CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5

We exchange a good laugh about the Fisherman’s camp and continue walking. 

I send a telepathic check-in to home base: I’m ok, Hon. You know I am a survivor no matter what. Hope you can feel my soul speaking to you.

I imagine Paul is happy to wake up this morning having had no knocks on the front door from police delivering bad news. Knowing the Steam Team’s darkest night is over may provide relief both to us on the trail and to those who care about us. I find it funny that our darkest night involved sleeping with a light on the whole time.

The terrain changes from the abundance of browns to tall, wispy lime green grass and blue sky on the horizon as we climb higher and higher. I think the bright blue is a good sign at first.

Looks like the top of the mountain is just ahead. We’re almost there. 

I remember on the trail plan that at the end of Laurel Prong Trail we will turn left back onto the AT. 

The top, the top of the mountain. I can see it! –or so I think.

The girls await my caboose at a trail marker post.

When they see me approach, they turn right.

Why not left!?

Sunshine points out that the trail post says Laurel Prong continues this way. To the right. There’s more Laurel Prong to hike. We are not to our official turn yet.

“Sneaky trail,” says Stalker C.

Yeah, it is!

To the right we go. SunFloJo lifts the mood, “Isn’t this beautiful?!”

From the back of the line, I quietly huff, “Breathtaking.” –which had a funny double meaning if anyone had heard it.

I look right and down over the mountain side trail we just climbed. That is an impressive view of how far we’ve come today. 

To my left is the mountain ridge and a majestic crisp sky. Between me and the ridge is soft flowing grass. I mentally immerse into the beauty. We are on top of the world.

I pause to look across the sky at many mountains in the distance and contemplate how this mountain is among its friends. This is an overlook without a drive or pull off parking spot. There is no road. We’ve earned this glorious view by climbing.

While one foot follows the next, I enter a prayerful time of reflection while thinking a lot about my relationship with God. 

I sense my Higher Power say:

What if you spent more time with Me? What if you stop trying to make things fit and simply give it all to Me? Give me your marriage. Give me your work, your children, your journey. You don’t have to figure it out. All you need to do is do the next step and then the next step after that. The supernatural comes from Me. Allow and invite me into your whole life, not just your heart.

I ask: But why haven’t you moved in our finances? Why are things not better in Paul’s work and body? What do we need to do to improve our situation?

Have you asked Me in faith to handle those challenges?

Verses come to mind as if I can hear the Word more clearly from this elevation.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.  Proverbs 3:5-6

And then my mind hears:

What I’m saying is make room. You chose the name Surrender for a reason. Make room and allow Me to direct your path.

I ponder the many ways I have not asked for God’s help in recent years. I think about what it would mean to make room for supernatural blessings. I think about my friends who say, “trust the process.”

My mind hushes. I seek time with God. My mind churns to a pleasant blank nothingness while feeling fully embraced by love.

~

We march on with heat friction between our backs and backpacks. Sweat drips down faces, necks, and arms.

The trail changes to extra narrow. We enter a path about five inches wide of dirt between billowing grass. I am unnerved by the grass brushing my calves.

Please don’t let anything climb up my leg or inside my pants leg! I make noise and swish the ground with my trekking poles.

I am torn whether to look left to the poetic mountain tops or to keep my eyes on every spec of dirt in my path.  

Look! A bright orange salamander type creature ahead of my feet. That is cool.

I am careful not to squish him. I step over it and then nearly step on a fuzzy orange-yellow furry caterpillar type guy. There are some brightly colored things up here that don’t seem to have camouflage options.

I take in a deep breath and exhale. The air grows thin. I repeat the deep breathing.

Keep walking, Surrender. Keep breathing too. 

Then trail changes again. We begin a rocky edge along the tip top of the mountain. We step up and over many rocks to make our way, big and small rocks. 

I encourage my ankles to remain strong. The slightest slip could cause me to slide left off the cliff and down the side of the mountain. The trail is narrow with nothing but empty space to my left and a wall of rock just taller than me to my right. 

The narrow footing is a challenge. If we run into anyone going the opposite direction, then we will have to cling to complete strangers to figure out how to pass one another.

The Steam Team walks close together now. Everyone wants to make sure we get through this ridge. No one talks. Concentration is high.

I think about how snakes might like to sun themselves on the rocks to my right and how much I hope they don’t choose to do that here today. I hope we make enough noise to keep such creatures away.

A large rock blocks our path. As she scales it, SunFloJo slips. My heart skips. The girls gasp.

SunFloJo falls wisely toward the rock wall side and hangs on to jagged stones until she regains footing.

Sunshine Rat asks, “Are you ok?”

“Yep. I’m good.”

“Good save,” I say. 

We are a tired, dirty crew. Flies buzz around my greasy head. I notice Stalker C bats flies from her forehead too. I am kind of surprised flies hang out at this altitude.

We pause to put our sleeping buffs around our heads. That keeps flies at bay somewhat but not completely.

I step with my trekking pole and the pole sinks. I slide down with the pole face first into rocks. My belly saves me by catching on the rock I was trying to climb over.

“Surrender!” Sunshine Rat sees me go down.

I glance at the cliff to my left. “I’m ok,” I say but don’t believe. 

Surely, we are near the AT intersection. Surely.

“Wanna rest a minute?” SunFloJo asks me once I crawl over the rock.

I nod. The girls hike ahead. 

The two most senior of the group need a break. Tiredness is becoming a liability.

SunFloJo and I sit on a 3-foot log that somehow is stuck on this short-width trail. I try not to think about the rocks or critter holes behind or under me. My feet touch the edge of the mountain. Hopefully whatever lurks nearby stays at bay. 

From our seated position we face the deep valley and mountains as far as we can see. Falling to our death is easily possible. I cannot see how far down the mountain is below my feet. 

Far, very far. Steep, very steep.

Yet how beautiful is this?! When in life have I ever had the opportunity to be wedged on the side of a mountain this high up? Um, never.

Overcome, I sense dry tears could flow. I am too dehydrated for wetness to form in my eyes.

“Are you tired?” SunFlo asks.

So tired.

I nod and wipe sweat with my shirt collar. The sun is intense.

“We’ll just sit a moment. We have plenty of time.”

I drink the water we purified earlier this morning. I’ve been thirsty for a while. I’m not sure how I’ll be able to make my ration of water last if the rest of our day is like Laurel Prong Trail has been.

SunFloJo hands me a dried mango slice. I eat it without hesitation. It tastes good, sweet. I need nature’s sugar.

We breathe and rest for a few minutes. We can not afford any more stumbles on this stretch.

Regaining some strength, I share, “I’ve tried to throw my anger and sadness off cliffs, over waterfalls and into fire this whole trip.” 

SunFloJo nods.

I pause, “Not sure how many more opportunities I’ll have.”

“Do you feel better?”

“Maybe lighter emotionally.” I continue, “I’m happy for our son. He’s going to go live his dream. I would never choose the risks and lifestyle of a military career for him, but it is what he wants. I’m going to miss him.”

SunFloJo listens.

“You have a baby and everyone warns you that they grow fast. Man, that’s the truth…. And maybe I need to let go of the non-profit dream. Perhaps I’ve laid the foundation and someone else will rise to take on the next steps. Maybe I need to make room for others to carry on the work. I am going to be open about whatever is next. I’m giving God back the dream. We’ll see what happens. When it is time to quit, I trust He will make it clear. It is so hard to turn away from doing something you love.”

More listening. We stare at the valley and mountains.

SunFloJo is completely still. I sense that I have however long I need on this log.

I can talk with God, her, or both. It doesn’t matter to her. She could say something. That would be ok.

But she doesn’t.

“And those girls.” I point to the right although the girls are well beyond us, “They are so smart, young and have such good attitudes. Lord, please don’t let them settle for anything that holds them back or weighs down their spirit. They are encouragers. They are free from restraints. Keep them free. Keep them blessed and upbeat like they are right now.”

I wipe my face. This is a new sensation; crying without tears because my body can’t produce any. 

SunFloJo asks, “That’s really more about you, isn’t it?”

 “Yes.” I choke on air, “It is.”

Silence.

I say, “I remember being like them.”

We sigh.

“I hear you, sweetie. Me too.”

Silence.

We stare and breathe, taking in the moment.

Guess we better get going.

I stand. SunFloJo hands me her last piece of dried mango. That should be enough fuel to get me to lunch. My legs went to sleep while sitting on our awkward perch. I fight through the sleepy muscles and get my feet moving.

Soon the rocks change back to tall grass. We are no longer on the edge of the mountain.

It takes a little while to catch up to the girls. 

“We see it!” Sunshine says about the trail intersection we’ve been looking for. “Just up ahead.”

The four of us approach our last trail marker. 

Sun rays filter through the trees to shine gently on the intersection spot. This is where Laurel Prong Trail dead ends into the AT making a very big T.   

It is finally time to eat lunch. We have not seen another human all day so we make ourselves at home in the intersection which is perhaps the widest path we’ve seen today. SunFloJo spreads out her sleeping mat for seating. I sit on a stump with my pack on the ground next to me. Stalker C is to my left with her legs stretched straight out on the ground. She starts to munch some chips.

I go for protein from Teriyaki Beef Jerky. I tear pieces of a tortilla to eat and unwrap ginger candy to hopefully boost my body. 

Sunshine sits on the mat with SunFloJo. She offers insight about the time she and Stalker C were alone, “We had a little moment.”

Stalker C rolls her eyes, “I kinda lost it. I am not going to make it much longer. My body and attitude are done.”

My head tilts.

Sunshine adds, “Her foot issue is getting worse. But maybe we won’t go up any more mountains from here. It looks pretty straight in the direction we’re going next.”

“Lies,” Stalker C says. “The trail lies. Can’t trust it.” She swats a fly, and then another. She shakes her head. “I’m losing it.”

“Oh, Honey,” SunFloJo laughs. “We just had a moment where Surrender was breaking down and then talking about how great your two girls’ attitudes are.”

The irony.

Sunshine snickers, “I wasn’t having a very good attitude the last few miles. That trail marker back there saying that it was another mile before we reach the AT just about sent me over the edge. I wanted to jump off the mountain for sure.” She sighs. “Alas, but now we’ve made it.”

Stalker C says, “We couldn’t believe how positive you two were being when we had to scale those rocks!”

“Us? Positive?” I say.

SunFloJo requests half chuckling, “Tell what you were hoping for their lives, Surrender.”

We laugh through the dirt and sweat on our bodies about how I hope they’ll maintain positive attitudes like they have today and be wise about sticking with positive people, to never let negativity hold them back.

Stalker C scoffs and her shoulders go back, “But now I’ve lost it. I’ve got a bad attitude.”

Sunshine Rat offers, “Stalker, you’ve had a great attitude. This is tough. We just lost it a little for a moment. We own it. We’ve got this. We’ll work it out.”

I smile. We are all humans on a mission managing the best we can with our minds and bodies. I look south down the AT as far as I can see, “Homestretch now.”

SunFloJo says, “I think it is funny that we were having separate meltdowns at the same time while admiring the opposite two.”

Laughter cleanses us.

After our revelation, we take time to breathe. I adore how our unique foursome respects quiet time. We are our authentic selves through strain, laughter, and peace. We value reflection time unanimously.

I stretch and recline for a few minutes.    

Sunshine Rat breaks our silence, “Stalker C, we haven’t hit our goal yet. We’ve only got one trail left,”

Sunshine turns to the older of us and says, “We thought we’d meet our dream mountain men this week and be swept off our feet.”

Stalker C says, “That’s right. We’ve gotta bring home our true loves from this graduation trip to our parents.”

Hmmm.

I offer, “There’s still time.”

This chapter is available on the Surrender On The Trail podcast too.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.

Psalm 34:8

Stalker C startles awake. She whispers, “What is it?!”

My words barely enter the air, “I. Don’t. Know.”

We are frozen, sitting up. We do not peek behind us yet.

I continue slowly, “We are going to have to turn around. I think it is in my backpack. Or outside. Or maybe both. I am hoping it is outside.”

We listen. She hears it too.

“Ok. I’m going to pull down my buff and look.”

“Ok, me too.”

We slowly tug fabric and turn. My eyes adjust. I don’t see anything moving on top of the pack. Thank God.

I gulp, then crawl closer to look. Nothing obvious is inside that I can see without putting my hand in the bag. I am too scared to place my arm inside or to widen the opening.

Then I hear something with four legs move away from the outside wall. It sounds big, bigger than a rat. I wince to stand and then look through a tall window. 

I can’t see past the darkness. I hope the animal is small. However, the sound is what I imagine a curious bear might sound like.

What do I know? Maybe I am wrong. I dismiss my fears by thinking: It was probably a skunk or possum. Mostly I am glad it was not indoors with us.

My heartbeat slows down, “I am so sorry I woke you.”

“It’s ok.”

“I was afraid.”

Stalker C nods.

Next door in the lights-out room our friends continue snoozing.

We try to get comfortable and go back to sleep with buffs back over our faces.

But Stalker C whispers, “Something is behind us.” And we become a fit of giggles. 

When we stop giggling, the quiet somehow makes us start laughing again and again. SunFloJo and Sunshine Rat must be deep sleepers. They do not stir.

Ok. I’m going to try to sleep. My back may split in two from the hardwood floor, but morning will arrive. I need legs that are ready to climb the next mountain.

3:15AM-ish

“Surrender!” Stalker C whispers.

I don’t move. Through the buff I say, “What?”

Stalker C sits higher than me. She says calmly, “There is a centipede barreling toward your head. I don’t know if you care or not, but if you do, we should do something about it.”

A centipede? Barreling?

I think it over, then pull the buff below my eyes. Sure enough the centipede scoots along a crack coming from the baseboard and heading my way. We will soon be face to face. 

“Fine.” I stand up and do a short pace back and forth considering what to do. I don’t think I can kill it. It is too big for me to stomach squishing it.

I need a plastic bag. Stalker C watches my body language. The nearest available plastic bag is on the hygiene product table in the front room. If I go in there, our neighbors’ motion activated light will turn on.

Stalker C reads my mind, “Don’t worry. They won’t wake up.”

I slip past our lightly snoring friends and grab a plastic bag. No one moves when their light comes on.

Back in our room, I realize I need a pen, stick or something slender. I eye Sunshine Rat’s pen on a small table. I walk back in to grab it. Still no one wakes up.

Whew! This is good. Those two will be rested and able to go for help tomorrow when Stalker C and I are not physically able to finish.

I twirl the centipede onto the pen and deposit it into the plastic bag.  I poke a tiny hole in hopes of giving oxygen to the centipede and place the bagged friend on the windowsill.  “I’ll let you free in the morning, Little One. Hope you make it.”

Back to “bed”.

4:15AM-ish

Stalker C whispers, “Surrender, there’s a spider.”

Oh, dear God. Where?

I roll over toward her and remove enough of my buff to expose my left eye.

“Right there.” She points high on the wall on her side of the room and above our feet.

I say, “That’s like five feet up.”

“It’s been there for a while.”

I have nothing left. “It will go away.” 

Or drop right on us. I look toward the window to see if there is any sign of daybreak. Seeing nothing yet, I roll over and slip back into whatever sleep level I can.

5:45AM-ish

I look at the sky through the window. That is not black. I see a little blue.

We can’t let Ted down. I’ll get my stuff together, change my pants and then wake the others.

Assembled, I try to say gently, “Good morning girls. We gotta go. Make sure you have everything.”

Stalker C mumbles, “We can’t disappoint Ted.”

Now that the party stirs, I slip outside to add the wet socks to my dirty laundry bag.

Sunshine says hopeful, “I wonder if Ted is making coffee for us.”

SunFloJo says, “Oh I hope so.”

I pee outside to start the day well–the outdoor bathroom expert that I am. I search each room making sure we haven’t forgotten a single thing or left any crumbs. 

The centipede is set free on a porch rail—possibly still alive. It was hard to tell.  

The last thing I grab and put on my feet are the socks from the security cameras.

Then we shut the door behind us.

We pass the fountain in the center of Rapidan Camp. Last night Ted told us how the fountain still works, but no one is sure exactly how it drains. I think the fountain looks lonely with no buildings around it anymore. I picture the bear walking by it in the mornings. 

The bear isn’t here today, is it?  Hopefully it will sleep in after such a stormy night. I keep an eye out just in case.

Passing The Creel house, Sunshine smells for coffee. Nothing. Ted doesn’t have to be up this early. Hopefully we get to see him tonight.

We walk across the bridge and over the river so Stalker C and Sunshine can use the outhouse. They take one step in and walk right back out. 

SunFloJo asks the girls, “Smell too bad?”

The girls nod. No way they can accomplish anything in there.

SunFloJo and I stand on the bridge and look over the river that is easier to see from here today in the morning light. Wow, we crossed that yesterday?

We walk on, looking for our next trail.

It is early. Maybe 6:15am or so.

Sunshine looks at her boob-o-meter, “With any luck we’ll be back to Big Meadow by 3pm and have time to shower before Ted arrives.”

That’s a good thought ‘because we need showers. Desperately.

We walk behind Rapidan Camp now. To our left is clearly marked Fork Mountain Trail. But in front of us we have a dilemma. There is a small width trail left of a trail marker post. And about eight feet and to the right of the trail marker is a wider width trail that kind of looks like a road up the hill.

Which one do we take? Which one is Laurel Prong Trail?

We guess that the trail marker being next to the smaller width trail must be the correct answer. So we begin. 

Morning sun sparkles through the trees. This trail closely follows a tiny creek that I assume is Laurel Prong Creek. I think about how this looks like where Smurfs might live. There are mushrooms and many moss covered rocks. The landscape is wet and cool from the downpour last night.

We continue half a mile and then the mossy creek trail ends. There is no right, left or forward choice.  We picked the wrong trail.

Sunshine says, “Great start, Steam Team. Good thing it is so early.”

Stalker C, “Yeah, we didn’t disappoint Ted. Early start and already an excursion.”

SunFloJo, “We have plenty of time to get to the Tap Room before 6pm.”

Sunshine, “Because that’s trash and laundry time. We gotta be there by then.”

We spread out along the thicket. Sunshine says, “Hold up.”  We pause to give Stalker C a moment to pee ahead of us.

Back to the trail marker post we switch gears and head up the hill on what must be the real Laurel Prong Trail.

Uphill. Ouch. My foot to shin angle feels like about 45 degrees.

Soon we enter what feels like an enclosed wet wood forest with more browns than greens. There are many twists and turns.

The tall trees intertwine their branches above our heads to form a roof of leaves. A sea of ferns gathers on the lumpy and bumpy mountainside. The ferns are not as thick as we saw in places yesterday, but their bright green waves contrast the many fallen logs and large rocks.

Occasionally the three front runners pause so I can catch up. We are a human slinky; widening and closing our gaps as we walk.

Surely, we are getting close to the top. This is supposed to be a 5.7 to 6.7-mile day, but I must remember: the trail lies.

Mentally I am prepared for and 8 to 10-mile day, but if it’s all up hill like this I am going to be in trouble. My heart rate is up as if I’m midway through a Jazzercise class or something.

When we have walked 2.5 miles according to Sunshine’s boob-o-meter, we see something. 

We stop to look left. Probably 40 feet off the trail is a clearing where someone made a big circle of cut back trees and bushes.

“That must be the fire ring we were supposed to stay in last night,” SunFloJo says.

Stalker C eyes the vast forest in every direction of the burned space. She says, “Oh thank God for Ted.  We would never have found that at night.” 

“And the mud would have made it rough,” Sunshine Rat adds.

We shake our heads and shiver at the thought. We would have missed it. No doubt.

SunFloJo says, “Well if anyone asks, we stayed overnight at the Fisherman’s camp just outside of the national park just down from Rapidan.”

“That’s right,” we say. 

© Copyright 2016 Surrender On The Trail – Glenna S. Edwards

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CHAPTER SIXTEEN

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcomes it.  John 1:15

Yep. It is urine.

Dehydration and the highest level of exhaustion in my lifetime wreaks havoc on my body.

No one notice. Please no one notice. I beg the room to turn me invisible.

Silently I blame the numbness and pray no one smells this new discovery.

Ted leans against the front door frame. I remain seated in a puddle. He says, “Well. Get some rest and just shut this front door good–both tonight and in the morning.”

Sunshine assures, “Oh, we absolutely will.”

“Ok. Good night.” Ted grins, then saunters toward the porch stairs to head back to The Creel House. Rain continues pouring beyond these old walls.

For now, we leave the solid door open. A screen door allows the flow of outside air and the sounds of drenched nature. I thank God for a bit of wind outside. 

I take off boots and socks. I place the socks under my bottom.

Mentally I inventory what is left in my pack that could be useful. So much stuff is back in the bear box at Big Meadow. I have a pair of shorts that will work to sleep in overnight while my pants dry. I have a change of underwear and two pair of clean socks. Oh, and “Wilderness Wipes” to clean numb girl parts.

I miss out on the bliss happening four feet from me. Three fourths of the Steam Team glow pure joy through their sweat and dirt.

SunFloJo filters water from the creek. Stalker C and Sunshine eat and smile regarding our salvation. I hear Sunshine giggle words through cracker chewing, “Remember when Surrender was totally relaxed walking along the ridge and then snapped when we thought we were lost?!” 

They mock together in unison, “We shouldn’t have crossed that #*&%@%^ river!” Laughter fills the tiny cabin built for a Prime Minister.

I half smile to blend in. No one can believe how lucky we feel right now as even more thunder and lightning fill the sky. Someone says, “We get to be dry tonight!” 

Well, they may soon be dry.

I am not so sure about my situation. There will be no food for me until I recover. What should be easy to clean up is excruciating. My body shoot pins through my muscles every time I move an inch.

My socks are yellow. I roll them up and manage to stand. We do not have a sink to rinse anything, so I make my way along the wall, around the girls without getting too close. Surely by now their noses are consumed by their own body smells. A girl can hope.

Flip flops are near the top of my bag. I grab them. Out on the porch, I walk to a railing near the flowing creek below–one of the creeks that empties into the now infamous river. 

Thank you, God, for this rain that acts as a faucet. I hold out the socks and wash them as best I can in the rain. The rain is so heavy that this is not a bad solution. Isn’t it interesting that the very thing (rain) that was a burden minutes ago is now the exact thing I need to accomplish a task?

Oh, my. Do I need to pee again? I think so. Man, I am messed up!

After rinsing and wringing multiple times, I determine that the best place for the socks is outside the cabin tonight. I leave them stretched on a wooden bench farthest from the door. Hopefully, that does not attract animals. Or maybe my scent will keep them away?

I hold up my hands to rinse them in the rain. I take the steps down to gravel and enter a path that leads closer to the creek. I wonder if Ted is watching from a distance.

Oh well. I cannot worry about him in this moment, and I cannot risk ruining these pants. I need to wear these on the hike tomorrow. Shorts might be good for dryness overnight, but pants in the deep woods is best. I stress about not falling off balance. My legs are weak, but my determination is strong. 

I ponder the power of my Boy Scout pants. I think they will dry quickly. I thank God for fabric made for outdoor living.

SunFloJo comes outside for similar reasons. I go back inside and pause to keep the screen door from slamming. I observe there are three total rooms to this building other than some doors that have locks on them which may be closets.

I move my backpack to the room adjoining the main room. I dig out a Ziplock bag of clean underwear, new socks, and my shorts. I also grab the pack of Wilderness Wipes. 

Walking into the main room where they still are eating, I announce, “I’m going to the back to change.”

“Ok.”

In the back room, I eye small cameras overhead in the corners of the room. Hmmm.

I put a clean sock over each camera—just in case. Perfect! 

The white wooden windows have no curtains, but there are many evergreen branches touching the glass from the outside. I pull off clothes being careful to put dirty underwear inside a plastic bag. I read the instructions on the Wilderness package, clean up and put the used wipe in the plastic bag too. I remember “Leave no trace behind, aka leave no garbage. What you pack into the woods must come out of the woods, etc.” I do what I can with deodorant and accept the result. 

Ahh, I feel a little better. My numbness may be awake again. The rest of me aches as if beaten by a baseball bat.

I return my belongings to the red backpack, thinking of Amy who allowed me to borrow it.  She is among the friends and family who think we are out in the middle of the woods right now. Well, I suppose we are, just inside a building inside the woods. I wish I could tell them so they do not worry.

I stuff everything back in the pack except leave my pants out to dry. Surprisingly, the pants aren’t wafting any obvious odors. Thank God.

Finally, I can eat something. 

“My Houdini needs attention,” Stalker C mentions. We giggle of course.

“Wilderness Wipes,” I offer.

“Me too,” say the other ladies. “Hygiene matters.”

We make a body cleansing station right on top a President Hoover history placard shelf. Team members take turns in the back room. Each time someone notices the socked cameras, we hear giggles. “Genius,” says SunFloJo.

Sunshine and SunFlo begin to tour the museum pictures and read signs in each room. I have been observing as well.

“Lou Henry Hoover was ahead of her time,” Sunshine says.

“Yes, she was. Looks like she graduated from Stanford with a Geology degree in 1898,” says SunFloJo.

“That’s where she met Herbert Hoover.” I chime in and read, “She was an avid outdoors person. She oversaw the design of Rapidan Camp and she spoke proficient Mandarin Chinese.”

Stalker C says, “What an amazing woman.”

“Check out some of her quotes,” SunFloJo points out.  We read:

“The independent girl is truly of quite modern origin, and usually is a most bewitching little piece of humanity.” 

“I majored in geology in college but have majored in Herbert Hoover ever since.” 

“I was a Scout years ago, before the movement started, when my father took me fishing, camping and hunting. Then I was sorry that more girls could not have what I had. When I learned of the movement, I thought, here is what I always wanted other girls to have.”

“The independent girl is a person before whose wrath only the most rash dare stand, and, they, it must be confessed, with much fear and trembling. “

I think about how Lou Henry Hoover probably stood where we stand tonight. And how she helped lead the way for girls to earn college degrees long before the four of us in the room pursued our own education.

The lights in the three cabin rooms have motion sensors. If you sit still in the front and back rooms the lights will turn off. The small side room light where Stalker C’s and my stuff is; however, stays on no matter how still you sit.

Sunshine Rat and SunFloJo lay out their pads and sleeping bags in the front room.

“We technically should go in the back room,” I think out loud as we lay in the bright light.

Stalker C says what I also think, “Seems secluded back there, though. I’m afraid of the mice Ted hasn’t seen in a while.”

“Me too.” And I shouldn’t have added, “I’m afraid of why those mice are missing.”

Stalker C shivers, “Surrender.”

She sighs, “Darn snakes in the rafters next door. Wish Ted hadn’t mentioned those!”

“Exactly.”

“I can sleep with the lights on.”

“Me too.”

I look toward the front room where Sunshine and SunFloJo settle in to sleep. They practically cocoon.  They know how to make the most of this roof and walls. My sleeping equipment won’t allow such a full body and head wrap like them. Even with an extra-long sleeping bag I do not fit all the way inside comfortably. I eye the wide hardwood planks and decide which location I will try to place the useless small mat to meet part of my body.

We may have walls, but they are old walls. I see the cracks and holes big enough for a mouse to enter. I hear the rain smack the porch wood about three feet from me. I lay right next to what I assume is a storage type room. A padlock and a light under the door are inches from my nose.

Stalker C lays next to me. On the other side of her is the doorway to the front room. We hear SunFloJo get in rhythm with dreamland Zzz’s. Sunshine and SunFlo are physically still long enough that their room light goes out.

Stalker C and I squirm to get comfortable in the light and harsh floor. At our feet is the door to the back room. The light goes out back there. We should try to sleep in there. But I just can’t. 

Stalker C and I look at each other. I suspect we share the same thoughts. Something about that room isn’t quite right. She looks toward the back room, then at me and shakes her head “no”. I agree with a nod.

My eyes dart to the storage door next to me and then at the no longer used second porch door behind my head. My backpack sits near the unused door. I pull a brown buff up over my face. If something crawls on me, it is not touching my eyes, nose, ears, or mouth. 

“Good night,” I muffle.

1:30AM-ish

I see light through my buff.

And I hear something. 

Don’t move.

Eek. It sounds like a small animal is walking around or inside my backpack.

Like, a mouse. Or a rat!

I wait. I listen.

Scurrying continues. Buff still on my face, I contemplate the number of inches between the top of my head and the backpack. Not many. 25 inches. Maybe.

Is the scurrying inside only? Or are there paws moving around outside too? 

Listen.

Still listening.

Lord! Help me! There is something on the outside wall. It sniffs and walks back and forth.

AND I hear the inside movement. Maybe. I am not sure if something is on the inside or just outside on the porch.

Whatever it is, is it going to get us?

US! I remember. Stalker C is still sleeping. 

Stalker C told me once months ago that she cannot hear well out of one of her ears. Maybe I should not bother her. Or maybe she would want to be bothered so whatever it is does not crawl near her.

My heart pounds.

The fear takes over.

I sit straight up, buff still over my eyes.

My hand raises straight up and straight down onto Stalker C’s leg. I whisper through my buff, “Something. Is. Behind. Us.”

Thanks for reading. To listen to my podcast, please subscribe to Surrender On The Trail on your favorite podcast platform.

© Copyright 2016 Surrender On The Trail – Glenna S. Edwards

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you,

plans to give you hope an a future. Jeremiah 29:11

I feel terrible immediately that my words slipped out the way they did. I became the person on a trip that I do not like.

Also, my mind flies to what time is it? Where are we going to stay tonight? There isn’t anywhere we can get to safely before nightfall. We are trapped out here wherever here is. At this hour, we could never walk out as far as we walked in. We are LOST?!?!

I want to say no one is to blame, and that we’ll figure it out, don’t worry. But I am certain more words won’t help after what I already blurted out.

Stalker C turns to Sunshine Rat. She holds horizontal to her chest one of my poles, “Spear me.  Spear me now.”

Sunshine Rat is unfazed.

Stalker C says, “Right now.” Her jaw is clenched with determination.

I attempt to give Stalker C comfort. I try to express “don’t worry” body language. Clearly I can’t trust my words right now!

Sunshine looks at her boob-o-meter. She states calmly, “It is 6:35pm.”  I look to the sky. It looks every bit of 9pm.

Sunshine Rat and SunFloJo converse over the map. 

I think we might as well keep walking because, well, really, what options do we have other than that?  They come to the same conclusion. We continue down the hill. 

I hear Sunshine mention that she really needs to pee.  I am in and out of reality in what I can hear or think.  Is that the exhaustion, the stress or both?

We pause for needs and then continue our descent.

Look! There is a gravel road. We all see it, hoping it is not a figment of our imagination. We pick up our steps.

The gravel looks familiar. The whole scene looks slightly familiar—like maybe I saw this online in a photo?!

SunFloJo sees a bridge and across it is a parked white truck. She says, “We can sleep under it if we have to.”

I veer slightly right and forward motivated by our change of landscape. Then I see it!  “Hey, this is like the website. I think this is Rapidan Camp!”

We see a wood sign that says Creel House. This is it! This is it! 

We walk toward the building that blends in with the forest around it.

An image emerges from the wooden deck. It is a man. A guy who looks dressed for a golf outing in the middle of the woods? Is he a mirage?

“Well, hello,” he says seeming surprised to see us. Yep, he is real.

“What are you ladies doing here?” Oh, thank God. We are still recognizable as female.

SunFloJo leads with enthusiasm as if we all were not having heart attacks just .25 miles back. “We came to see Rapidan Camp. Can we still get a tour?”

“Well,” he chuckles. “This has to be the latest that I’ve ever had visitors arrive. I have already begun to have my end of the night cigar and glass of wine on the porch. I took off my park ranger clothes and put on casual clothes.”

The Steam Team snickers about our late arrival and give sideway glances at one another. 

SunFloJo kids, “You can stay in your casual clothes.” He wears a white t-shirt and salmon-colored shorts. He is protected from the rain by the porch roof. We stand dripping wet on the ground below his steps.

This backpack is even more heavy now that we are standing in one spot. I hurt all over. My mind is somewhere between wondering where his wine is so I can chug it to numb the pain and fearing that I may pass out at any moment. 

“Where did you come from?” He half grins, but I suspect he is wondering if we are a threat. At the same time, I wonder if he is a threat. Could we take him at this point of the day if we had to defend ourselves? 

Ah, the words of Dorian comfort me from lunch time: No man would ever approach 4 women.

He continues, “Most people who come from Big Meadow are down here by 9am.”

Sunshine’s face laughs without a sound.    

He is measuring if we are just this…dumb, inexperienced…?  Fill in the blank. The answer is:  Yes, probably.

“My name is Ted.” After asking us a few more questions, he determines we did not come the fast way from Big Meadow. 

There is a fast way? Really? Shocker. We went the long way indeed.

“Sure I’ll give you a tour.  Why not?  You’re here,” he says and grabs his keys and an umbrella.

Yes, we are here. I am believing that this mirage continues to be the real deal.

We walk drag ourselves further into the camp property. Ted locks into the full swing of his tour guide job. He points to where small cabins used to be but have been torn down. He says, “And some mornings I see a bear walk right through here.” 

He just had to mention that! I peek at Stalker C. Her face tightens.

“And this,” he points to a giant stone structure. “People tend to think this is a fireplace left from when a house was torn down, but it is not. It was designed to be an outdoor cooking area from the beginning.”

We follow Ted to a brown painted set of stairs.

“Welcome to The Brown House.” Rain changes from drizzle to pour. My hands and fingers wrinkle like I have been in a bathtub all afternoon. “Put your packs on the porch. We can’t take them inside.” No problem. The indentions in my shoulders thank you.

The Brown House is the Hoover House. President Hoover called it brown because it is somewhat an opposite name from the White House.

“Do you care if we take a quick picture in front of Hoover’s House?” I ask. Where did I muster the strength or desire? But I want to remember this.

“No, go ahead.” Ted is accommodating and pleasant.

We pose in the rain, click, and leave the packs. Ted leads our bodies to the back of the house. The wrap around deck overlooks the river. Water flowing over rocks back here sounds amazing. I picture President Hoover sitting outside to clear his thoughts.

Ted steps up the back stairs and pauses, turning to us. He points to a mounted video camera and says, “You can be watched by security at all times.”

We nod. You are not going to get any problems from us, Mister. We have enough problems. One being that it is getting dark soon and we have not figured out where we will camp tonight. 

Technically we are supposed to hike another mile and a half before finding the fire ring. I look around.  We are in a deep valley. It appears that the trails out of here are uphill. I do not know if any of us can make it another mile and a half uphill in the dark and then set up camp. 

Dear Lord, please give us a place safe to stay tonight. I am not sure I can walk further to set up camp. If this is a safe guy, please influence him to help us find a nearby solution. Amen.

I consider that maybe if we eat something soon, then our energy will be renewed a little bit but not enough to hike much further. 

So tired.  Everything hurts.

We walk into the Brown House via an enclosed porch office which Ted tells us was designed by Lou Henry Hoover. 

SunFloJo says, “Ooh, look at these book holders. I love those.”

Ted, “Yes, she had them specially made just for this desk.”

Me, oh my God in Heaven, how does SunFloJo have any oomph left in her to observe and admire a detail like that?

I do admire the porch office. 3 walls of windows would be exactly where I’d want to do my First Lady correspondence and planning also.

We inch into the living room with exposed log walls. It is the size of a traditional ranch home. I find it lovely. Quaint. Humble. Sturdy. I imagine it is not what a President would want these days.

There are ropes that prevent tourists from walking further into the living room or forward into the sitting room.

We stand within the ropes. Ted is talking and talking.  He has many facts to share.  He mentions the original pieces and the recreated period pieces. He talks about how the windows used to be open with fabric coverings, but the Hoovers had to change that due to reasons like bugs. My eyes fixate on an old rotary telephone. My knees feel weak.

My legs will not hold me up much longer if we keep standing in the same spot. 

Would Ted mind if I sit on the floor?

He is still talking.

I am going down. Slowly.

To the floor.

I tuck in my knees to make myself as small as possible. Maybe he won’t notice I’m on the floor? 

So far, he is not kicking us out. I am still on the floor. 

Sunshine sinks to the floor.

Then Stalker C sinks to the floor.

Hard wood. Feels good. Not standing–that’s all that matters. I notice my pants and sides of the boots are a bit muddy. Hopefully Ted and the Hoover ghosts don’t mind.

SunFloJo talks it up with Ted.  She is working the tour. She is totally interested I suppose, or making a new friend, or giving us time to sit, or all 3 at once. 

My mind has gone almost as numb as my body.

I. Have. No. Idea. What. They. Are. Talking. About. At. This. Point.

Oh shoot. We are on the move to the back bedroom. Maybe I had enough minutes on the floor to get me through this? Or not.

The three floor friends crawl and stand in stages to our feet. We limp ten feet into the bedroom. There is an office behind the bedroom so that the President could work after hours and not disturb his bride as she slept.

“So, people go up Laurel Prong to camp for the night?” SunFlo fans an S.O.S. signal. She digs.

Go Jo. 

My ears perk up. “About how far is that,” she pauses and adds a concerned jaw line, “from here?”

Thunder rolls outside. A lightning bolt flashes. The rain pours even harder now. It looks like midnight outside with the rain, thick forest and fact that we are in a valley between mountains. I would love this scenery if I could lay down right where we are. I’d give a lot if I could sleep on this wood floor right now. 

My lady parts go numb again. I have lost mental capacity to try and figure out why this keeps happening down there. I may need to pee. I’m not sure. I finished drinking almost all of my water a few miles back, but I feel thirsty. I don’t want to drink the little bit I have left because that bottle needs to last until morning.  This may be what dehydration feels like. I’m messed up more than a mild headache and thirst. My whole body is shaking on the inside.

“Oh that’s pretty far,” Ted says. He continues to size us up. Are we troublemakers?  Can we be trusted?  Is that one (me) gonna pass out any minute now?  He scans us head to toe occasionally and I am not offended. I bet he’s had CPR and First Aid training for this job. He’s must know we’re in a dangerously exhausted state.

We stand in the Hoover’s bedroom. I resist sinking back to the floor. Ted talks about how he loves caring for the place.

He says, “I try to get family or friends to come visit me down here, but they never do.”

He continues, “But there’s really only one bed big enough to fit me let alone anyone else. They’d have to bring air mattresses or something.”

One of us asks, “How long have you been working here?” Whose mouth did that come from?  I don’t know.  The room spins a bit. It’s good to feel safe indoors. If I pass out, I’ll be inside and dry.

“Oh, over ten years now.” He is dedicated.

Ted describes his daily schedule, “Every morning I walk through the buildings before guests arrive.  Sometimes I find snakes wrapped around these rafters.” He points up. 

We all peek at the ceiling and rafters above our heads. So much for feeling safe.  “And sometimes I find mice at the Prime Minister’s house next door, but I haven’t found any mice in a while,” He continues.

I imagine the snakes and lack of mice are connected.

“Oh, yeah, there’s another cabin. The Prime Minister’s house? Tell us about that.” SunFloJo is keeping us dry as long as she can.

Ted smiles. His love for Rapidan is clear. He loves the history. Oh, and the wine earlier may have softened his congenial spirit.

We walk toward the back-porch door.  I see through the wrap around windows that the rain is coming down in sheets. How is that possible? The sky has certainly had plenty of water to share today.

Ted nods toward the Prime Minister’s cabin. “So, in 1929 when Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald and his daughter were coming to stay President Hoover had that cabin built especially for Ramsay.” We look toward the cabin a short distance away from The Brown House over a foot bridge.

We are about to step outside the back door when lightning sparks and thunder cracks.  Paul is home no doubt watching the weather and wondering how we are doing. Anyone like Amy and Deb who also had a hold of our trail plan may be praying for us right now. Thanks, friends & family.

I wish I could tell Paul So far so good. We are ok, and we are going to figure this out.

I imagine us somewhere soon in the dark trying to stake tents in the mud. We, along with our gear, will be covered in mud just trying to accomplish such a task that should be easy by now. The tents may collapse around our bodies because the stakes will not hold. We will be like muddy mummies laying in the forest somewhere waiting for first light. Whew! I’ve gotta stop thinking about it!

“So, Ted, you know this area.” SunFloJo seeks more info, “We heard there is a fire ring up on Laurel Prong Trail which is where we are heading next to set up camp tonight.”

He replies, “Yeah, people tell you it’s like a mile or so up the hill, but it’s more like two miles.”

“People generally aren’t down here this time of night,” He reiterates. Yep, thank you. We established this fact a while ago.

He continues, “And you got to be careful that you don’t end up heading up the wrong hill trail. Fork Mountain Trail would be the wrong way to go.” He diverts to talk more history, “Lou Henry Hoover used to take horses and guests on horses up that trail. It is pretty steep. You want to make sure you are on Laurel Prong Trail for sure. There are 2 trails that start with the name Laurel.  It can be hard to make sure you’re on the right one.”

Thunder rumbles again. More lightning and more thunder cracks and crackles. I jump at one sky whack sound.

“I normally don’t tell people this, but if you go down the access road across the bridge opposite the trails that you will eventually need…”

“Toward where we saw the white car?” SunFlo interjects.

“Yeah.” He points. “If you follow that, you actually end up at a Fisherman’s Camp that is outside of the park boundary, but much closer than if you try to walk up Laurel right now.”

Sunshine says, “Oh, a Fisherman’s Camp.” Like it is the savior information we need. And maybe it is. She nods soaking it in.

Now I have another visual for where we will lay our heads in mud tonight.  Right next to a watering place that animals will visit in the morning. Great. But closer. We will take closer.

Ted says, “If you have time, I’ll show you the Prime Minister cabin.”

“Oh yes, of course. We’ve got nothing but time,” SunFloJo says avoiding the fact that it is nearly dark now.

We walk across the bridge with no rails. Ted tells us that Marines lay every stone for the bridge.

I still think I might need to pee. The numbness and dehydration has me confused. It is not like I can pee with Ted around though.

Ted says, “Yeah on this Prime Minister Cabin porch sometimes I see little critters sniffing out anything that seems odd from the day.”  This is another beautiful porch wisely built with benches and plenty of places to sit and enjoy the water flowing in the creek behind the cabin which leads to the river.  There is a small path that leads behind the porch to the water’s edge. 

Ted adds, “I weed-eat and do all the landscaping while I’m here.  Just cleared that area over there today.”  He points to where I bet another cabin used to stand. At one time there were thirteen cabins. Now, just three.

“I’m not sure if the security cameras are working in this cabin,” he says.

Interesting piece of information. 

He unlocks the Prime Minister door. This building is painted white.

“Where The Brown House is set up to look like it would have when Hoover used the space; this cabin is set up more like a museum.”

I note the pictures secured to the wall and plaques with descriptions throughout the first room I see.

“So, I’m thinking,” Ted says. “That maybe you four give yourselves a self-guided tour in here. You can read the museum information for yourselves.”

I pick up on a hopeful tone. We are all ears. And…?

“And if your tour takes most of the night and you are gone well before 7am then no one will probably know, and I probably won’t get fired. But this would have to be a secret. A big secret.”

Our ears and eyes are at full attention.

“You cannot post this on Facebook or social media. And I had no idea that the door here was left unlocked.”

Sunshine Rat says, “Oh Ted! You don’t even know what this means to us.”

Um, I think he knows what this means. Look at us.

This means we’ll probably live through the night…and that is what his conscience has been weighing since he met us. Should he save these wild girls or follow the rules?  Oh, hallelujah, thank you Ted for choosing to keep us alive!

Stalker C says, “Oh! This is amazing. We can’t thank you enough.”

SunFloJo has worked her magic, “Ted, thank you.  Would you like to eat some snacks with us?  We haven’t eaten in a long time. We will snack and get the heck out of here. No one will know we were ever here.”

I pipe in with, “We will leave no trace behind. I will clean or carry out any evidence.” 

Ted’s cheekbones might crack from his smile. He has faith in us. And he is literally a life saver times four. 

We scoot across the bridge to The Brown House to retrieve our backpacks.  We are back inside the Prime Minister Cabin within a minute. We don’t want Ted to change his mind!

Zippers are pulled and dinner snacks come out.  Ted stands in the doorway making conversation as we sit in three corners of the front room. Sunshine sits on a nailed down wooden chair in the middle of the room. Smiles are everywhere. Saved, we almost forget our aching legs and backs.

“I’m sorry there is not a bathroom in here,” Ted says.

“Oh, honey,” SunfloJo says. “That is the least of our worries. We’ve got shelter in this crazy storm. We will figure the rest out. Thank you so much!”

It is a party now. Sort of.

“So where are you going to be tomorrow night?” Ted asks.

“The plan is to be at Big Meadow again. In fact, we lightened our load and right now one of our tents is set up there waiting on us.  We had to make the campsite look occupied.”

Ted laughs.

“Hey,” Stalker C chimes in. I think I spotted happy tears of relief in her eyes for the last several minutes.  “Tomorrow’s Friday night. Come find us and have dinner with us at the Tap Room.”

SunFloJo is all over that! “Yes! Absolutely, Ted. Our treat. That Tap Room is so much fun. Join us for sure!”

Ted replies, “Well, I should be done with guests by the afternoon.” This makes us giggle thinking about our later than normal arrival. “I have 4 dinners worth of trash to take up and I usually do laundry up there around 6pm on Friday nights.” 

Well that settles it then. This is a perfect plan.

“I’ll see you there,” he nods.

“Perfect!  We’ll be watching for you,” SunFlo says.

I sit on the floor by the stone fireplace. Oh no. Is that pee coming out of me? Involuntary!?!

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CHAPTER FOURTEEN

We all stumble in many ways….

James 3:2

Stalker C does not pass out although her eyes may pop out of her head any minute. Her mouth remains slightly open.

Nightfall is near. The hours of rain bring darkness sooner than we anticipated.

SunFloJo looks at my camera and then nods toward the poo.

After waiting until Stalker C moves ahead of us, I take a picture of the bear scat.

“Thank you, sweetie,” SunFloJo says.

It is unclear if the poo pic is evidence for the search party when we go missing after a bear drags us away or for a tale to tell when we get back home. I do not ask.

We walk on through the increasingly dense trees.

Inside my head I chuckle. Turns out a bear does **** in the woods.

And with that thought, I instantly am in a squelched fit of giggles at the back of the line. I silently consider the creation of greeting cards and funny texts and who-knows-what marketing hype around the bear scat theme. Perhaps I am delirious at this point of the day?

I fall further behind, but I see the Steam Team’s colored backpacks ahead through the rain and dripping leaves. The trail leads us down, down, step over poo, down, more poo, down. Slide. Adjust footing. Down. We hear water flowing. It grows louder. Maybe there is a creek up due to the rain.

We must be getting close to Rapidan Camp. This is what I have been waiting for! 

Despite the water sounds, there is still more trail and time for my mind to wander. I think about our friend Deb and feel her in spirit. I bet she is thinking about us too. Perhaps she is looking at a copy of our trail plan. She likes historical places. We share that in common. I think about how she crafted the trail questions knowing that all four of us are at crossroads in our lives. 

The three ahead of me pause. I catch up with the group. I am out of breath. Maybe we will take time to rest.

What. Is. That? 

The group faces a fast-paced waterfall that crashes into something much more than a creek. It is a river.

As I contemplate the beauty of the waterfall–I want to soak in all the beauty today—I am surprised that SunFloJo begins to cross the river! 

Wait a minute.

Have we thought this through?

There is a big gap between the land I stand on and the land on the other side. With all the rain today, the water flows fast. The water looks deep. Much deeper than a creek anyway. We stand at the foot of the mountain we just descended and across from us is a new mountain to ascend.

My brain searches my memory of the map. I do not remember crossing a river at any point on the trail.

Is this Rapidan River?

I look down our side of the riverbank. Shouldn’t we be going that way? Along the river on this side instead of crossing it?

That may be an overgrown path to our left. It is hard to tell and just out of my reach. I can see debris and trees that are uprooted in the mud covering what may be where our trail goes. That looks like more of a trail to me. I am too tired to walk over and investigate. Every calorie burned matters at this point in the day. Also, I do not want to risk being lost from the team.

Why am I so darn slow that I catch up after decisions are made? Can we talk about this?

Nature is loud here. There is no talking.

SunFloJo is three large wet rocks into the river right along the bottom of the falls where the river is white from the rush of rapids. To the left of her looks deep and moves fast.

I squint to see a tree with a yellow blaze symbol on the other side of the river. Wow, I guess we are physically crossing the river. I was not expecting this at all.

Fearless SunFloJo looks back at us and points to the tree on the other side with a yellow blaze. I choose to trust that she knows what she is doing. That must be the blaze we are looking for to continue the trail. I must be wrong about staying on this side of the river.

Does she not know there is water underfoot that will take her away? Or is that just me being overly cautious?

Sunshine Rat is carefree with good balance. She makes it to the other side and waits for us.

Stalker C sways on a rock, then catches herself. She makes it.

I begin.

One rock. Two. Step, step. Rain continues. The sky is a dark green gray. My pack is heavy. Will the pack ruin my balance? Will I fall? The water races beneath me. One slip will be trouble. Please do not fall.

I use my poles to steady myself hoping they will not slip either.

Sunshine Rat points, “Watch that one. It’s wiggly.”

That was nice of her. I step quickly right, left, into the mud and arrive at the opposite side of the river. 

Whew! “Thanks.”

And then we are off on what feels like a fresh start. How can we start a new journey this late in the day? I am not sure what time it is. I wonder where in the heck is Rapidan Camp?

My concerns quickly fade because there is a new type of beauty over here. It is hard to imagine how each area could be so new to me in the woods, but this is different. My mind is all in even if my body screams. There is black earth underfoot with skinny trees and leaves stretching to a sky we cannot see. We climb up the hill, higher and higher above the river.

This takes a bit of physical effort, but thank you, Lord, this is gorgeous. Rain is heavy now and I do not care.  We make it to a ridge pathway that overlooks the river to our left down below. The river looks smaller as we travel higher.

We walk and walk. I ease into meditation again. No words come to mind. I am at peace. My mind is blank.

Nothing.

Bliss. Beauty.

Water drips from my eyelashes.

Higher and higher we climb. I forget the concern I felt when we crossed the river. I forget how tired my body is. 

We hear the water below and feel drops from the sky. My walking poncho tent somewhat keeps my backpack dry.

I remain in the back of the line. SunFloJo turns to check on me occasionally. I nod to acknowledge her kindness.

Now the trail slopes back down the hill overlooking what I still assume is Rapidan River.

The day feels like it gets longer and longer, but the dark sky seems to think the day is already done.  Hopefully, we get in and out of Rapidan Camp soon. We may only have a short visit since we have to walk another 1.5 miles after visiting in order to set up tents for the night.

Down the hill below me I see Sunshine Rat and SunFloJo pull out the official map. They consult with one another. They look serious. This barely registers in my brain because I am one with the trees.

Like me, Stalker C must have been in a Zen state. She abruptly stops her downhill inertia in order to not run over SunFloJo and Sunshine Rat. 

As I approach, Stalker C’s face turns in horror to look at me. In slow motion, her mouth says, “We might be lost. We might have gone the wrong way.”

This news is a magnesium fire starter. Flames engulf my peace.

With zero thought, words fly out of my mouth, “We should not have crossed that #*&%@%^ river!”

© Copyright 2016 Surrender On The Trail – Glenna S. Edwards

If you’d like to listen to the Audio Version or support this creative work, go to the Podcast SURRENDER ON THE TRAIL.

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SLIGHT PAUSE

Sigh.

Before midnight, a sprinkler system burst in our condo building. Three homes were evacuated and the fire alarm went off for a while. We were told to pack a bag just in case. Then we were told it was safe to stay.

Now it is 330am and the fire alarm has been going off again since 240am.

We are fine, but CHAPTER FOURTEEN of SURRENDER ON THE TRAIL is on pause. It’s ironic because the Steam Team is about to deal with their own water issues.

You are the most loyal and fun loving readers! Please bear with me and my brain strain. I’ll be back on the trail soon.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER THIRTEEEN

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

James 4:8

We continue eating. Deer join us to nibble grass nearby. I appreciate their regal confidence. Rosemary and her friends have become a sporadic spiritual presence for us. I imagine them saying, “Hello there. Just checking in on you girls.”

Zippers close and last gulps of water enter our bodies. We load our backpacks. “Don’t be afraid to pull your straps,” Sunshine says.

“We’re not afraid,” Our voices tell the universe.

We turn south on the AT. 

I am delighted by the immediate difference in terrain. The tall grass is soft. The path is not hilly or rocky, it is mostly just dirt beneath my thankful feet. Trees tower above forming a skinny tree version of a canopy with plenty of light rays offering warm touches along the way. This is how I envisioned the trail would be before we came. 

We walk by a small graveyard without pausing to read any of the crumbling headstones. Then we enter a thicker section of the forest. Our legs walk faster than we have on any of the other sections. I remain the caboose, but I can see each team member easily in this stretch.

The tree canopy thickens. The path becomes lush, there’s so much beauty! Ferns cover the ground as if it could be a fairy playground in a child’s movie. I imagine magical creatures hopping among the fronds.

“Hold up,” I say.

I pull out Ben’s camera and take pictures of “us on the trail” in rows, in pairs, in hiking mode, and of course a group selfie. Once the moment is captured in post card worthy fashion, we carry on.

Ferns feather the ground as far as we can see on either side of the trail under the tall trees. I feel good. I sense the miracles around me.

Fallen trees decay and look wet here and there along the way. Sun rays filter through the leaves for a while, but our wooded room grows darker. There was a forecast for possible rain today. I am ok with rain if the trail keeps on like this. Dirt or mud below my feet is welcomed over rocks.

Silence blankets our group as if we enter a state of Zen walking. We are spaced about four feet between each of us. SunFloJo peeks behind her to make sure I bring up the rear ok. I truck along well.

I begin to think of a mental gratitude list. I’m grateful for each of my children. I think of their qualities, personalities, and talents. I thank God for bringing them into my life. 

Jacob leaving for basic training in the Air Force will hurt this momma, but oh how awesome it is that he will go do what he longs to do. He has wanted to be in the military since middle school. If he were here, he would zoom along this trail. His body is fit and ready for his next phase of life.

Ben is going to high school. Where has the time gone? I love his humor. I wish he were hiking with me. I miss him.

I am thankful to work with children, young people, and families. How many people at my age or older have dreams that they wish they did and now regret not doing? We went for it. After eleven years and 6,433 students served in some way, how can I say that this dream was a mistake?    

I think of Paul and how he helped me get ready for this trip. He could have given me a hard time, but he did not. He provides for us in unique little ways. Like the way he gathers school supplies for the boys every August, labeling each boy’s items with their name. Or the way he helps keep the laundry going or how he makes breakfast on weekends sometimes. That man makes the best scrambled eggs.

He may be wondering how I am doing right now with no cell phone and knowing that tonight is the night that we will be furthest from help. In my mind, I send him an “I’m ok” telepathy message. We’re going to get through this. We’ll be fine.

I am Surrender, and I am beginning to surrender. I feel it.   

Thank you, God, for the opportunity to be fully present here.

The sky turns even darker, and I don’t care. Somewhere in my bag is raingear when I need it.

The bear bell rings. And rings again. Stalker C contorts her arm and elbow to reach it. We must be too quiet for her taste. She is not taking chances.

Sunshine Rat, SunFloJo and Stalker C lean their packs and bodies against a rock. I catch up and lean also.

“Girls,” Sunshine checks her boob-o-meter. “We have been walking at a 22-minute mile pace for the last 2 miles!”

“That’s amazing.” SunFloJo acknowledges and then wanders into a thicket to pee.

“We’ll be at Rapidan Camp before we know it,” I say.

Rapidan was built for President Hoover, his family and guests. I’ve been looking forward to seeing it since looking it up on the internet. How many times do you walk to a historic site and then walk away from a historic site without the aid of a car or other transportation?

“It’s after 2pm now. We’re making fairly good time,” Sunshine says.

Stalker C’s face says what is on her mind. She remains concerned about sleeping in the woods tonight. 

Eh, we can do it. We are a team. 

But this is not going to be pleasant smell wise. Sweat is building up. I am sorry for the stink in advance, SunFloJo. Two people in a one-person tent makes me nervous only to be trumped by the thought of anticipating the fear we may experience when it becomes completely dark among the trees. 

Deep breath. We can do this.

Sunshine says, “I feel like I could carry on farther than I ever thought I could if the trail was like this all the time.”

We agree wholeheartedly, “Right?!”.

A gentle drizzle of rain reaches our arms. The forest protects us from getting more wet for a while.

When the drizzle increases, we each pull out our rain gear. 

I wear my plastic hood on my head and then spread the rest of the jacket over my backpack. This is a perfect set up for light rain. The rest of the Steam Team dresses similarly. We journey on looking like floating jackets and ponchos.

We pass a guy who is headed quickly in the opposite direction. He pauses to tell us that he is supposed to catch up with other AT hikers who are having burgers tonight. He left one friend behind who is having foot problems. She will catch up with him and their friends soon. I can tell the idea of having burgers is a big deal to him. He does not want to miss it. I picture the group of young, attractive, dirt covered hikers including unshaven guys like him meeting up later to chow on meat with whatever condiments happen to be around and loving every moment.

The rain continues.

Then we see increased light because we arrive at a road. It is Skyline Drive. Huh. We are going to cross a perfectly good road that leads to civilization in order to continue our trail on the other side. Sigh. 

So far, we are the good kind of tired. The gentle rain feels like a friend you have not gotten to spend this much time with in a while.

The road is on an incline. We turn to look both ways before crossing. When we see a beautiful person coming down the hill, we pause.

She is tan, wears navy athletic shorts, has two dark hair braids and may be limping. There is something striking about her olive skin and deep brown hair.

“Hi,” she says.

“What is your trail name?” SunFloJo asks.

She winces, “Sacagawea.”

“My foot is killing me,” Sacagawea says. “We’ve been walking since March. In the last town back, I had it checked out. I have a hairline fracture.”

“Oh!” The Steam Team all chime in making the connection to the last guy we passed.

Walking since March rattles around in my brain.

SunFloJo continues, “We passed a guy headed that way.” She points behind us. “He said you all are meeting someone for burgers tonight.”

“Yes!” She lights up.

We say farewell. Sacagawea heads into our beloved canopy trail. I say a prayer for her foot.

The Steam Team crosses the road and enters the next forest. Soon we see a trail marker post. 

We depart the AT and head left down the mountain via Mill Prong Trail.

The rain is steady. I am excited because based on my memory of the map, Mill Prong is not a far stretch down to Rapidan. 

I declare in my mind that Stalker C will get through this night. No bears or reptiles will get us. She is tense. I want to tell her not to worry, but I don’t think that will help. 

I am so glad I decided to continue today. 

I carry my water bottle and drink as we descend. I have had no urge to urinate today which by now is not a good thing. I am probably somewhat dehydrated.

As if a different picture clicks in our Viewmaster, this part of the trail is beautiful in new ways. We descend over and around mossy green rocks. There are gradual twists and turns leading into a valley of bright greens and browns.

Down, down, down.

I am not going to think about how my feet hurt from the number of hours we have been walking. Cannot be too much further.

Down, down, down. We cross over streams of water. 

Hearing the rain and watching a rushing stream of water is almost too much joy for my Aquarius born soul. The sounds combine to create a forest symphony.

Almost out of drinking water, we pause to purify and refill water bottles from a creek. 

Oh, this is the real thing now. We are roughing it! We will get water from the land–a gift from the earth. 

Hmmm…should I trust SunFloJo’s aqua straw to purify my water or should I have her purify AND then add a purification tab that I have in my pack?

I think it over as she attaches my water bottle neck to her purifying straw.  For a moment I consider how awful it would be to have diarrhea out here tonight if something fails with the purification process. Um…Exhale. Dismiss that thought.

I choose to trust her straw and leave my emergency tabs in my backpack. I brought the tabs only as a last resort if for some reason we become separated.

We do not fall into the creek as we steady ourselves on rocks to reach the water flow with our bottles. I consider not falling a big bonus. 

The creek rocks are slippery. Injury right now would be terrible. At this point, we would not be able to walk out of the woods before dark. And it already feels like near dark or late dusk due to the weather.  

After crossing the first stream, I attempt to get back to my gratitude thoughts like earlier. I say thanks to my Higher Power for every person I can think of…for food, for shelter, for clothing, for my life back home. I am not quite as meditative as before, but close. 

I sense that some of the anger I could not shake before this trip is releasing, breaking up slowly like bad plaque in arteries. I visualize releasing tension several times.

And I picture letting go of Jacob, our first-born son.  He is determined to protect and fight for our country.  What a noble and brave young man. He was only ours to raise for a while.  He is his own being.  He is created for a purpose greater than what I can imagine or what I can offer from the home that helped mold him for this time in his life.

Down, down, down through the trees. Around. Down, down over rocks. Around. Down, down, down through an increasingly wet wood. Raindrops collect in my hair and drip onto my nose and lips. This is taking longer than I anticipated, but that is not a new feeling this week.

There is more water to cross. This stream of water is bigger, and the rocks look shiny. We pause before crossing to sit on two long tree trunks that have fallen.

“I’m kind of done,” Stalker C says. 

Exhaustion sets into our bones. What we can see of the sky is grey. Drizzle continues. The stretchy buff around my head absorbs some of the rain drops before the rest slip into my eyes.

Sunshine says to her dear friend, “You can do it.”

We sit quiet with shoulders slumped.

Sitting on the log while still wearing the backpack is affecting my body. I wiggle to deal with an odd sensation. I share, “I think my lady parts are numb.” 

Stalker C snorts a little laugh.

I continue, “How is that even possible? Nothing else is asleep; just my downtown area.”

SunFloJo crosses the mini river with zero slippery rock issues. She is off to scout ahead of us a bit.

Sunshine Rat chuckles, “Can you imagine that phone call? Doctor, when I sit on rocks my genitals fall asleep.”

“Yeah, then don’t sit on rocks the doc might say,” Stalker C shakes her head. I know she is tired; we are all tired. 

In fact, I may be too tired to be tired right now. If we do not get swept away by this water source, this will be a good day. I cling to the meditative nature of this afternoon. I have had time to sort thoughts and cherish beauty. 

Stalker C says to Sunshine, “I want you to cut off my foot. Like right now.”

SunFloJo appears at the other side of the creek. We stand up, but my girly numbness continues.

I am last across the creek, relieved that I did not stumble. The water moves quickly.

“Here,” I give one of my trekking poles to Stalker C. The pole might help her take pressure off her toes. I can manage with one now. We are still going downhill. The rocks are only about half as plentiful as when we were back on Lewis Falls Trail.  How long ago Lewis seems. Was that really this morning, just earlier today? 

The trail beat beats on. Mill Prong was only supposed to be 1.8 miles. We are well over that by now.  Anticipating that we will see Rapidan soon, I carry the camera in my hand.

Our protectors, the trees, thicken, making our path even darker. Somehow, we still walk downhill over more rocks and turn on more twists.

We start to see piles of scat on the trail. It’s like we’ve entered nature’s public restroom.

I remember on the map that there is a horse trail somewhere around here. I know what horse poo looks like. Some of this is horse.

And some of it is not horse.

Stalker C eyes the piles.

I give her body language that says “Nah, that’s not bear. Nothing to worry about.”

But I remember the scat chart from Cub Scouts and the paw print chart too. Scanning my memory, I am fairly sure that is bear poo. And bear paw prints.

Yeah, I’m totally sure.

Stalker C quizzes me. She looks at a pile then looks at me.

I respond, “Deer.”

She looks at another.

“Horse.”

SunFloJo is looking at certain piles with interest. She knows what I know.

Sunshine Rat is ahead of us. I see her side stepping to stay balanced down the wet hill.

Stalker C looks at what SunFlo is looking at.

I shrug my shoulders. Bear. Shh! Definitely bear.

And another pile. And another. All bear. Oh my goodness.

“Ring the bell,” SunFloJo says.

© Copyright 2016 Surrender On The Trail – Glenna S. Edwards

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CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER 12

Let the rivers clap their hands; Let the mountains sing together for joy. 

Psalm 98: 8

We step back from the edge to set our backpacks on a large rock next to an underwhelming sign in the shape of an arrow that reads “Lewis Springs Falls”. I remember from researching the trip that it is 81 feet tall and the fourth largest falls in Shenandoah National Park.

I reach behind me to separate my shirt, sweat, and skin. Feels good. My shoulders are free.

A wood burned sign says we are at an elevation of 2800 feet. SunFloJo removes her shoes and socks.

Sunshine Rat’s eyes meet mine. Then Stalker C and I exchange a look. What is SunFloJo doing?

I choose to trust her. There is a cliff and deep canyon to our right. To the left is a narrow rocky path toward the waterfalls. SunFloJo navigates the damp route. I grab Ben’s old camera. I pull the wrist strap over my hand.

We follow SunFloJo. The rush of water grows louder. We sidestep with the mountain wall against our backsides.

Silence falls over our team when we turn a corner. Our bodies gently lower to sit on rocks of varying heights. I am comfortable sitting about four feet from the water flow. Mist sprays us with nature’s air conditioning.

To our left water rushes above our heads over rocks through trees and over bright green moss. One large rock causes the water to flow left or right. Then the water rejoins and skips over the cliff’s edge to our right.

On her bottom, SunFloJo crabwalks even closer to the water feet first. Her hands keep her steady. Soon I do not see her feet or most of her legs. She knows this is water with momentum, right?  She knows this is a rushing waterfall with a deep drop off, correct?

Yeah, she knows, I tell myself while simultaneously considering what to tell her family if something goes wrong. She is not far from my grasp if I need to act quickly.

SunFloJo relaxes her feet into the cool water that races past us with no view of where it goes beyond the cliff. She somehow stops short of the possibility of being swept away.

We four rest and gaze at the fast water.   

My mind turns to my troubles and grasps nothingness at the same time. I am double numb and it is not a bad spot to be in for a while. I soak in the beauty of each tree in my sight, noticing that they all lean toward the water. 

Here you go, God, please take my anger. I do not want to carry it any longer.

I visualize throwing a big pile of stuff over the falls. Emotions, disappointment, and fear. Here you go.

Help me, Lord. I thought I answered your call. Show me what to do.   

I hope that bugs do not crawl in my pants as I sit here. I tuck pant legs into my socks. 

Lord, I thought creating the non-profit was what you wanted. Was I wrong? Should I walk away? What do You want? Finances are killing me and our family. Please lead us where we should go.

The water roars louder now than I remember when we first sat down.

“How’s it going, Surrender?” SunFloJo scoots backward up the rocks away from her toe dipping spot. “Water is nice and cold.”

A nod is all I offer in this serenity moment. I wonder from her serious jawline if she has been thinking of her nephew Kevin. Or maybe about what her retirement will look like soon or both.

Someone says, “Let’s take pictures.” 

I push myself up to a standing position. Ouch.

We move to a safer location. Stalker C & Sunshine pose together. Then we take individual pictures with the drop off in the background. Stalker C twirls one of my trekking poles. It is a funny picture. I laugh.

We reunite with backpacks and find a fork in the trail. Our trail plan leads us to an incline. Oh no. Not yet. I do not want to go uphill. But back up a different section of the next mountain is required. Day Hikers pass us going and coming from the falls. 

The rocky ascent follows the stream behind the waterfall. Following the water provides cool air. 

Trees form a canopy.  It is like we move through a forest tube with a thick green roof. The terrain is steep. Rocks wiggle under my feet and threaten my ankles. I give thanks for the grace of extra ankle support.

SunFloJo hangs back to check on the caboose: me. I suspect she wonders how I am doing since there are as many rocks going up on the Blue Blaze trail as there were coming down.

We read a sign that says:

FALLS CAN KILL

STAY ON THE TRAIL

Comforting. Maybe they should post that coming from the other direction too.

 “1 point!”  Sunshine Rat brings back the Caterpillar Game after our time at the waterfall.

“Oh, a chipmunk, 5 points!”

We build up Tap Room points again.

I feel mostly good. At least better than yesterday. The shade protects us from the heat and sun. My feet struggle with twists and turns on the rocks as we climb.

Stalker C asks with slightly strained breathing, “How long was this section supposed to be?” 

Sunshine answers, “.7 miles.”

Stalker C, “And how long has it actually been so far?”

Sunshine pauses to look inside her shirt to check the boob-o-meter then announces, “1.2 miles.”

Stalker C mumbles, “The trail lies.”

Among the green and brown landscape, a random pink stuffed monkey is Velcro strapped to a tree. We each stare at the out of place bright color as we pass by and march on.

We emerge from the thick covered path. The terrain changes to less tree cover. More sunlight filters through the leaves.

We see a door in the side of a hill that seems out of place. It reminds me of a Hobbit door in the Shire from Lord of the Rings–but taller. I hear rushing water behind the door as we pass. I later learn this is Lewis Spring House and an access road is nearby. A lot of water for the national park comes from this location.

After passing the door, we arrive at a post marker. It tells us we have reached the Appalachian Trail: The White Blaze. This is where we turn right back onto the AT. What I can see of the next jaunt appears to cut across the mountain instead of ascending or descending. Yay!

But first it is time for lunch. We sit in the crossroad of the two trails and dig out food bags. Still Bag E for me. I may never finish it. I stare at my food knowing I should fuel myself even if I don’t want any of it. 

Stalker C says, “My feet are killing me.” She shares that she has corns on her toes. She takes off her shoes and socks. 

I do not want to look. She thinks she might need surgery. 

I give in and look. Yep, that looks painful.

Sunshine Rat and SunFloJo sit on the ground on one side of the trail. Stalker C and I sit on the opposite side on fallen timbers. 

As munching begins, I ask, “Is it time to read our next On the Journey question from Deb?”

“Yes!” The group says.

I read,

“Day 2:  Poppy Fields. Dorothy, et al., veered from their path through the poppy fields causing them to fall asleep. What are the poppy fields in your life that cause you to slumber and delay reaching your goal(s)?”

We consider the topic.

SunFloJo says, “Taking on too much sometimes without pausing for some me time. Recently I decided to only commit to a max of three evening activity nights out per week. That’s helping me be more centered and giving me more time for meditation or down time as needed.”

I go next, “Self-discipline. The last few years I keep working on discipline, but it’s still an issue for me to stay focused and diligent each day on the most important priorities.”

Stalker C and Sunshine both giggle and say, “Procrastination.” I suspect there is an inside joke about their college days within that one word.

We did not see many people in recent hours, but now while sitting where the AT crosses Lewis Falls Trail, people appear. Most are passing through along the AT in either direction.

From the south, which is to the right of my sitting spot, a tall athletic couple probably in their late 50’s stroll into view. They wear perfectly coordinating grey and navy moisture wicking (expensive) clothing. His silver hair is neatly cut. Her medium length gray-blonde hair is pulled into a ponytail at the base of her neck. I notice their shiny trekking poles and the fancy skort she is wearing.

“Hi,” The silver haired man says as he is about to pass on by. Then the lady stops causing him to pause his stride. I think she is glad to chat with new people. Sunshine and SunFloJo engage with them.

I finally dip tortilla pieces into a mini peanut butter container. Nothing tastes good.   

Stalker C sits on the ground to my left. She mouths to me I have to pee. 

Across from us Sunshine Rat and SunFloJo yak it up with our visitors. The couple has “enjoyed the marvelous AT this morning”. 

He points to where we are going next, “It’s not too bad, mostly level that direction.” 

Stalker C’s eyes grow frustrated as her personal emergency lingers. The couple turns toward our side. Stalker C says nothing to them and does not make eye contact. I use an old office life move. I stand up and say, “Have a nice day. Nice to meet you.” Standing up usually prompts people to move along at work.

They indeed say their farewells and continue their hike.

Stalker C waits a few minutes for them to continue toward the north.  Then, deciding they are far enough gone, she walks a little toward the same direction to find a safe spot to find relief.

But what do ya know? From the south another two humans appear. I shake my head. Stalker C does not get her pants down. She walks back to us. Her body language says, “Sigh….”

I mouth to Sunshine that Stalker needs to pee, but I am not sure if Sunshine catches my message.

Oh, look, it is another happy day hiker couple with small backpacks. Man, my sugar level must be low. I feel grouchy.

After taking a better look, I am not sure if the new people are a couple or mother and son. He is tall, has dark hair, a healthy pudge going on, but is not fat in my book (because you know my book is oversized from the beginning. I try not to judge, but here I am judging). I cannot tell his age. He could be 40’s. He could be 50’s with a little Just for Men hair dye going on. No clue.

The woman he is with I guess to be in her 50’s or early 60’s. She is about three quarters of his height, much shorter in comparison. Stalker C’s leg is bouncing.

SunFloJo begins to converse with them. He responds to one of her questions, “We love the outdoors. We had a lovely time hiking in Jackson Hole, Wyoming last year.”

Sunshine looks over at Stalker C and me. We are on the ground level compared to our standing guests.  Stalker C and I mouth again that Stalker has immediate needs. 

Sunshine nods casually. She gets it, but then asks the couple another question. 

Is that a slight smirk on Sunshine Rat’s face? Perhaps she is messing with her roommate for fun.

I notice something. What is sticking out of that man’s backpack?  A teddy bear face and two furry arms poke out of the top.

The woman catches my observation. She says with a smile, “Oh we got that bear on one of our trips.  We take it on all our hikes ever since.” 

Hmm, so they routinely hike together. I am still not sure of their relationship.

Stalker C crosses her legs and then re-crosses, but the conversation deepens with our guests.

“So, you four ladies aren’t concerned for your safety out here?” The guy asks, a bit random, a bit overzealous.

Oh great, serial killers. Just what we need.

Sunshine Rat says, “Should we be?”

The woman says to us, “Don’t worry honey. No man”, emphasis on the no man, “would ever approach 4 women.” She tosses her hand with her wrist. The Steam Team smiles at this new thought.

SunFloJo may or may not know the situation going on over here. She is a pro at active ignoring. I have seen her use that skill at school with students to help redirect behavior. Then she says, “Now what are your names?”

Are you kidding me? I see a grin on SunFloJo’s face. She knows. She may be messing with me as much as with Stalker’s bladder.

He is glib. He loves this question, “One of us is Dorian and one of us is Kendall.  Can you guess who is who?”

I interject, “Well, when you put it that way, you must be Kendall.”

I ruin his game. This visit is over. Nice to meet yous are exchanged and they move north.

“Quick, go!” I say to my young friend and point south.

Stalker C crosses an access road and heads down the trail to take care of business. Meanwhile Sunshine Rat and SunFloJo are in stitches giggling. 

Click here for this chapter on the Surrender on the Trail Podcast, an audio version of this chapter.

© Copyright 2016 Surrender On The Trail – Glenna S. Edwards

Thanks for reading or listening. Check back next Sunday for CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed,

for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

Joshua 1:9

JUNE 2, 2016

8:15AM

“Birds are loud in the wild,” new friend Sunshine Rat said yesterday; a fact that remains true this morning.

The smell of fresh air whispers through the tent vents. My limbs feel nearly paralyzed, but my bladder screams for attention. I begin the physical journey to get on my knees, unzip the tent, gingerly attempt to stand, stumble, stumble again, then steady my stance.

Ouch. Everything hurts. I trust my body to rebound and take steps toward the bathroom. The grass is soft and damp against my toes along the edge of my flip flops.

After splashing my face with water, I return to open the big brown bear box. The metal is cold to touch. I find the s’more remains and sit down to eat a graham cracker before dismantling my travel home.

SunFloJo crawls out of her tent. We practice telepathy for a few minutes. She wonders about my status, my plan. I nod hello. A simple good morning acknowledgement is all I have figured out so far. I am thinking over the situation.

I appreciate the silence, though it feels like we have a conversation. I am not a morning talker in the city or in the woods. 

SunFloJo walks to get coffee for her and Sunshine from the Big Meadow camp store.

Upon return, she sets coffee cups with lids over the embers still warm from last night.  Sunshine will be happy to find coffee when she wakes up.

SunFloJo murmurs in my direction, “How ya doing?”

Moment of truth.

Slowly I dare to say, “I think I can do it.”

“Really?!” Her face is sincere, “I am thrilled. That is great news.”

“Benadryl is a pal. Semi solid sleep made a difference. Thank you.”

SunFloJo does not skip a beat. She shares her morning research, “I learned at the camp store that they don’t have places to store things, but we can rent campsite #2 and leave stuff in the bear box. I bet that will be helpful to all of us. Now that we know what we really need, we can leave the rest behind.”

“Wonderful,” I say.

“But there is a catch. We have to put up a tent so the site appears occupied.”

She continues, “Do you think you and I could put up your tent at site #2 and then sleep together in my tent tonight?” 

SunFloJo’s tent is the same size as mine, built for a party of one. I think about what a tight fit that will be for two people and how smelly we will be after another full day of hiking.

Then I think of not hiking with the weight of a tent, “Yes, I think we can do it.”

We can do anything for one night, right?

“I’m going to start unloading items into campsite #2’s bear box now,” I say.

“And we’ll switch shoes,” SunFloJo states. 

I will not argue. My toe pain was out of control yesterday. I do not think I can do that again. Wide toed hiking boots? I’m in.

We get busy unpacking, re-packing and setting up campsite #2. We leave behind every ounce of weight that we can. 

I debate leaving my emergency urinal but decide to keep it in my bag. It is light compared to the other items I toss. I take one change of underwear, one pair of shorts, and one pair of socks just in case I rip or mess my current Boy Scout clothes beyond the ability to wear them. I leave all but one bag of food. I can barely eat when exhausted anyway. 

The girls awaken. We compare items and select any duplicates that can stay behind.

Stalker C says to me, “You’re going?”

“Yes.”

“Good!” And then, “Thank God for Benadryl.” Sleep helped her too.

I agree.    

Sunshine Rat emerges wearing an emergency foil blanket wrapped around her. The foil is remarkably lightweight and only cost $1.59 at REI. I have one too, but it is on my leave behind list. Sunshine Rat smiles when she finds her coffee.

I am thankful to drop 10-15 pounds of stuff and hope I do not miss or regret leaving anything here.

A deer munches on grass next to campsite #9 in time to say good morning to Stalker C. Later a different deer eats near the bathroom. I suspect Rosemary and her representatives are expressing their solidarity with us and our adjusted plans. Sunshine Rat tries to get close to the deer for pictures.

I scan nature’s beauty across the horizon. The green is so alive in Shenandoah. Surely, I can come alive too.

Campsite #2’s ghost tent is set up. The bear box is half full.

MID MORNING

It is time to get back on the trail.

This is another no turning back type moment. I try to visualize sleeping next to random trees tonight. By nightfall we should be somewhere between Fort Mountain and Cat Knob along Laurel Prong which is the trail after we visit historic Rapidan Camp. I hope we can find the fire ring.

As a child and then as an adult with kids, I took tours of caves like Mammoth Cave in southwest Kentucky. During the excursion Park Rangers turned off the lights and told us to look at our hand. It was so dark that you could not see your hand at all. That is the type of dark I anticipate tonight minus a Park Ranger being available to flip back on the earth’s light switch.

I am not sure our headlamps will cut through the heavy darkness that will surround us. And if the mini lights do work, I am not sure I want to see animal eyes that might watch us.

SunFloJo’s boots are laced around my ankles. I wear the red backpack and adjust the straps, remembering both YouTube videos and instructions from Dick.

“We are not afraid to pull our straps,” we say in honor of Dick’s lessons.

“Don’t be afraid,” Stalker C says with her mouth in the shape of an “o” that reminds me of a Shirley Temple facial expression. Everyone’s backpacks are in position now.

Sunshine nods, “Yep, just pull those straps. Don’t be afraid.”

Are we really doing this?

Surveying the body language of the group, I think everyone is a little nervous about tonight.

Because bears.

Stalker C reaches back to ring her bear bell. Her eyes widen when I look her way. SunFloJo consults her map one more time. She zips all but Flat Kevin’s head in a pocket so he can see the journey from her backpack.

We pass 30 other campsites and cross the blacktop heading toward Big Meadow Amphitheater. We look for our first route of the day:  Lewis Falls Trail.

We find the sign and enter the woods.

Ten steps onto the path, day hikers pass us immediately. Something catches my eye.

Was that a gun?

Two guns?

Sure enough, one couple is packing heat in their matching holsters and carrying small water bottles. They are out of sight quickly. I am glad.

The trail has lots of jumbled rocks underfoot. My feet manage much better today. And SunFloJo seems to sail along in my magic boots. I say silent prayers of gratitude.

Sunshine Rat says, “Let’s play a game.”

We agree.

“It’s The Centipede Game because we see so many of them along the trail.”

Sunshine continues, “Every centipede is 1 point.”

“A dead centipede is .5 points.”

“A deer is 50 points.”

“Bears are 100 points,” Sunshine says despite Stalker C’s “no” head shake in protest.

We decide a snake is -50 points.

“Chipmunks are 5 points.”

The consensus is that every time we reach 52 points then that equals 1 beer in the Tap Room at the end of the trip. I am not a beer drinker, but goals are probably a good idea.  

I hang at the back of the line. SunFloJo and Sunshine Rat lead. Stalker C is just ahead of me. 

Every few minutes the front of the line yells back, “1 point.”

“1 point.”

“.5” and so forth.

Over rocks, along a mountain ridge…

down,

down.

Don’t twist that ankle! Whew. Caught my balance. Thanks for the help, Trekking Poles.

More rocks, and more straight down yet I still feel we are at a high elevation in the forest. I keep an eye out for the waterfall this leg is named after.

Hands fly up and a jubilation cry occurs when we hear “52!” from the front of the line.

Like an accordion we fan out and then shrink closer to one another as the front of the line either rests or slows down to allow me to catch up. I overhear new topics of conversation.

“What do you think the pattern is, SunFlo?” Sunshine Rat asks.

“Could it be distance in-between?”

Sunshine, “I don’t think so. The spacing between marks varies.”

I eventually realize they are talking about the blaze trail marks on the trees. I have been wondering about those too. 

The “blaze” is a vertical rectangle painted on occasional trees that come in various colors to assure that you are on the correct trail. The White Blaze is the Appalachian Trail. We have seen yellow or blue rectangles on some of our connecting trails.

“Steep rocks,” Stalker C warns me of what is coming up.

Have they not been steep already? I grip my poles tightly.

“I think we’re almost there,” SunFloJo calls out to encourage me. We have been “almost there” about four times so far. 

Down, down, down. Up and over bigger rocks that I belly crawl over. Repeat.

And then we arrive at Lewis Springs Falls. I expected us to be at the bottom of a waterfall right where the water pours into a creek or river, but we face the middle of the rushing falls. If a waterfall wore a belt, we could touch it.

Above us, we see where the water tumbles over a large rock to begin the falls.

Below us, I cannot see exactly how far the water descends.

I am careful not to step too close to the edge that is comprised of wet rocks.

But SunFloJo inches closer.

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CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER TEN

Do you not know? Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends

of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding

no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and

increases the power of the weak.

Isaiah 40:28-29

If necessary, I can convince myself that quitting is the right choice.

Alone time and contemplation in silence could do me good.

I can accept that this adventure may happen differently than I expected, right?

Releasing anger and cleansing my heart can be accomplished in multiple ways.

A man, a woman, and their adorable black lab puppy traipse down the hill. 

“Hi,” they say.

Thin and hip in fresh Lands’ End gear, they continue, “There two young ladies near the top who told us to tell you that you’re getting close to them. Keep going. They will wait for you.”

SunFloJo responds. I hear nothing of their conversation and focus my efforts on each painful step over the ascending rocks.

“Yes, Big Meadow is just up there,” they point straight up with their cute dog bouncing around them.

One foot. Next foot. Hold on. Pull. Climb. Repeat.

There they are! Sunshine and Stalker C sit on a huge rock above us. The rock is below campground level. I see the edge of a literal meadow with wispy tall grass above their shoulders.

I peel the borrowed red backpack off my shoulders and place it on the ground next to their rock. Boy, if Amy could see me now. I imagine her thinking of us this week. She survived hiking in Alaska with this backpack, but I might have to call it done here in Virginia. This is not working for me. Today was supposed to be the easy day. How could I possibly survive a day harder than this one?! Tonight we sleep in a camp with other people around. Tomorrow night we will be in the deep woods. Alone. Just the four of us.

I cannot speak yet. Exhaustion vibrates throughout my body. I feel somewhat relieved that Sunshine & Stalker C look tired too. Their packs are on the ground. We push back our sweaty hair and drink water.

We see a marked campsite not far from us. The number 52 is posted on a stake. Someone has their tent ready for the night and a hammock fastened between two trees.

If I quit, then I will miss seeing Rapidan Camp during the hike tomorrow. This thought makes me sad. I was looking forward to seeing the historic site where President Hoover used to frequent in the days before Camp David existed.

I am not; however, looking forward to sleeping in the woods in the middle of nowhere after the history tour. There is a rule on the trail map that says: 

“The area within 0.5 miles of Rapidan Camp is closed to campers.

No one may set up a tent near the historic site.”

Our plan tomorrow is to hike a mile past Rapidan at day’s end and then pitch tents. SunFloJo has read about a fire ring that exists somewhere beyond Hoover’s place. Experienced hikers told her that it is easy to miss because the trees are so thick in that area. We will have to watch for it carefully.

Darn. I will miss that scary totally out in the woods all night long feeling, I think mostly with sarcasm.

And then I think, I will miss my hiking friends and worry about them if they are figuring out how to stay safe in the dark without me. How could I miss that part of the adventure?

SunFloJo sets down her pack. As chipper as ever with her pink bandana around her head she says, “You gals hang here. I am going to walk up and find the registration spot.” 

The 60-year-old scales the last 30 feet of the mountain top as if it is nothing but a stroll.

Stalker C says, “I don’t know how she does it.”

“Me neither,” I muster out loud while still breathing hard.

Sunshine Rat looks toward the hammock and campsite sign then says, “I wouldn’t mind having a spot in the 50’s.”

We nod. No one wants to walk further.

A thick stone-grey colored caterpillar type insect is crawling on our rock. Stalker C and I are mesmerized by the purple goo emerging from its body. We agree not to touch it. Hopefully, it will not touch us either.

I cannot bear to move away from the goo. My body is stiffening up like the Tin Man needing an oil can.

Sunshine watches two brothers fly on bikes over the ridge above us. They ride straight down the rocks into the nearly dry creek bed. They are impressive and daring.

SunFloJo ambles down the hill to bring us news, “We’re going to campsite 9.”

9?!  9 is 43 campsites away from 52.

We wince at the number, but the short rest has helped a little. The girls stand up and head the correct direction.

I put on the backpack and whisper to SunFloJo as we scale the last climb of the day, “I might need to stay here for the rest of the week. If I do, you must promise me you three will go on. You’ve got this. I don’t think I can.”

“Oh, honey, if we don’t make it through. It’s ok. I don’t want to leave you alone.”

“I will be safe here on my own. Really. You know I can use the time to reflect even if I’m hanging out quietly at a campsite. I don’t want to be the reason you don’t finish the recon mission. You have to promise me that you’ll go on…even if I don’t.”

SunFloJo takes this in. I see her brain churn as we finally reach level ground. Right now, we have got to get across blacktop, through all the parked campers and RVs. Houses on wheels? Genius.

My feet limp along the pavement. My trekking poles are almost too heavy to carry at this point. I tell SunFloJo, “I’ll sleep on it and see how I feel in the morning, but it is a possibility that I remain. I can read or whatever. There’s more than one way for me to find my center on this trip.”

Finally, we reach Campsite 9. It is open and airy compared to the first night. Tall grass surrounds the site, but there is no narrow-weeded path to walk through. I am thankful. It feels less critter filled although as soon as I have that thought, I immediately hear a father and son next door at Campsite 8 talking about how a bear walked right by their tent last night. 

Then a deer walks up to greet us. Of course. Hello, Rosemary Spirit.

I remember Sunshine’s wisdom from earlier in the trip: “We are in the Wild and the Wild is in us.”

“What’s that?” Stalker C asks about a metal box on legs next to our campsite.

“It is a bear box,” SunFloJo answers.

I’ve never seen one before. It is approximately four by three feet wide and about two feet up off the ground. Food and extras can go in there overnight. The box lightens our load and helps us have less concerns.

Then I realize there is a camp bathroom. Glorious. I leave my pack and go check it out. Running water boosts my gratitude.

Back at the campsite I look for a soft mossy area to pitch my tent. My body does not want to bend, but I manage to stake the tent and use the strings to make it more secure from wind. I place the moth ball bags at the foot and head of my tent. I place a few bags around the girls’ tent.

I free my feet and put on flip flops. The air around my toes feels so good. I reapply bug spray to my ankles, neck, and elbows. 

SunFloJo also frees her feet.  She is sitting on her yellow sleep pad next to a tree and sorting items in her bag. She pulls off socks and reaches for her Crocs. I notice behind her is a beautiful view of the steep valley we climbed out of today. 

“SunFlo, get out Flat Kevin! This is a great picture spot.”

SunFloJo poses proudly with Flat Kevin. I snap the pic with the view in the background.

I observe, “He never complains.”

She adds, “He is wonderful to have on the trail with us. I will show him these pictures when I get back. He’ll love it.”

SunFloJo calls to the group, “I hear there’s a tap room with food up at the lodge. Do you want to go?” 

Still dirty and sweaty, we are all in! She said food!

This is the first time I feel somewhat hungry today. I may not be up to eating much, but at least I feel like attempting to eat.

We walk the narrow path in our flip flops and crocs toward the lodge. It is uphill and I try not to be bothered by that fact. Ouch, my legs ache.

The Big Meadow Tap Room is in the basement of the lodge. I take the steep stairs down one foot at a time sideways. We arrive to find quaint wood walls, wood floors and red checkered tablecloths. This would be a good location for a movie scene. I pause to look through the back windows to see a wonderful view of the mountains as the sun begins to set. 

I know my body needs the fuel, but I cannot manage to eat much. The heat, pain and exhaustion have gotten to me. Also, I have minimal cash to get through the week. I anticipated mostly non-spending days. 

I split a personal sized margherita pizza with Sunshine. Stalker C and SunFloJo split an order of wings. We down lots of water from glass Mason Jars. No one speaks much. Maybe our bodies are still fathoming the endurance required today.

I notice lines of dirt on each person’s face and arms. 

Stalker C says, “I seriously did not think we would ever get to the top of that last hill.”

We all agree. It was brutal.

When a few young male hikers walk into the tap room, Stalker C snickers at Sunshine, “Well, you may meet someone on this trip after all.”

SunFloJo and I exchange looks.

Sunshine shares that one of her relatives said the trip might be good for “meeting people” because neither of them have found a nice young man to settle down with yet during college.

“Oh my,” I chuckle.

“Well, we have something new to work on besides surviving,” SunFloJo says.

It feels good to rest and laugh.

When we pass the community laundry and bathroom building, we see a sign that says:

SHOWER

$1.25 for

5.25 minutes

None of us anticipated a shower opportunity by this point in the week. We gather our hygiene items. 

Sunshine giggles, “Five twenty-five for one twenty-five.”

I marvel at my less than a sandwich size Ziploc bag of bathing supplies. I stocked up on miniature items at the REI store for such an occasion. I have a floss size box of camping soap that includes soap made of tiny paper sheets inside. I have a toothbrush that folds and a tiny tube of toothpaste. 

SunFloJo has even smaller versions of these items because she pre-packed everything into even smaller plastic bags. Her toothpaste is the paste alone inside a 1inch-by-1inch bag. Her soap papers are also in a tiny bag. She tossed the container before the trip. Every ounce of weight matters. I observe, and I learn. The nine months of planning she did was valuable.

I brought plenty of quarters. I shower twice because an extra rinse is required to get camping soap out of my thick hair. Now I have fewer quarters which mean less weight. And I used the two feet by two feet ultra-absorbent towel to dry my body. It reminds me of the ShamWow cloth I use to clean the stainless-steel fridge door at home. 

Anything that I can justify not carrying around I am going to trash. This pains me because it will cost money to replace some items. But if I can figure out how to keep going on this trip by lightening my load, I will. For example, I toss my worn underwear in the garbage. So long, undies!

I feel somewhat better after food and a shower. Tired, but better. I sit on a picnic table contemplating my ability to hike status while my ankles and back throb.

SunFloJo asks, “Whatcha thinking?”

“I am thinking that I may be getting my second wind. If we are able to rest tonight and if I’m able to leave some stuff here, then maybe I could go on. I wonder if the lodge rents storage lockers or something?”

“Yes, lighten your pack. Good idea.”

“And maybe I’ll take you up on the shoe swap? What do you think? I don’t want your feet to suffer.”

“No, I bet I will be fine in your shoes. I think the wide toe front design of my shoe is what you need with all these hills and rocks.”

That makes sense. “Ok, let’s see how I feel in the morning.”

“Ok. Yay, girl!”

SunFloJo treats us to s’mores over the fire. A camp store the size of a closet had the fixings of chocolate, marshmallows, and graham crackers. I personally cannot manage to eat any. Normally I love that stuff. This fact reminds me that this is a special kind of tired. Who turns down chocolate otherwise? 

At 9pm we walk to brush our teeth in the concrete block bathroom across from campsite 9.  SunFlo asks if Stalker C or I would like some Benadryl. It feels like she is some type of pusher meeting us in the bathroom with her tiny bag of pink pills.

Um, yes please. The idea of sleeping whether I want to or not sounds fabulous, and I know that will help me get through the first uncomfortable hours on the ground. The three of us partake. Sunshine doesn’t need any. She can sleep anywhere which Stalker C attests is true.

I unzip and crawl into my one-person tent happily knowing that rest will come. Sleep will help me no longer feel the pain in my feet and legs. And there is a chance I might be able to continue the journey on foot tomorrow. We shall see. 

Crickets sing their tune. I smell grass all around me that will be damp from dew before the night is done. I pray for the wisdom to know if I am physically and mentally able to continue the trail. I pray that God will let me know what the safest plan is. Should I carry on or should I camp right here for the next few days? 

I pray for family and friends back home. I pray that Paul is ok. I don’t have a phone to tell him that I’m alright. He doesn’t expect to hear from me until Saturday. I do sense him with me, and I hope he feels my telepathy greetings. He may be pointing right now to a place on the map and saying to Ben, “Mom is here tonight.”

I fall asleep praying.

JUNE 2, 2016

TIME UNKNOWN

Mostly it is still dark in my tent, but I peek to see that light is coming. I feel something against my cheek through the nylon. I hear and feel a slither on the outside wall next to my head. It is a different sound than the sniff and scurry I heard the night before.

%^&!@!  Ineffective moth balls!

I am not unzipping the tent. No one has said it is morning. Benadryl is my friend.

Trying to be away from the outer wall, I roll over and attempt to ignore the familiar sharp pains in my back. Parts of me feel rested. I will snooze as long as possible. 

Slithery thing, please go away.

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© Copyright 2016 Surrender On The Trail – Glenna S. Edwards Thanks for reading or listening. Check back next Sunday for CHAPTER ELEVEN.