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.”

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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 ELEVEN

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

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

Joshua 1:9

JUNE 2, 2016

8:15AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moment of truth.

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

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

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

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

“Wonderful,” I say.

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

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

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

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

We can do anything for one night, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stalker C says to me, “You’re going?”

“Yes.”

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

I agree.    

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

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

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

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

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

MID MORNING

It is time to get back on the trail.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are we really doing this?

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

Because bears.

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

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

We find the sign and enter the woods.

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

Was that a gun?

Two guns?

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

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

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

We agree.

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

Sunshine continues, “Every centipede is 1 point.”

“A dead centipede is .5 points.”

“A deer is 50 points.”

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

We decide a snake is -50 points.

“Chipmunks are 5 points.”

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

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

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

“1 point.”

“.5” and so forth.

Over rocks, along a mountain ridge…

down,

down.

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

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

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

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

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

“Could it be distance in-between?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But SunFloJo inches closer.

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Thanks for reading or listening. Check back next Sunday for CHAPTER TWELVE!

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER TEN

Do you not know? Have you not heard?

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

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

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

increases the power of the weak.

Isaiah 40:28-29

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

Alone time and contemplation in silence could do me good.

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

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

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

“Hi,” they say.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We nod. No one wants to walk further.

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

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

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

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

9?!  9 is 43 campsites away from 52.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It is a bear box,” SunFloJo answers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I observe, “He never complains.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We all agree. It was brutal.

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

SunFloJo and I exchange looks.

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

“Oh my,” I chuckle.

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

It feels good to rest and laugh.

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

SHOWER

$1.25 for

5.25 minutes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SunFloJo asks, “Whatcha thinking?”

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

“Yes, lighten your pack. Good idea.”

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

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

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

“Ok. Yay, girl!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

I fall asleep praying.

JUNE 2, 2016

TIME UNKNOWN

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

%^&!@!  Ineffective moth balls!

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

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

Slithery thing, please go away.

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

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

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 SEVEN

CHAPTER SEVEN

So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41:10

JUNE 1, 2016

It is Zero Dark Thirty.

My body stirs. I am unsure if I have slept hours or minutes.  

Did I bring the flip knife into the tent with me? My hands survey the darkness.

I promised Jacob that the knife would be in my pocket, but I forgot to get it out of my bag.

My eyes open to the nothingness. I hear a creature!

Maybe two? Three creatures?! 

Little snorts and sniffs graze outside the tent near my head. I guess these animals are not opposed to the scent of moth balls. I roll my eyes. 

Sniff, sniff, sniff.

Leaves rustle under whatever kind of paws they have. Sniff, sniff. 

My body freezes. What if it is a skunk? And it startles? What if it sprays a horrible stench? 

Or, what if it is the type of animal that will run away if I make noise? 

What should I do?

I contemplate.

What if I turn on my flashlight? Maybe that will create a shadow showing me what it really is? 

But–what if knowing what it is will make me feel worse? Knowing could be scary.

Nope. No shadow images. Thanks. I do not need to know!

I shiver in the cold night air. My arms cross inside Paul’s wind breaker style golf sweatshirt.

Is that a stick in my back? Ouch. No, it just hurts to sleep on the ground

While I am five feet ten inches tall, the borrowed sleep pad is two feet five inches long. Not much padding is under this body. I visualize the much longer pad I saw at a store for $59.99. That was too much to spend when a borrowed pad was available. 

Sniff, sniff.

While the nocturnal visitors continue to scurry near me, I think about the budget at home and how the boys wanted macaroni and snacks the week I said no to $59.99 for myself. My mind wanders on to thoughts about the timing of bills and the cash left behind that should get the guys through this week. Jacob is going to work a summer lifeguard job. That will help.

Arms tight and legs curled in an effort to find warmth, I fall back to sleep.

DAYBREAK

I awaken to chirping birds. My body hurts when I roll over inside the tent.

The birds are loud.

Anxious excitement arrives. This is it! Time to hike. It is about to be the real deal with no opportunity for escape to a nearby parked car. We are going into the woods!

I learned yesterday that Dick and SunFloJo revised the plan so that we will drive to our hiking end point today to meet Dick. That is where we will leave the car. Then Dick will drive our group to the start point for drop off. This way we will end hiking the trail back at our car.

Genius new idea? Yes, but this is not what Paul is picturing back in our family room. I think about him looking at our trail plan, probably reviewing it repeatedly. I can feel his mind visualizing our steps. He thinks our car will be at the starting point, not the end.

My phone no longer works in the national park so there is no way to update him. I trust that a search team would check both ends of the plan for our car and clues if needed. Let’s just hope we do not get lost. I am fine. Everything is fine.

When we purchased gasoline yesterday, I sent the last text to say I love him and the boys. I shared that I was putting the phone away until the end of the trip. I turned off the cell and put it in SunFloJo’s glove box.

I do not know what time it is. I recall that my backpack is in disarray. I have got to fix that. Maybe I can quietly do this before anyone else is awake.

The sound of my tent unzipping does not seem to disturb the young girls’ tent, but it turns out that JoAnn and I are unzipping in unison. We crawl out of our tents both with the same need to pee. 

We do not talk. We stumble around looking for a good spot. My back is on fire from the hours spent on the ground. My legs are numb. Also, I am not a morning person. I wave her toward the direction she seems to be interested in anyway and I head the opposite direction toward the parking lot.

Urinating in the light of day is something to figure out. I wander a bit. Decisions, decisions.

I take care of business in the grass behind a dumpster. Success. Who knew that figuring out how to pee outside would feel like such an accomplishment?

The stream runs under the dumpster and out the other side toward the parking lot and road. I will pretend like I do not see that if anyone happens to walk by. Next time I will do better in the grass somewhere deeper in the woods. I am building confidence in this new skill.

I walk back to camp quietly. The girls continue to snooze. Good, I need the picnic table space to spread out supplies. I will take down my tent, hopefully sort through my backpack, and then they can have the same space to organize if needed. Keep sleeping girls. I notice SunFloJo is back inside her tent.

But first I need to peek at the fire pit.

Darn it! The broken hot dog IS present in the ash. It did not burn up.

Uh oh. We were lucky no bears came overnight. –No bears that I know of anyway. Now I feel bad for lying. And I feel relief that we survived the night. I really believed the hot dog must have burned up. I walk the dog pieces back to the road and throw the remains into the dumpster. Good riddance.

I disassemble my tent. SunFloJo’s hand emerges from her tent. She tosses out the car keys. No words. She knows what I am up to. I appreciate that. Hoping I do not disturb her too much, I am happy to soon hear her snore again. Sleep all you can, I think. No doubt we are going to need every ounce of rest we can get out here.

Grass, trees, and the lingering fire scent smell fresh in this new day. My tent is rolled to fit into its little bag. My backpack is dismantled and reassembled. Anything I might not need goes into my overflow tote bags and into the back of the CR-V. 

As I work, I look down toward who I will now refer to as Shut-Up-Guy. He is up, out of his tent and packing his bag. He has an interesting look. He is thin, about 5 feet 7 inches tall, has bright white hair, and I think he may be Asian. Maybe. At one point he grabs what I recognize is a mini-shovel and heads north into the woods. He is gone a long time. Must be his poo time I suppose based on YouTube lessons. Ugh, I really hope I do not have to figure out the shovel thing on this trip.

When I put things back in the car, a park ranger in an SUV stops to ask if someone was in our spot last night. I had not thought much about it but as a matter of fact, “Yes.”

Shut-Up-Guy was in our spot. So, we were supposed to be in 1A1 by ourselves. We certainly would have had more room if he had not been there.

No idea what the ranger is going to do about it, but now I feel better regarding our first night that included minor noise and nervous energy.

Inside the car, I change into my outfit for the rest of the week: Paul’s Boy Scout pants, dri wick shirt formerly belonging to my sons, Fruit of the Loom Cool Blend underwear. Then I place the knife into my cargo pant pocket.

Back at the picnic table, I open my last Pepsi can and sit down to munch on a Pop-Tart for breakfast. I stare into the trees and listen to SunFloJo sleep.

Dear God,

Thank you for the beauty of nature. Please bless our trip. Keep us safe from injury and danger. Guide us and take care of our families back home.  Thank you. 

Amen.

The girls come out of their tent as I finish breakfast. I feel organized. Ready for the day.  Let’s do this. It’s almost time to meet Dick!  We told him we would see him at 9am.

“Do you know what time it is?” Stalker C asks the very relaxed me.

“No idea,” I say. Isn’t it lovely? I am awake with the birds and that is all I know.

The girls observe that my stuff is packed. I whisper, “I don’t want to be late for Dick.” Sunshine and Stalker C giggle.

Shut-Up-Guy grumbles a monotone “Good morning” toward us as he gathers items and leaves camp with supplies on his back.

The girls shared that they slept off and on through the night. They had layered up for cold, but it turned out the layers made them too hot. Also, they were closest to the mystery tent guy and it occurred to them that stranger danger could be an issue.

SunFloJo comes out of her tent as the girls begin packing up. “What time is it?” I ask.

“6:00AM.” 

“That’s all?” Wow. I have been up a long time.

Stalker C and Sunshine Rat softly scoff at my surprised face.

We will have ourselves together in plenty of time to meet Dick. 

Sunshine, Stalker C and I sit on top of the picnic table.  We reflect about the trip so far.  Sunshine brought a lightweight journal.   

“Thank you, Sunshine. I do not want to forget the details of what we see and do along the way. In just 24 hours so much has happened already and so much is ahead,” I say as Sunshine writes notes about our adventures.

Rosemary the deer returns to camp briefly. She walks near our picnic table and nods toward Stalker C. 

Everything back in the car, we drive to the camp store before leaving Loft Mountain Campground. SunFloJo and Sunshine get morning coffee. The building smells of fresh cut wood.

“Delicious,” Sunshine says about the coffee. Stalker C and I pour energy powder packets into water bottles.

The sun gently tickles the tops of our heads as we put on hiking boots for the day. The guy from the store comes outside to chat with us. We exchange where everyone is from. He is originally from Ohio. He and his wife moved here ten years ago. 

My mind leaves the group conversation. I internally marvel at a quick mental list of things like:  Wow I slept outside last night. I am not taking a shower today and that’s kind of weird. Today I get to hike to the highest peak in the Shenandoah Valley area. And perhaps most importantly, I hope Dick is not a serial killer.

Oh wait. What time is it? Will I ever get used to having no clock with me?

Perhaps we are too Zen hanging outside the store overlooking another mountain view. Sunshine asks, “Are we running on time to meet Dick?”

The store guy says, “It’s about 9:05am now.”

The Steam Team stands up!

Somehow with plenty of time to get ready we are late. We are supposed to meet Dick in the parking lot of Lewis Mountain Campground a few miles down the road. 

On the way to Lewis we try in vain to get the girls’ cellphones to work. There is no signal.  I borrow SunFloJo’s phone and send a text to Dick that says “On our way” but the screen icon spins indefinitely and I am not sure if it goes through. Calling does not work on any of the phones either.

As SunFloJo picks up speed on curvy roads, I eye Stalker C who may be getting a little nervous about going into the woods where the bears live. Me too, Sister!

“Are you worried about the bears?” I ask.

She nods yes.

“At least there are not grizzly bears here. Black bears generally will leave you alone,” SunFloJo assures us.

“Good to know,” says Stalker C.

“Generally,” repeats Sunshine.

SunFloJo shares that one time in Colorado she encountered an injured mountain lion on a trail, “He was beautiful, but dangerous to the average human.” She was able to go for help and a rescue team came and nursed him back to health.

“And there’s no mountain lions in this part of the country,” I look at Stalker C.  “We’ve got this.”

We make it by 9:20AM. Dick has not left us. 

“I received your text,” says the elderly and in great shape Dick.

Dick wears a pressed Hawaiian short-sleeve button up shirt and khaki shorts. Every remaining hair on his head is neatly in place. His large white truck with extended cab has plenty of seating.

Dick stands at the back of the truck as we clumsily put our backpacks and hiking poles into the truck bed. I sense he is sizing up our lack of experience.

I slip into the backseat. My bag has been packed for hours at this point. I savor the cushioned seating while it is available. It is going to be days before I have a comfortable seat again.

Outside the truck, the girls fumble with their socks and extra items. They make last minute decisions about what goes with us and what to toss back into SunFloJo’s car.

On the driver side visor there is a sticker outlined in red that reads “Hello My Name Is Dick”. I snap a picture of the sticker. I brought Ben’s old camera to take a few images of the experience. I wonder what Ben is doing this morning on his first week off from school. Probably sleeping. I bought this cheap 35mm camera for Ben when he was ten years old. That was the year he went to Boy Scout camp and lost his glasses at the bottom of the lake. I smile at the thought now while remembering how upset we were that insurance only covers glasses if the glasses are available to repair or replace. The fuzzy, hard to read 35m screen shows that I have a full battery. That should last the week.

I stifle nervous laughter while thinking, What in the world are we doing here?!

Once loaded Dick begins the drive. He points, “When you end your hike you’ll come out of the woods about here. The quickest way to get back to your car is to shortcut through those trees. Look for the steel grate on the ground and turn left. Then go through the next set of trees and you’ll arrive 30 minutes sooner than you would have if you walked along the road.”

I could not visualize or take mental note of his instructions. If I am the one in charge of that cut through at the end, then we are already lost. Hopefully, someone else caught Dick’s logic. No one asks him to repeat it.

JoAnn sits in the front seat and is in interview mode, “Tell us about your hiking experience, Dick.”

His deep voice shares, “I have hiked the whole AT once. Did it in sections. Took me 13 years to finish.”

We learn that Dick was an international traveler for work. He trained people all over the world on “something” that he would not share when we pressed. So we conclude inside our own heads that he is former CIA, FBI, etc. Don’t be vague, Dick. We’ll make stuff up to fill in the blanks!

Now retired, Dick is the president of Hiking Helpers.

We arrive at the drop off point. My heart leaps. We are really going to do this! 

In Hawksbill Gap Parking Lot, I put my backpack on right away. I am confident in how to do it with the extra back support because I watched the YouTube video of how to wear it properly. 

Sunshine Rat and Stalker C; however, have more questions for Dick about their packs. 

And Dick has more answers than necessary while my shoulders grow weary.

But the comfort and confidence built was nice to observe as Stalker C & Sunshine learned what each strap was for, how to put the pack on securely, how to put in their Camelback water containers, thread their water tubes, and more.

I should sit down on the ground, but I am afraid I could not get back up. If I take off the pack, I risk a lecture from Dick about how to put it back on.

SunFloJo asks, “What is the number one mistake that AT hikers make?”

I am going to topple over in the sun if this conversation continues.

He replies, “Not having enough water or not drinking enough water.”

We have a way to sterilize river water so we feel prepared.

Dick instructs the girls, “Don’t be afraid to pull these straps.”

He points to both of their arm areas where the straps hang and continues, “Just pull ‘em.  They will help you make the pack more compact and these straps right here will help lift the pack and make it more comfortable on your hips.”

He emphasizes again, “Don’t be afraid to pull ‘em.”

“One last thing”, he says 25 minutes later I am guessing. Dick takes our “before” picture. We pose as a foursome wearing our backpacks.

We combine our cash and leave money on his truck seat to say thanks for the lift. We are grateful to him both for transportation and advice.

Sunshine Rat says, “You are the bomb, Dick.”

Dick says, “I’ve never been called the bomb before.” 

He offers to take more pictures and more poses, but we are ready to go. The highest peak of the trip is waiting for us

We take our first steps onto the trail.

Thanks for reading and/or listening!

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

Check back next Sunday for CHAPTER EIGHT.

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER FIVE

Hear my cry for help,

My King and my God,

For to you I pray.

Psalm 5: 2

1:30PM

Courtney takes note of multiple roadside food options, “This looks like a good exit.”

JoAnn darts off the highway. The four of us strain necks to compare restaurants along the hilly terrain.

In a JCPenney parking lot we point back and forth around us, “Maybe this one.”

“No, not that one.”

Then we all say at the same time, “Maybe Applebee’s.” 

JoAnn does a 360 degree turn with the Toyota.

“Whoa!” The girls hold the backseat as we spin. 

The young ladies have not driven with JoAnn before, but I have. Wild driving here and there is guaranteed.

An arm leans forward to point, “Applebee’s is over that way.”

JoAnn parks safely. She scans the console. Finding Flat Kevin, she says, “Kevin! You can come inside with us.”

As we step outside of the vehicle, we stretch legs and arms.

Inside the restaurant, JoAnn holds Kevin so that his likeness can observe the menu.

“Hmm, Flat Kevin is going to have barbeque and water,” she says then dances Flat Kevin over to lean on the table’s kiosk tablet. “Kevin will play some electronic games while we wait.”

I notice that Courtney and Rachel plan to split food. “Ok, no wings this time,” Courtney says. I admire their agreeable relationship. 

Rachel says, “Tell us more about Kevin, JoAnn.”

JoAnn talks about Kevin and his wife Erin, “They chose to enjoy a large family with five children. Kevin coached their kids’ baseball and soccer teams. When Erin became more of the breadwinner, Kevin chose to stay home with their little ones. He has loved every moment of being a dad and husband. It is so hard to see him sick. And their kids are still quite young.”

Courtney turns to our guest, “Thanks for going on the trip with us, Flat Kevin.”

Food arrives. We munch with noticeable focus. No one says it, but I suspect we all consider the importance of savoring this meal before heading onto the trail. The group is relaxed with one another. Conversation is easy. Silence is acceptable.

Walking back to the vehicle, an observation slips out my mouth, “I can already tell this is gonna be a supportive group. Not a sh*thead among us.”

Rachel repeats with a smirk, “Not a sh*thead among us.”

“Seriously,” I chuckle. “I think we will work together well.”

Courtney agrees, “We’re off to a good start.”

Look, I love Jesus, but I cuss a little.

JoAnn places Flat Kevin on the dashboard so he can watch the road.

5:00PM

The backseat takes a nap.

I watch out the window while thinking about the prior weekend.

FLASHBACK: MAY 19

9:00PM

Paul says, “Are you going to the Women’s Conference at church this weekend?”

“I didn’t sign up. Originally Jacob was leaving on the 24th so I didn’t want to be gone two of the days right before he left.”

“You can go now,” he says.

Given the amount of time I am away from home each week and that I am leaving on a trip soon, it is odd that he is suggesting it.

He says, “I think it will be good for you.”

MAY 20, 2016

I know Paul is right, so I go. Best friend since birth Amy and her 14-year-old daughter Maggie are coming too. I save them two seats and send a text.

Glenna–FRONT RIGHT SIDE, 4 ROWS FROM THE STAGE.

The auditorium is packed. The crowd of ladies swell as the music builds.

So many people are here, but I feel alone. I am empty and numb. Life seems so messy. How did I let things get this difficult?

One of my favorite local singers, Ashton, steps to the microphone. She sings Hillsong’s I Surrender.

…Find me here

Lord draw me near

I surrender.

…Drench my soul

As mercy and grace unfold

I hunger and thirst.

…I know you hear my cry

 Speak to me now

I surrender

I surrender

I want to know You more

I want to know You more

The church lights are dark which I appreciate when tears flow. I think about the word surrender in-between droplets. 

Do I want to know God more or do I want Him to fix my problems?

A sea of worship arms raise across the room. The women are pumped for the music, an inspiring message and fun after party stations. I am standing but not praising. My head bows just trying to get through this feelings fest.

Upbeat songs play by the time Amy and Maggie scoot into the aisle. They give me a quick hug. They may not see my wet face and I am glad. I love them dearly. There is not one day in my life that I can remember without Amy in it. Our moms knew each other and went to the same church when we were little. We were born two months apart.  And now two of our own children, Maggie and Ben, are just 9 months apart.

I continue to think about the word surrender. What a complicated word. What does it even mean in the spiritual sense anyway? I barely listen to the rest of the program.

After the service, we find a variety of activities, food and desserts. We play around in a photo booth and paint pottery. I make JoAnn a mug with a sunflower on it. By the time it is fired in the kiln and returned to church I can give it to her as a “thanks for the trip” gift next month.

FLASH FORWARD:

JoAnn sees a sign, “Hershey’s ice cream!”

We hit another exit.

“Do you see where the ice cream shop is?” She asks.

The car riders are fully awake now. JoAnn drives up the hill behind a star shaped complex with several stores inside and a gas station outside. We see there are no buildings up there. JoAnn turns to speed down the hill back toward the complex.

She goes too fast. There is a curb with a sizeable drop off! She stomps the brakes just short of flying over the large empty space that could have damaged the car (or worse) and ended the trip early. Whew!

Rachel and Courtney laugh softly.

I am slightly more terrified of JoAnn’s driving than bears at the moment.

We go inside what appears to be a roadside food court to discover that the Hershey’s ice cream consists of pre-made frozen milkshake cups in a cooler.

Rachel and JoAnn purchase two cups and put them in the self-serve milk shake machine to stir. I eat a Reese’s ice cream sandwich and toss the wrapper.

We find the restroom, pass up the tourist items available for purchase like wildlife tea towels and collector spoons and mugs, then are back on the road.

6:45PM

We arrive at Shenandoah National Park! Excitement and nerves fill the car. Trees are lush and tall all around us.

I feel scared because within what seems like mere minutes, I must figure out how to sleep outside in a 1-person tent.

Our plan is to check in the first night at Loft Mountain campground, cook hot dogs and go to bed. I think the three gals are interested in a little beer too. Not my thing, but I bet that will help folks sleep. 

The CR-V approaches the Ranger Station entrance.

Ranger Anita, according to her name tag, welcomes us with instructions. We pull over for a moment and each fill out an official Backcountry Use Permit. The form is in triplicate and has a bread wire through a hole on one end. It is from the U.S. Department of the Interior for the National Park Service.

I feel pride over such a legit document. The form number is 10-404. We write our name, home address and general hiking plan for the week.

Oh. Is this like leaving breadcrumbs for a future Search Party? Probably.

We pull off the top layer for Anita and attach the remaining individual tags to our backpacks. I try not to think that these tags could be the first item used to identify our bodies if things do not go well. I see the thick forest from here and marvel. We are going in there. 

At the intersection beyond the Ranger Station, we see a male and female hiker. They look exhausted and dirty. He is limping. Maybe they are attempting to hitch hike? Not sure.

“I really need to pee,” Courtney says.

“We can pull over,” JoAnn says.

“Nah. Not quite ready to pee outside yet. I know we’re going to have to soon, though.”

Rachel and I make eye contact. We are not quite ready either. 

JoAnn says, “Oh, honeys. I have perfected peeing outside.” 

Of course, she has. Ah, if only we all felt the same.

Driving along Skyline Drive we see a spectacular view of mountains stretching far and wide. Our elevation is over 3,000 feet and rising. There is a blue haze everywhere with sprouts of bright green, white and purple blooms.

“Look!” I point to a groundhog scaling a small rock wall along the road edge.

“I bet we see a lot of creatures,” Rachel says.

“What’s everyone thinking their trail name is going to be?” JoAnn asks.

“I still don’t know yet,” Rachel responds. “How about you?”

JoAnn says, “I am SunFloJo because I love sunflowers, and I love how sunflowers lean toward the light.”

I offer, “Courtney, I think because of your amazing investigative skills you could be Stalker C. You impressed me at the speed you found Dick’s picture on the internet.”

Rachel says, “I like that. Court, you really can find anyone online in like 3 seconds or less. It’s a superpower of yours.”

Courtney says, “I’ll think it over, but I could lean that way. Sounds good.” Then she asks, “Glenna, how about you?”

I exhale. “Well, one of the reasons I need to go on this trip is to let go and embrace life changes coming up. Sometimes I try too hard to force things to fit.”

I add, “I’ve been thinking about the name Surrender.” 

There is a group murmur and collective head nod.

We continue taking in the beauty of the mountains and valleys around us. The sun drops into a sunset position creating ribbons of soft blue and gold light everywhere.

Rachel ponders out loud, “I love how the sunshine is flowing through the leaves.”

Our jaws open and eyes widen. SunFloJo, Stalker C and Surrender all say together, “Sunshine!”

And that is how Rachel was given her trail name Sunshine. 

I share randomly, “Sunshine is so much better than Rat. Before I knew Rachel’s full name, she was in my phone contacts as Rachel AT which looks like RAT if you read it too fast.”

Stalker C makes a note of that comment and will sometimes call her friend Sunshine Rat thereafter.

“Hey,” I say. “All our names begin with S.”

SunFloJo says, “Ooo. I like it!”

Stalker C says, “We can call ourselves the Steam Team.”

“Yes!” In unison we agree.

Then the dashboard begins blinking an orange light.

SunFloJo looks at me. I look at the dashboard.

We are almost out of gas! We are not quite to our campground yet.

SunFloJo has an “oops!” look on her face. She glances at me in a she might laugh kind of way. Funny, not funny.

She makes a speedy U-turn.

“How far back is the last gas station we saw?” I ask turning toward the backseat.

Sunshine says, “That exit was a while ago.”

I check my phone, “I don’t have reception.”

Stalker C is on it. “One bar.” She searches.

We are on fumes going back down Skyline Drive, back past the ranger station and down the hill toward the last town we saw. The dashboard gas light is increasingly brighter orange in my mind.

Stalker C says, “Got it. There’s a Bear Country Store & Deli with a gas pump .9 mile from here.”

“Good,” I say.

“They close at 7:30pm.”

It is 7:25pm. SunFloJo and I look at one another. She steps on the gas—what’s left of it!

We see the store! A giant faux bear is propped on top of the building. 

I run inside to tell them we are there in hopes they won’t turn us away.

We made it. Whew! We didn’t even notice this place on the approach to the park the first time. JoAnn pumps the gas from the one and only pump. 

Inside there is a tiny closet with one toilet and mini sink restroom. This might be our last porcelain toilet for a while. 

There are two large barrels with checkerboards on top inside the store waiting for visitors to play. 

Sunshine buys a bottle of local wine. I soak in the community feel of the place as the shop owner vacuums their welcome rug. There are posters and invites to summer events tacked to a bulletin board. I notice at the register a town newspaper dedicated to “The Most Wanted” people in the county. The front page is covered with many square pictures of faces, with names and a list of their alleged crimes. Watch out for those guys and gals

Sunshine and Stalker C pose for a picture outside with the store sign. The sun is getting low now. We better get moving.

Retracing our drive back into the park, we see the hiker couple possibly still looking for a ride. We have zero space or seats in our vehicle to pick up anyone. We trek on.

Stalker C shares that she is most concerned about bears on the trail. I respond with info from YouTube about how to make noise if we see a black bear and suggest we do our best not to get in-between a momma bear and her cubs because that is the main time that a black bear might become aggressive.

“Yea, we’re lucky that there are no grizzlies here. I read they are more aggressive,” I say.

Stalker C eyes me.

We enjoy the ascension views all over again.

Then I say, “Look! A Bear!” I am serious, no joke.

SunFloJo slows and stops the CR-V. Two wee black bear cubs cross the road. Their much bigger momma follows. I know from my side of the car there is no point in trying to get a picture as the bears climb into the brush and trees left of the car. From the driver’s side SunFloJo takes a few pictures.

I am not sure if this was a good thing to happen to soften Stalker C’s fears or a bad thing to make her bear fears worse.

The vehicle hums along again. We are in a wondering state of mind thinking about the bears and the nature around us.

Stalker C says, “I really would like to see a deer.”

“Aw,” I say.

SunFloJo, “Any special reason?”

“One year ago today, my grandmother Rosemary passed away. As we left the care facility the first thing we saw was a deer. The whole family thinks of her now when we see deer.”

“It’s her spirit animal!” SunFloJo says with confidence.

“I hope we see one,” I say to Stalker C. “Especially today.” 

But there’s not much light left.

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

If you’d like to listen to the Audio Version or support this creative work, click here for SURRENDER ON THE TRAIL Podcast CHAPTER FIVE.

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

Oh, and there is an EXTRA CONTENT B on the podcast this week! In those extra minutes, I describe some new things I have been exploring.

 

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

Three Days

Dear Readers,

In three days, I will begin posting one chapter per week of my manuscript Surrender on the Trail.

I plan to have fun with this project. Hope you will have fun too!

If you want to help the process, here are three things you can do.

A) Subscribe to the blog by entering your email address via the top right side of the Home page. This guarantees that you receive an email once per chapter release.

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C) Share the chapter with people you think might enjoy the story. After the first week, I will include a fresh page link where chapters will be in numerical order in case you want to send someone one link regarding what has been shared so far.

Thanks much!

See you on the trail,