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 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

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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 EIGHT

CHAPTER EIGHT

Be strong and courageous.

Do not be afraid or terrified…

the Lord your God goes with you:

he will never leave you nor forsake you.

Deuteronomy 31: 6

Right foot. Left foot.

The dirt path is a comfortable two and a half feet wide at first, then narrows to about one foot wide.

We pass people posing for pictures at the trailhead map post. I glance back a few times until I can no longer see the parking lot. Green leaves and underbrush close in around us. I watch the Steam Team backpacks bob forward. My mind spins.

This is like letting go of the side of the pool in the deep end for the first time. We are going to tread water or die. 

We follow Lower Hawksbill Trail. Light glistens through the leaves and tall trees. 

Ten minutes in, I know that my pack is too heavy. I thought I had it down to the lightest amount possible! I could have done better. I rethink the contents. It is too late to do anything about what is inside. Hiking is such a learning process!

I extend my black trekking poles and grip their handles to keep me steady. They seem awkward at first. I am not sure why people use them, but I trust those reasons will become clear eventually.

We wind through the woods. A family of jovial day hikers approach us. They are probably happy because they do not have heavy backpacks, I think. 

The oldest man in the group smiles eager to share, “We saw a bear up ahead.” 

And they are thrilled about this? I guess so. They are coming out of the forest. We are going in. Great.

Stalker C’s large eyes glance my way. Her lips tighten. I look toward the endless woods.

SunFloJo sets down her pack as the family walks on toward the exit.

This interaction reminds SunFloJo to take out the bear bells. She attaches a bell to my pack. It hangs from one of my zipper pulls.

Did she pick me because I am obviously going to be at the back of the group when we run for safety from the bear?

We continue back in stride.

Jingle, jingle. Step. Jingle.

I do not love the constant ringing near my ear. No wonder bears do not like bells. And while I would never say this out loud, I would not mind seeing another bear from a distance. Tricky, I know. But we are on an adventure, right?

Jingle. Jingle. I do not want to complain, but it works out well when Stalker C says, “I could carry that bell if you want.”

We rest a moment. I move my bell to hang from her bag.

We continue hiking through twists and turns. My shoulders hurt.

Every few feet, Stalker C contorts her arm behind her so that she can gently ring the bell. No bear is coming near this group. She will make sure of it.

We see the first concrete sign trail marker post that directs us to turn slightly right and uphill. Our feet lean in what looks like 70-degree angles with our bodies as we head straight up toward the top of Hawksbill Mountain: elevation 4,050 feet.

I have looked forward to seeing Hawksbill Gap, the highest peak in Shenandoah National Park since seeing pictures of it on the Internet. In my head, I cannot wait! But wait I will because walking up this trail seems longer and longer than it looked on the map. Sweat drips down my back. It is a steep climb!

Stalker C and Sunshine Rat are up ahead as the better, younger climbers.

SunFloJo and I walk slowly a bit to conserve (my) energy. I feel like I am carrying the weight of an eight-year-old on my back. How am I going to do this until the end of the week?

Somehow our conversation lands on talking softly about love and love lost, about friends and fizzled relationships. We have lived long enough to have had our share of humans stroll in and out of our lives.

“When it comes to people, I’ve gotten better at loving and letting go. People either want to be with you or they don’t,” I say. 

SunFloJo offers, “I try to appreciate the moments we had and not stress about the fact that those moments were too few.”

“Perhaps we were lucky to have had those moments at all.” I say then add, “Maybe.”

We giggle at the maybe part.

I continue, “Also I am working on loving people around me without expectations.” It is easy for me to do that with friends and work acquaintances. I think about how much harder it is to let go of expectations inside a marriage. Maybe some expectations need to be there while others do not.

“Ah, letting go of expectation can be powerful,” SunFloJo says. “And tough to do.”

“Yes, there could be a lot less disappointment. I am working on detachment from what I expect and or anticipate.”

“It’s a process,” she says.

Our conversation seems profound at the time and distracts me until I recognize my struggle to breathe as the elevation changes. I lean the poles against my body while I wrap my hair into a ponytail to gain air flow around my neck. I grow quiet as my central focus becomes how to breathe my way to the top of this mountain.

Stalker C slows down to listen to the older folk conversation, but we are done with our ramblings by the time she is on par with us. 

I visualize the photos we will take when we get to the top—if we ever get there!

Sunshine points out the Salamander Trail post on our left side. This shows us where we will turn on the way back down. She has a good eye. I would have missed that marker in the trees. 

Then, finally, we see the Hawksbill cliff as the sun becomes brighter with less trees above us. First goal achieved. We make it to the top!

Large rocks line the edge. A gigantic valley is below with many mountains in the background. It is a clear day. You can see miles stretched beyond us.

We pause to guzzle water and take in the 180-degree view. I hope we stay on top of the world here for a while. 

It is so beautiful

We pause at the first overlook. I leave my trekking poles in a tiny shelter near the edge with a wood carved sign labeled Byrd’s Nest 2. Then I climb a short distance over rocks to the highest overlook. And by climb, in this case, I mean cling to the large, jagged rocks with my hands, arms, feet and legs so I can roll to the other side without plunging into the valley.

This is the main overlook. It is better in person than online. There is a manmade rock wall around it and a stone floor on the viewing deck. We place our packs in the overlook area. 

“Shall we do lunch here?” Stalker C asks.

I say, “I think that would be great.” I do not care that the sun is shining directly on us, although it feels much hotter than it did earlier. We grab food bags and stare at the view. We munch quietly and drink more water. I start with a pack of almonds.

Other hikers come and go from the woods. I wonder if we are in their way, then decide I do not care since all of them manage to take pictures without our physical presence being an issue. Most are day hikers with small packs. We help a few with their group photos and they help us.

One older gentleman wearing a plaid short-sleeved button up shirt pulls two ceramic blue birds from a satchel. He positions them on the leading edge of the man-made wall. He takes a few pictures, most with the birds included in the landscape.

SunFloJo asks, “Are you taking those pictures for someone special?”

He says, “Yes. I have a friend with MS who cannot hike. I take pictures back to her to enjoy.” 

My heart twists at the thought of him showing his friend pictures of the fragile birds and gorgeous horizon after his trip. I imagine her smile as he tells her about the experience. I think about Paul and how he probably could not hike this far these days. The incline would have been too much for him.

The man returns the ceramic birds carefully into a towel and his bag. He continues, “She is quite the lady.”

Then a set of three couples who are probably all in their sixties arrive. I read the body language that one of the ladies would like a photo of their whole group. I offer to take their picture. They are standing on the less safe natural rock area. At first, one husband grumbles about his wife, “Oh she’s got plenty of pictures!” He is overheated and cantankerous. I have seen this behavior in men from our family a few times regarding picture taking.

“We travel together a lot,” one woman says about their group while standing too close to the edge and trying to take a selfie.

“Watch your step,” I caution.

Gravel and dust fall behind her. She gasps at the near fall and steps to find better footing. I ask, “Do you have any pics of all six of you together today?”

The other two men express this would be a good spot for a photo. The grumpy bug husband gets on board reluctantly. I take a picture of them with the majestic view in the background. The wives are pleased with having a photo they can frame when they return home. They turn to walk back toward the trail.

Next, a gorgeous taupe color dog and her family arrive as we rest against the rock wall. The dog has a pink collar and leash. Her name is Annabelle. Sweetness oozes from her.

The Steam Team says a collective, “Aww.”

The dog owner says, “This is our 9,000-dollar dog. We found her starved, sick from rat poison and a snake bite a few years ago. We had no idea it would cost nine grand to get her well, but she’s been worth every penny.” Annabelle smiles and pants at her owner’s loving words.

In-between visitors, I stare at the vast view.

Is this the place where I can toss my anger off the mountain? I try to reach a peaceful state of mind but keep thinking about how some humans can be ceramic-love-birds-photo-taking-good-attitude people and some humans are habitual-complainers-exhaust-those-around-them people. The contrast sours the rest of my meal of cheese and crackers with grapes. I am too hot to eat anyway. I feel thankful for Annabelle’s visit. Dogs are along for the ride and generally happy to go with the flow. I needed her energy.

Here you go, Lord. Please take the angst from me. I surrender. And I am Surrender on this trip. Help me let go of anger. Here are my disappointments. Here are my expectations. Here are the times I try to control the fantasy of how I think life should be. Take it all please. Amen

Stalker C, SunFloJo & Sunshine quietly stare too. We all face some type of life transition. I wonder if they are working through similar thoughts. SunFloJo has been contemplating retirement soon. Stalker C and Sunshine just graduated college and are headed to grad school in different parts of the country.

I want to suggest we sleep here tonight, but I know we have more miles to walk before nightfall.

“Do you want me to read Deb’s next letter?” I ask the group.

A unanimous “Yes” ensues.

I dig out Deb’s ‘During the Journey’ envelope and read,

“‘Day 1: Munchkins: The munchkins were happy people who were industrious and well intentioned. They did whatever they could to help Dorothy and her crew to reach their goals. Who are the munchkins in your life? How do they help you reach your goals?’” 

We take turns answering.

“My church youth group supported me a lot,” says Stalker C. “My family was not big into church, but I liked going. We hung out and they encouraged me. They’re one of the reasons why I got a social work degree.”

Sunshine and SunFloJo both offer that their families have been supportive of their career and life decisions.

“I am blessed with friends who encourage me,” I share. And I think about how Paul helped me plan for this week. This is not my first hair brained idea over the years.

With a mutual sigh about leaving, we load our gear, grab poles and head back down the path. We turn right onto Salamander Trail. 

It looks like a deep dive through thick branches from here. The path is narrower. I squirt bug spray on my ankles, legs, arms, and neck.

I am pleased about going downhill until the steepness of the path begins to fatigue my feet. The path is filled with rocks; jagged and varied. My magic boots are not feeling so magical. Now we face 120-degree foot angles while maneuvering over rocks. My toes are on fire!

We curve along mountain edges and then encounter more downhill strain through daytime darkness. The trees are thick.

Down. Down. And still straight down. More rocks and more rocks. Oh, my goodness this hurts!

I refuse to cry, but there is no way to hide that I cannot keep up. Every step causes sharp toe pain.

Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.

SunFloJo checks on me. I suspect she is concerned about me having a heart attack. I do not speak. My focus is on walking through the raging fire in my shoes. 

“What specifically is going on?” She asks.

I tell her.  She speculates what might be the problem.

“Yes, I clipped my nails before we traveled,” I admit, embarrassed that we are trouble shooting my toe issues.

There is no solution in sight. Today is day one of full-time hiking, how on earth will I make it to Saturday?!?

My shoes are size 9. SunFloJo’s shoes are 9.5. Her shoes also are wide at the toe end. Mine are not wide. She offers to switch shoes.

But I do not want to change shoes. I like my “magic shoes”. With the amount of metaphoric fire and pain going on, I am concerned about swelling if I take off the boots. And what happens to both of us if we switch shoes mid hike? Will my shorter shoe then hurt SunFloJo? 

For now, I hobble behind the group. I will not give up today even if my toes become as bloody as they feel right now. We are deep in the woods. The only way out is through.

At the bottom of Salamander, we see a white Appalachian Trail mark on a tree. This is the first time we have seen what hikers call the White Blaze. The White Blaze is a white rectangle painted every so often on a tree, so you know you are on the right path. We turn from our side entrance trails onto the official AT trail. We pause to take a picture of SunFloJo with the White AT Blaze. This is her dream! She is living it!

I am so happy for her and happy to rest for a few minutes.

After the AT turn, we meet a chunky guy. He wears blue jean shorts and a cotton blue t-shirt. This is not the hiking attire I have seen on AT YouTube videos. We ask if he is a thru hiker or day hiker. 

“I’m doing the whole thing,” He says. That means he is a thru hiker. Wow. “Started in March from Georgia.”

Sunshine asks, “What is your trail name.” 

He wipes his brow and says, “Endurance.”

We ask why that name and he says, “Because I’m proving to myself that I have the endurance to do this.” 

He inspires me. He is not allowing extra weight to hold him back. Endurance blows by after chatting. Soon I do not see him ahead of us.

The trail becomes enchanted at this point. We are on more level land. The forest is lush with seas of ferns, soft tree branches and rocks surround us under a canopy of tall skinny trees. I think about the Hobbit and scenes from the Shire in Lord of the Rings

The Steam Team grows weary. Occasionally we find large rocks or moss-covered tree logs next to the trail where we say, “This looks good” which means there is enough booty space for each of us to rest. We sit for a few minutes and lean our backpack weight onto a rock or tree.

Sunshine Rat has a Fitbit attached to her bra. We ask her to check the mileage because this 5.1-mile Day One hike is feeling long. We all wonder, how much longer until we stop for the night?

Sure enough we have hiked well over 6 miles already according to her Fitbit. 

Could it be that the trail markers and trail plan are incorrect about how many miles we will walk today?

Or are we a little lost? 

If you would like to listen to the Audio Version or support this creative work, click here for the Podcast Chapter Eight.

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

Thanks for reading or listening. Check back Sunday, May 23 for CHAPTER NINE.

CHAPTER TWO

SURRENDER ON THE TRAIL

CHAPTER TWO

I lift my eyes to the mountains–where does my help come from? 

My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Psalms 121: 1-2

Yes, I want to go! Can I fit this into my schedule? Will Paul freak out? Will the boys be ok without me around?

I will be off the grid. OFF THE GRID—how wonderful that sounds. Probably no cell service.

Can we afford this? Isn’t camping supposed to be cheap? Oh, wait a minute, when is my period? I am NOT doing a cycle in the woods—no way.

JoAnn asks, “Whatcha thinking?”

“Um. If I can make family and work stars align, if I can borrow some equipment from friends who are into hiking, then I am all in.”

I have a few camping type folks in mind to ask. There is no budget for me to go hiking otherwise.

“Oh honey, no worries. How about this? If it is meant to be, it will be. We won’t force or pressure it to happen.”

Then my biggest fear pops up, “You know I am out of shape, right? I might be a slowpoke.”

“No worries,” she says. “We won’t rush. If you want to and get to go, then we’ll take our time.”

“Alrighty.  I’ll talk with the fam and get back to you.”

“Ok!”

JoAnn texts me a picture of the hiking plan:

BACKCOUNTRY CAMPING TRIP GUIDE. 

FOUR DAYS, THREE NIGHTS. 

HAWKSBILL TO SWIFT RUN VIA LAUREL PRONG. 

TRIP DESCRIPTION:  MOUNTAINS, STREAMS WATERFALLS, RAPIDAN CAMP HISTORIC SITE. 

The twists and turns over varied terrain and elevation changes are listed as if the line dashes on the map are no big deal. Easy peasy.

23 MILES – IF all goes as planned.

MAY 04, 2016

I wait for the right moment. I pace from the kitchen to the laundry room to the family room. 

More pacing. There is no right moment.

Paul rests on the couch. I eye him. After all these years, I remember the butterflies we shared when we pretended not to look at one another the first time we met in the Young Adult Sunday School class.

He had been a visiting college intern in his last semester. I was there that day because my campus minister challenged me to go back to my home church one last time before moving my membership officially to the church where I had been attending for months. Being there was me fulfilling a promise.

If I had my way, that day was just a formality. A box to check, then move on.

But someone caught my eye. Everything changed fast.

While dating, we celebrated our total opposite personalities—bragged about it even. I would say things like, “He likes a home to be organized.” Then he would say, “She likes a home to be clean. This should work out perfectly.”

Once married, simple differences like how to set up house overflowed into differences in how we view the world. Even though we see things somewhat similar, it became cumbersome to constantly translate the nuances. Over the years, we evolved from both wanting to prove a point when we tried to talk or argue to me agreeing with whatever most days. I grew tired of expressing, “We are saying the same thing.”

I still adore his broad shoulders. I like the way he smells like Lever 2000 soap–and sometimes after shave when we can afford it. I appreciate the way he nurtures and cares for our kids. The pictures of how lovingly he looked at both newborns are forever in my mind. He acts like he is going to be fine with Jacob leaving soon, but I am fairly sure he will struggle when departure day arrives.

I am both mad at him for 23 years of reasons and mad about him at the same time. Down deep, I love him in a way that is eternal no matter what. Our shared faith has been the foundation that did not crack although the metaphoric home built above the foundation is not as strong.

It is time. 

“I need to talk with you about something.”

He hesitates, “Oh boy.”

I take a deep breath and tell him about the trip opportunity. Then I get serious. 

“Look,” I say.  “I’m dealing with a few things.”

“Ok,” he says.

“My brain is fried. I need this hike to take me out of my comfort zone. I need to get away. Like, deep into the woods away both mentally and physically—something I can’t believe I’m saying.”

He turns off the TV.

I continue, “I am incredibly sad. Sad because Jacob is leaving. I am in denial that Ben is old enough to go to high school. And I’m angry.” Pause, “Angry at you.”

He says nothing but listens with his temples pointed in my direction.

“I am mad because it seems like you never made a solid effort to get a better job when I switched to non-profit work. I could totally accept if you tried and failed, but not trying is hard for me to accept.”

Shoot. I said the word never. We agreed long ago not to use trigger words like ‘you never…’ or ‘you always….’

We are silent for about 30 seconds. He has not moved.

I go for the summary, “So, two main things:  One, I’ve got to let go of this anger toward you. Going through the motions of being nice when I do not feel nice has worn me out. I need a break.” 

I exhale. “Two, I am super sad because we have to let go of Jacob. He is so young.” My eyes become wet.

“Basic training means we are not going to be able to talk with him for weeks. Then there may be times where he deploys to fight a stupid war that most Americans do not seem to know is still happening. Technically this kid is joining during a time of war. This is not like moving to a college dorm. Signing up for active duty is a change much more abrupt and final feeling. This feels like a sacrifice. I’m struggling with why our son? And, why anyone’s son or daughter?”

Paul is either tuning in deep or blocking my words to protect his own feelings.

I sniff. My tears are a steady stream now. “Plus, I may have to let go of the organization that I worked all these years to develop. I love what I do. It does not seem fair. Worse, I find myself mad at God for not providing. We have had too many years of financial strain. I picture going on this trip, sitting on top of a mountain, throwing my dreams off the side while saying ‘Take it and do your will, Lord. Take it. Take it all. I cannot carry these burdens anymore.’”

I whisper, “If word from the mountaintop is that I am supposed to let it go, then I will. Someone else can lead. Or, we’ll close the doors.”

Silence.

Then Paul looks at me for the first time, “Go.”

He has an understanding look on his face—not at all the look I expected. “Do what you need to do and have fun.”

That’s it?

I expected him to give me reasons why I should not go hiking given my lack of experience. No doubt, he would have multiple valid reasons.     

I take a breath. “Ok.”

His kindness and acceptance are a terrifying miracle. Um, maybe you should talk me out of this, Babe.

“I’ll send you a text of the hiking plan. If you want to help me plan or gather things, I’m open to your ideas.” Long ago the man was in the Army National Guard. I know he has outdoor survival skills knowledge.

He nods.

Later I tell the boys. Ben-Just-Ben shrugs, “Ok”. Jacob says he wishes he could go with me, but he is pumped about going to Texas soon.

I text JoAnn—I AM IN!

MAY 5, 2016

A group of us are going to celebrate Cinco de Mayo and our friend Deb’s birthday at the local Cancun restaurant.

After working professionally together for over a decade, Deb and I have accepted in recent years that we have become good friends.

I have not had a chance to tell her about the AT trip. It would be fantastic if Deb were going too. She would be wonderful addition to team camaraderie.

Last night and this morning, Paul and I began making a list of supplies needed. He also began giving me tips like, “Don’t set up your sleeping bag on a tree root. Look for a soft spot or spread leaves out underneath where you rest.” I have been thinking about details while still processing in my own head the fact that I am going at all. There is lots to do and not many days to prepare.

Deb, JoAnn and a social work intern, Courtney, are already seated at a long table when I arrive. There is room for other guests who will come and go as part of the birthday celebration. A boxed cake is on my end of the table. 

We exchange happy birthday greetings and food orders arrive. We also celebrate that Courtney is about to graduate May 14 from Xavier University.

My mind quietly thinks about the AT trip while people joke and chat. I do not plan to discuss the trip at all today since this is a gathering for other reasons. I want to tell Deb on my own when I get a chance.

One of the silent things I ponder is that the cost of this trip is an issue. I can’t make purchases. We have no credit cards and the debit card is stretched to the penny each month. I consider who in my neighborhood and friend circle might allow me to borrow equipment.   

Knowing where my mind might be, JoAnn interjects, “Hey Glenna. You’re going to need a good pair of hiking boots.”

Deb says, “For what?”

I am surprised. JoAnn must REALLY be over the top excited about this trip. 

All eyes turn to me. I answer, “Well, within the last 24 hours I’ve agreed to go on an Appalachian Trail section hike with JoAnn. We’ll be in the Shenandoah National Park area for almost a week.”

I look at Deb. My raised eyebrows ask if she would like to go.

Reading my nonverbal cue, Deb says, “That sounds fun, but my knees could not do that.”

Courtney, though, looks more than intrigued by the idea. She asks about the dates and if other women can join the team. Is she interested in being part of this idea?

“Are there bears in that area?”

JoAnn answers Courtney, “Oh yes. We will have to put our food in a Bear Bag, then use a rope to throw the bag up and over a tree branch away from where we set up camp.”

My eyes widen.

“Snakes?” Courtney asks.

“Yes, some poisonous. Some not.”

I start to think that Courtney going on the trip could be good. She is young and probably could run for help if we need it.  

Then an opportunity-to-help-look comes over Deb’s face. She says, “Boots!  A few months ago, I stopped by a shoe outlet in Louisville. There was a $7.50 sale on Swiss hiking boots that were originally priced $110. I don’t hike. They were not my size, but I couldn’t resist knowing that someone I know surely will need them especially for that price! What size do you wear?”

I reply, “9.”

Deb says, “I had no idea why I couldn’t resist those boots. This must be why. I will go home tonight and let you know what size they are.”

The table oos and ahhs. “This may be divine,” JoAnn says.

Then Courtney offers, “My sister is into this kind of thing. She has hiked a lot and has all the equipment. I can ask her for advice.”

I will welcome all the advice and divine intervention I can get.

As we are in line to pay for our food Deb says to me, “This will be good for you to get away after Jacob goes.”

I nod, “Exactly.” 

7:00PM

I receive a text from Deb with a picture of the boots—SIZE 9!

Glenna—WOW.  MAGIC BOOTS!  THANK YOU.

Deb—THIS TRIP IS MEANT TO BE.

If you’d like to listen to the Audio Version or support this creative work, click here for my podcast chapters.

Fun fact: I am beginning to include extra content that only can be found on the podcast.

Thanks for reading or listening! Check back April 4, 2021 for Chapter Three.

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

CHAPTER ONE

Welcome to

SURRENDER ON THE TRAIL

In the LORD I take refuge; How can you say to my soul, “Flee as a bird to your mountain…?!”

Psalm 11:1

CHAPTER ONE


MAY 13, 2016

9:00AM

I have agreed to go on an Appalachian Trail section hike May 31 through June 4.

Sounds simple enough: take long walks, camp overnight, repeat 4-5 times, then go home. How hard could that be? 

But I am 44 years old, overweight, stressed out because life is not going as I planned, hoped, or dreamed. AND, I have never gone pee or poo in the woods. 

Never. Not once. 

I am in research mode to prepare for the hike. So far, I read that an Appalachian Trail hiker carries 30-40 pounds of equipment on their back. I already have that much extra in fat that I carry around my waist and hips every single day. Is it possible that I can carry more than my own fat for nearly a week in the woods?

Neither friends nor family would describe me as an outdoor person. Once upon a time I was a Cub Scout Den Mom for 8 years for our two sons. I did not lead the outdoor activities. I outsourced what I did not want to do or what I had no clue how to do. 

I asked other outdoorsy type parents to lead lessons that involved sweat. Or trails. Or fires. Or bugs, fishing, snakes…yeah, pretty much anything having to do with outside was outsourced. I was great at sending emails, keeping a schedule, carpooling, and leading a craft or two. I rocked soap carving and enjoyed taking 6-10 young kids to new places. Guess it is my turn to take a field trip. Yet this is exactly the kind of field trip I would have avoided as a Den Mom.

Cub Scout days are long gone. I hold onto contact information and scout files as if we could start back up at any time. I have a plastic bin filled with Pinewood Derby Car race supplies. Each year I think I will donate them to some younger mother but have not gotten around to it. There are extra car decals, paint, weights, glue, officially licensed Boy Scout of America wheels, a scale and graphite powder which I am not sure is legal in the BSA rules, but everyone used it on race day anyway.

Our children are on the cusp of being grown physically. I am 5’10. In the last year both sons have become over 6 feet tall. Somehow, I am now the shortest person in family pictures.

Jacob turned 18 years old a couple weeks ago. He graduated high school last summer at 17 because he was determined to serve as soon as possible in the United States Air Force. He wanted to clear his path to depart months ago, but the wait game has been challenging. We have taken no less than 5 trips to a Military Entrance Processing Station two hours away from our home. For months I have run back and forth to schools and doctors getting letters and documents together. Jacob finally has a date for Basic Military Training coming up May 24. 

I feel sick and stressed inside. Is Jacob ready to be an adult? He is by far the child I have worked the hardest to support and coach along the way. My shy boy is becoming an adventurous man. What scares me most is his propensity to learn the hard way as a rule. When he was little the moment after I told him not to touch the hot stove, he proceeded to lay his hand flat on a burner. I am shocked by his no fear and eagerness to leave so soon. Older and wiser friends who have already been through this say I should be proud that he has the confidence to go. I try. 

Last month Jacob had an emergency appendectomy. When he was recovering post-surgery, I considered it a privilege to stay overnight in the hospital with him. I stared at his sleeping face as the rain poured outside and the parking lot lights gently shone into his room. What a bookend moment it was. I thought about how the same month 18 years prior I stared at him for hours overnight in a plastic crib after he was born in the same hospital. Now he is departing soon for Texas and who-knows-where in the world after that. He is brave.

Then there is Ben-Just-Ben. He is our youngest, 14 years old. His real name is Benjamin, but he announced after coming home from kindergarten years ago that he is no longer the full name of Benjamin. With a small hand cutting motion he stated, “I am Ben just Ben from now on.” This guy, once the cuddliest child ever, is close to 6’2 tall and begins high school this year. High School?! Wow. One minute you are trying to keep the calendar straight for school age children. The next minute you grieve them leaving home.

I am a risk taker of sorts, but now it is our kids turn to take risks. No matter that them leaving is completely normal and healthy, it hurts. Down deep in my stomach and soul there is a grinding and twisting that I feel these days. I must figure out how to work through the tears of this life transition. 

It does not help that other parts of my life are unstable. I run a tiny non-profit with 7 staff members. We teach positive coping and life skills to children in grades K through 12, and for parents of preschoolers.  Being a small organization means I wear lots of hats. The pay is not great and sometimes the boss, aka me, simply does not get paid. 

My reward is seeing children who once struggled in the classroom then learn new strategies and succeed. It is hard to imagine doing anything else because I love what we do so much. With new skills and knowledge people can make better choices and, in some cases, break negative cycles that have been passed down for generations.

The desire to build the non-profit began in 2005. I thought I heard clearly from God that this was what I was supposed to do. I was confident that if God put the dream in my heart that He would provide. Yet as some of my students say about other things: the struggle is real.

I adore my staff. I am so proud of the work they do. Most of them have spouses who are the main breadwinners. They do not seem to feel the same pain that I do trying to cover the mortgage and decide whether to buy groceries or pay the gas & electric bill. 

My husband, Paul, is a loving, caring spouse and father, but striving to make a good salary has never been an actionable priority for him. We have been married 23 years. He agreed that he would seek a better job or salary when I left the corporate world and took on the non-profit, but to date the steps necessary to improve his pay have not happened.

No matter how much I say I believe in him, he will not believe in himself. He is an intelligent person. I admire his brain, but he is plagued by self-doubt, a touch of OCD and depression—in my unprofessional opinion. Basically, I am married to Eeyore. Loyal and loveable, lack of growth mindset, Eeyore.

Worse, his body is failing him. He is tired all the time. I am not the type of spouse that would say, “Get off the couch!”, but I am thinking it.

Especially due to finances, something must give. I am not sure what. 

In addition to non-profit workshops, marketing, administrative duties, taxes, payroll, school activities, orthodontist appointments, plays, proms, sports, home duties like cleaning, oil changes, laundry, grocery shopping, etc., I also have a side retail job. I wish the retail money helped more than it does. I barely notice the tiny additional funds, but I do notice how much my feet hurt. My brain feels squeezed. Too much. This is all too much.

FLASHBACK:  APRIL 5, 2016

I am in-between school day workshops and an evening parent workshop. I receive a text:

JoAnn–WOULD YOU LIKE TO MEET AT THE PUB RESTAURANT? I HAVE A LITTLE TIME BEFORE A GIG NEARBY.

Heck yes, I do! I love JoAnn. She is one of my favorite people on the planet. JoAnn is a high school social worker. We collaborate from time to time on projects and how best to serve students. 

JoAnn is 5’2 tall. She is 17 years older than me, but in much better shape. She runs marathons and any 5K event she wants to around the city.

We connect well spiritually, and we laugh every time we are together. In the last few years, we call each other “soul sis”. Like me, she grew up in an environment with a functioning alcoholic father and hard-working mother. I sense we both work in the Urban Appalachian town where we do because it is a lot like coming home for both of us. The culture is familiar. We “get” the unwritten rules. 

I arrive at The Pub. JoAnn has already portioned out half of her pot roast and mashed potatoes dinner onto a side plate for me. One, yum. Two, this is a good habit I have seen her do with food. She is a half eater. I am an eat the whole plate and may I have some more eater. 

I ask, “What’s your gig tonight?”

“A compass reading class over at REI.”

That does not sound like social work continuing education to me.

“Tell me more,” I smile.

“I’m starting my AT adventure this summer,” she announces proudly.

I have no idea what REI is either, but start with, “What does AT stand for?”

“Appalachian Trail,” she says. “Oh, I love to hike.”

I have never heard of the AT, “How long is it?”

“The whole AT goes from Maine to Georgia.”

“Wow-“ How in the world?

She reads my face. “Oh honey, I’m not hiking the whole thing this year,” she laughs. “I’m doing a section hike as a recon mission to see if I can handle it. Then I might do more sections each year until I complete it. I have been planning and plotting this adventure since September. I have taken several classes to prepare too.”

Is there anything JoAnn can’t handle? Seriously.

“Who is going with you?”

Then I ask, “When are you going?” And more questions all the while thinking that maybe she should ask me if I want to go.

I do not dare interject that idea. Clearly, this is her thing. She has a plan.

Look at me. I feel the pinch of my too tight pants. I would not be a good hiking partner. I would literally weigh her down.

But…the thought of going sounds amazing. 

My mind wanders. This could be the escape I need to be me-just-me for a week. I could be challenged away from my normal struggles. Lately I feel an ugly angry inside. On the outside most people may think all is well with our family, but the reality is painful. We live in a nice house that we no longer can afford. Our slow pay credit score makes me feel trapped. Moving is expensive. We have old cars that break down constantly. We are blessed with two amazing kids who each wear one pair of shoes for a year straight. Our water has been turned off a couple times and the boys knew when I rushed to scramble to get it turned back on.

JoAnn interrupts my thoughts, “Would you ever be interested in hiking sometime?”

I look at her. My head tilts, “Yes. If the opportunity comes up. Maybe after your recon mission success, then we can plan a different section hike sometime. Let me know how it goes.”

FLASH FORWARD:  MAY 03, 2016

7:00AM

I’m driving to work. The cell phone rings. It’s JoAnn. I put her on speaker.

She says, “Crazy idea. Do NOT feel like you have to answer right now. Sleep on it at least one night….”

“I’m listening.”

“My friend who was supposed to go on the AT hike with me hurt her back. There is no way she can carry the backpack required so she can’t go.” 

There is something about the way JoAnn lovingly pronounces “AT” that I admire.

She continues, “Would you like to go on the trip?  I have a mini camp stove and a bear bag already. I can text you a pic of our hiking plan so you know where we’ll be going….” She trails off. Pun intended.

Meanwhile, I am thinking, What in the world is a Bear Bag?


If you’d like to listen to the Audio Version, click here for my podcast chapters.

Thanks for reading or listening! Check back March 28, 2021 for Chapter Two.

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

Valentine Antidote

It is that day when I promise once again that next year I won’t be in town on Valentine’s Day. I will be with girlfriends or on a beach, on a mountain top, anywhere else doing something–anything–not so ordinary.

Valentine’s Day is a double whammy. It’s also my birthday. Growing up, I loved celebrating with red hearts, white paper lace, pink streamers, balloons and all things Valentine.

As an adult, I realized many people have jumbled emotions linked to February 14. Happy feelings, angry feelings, dread, anger and so forth.

Then I married someone who expresses love inversely to what I anticipated. Let’s just say his first romantic gift was a bright yellow personal alarm to wear on my waist so I could pull the cord for it to wail and screech if someone nefarious came too close to me on my college campus.

We’ve worked it out. It’s taken a lot of tears and years. I’ve learned that the antidote to my occasional sad feels is to have less expectations, ask for something specific if desired, support or help others.

These days, ALS-21 plus a Pandemic make it so Hubby can’t get out to shop, or walk much, or feel good for a full day. I am happy simply when his words are kind. I like thoughtful and kind. Lately, I’ve been quietly thanking the writers of Call The Midwife. Hubby really likes that show. I call it his daily empathy exercise. Women have been through so much and that binge worthy series does not shy away from hard topics.

Speaking of writers, my feel better about Valentine’s Day activity this year was to support authors I care about. I directed Hubby to my wish list and he placed the order. I was excited to open the packages.

Janine Rosche is an author who picked me up off the floor when I received a bad news phone call at a writer’s conference. She prayed with me. Then I found out she was looking for a certain agent to meet. I am thrilled to say they met indeed and are three books into a successful journey. I now have a trifecta of inspirational romance to read:

William Klein’s book was lost in our move so I needed a replacement copy. This is a timely fictional story about a painful border experience.

And Jessica Terry is a writer that cracks me up with her Instagram stories. Like me, she was a basketball player in her youth. We’ve never met. I appreciate her work ethic and passion. So, I soon will read:

Who would you like to support? Someone creative? An organization that does something you value? Church? Someone elderly or ill? Doing a little something for others could brighten your Valentine’s Day. Earlier in the week, I called a couple people who I hadn’t spoken with in a few years. It was a good time on old fashioned phone calls.

Frequently, I think of the verse Love One Another (John 15: 12). Loving others does not result in only one direction of good vibes even when that should be our intention. When you love others, the good feels return to fill your heart and strengthen the weave of the universe.

Still in town,

P.S. Hubby also visited the Shari’s Berries website. Winner. Yum.

But Not The Baby’s Wagon

Once upon a time, back when I thought I was tough, when I believed wholeheartedly that life will be what you make it, when I never cried at movies or much of anything besides a broken heart, my future husband and I took a road trip.

He played his favorite songs through the car cassette player. “Listen to Sammy Kershaw,” he said. “If we are going to get married, then we have to promise never to let this happen.”

The song was Yard Sale. The lyrics played:

Cardboard sign says yard sale
Real estate sign says sold
Family picnic table
Holds all that it can hold
On the grass and on the sidewalk
Well there must be half the town
Ain’t it funny how a broken home
Can bring the prices down

Oh they’re sortin through
What’s left of you and me
Paying yard sale prices
For each golden memory
Oh I never thought
I’d ever live to see
The way they’re sorting through
What’s left you and me

You left two summer dresses
In the backyard on the line
A lady just brought them to me
Says she thinks they’ll fit just fine
Well there goes the baby’s wagon…

By the time the baby’s wagon is sold, my lips are quivering.

Tears. What the heck?

And ever since that 19 year old day, I joined in on his idea of divorce not being an option.

When Hubby was diagnosed in 2017 with ALS-21, soon could no longer work, and he had to crawl if stairs were involved, I saw the dim light arrive over the home we once were determined to grow old in together.

I knew we’d have to leave.

And I knew our very real children’s wagon was in the garage. Do our sons need it anymore? Uh, no. Did we love it and use it a lot? Yes. That wagon toured the neighborhood many days, helped with Halloween, Cub Scout popcorn sales, and gardening.

I have cried about leaving our home for weeks while keeping my body sorting, packing, dragging, etc. Moving out of a home you’ve lived in over 20 years is more of a feat than a project. Plus, when leaving is a “have to”, the work can be extra painful. My heart resisted while my body ran the metaphoric marathon.

Then I learned that a 5 year old is part of the new family who bought our house. Turned out, she would like to have the wagon.

Take that, ALS-21! You can not have our babies’ wagon!

And that made me feel good. The wagon will live on in our neighborhood for a little while longer.

We are 4 hours into condo life without overlap with the house. There is a peace in seeing Hubby get around much better here. My mind & tired body will settle into the peace soon I hope.

Speaking of marathons, next Sunday Lisa Zupan is running 26 miles for two causes. One of the reasons is to help purchase a scooter and car lift for Hubby. If you would like to donate, click here.

God bless you through the many chapters of life.

Love,

Glenna

Goodbye, House.

Have fun, Wagon!