CHAPTER NINETEEN

CHAPTER NINETEEN

In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out. Exodus 40:36

SunFloJo says, “I’ve got an idea!”

She announces as we eat, “Let’s start offering to meet folks at the Tap Room tonight. If they’re already going that direction, then we’ll mention it. Since Ted is meeting us anyway, let’s make a party of it.”

Absolutely. Of course. Let’s dream up a party right here in the woods. Anything is possible.

After hours of seeing no one today, we are surprised to see someone approach the trail intersection right on queue after the idea is born. 

A man walks to us from the south. He is on the path we will eventually walk on the AT.

“Hi,” he says.

I wonder, What is he eating?

The man pulls plants from the side of the trail and munches on them.

Upon closer look, he is not mountain man romance material for the younger gals.

Sunshine Rat asks him, “So what is that direction like?”

“Not too bad. Up and down some, but I’ve seen worse.”

Yeah. If he’s talking about steep inclines and declines, we’ve certainly seen worse too.

He heads north.

Then we see who I assume is a man and wife couple in their sixties perhaps. “Oh,” I say to the woman.  “I love your shirt!”

Her navy t-shirt has a simple AT blaze splash on the front as if someone took a paint brush stroke from a tree and painted her shirt instead. She appears to be very clean. The shirt is crisp, like brand new.

I hope these clean people don’t smell us.

My shirt and pants cling to my body. When sweat drips from my hairline, I am careful to wipe it away from my eyes.

“Thank you,” she says. “I think I got this in a gift shop at Harper’s Ferry.”

SunFloJo chews pepperoni and the last of her cheese. She asks, “Are you hiking the whole AT?”

I smell the man’s aftershave, so I guess the answer is no, but he does surprise us with a sweet story.

“We have friends in Florida who are here finishing the last of their almost 2200 AT miles. We came to walk with them for a little while.”

“Yes,” the clean woman shrills. “They are twin 80-year-olds. They’ve been walking about 200 miles each summer for 10 years. This year they will finish!”

80-years-old? Twins? –I’ve got to get in better shape.

And what-do-ya-know, here they come along the trail! Two matching ladies walk up to us from the south. They each have short white hair, trekking poles, and the biggest smiles.

The man says, “They can’t hear too well.”

SunFloJo is all over this. This moment may mirror her in 20 years. “Hi!  We hear you’re finishing up the AT?”

The twins nod.

One of them hears better than the other one and tells us a little about their journey. “We started the trail in the most difficult spots like up in Maine when we were early 70’s.”

“We just like walking. Thought this would be a good retirement activity.”

They share, “Our combined trail name is Happy Trails.”

Inspiration surges through each of our hearts. What an incredible story. The fact that these sisters have walked almost 2200 miles sinks into my mind. Wow.

And how wonderful it is that their friends came to meet them in the forest to witness and celebrate the last steps? Beautiful.

After the foursome walks on to the north, SunFloJo says, “Did you see their beautiful legs? So shapely for 80!”

We continue to eat. A redhead young man and a dark-haired young girl approach, “Hello!”

Greetings are exchanged.

“What are your trail names?” SunFloJo asks.

When they speak, we recognize their British accents, “I’m Samsquatch,” He says. “And she is The Boss.”

We snicker, “Why is she The Boss?”

He answers, “Because we were dating and trying to decide what to do in our gap year before university. We’re from the U.K. and gap years are a thing where we are from. She heard about the AT and drug me over here to hike.”

“I thought it would be cool to say we did this,” The Boss adds.

The parent in me asks, “How does your family feel about it?”

The Boss answers, “My mum worries because I can only check in every few days when we find an outlet to charge our phones.”

I bet. But really, what a great way to spend 6 months of your gap year!

“I try to tell mum that we’ve met people on the trail and that everyone checks up on everyone else. There are logs along the way to sign and people look for your name.”

Samsquatch adds, “Yeah, sometimes you hang with a group for a while. When you need a rest day a bunch of us go in together to share a hotel room, or a shelter, or a shower.”

Another dark-haired young gal walks up from the south. Clearly, they know each other.

“What’s your trail name?” I ask her.

“Olive Oil.”

She is adorably thin and tall. Olive Oil smiles.

SunFloJo asks, “Are you alone or do you have a partner?”

With confidence she replies, “I’m kind of alone overall, but you’re never really alone out here. I hang off and on with a group of people.”

“Like us,” laughs Samsquatch and The Boss. “And sometimes we get perks because we’re British.” There’s a chuckle between the three of them due to some inside joke along the way. “Like hotel rates or restaurant rates.”

“Americans have been good to us.”

Well, put that on a billboard. I’m glad to hear that.

The Boss continues, “We’ve got to make our money last. We’ve made it to the midway point of our hike so far.”

We exchange pleasantries, “Nice to meet you!  Hope you have a great second half of the trip.”

Then we see one, two, three,…NINE men approach our lunch location. This intersection is proving to be a high foot traffic area. 

These men book it to our spot like a locomotive machine. Their legs move in unison and they vary in ages and athletic ability. Some sweat profusely. I imagine because they are trying to keep up.

I look them over and say, “I see some genetic similarities among you.”

They nod with testosterone pride. “We’re the dads,” three of them say. They point down the row of others, “These are our sons, he’s a cousin, and he is a son-in-law.”

Wow.

“You guys were really trucking it,” I say.

“Yes, we are heading to Big Meadow.”

“Oh, yes, us too, but via Lewis Mountain first. That’s where we left our vehicle,” I say.

Noticing some of the younger ages, SunFloJo says, “Hey, we’re inviting people to the Tap Room tonight at Big Meadow. If you want to join us, then you’re invited.”

The most senior dad says, “We will keep that in mind.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I see Stalker C’s eyes widen. She looks at me and looks at Sunshine Rat, then tilts her head south toward the trail. 

Now I see what she means.

Well, well, well.

Look who it is!

Shut-Up-Guy is heading our way. 

The jaws on three of our faces drop while SunFloJo continues chatting it up with the nine man train.

Sunshine Rat, Stalker C and my eyes follow Shut-Up-Guy as he passes behind our visitors and continues at a fast speed. His eyes meet our eyes only briefly at one point.

SunFloJo is still talking, “And do you gentlemen have trail names?”

Main Leader Dad says, “No.”

He shakes his head as if none of his crew deserve the gift of a trail name. It’s starting to make sense to me why so many of his crew are an out of breath, sweaty mess. They’ve been trying to keep up with Main Leader Dad. Ah hah. That’s your trail name in my book. 

Main Leader Dad takes a pepperoni stick from Sunshine Rat’s hand without asking.

Perhaps dude needs a manners life skill workshop from the non-profit back home? 

Stalker C, Sunshine Rat and SunFloJo eye his behavior as he lightly fingers the length of the pepperoni.

My ballpark interpretation is that he thinks this is good packaging for meat, easy to transport. Has he not ever seen pepperoni sticks?

He nods approval and hands the stick back to Sunshine.

Then Main Leader Dad looks at SunFloJo. She is wearing her moisture wicking khaki shorts and fuchsia shirt with a black bandana around her head. 

Time stops. I hear a metaphor of angels in heaven open with an ascension chorus “ah ah ahhh”. 

The sunlight shifts through the trees and casts a spotlight onto SunFloJo. The man lifts his arm and points to our friend, our leader, our SunFloJo.

He says with all authority as if he is knighting her or blessing her through the air, “You are SteelCut.”

The Steam Team freezes over this announcement.

The men who we later affectionately call The Nine Testes have spoken. 

And just like that, they walk off quickly in unison.

SteelCut?!

I think that name does fit as an alternative for SunFloJo.

Stalker C says to SunFloJo, “Did you see who sped by while you were knighted with a possible new name?” 

“Who?”

“Shut-Up-Guy from our first night.”

Sunshine Rat chimes in, “What are the odds we would see him again?”

Seeing Shut-Up-Guy makes us all laugh. We replay a key event from night one.

I say, “I promise” and Stalker C says a low, “Shuuuut Uuuup!”

While we laugh, two guys approach coming from the south.  They introduce themselves as a father-son team. “We’re staying at the resort.”

There’s a resort nearby? I had no idea.

“Cool Shirts,” I say referencing their neon gym workout t-shirts.

The son shares, “We work out at the same Cross Fit together.” He pauses then adds, “To get ready for hiking we added cardio.”

Something about the way he said “added cardio” makes the Steam Team stifle giggles. 

Our rest and refuel window of time is closing.

I say, “Hope you have a great hike. We’re about to take off in the direction you came from.”

We zip up.

It is time to chase this journey’s end.

Can you imagine meeting people like this out in the woods? These ladies are so cool! There are several articles and news clips about them on the internet.

Stay tuned for the next chapter.

If you prefer to listen, my podcast is called Surrender On The Trail.

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