Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth the whole world,
from everlasting to everlasting, you are God. Psalm 90:2
Then, without anyone saying it’s time to go, the four of us stand up.
The Steam Team walk through the expansive lodge room. We notice a guest book log labeled “Bear Sightings”. People noted on the pages where they saw bears while hiking. Park rangers use the information to keep track of the furry families whose homes hikers have wandered through.
Stalker C kids, “Where’s my bell?” Her eyes look from us to the book as we read over the locations bears have been seen in recent days and weeks.
“Look,” I point, changing our focus. “There’s a restaurant on this level.”
Hunger for a meal beckons me for the first time in what seems like a long time. The restaurant has tall wood ceilings, a large fireplace and a similar view to the lodge upper deck. Other patrons have eaten and departed. We are the last potential customers of the morning. The clang of dishes and flatware are heard as tables are bused.
SunFloJo is the driver, “You girls want to get a hearty breakfast before we head north?”
You bet we do!
I can’t help but think, if we were traveling with the men in my family over the years and had eight hours of driving ahead of us, there is no way they’d want to sit down to a fancy breakfast. –But alas, we’re all women. Let’s enjoy it!
And enjoy we did. Biscuits, gravy, eggs, pancakes, bacon, grits…so good!
The sounds of “mmm” and “delicious” and “pass me another…” fills our table and the hollow dining hall.
We walk feeling full and blessed back to the CRV.
Then, before we leave the park, we stop again.
“We haven’t tried those blackberry milkshakes that people on the trail talked about,” I say.
“And we need gas,” says SunFloJo.
I love a girls’ trip.
We are relaxed and still willing to adventure.
We walk into Midway Market which is also a gas station next to one of the Shenandoah Park exits. Stalker C and Sunshine Rat consider audacious souvenirs.
“Should we get a giant deer resin knickknack or a bear family t-shirt?” They ask me.
My answer, “Neither.” We smile.
I walk over to the snack shack side, “One blackberry milkshake and 4 straws please.”
SunFloJo walks in. I have two straws in the cup so far. I offer her a drink.
She affirms, “It is as good as they say.”
I take a drink. We join the girls, and everyone tries the famous shake, “Mmmm! So good!” Then the girls go back to shopping.
I turn toward the door and what do ya know, in walks Tank and Frodo!
“Hi,” I say.
Frodo recognizes us in the daylight, “We’re stopping in here before seeing some sights today. We’re taking an off day.”
“Nah, left ‘em and all our new groceries–thanks to you Trail Angel gals—back in our bear box.”
Tanks says as the girls walk up, “We’re going to hike down to some falls and back up. We’re just carrying water for the day.”
They’re hiking on their off day. Wow.
Sunshine Rat says, “Sounds fun.”
“Is everyone done with this?” I say to the Steam Team about the blackberry shake. All agree with a nod.
I offer the cup to the guys, “Here’s one of those blackberry shakes people talk about. We have two new straws if you want it.”
Frodo and Tank shrug a “yes”. I hand them the wrapped straws.
The six of us walk outside together toward SunFloJo’s vehicle.
Tank and Sunshine Rat chat. They really could be so cute together.
Darn fiancé, I think as SunFloJo, Stalker C and I get into the car.
Sunshine Rat rejoins us in a few minutes.
“Did he say ‘see you at the wedding’?” SunFloJo asks.
“Oh yes,” Sunshine Rat responds. “He’ll see us in Vermont. I will get the details and dress together. He can walk there by Labor Day.”
Laughter starts with the CRV engine.
SunFloJo backs out of our parking spot. We drive toward Skyline Drive.
The group stares at the mountains we’ve climbed or called home for most of the week.
Soon we find our way to the valley and hit a major highway.
The girls snooze in the backseat. SunFloJo and I softly talk about life, true friendship, and family.
Hours fly by and then we hear, “Look!”
Stalker C points to a billboard that says “Jerky Mall. The most jerky you’ll ever see.”
Sunshine Rat chimes in, “Jerky is life.”
SunFloJo says, “Then we must go.”
Off the exit, the bright yellow store has sweet jerky, tangy jerky, extra meaty jerky, gater jerky, pineapple jerky and on and on. It is floor to ceiling jerky. I’ve never seen so much dried meat in one place.
I’m on my last 5 dollars. And I don’t want more jerky, so it is easy to refrain.
Back on the road with a few more miles behind us, SunFloJo shouts, “Turtle!”
We pull over and jump out to turn a turtle in the opposite direction from the road. Apparently, this is a thing.
“When you see a turtle in harm’s way, just turn them around so they walk toward safety,” SunFloJo says.
We pass around the hand sanitizer.
More exits fly by, then we see two dogs on the highway. We pull over. The dogs run down an exit ramp and back to what we hope is their home.
I think of Deb who knows how much SunFloJo cares about animals.
I text Deb—ANIMAL RESCUES TAKING PLACE ON OUR DRIVE BACK. FYI, WE ARE ALL SAFE AND SOUND.
Deb texts—YAY! GLAD YOU’RE ALL OK. NO SURPRISE ON THE ANIMAL RESCUES OTHER THAN IT MAY HAVE TAKEN A WEEK FOR THIS TO HAPPEN, LOL.
I look forward to reconnecting with her again.
Perhaps also thinking of Deb, SunFloJo says to our fully awake vehicle, “Has anyone thought more about Deb’s end of journey question?”
We begin the transition from our trail names to our given names.
“I have,” Stalker C says. Courtney continues, “I think I felt like myself on the trail. I went into the trip looking forward to the exercise. And I like to exercise, but I am forever changed because of our relationships not the exercise.”
“How so?” asks SunFloJo. JoAnn encourages Courtney, “Tell us more.”
Courtney says, “I realize that there are people in my life who are not as easy going as the four of us were on this trip. There are people in my life who would have freaked out when things did not go as planned—and by freak out I mean more than I did. I have realized they aren’t good friends. I couldn’t really count on them if the going gets tough.” She pauses, then, “I am going to minimize the number of people in my life who are not in relationship with me in a mutual way.”
“Nice,” Sunshine Rat says. And Rachel continues, “I thought similarly about those types of relationships and how not to settle so much going forward. On the trail, I liked the feeling of being my real true self at all times.”
“Interesting,” Surrender says. I continue, “Any more on that thought?”
“Not yet,” Rachel says. “I’m still pondering, but very much thinking along the same lines as Courtney.”
“How about you, JoAnn?” I ask.
JoAnn responds, “I learned that while I can do this, meaning the AT, I do not want to do any part of it completely alone. I learned the value of having a team or partner. This was an excellent recon mission. And for me personally I valued the feeling of simplicity. We didn’t over think anything.”
–out loud. We didn’t over think anything out loud.
“Aww. Simplicity. Love that.” I ask, “Do you plan to do sections each year? Like the twins we met?”
JoAnn says, “I think so.”
Courtney adds, “And you get to start a decade sooner than them. Cool.”
Rachel asks me, “How about you, Glenna?”
“Hmm. I am the same person in that I still feel determined in whatever quest I’m up to. I’m different because I’ve never spent so much time outdoors. It made me feel powerful to survive together and just figure it out as we went along. Also, I released a lot of anger. My brain feels so clear now. I love the feeling of being clear minded. I’m going to do things in my life so that I can maintain clarity and seek daily relationship with my Higher Power.”
Courtney adds, “Yes! My mind feels clear too. Clarity feels so good. No brain clutter.”
Rachel says, “On the trail, we could only focus on one thing at a time. Basic survival focus helped us stay clear minded.”
Rachel adds, “And did you notice that during our scariest times we were only a quarter mile or so from finding the solution? I’m going to remember that. Our darkest moments were always right before our best moments.”
We look out our windows, reflecting for a few miles.
We have one last gift from Deb beyond the trip questions. The peanut butter pretzels are gone. The Slim Jims are gone. The iced animal crackers are gone. The one last gift is a $50 card to Cracker Barrel. Crazy, but at the end of this long travel driving day I still feel like I could eat—a lot—and so does everyone else.
There is no Cracker Barrel along the AA Highway, but we circle around to Florence, KY and stop at exit 182 as the sky starts to turn pink in the west.
We inhale four Chicken and Dumplings dinners. Food tastes so good today after a week of not caring much about what or if I ate.
JoAnn drives us to my house.
“I’m hoooo-ohmmmme,” I say as I go into the house to grab the girls’ car keys. At her request, I drive Courtney’s car out of our garage and put it into park.
As the ladies hug, offer encouragement and good-byes for the Steam Team in the driveway, Paul and our sons smile, watching from the porch. Mom made it home. Paul leans on the rail. I see relief on his face.
Home feels good. I hear and smell our familiar suburb: the fresh cut grass, the neighborhood lights come on, children play. My annual daisies have bloomed right on time to welcome me.
I watch Courtney and Rachel pull away.
JoAnn follows them, rolling down her windows and blaring the song “Born to be Wild” one more time.
In this moment, I hold on to the peace.
I take a deep breath and exhale.
We did a thing. We climbed mountains, crossed rivers, met others including ourselves in new ways.
I wave good-bye.
What I didn’t know then was that there were more mountains to climb soon. This trip prepared my heart in ways I could not imagine at the time.
IN MEMORY OF
Kevin David Timmerding
Also known as “Flat Kevin” in the story.
You’ve done it! Thanks for reading or listening to the podcast. This won’t be the last time you’ll hear of Surrender on the Trail, so please subscribe on my home page or follow me on social media. I appreciate you.