“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


 

 

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