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! πŸ™‚

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

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