Day 83: Wind Gap, PA - 1,274 Miles

This is going to be a very quick update because I'm getting back on the trail today after resting my feet for a few days. First of all, thank you all so much for caring about my feet! I've received a surprising amount of well wishes and prayers, and I'm happy to report that my feet feel good. I am wearing my favorite boots now, and they really help on the rocks. There's certain trail terrain that triggers a Pavlovian fear response when I see it, and now with the extra foot armor, I can walk with a normal gait again. My foot no longer "rainbows" over the pointy rocks. I feel protected, and strong. 

I made one last stop at the doctors office this morning for a a final pre-trail once-over. I've had a rash for the past few days and I wanted to get it looked at. Within one second of examining it, the doc said, "You have Lyme disease." 

This would explain the fatigue, headaches, joint pain and excessive napping lately. I just thought all of those things were the cumulative effects of three months of hiking. The good news is, I'm on a strong antibiotic, the bad news is, I'm going to feel like shit for the next month. At least I'll feel like shit out in the woods where I'm happy, and not in some stupid grey office building. So I've got that going for me.  

One last thing, and then I'm back on the trail. If you're interested in more frequent updates from me, please find me on Facebook. I'm Gary Sizer and I'll be your friend. I try to put a lot of time and thought into updates here, which means less frequent stories. On Facebook, I'll toss up a pretty picture and a sentence or two about where I am or what I'm doing.  It's light, but there's a lot of it, so that's an option too.

I cannot thank Lode Land Hospitality enough for giving me a place to convalesce these past few days. My body healed, but far more important is the restoration to my spirit. I have laughed and smiled and eaten and slept and even gained four pounds here. More importantly, I've gained a real friend, and I'm glad that the trail put me here.

Onward...

Day 79: Boiling Springs, PA - 1,117 miles

My last update (the one before the ice cream one!) had me in Harper's Ferry, WV. I wound up taking a total of four consecutive zero days to give my feet a chance to calm down. I switched back to a well tried and tested shoe. In order to ease back into hiking, rather than simply jump right back into a string of 20s, I intended to ramp up. My next few days would look like this: 7, 14, 18, 15, and then maybe back into the 20s again. "I don't know," I thought, "I'll just wait and see." Definitely no Four-State Challenge in my near future.

 Welcome to PA

Welcome to PA

I met Fiddlin' Jim and Joe on my way out of town! For those of you just joining us, these guys were half of my original trail family, and I hadn't seen them in weeks. We laughed and joked about how much had changed since then, everyone skinnier, more beards all around. They told me that Voldemort, Droid and Lemmy would probably be about a day behind, and I figured that they'd catch me at some point during my ramp up. 

The trail doesn't stay in West Virginia for very long. In fact, I moved into Maryland that evening. With apologies to my friends who live there, I have to say that MD has been my least favorite part of the AT so far. Sorry guys, but you're the worst. I became used to a bit of road noise while in Virginia, thanks to the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive. Cars, RVs and Harleys just a few hundred feet from the trail would be a welcome relief from the sonic nightmare that is the AT in Maryland. All of the above plus: backing up construction vehicles, honking horns, lawnmowers, barking dogs, sirens and at one point what I believe to be a bagpipe arguing with a vuvuzela. I spent more time behind my earbuds here than in any other state. Fortunately, there was plenty of electricity available. I'll give you this, Maryland, you have the Dahlgren Backpacker's Campsite, and that was pretty sweet. 

The Campsite is a flat grassy spot right by the trail. It's the size of a football field and has picnic tables, bear poles (to hang your food at night), and a restroom/shower facility with hot water and working power outlets. These are all the things a hiker could ever want at the and of a day, and it's all free of charge. 

I had just stepped out of the shower and had put on pants and a shirt when the men's room door opened. There stood my old friend Droid, covered in sweat. I hadn't seen him since the Smokys and before I could register my surprise, he turned his head to someone just outside and said, "It's clear." Voldemort then burst through the door, ran to me and hugged me. The three of us moved the party out of the bathroom and onto a nearby bench, where we were shortly joined by Lemmy. 

 Lemmy, Green Giant, Voldemort, Droid

Lemmy, Green Giant, Voldemort, Droid

We had a lot to catch up on. Droid had been way ahead of all of us until a stomach bug knocked him off the trail for a full week. Voldemort had been chasing me for almost a month, and I had been trying all month to shake Lemmy. Just kidding, Lemmy! Voldemort said that she had read about my feet and forgave me for becoming a dirty yellow blazer. We learned from fellow campers that a local pizza place delivered, and after having not been all in the same place for over 800 miles the four of us enjoyed a feast together that night: pizza, Sprite and wine berries from the bushes near our tents.

The four of us enjoyed two full days of hiking before we were split again.

Having been apart, our resupply needs were out of sync, so Voldemort continued hiking while Droid, Lemmy and I hitched into Waynesboro to buy food. Having only recently returned to longer distances, our proposed goal for the day was a bit of a stretch for my tired feet; the hike plus the side trip to town would amount to something like 24 miles. With plenty of daylight left, I opted to stop about seven miles short at the Tumbling Run Shelter. This was before the world famous Half Gallon Challenge, where we'd all agreed to be in three days, and I was pretty sure I could make up seven miles over three days. 

The Tumbling Run Shelter is the first "double shelter" you encounter in PA (northbound). They are labeled "Snoring" and "Non-Snoring," and between them on a raised stone landing is a covered picnic table. There are actual clotheslines and a small stream runs (in fact, it tumbles) nearby. Of course I'll stay. 

 Tumbling Run Shelters

Tumbling Run Shelters

Lemmy passed me on his way to meet the others and I asked him to tell them my plan. "See y'all at the ice cream place!" He left, I made dinner and while I was finishing, a headlamp appeared where the trail joins the shelter. The head under that headlamp belonged to Lode. He had a big beard, a big smile and his backpack was adorned with an action figure. He smelled too good to be a thru hiker. Lode introduced himself and we chatted. After a bit he asked, "What are you hungry for?" Now, this is one of the standard poll questions we all get asked by day hikers and weekenders all the time. That and, "What do you do when it rains?" and, "Do you carry a gun?" So I wasn't really expecting Reese's Peanut Butter Cups to appear when I said so, but they did. And in great quantities too!

Lode fashions himself to be not a Trail Angel, but a Trail Magician. "Shelters are my top hat," he says. "That's all I need to make magic." He lives near the trail and hikes for exercise, as well as the opportunity to mysteriously pull candy out of the air. Once during a hot, dry spell, Lode hiked several pounds of ice, drinks, and ice cream to a crowded shelter just in time for dessert. "Some of 'em were already sleeping, but when they heard there was ice cream I could see headlamps coming on and wrapped toes swinging over the edges of bunks." We continued talking until past "hiker midnight" and finally I turned in. That night, my headlamp attracted the fireflies into my shelter and I had my own private light show.

 So many deer in Pennsylvania...

So many deer in Pennsylvania...

When I awoke the next morning my feet were tender, so I slipped into my Crocs and waddled around camp, getting ready to hike. Overnight there had been a text from my brother, and we worked out that his vacation and me being in Pennsylvania were a happy coincidence because that meant that we could meet up soon. As in day after tomorrow soon. It also meant that instead of catching my friends at Pine Grove Furnace State Park around noon, I'd instead meet my brother and nephew there around dinner, and catch my friends later. Perfectly doable, assuming that my feet didn't get worse. They had certainly improved compared to their worst, but I was now taping several toes and still walking gingerly on runnable surfaces. 

 Welcome!

Welcome!

So I made it to the ice cream thing and you can read about that in the last post. Here are some afterthoughts on my Half Gallon Challenge: I was about one third into my vanilla when I figured out that it had melted and re-frozen at some point. The top half was all watery ice crystals and the bottom was a puck of syrupy goo. But it was all they had left. The mint chocolate chip was very tasty and I'm glad I ended on that. I had a crazy sugar buzz and felt like crap the next day.

Jim and Jacob and I had a great time visiting and we enjoyed our stay at the Ironmaster's Mansion Hostel at the State Park. Even after I'd taken a shower and done laundry, Jim still forced me to wear one of his shirts and apply some scented armpit spray that reminded me of middle school. He also really saved the day by getting me to a not-nearby running shoe specialty store so I could pick up a specific insole I'd been told would cure all woes in the toes. 

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It was a quick visit and I was back on the trail. That was a short day because of the late start, which is usually the case when there's a town stop. The following day, despite the new shoes, despite the new insoles, and despite the ever decreasing mileage, my feet still hurt. If you followed the toenail report from my last update, you may recall that I was stopped in my tracks by a full list of problems. The good news is that now I'm only down to one problem and that's the bruising on the balls of my feet.

So I walked slowly and I stopped at 14 miles instead of 18. Which was good, because I got to spend a night at the best maintained shelter on the AT (so far), the Quarry Gap Shelter. A wooden gate with a welcome sign and a small wooden duck were what I saw first. I thought that I had accidentally wandered into someone's back yard. The spring was landscaped, including ceramic frogs, turtles, and a working sundial. Hanging plants adorned the double shelters and the caretaker had left plenty of fire making materials as well.  

The following morning I received a message from Lode saying "nice to meet you" type stuff and reminding me that if I ever needed anything while I was in PA to give him a call. "Once you cross the border into Maryland or Jersey you're someone else's problem. But as long as you're in Pennsylvania, I got your back." This was music to my ears because I'd just started contemplating a zero. It had been nearly ten days and I'm sure my feet would benefit from some rest. Also because the next shelter was 26 miles away and I didn't see any stopping points along the way unless I wanted to tent by some busy railroad tracks.

 Carlisle, PA in miniature

Carlisle, PA in miniature

I told Lode I'd be happy to meet him tomorrow afternoon and I spent the next day going ten miles in ten hours. I walked slowly on purpose and rested frequently. Nevertheless, when I finally met him again, Lode told me I looked like a slow motion speed walker because of the way I strain to not bounce or bob while walking, knees slightly bent, gliding just a bit. 

I can hear the train on those busy tracks, glad to be miles away, here at the Lode Land Hostile. "I spell it that way on purpose," he says. "It's not a hostel, it's a hoss-steel." He's not in any of the guide books, nor does he want to be. Part of the reason he hikes is to take the magic to the hikers, but also to get a feel for who's out there. "I love to help people out, but I don't want people showing up in my driveway at ten o'clock at night. I knew your feet were banged up, so I called you." And now that I thought back, yeah. He did. And when he hiked up the AT to meet me he had a jug of ice water and offered to carry my pack. For the record, I declined, not because I'm a purist or anything like that, but because I'd just met the guy and for all I know he could be the Bad-Feet Backpacker Bandit and run off with my stuff. Or even walk off at a medium pace, I wasn't going to catch him. 

Instead, he led me to his house, a stone's throw from the AT and showed me to my trailer. "The AC's been going for about an hour, but if you want to wait until after you've had a shower it'll be nice and cool in there for you." 

The next morning he drove me into town to see a doctor, who happened to be one of his best friends growing up. Lode's friend wasn't in that day, but I was still happy to be seen. I was told by an actual medical professional that my feet "look great for having so many miles on them," and that I have high arches. This means that the balls of my feet bear a greater percentage of my weight than most people, hence the bruising and sensitivity. More cushion and better protection from rocks would be essential, so I asked Trail Boss Katie to send me my boots. The doc also said that I should rest for as long as I possibly could, which is why I'm here at Lode Land. Resting.

 My new hiking hat, now with more feathers!

My new hiking hat, now with more feathers!

Day 77: Pine Grove Furnace State Park, PA - 1,098 miles

[posted by Katie, Gary's Trail Boss]

Green Giant has crossed the halfway point of the AT!  And, more importantly, he has successfully completed the Half-Gallon Challenge (an AT tradition at the halfway point).  First up was vanilla...

And since containers of ice cream are no longer true half gallons, he then ate a pint of mint chocolate chip...

He managed this feat in about 30 minutes and still had room for dinner. 

Day 69: Harper's Ferry, WV - 1,019 miles

Hi guys, I've been wanting to do this for a while, but could never seem to fit it in. I finally have a bit of time on my hands, so here goes. Let's start by examining a typical day on the trail for me. And after that, just so you know what you're in for, I'm going to talk about my feet a bit. There will be some gnarly pictures of mangled toenails. You've been warned.

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When I wake up, there's a 50% chance that I'm either in my tent or in a shelter. Once, I put my tent inside a shelter, and there have been a handful of hotels, but for the most part, it's 50%. (I've been almost exclusively tenting lately because I mailed home my sleeping bag, and I'm just a tad warmer in there at night.) At first light each day the birds start singing in multitude, and that's when I first stir as well. Pardon the bluntness, but the first thing I do upon standing is find the privy or dig a hole. My insides are as regular as the birds, just less pleasant to hear. 

Breakfast usually consists of hot coffee mixed in with a Carnation Instant Breakfast. It's all about the calories, which is why I enjoy this hot beverage with a Tastycake Honey Bun. This thing is basically diabetes wrapped in plastic. 680 calories, pretty much all from fat. It's bread soaked in high fructose corn syrup topped with a layer of "icing" which you could peel off and use to repair small rips in your tent or pack.

I've mastered the technique of breaking down my sleep system while eating, and as a result I'm generally fully packed and stepping off forty-five minutes or so after I get up. I do not enjoy arriving at camp late and have adopted a personal motto of, "If you don't want to hike in the dark, don't sleep in the light." I like to get there (wherever "there" is) with at least two hours of daylight left so I can take my time setting up, making dinner, writing, and of course studying the AWOL guide to learn tomorrow's elevation changes and possible stopping points.

 Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Between breakfast and camp, I walk. I try to maintain a 2 to 2.5 MPH average including stops. At the beginning of the hike, I would stop a hundred times a day. Need water? Stop, get water. Need a snack? Stop, get snack. Makes sense, right? Over time I learned to arrange the things I need during the day so that I can reach them without stopping. Water, food, advil and the map are all within reach at the cost of only slightly reduced speed for a few steps. I now stop every two hours for about fifteen minutes. I'll pause (or stop) for amazing views or something neat begging to be photographed, but for the most part the deal is, if the sun's up, I'm walking.

This far into the hike, very few people even bother adjusting their pace to walk all day with a partner and everyone seems to have an unspoken agreement that we'll just see each other at the end of the day or along the way. So during the day, I mostly walk alone. Sometimes I listen to music or podcasts, but mostly I take in my surroundings, looking at and listening to everything. Birds, animals, trees, rocks, snakes, salamanders, flowers, the occasional human or two, leaves and thunder... there's never a shortage of entertainment while walking. I have never been bored. Not even once.

  "Virginia is flat and boring." - Bad Dinner

 "Virginia is flat and boring." - Bad Dinner

In sharp contrast to the solitude of walking alone all day, camp is almost always a bustling center of social activity. Lemmy and I have caught up with the tail end of "the bubble" - that stretched out herd of hikers who started in early spring, some of whom are already in Maine, many of whom are here, in the middle. Someone usually has a fire going. Two or three people will be at the picnic table, cooking, eating or reading the shelter log, searching for news from friends up ahead. One or two may already be in the shelter, wrapped in bags, snoring, oblivious to the jokers at the table. "Where's the water? Where's the privy? Who else is here? Have you seen Bluebeard? How about Tauntaun? (He smells bad... on the outside.)"

As the sky darkens the party gains and loses members as hikers arrive and others go to bed. Wherever I am, I'm usually asleep within minutes of closing my eyes, perfectly exhausted. Moments later, it seems, the birds are singing and it begins again with new mountains to climb and new streams to cross.

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So here I am in Harper's Ferry, West By God Virginia. The "unofficial halfway point" is what they say. It took me two months and eight days to get here. Do what you want with the math there, because all bets are off once we get to The Whites in New Hampshire. Near vertical rocky scrambles await, promising a one-third reduction in daily mileage if you believe past hikers. Of course, these are the same people who warned me that Virginia was "flat and boring" which it most definitely was not.

I'm taking a couple of days off here for some much needed rest and to nurse my feet back to health.  (Here comes that gnarly toenail stuff I mentioned at the top of the page. This is your last chance to bail.)

My good friend Mark says that I don't have feet, I have hooves. This is because I've never had a blister for as long as we've been hiking together. I've been very lucky to have some good feet. I've been using them for forty some odd years now, and they've served me well. Recently I've been abusing them, and now they are starting to revolt.

The first thing I noticed was unexplained swelling way back at Clingman's Dome, around mile 200. My left foot puffed up, turned purple and a day later my left shin started barking at me each time I moved that foot. I didn't roll my ankle or twist it or bang it on anything; it just formed a bruise and hurt like hell for the next hundred miles or so. That all just kinda... went away, and now I can feel a dull ache in that shin, but since then, the worst of that problem has been gone.

 Do these pants make my left foot look fat?

Do these pants make my left foot look fat?

Next, somewhere around mile 400, I noticed something very weird. It felt like one of my socks was bunched up under my toes, but when I took off my shoe it was perfectly smooth. No wrinkles, twigs or small rocks, just the illusion of a bunched up sock. This has persisted, and has expanded to include a wider area and is now on both feet. There is no fungus, rash or otherwise visible irritation on those parts of my feet, just that weird sock thing. I feel it when I'm barefoot. It just comes and goes.

Somewhere around mile 600 or 700, I developed what I believe to be hammertoe. Three toes on my left foot have started to curl under my foot into a toe fist. It brings great relief to stretch them out and massage them. But while I'm walking, and they are inside my shoe, I just have to deal with it. Sometimes it's mildly annoying, sometimes it's show-stopping agony. STOP. SHOES OFF. NOW. Ten minutes of over-the-sock love and those little piggies are back on the trail.

Somewhere around mile 800, the heels, soles and balls of my feet became bruised. Think about what a bruise feels like. Now cover the bottoms of your feet with them. Now walk. All. Damn. Day. Doesn't get better, does it?  Oh just you wait...

 This is the least gross toenail picture I have.

This is the least gross toenail picture I have.

Sure, I don't get blisters. But I do get callouses. Big, thick callouses. I have several, but the one that has my attention right now is the thumb sized lump of leather formed on the back of my right heel. This particular leathery patch has no feeling; I could poke it with a needle and not know. But the actual skin where it attaches to my foot is sensitive and the damn thing slides around like it's held on with tape. If my foot doesn't hit the ground perfectly level, this pad slides and pulls at the soft pink flesh below, sometimes tearing.

 This little piggie... DIES NEXT!

This little piggie... DIES NEXT!

There's no mile marker for this next one because it's a never ending thing. I've been losing toenails, on average every couple weeks. The right big toe turned black first, and after a few days trapped in a wet sock, the thing just softened and gave way. My toenail was like a marshmallow that had been in the fire too long. The black crusty piece came off effortlessly and painlessly, leaving a white goo beneath. The white goo eventually hardened into something like a scab and now (a month later) actually looks like a new toenail. Right pinky toe was next. Then left pinky toe. Two more are in the works, and I've stopped placing bets on which will be the survivors. No toenail gets out alive.

Had enough? Too bad. It gets worse.

About a week ago, less than a hundred miles from the halfway point, every single problem listed above hit at once. The leathery patches, the hammer toe, the bloody spots where toenails used to live, and the bruises... all at once. I dropped my mileage and still the pains continued. I dropped again, and no relief. On Saturday of last week I walked 21 miles. Sunday, I did 15. Monday, 12. Tuesday, 5.

On that last day, Tuesday, I learned something about pain which I had learned about hunger back in Georgia. You have never really felt it. The previous evening, I stopped short and told Lemmy to go on without me. I knew I was going to slow down, and I'd just catch up later. That morning, I could barely get my shoes on. My feet were inflated and pink and I hadn't even taken a step yet. I unlaced my shoes as far as I could and wrapped them around my swollen feet. My first mile took ninety minutes. I had to place every step gingerly, yet there were plenty of rocks to send my foot rolling sideways causing me to lunge forward, jamming my other foot into yet another rock to slow my fall.

I felt like I had just walked through a hornets nest. Know why? Because I had just walked through a hornets nest! Right there on the trail some clueless hiker, or most likely a bear, had moved a rock under which there was a hive. So in addition to everything else, I now have angry red welts on my shins and ankles. 

 I warned you. 

I warned you. 

I gritted my teeth and winced with every step. The wincing gave way to swearing. The swearing gave way to moaning. I shambled down the mountain just making these horrible sounds, lightheaded from the pain and the labored breathing it brought on. One of my curled toes had started clicking with every fifth step or so, and the bruises on my heels were like tiny hammers. I cried. I had actual tears coming out of my eyes with every step, and yet I took more. I had to. Stopping on the side of the mountain does me no good.  If there's to be any relief it's up ahead and it's not coming to you. So go.  

I finally reached Thornton Gap, where I would make the transition from downhill back to uphill for another hour or so, had I been so foolish as to continue walking. On my way down, I had talked myself into making that day a "Near-o" or "near zero" - a day with very few miles, usually a resupply day. I knew that the only thing I could do would be to sit for a while. Maybe I could get to Luray today, back on the trail tomorrow, everything should be fine, right?

Wrong.

I stuck out my thumb and after fifteen minutes was picked up by a guy named Chuck who was taking his granddaughters to "grampy camp." He introduced me to the little girls and said, "We're going to help him find a place to get some food and get himself cleaned up," with just enough pity in his voice to make me temporarily forget that we'd already talked about the hiking part, and that he assumed I was a homeless person. Well, I kinda am.

Chuck dropped me off at the Budget Inn in lovely Luray, VA where I did all the things he had predicted, and slept. Hard. I napped from 4:00-7:00 and then slept again from 9:00-7:00. When I awoke on Wednesday I took too many minutes to hobble to the bathroom, holding every piece of furniture along the way for support. My feet were huge and I could not get my shoes back on. They were slightly better than the previous day, but certainly not ready for another thousand miles or so.

Okay, sure we know the human body is capable of some amazing things. Some mother in Wyoming lifted a car off of a baby, that sort of thing. Yes, I could dig deep and suck it up and so on. If a Nazi had a rifle to my back or if I were in a Stephen King novel, sure, I could keep going. But I'm a smart guy who wants to keep walking after this hike, so I decided to sit for however long I needed to. However, I'm also a smart guy who realizes that Maine doesn't get any closer while I'm sitting. I had (and have) absolutely no problem with getting those lost miles back via the passenger seat of a car. Harper's Ferry was only 80 miles north, there are plenty of shuttles available, and I was in the process of working out the details when Katie called.

Katie spent the first part of this week in Ohio visiting her parents and taking possession of the black Corvette that's been in her dad's garage for the last 13 years. She was planning to spend that day driving from Ohio to our home in North Carolina. "I'm going to be a few hours away from you today. Let me be your shuttle!" How could I possibly say no?

 She was looking at the guy with the non-creepy beard.

She was looking at the guy with the non-creepy beard.

A few hours later I was in a black sports car with a hot blonde.

 Lemmy stole my woman and I ain't even mad.

Lemmy stole my woman and I ain't even mad.

We made one stop on the way up to Harper's Ferry: a short side trip to Front Royal to find Lemmy, who had earlier shared his plan with me that he would stop there. We found him at the Visitor's Center downtown, and as you can imagine he was flabbergasted to see us. "Green Giant, what kind of person are you?!? The last time I saw you, you were crying on a picnic bench, and now here you are with a girl... and pizza!  Wait... whose car is that?"

So here I am in West Virginia, just a mile from the trail, nearing the end of my third consecutive zero. My longest stop so far. My feet feel much better and I have new shoes. I'm strongly optimistic that I'll start walking again tomorrow, starting with ten miles and slowly working my way back up. Lemmy will probably be here tonight, and if he takes a zero, he'll catch me while I'm ramping back up. Maybe. Either way, I'm going north. 

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Day 61: Waynesboro, VA - 857 miles

It's been a full week since Independence Day, and I'm still thinking back to what a great day that was. So far the one person I've been pretty consistently hiking with is my good friend, Lemmy. Lemmy is from Israel, was a medic in the army for three years and is now doing what every smart young person should do before focusing on education or a career, he's traveling the world for a year. He draws cartoons, loves Dungeons and Dragons and is one of those rare people so clever that he can be funny in his second language. He also is quite good at getting rides to town.

 Ladies, meet Lemmy. He's single. 

Ladies, meet Lemmy. He's single. 

Before I crossed the longest footbridge on the AT, I debated whether or not to stop and pee. I'm glad I didn't, because if I had crossed that bridge one second later I would not have seen Lemmy waving from the passenger side of that red pickup. "Green Giant! Run! You can make it, hurry!"

I did just that, and when I arrived a voice from the driver's side ordered me to "Hop on in the back there, just throw your pack in the canoe." A single canvas strap, worn to threads in places, barely held the boat in place. Surely the additional weight of my pack would cause it and all of my belongings to go sailing down the road at some point, nevertheless I obeyed. I wedged myself between the wheel well and the canoe, grabbed on to anything and held on. Tires spun, gravel sprayed and we bounced out onto the winding blacktop.

 The James River

The James River

I removed my hat and sat on it as the wind swirled around me. The world raced away in reverse. I heard a knock on the window at the back of the cab. I could see one meaty forearm with a thumbs-up held just so to perfectly convey, "Everything alright back there?" I responded in kind with my own thumb and the ride continued.

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Moments later there was another knock on the window and this time the glass slid open, the same big hairy arm now handing me the remains of a Bud Light. I happily grabbed the bottle and shouted my thanks over the wind in the form of a loud, "YEAH!"

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The glass slid shut and I heard, "Man, he's so excited!" and other muffled yukking from the cab. The truck swayed left and right as we climbed higher, center lines were merely a suggestion. As the trees rushed by the sun strobed on my face. I tightened my grip on the canoe, threw back my head and downed the last of the beer in two long gulps. I thought, "Happy birthday, America!" as a piece of garbage flew out of the truck.

We arrived in Glasgow, VA that afternoon and set up camp at the town-provided "Hiker Pavilion." I use quotes because it's more of a shelter than a pavilion, but I suppose they had to call it that to get the vote to pass. Either way, it's very nice. The pavilion is on town land and has electricity and running water, including a shower. There's plenty of tent space, and it's free! As if that's not enough, there's a huge stack of firewood from the trees they cleared to build the pavilion.

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Lemmy and I, along with a few others, set up camp there and ate ice cream at the baseball field while watching fireworks and fireflies.

So here it is a week later, and between then and now I've done a lot of walking and have seen a good many things. I'll finish with a few photos, and then I have to get back to hiking. This is not a Zero.

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