CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

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

Psalm 34:8

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

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

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

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

We listen. She hears it too.

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

“Ok, me too.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s ok.”

“I was afraid.”

Stalker C nods.

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

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

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

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

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

3:15AM-ish

“Surrender!” Stalker C whispers.

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

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

A centipede? Barreling?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to “bed”.

4:15AM-ish

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

Oh, dear God. Where?

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

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

I say, “That’s like five feet up.”

“It’s been there for a while.”

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

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

5:45AM-ish

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

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

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

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

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

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

SunFloJo says, “Oh I hope so.”

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

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

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

Then we shut the door behind us.

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

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

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

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

SunFloJo asks the girls, “Smell too bad?”

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

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

We walk on, looking for our next trail.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s right,” we say. 

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

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CHAPTER SIXTEEN

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

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

Yep. It is urine.

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

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

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

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

Sunshine assures, “Oh, we absolutely will.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, they may soon be dry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ok.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, I can eat something. 

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

“Wilderness Wipes,” I offer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stalker C says, “What an amazing woman.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stalker C shivers, “Surrender.”

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

“Exactly.”

“I can sleep with the lights on.”

“Me too.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Good night,” I muffle.

1:30AM-ish

I see light through my buff.

And I hear something. 

Don’t move.

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

Like, a mouse. Or a rat!

I wait. I listen.

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

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

Listen.

Still listening.

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

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

Whatever it is, is it going to get us?

US! I remember. Stalker C is still sleeping. 

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

My heart pounds.

The fear takes over.

I sit straight up, buff still over my eyes.

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

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

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunshine Rat is unfazed.

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

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

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

Sunshine Rat and SunFloJo converse over the map. 

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

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

We pause for needs and then continue our descent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunshine’s face laughs without a sound.    

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We follow Ted to a brown painted set of stairs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So tired.  Everything hurts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would Ted mind if I sit on the floor?

He is still talking.

I am going down. Slowly.

To the floor.

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

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

Sunshine sinks to the floor.

Then Stalker C sinks to the floor.

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

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

My mind has gone almost as numb as my body.

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

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

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

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

Go Jo. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I imagine the snakes and lack of mice are connected.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interesting piece of information. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our ears and eyes are at full attention.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is a party now. Sort of.

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

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

Ted laughs.

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

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

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

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

“I’ll see you there,” he nods.

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

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

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CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER THIRTEEEN

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

James 4:8

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

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

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

We turn south on the AT. 

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

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

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

“Hold up,” I say.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eh, we can do it. We are a team. 

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

Deep breath. We can do this.

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

We agree wholeheartedly, “Right?!”.

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

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

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

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

The rain continues.

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

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

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

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

“Hi,” she says.

“What is your trail name?” SunFloJo asks.

She winces, “Sacagawea.”

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

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

Walking since March rattles around in my brain.

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

“Yes!” She lights up.

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

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

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

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

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

I am so glad I decided to continue today. 

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

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

Down, down, down.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m kind of done,” Stalker C says. 

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

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

We sit quiet with shoulders slumped.

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

Stalker C snorts a little laugh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And some of it is not horse.

Stalker C eyes the piles.

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

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

Yeah, I’m totally sure.

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

I respond, “Deer.”

She looks at another.

“Horse.”

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

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

Stalker C looks at what SunFlo is looking at.

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

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

“Ring the bell,” SunFloJo says.

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

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CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER 12

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

Psalm 98: 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We four rest and gaze at the fast water.   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Someone says, “Let’s take pictures.” 

I push myself up to a standing position. Ouch.

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

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

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

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

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

We read a sign that says:

FALLS CAN KILL

STAY ON THE TRAIL

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

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

“Oh, a chipmunk, 5 points!”

We build up Tap Room points again.

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

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

Sunshine answers, “.7 miles.”

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

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

Stalker C mumbles, “The trail lies.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes!” The group says.

I read,

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

We consider the topic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They indeed say their farewells and continue their hike.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh great, serial killers. Just what we need.

Sunshine Rat says, “Should we be?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER ELEVEN

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

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

Joshua 1:9

JUNE 2, 2016

8:15AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moment of truth.

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

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

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

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

“Wonderful,” I say.

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

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

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

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

We can do anything for one night, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stalker C says to me, “You’re going?”

“Yes.”

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

I agree.    

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

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

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

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

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

MID MORNING

It is time to get back on the trail.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are we really doing this?

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

Because bears.

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

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

We find the sign and enter the woods.

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

Was that a gun?

Two guns?

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

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

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

We agree.

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

Sunshine continues, “Every centipede is 1 point.”

“A dead centipede is .5 points.”

“A deer is 50 points.”

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

We decide a snake is -50 points.

“Chipmunks are 5 points.”

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

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

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

“1 point.”

“.5” and so forth.

Over rocks, along a mountain ridge…

down,

down.

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

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

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

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

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

“Could it be distance in-between?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But SunFloJo inches closer.

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CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER TEN

Do you not know? Have you not heard?

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

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

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

increases the power of the weak.

Isaiah 40:28-29

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

Alone time and contemplation in silence could do me good.

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

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

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

“Hi,” they say.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We nod. No one wants to walk further.

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

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

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

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

9?!  9 is 43 campsites away from 52.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It is a bear box,” SunFloJo answers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I observe, “He never complains.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We all agree. It was brutal.

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

SunFloJo and I exchange looks.

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

“Oh my,” I chuckle.

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

It feels good to rest and laugh.

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

SHOWER

$1.25 for

5.25 minutes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SunFloJo asks, “Whatcha thinking?”

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

“Yes, lighten your pack. Good idea.”

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

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

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

“Ok. Yay, girl!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

I fall asleep praying.

JUNE 2, 2016

TIME UNKNOWN

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

%^&!@!  Ineffective moth balls!

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

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

Slithery thing, please go away.

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

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 SIX

SURRENDER ON THE TRAIL

CHAPTER SIX

When I am afraid,
I put my trust in you.
Psalm 56:3

8:15PM

When we arrive at our campsite, I am surprised. Beyond our parking spot, all I see is waist high grass and trees. It does not look like a camping spot to me.

Of course, what do I really know about camping?   

SunFloJo points to the 1-foot-wide path that leads to a sign with our reserved spot number 1A1. 

That is where we are going to sleep? In there? Inside all that green stuff? Oh dear.

I grab my 3.5 lb. tent sack; ultra-lightweight sleeping bag and the few things I may need overnight like one of the last of two Pepsi cans from the cooler. I mentally prepare to let go of life conveniences. We sleep at a campsite tonight. Tomorrow morning we begin the trail.

We walk down the narrow path. I try not to think about what is lurking in the tall weeds near my ankles.  

The clearing for site 1A1 is small. We discover there is already a tent in that location. I notice that tent’s spot is on top of soft earth compared to the rest of the area.

We do not see a person. They appear to be inside for the night. We can see a lantern and the shadow of a book. 

Down the path from us I see a big family size tent by the post in the ground that reads 1A3. Their tent is a big orange ball, out of place inside the soft green forest.

We set up near the fire pit and picnic table. There are many gnarly root systems and not much space for our 3 tents. We are either setting up in 1A1 with the mystery human, or the area we are in is 1A2. But I do not see a sign for that number.

Paul suggested before I left that even though I have learned to set up my own shelter, it would go faster if we ladies give each other a hand steadying the poles. Set up one tent, then the next and so forth. Seemed like a good idea.  

The younger gals are already a team because they plan to share a 2-person tent. They get to work pulling out their supplies.

I notice SunFloJo has the exact same brand of 1-person tent as I do. I ask if she wants to take turns helping each other with the poles. “Oh no, I’m fine,” She says busy and very into the solo process. 

Note to self: I have got to remember that part of this trip for SunFloJo is about doing things on her own.

So, I set up my tent alone while eyeing every leaf and blade of grass for potential creatures. It is a few simple steps. I stake in the ends into the ground hoping the sides do not collapse on me overnight. I consider the extra cord staking. It is not supposed to be windy tonight, so I skip it. 

I look over to SunFloJo who is already done. She calls her tent “the womb”. She looks forward to getting in there. I do not feel the same. Proud of her progress, she moves on to the task of starting a fire. She goes to get a lighter from the car.

I dig out my snake and rodent repellent plan, then place bags of moth balls at the head and foot of my tent. I place a bag behind the girls’ tents because I promised Stalker C that I would. I wonder if SunFloJo would mind me messing with nature in this way, but I am not going to ask.

Stalker C and Sunshine Rat giggle at themselves. They just about have their 2-person tent together.

I turn my eyes to the deep woods side of camp wondering what is in there. Then lo and behold I see a deer climb the forest hill and walk right up to our camp. It is a large doe with zero fear of us. She looks elderly.

Not wanting to make sudden movements, I whisper toward the girls’ tent, “Stalker C! It’s Rosemary.”

Stalker C and Sunshine emerge carefully from their tent to the awe of Rosemary’s presence. Night is setting in. We could not be happier with our visitor. It is too dark to see our smiles, but I feel the shared energy.

SunFloJo makes it back just in time, “Aw, Stalker C, you got your wish. How about that. Your sweet grandmother is thinking of you.”

“She is,” Stalker C chokes up.

Rosemary the deer leaves gracefully as if to say, “Just stopping by. Have fun.” We settle into the joy of our brief visitor.

We search for sticks to roast hot dogs. From the limited supply of what we can see, we choose sticks that are a bit soft. Sunshine opens a little Rubbermaid container of onions. I like onions usually, but the smell tonight turns my stomach. No thank you.

Sunshine and I try to roast the first dog. It slips right off the stick into the fire. Yuck.

We fashion the flimsy sticks to hold the dogs better. Night is here. We are going to eat most of these hot dogs half raw. I am sure of it. 

Finding our headlamps, the party continues. No one wants to wander into the woods to find better sticks. We make the best of our cooking limitations.

The smell of the fire combines with the crunch of old leaves on the ground and the smell of fresh spring leaves above us.

SunFloJo is happy with her hot dog and one beer.

I take one bite of my dog. That is good enough dinner for me.

Sunshine enjoys her dog with onion, “Mmm.”

Stalker C drizzles a ketchup packet along her bun.

Soaking in the experience, Sunshine announces, “We’re in the Wild and the Wild is in us.”

Well said. We toast to that.

A gallon size Ziploc bag is opened to collect smelly items. Any food or trash will go back into the car. 

I sense this might be the birthday moment I am looking for. And I do not want to carry anything into the woods unless I absolutely need it for survival tomorrow.

The small lamp goes dim inside our 1A1 neighbor’s tent as I jog to the vehicle to grab the mini Babe Ruth cake and candles.

Stalker C knows about the flammable glue. When I return, I see acknowledgement in her eyes under the headlamp. She is ready to put out the fire or deal with an explosion if needed.

Darkness surrounds us and sleep calls to our internal clocks.

I light the candle, “SunFloJo.”

She turns my way. I say, “I didn’t get to celebrate your birthday properly this year so tonight we are celebrating you and your dream to begin hiking the AT. Happy Birthday! Many wonderful adventures await!”

SunFloJo tilts her headlamp toward the crafty cake, “Oh, I love it!”

She clasps her hands. SunFloJo makes a wish and blows out the candle. “This is so cute.  Babe Ruth is my favorite candy bar. Let’s eat dessert right now.” She rips open a candy bar and puts it in her mouth. We begin to do the same.

I see SunFloJo make a yuck face. “It tastes like…”

She continues, “Glue!”

Oh, no.

The girls laugh.

SunFloJo reaches for the garbage Ziploc bag that quickly turns into the garbage and spit bag.

“Awful!”

I whisper, “I’m sorry!”

But we all think it is funny–even me reluctantly.

Oops. I ruined that adorable candy bar cake with glue somehow seeping to the nougat through the wrappers. Fortunately, SunFloJo has more to drink to wash out the terrible taste.

We gather the things going to the car and shove them into the hatch.

It is time. We are going to have to pee before bed. 

The girls are not up for finding a spot in the weeds.

SunFloJo says, “Wanna go out on the pavement? We can turn off the headlamps.”

There is a collective sigh. That is the best option for tonight. No going back home now.

We line up about 5 feet apart along the parking lot and turn off our lights. 

I think carefully about how to squat and not get my pants or feet wet. It is time to put into practice the lessons I have learned from YouTube.

Urine flows in unison. We snicker in the dark.

Then pants are pulled up. 

Someone says, “Alright ladies.” Headlamps turn on. We observe 4 lines of pee streaming downhill.   

Stepping over our success, we traipse down the path back to camp. Time to climb into our tents as the triumphant four that we are.

We whisper good night. I inspect the brush and leaves outside my tent near where my head will be.

I take a deep breath. I am going in. The tent opening is short. I stoop to crawl into the doorway. 

Zipped inside the tent, I remember and am glad that I used unscented deodorant today. I do not want to have any curious smells in here that animals would want to investigate.

Hmmm.

It is lonely inside the tent.

And dark.

And tight.

It is just my body and mere inches to the nylon material around me.

Not much space.

My body wiggles in an attempt to be comfortable. Ouch to the left. Ouch to the right. There is no avoiding the rough ground beneath me.

I turn back on my headlamp. I try to read. I attempt the same sentence several times. Not happening

I close the book. I peek at the plastic urinal near my feet that I brought just in case.

I move the tent zipper pulls so that they are lined up at the top of the tent, not the bottom. Nothing is getting in here with me if I can help it!

Being tall there is no way to sit up well in my 1-person tent. When I attempt to sit up, then I feel like the whole thing is going to fall apart.

The girls in their 2-person tent about 8 feet to my left are talking softly. I can visualize their attempt to get settled also. 

It is getting more and more quiet outside in the night air. A new sound emerges from SunFloJo’s tent about 4 feet to my right. She is sawing logs. I recall that she did a sleep study last year for snoring. No CPAP machine available out here in the wild. Good, maybe the sound will keep animals away. Or will it invite them to investigate the sound?!

The girls become silent. Good for them.

I toy with hanging the headlamp from the top of the tent, but it falls on my head.

The worn-out sleep pad is not helpful. I twist, turn, and repeat.

Cutting through the quiet I hear Stalker C call out, “Surrender?!”

I hesitate, then say, “Yeah?”

“Is there still a hot dog in the fire pit?”

I pause to consider the question.

I think about the last time I saw the fire pit. SunFloJo and I kicked the ash around to kill the fire before bed. I do not recall seeing any remains of the first slippery hot dog that fell.

A responsible big sister type person would get out of her tent and go check the ashes. That is not me tonight. There is no way I am getting out of this tent in the dark.

I send my voice in their direction, “It burned up in the fire.” It must have, right?

Silence. Through the nothingness I hear her concern.

I add, “I promise.”

Stalker C says, “Thank you.”

I really really really hope I am telling the truth. I did not see the hot dog. It must have burned. Surely.

My heart races thinking about how many videos talked about being odor and food free at camp. Our one vital task was to put everything smelly into the car tonight. One task! And now I lay here questioning everything: every crumb, every move we made setting up camp. Were we careful?

The girls softly giggle and talk again. They probably are discussing the hopefully burned up hot dog.

Then from beyond the girls’ tent I hear a new voice. 

The person resting on the softest terrain in 1A1 sounds like a “he”. 

Words sail out from the mystery tent that was set up before we arrived. 

He says into the night, “Shuuutttt Uuuuuupppp.”

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

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

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

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