his house, stopping at a few hardware stores to pick up some supplies for his canoe that he is building.

Basically the canoe is at the stage of building the mold, which when completed, the Kevlar and carbon fiber layers will be layered onto the mold to create the main body of the canoe. We spend the remainder of the afternoon and into the night helping with the mold. We are applying sheetrock mud to solidify the form and then sanding and smoothing this layer. We are also trying to speed up the drying process so we can move on to the next step. Jason is using a blow dryer and I pass my stove flame over damp areas…Agent is out melting the paraffin wax one of the final steps to finish the mold.

Working on the canoe


We roll the wax on with a standard paint roller and it goes on thick and rough, we use the blow dryer and a clothe iron to melt it and make it smooth. We work into the night then call it a day and get cleaned up. It was fun helping Agent with his home made canoe and was interesting to learn about. In the back of my mind I consider that I may try this for a fishing kayak, maybe with my own design.

Agent is wanting to maybe make canoes for a living, like me he is a jack of all trades, actually having a law degree but no interest in practicing law. I think that he craves a simpler life and already lives on 5 acres in a beautiful part of Vermont. I really like Vermont, the mountains are big and the hiking is challenging. If I wanted to live close to the trail this would definitely be one of the best options, not to mention that there are several ski resorts in the area…so trail by summer and snowboard by winter…now if I could just figure out the that whole independent wealth thing I would be set!

We head to bed, we head out in the morning to meet Moose and Wide Load for lunch back at the Inn at Long Trail.

June 21 – 119
We say our good byes and let Agent get back to work on his canoe, he has a deadline and it is approaching quickly! Jason has recommended that we cook some hot dogs for lunch so we need to stop in town for supplies.

We get a text from Moose that they are four miles from our meeting spot, which is about an hour and a half hike. We get everything set up and start cooking bratwurst , sausages and hot dogs with some grilled veggies.

Moose and Wide Load hike in and it is good to see them! We have not seen each other in about three weeks and this could be the last time on the trail. They have decided to stay at the Inn at Long Trail so we will stay with them. As we are visiting, Giuseppe comes rolling in along with his brothers who we have been hiking some of the trail with him. This is the first time I have met Giuseppe, and he is out hiking the trail because he can’t find a job, which is as good a reason as any.

Johnny Blaze, Giuseppe’s brothers, Scout, Giuseppe, Moose and Wide Load


We head to the Inn, get checked in a grab showers. We pretty much just hang around visiting until dinner with a quick stop to re-supply in Rutland. Jason had seen an Applebee’s the other day so that is our dinner designation…I think he wants something familiar.

After we get back to the Inn we go down to the game room, Moose, Jason and I play a little Texas Hold Em while we wait on Wide Load to come down. We head into the pub to listen to a little live music, we were hoping to play more darts but the stage is basically the dart area so we are content with the music.

We head back up to the rooms to get some sleep for the night, no early rising tomorrow as no one is in a rush. I visit with Moose and Wide Load some more and they are in much better spirits then last time we met. Moose tells me it is better now that they have slowed down a lot. You would think it would be the opposite and you would want to speed up at this point to get done but slowing down has really helped their spirits and they will still be done before August.

They want to take a road trip with me and we discuss the idea of driving to Florida then on to Texas. It sounds like fun, but will change some of my plans a little, no big deal since nothing I am doing right now is set in stone. We would head south down 81 basically the same way I went north and make some stops along the way to visit with some of the friends we have made along the way. We have a month to work out some plans and we will see what happens, I am on the east coast until August 9th so no rush on a decision.

It’s well pass hiker’s midnight so we all hit the sack!

June 22 – Day 120
We meet for a not too early breakfast and then visit for a little bit before they hit the trail. Jason and I have nothing to do today except head back to New Jersey so we are really in no rush. We say good bye to Moose and Wide Load and then head into the little pub for some darts. After a few games we check out and hit the road. We have a four hour drive to NJ. About an hour outside of our destination we start smelling smoke coming off the engine, I pull over and pop the hood for a look. One of the belts that powers the AC compressor (which is non functional) is smoking and appears to be melting! I let things cool down as I try to figure out what is wrong, best I can figure is the clutch on the compressor is locking up causing the belt to just slip over it and heat up. I thought the AC was off since the last setting I left it in was defrost, but apparently that still spins the compressor so after moving it to the off position we continue down the road. We arrive at Coffee Pot’s mom’s place and reunite with Camaro and Chevy, Coffee is on the trail for a couple of days hiking with Chin Strap and a few others.

The three of us go to dinner and then a movie, we end up seeing Purge, and if that is an indication of the future I hope the Rapture comes first!

June 23 – Day 121
No plans for today and I don’t really want to risk going anywhere far in the van until I have had a chance to have it checked out by a mechanic on Monday. So we spend a lazy day…Jason is texting, I’m reading and Camaro is watching episode after episode of Lost. Coffee and her mom get home at about 9:00 we visit before bed, tomorrow I will get up early and head to a mechanic shop.

June 24 – Day 122
I get an early start to get the van checked out. Turns out that the AC compressor clutch is sticking causing the belts to overheat. Unfortunately the belt configuration does not allow just removing the AC compressor belt as the same belt turns the alternator. I’m hoping that down the road I do not have to replace the compressor just to keep things running. I head back to Coffees house and Jason and I decide to start our New York City adventure.

We grab a train and head to NYC, Penn Station is a few blocks from the Empire State Building so we head over there. It cost about $50 to go up so I have Jason head up while I wait in the lobby area, I will be coming back at the end of July and can see it then.

New World Trades Building – The Freedom Tower


Afterwards we start walking towards the new trades center building, I believe they are calling it the freedom tower, you can’t get in but it was cool to see. Jason is tired of walking so we get on the subway and head uptown to Manhattan to stay with some friends. We go out with RC and grab some dinner and then call it a night.

June 25 – Day 123
We head to the Museum of Natural History and spend the morning with all the exhibits. We grab some lunch and decide to catch a movie instead of more site seeing. After the movie we head down to Times Square to see the sites and have dinner.

Times Square


After hanging out for awhile we head back to RC’s for the night, Jason is done with the city so we make plans to head back to New Jersey.

June 26 – Day 124
We have a bagel breakfast with RC and family then grab to subway to catch the train back to Coffee’s house. We grab some lunch near the station then walked to her dad’s house, where we just chill out for the rest of the day.

June 27 – Day 125
Coffee’s dad buys us some really good breakfast sandwiches served on a kaiser roll, which brought back childhood memories for me. My parents were born and raised in Queens NY and kaiser rolls and bagels was a Sunday morning ritual at our house.

After breakfast we decide to drive to the Jersey shore and boardwalk, the van seems to be running fine so the 70 mile drive should not be an issue. I make an online reservation for a room and we head out. The drive takes us by NYC and we get a good view of the skyline.

We check in to the motel and head to the beach. It is a nice day and we pretty much just chill out on the beach and watch the people and the waves. After enough sun we head back to the motel and grab some dinner on the way at a diner…we have noticed that nobody seems to serve Dr. Pepper on the east coast…sad.

Jersey Shore Beach


June 28 – Day 126
I believe that Jason, like any other teen, likes to sleep in so I spend some time in the morning catching up on my blog and some reading. We head back up to the beach to enjoy the day, then we will head back up to Vermont.

After chowing down on a Subway foot long, we load up and hit the road. We have a 5 hour drive to Burlington VT and have plenty of time to get there. We pass through New Jersey and New York without event but hit a major thunderstorm in Vermont. VANIMAL starts running really rough, missing and stalling. I’m concerned that my faithful steed of 7000 miles of trail support has reached the limits of its endurance.

We limp into Burlington and get a room for the night, it looks like rain for the next few days so we have decided to just hole up in a motel until Jason’s flight on Sunday morning. I suspect that some water got up into some electrical parts and hoping things just dry out on the van before I have to head south.

June 29 – Day 127
Today is a lazy day of watching tv and eating pizza. Jason’s trip has come to an end and we have to leave for the airport at 4:30 in the morning. I am hoping that he had some fun while out here but sometimes it is hard to tell. I just do what I can do and leave the rest to God.

VANIMAL in the rain


June 30 – Day 128
Up super early and headed to the airport. The VANIMAL seems to be running fine but I am going to stick around one more day to make sure.

We get Jason checked in and through security, the airport is amazingly busy for so early in the morning and we have a few minutes to hang out at the gate.

Jason’s plane at sunrise


After saying our good byes he boards and I head out. I have the room until noon and plan on getting a nap in before checking out!

I hang around Burlington for the rest of the afternoon, seeing a movie and grabbing some Chipotle for dinner. I found a place to park and crash for the night, feeling pretty tired since I did not have much sleep the night before.

Sad Times and Glad Times

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June 5 – Day 102
I arrive back in Austin and get picked up in my truck by Jon and Cody, we head to Phil’s Ice House to get a Holy Fuego burger which features a special sauce. Jon and Nate, two friends from Gateway, have been amateur chefs and have won some local competitions…Nate was even a competitor on the Food Network cooking show “Chopped”. They call themselves the Holy Smokers and have bottled their own sauce, one of my options for VANIMAL after completing my Appalachian ministry will be to donate the van to the Holy Smokers…maybe it will earn me a monk’s robe!

After finishing our lunch we head “home” I guess technically my home is in New Jersey since that is where my van is…remember I’m living in a van!

I contact some my teens, who know I’m home, and we meet up for a day of adventures and good food. I contact Brittany and Stephany but they are busy with arrangements and will not be able to meet me today. I spend the rest of the evening with my teens and then crash at Senter’s apartment. My first day back has been a busy one, seems like old times and I’m glad to be home and able to spend time with my kids.

Swimming at Megan’s


June 6 – Day 103
I get up early with my day pretty much already planned, I’m meeting some work friends for lunch at Chuy’s, I’ve been needing a tex-mex fix, then hanging with kids and finally driving to San Marcos to pick up the boat for a few days. The plan is to meet Chad and Callie for dinner (I get my BBQ fix) and then head back into Austin. I’m taking some teens out on the boat and still trying to meet up with Stephany and Brittany. I get a hold of Brittany on my way back to Austin and stop in at her Godmother’s house for a visit. I spend an hour with the girls and meet some of their family that are in town.

We plan to go out on the boat in the morning so I leave it hitched to the truck and crash at a friends house, the kids will meet me in the morning.

June 7 – Day 105
Going out on the boat in the morning is Cody, Austin, Lindsay, Megan, Savannah, Casey, Caso and later we are joined by Bijan. I will have to leave around lunch time, since today is the viewing before the funeral tomorrow and I need to do some shopping before going. I watch some of the kids ride and I’m impressed with their improvement. Casey is doing really good and I get to see her land her biggest wake to wake jump ever, then after landing a nice one wake toe side 180 she catches her front edge and finishes with a painful face plant!

Nomad in his natural habitat

Casey and I leave at lunch, she is going to spend more time with Stephany as they are best friends but first we stop at Torchy’s for some trailer park tacos and chips and queso, I am slowly hitting all my favorite restaurants that I have missed while on the trail. Casey drops me off and I take Cody’s jeep to get some clothes for the viewing and the funeral, then I get cleaned up and head to funeral home for the viewing. When the service was coming to a conclusion family and friends were invited up to share stories of Stephen’s life. Stephany, his youngest daughter, spoke beautifully about her father being with our Heavenly Father and what a comfort that brought to her, she was sad and joyful at the same time and it lifted my spirits to hear her speak so eloquently and maturely. I realize that these are no longer the young girls I knew just starting high school, they are growing up! I stay for the service and visit with the girls and other friends.

Another full day, some of it fun some of it sad…the girls are holding up as best as can be expected giving the circumstances, I wish there was more I could do for them but they are in Gods hands and I know that is a comfort to them both.

June 8 – Day 106
The funeral is in the morning and I’m meeting Megan Robinson there, I’m a little early and get to see the girls before sitting down. The ceremony is Greek Orthodox and other than the Lord’s Prayer I’m not able to follow much. Several of Stephen’s friends get up to speak about him and every story told are how I mostly remember him, I did not know him long or that well.

Brittany and Stephany go off to be with family and several of the kids and I go for some lunch. We try to figure out what to do for the rest of the day and most of the kids go home for naps, Abby meets us at Pluckers for lunch then she and I go to a movie. I head back over to Senter’s house and call it a night. We are hitting the lake tomorrow and I’m pretty tired.

June 9 – Day 107
We get some rain early in the morning so get a later start to the lake then expected. A lot of the teens I have not seen yet are coming out as well as some adult friends. It is a full “boat crew” reunion and I’m back at Lake Austin, were I have spent so many days of the last 13 years.

Cody and Senter take the teens out on the boat and I let them do their thing as I grab a blanket and take a nap in the grass waiting for others to arrive. Tim and Stephanie (Abby’s parents) arrive and we start the grill to cook some hot dogs for everyone. Later Ben and Ericka arrive and Ben has brought several cans of whip cream to have a whip cream fight with the teens. Towards the end of the afternoon the fight breaks out and we slightly “disrupt” a graduation party going on under the pavilion, most are amused but several were a little put out…sorry in not hanging with the sophisticated crowd, we like to have silly fun.

Post whip cream fight


We get the boat loaded up and for once I let them off from cleaning, I am headed to San Antonio to take the boat back to Chad and Callie (who are keeping it for me this season) and I don’t want to arrive too late.

It takes me about 2 hours and they have saved me some steak and corn for dinner, Chad also orders and picks up some green chili mac and cheese from Free Tails (another favorite of mine) and I have dinner. It has been a humbling experience for me both on the trail and back home to accept from others. I have such great people in my life and the trail is teaching me humility (some would say much needed).

We play some Halo, this is a special treat since Callie has not played with us in years, then watch a movie and head to bed. I will drive back to Austin in the morning to see what is next with the kids.

June 10 – Day 108
I spend the morning cleaning the boat so Chad does not have to deal with it. It is due for a very serious cleaning but that will have to wait until I’m back. I visit with Callie and play with my god daughter Addison, she I very much into princesses and wears a princess dress and boots to ride her bike.

Chad comes home for lunch and we have a nice healthy lunch, something I need to do more of! I pack up my stuff and head back to Austin.
The rest of the day is spent hanging round with the kids and catching up with some friends. I meet Senter and Megan for dinner and we have a nice visit, I then head back with them to Senters house to watch some tv and crash.

June 11 – Day 109
Today is my last full day in Austin and I don’t really have any plans. The kids want to see me again before I leave and a few of us end up hanging at the pool. I have plans to met the girls for dinner at Melanie and Dave’s house.

We have a good visit and then I head to Main Event to see some more of the kids in the rock gym, I say my good byes as I will be headed out in the morning, flying back to the east coast.

June 12 – 110
Not much to report today, just had many flight delays and ended up switching from American to Jet Blue to get to NYC. Took me almost 3 hours via subway and trains to get back to NJ…mostly because I was clueless on what I was doing!


A Cast of Characters – The Hikers of 2013 Update 1

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In no particular order…here we go, I will add more as I go

Pumpkin Pie




Wide Load


Witch Doctor and Camaro

Tarzan and Coffee Pot


Biscuits & Gravy and Chin Strap


Shutter Bug

Mot and Hoosier

Green Bean, Long Spoon, Ember, Tail Lights and Carjacker

Laser Death Kill and Long Spoon


Rainbow Braid

Shadow Wolf

Crazy Legs

Heart Rock

Tall Boy

Tracker and Dag


Don’s Brother


Grey Cloud

Hang Man

Road Runner



I’d Like To Check You For Ticks


“There’s nothin’ behind me and nothin’ that ties me to somethin’ that might have been true yesterday. Tomorrow is open; right now it seems to be more than enough to just be here today.

And I don’t know what the future is holdin’ in store, I don’t know where I’m goin’, I’m not sure where I’ve been. There’s a spirit that guides me, a light that shines for me. My life is worth the livin’, I don’t need to see the end.”

John Denver

5/25 – 5/27 Day 91 – 93
I decide to celebrate Memorial Day Weekend with Back Step at a lake for some camping and fishing. We meet Saturday afternoon and the lake and start casting some lines, me from the bank and Back Step from his kayak.

The thing to remember with fishing is that there are two different sports involved here…although the same in technique they differ greatly in result. There is fishing, simply casting a line and reeling it in…just enjoying the fluid repetitive motion…or you can toss out a cork and relax in a chair. With “fishing” you really are just enjoying the day and you kinda actually hope the fish don’t bother you. The other sport is catching fish…same technique but you actually pull fish in.

Nomad Fishing

I was fishing…Back Step was catching fish…I still had a good time!

Back Step catching fish


Unfortunately, most of the weekend I had miserable allergy issues and spent a lot if time drugged out of my mind with different over the counter medications. This put a hamper on the weekend for me and Back Step was very gracious and understanding. His wife drove out for a few hours and I wasn’t really able to visit. I finally broke down and saw a doctor after the weekend.

After leaving the park I head back out to the 501 Shelter to meet some other hikers and on the way I pick them up some dinner. The 501 Shelter is popular for several reasons, one being that you can order pizza and have it delivered. Unfortunately, they are closed every Monday (I knew this, that is why I picked up some Wendy’s). After chowing down with Ground Pounder, Chin Strap, Pumpkin Pie, Mot, Clark Kent and Warbler (I had not seen Warbler since first week of March) I call it a night and head for the van.

5/28 – Day 94
I get a text from Ground Pounder around 6:00am, yes I’m up, and he asks if I can walk out to the shelter to discuss a plan he came up with overnight…apparently he didn’t sleep much after downing 2 large cokes!

They want to try and reach Port Clinton today, a 23.3 mile hike which can be rough in PA with all the rock fields. They want to do it by slack packing (carrying just snacks and water) I will take their packs into Port Clinton. Pumpkin and Mot, being older hikers, are not sure if they can make the whole distance so I pick a pace about 10 miles down the trail where I will meet everyone for lunch, if they don’t want to go any further they can grab their packs and head for the next shelter 5 miles further down the trail…either way it makes for an easier day of hiking. It’s not the prettiest of days, it is already raining lightly and is supposed to get worse throughout the day. They unload their packs, we throw them in the van and they hit the trail. As I am getting ready to leave, Ned comes walking up. I first met Ned at McAfee’s Knob back in Virginia, he is from the UK and a nice guy. We are talking outside the van while he chugs a Mountain Dew and Ned notices a tick on his shirt. Deer ticks are bad in this area and can carry Lyme disease if they are infected. Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that can cause numerous health issues with a hiker if not treated. Ned sheds his pack and starts looking around on his arms and front of his shirt. He takes off his shirt and I check his back, neck, arms and back of his legs…laughing I tell him for the rest of the body inspection he is on his own!Ned turns out to be tick free and heads on down the trail.

I find the road crossing 10 miles down the trail and pull into the parking lot. I decide to set up my 10′ x 10′ pavilion to give a little shelter from the rain. They all filter in at different times and I feed them and visit with them about their wet hike. They leave with full bellies and ready to tackle the last 13 miles. Ned arrives and asks if there is room for one more pack, I tell him sure and he throws his pack into the van. Pumpkin Pie and Mot are the last two in and have decided to push on to Port Clinton, they are feeling pretty good and want to take advantage of some easy miles.

I head into Port Clinton to wait on my slack packers, figuring the first few should roll in around 4:30pm. I don’t have much to do so occupy my time with some reading and journaling. I’m taking a lot of allergy meds and end up dozing off sitting in the van.

Chin Strap is the first in and I drive him down to the pavilion to dry out, several of the guys had been talking about getting a motel room a few miles outside of town or staying at the small one in town, Warbler has offered me a bed in his room. As Chin Strap and I are hanging out I learn his plans to attend law school when he is finished with his hike. It is always interesting to hear future plans, you can never guess by looking at a hiker what he/she has done in the past or planning on doing in the future…it’s always a surprise!

Eventually all the hikers roll in and we head down to the motel in town, Clark Kent’s girlfriend met him at the pavilion and gives a few of them a ride. Chin Strap, Mot and Pumpkin Pie are staying at the pavilion…I am going to come back and take them to Cabelas, Walmart and dinner. After dropping off the other guys I head back to the pavilion, tenting across the street are 2 hikers and I head over to introduce myself and ask if they can keep an eye on the packs across the street in the pavilion. They are Panther and Olympian, they currently live in New Mexico but met in Austin working at Woods Fun Center (motorcycle shop)…it continues to be a small world on the trail. They are hiking a flip flop, this is where you hike the trail in halves. For example, they are hiking from Harpers Ferry to Maine, then they will travel back to Harpers Ferry and hike down to Springer in Georgia. An advantage of a flip flop is staying out of the bad weather the entire trip. They are happy to watch the packs and I invite them over to join us for breakfast in the morning…I will be cooking pancakes and sausage.
We head into town, doing a little shopping then head over to Red Robins for dinner. Mot offers to buy mine and I graciously accept. I have been extremely humbled out here on the trail as I learn to accept help from some as I extend help to others. I know that I cannot do this on my own and it is a good lesson for me.

After dinner we head back to the pavilion. Everyone is stuffed and tired and we call it a night…they sleep under the pavilion and I retire to my metal tent and read myself to sleep.

5/29 – Day 95
We are all up by about 6:45 and I get everything out to prepare breakfast. I have sausage links and patties and mix batter for regular buttermilk pancakes as well as a separate bowl to which I add fresh blue berries. As I am cooking, Chin Strap heads across the road to give Panther and Olympian a wake up shout for breakfast. I start flipping out pancakes and everyone is merrily chowing down.

Yesterday evening Pumpkin Pie, Mot and I had discuss another slack packing option, they really want to do miles and I have no where to be in any kind of hurry. I will meet them about 14 miles north just outside of the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary near the Eckville Shelter (which has a solar shower…which usually translates to a cold shower).

I drive everyone down to the trail head and they get started, we see Ground Pounder on the way he is headed to the pavilion to repack and get ready for the trail. While they are hiking I plan to see a doctor and get something for my allergies before meeting them for lunch.

I find the trail crossing on Hawk Mountain road and see three female hikers sitting down having lunch. I pass by then find a place to turn around then I have to pass the trail again to turn around and be pointed in the right direction. I’m thinking to myself that these girls must think I am a little creepy but they are happy to see me…they had seen my trail angel logo on the back of my van and new I was there to help. The three were section hiking 500 miles of the trail, they had just finished college in the south and were basically “walking home”. I give them cold sodas and some snacks and they continue on their way after signing the van. Afterwards in comes Roswell, who I have not seen since Waynesboro, and shortly after in comes Mouse Trap. I make some sandwiches and we catch up on trail news…as we are talking Chin Strap rolls in for lunch. These three are heading on to the next shelter so have about 5 miles left to go. Not long after they leave Pumpkin Pie and Mot come hiking in. We have a quick lunch and I drive them down to the Eckville Shelter, where we all grab a shower. We briefly meet the shelter caretaker who lives on site, he pretty much seems a grumpy old guy and not very friendly to hikers which makes you wonder why he would choose to be a hiker shelter caretaker…but I don’t know his story and I’m in no position to judge.

Mot’s shoes had a blow out on the trail and he needs some new ones, I drive him back to Cabelas and we stop at the pavilion on the way. Pack Rat is there and we catch up real quick. He is doing well and his leg has healed fine, at this point all of the “bubbles” have pretty much broken up into smaller groups and I realize that The Walking Dead are spread out over a hundred miles of trail.

I really like Pack Rat, he is a thoughtful and deep thinking young man, and I appreciate how after replying that he doesn’t need a ride or anything asks if there is anything he can do for me. I do get and accept a lot of help on the trail, I could not serve these hikers without them serving me in return…I am constantly humbled by these adventurers both young and old.

I get Mot to Cabelas and we run into Sandman in the parking lot, he meets us inside and we catch up as Mot looks for a new pair of hiking shoes. Sandman is doing well and is preparing to get off the trail to attend his college reunion.

Mot and I make a stop at McDonalds and grab some cheese burgers (of which I did not partake) and head back to the shelter. Two section hikers offer to pay me to shuttle them about 20 miles to their car near Palmerton. After dropping them off I stop at the hostel in town to see who is about. Lucky is reclining on a bunk and we chat for awhile, he had seen several other hikers yesterday including Ember, LDK and Long Spoon and I had missed Tail Lights by several hours. I head back to Cabelas to sleep in the parking lot and then plan to head north into New York to catch some of the northern hikers.

5/30 – Day 96
I have a 3 hour drive ahead of me and will be crossing New Jersey to get there. I had texted with Witch Doctor and I new he would be in Fort Montgomery NY today, Passover is with him and I know that Ayce is about 5 miles ahead. I have not seen Ayce since Harpers Ferry, he pushed big miles to meet up with his girlfriend (who I call Layover) for Memorial Day Weekend so is ahead of the group…Moose and Wide Load are about 2 days behind.

I had texted Ayce the day before and he contacts me on my way to NY, we will be arriving at Bear Mountain exit, where the trail actually goes through a zoo, about the same time. He will be waiting for me on the north side of the toll bridge that crosses the Hudson River. I pick Ayce up and we head into town for lunch that I insist on treating him to. While enjoying a large BBQ platter we catch up on life on the trail. Ayce is filling a little down and after 1400 miles into the hike really just wants to be done! He is happy to see me as he has been alone the past few days.

At this point of the AT most hikers that are not going to make it are already off the trail. I would estimate that there are probably about 500 to 600 thru hikers left and most are still south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Between the heat, the loneliness and just plain wear and tear on the body I am not surprised that some of the hikers are a little down.

After lunch, Ayce and I head back to the trail head to meet Witch Doctor and Passover, who are walking through the zoo. Ayce is getting back on the trail but they are wanting to take a nero. They try to convince Ayce to stay for the night but he wants to push on, he has a July 13th finish date in mind and really wants to hit it, at this point he only has 6 weeks left on the trail.

We say are good byes to Ayce and exchange smelly hiker hugs all around and then Witch Doctor, Passover and I head into town to find a motel. After checking into the room, they each grab a shower and I fix them sandwiches and hummus for lunch. We pretty much chill in the room before dinner and I venture into town to do our laundry and scope some places for dinner. After putting the laundry into the dryer I head back to the motel and pick them up. We decide to eat at a little burrito place and then grab some ice cream for dessert. We are across from Point West Academy and on a typically quaint little town Main St. We watch a movie back at the motel and call it a night.

5/31 – Day 97
We have not particular plans today other than a trip to the post office and restocking at the grocery store. Neither of them are real anxious to get back on the trail so we decide to go see a movie and enjoy some AC out of the heat. We find a theater a few miles away and grab lunch before going to the flick.

After the movie we find a grocery store and they resupply as I pick up some lunch items for my next day of trail magic. We drive back over the trail head and they get a late afternoon start back onto the trail. Once again they seem a little reluctant to leave as the trail is no longer that inspiring but they are going to push on and hike about 7 miles to a local monastery that lodges hikers for a night.

I have figured out a place to meet Moose and Wide Load for lunch and head in that direction. After locating the trail crossing I head back into a small town, grab some dinner and drive to Walmart for a parking lot to crash in.

June 1 – Day 98
I head out to the trail crossing and get set up in plenty of time. I am expecting them around lunch time, so I hit the trail headed south to get a few miles in before meeting up with them. I pass Ying and Yang, they are finishing up their thru hike from last year and I have seen their signature in some of the registries

A Look at New York AT


The terrain is very rocky with large boulders, I find myself climbing using hands and feet and realize that this would not be fun with a pack. I go a couple of miles in and mentally adjust their arrival time based on the terrain…it’s going to be a late lunch.

I get back to the parking lot and shortly after I meet two thru hikers from South Carolina. They had started on the same day as me but I never met them before, which is unusual but certainly not impossible. I give them a soda, they turn down an offer for lunch and hike on down the trail. The parking lot is filling up quickly as day hikers head in for the weekend I am glad I got there early and was able to park under a tree that offer some shade from the afternoon heat.

It is early afternoon when Moose and Wide Load walk into the parking lot. They are hot and tired and drop their packs so they can plop down into a chair. I grab 2 Mountain Dews and they press the cold cans to their face and neck before popping the top.

We catch up on the last few days of life on the trail and how other hikers are doing. Most thru hikers are able to stay in touch via cell phones but I usually have the latest news as I see and speak with many of them.

They are both beat and Moose exclaims, “I do not need to walk another foot today!” So we make plans to hit town and grab a room. I fix lunch as we chat and as we pack up Moose leaves a note for Blue Moon who is somewhere behind them.

We get a room, grab some showers and sit around watching tv. I am realizing that the miles and heat seem to be getting a lot of the hikers down. Pennsylvania was a rough state and the hike through New Jersey is only a few days…so far New York has been tough.

When you start a thru hike you are excited and ready to go! The days are tough as you develop your hiking legs but there are plenty of other hikers and lots of goals to achieve. Everything is new and exciting. Hikers who make it through the first few drop out points (Neals Gap and The Smokies) have set the goal to get through 500 miles of Virginia and into Harpers Ferry to register their thru hike. These are goals that they are all excited to make, not to mention crossing the official half way point of their journey.

Now they seem to be in a little bit of a funk. I believe most are still enjoying the hike although some have mention that they are not really having fun anymore and are pushing on because they want to finish. At this point the terrain is rough and not really inspiring and you really just want to be done. Hopefully the Whites will offer some more spectacular climbs and views. For now I am calling this condition the Mid Atlantic Blues.

Moose, Wide Load and I grab dinner at Chili’s and it is their treat, I appreciate it and buy some ice cream at Walmart to enjoy during a movie. We watch the The Princess Bride, which Moose has never seen, and then call it a night.

June 2 – Day 99
After breakfast we head to Walmart for a resupply and then drive to the trail. I decide to hike 2 miles up to Lemon Squeeze, a tight crack that you have to walk sideways through, with them but leave some drinks in a cooler for any thru hikers that may pass by.

I always enjoy walking with any of the hikers from my hiking bubble when I was still on the trail. I always feel accepted back as one of them and feel comfortable being on the trail without any gear. We are not strangers, we are friends sharing the same adventure just by different means. I often miss being a hiker but would not trade what I am doing this season, I was led and I followed, and I am glad that I found the ability to continue as He has willed and not as I have desired. As always, My Father knows what is best for me and what brings me happiness…He continues to fill my life despite my doubts…I am truly Blessed!

We make it up to Lemon Squeeze which is followed by an 8 foot climb that requires throwing your pack up a ledge and leveraging off a tree growing out of the rocks. I shoot some video of this area with some commentary by Moose, and then we sit on a ledge enjoying the afternoon. They drink the Mountain Dews I carried up for them as I enjoy some water. We are in no rush to move on in either of our directions so we just sit and talk about meeting up next and where we will be.

Wide Load and Moose enjoy a Mountain Dew


After saying goodbye, I head back down the trail and they hike north. It was a great day and a needed break for my friends. I pack up my cooler, no other hikers had come through, and I head back into New Jersey to meet up with Coffee Pot and Camaro who are staying at Coffee Pot’s mom’s house.

When I arrive, Camaro is writing on the balcony as Chevy stretches out soaking up the sun. I have not seen them in weeks and it is a happy reunion. Coffee is out picking up some hikers, which they have been doing the last few days, and after getting home fixes everyone some dinner. I meet her mom, Dorothy, who greets me with a big hug…it seems I am a stranger to no one.

After visiting with Ground Pounder, Patches, Chin Strap, Roswell, Tarzan, Coffee Pot and Camaro we all call it a night. I am going south to pick up Green Bean in the morning and it has already been a long day!

June 3 – Day 100
I drive a little south to pick up Green Bean in Vernon NJ, she has already hiked NJ and NY and wants a ride up to Connecticut. She is completing the hike in sections and she only has 3 states left after this year.

While waiting on her at the trail head I get a text from Long Spoon, he is with Tail Lights at a little farmers market about 50 yards from me, so I head over for a visit. I have not seen Tail Lights since Harpers Ferry and when I pull up he is half way through eating an entire peach pie! We catch up as we wait for Green Bean and Ember to find us.
When they finally arrive I make sandwiches for everyone and we talk about the location of other hikers. Ember shows me the blow gun he bought in Cabelas and demonstrates it by trying to shoot a dart through a can, he misses but I send a dart through both sides of the can my first shot! He bought it to try and shoot mice in the shelters…I’m pretty sure they are safe!

Long Spoon decides to hit the trail and Tail Lights and Ember will not be too far behind.

Green Bean and I say our goodbyes and head over to the church hostel in Vernon, where we have heard that LDK and Manchild are holed up, we just want to say hi real quick before heading up to Connecticut.

We find Carjacker at the hostel as well and they are sharing their stories about tick attacks on the trail. Manchild has counted over 200 ticks he has removed, mostly from his legs and LDK had to get antibiotics for a possible Lyme disease infection. LDK has also described several creative ways to kill ticks. We say our goodbyes and head up to Connecticut, I drop off Green Bean and head back to New Jersey…my home base for now. Coffee Pot cooks an awesome pasta dinner and we eat as a big happy family!

Coffee Pot’s homemade sauce


June 4 – Day 101
I receive some sad news that two of my previous ministry students father has died. I decide to make travel plans to head back to Austin to see them and attend the funeral. This will also give me the opportunity to take care of some other items and visit with all of my kids. I decide to take a week off in Austin and make my flight plans to head home.

I know this is what I need to do and there are no qualms that it is the right thing to do…but it feels a little weird heading home for a week knowing I will be heading back here to finish my ministry adventure.

I spend the rest of the day with Camaro and Coffee Pot and they take me to a motel in Newark where I will catch a shuttle to airport and then my flight back home to Texas.

Coffee Pot, Camaro and Me



The Half Way There Blues…


Nomad and Ariel at WWII Memorial

“Woke up this morning, I feel ’round for my shoes,
You know ’bout that babe, Lord, I had them old walkin’ blues…”

5/9 – Day 75
Not much to report today, Tarzan has decided to take a zero and hang out with his sister before getting back on the trail. It is basically a lazy day and I am able to catch up on some organization, reading and a little napping. I pick up some new hikers coming in: Chinstrap, Wild Rain, Shepherd and Not a Bear.

Some hikers are still getting sick and I’m ready to head north, after a trip south to Daleville, and catch up with other hikers in Harpers Ferry WV.

5/10 – Day 76
I drop off Tarzan and Shepherd at Rock Gap, where the trail head is at Waynesboro just before entering the Shenandoah’s. I take Cricket 20 miles south so she can slack pack the miles she missed the day before…she had to grab a ride in to town because her dog Roscoe was limping. I then drive Dovetail back north into the Shenandoah’s to where I had pick him up a couple of days before.

With all the hikers taken care of I load up Camaro, Coffeepot and Chevy and drive the 2 hours down to Daleville. We grab lunch at the coffee shop, meet a few new hikers and then I’m back on the road to meet up with my northern bubble.

It is a long drive and I think about things going on, I’m not really closer to figuring out what I want to do when I return and I know God will reveal His plan in His timing but I’m still not sure what my own desires are. I know I do not really want to go back to a corporate job, my heart is really still in ministry for students…unfortunately I’m not sure what that looks like anymore. I feel like the door has closed on my previous ministry at my church and I don’t know what that means to me as of yet. I have a 1200 miles of trail to cover and will be out here until sometime in mid to end of August…hopefully things will be clearer.

I get to Keys Gap just outside of Harpers Ferry and text my northern bubble. I just missed them by about 30 minutes and they are camping about 2 miles down the trail.
They will be getting an early start so they can be down at the AT Conservatory when it opens…this is where a thru hiker signs in, gets picture and is recorded as a thru hiker. I tell them I will meet them in the morning with breakfast.

I drive into Harpers Ferry to get the lay of the town, I see Larry Boy and Blue Moon in a local pizza place and stop in for a chat, they offer me some slices and I’m glad to accept! Dirty Mike and Mat are here with some family and friends.

I head into Charles Town to hit up Walmart and crash for the night (at Walmart) as always the van is comfy.

5/11 – Day 77
I get up early as usual, and decide I will cook breakfast in the Walmart, you can look for me on the Walmart redneck pic site. I fix up some sausage, pancakes (buttermilk and blueberry) and some scrambled eggs. I load up and head into Harpers Ferry to meet up with Wideload, Moose and Ayce.

I meet up with my group and we have breakfast and get signed in, at this point there have only been 78 thru hikers so far, this is the northern bubble but thought the numbers would be higher. We hang around the ATC waiting for the aqua blazers to get in, just before lunch we are joined by Witch Doctor, LDK (Laser Death Kill), Long Spoon, Passover, Ember, The Dude, Tail Lights, and Ember’s lady friend. We take group photo and then split up for lunch and other errands. We meet later for dinner and hit up another not so bueno Mexican restaurant.

The Gang at the AT Conservatory in Harpers Ferry, WV


5/12 – Day 78
Everyone heads out for the trail or catching the train to DC, I head north to meet my friend Bob, we have plans to hike the trail for the next week. We meet at Pine Grove Furnace Park in Pennsylvania to drop off his car and then we drive back to Virginia to drop off the VANIMAL and start the trail.

We park at The Bear’s Den Hostel (Shutter Bug had worked here)…I meet the new caretakers and they are really nice, they are letting me park the van for free…they have heard what I am doing for hikers.

We grab our gear and hit the trail, we have a 13 mile day planned but we are off to a
little later of a start then planned. As we are hiking I step over a 18″ copperhead (didn’t see it) and look back to see Bob take 3 steps backwards. The snake had coiled and he almost stepped on it. He has now earned his trail name “Backstep”. We get passed by Zippy and Diddo, the only hikers we have seen.

Standing next to the snake

Close up of Copper Head


We are not going to make our 13 miles to the shelter so decide to stop at the Blackburn Center where they have a free hostel/shelter to stay. There are 4 bunks so we will be in with Zippy and Diddo, we cook some dinner and get ready for bed.

5/13 – Day 79
We get a pretty good start in the morning and Backstep is having some back issues, he had taken a bad turn on a rock yesterday and has tweaked his back. If we are going to be “on schedule” we have a 16 mile day, with 11 miles to hit Harpers Ferry. The day is nice and other than the rocky terrain and some soreness we are doing fine, and I’m suffering from allergies…we are taking the opportunity that the trail affords to catch up on the last 5 years or so since we had last seen each other.

We stop at Keys Gap for lunch and actually cross from Virginia to West Virginia, I think this is the second time as the trail winds back around. At lunch we consider some optional plans and we are thinking of just stopping in Harpers Ferry for the day.

Just before entering Harpers Ferry we cross the Shenandoah River on a large bridge with lots of traffic. The wind is intense and on a couple occasions it feels like it is going to blow you right into the river! From the bridge we can the Potomac, the other river that borders Harpers Ferry and made it a very desired position during the Civil War.

We get into town and head for the Appalachian Trail Conservatory so Backstep can sign in as a section hiker and get a picture, he wants me in the pic as well so I find myself in the registry book for a second time.

Backstep and Nomad at AT Conservatory (it’s a kilt not a skirt)!


We decide to stay at the Tea Horse Hostel in town and walk over to check in, this is one of the nicest hostels I have been to and Laurel, the owner, is very friendly. The hostel is clean and very comfortable looking and has the first bunks I have seen not made of construction lumber!

I treat Witch Doctor to a room, he will be arriving from DC in the evening and we run into Clark Kent as well. The 3 of us decide to walk down to The Secret Six Tavern for dinner and we meet Witch Doctor and Bernstein Bear there as well.

After dinner we walk back to the Hostel and enjoy a very good nights sleep!

5/14 – Day 80
We start the day with a great breakfast at the Tea Horse and then Backstep and I head down into town to check out Historical Harpers Ferry, we also walk across the Potomac and cross into Maryland so we can say we walk thru 3 states!

Harpers Ferry is very cool and is rich in history, we read about the confederate army capturing the city under Stonewall Jackson and a lot of the original buildings are still around.

We have decided to end our hike and not risk exasperating any injuries, the owner of the Tea Horse has offered to give us a ride back to The Bear’s Den Hostel for free, normally a $50 shuttle, she has heard of me and again appreciates what I do for hikers.

We meet the former managers of Bear’s Den at the hostel and visit for awhile, they are being sponsored by Backpacker magazine to go around and demo different gear…they were picking up some of their stuff and headed down to Trail Days in Damascus.

We hit the road and drive back up to where we parked Backstep’s car, want to unload my cooler at the park so I find a stream and leave the sodas to stay cold…we also find a few hikers at the General Store and unload some other goodies. Hikers get a kick out of how i will show up somewhere when they least expect me!

We load up in separate cars and the head back to Malvern to hang with his family.

Backstep and VANIMAL


5/15 – Day 81
Backstep and his oldest daughter are going to take me to DC, Ariel goes to college there and works at one of the museums in the Smithsonian, they are going to show me the sights!

We tour the War Memorials and the Lincoln Memorial, then grab so lunch and head for the Smithsonian. We spend most of our time in the Space and Aviation Museum and I really enjoy it. We had over to the US Archives and get to see The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, The Bill of Rights and a copy of The Magna Carta.

We head back to Malvern and have dinner with the rest of the family…tomorrow we are going to go see the new Star Trek movie, Ariel and I are both Trekkies!

Nomad and Ariel at WWII Memorial


5/16 thru 5/20 – Days 82 thru 86
The next 4 days are pretty much just hanging around watching movies, eating more than I should and visiting with my friends. We go to a buffet in the Amish area of PA to celebrate Debbie’s birthday, the way we shovel it down would make any thru hiker proud!

As the new week begins I make my plans to meet up with some of my hikers, my first stop will be to catch the northern bubble up around Port Clinton just before the New Jersey border.

5/21 – Day 87
After a nice break with the McManus family, I load things up and head for Port Clinton, I’m going to see Moose, Wideload and Witch Doctor (he caught up with them yesterday). I have a 2 hour drive and need to stop for supplies, but should have enough time to met them in town, the trail will go right thru town in many of the trail towns.

After arriving in Port Clinton I drive around looking for white blazes to figure out where the trail enters into town and find the blazes right by the fire station…I park and wait for hikers to arrive. I see Wideload first and almost don’t recognize her, her hair looks blonder…Moose is right behind.

I break out the cooler and they enjoy a Mountain Dew and then…another one each! There is a pavilion at the end of town where hikers are allowed to camp and we have waited for Witch Doctor for about 45 minutes…we decide to head on down to the pavilion knowing he will contact us when he gets to town.

There are 2 section hikers at the pavilion who are a couple. Honestly when I first saw them I thought they were homeless and crashing at the pavilion. They have been hiking with nothing more then school book style packs and carrying tents and blankets in their hands. They are friendly and since they are hiking southbound share information about the trail further north.

Witch Doctor rolls into town and I pick him up, we make sandwiches catch up on the last week or so and make plans to head to Walmart and Cabelas for resupply…then grab some dinner of course!

We get our shopping and dinner out of the way and get back to the pavilion to find Bright Side, he informs us that Blue Moon should be in town tomorrow and is having a lot of trouble with his shoes. It is dark outside so that means it is time for bed, we say goodnight and I head for the van.


5/22 – Day 88
As always I’m up with the sun, which around here is about 6:15, I wait for the others to wake then join them in the pavilion. I slept pretty well but I have been having a lot of trouble with allergies in this very green and lush part of the country and I usually wake up congested and sneezing in the morning.

I drive my three up to the trail head and we say are good byes, they almost seem reluctant to leave, they have hiked about 1200 miles and are now counting down instead of up…it is a turning point in the hike and a lot of hikers are getting a little blue.

I head back to the pavilion, Bright Side and the section hikers need to resupply so I take them to Walmart and Cabelas. As we walk up from the parking lot at Cabelas we find Blue Moon standing out front, he is taking a video for his blog saying goodbye to his old and worn out shoes! He is happy to see us and needs a ride back to the trail head so waits for everyone to finish there shopping. I have to get a fishing license for this weekending I’m the first one out. Blue Moon is talking with a women who is curious about thru hiking and is considering the idea. Blue is a wealth of information, as any thru hiker would be at this point, and is giving her tips and advice.

We load up and I drop everyone off where needed. I am driving 1.5 hours down to Harrisburg today, I had received a text from Samson and his son is flying in to hike with him for a week and needs a ride.

I pick up Joel at the airport and we have about a 2 hour drive to Pen Mar Park, which is basically at the border of Pennsylvania and Maryland…this is also the Mason-Dixon Line where the South officially ends and the North begins! I have basically drive diagonally across Pennsylvania from the northeast corner to the southwest corner.

We find Samson and he is happy to see his son and thanks me for picking him up, he had covered my gas and makes a contribution to the cause. I meet Sandman (not Sandman69) and we are all joined by Peanut Butter, who I had given a ride to in Waynesboro. Pen Mar is a nice park with lots of picnic tables, restrooms and pavilions basically a thru hikers dream come true!

We all enjoy sandwiches for lunch and sit around talking, Sandman needs to go to Walmart and Samson and son do as well so we load up and head down the mountain to town. Sandman is going to stay in town and I decide to split a room with him, I always enjoy the opportunity to get to know new hikers better. We get our shopping down, drop father and son off at the trail and head to the motel. After a shower we go into town for dinner.

Usually when I meet new hikers they ask me my story, anyone who knows me knows I am a Christ Follower, but when talking with hikers I tone it down some. It’s not that I am trying to hide anything but here on the trail sometimes Christians have a not so favorable reputation. There are some churches that sort of force a little God on you to receive trail magic and I don’t want that reputation. Now so far I have not seen or heard of anything like that happening out here and any hospitality I have witnessed from churches and Christians has been incredible but that is just some of the rumors that float up and down the trail. I personally believe it is mostly found on various forum based websites but who knows…

Anyway, when sharing my story I tell everyone I am a man of Faith and follow where God leads me and He led me off the trail to serve hikers. Sandman is also a Christ Follower and we have a good conversation during dinner. He plans to go to med school after his hike and live in the inner city area of Philadelphia. We discuss the book by Shane Clairborne, Irresistible Revolution (I recommend it if you have not read it) and our other plans after finishing the trail. Sandman is a really cool guy and I look forward to keeping in touch with him on down the trail.

5/23 – Day 89
I take Sandman to the post office and then back up to the trail at Pen Mar Park. I texted with Nickelodeon yesterday and plan on meeting him, Yeh Blaze, Cricket and Roscoe (the dog) at the park for an early lunch or maybe it’s a second breakfast…

The day looks like rain so I carry the food and cooler to one of the pavilions and set everything up. Sandman hangs around for awhile and then hits the trail.

Around 10:00am Woodrow comes rolling in, I have not seen him in a few weeks and he sees me and heads over, we catch up as he starts snacking and we are waiting on the others. Shortly after in rolls the other three and we have our reunion, start in with stinky, sweaty hiker hugs (my favorite kind)!

We start eating an early lunch and in hikes Old English and Chapinara, I try to remember the last time I saw these two (they were not together then)…places and hikers on the trail tend to blend together while out here so it is hard to tell.

They join in on the food and while everyone is eating, Chapinlara slips me a couple of bills as a donation, I often get donations from hikers for gas and food and it helps to keep VANIMAL going down the road since gas is my biggest expense. It is not until later in the day that I check the bills in my pocket and see that he gave me two $100 bills! This is a very generous donation and will go a long way!

I have received lots of donations from hikers and from families of hikers to support these athletes as they trek 2180 miles to Maine. I love being out here but could not do it without financial and spiritual support!

Just as I am getting ready to pack it up in walks Rash and his girlfriend Sarah…she jokes about every time she drops him off at a trail head she sees my van. They are going to walk up to the Mason-Dixon line for a picture and I decide to join them…this way I can officially walk from the South to the North!

It is a sad parting for them, as Rash gets further north it has become too long of a drive for Sarah and they will not see each other until Mount Katahdin, the end of the trail.

After the hikers hit the trail, I hang around a little to see if anyone else is coming through. As I am getting ready to leave I walk up to the trail head, about 100 yards from the parking lot, to check for hikers and find Dirty Ernie…he completed a thru hike several years ago but gets out every year for a section hike. Dirty Ernie and his hiking buddy join me at the van for a soda and some snacks and then I hit the road headed to Duncannon PA to look for some of my other hikers. I usually hit small hiker towns like this and check the registries at motels, hostels and outfitters to see if any hikers have checked in.

I get to The Doyle Hotel, which is old and a little run down but very friendly. I meet Pat, the owner who lets me park out back for the night (sleeping in the van of course). Out front I run into Can’t Wait and we catch up, his dad is picking him up for a few zeros. I also have the pleasure of meeting Bag of Tricks a trail angel and section hiker that is super friendly and we visit for the evening as he tells me great stories about the trail.

During dinner in the bar I meet The Flying J’s a young couple from El Paso who started a thru hike last year but got off the trail due to sickness, she had gotten a parasite the one time they did not treat their water! Now they are back to finish up.

It’s looking like rain again so I head to the van to read and crash for the night.

5/24 – Day 90
It rained all night and the temperature dropped about 30 degrees, down to about 50, so a chilly morning…just 2 days ago we were complaining about how hot it was…careful what you wish for!

I met Bag of Tricks for breakfast, he had invited me the night before, and buys me a big breakfast. He had me try something called scrapple, which is apparently a Pennsylvania thing, he won’t tell me what’s in it which of course makes me skeptical. I decide to be a humble guest to a gracious host and take a few bites and I’m not really enjoying the taste. He chuckles and tells me the ingredients, basically everything that is left over from a pig after the good meats are taken…from snout to tail…ummm…yuck!

Everything else, especially the home fries, was delicious just as you would expect from a small town diner. I met and talk briefly with a southbounder named Belay then I load up and head out. My plan is to head up a little bit north to a shelter that is about 100 yards off the road called 501 Shelter and see I can find some of the hikers I am looking for…dang hikers can’t keep to a simple schedule and make my life easier! 🙂

God always places me where I’m needed, and after making a whim decision to stop for gas, I see Lucky walking out of the library…I would have missed him if I didn’t stop and he would have had a 4 mile walk back up to the 501 Shelter. I’m not sure if I have mentioned Lucky before, but he got his name from the tattoo on his butt that says Lucky…I’m pretty sure every thru hiker on the trail has seen Lucky’s butt and sadly even a few innocent bystanders! We catch up, as hikers always do, and I get information on where some of the hikers I am looking for are. Turns out they about 5 hours behind Lucky so I should see them today. It is funny the way news, rumors and information travels up and sometimes down the trail…it’s like a 2180 mile version of the game we played as kids called Telephone.

I check out the shelter and as shelters go it is the nicest one I’ve seen, nicer then some of the hostels! It is completely enclosed with bunks and has a sun light in the roof that is about 8′ X 8′. A lot of the shelters in PA have caretakers that upkeep them several times a week.

I’m able to get a hold of Ember on the phone and they have stopped in Lickdale for lunch, which is about 15 miles away, so I drive down to join them. I finally find Laser Death Kill and Ember, Long Spoon did not stop for lunch. Car Jacker is there and I meet hikers Green Bean and Mouse Trap.

After lunch I take those hiking on back up to the trail and then take Mouse Trap to find some a pharmacy so he can get some gauze and bandages. Apparently while somewhat intoxicated at camp he feel into the fire and burned his arm…certainly one of the disadvantages of getting drunk on the trail near a fire! I drop him off at a motel, where he is going to wait for a visit from his girlfriend. Mouse Trap is a nice young man and is appreciative of my help which I am happy to provide.

I head back up to the shelter and find that Long Spoon has arrived, Lucky is napping in his hammock and a few other hikers are hanging out…they are unusually quiet and no introductions are made. Long Spoon and I head out to the van to catch up and smoke our pipes, a new little vice I am trying out instead of cigars…of course I have a corn cob pipe since I am living in the mountains!

After the rest of the hikers roll in we head into Pine Grove to pick up some pizza for dinner. We eat in the shelter and I meet the parents of Buddy Backpacker (he is sleeping) Buddy is 5 years old and attempting to set the record for the youngest person to complete a thru hike. His parents tell me he is excited about it and they usually do about 16 miles a day!

I say my goodbyes and head down towards Reading PA which is close to the state park where I will meet Bob (Backstep) for a weekend of fishing.

As I am laying in the van in the Walmart parking lot (one of my favorite “camping” spots) I chat with Camaro on Facebook. She is still having trouble with her knee and looks likes her hike might be over, Chevy is still injured as well. I know this is hard for her and I have admired her determination to finish her hike despite the multiple injuries she had incurred. I try to cheer her up, reminding her she is young and can attempt the hike again, but as I would expect these attempts fall short.

God choose for me to get off the trail and serve and I followed in obedience…it was hard for me but it was my choice to listen and leave the trail. I can imagine that it is even more difficult when forced off the trail due to injury.

“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Galatians 5:13-14

God keeps us in stitches…

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If I had a tale that I could tell you, I’d tell a tale, sure to make you smile…

4/27 – Day 63
Today was a zero for Moose and Wideload and I had planned on spending the day with them and there family. Moose’s parents, Dave and Deb are very nice and fun to be with…the same with Wideload’s mom Ellen. We spend a beautiful day walking thru the town of Lexington, which is a neat little place of restaurants, shops and pubs.

We have a nice lunch at an outdoor cafe and then follow it up with fresh made ice cream from a little ice cream shop. Although I get 5 to 10 miles on the trail a couple of times a week, I’m going to have to exercise more and eat less!

4/28 – Day 64
It’s time to say goodbye and head south again to check on the kids. Wideload and Moose will get back on the trail and try to catch the rest of the bubble, they are probably about 25 miles behind. I probably won’t see any of the northern bubble until Waynesboro in about a week.

I drive south to Newport and set up on a gravel road where Packrat, Nickelodeon and I were about a week ago. I should see this group of still recovering hikers roll thru at lunch. It is a rainy day, but not too cold so good for burning miles.

Camaro is the first to arrive and she climbs in the van, happily reunited with Chevy her dog. We fix up some lunch and discuss her plans. I continue to be concerned about Camaro, she is still hiking with tendinitis in both Achilles’ tendons, and keeps pushing her recovery. she has agreed to get off the trail and allow her injuries to heal but she has pushed that date out another 10 days or so. If she ruptures a tendon then it is game over and possibly permanent damage. I pray regularly for her and trust that God will take care of her.

The rest of the crew is doing pretty well as far as recovery goes and should be good to continue hiking as long as they kept to a slower and easier pace. We all have lunch, including some awesome leftovers from Wideload and Moose’s family, and they head back out into the rain to finish their hike.

Zach decides to ride into town with me for the night, Tarzan is already there visiting a friend at Virginia Tech, and we will join him in Blacksburg for dinner. Blacksburg is a neat little college town and we all have a nice dinner down by the farmers market. Zach and Tarzan will hit the trail again in the morning and I will take the time to restock and get a few things in order. I noticed there was a Chipotle in town and I am excitedly planning lunch there tomorrow!

4/29 – Day 65
I get to sleep in since I have all day and nothing much to do. I take care of some shopping and then head into town to have a burrito bowl at Chipotle…I have not had my favorite lunch in two months and I’m looking forward to it!

After lunch, I finish my shopping and decide to treat myself to a movie before finding the kids. I get a message from Nickelodeon as the movie is ending that they are going to stay at the Four Pines Hostel in Catawba, which is about a 10 mile hike south of McAfee Knob. I drive out that way to meet them, stopping at Taco Bell to bring a little fast food dinner to the hungry hikers.

I arrive at the Hostel and get to see all the kids, plus Leprechaun, Fly and a few others. I meet Tinman for the first time and another guy who is section hiking.

The Four Pines Hostel is basically a 4 car garage with a bunch of old couches, cots, patio recliners and tables scattered about. It has a few tables, a refrigerator, microwave and stove. From any other standard it’s a hovel… to a thru hiker it is awesome! It’s warm, it’s dry and you can hang your wet gear to dry.

We all visit through the night and watch a movie on my computer. Most of the sleeping areas are taken so I crash in my van.

4/30 – Day 66
It’s a misty morning and I’m up with what can be seen of the sun, my sleep had been continuously disturb by an overly zealous rooster who felt it was necessary to crow every 15 minutes since around 4:00 AM….I’m thinking that he would be excellent fried and served with fresh corn on the cob!

The kids are up and moving slowly and I am going to meet them about 6 miles down the trail for lunch and will hike up to McAfee’s Knob with them. I head out so I can resupply and be set up when they arrive.

After setting up in the parking lot, I see one thru hiker come down the trail and I make him a sandwich with a coke. He sits and visits for awhile and then heads for one of the shelters about 4 miles up the trail.

The Walking Dead start to filter in and I start feeding them. Everyone seems to be doing pretty good and are in high spirits, they are ready to get up to the knob as it is one of the most popular “Kodak moments” on the trail.

A little magic before McAfee Knob


Tarzan had already caught the crew but Zach had decided to sleep in at the shelter so no telling when we will see him. We hang around for awhile as other hikers come in and eat, then around 3:00 we decide to get ready to hike up to the knob. I lock up the van but leave the cooler and stuff out so any thru hikers can help themselves to some sandwiches, cokes and chips. I leave a note telling them to do so and that I will be back in the evening.

It is an easy hike up and I spend some time hiking with Tarzan, as usual is is sporting nothing but short yellow shorts and his Patagonia hat. He is a great young man and I enjoy visiting with him on the hike. Yesterday I bought him a paperback copy of “Tarzan of the Apes” to read, so he could learn more then the Disney version of his trail name!
He is excited to start college and is anxious to get done with the trail. He has been hiking with his sister, Coffee Pot, but hikes a lot faster so is going to jump ahead in the next few days. He is the only one in this group that is not injured and I can sense that the slow pace of the Walking Dead is wearing him down…he really is ready to start cranking out bigger miles.

We get up to the knob and the clouds have rolled away to blue skies and sunshine. Apparently the flies and mosquitoes enjoy the knob as well since they are swarming everywhere. We take a few photos and I head back down to wrap up my day of trail magic.

Tarzan fights the Walking Dead

Nomad and Camaro on McAfee Knob

Nomad on McAfee Knob


On the way back down the trail I run into a few thru hikers who found my note and the cooler, they thank me for the grub and we chat for just a little bit. I get back to the van, packs things away and decide to stay here for the night. I will do some more trail magic in the morning and then head to Daleville in the late afternoon.

As I am chilling in the van watching a movie, I see a hiker head lamp shining down the path. It is Zach, guess he finally got up, and he is going to continue on another 5 miles to catch up with the other hikers. He will be crossing the knob in the dark so not much of a photo opportunity for him.

5/1 – Day 67
Once again I am up with the sun, seems to be a permanent habit now. It is another drizzly morning and as I pop out of the van I meet Wild Rain, she had camped just a few miles up the trail and was startled by some movement in the woods and got an early start.

I head back down to Salem to pick up some ice and other items. I park the van where I can see the trail from the back seat and lounge around ready as I wait for any hikers to come through.

My first hiker to show up is GRRRR…I have met him once before and he is happy to grab a sandwich before heading up to the knob. Just a little later Flowing Waters and Twisted Knickers show up for a little lunch as well. The day is still overcast and they are hoping for blue skies, the local weather is predicting sun in a few hours and they should hit it perfectly on the knob (as I am typing this the skies are mostly clear and it is just about the time they should be on the knob).

GRRRR enjoys a sandwich


I don’t except any hikers through for the next few hours, I will hang around until about 5:00 in case I see any stragglers then head into Daleville to catch up with the kids.

As I start thinking about packing up, in rolls three new hikers, we do quick introductions and I start fixing some sandwiches. I have not met these guys before and they are cool to hang out with.

They finish up and head back up the mountain, hikers are normally reluctant to leave after a nice lunch and a few sodas! I’m starting to pack things up when in comes Raider…he’s not looking for food just some help…he had slipped on some mud and cut his elbow. He did a quick field dressing with duck tape and a pad and asks me to take a look, my best guess is it needs stitches so after packing up I take him to the hospital.

On the drive Raider and I start to chat, he is a Christ Follower too and we talk about how evident God is out here on the trail and closer we feel to His presence. Raider gets 5 stitches and I take him back to the trail, we decide to meet in Daleville for lunch.

I drive into town a little later then I expected and meet the kids at the HoJo, we load up and head to the Three Little Pigs BBQ…although the sauces needed to be combined to get close to something I’m used to, it is well smoked and seasoned and very delicious!

5/2 – Day 68
Most of the northern bubble has arrived in Waynesboro, where some will be beginning their Aqua Blaze. I believe it will be Long Spoon, Laser Death Kill, Witch Doctor, Taillights, Passover, Ember and The Dude. Aqua Blazing is renting a canoe and paddling about 100 miles of the Shenandoah River. To a purist, this is not part of a thru hike, but it is all about the adventure and continuing north to most…look at me I’m going north in a van!

I met up with a few hikers and several get on their way, Tarzan is heading on without his sister Coffee Pot, who is still injured and will probably need an MRI and weeks of rest. Camaro is pushing on, as is the rest of the Walking Dead, and this frees me up to head up to Waynesboro and hang with the northern bubble for a day.

The drive is uneventful and I get there in time to take Long Spoon to a town a few miles away so he can pick up his trail instrument, a small specially made mandolin. Laser Death Kill rides along so we can stop at Walmart and pick up some material so they can make sarong (a wrap around skirt popular on tropical islands)…apparently it is has been determined that everyone Aqua Blazing must do so in a sarong.

I remember when I met these two about 12 miles outside of Franklin in early March…they were having one of their usual “debates” and I found them loud and somewhat obnoxious. I assumed they were fast hikers and I would not see them again…never would I have guessed that I would be driving in a van with them to buy material to make skirts for other hikers. Our God is a mighty God…but he has a great sense of humor!

Others in the group where on various errands but we are all hungry and it is dinner time. We walk into town to a burger place called Heritage on Main and have really good gourmet burgers! Ayce orders a burger that instead of a bun has 2 grilled cheese sandwiches!

After a good dinner, we walk to Krogers and pick up some ice cream, tonight will be movie night (watching a movie on my computer). We watch Jeremiah Johnson and eat ice cream, the ending of good day!

5/3 – Day 69
In the morning I have breakfast with Blue Moon, Larry Boy and Clark Kent (I have not seen Clark Kent since my first few days on the trail). After breakfast I shuttle them to the trail head…while dropping them off we run into Trail Movin, he is off the trail but lives in the area and is shuttling around a few other hikers.

I hang out with my friends the rest of the morning and we snack for lunch. We are hanging out behind the YMCA where you can camp for free. I say my good byes and the group is now split up between Aqua Blazing and White Blazing…there is a chance they will all come together in Harpers Ferry.

I pack up and head back to Daleville.

5/4 – Day 70
Hanging out in Daleville there is not a lot going on, I’m waiting to see what some of the more seriously injured walking dead are planning…Camaro is still on the trail but checking in daily and Coffeepot is trying to figure out her next move. I really want to head north but today just might not be the day.

I shuttle some hikers up the road and take Frost up to drop off his car at the foot bridge across the James River. His fiancé is hiking a few days with him (she thru hiked in 2005), he had asked her to marry him on Max Patch on the trail and they will get married when he finishes his hike.

Frost is carrying some nice camera gear and is shooting his own documentary of the trail. He takes a week off here and there to edit his film…he started the trail early February and was the hiker that gave Camaro her trail name.

Paraguay and Twix gives us a call and want us to join them and his parents for a deli style dinner at their motel. Coffee and I head over and we enjoy a nice visit, we catch up and get news about Daddy Long Legs, who is off the trail with a stress fracture.

I get a call from Camaro and she is going to get off the trail tomorrow near Glasgow and we now have a plan to pick her up at lunch, looks like I will finally get to head north!

5/5 – Day 71
We meet Paraguay and Twix for coffee then head to Glasgow to pick up Camaro, once there Chevy and Camaro have a happy reunion and we do a quick reorganization of the van. My plan is to head into Waynesboro to meet up with Samson who I have not seen since early March at the Blueberry Patch. Camaro is not thrilled about going to Waynesboro, she does not like to go somewhere north that she has not hiked to, but the VANIMAL is going north so she will just have to deal with it.

We pick up Samson at his motel and head into town for a burger, we see Z and Justin and they join us for dinner. Samson picks up the tab and treats everyone to their meal, it was very nice of him. We get the chance to catch up and I am happy to hear about his adventures on the trail. I get to share about my mission that God has led me to and he is happy for the decisions I have made.

I call it a night after bringing some ice cream bars back to hikers at the hotel for dessert and plan to crash in the van. Z has an extra bed and invites me to stay with him, I am happy to crash on a bed for the night!

5/6 – Day 72
I’m up early and Z needs a ride to the outfitter so I run him out there. While there we see Smooth Sailing and Dovetail. Later I run Hoosier and his friends up to the outfitter as well and basically spend most of the day shuttling around hikers.

Several of the hikers in the area are sick with some kind of stomach bug, I was going to go north and do some magic but decide to stay in Waynesboro for a day or two just to make sure I don’t spread anything north…I’m not feeling sick just don’t want to risk anything.

I visit with Hoosier and his friends and we head to dinner, we caught up with Joe the Hiker at the outfitter and he goes to dinner with us. Joe has an extra bed so I crash with him.

5/7 – Day 73
Yes, yes I’m up early. We have been having a lot of rain and the temperatures are in the 50’s which makes for some cold, miserable hiking. I spend most of the day picking up wet, cold hikers. I pick up Barking Spider and Stretch, I had met them a few days ago at Freshground’s Leap Frog Cafe. Freshground is an awesome Christian man who will set up along the trail for a week or two and serve awesome food.

On my way to get them I pick up Chinstrap and Peanut Butter and they roll with me to pick up the other hikers. When we get there Stretch is shivering and her teeth are chattering, we get her in the van and wrap her in a blanket.

I get a call from Hoosier and they have made it 12 miles into the Shenandoah’s but are wet, cold and one of the gals is having knee problems…so I head up to pick them up and take them back to the hotel.

Gypsie Soul, Why Not, and Hoosier


Coffee Pot and Tarzan have invited me to dinner and we are joined by Raider, the former Marine who needed stitches a few days ago.

I get invited by Rash to crash on their fold out couch at the Holiday Inn Express (a huge step up from most places we stay).

5/8 – Day 74
I’m still in Waynesboro and hoping to get north soon. Camaro and Coffee Pot have made arrangements for a place to stay for a week or so while they recover. I will be getting back on the trail for a week in the 12th to hike with my old buddy Bob, so my hikers are going to have to make it on their own!

I get a lot of the hikers back on the trail, pick up Dovetail who is feeling sick again. I hang out with Tarzan, Rash and Groundpounder after a big lunch at the Chinese Buffett.

Hikers returning to the trail


We grab some dinner and head back to the motel for the night, I’m sleeping in the van which is always fine with me as I get some “alone” space for the night.


Quality Time with the Walking Dead…


4/17 – Day 53
While crashed on the couch I meet Shelly, who is in first grade. She does not seem too disturbed to see a somewhat smelly, unshaven and bearded stranger sleeping on her couch. We start talking about things that are important to a first grader and end up on the topic of the deliciousness of blue berries.
Later Jason or Bird comes in and is not surprised at all by another person sleeping in the house. He tells me that is what his mom does, she takes in strays. He is a very smart and witty kid and funny as well. The term stray seems to fit well with thru hikers although I think Chevy (the dog) was a little put out by it… 🙂
Today Camaro is doing another slack pack of 10 miles and I decide to go with her. Holy Begeebers will drop us off at one trail head and we will leave the van at another. I continue to be concerned about Camaro’s injury, achilles tendinitis in both of her feet, which seems to be pretty common on the trail. I know it is painful for her to hike even without a pack and she has full intentions of hiking out of here in the next day or so.
I cannot help but think of her as another one of my kids, not trying to patronize, but she is capable of making her own decisions and I am here to support and help…and of course pray for her as well.
It is nice to get on the trail again, as usual, and we get to share more of our stories with each other to pass the time. We are hiking this section as southbounders so we run into several Nobos. I get to meet Blue Moon and he mentions that he lost his sleeping pad (we see a section hiker at the next shelter who found it and I am going to catch him in Pearisburg and get it back to him on Friday.
We finish the hike just as it is getting dark and walk back to the van and drive back to Holy Begeebers (Shannon’s) house. I’m able to get in touch with our group of hikers and they are in Pearisburg, which is about 30 miles away and they will head back out in the morning.
Holy Begeebers is excited about everything AT now and is going to hike a 5 mile day with us tomorrow.
4/18 – Day 54
Everyone wanted to sleep in so I lounge on the couch until about 9:00. Zack hit the trail early and I go pick up Smuggles at his motel. While we are gone Holy Beegeebers makes a big breakfast for all of us, she is excited about hitting the trail. 
We drop VANIMAL off at our stopping point and get ready to drive around to the trail head, where we will start our hike. I leave a note on the van window…when hikers see VANIMAL they are expecting some trail magic and I don’t like to disappoint…so we place some sodas in the stream to stay cold. While driving to where we will start our hike, Smuggles and Holy Beegeebers are having a rap singing contest, and they are both really good rappers and funny to boot!
We get to the next gap and find Zhivago sitting at the gap, he is getting off the trail and headed home. I first met Zhivago in Georgia and I have seen him off and on. We hit the trail and Chevy takes off at a full run, she is obviously excited to be back in the mountains. We start off at a leisurely pace and get a mile in when HBG (Holy Beegeebers) needs a rest. Right now is not the right time for her introduction to the AT so while Smuggles, Camaro and Chevy keep going we head back to her car.

Hiking with Trail Angel Holy Beegeebers

As we are walking back we meet Snow Frog, Boo Boo, and Can’t Wait. They are headed to the gap where the van is parked and we tell them we will be set up for trail magic. We get back to the van and get set up just in time for our three Canadians to come rolling in. This was the 600 mile mark for Camaro and Chevy.
Hikers start to roll in and we start to feed them. HBG is enjoying the trail magic and thinking of ways she can do some magic in the future…I think she is hooked on hikers and the trail!
We see Zack coming down the road and happy to see him! Later Smooth Sailing and Roswell come strolling in. Zack and Smuggles have decided that they will adjust their pace to hike with Camaro and I’m relieved that she will have some friendly faces with her tomorrow.
We wrap up our trail magic and Zack joins us to head back to HBG’s casa, I have invited her family and our crew to dinner my treat for all the love and hospitality we have received! We decide on Outback (even though we have two vegetarians) and actually have to drive into West Virginia to get there.
After a big dinner we head home, Smuggles is a very funny guy and he entertains the kids on the drive up as well as the drive down.
Camaro, Zack and Smuggles work out a plan to get into Pearisburg by Monday, leaving tomorrow which is Friday. I am headed up to Pearisburg in the early afternoon to check on a few other hikers that I have heard have injuries.
The trio will do a 5 mile hike, with Camaro carrying her gear, and then stay with HBG tonight then head out for 25 miles over the next couple of days into Pearisburg. Unfortunately, the weather is not the best and they will see some rain. I plan to meet them in Pearisburg on Monday and assess the situation. Smuggles will get off the trail and ride with me, he was not thru hiking, just out for a few months and then headed home in a week. 
4/19 – Day 55
I get into Pearisburg and head over to pick up Pack Rat, Nickelodeon, and Car Jacker. All three are having some type of below the knee injury and need a lift to the hospital.
More tendinitis, some shin splints that are now minor fractures, and one case of plantar fasciitis. 
I see some new faces at the motel but mostly familiar faces: Tarzan, Coffee Pot, Hoosier, Sparks, Caribou, Dove Tail, Mot, Pumpkin Pie, Dirty Mike, Rash and Gummy Bear. Hugs are passed all around and I bounce around the rooms visiting with everyone.
We all go to dinner at the Mexican restaurant across the street, it is ok and I have not really had good Mexican food in awhile…of course the company is great!
I have plans to do some trail magic in the morning and meet up with my old hiking crew (affectionately known as the Donner Party)…I have estimated where they will be and I’m hoping I’m right. I invite Nickelodeon and Pack Rat to ride along, injured hikers do not like to spend time in town for two reasons: first, it costs money and second it’s pretty boring! I crash in the van to avoid the cost of room and sleep soundly.
4/20 – Day 56
We get on the road around 9:00 after saying good bye to hikers hitting the trail. The weather has turned cold again but it’s sunny and no longer raining. We have picked a spot to do some magic and I’m pretty certain I will catch my group. We set up on a little gravel side road right off the main road, the trail passes between two pieces of private propriety and seems like one of the sections where they had to buy land to continue the trail.
We get our first hiker about 30 minutes later, his name is The Dude and he actually started on January 5th but had to get off the trail for 3 weeks. We feed him then he hikes on, we are the first trail magic he has experienced.
I take a hike up to the shelter to post a sign in case any hikers are stopping for lunch and it is a pleasant walk through open pastures of rolling green hills which turn into the woods and criss crosses several streams (or maybe the same one). The shelter is really nice and I sign the registry, post my sign and then head back to the van. I had passed section hiker named Camel on the way up and told him about the trail magic at the van…I catch him just as he reaches the van.
Pack Rat and Nickelodeon are really getting into the whole trail magic thing and serve their fellow hikers graciously. We don’t discriminate at the van…if you are hiking we will share the magic!

Nickelodeon makes a special sandwich

We have a Boy Scott leader come in before his troop and offer him a Mountain Dew and a seat. He joins us for. Few minutes then signs the van and makes a $20 contribution…that is an expensive Dew! 🙂
Around 4:00 or so Witch Doctor actually manages to sneak in and surprises us, we really were not paying attention since we could see hikers from about 50 yards away.
My bubble is here and I’m excited, everyone starts rolling in and it is a fun reunion! It’s actually been a week since I had seen them last! We break out the rest of the food and everyone digs in! It is like a swarm of locust descending upon a corn field! I fill them in on what is happening down the trail and with other hikers and they share stories from the trail. It’s funny how much hikers will eat Nd what they will eat (which is just about anything! We have sandwiches, pudding cups, yogurt, cereal, juice, chips, salads, dips, cookies, fruit and candy…they eat any and all! As I am getting things ready to pack up I’ll say, “I have two slices of turkey and a piece of cheese…someone needs to eat it!” And of course it gets consumed, but not before dipping it in the guacamole dip!

Witch Doctor relaxes during trail magic

We make plans to meet next weekend, Wide Load and Moose has family meeting them and I have been invited to join in. 
We clean up and load up and head back to town, the boys really enjoyed their day of trail magic and we are going to celebrate another hiker’s birthday tonight, Z is in town and turning 28. We hit the little Mexican place and I buy dinner for the bubble I affectionately call “The Kids”.

Celebrating Z’s 28th Birthday

I stay the night with Hoosier and let Pack Rat have the van so he can save some money. Tomorrow we will hit up a little more trail magic and I believe Coffee Pot will join us for the day. 
4/21 – Day 57
Hoosier and I visit in the morning, he prays for us then hits the trail. I grab a shower and start to gather my current crew. I had a text message from Shutter Bug and she believes she will be in Damascus on Tuesday, she is taking it easy and her ankle is holding up. I’m really thinking about going back to see her (even though it gets me precariously close to Tennessee!) I will discuss it with whatever crew I have at the time!
Coffee Pot, Pack Rat and Nickelodeon load up and we are going to head a little south this time…I have left my boots at HBG’s and they are going to bring them out, this will also give me the opportunity to check on Camaro.
We set up just past Woods Hole Hostel and wait for our hikers, I walk down to the hostel and introduce myself to the owners, they are very cool and it is one of the nicest hostels I have seen. They raise chickens, bees and goats and she is a massage therapist and does yoga with the hikers.
Our first hiker in is Old English and he enjoys a little repast before heading to the hostel. Later we see Dirty Bird, who is on her 10 year anniversary thru hike, and looking good for her second one. Camaro and Chevy come rolling in and they are looking pretty good. We start getting them fed just as Joe the Hiker strolls in!
Smuggles and Zach come rolling in and we get a visit from the Berry family, Holy Beegeebers gets to say one final good bye! Chevy is limping again so Smuggles comes to the rescue!

Smuggles to the rescue

We all decide to stay at Woods Hole Hostel, it is really nice and the owners organically farm and raise chickens etc. While we are there Camaro gets sick with a fever and we decide to stay another day.
I shuttle around some hikers and run some errands into Pearisburg. Coffee Pot cooks us some dinner and I crash in my van.
4/22 – Day 58
Camaro is feeling better and we spend a lazy day at Woods Hole. I shuttle more hikers around and we plan are next day. Camaro, Smuggles and Zach are going to hike into Pearisburg the next day, doing a light 10 mile day. Chevy will be in the van with me.
There is a weird vibe at the hostel and everyone is ready to leave…
4/23 – Day 59
We head into Pearisburg, some hiking and some in the van. I got to meet Witch Doctor’s parents and they signed the van.
Smuggles and I make plans to head to Damascus to surprise Shutter Bug who we hear will be arriving and taking a zero. 
All of the kids head out onto the trail in different groups of injured hikers, all planning low mileage days, after Damascus I will head back north to catch up with the northern bubble. Coffee Pot and I make pancakes for breakfast and I say good bye to the Walking Dead (a common name for a bubble of hikers getting back on the trail after injuries or illness).
4/24 – Day 60
We get to Damascus and park in front of the Blue Blaze Cafe and first person we see is G, we exchange hugs and ask about Shutter Bug who we find out is in the library. Smuggles walks over to surprise her and I hang with G.
We have a great reunion with Shutter Bug who is very surprised to see us! We grab a late lunch at the Blue Blaze and then head over to visit Fidget and Dotcom, my Texas friends. They invite us for a nice light dinner of cornbread and beans and insist that we stay the night.
We stay up and visit for awhile, as always we share stories of the trail. It is time to call it a night and I sleep well in a comfortable bed.
4/25 – Day 61
In morning Dotcom fixes us pancakes with real Vermont maple syrup, I get teased for asking for “real” store bought syrup…the maple is just too strong for me!
Smuggles and I say our good byes and we head north. We are going to stop north of Roanoke and hike up to McAfee Knob, which is one of the most photographed parts of the trail. We arrive in the early afternoon and Smuggles loads his pack with sodas and a few beers to share some magic at the knob. We head up for what should be an easy 8 mile day and it is a pretty, sunny day.

Smuggles and I on McAfee Knob

Smuggles enjoys a cold beverage on McAfee Knob

We see a few tourist hikers but no thru hikers until we get up to the knob. We share the drinks and take some photos and enjoy the view and the day. Smuggles is getting off the trail today and will met a friend in Lexington so we hike back to the van so we can drive into town. We meet his friend Scott in town and have a nice dinner. I say my good byes to Smuggles and then go in search for a dog friendly place to stay.
4/26 – Day 62
I actually sleep in and take my time getting ready, I am meeting up with the northern bubble and will also meet Chris and Cassandra’s parents. I pack up and head out to Thunder Overlook off the Blue Ridge Parkway, a very scenic drive.
The first hiker in is Witch Doctor followed closely by Ayce and Passover…I crank up my new generator and make a few grill cheese sandwiches as the rest of the hikers roll in. We are joined by Moose and Wideload’s parents and they have brought a feast!
We spend most of the afternoon hanging out, eating, enjoying the sun and each others company. This northern bubble is breaking up a little, Lazer Death Kill is a day behind and Moose and Wideload are getting off the trail for a zero day (I will be hanging with them and then heading south to check on my other hikers…The Walking Dead bubble).
Those hiking on pack up and head out, we load the vehicles and head into Lexington VA for a night and day of zero miles.

The Whole Gang: Dave, Deb, Ellen, Wideload, Moose, Long Spoon, Tail Lights, Passover, Ember, Nomad, Manchild, Witch Doctor and Ayce


Hoi Polloi…


I’ll save you the trouble of googling my title, it basically means: “the common people”. That is what we are out here on the trail, and I’m not just talking about the fact that most of us smell, always hungry and walking north (not to mention shaggy, wrinkled, tired and joyful).

No…what makes us the common people, our commonality, is that we are all seeking something out here that we can’t seem to find anywhere else.

The ages on the trail are mostly divided into two age groups, under 25 and over 50. You will see some other ages scattered in between these ages but not too much. So basically you have either not started your “career” or you have just ended your “career” at times I truly envoy the under 25, that they would come out here to gets some answers first and experience the magic that God has placed on this trail before letting the world drag them into complacency of American life.

So what are we all searching for? Answers, spirituality, God, freedom? Yes and no and maybe…but we are all searching on the trail. When I have these conversations with hikers it does seem to focus on what is next and the magic of the trail is helping them figure these things out.

I know for me, I am trying to figure out the same thing. I often believe I could be perfectly content to continue to drive along these mountain roads in aid to hikers (although it doesn’t pay well) but honestly I miss my students soooo much, they are the ones who bring joy to my life. As much as the freedom of the trail calls me I know I will go home to Austin and my kids!

Shaggy Ponies and Beads…


4/10 – Day 46
We get a good early start and I have a van load of injured hikers, our merry band is nicknamed “Captain Nomad and the Rangers” or “Nomad and the Gimps”, we get to Elk Garden Pass and I anxiously wait for the group so I can jump back on the trail with my friends. I will hike thru the Grayson Highlands, a part of the trail I was looking forward to seeing. I am excited to hit the trail again even if it is only for a day and a half!

We got lots of hikers in for our lunch set up and although we see a lot of familiar faces, as we pace our bubble of hikers, we see a few new faces as well. My extended family of hikers is growing and we now greet each other with hugs…despite the smell!

I get on the trail with my buddies and they let me set the pace, when you are on the Nomad Train, you are not moving too quickly! We get into Grayson Highland State Park and we are all excited to see the wild ponies. It is a beautiful spring day and the sun is shinning…it is one of the nicest days I have experienced on the trail.
Tom (Long Spoon formally Dry Spot) keeps joking about saving his wild pony that he calls Gaylord. As we approach the first shelter about 4 miles in we see several ponies down in a field. Tom is already down there as we drop our packs and head down…he is feeding “Gaylord”. The ponies are used to humans and probably used to being fed, so two of them come walking up…we pet and feed them then they start licking the salt off our arms and legs. It is weird but not an unpleasant feeling to be licked by a wild pony, in fact it’s somewhat therapeutic.

We walk up to the shelter and Camaro is there alone, her Achilles’ tendon is hurting and she doesn’t want to push on…we have already decided to go to the next shelter just over 5 miles further down trail. She doesn’t want us to leave, and I know how she feels, we are like a small family and like to be together.

Cassandra (Wide Load), EJ (Pass Over) and I hit the trail followed a little later by Alex (Ember) and Chris (Moose). I enjoy the late afternoon hike and we stop for some pictures.

We hike a little further past Wise Shelter and find camp sites by a loud stream. We cook our dinner and the rest of the gang comes rolling in, including Camaro! We eat and talk, I see the stars clearly for the first time since starting the trail. We all hit the sack and I am enjoying my tent with my summer bag and not cold at all…tomorrow I have a 7 mile hike to where my van will be parked, we will continue the trail magic then I will drive Joe the Hiker to an airport, stop back in Damascus to pick up shoes I ordered for Witch Doctor then meet up with Ayce and his girlfriend on Friday…it was certainly nice to not have to worry about anything but hiking for one whole day!!

4/11 – Day 47
We get a good start in the morning and it is another beautiful day, these are the prettiest days i have had on the trail! we have a pretty easy 7 miles and we are taking our time and walking an easy pace. Cassandra and I head out early knowing they will all catch up with us. its nice to just hike and talk and i mention how this would be a great park to take some students hiking so they can experience part of the trail. a few miles in the rest of the group catches up and we have a nice hike down to the gap to meet the van. When we get down the van is not there…they start joking that my crew has mutinied and drove off in the van, in reality they just went for ice!

After feeding some more hikers we load up and head back to Damascus to drop Chickadee off, Shutter Bug is coming with us…it is hard for her to watch the hikers come down off the mountain and not to be able to hike out with them. I know this is difficult, I stopped hiking willingly, obeying God’s will, and I am envious every time I see them. I can only imagine how much harder it is when you were forced off the trail by an injury.
Shutter Bug has decided to go back to Erwin, where she got off the trail and rest for a few more days before hiking again. As much as I miss my navigator I am praying that she is healed and can start her hike again.

We drop her off at Uncle Johnny’s and we see some hikers that we have not seen in weeks. These are the hikers who got stuck in Gatlinburg by snow and then later stuck between Hot Springs and Erwin with a stomach virus that was going around. I meet up with Brad (Gyro) again who I had not seen since Fontana the day before entering the Smokies, I realize that this is where I would have been if I would have zeroed another day like Brad.

Joe the Hiker and I stop in Johnson City for dinner then I drive him to the airport. I head back to Damascus and stay the night with my new friends Fidget and Dot Com, who graciously invited me into there home. We stay up late talking about the people and magic of the trail then call it a night.

4/12 – Day 48
I get an early start and head back into the mountains to pick up the remainder of my merry crew, they camped up by the Highlands and we had hard rain so I am hoping they are fine. I stop at Mojo’s for a smoothie and run into Kensey and Chin Strap, who I have not seen since the smokies. Kensey has decided to get off the trail and go to Veterinarian School, she is going to drop out in Atkins on Wednesday and is wondering if I can meet her and give her a ride into Marion. I’m picking up Joe the Hiker on Tuesday and taking him back to the same area so I tell her it will not be a problem.

I get my smoothie, buy some cinnamon rolls for my crew and start driving thru the rain to pick them up, they are all sleeping in the big tent I bought to shelter hikers from the rain when they stop for food, this past night would be an excellent test of how well it holds up.

They are comfy and warm in the tent and get treated to cinnamon rolls in “bed”, then we break down the tent and camp, back up the van and head into Marion. I text Ayce in town and he meets us for lunch, his girlfriend will be arriving tonight, but a lot of the flights have been delayed or canceled due to storms and he is anxious to whether or not she will make it in.

We see some hikers walking thru town and go out to greet them and find out that most of our gang will be hitting Mount Rogers Visitor Center in a little bit so we drive the 6 miles up the road to meet them, Ayce has not seen them in about a week and looks forward to greeting them.
We park and see most of our group headed our way, I am able to give Witch Doctor his new shoes and then we talk about getting everyone into town…I don’t have enough room so Chris and Cassandra make their own way in. Everyone gets food and then restock and I start shuttling hikers back to the visitor’s center where they are camping near the trail. I end up making three trips and on the last one I bring up some apple pie, ice cream and Promise Land Midnight chocolate milk (if you haven’t tried it you really need to).

During all this hiker chaos, Ayce is not sure that his girlfriend is going to make it past DC and I lend him my computer so he can try to make other flight arrangements. I tell him that if we have to we will rent a car and take a road trip to pick her up, the prospect actually gets me excited but he is able to make the flight arrangements. I’m a little bummed so he promises me we will make a road trip together in the future…I am holding him to that one!

After I’m done shuttling, Ayce and I go to dinner then head back to his motel to watch a movie on the computer which now does not work, I will return it when I’m back in Johnson City. I don’t want to waste money on a room so I crash in the van for the night.

4/13 – Day 49
I’m normally always up with the sun these days and this morning is no exception. I go into town to do some laundry, buy more supplies and organize parts of the van. When not in a trail town I get some funny looks in a van that is covered with over 50 signatures. After wrapping up the laundry I go up to Mount Rogers Visitor Center to pick up G where she stayed the night and then we head back to meet up with Ayce and his girlfriend Maria. We all decided to go to the trail head and see if we catch our group going thru Atkins. We decide to have lunch at The Barn, a little dive off the trail, we leave a note on a tree to meet us at the barn. Now the funny thing here is that Ayce got his trail name for a popular hiker acronym and one we all look for when we get to towns…AYCE: All You Can Eat. When he made the sign he used his trail name so the group would know it was us, it read: “COME TO THE BARN – AYCE” we thought it was funny that any hiker coming thru who didn’t know Ayce would assume that The Barn was an all you can eat restaurant!
We enjoy lunch with our friends again and G and I get ready to leave. A few other hikers come in and we say hi, Car Jacker needs new shoes and asks for a ride into Marion, we take him to a shoe store then back to the trail. We then head back to Damascus and stay with Crazy Larry, he has been really good to me.

4/14 – Day 50
We run into Crow in Damascus, he had hitched in from Hampton, his shoes are just about completely worn out so I give him the boots I had been hiking in which should last him another 500 miles. He needs to get back to Hampton so we give him a ride and decide to set up our magic on Dennis Cove Rd, we I had been about a week or so ago.

We drop Crow off at the trail head and now I’m back in Tennessee, I can’t seem to escape this State! I have out a 1000 miles on VANIMAL and I can’t seem to stay north of the TN/VA line!

After feeding some hikers and shuttling a few around, we stay at Kincora Hostel ran by Bob Peoples, we meet some new hikers: Dumbledore, Grasshopper, Chef, Meadow Flapjack, And Northern. We hang around and talk and then call it a night. I had heard that two hikers I had not seen in almost a month are at another Hostel 11 miles south and I put a message through to them saying hi and that I would call in the morning.

4/15 – Day 51
It’s a nice morning and I’m feeling like some activity, so I walk and trail run down past Laurel Falls and into Hampton for about 4.5 miles on the trail. It is a fantastic run and I am thinking about one of my favorite John Denver song, I wish I could share with you what it is like out here but as the lyrics go…”If I had a day that I could give you
I’d give to you a day just like today” sounds a little sappy but I really get where he probably was when writing that song. This trail is a gift daily, whether it is raining or the sun is shinning…the people, the trail…it can be so comforting and I feel l have found serenity.

Northern drives VANIMAL down to Hampton to go to the post office and pick me up after my run. When we get back up to Kincora we are just hanging out and in walks Heart Rock, I had not seen him since Sassafras Shelter just north of NOC. He is hanging with another hiker named Tall Boy, who ends every sentence with “Bo!” …like…”Shoot Yah bo!” Heart Rock and I catch up, he has heard about what I am doing and thinks it is cool, every thru hiker has plans to come back and do trial magic…it is just a natural transgression from hiker to server.

I call Scotty at the other Hostel and he puts me through too Heart Burns and Sugar Gnome. Sugar Gnome was the first actually thru hiker I met on the approach trail and I met Heart Burns my second day of hiking…I have not seen either of them since Franklin when I was sick with vertigo. I pick them up at Brown’s grocery and we head to Arby’s for lunch. Today my trail magic will be about serving these two and I take them to a store to resupply and then up to Kincora Hostel, where they will stay the night. Both are having some knee problems but they are pushing through! We pack up the van and head to Johnson City to pick up my generator, resupply and get ready for some trail magic the next day. We will stick around this area for one more day and then pick up Joe the Hiker at the airport. I had also gotten a call from Camaro, she has tendinitis in both feet and Chevy is limping, after picking up Joe we will go get Them as well.

I treat G to a nice dinner at Chili’s and make friends with the serving staff. I talk to the hostess about being on the trail and pursuing dreams, she says she always wanted to work as a dive instructor or something in the industry but is reluctant to follow her dreams, I try to encourage her and get her email so I can keep in touch. The one thing the trail has taught me for sure is to dream and then pursue those dreams…that’s what everyone out here is doing!

4/16 – Day 52
Another early start, we are going to hit a gap a few days up trail from Hampton and where we were set up on Sunday. I was here a week or so ago and it is a good location.

We get a few last minute things and head into the mountains. We had the idea yesterday of making bead bracelets to hand out to hikers. We are using small plastic colored beads and then painting a white blaze on a larger wooden bead. Yup…it’s art and craft time on the trail!

We set up at Low Gap and about 30 minutes later we get our first hiker, he sees us from up above and literally runs down the mountain to get to us! His name is Maineiac3, he had two other friends that used the same trail name before him. He is hiking with four other that are doing what they call the “Damascusathon” trying to reach Damascus today (they had done 11 miles to our spot and had 15 to go!

Shortly after in comes Movie Star, Duffle Miner, Jean Genie, and Rainbow Braid. They hang out, eat some food and our the first to get our new white blaze bracelets. Shortly after they leave a lone hiker walks in named Cody Coyote. He is doing a yo-yo, which is basically walking 2180 miles and then turning around and walking back. He did a southbound last year got to Mount Springer on March 12th, stood there, then literally starting walking back north!

We get a few more hikers in: Northern, Meadow Flapjack, Steak and Shake. They are our last costumers and they eat their fill!

What we are starting to notice out here is that there are two big bubbles of hikers, my group who are steadily making it thru Virginia and the bubble that got stuck in the smokies and/or sick between Hot Springs and Erwin. Everything else is small groups walking between the bubbles (of course there could be more out there, especially south of Erwin but I have no way of knowing).

I don’t think we will see any more hikers today and we will organize the van and head for the airport to pick up Joe. I talked to Camaro today and told her I would pick her up this evening. G has decided to hang in Damascus so she can get back on the trail and Fidget and Dot Com are gracious enough to let her stay with them. A few days back when I was staying there myself they had said that they wanted to use there house for ministry and provide a place to stay for injured hikers, looks like they will start this year!

We run into Little Engine and Timber who are from Austin. They actually met working as lifeguards at Rattan Creek pool, the pool in my neighborhood!

I drive to Bland and meet the trail angel that Camaro is staying with, HolyBegeebers and her husband. We visit for awhile, discuss the truth of monkey heads in jars and then I’m allowed to crash on the couch. I love the trail and the communities that surround it!

So tomorrow I will get all my hikers where they need to go and then it will be just me…and of course Chevy!!








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