CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5

We exchange a good laugh about the Fisherman’s camp and continue walking. 

I send a telepathic check-in to home base: I’m ok, Hon. You know I am a survivor no matter what. Hope you can feel my soul speaking to you.

I imagine Paul is happy to wake up this morning having had no knocks on the front door from police delivering bad news. Knowing the Steam Team’s darkest night is over may provide relief both to us on the trail and to those who care about us. I find it funny that our darkest night involved sleeping with a light on the whole time.

The terrain changes from the abundance of browns to tall, wispy lime green grass and blue sky on the horizon as we climb higher and higher. I think the bright blue is a good sign at first.

Looks like the top of the mountain is just ahead. We’re almost there. 

I remember on the trail plan that at the end of Laurel Prong Trail we will turn left back onto the AT. 

The top, the top of the mountain. I can see it! –or so I think.

The girls await my caboose at a trail marker post.

When they see me approach, they turn right.

Why not left!?

Sunshine points out that the trail post says Laurel Prong continues this way. To the right. There’s more Laurel Prong to hike. We are not to our official turn yet.

“Sneaky trail,” says Stalker C.

Yeah, it is!

To the right we go. SunFloJo lifts the mood, “Isn’t this beautiful?!”

From the back of the line, I quietly huff, “Breathtaking.” –which had a funny double meaning if anyone had heard it.

I look right and down over the mountain side trail we just climbed. That is an impressive view of how far we’ve come today. 

To my left is the mountain ridge and a majestic crisp sky. Between me and the ridge is soft flowing grass. I mentally immerse into the beauty. We are on top of the world.

I pause to look across the sky at many mountains in the distance and contemplate how this mountain is among its friends. This is an overlook without a drive or pull off parking spot. There is no road. We’ve earned this glorious view by climbing.

While one foot follows the next, I enter a prayerful time of reflection while thinking a lot about my relationship with God. 

I sense my Higher Power say:

What if you spent more time with Me? What if you stop trying to make things fit and simply give it all to Me? Give me your marriage. Give me your work, your children, your journey. You don’t have to figure it out. All you need to do is do the next step and then the next step after that. The supernatural comes from Me. Allow and invite me into your whole life, not just your heart.

I ask: But why haven’t you moved in our finances? Why are things not better in Paul’s work and body? What do we need to do to improve our situation?

Have you asked Me in faith to handle those challenges?

Verses come to mind as if I can hear the Word more clearly from this elevation.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.  Proverbs 3:5-6

And then my mind hears:

What I’m saying is make room. You chose the name Surrender for a reason. Make room and allow Me to direct your path.

I ponder the many ways I have not asked for God’s help in recent years. I think about what it would mean to make room for supernatural blessings. I think about my friends who say, “trust the process.”

My mind hushes. I seek time with God. My mind churns to a pleasant blank nothingness while feeling fully embraced by love.

~

We march on with heat friction between our backs and backpacks. Sweat drips down faces, necks, and arms.

The trail changes to extra narrow. We enter a path about five inches wide of dirt between billowing grass. I am unnerved by the grass brushing my calves.

Please don’t let anything climb up my leg or inside my pants leg! I make noise and swish the ground with my trekking poles.

I am torn whether to look left to the poetic mountain tops or to keep my eyes on every spec of dirt in my path.  

Look! A bright orange salamander type creature ahead of my feet. That is cool.

I am careful not to squish him. I step over it and then nearly step on a fuzzy orange-yellow furry caterpillar type guy. There are some brightly colored things up here that don’t seem to have camouflage options.

I take in a deep breath and exhale. The air grows thin. I repeat the deep breathing.

Keep walking, Surrender. Keep breathing too. 

Then trail changes again. We begin a rocky edge along the tip top of the mountain. We step up and over many rocks to make our way, big and small rocks. 

I encourage my ankles to remain strong. The slightest slip could cause me to slide left off the cliff and down the side of the mountain. The trail is narrow with nothing but empty space to my left and a wall of rock just taller than me to my right. 

The narrow footing is a challenge. If we run into anyone going the opposite direction, then we will have to cling to complete strangers to figure out how to pass one another.

The Steam Team walks close together now. Everyone wants to make sure we get through this ridge. No one talks. Concentration is high.

I think about how snakes might like to sun themselves on the rocks to my right and how much I hope they don’t choose to do that here today. I hope we make enough noise to keep such creatures away.

A large rock blocks our path. As she scales it, SunFloJo slips. My heart skips. The girls gasp.

SunFloJo falls wisely toward the rock wall side and hangs on to jagged stones until she regains footing.

Sunshine Rat asks, “Are you ok?”

“Yep. I’m good.”

“Good save,” I say. 

We are a tired, dirty crew. Flies buzz around my greasy head. I notice Stalker C bats flies from her forehead too. I am kind of surprised flies hang out at this altitude.

We pause to put our sleeping buffs around our heads. That keeps flies at bay somewhat but not completely.

I step with my trekking pole and the pole sinks. I slide down with the pole face first into rocks. My belly saves me by catching on the rock I was trying to climb over.

“Surrender!” Sunshine Rat sees me go down.

I glance at the cliff to my left. “I’m ok,” I say but don’t believe. 

Surely, we are near the AT intersection. Surely.

“Wanna rest a minute?” SunFloJo asks me once I crawl over the rock.

I nod. The girls hike ahead. 

The two most senior of the group need a break. Tiredness is becoming a liability.

SunFloJo and I sit on a 3-foot log that somehow is stuck on this short-width trail. I try not to think about the rocks or critter holes behind or under me. My feet touch the edge of the mountain. Hopefully whatever lurks nearby stays at bay. 

From our seated position we face the deep valley and mountains as far as we can see. Falling to our death is easily possible. I cannot see how far down the mountain is below my feet. 

Far, very far. Steep, very steep.

Yet how beautiful is this?! When in life have I ever had the opportunity to be wedged on the side of a mountain this high up? Um, never.

Overcome, I sense dry tears could flow. I am too dehydrated for wetness to form in my eyes.

“Are you tired?” SunFlo asks.

So tired.

I nod and wipe sweat with my shirt collar. The sun is intense.

“We’ll just sit a moment. We have plenty of time.”

I drink the water we purified earlier this morning. I’ve been thirsty for a while. I’m not sure how I’ll be able to make my ration of water last if the rest of our day is like Laurel Prong Trail has been.

SunFloJo hands me a dried mango slice. I eat it without hesitation. It tastes good, sweet. I need nature’s sugar.

We breathe and rest for a few minutes. We can not afford any more stumbles on this stretch.

Regaining some strength, I share, “I’ve tried to throw my anger and sadness off cliffs, over waterfalls and into fire this whole trip.” 

SunFloJo nods.

I pause, “Not sure how many more opportunities I’ll have.”

“Do you feel better?”

“Maybe lighter emotionally.” I continue, “I’m happy for our son. He’s going to go live his dream. I would never choose the risks and lifestyle of a military career for him, but it is what he wants. I’m going to miss him.”

SunFloJo listens.

“You have a baby and everyone warns you that they grow fast. Man, that’s the truth…. And maybe I need to let go of the non-profit dream. Perhaps I’ve laid the foundation and someone else will rise to take on the next steps. Maybe I need to make room for others to carry on the work. I am going to be open about whatever is next. I’m giving God back the dream. We’ll see what happens. When it is time to quit, I trust He will make it clear. It is so hard to turn away from doing something you love.”

More listening. We stare at the valley and mountains.

SunFloJo is completely still. I sense that I have however long I need on this log.

I can talk with God, her, or both. It doesn’t matter to her. She could say something. That would be ok.

But she doesn’t.

“And those girls.” I point to the right although the girls are well beyond us, “They are so smart, young and have such good attitudes. Lord, please don’t let them settle for anything that holds them back or weighs down their spirit. They are encouragers. They are free from restraints. Keep them free. Keep them blessed and upbeat like they are right now.”

I wipe my face. This is a new sensation; crying without tears because my body can’t produce any. 

SunFloJo asks, “That’s really more about you, isn’t it?”

 “Yes.” I choke on air, “It is.”

Silence.

I say, “I remember being like them.”

We sigh.

“I hear you, sweetie. Me too.”

Silence.

We stare and breathe, taking in the moment.

Guess we better get going.

I stand. SunFloJo hands me her last piece of dried mango. That should be enough fuel to get me to lunch. My legs went to sleep while sitting on our awkward perch. I fight through the sleepy muscles and get my feet moving.

Soon the rocks change back to tall grass. We are no longer on the edge of the mountain.

It takes a little while to catch up to the girls. 

“We see it!” Sunshine says about the trail intersection we’ve been looking for. “Just up ahead.”

The four of us approach our last trail marker. 

Sun rays filter through the trees to shine gently on the intersection spot. This is where Laurel Prong Trail dead ends into the AT making a very big T.   

It is finally time to eat lunch. We have not seen another human all day so we make ourselves at home in the intersection which is perhaps the widest path we’ve seen today. SunFloJo spreads out her sleeping mat for seating. I sit on a stump with my pack on the ground next to me. Stalker C is to my left with her legs stretched straight out on the ground. She starts to munch some chips.

I go for protein from Teriyaki Beef Jerky. I tear pieces of a tortilla to eat and unwrap ginger candy to hopefully boost my body. 

Sunshine sits on the mat with SunFloJo. She offers insight about the time she and Stalker C were alone, “We had a little moment.”

Stalker C rolls her eyes, “I kinda lost it. I am not going to make it much longer. My body and attitude are done.”

My head tilts.

Sunshine adds, “Her foot issue is getting worse. But maybe we won’t go up any more mountains from here. It looks pretty straight in the direction we’re going next.”

“Lies,” Stalker C says. “The trail lies. Can’t trust it.” She swats a fly, and then another. She shakes her head. “I’m losing it.”

“Oh, Honey,” SunFloJo laughs. “We just had a moment where Surrender was breaking down and then talking about how great your two girls’ attitudes are.”

The irony.

Sunshine snickers, “I wasn’t having a very good attitude the last few miles. That trail marker back there saying that it was another mile before we reach the AT just about sent me over the edge. I wanted to jump off the mountain for sure.” She sighs. “Alas, but now we’ve made it.”

Stalker C says, “We couldn’t believe how positive you two were being when we had to scale those rocks!”

“Us? Positive?” I say.

SunFloJo requests half chuckling, “Tell what you were hoping for their lives, Surrender.”

We laugh through the dirt and sweat on our bodies about how I hope they’ll maintain positive attitudes like they have today and be wise about sticking with positive people, to never let negativity hold them back.

Stalker C scoffs and her shoulders go back, “But now I’ve lost it. I’ve got a bad attitude.”

Sunshine Rat offers, “Stalker, you’ve had a great attitude. This is tough. We just lost it a little for a moment. We own it. We’ve got this. We’ll work it out.”

I smile. We are all humans on a mission managing the best we can with our minds and bodies. I look south down the AT as far as I can see, “Homestretch now.”

SunFloJo says, “I think it is funny that we were having separate meltdowns at the same time while admiring the opposite two.”

Laughter cleanses us.

After our revelation, we take time to breathe. I adore how our unique foursome respects quiet time. We are our authentic selves through strain, laughter, and peace. We value reflection time unanimously.

I stretch and recline for a few minutes.    

Sunshine Rat breaks our silence, “Stalker C, we haven’t hit our goal yet. We’ve only got one trail left,”

Sunshine turns to the older of us and says, “We thought we’d meet our dream mountain men this week and be swept off our feet.”

Stalker C says, “That’s right. We’ve gotta bring home our true loves from this graduation trip to our parents.”

Hmmm.

I offer, “There’s still time.”

This chapter is available on the Surrender On The Trail podcast too.

CHAPTER 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 FOURTEEN

We all stumble in many ways….

James 3:2

Stalker C does not pass out although her eyes may pop out of her head any minute. Her mouth remains slightly open.

Nightfall is near. The hours of rain bring darkness sooner than we anticipated.

SunFloJo looks at my camera and then nods toward the poo.

After waiting until Stalker C moves ahead of us, I take a picture of the bear scat.

“Thank you, sweetie,” SunFloJo says.

It is unclear if the poo pic is evidence for the search party when we go missing after a bear drags us away or for a tale to tell when we get back home. I do not ask.

We walk on through the increasingly dense trees.

Inside my head I chuckle. Turns out a bear does **** in the woods.

And with that thought, I instantly am in a squelched fit of giggles at the back of the line. I silently consider the creation of greeting cards and funny texts and who-knows-what marketing hype around the bear scat theme. Perhaps I am delirious at this point of the day?

I fall further behind, but I see the Steam Team’s colored backpacks ahead through the rain and dripping leaves. The trail leads us down, down, step over poo, down, more poo, down. Slide. Adjust footing. Down. We hear water flowing. It grows louder. Maybe there is a creek up due to the rain.

We must be getting close to Rapidan Camp. This is what I have been waiting for! 

Despite the water sounds, there is still more trail and time for my mind to wander. I think about our friend Deb and feel her in spirit. I bet she is thinking about us too. Perhaps she is looking at a copy of our trail plan. She likes historical places. We share that in common. I think about how she crafted the trail questions knowing that all four of us are at crossroads in our lives. 

The three ahead of me pause. I catch up with the group. I am out of breath. Maybe we will take time to rest.

What. Is. That? 

The group faces a fast-paced waterfall that crashes into something much more than a creek. It is a river.

As I contemplate the beauty of the waterfall–I want to soak in all the beauty today—I am surprised that SunFloJo begins to cross the river! 

Wait a minute.

Have we thought this through?

There is a big gap between the land I stand on and the land on the other side. With all the rain today, the water flows fast. The water looks deep. Much deeper than a creek anyway. We stand at the foot of the mountain we just descended and across from us is a new mountain to ascend.

My brain searches my memory of the map. I do not remember crossing a river at any point on the trail.

Is this Rapidan River?

I look down our side of the riverbank. Shouldn’t we be going that way? Along the river on this side instead of crossing it?

That may be an overgrown path to our left. It is hard to tell and just out of my reach. I can see debris and trees that are uprooted in the mud covering what may be where our trail goes. That looks like more of a trail to me. I am too tired to walk over and investigate. Every calorie burned matters at this point in the day. Also, I do not want to risk being lost from the team.

Why am I so darn slow that I catch up after decisions are made? Can we talk about this?

Nature is loud here. There is no talking.

SunFloJo is three large wet rocks into the river right along the bottom of the falls where the river is white from the rush of rapids. To the left of her looks deep and moves fast.

I squint to see a tree with a yellow blaze symbol on the other side of the river. Wow, I guess we are physically crossing the river. I was not expecting this at all.

Fearless SunFloJo looks back at us and points to the tree on the other side with a yellow blaze. I choose to trust that she knows what she is doing. That must be the blaze we are looking for to continue the trail. I must be wrong about staying on this side of the river.

Does she not know there is water underfoot that will take her away? Or is that just me being overly cautious?

Sunshine Rat is carefree with good balance. She makes it to the other side and waits for us.

Stalker C sways on a rock, then catches herself. She makes it.

I begin.

One rock. Two. Step, step. Rain continues. The sky is a dark green gray. My pack is heavy. Will the pack ruin my balance? Will I fall? The water races beneath me. One slip will be trouble. Please do not fall.

I use my poles to steady myself hoping they will not slip either.

Sunshine Rat points, “Watch that one. It’s wiggly.”

That was nice of her. I step quickly right, left, into the mud and arrive at the opposite side of the river. 

Whew! “Thanks.”

And then we are off on what feels like a fresh start. How can we start a new journey this late in the day? I am not sure what time it is. I wonder where in the heck is Rapidan Camp?

My concerns quickly fade because there is a new type of beauty over here. It is hard to imagine how each area could be so new to me in the woods, but this is different. My mind is all in even if my body screams. There is black earth underfoot with skinny trees and leaves stretching to a sky we cannot see. We climb up the hill, higher and higher above the river.

This takes a bit of physical effort, but thank you, Lord, this is gorgeous. Rain is heavy now and I do not care.  We make it to a ridge pathway that overlooks the river to our left down below. The river looks smaller as we travel higher.

We walk and walk. I ease into meditation again. No words come to mind. I am at peace. My mind is blank.

Nothing.

Bliss. Beauty.

Water drips from my eyelashes.

Higher and higher we climb. I forget the concern I felt when we crossed the river. I forget how tired my body is. 

We hear the water below and feel drops from the sky. My walking poncho tent somewhat keeps my backpack dry.

I remain in the back of the line. SunFloJo turns to check on me occasionally. I nod to acknowledge her kindness.

Now the trail slopes back down the hill overlooking what I still assume is Rapidan River.

The day feels like it gets longer and longer, but the dark sky seems to think the day is already done.  Hopefully, we get in and out of Rapidan Camp soon. We may only have a short visit since we have to walk another 1.5 miles after visiting in order to set up tents for the night.

Down the hill below me I see Sunshine Rat and SunFloJo pull out the official map. They consult with one another. They look serious. This barely registers in my brain because I am one with the trees.

Like me, Stalker C must have been in a Zen state. She abruptly stops her downhill inertia in order to not run over SunFloJo and Sunshine Rat. 

As I approach, Stalker C’s face turns in horror to look at me. In slow motion, her mouth says, “We might be lost. We might have gone the wrong way.”

This news is a magnesium fire starter. Flames engulf my peace.

With zero thought, words fly out of my mouth, “We should not have crossed that #*&%@%^ river!”

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

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CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER THIRTEEEN

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

James 4:8

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

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

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

We turn south on the AT. 

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

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

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

“Hold up,” I say.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eh, we can do it. We are a team. 

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

Deep breath. We can do this.

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

We agree wholeheartedly, “Right?!”.

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

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

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

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

The rain continues.

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

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

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

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

“Hi,” she says.

“What is your trail name?” SunFloJo asks.

She winces, “Sacagawea.”

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

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

Walking since March rattles around in my brain.

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

“Yes!” She lights up.

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

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

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

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

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

I am so glad I decided to continue today. 

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

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

Down, down, down.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m kind of done,” Stalker C says. 

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

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

We sit quiet with shoulders slumped.

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

Stalker C snorts a little laugh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And some of it is not horse.

Stalker C eyes the piles.

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

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

Yeah, I’m totally sure.

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

I respond, “Deer.”

She looks at another.

“Horse.”

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

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

Stalker C looks at what SunFlo is looking at.

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

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

“Ring the bell,” SunFloJo says.

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

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CHAPTER 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 SEVEN

CHAPTER SEVEN

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

Isaiah 41:10

JUNE 1, 2016

It is Zero Dark Thirty.

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

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

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

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

Maybe two? Three creatures?! 

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

Sniff, sniff, sniff.

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

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

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

What should I do?

I contemplate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sniff, sniff.

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

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

DAYBREAK

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

The birds are loud.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But first I need to peek at the fire pit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear God,

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

Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“6:00AM.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Steam Team stands up!

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

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

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

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

She nods yes.

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

“Good to know,” says Stalker C.

“Generally,” repeats Sunshine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now retired, Dick is the president of Hiking Helpers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We take our first steps onto the trail.

Thanks for reading and/or listening!

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

Check back next Sunday for CHAPTER EIGHT.

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER FIVE

Hear my cry for help,

My King and my God,

For to you I pray.

Psalm 5: 2

1:30PM

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

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

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

“No, not that one.”

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

JoAnn does a 360 degree turn with the Toyota.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5:00PM

The backseat takes a nap.

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

FLASHBACK: MAY 19

9:00PM

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

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

“You can go now,” he says.

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

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

MAY 20, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

…Find me here

Lord draw me near

I surrender.

…Drench my soul

As mercy and grace unfold

I hunger and thirst.

…I know you hear my cry

 Speak to me now

I surrender

I surrender

I want to know You more

I want to know You more

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

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

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

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

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

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

FLASH FORWARD:

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

We hit another exit.

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

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

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

Rachel and Courtney laugh softly.

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

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

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

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

6:45PM

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

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

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

The CR-V approaches the Ranger Station entrance.

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

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

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

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

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

“I really need to pee,” Courtney says.

“We can pull over,” JoAnn says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is a group murmur and collective head nod.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SunFloJo says, “Ooo. I like it!”

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

“Yes!” In unison we agree.

Then the dashboard begins blinking an orange light.

SunFloJo looks at me. I look at the dashboard.

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

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

She makes a speedy U-turn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Good,” I say.

“They close at 7:30pm.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stalker C eyes me.

We enjoy the ascension views all over again.

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

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

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

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

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

“Aw,” I say.

SunFloJo, “Any special reason?”

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

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

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

But there’s not much light left.

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

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

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

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

 

CHAPTER FOUR

SURRENDER ON THE TRAIL

CHAPTER FOUR

…. If you have the faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move.  Nothing will be impossible for you. 

Matthew 17:20

MAY 29, 2016

7:00AM

Good morning.

We leave in two days!

Hmm. Maybe the exercise is helping. I felt physically better working at the store last night even after working all day at school too. My legs might be getting stronger. 

I have another retail shift to work today. Then it is time for more trip prep.

6:30PM

I race home to practice setting up the 1-person orange tent in our yard.   

Paul sits in a lawn chair next to my scattered supplies and a 5 x 7 size paper worth of instructions. It is an open book test for me. He is hands off, but there if I need him. 

After the second time putting up the tent, I get inside and roll back the door flap.

“Take a picture.” I pose one knee up and chin on my knuckles. 

I text the pic to Highway 2246 girls with the caption “This is for Plus Size Hiker Magazine” something that does not really exist.

Laughter emojis and hearts reply.

Semi confident, I secure the tent fabric into a tight little roll and place it on the dining room table along with other camping supplies. The dining room has turned into a staging area worthy of way longer than a week. It appears I could be gone for two months given the number of items in the room. I am having a hard time figuring out what I need versus what I can withstand carrying.

8:30PM

The doorbell rings.

It is Deb!  She offers a bag full of treats for the hiking team. Cheez-whiz, crackers, nuts, Slim Jims, a question/answer book for the drive so we can get to know one another better, granola, and what I know is one of JoAnn’s favorite snacks: a big tub of peanut butter filled pretzels. 

Deb holds a set of sealed envelopes. She says, “And these are reflection questions for the beginning, during and end of the journey. In the last envelope is a gift card for Cracker Barrel when you’re on your way home.”

Reflection questions? Cracker Barrel? You can always count on Deb. I wish she were going, but I know she will be cheering us on in spirit.

Deb says, “I shouldn’t interject my thoughts into your trip, but I’m doing it anyway.”

“Are you kidding? I am so glad. This is the perfect bag. Love the reflection questions idea too. And you know I would not say that unless I mean it.”

I add, “I will miss you.”

We pause. I ask, “Should we hug?”

She and I are not random huggers as a rule, but it does seem like the right time to do a farewell hug.

She nods, “Ok.”

On my porch, we do a quick hug and laugh at our awkwardness.

Her eyes say she is a little worried about our safety.

Me too. I look at her, “I will do my best to live through the experience.”

She replies, “You better.” And adds, “I want to hear all about it when you get back.”

“Thank you.”

I hesitate, “Hey. Um. You would help Paul get through the transition if I don’t make it, right?”

“Yes, I would.” She is my logical friend. I know she, together with my best friend could get Paul through the worst if the worst happens.

“About him,” Deb offers. “This is another stepping in where I shouldn’t thing.”

I nod. Go ahead.

“He’s been helping you prepare for the hike?”

“Yep.”

I think I know where she is going. And, I’ve been thinking similar thoughts. 

She confirms my guess, “Maybe helping you prepare is his way of providing. Some guys show love by trying to excel in a career but don’t know the first thing about how to do these types of supportive things.”

We nod.

“I hear you. And it’s true.” 

I sense she is concerned about having crossed a friendship boundary. “It’s ok. I’m glad you said it.”

MAY 30, 2016

Today is Memorial Day. I am thankful for a day off to pack and repack.

I spend 7 hours portioning and obsessing over what food to place in each of my gallon size clear Ziploc bags. There’s beef jerky, trail mix, pasta bags that just need water, fruit roll ups and more. I attempt to imagine what I will feel like eating on the trail. What will my body need or want?

I use a Sharpie to label daily allotment bags E, F, G, H in case anyone else uses A, B, C or 1, 2, 3. Then I add a Before bag and an After-Bonus bag. 6 bags should be enough!

Proud, I text pics of the finished bags to the team.

Courtney—US TOO! WORKING ON FOOD BAGS.

JoAnn—PACKING RIGHT NOW!

I direct text to Courtney —SHHH! AND NOW I’M MAKING SNAKE REPELLANT MOTH BALL BAGS!

Courtney—GOOD! THANK. GOD.

For better or worse, I’ve come up with a snake deterrent plan. With gloved hands, I put old fashioned moth balls into sandwich size Ziploc bags. I poked holes in the bags with my extremely sharp flip knife, then put them inside 2 sealed gallon size freezer bags. 

There is a perfect small compartment in the bottom of my borrowed backpack where the snake repellant invention can stay during the day. Hopefully, we will not smell moth balls during the day since they are double bagged. At night I will pull out the smaller bags with their vent holes and drop them around our tents. In theory, it is a smell barrier. I make 6 snake repellant bags in total.

11:59PM

I try to sleep. This could be my last chance for good sleep for a few days. 

In the morning may be my last good shower for a while.

My mind races about what it will be like to sleep outside in total darkness.

Paul is unsettled next to me. We take turns tossing and turning in our sheets.  No one is reaching deep sleep tonight.

MAY 31, 2016

7:00AM

I sit at the kitchen table. Paul holds onto the kitchen peninsula with one hand while he packs his lunch bag with the other hand. His legs are unsteady.

“You can do this,” he says. “Recite the hike plan without looking at the papers.”

I manage to say the trail name twists and turns out loud. He gives me a satisfied head nod, “You’re ready.”

He leans in to give me a soft kiss that lingers a bit and a hug. Then he is off to work.

8:00AM

With only 2 hours remaining, I struggle to commit to how much to pack. What is vital? What can I leave behind?

I wear the hiking backpack and take a selfie in our bathroom mirror. I post the pic to Facebook with the caption “About to get real”.

My pack is too heavy. Maybe I could repack it after the first night? I need time to think, but I am out of time.

I grab two extra tote bags. One tote is for a change of clothes after this ordeal and the other is an empty bag so I can compare notes with others and lighten the backpack before the hike officially begins.

Courtney and Rachel are going to park in my garage. JoAnn is coming to pick us all up here.

The air outside is warm and still smells like spring. The grass is bright green and thick because we have had plenty of rain.

The boys are awake and curious. Their legs trot around like youthful horses in and out of the stable that happens to be their home.

At 9:40AM the young gals arrive.   

Courtney says, “I’m not good at going in reverse.”

I ask, “Like reverse in a car?”

She says, “Yes.”

I remember what it was like to be a young driver. I back in Courtney’s SUV and make the keys accessible for Paul in case he needs to move it while we are gone.

10:00AM –On The Nose!

JoAnn drives her silver Toyota CRV up the hill to our house with windows rolled down and speakers belting out the song “Born to Be Wild”. 

The street thumps to the song. We feel the vibration in our limbs. She is more than ready.  She is pumped!

JoAnn hops out of the car, leaving the music turned up. We load our bags. 

I ask our sons to take a picture of the four of us plus Flat Kevin by the car. We pose with pride and anticipation of the adventure that awaits. 

I give Jacob and Ben hugs, a good long squeeze for each of them. They watch as I settle into the passenger seat and put on my seatbelt. They stand in the front yard and wave as we ladies hit the road with “Born to Be Wild” on repeat. 

Courtney and Rachel get comfortable in the backseat. Hitting the highway, JoAnn turns down the music to give us her 4-1-1, “Let me know if anyone needs it cooler or warmer air, whatever, just say the word ladies.” Courtney likes it cool and that’s good with me too.

JoAnn says to me, “You’re designated navigator. I don’t like to listen to GPS telling us what to do all the time.” She hands me a small square piece of paper with directions on it. I read it. I understand the first set of directions, but later I will need to turn on my phone GPS with the sound off when directions get tricky.

The hum of the road surrounds us. JoAnn is a get after it type driver. We are on track to arrive by nightfall.

I encourage the girls to open the goodies from Deb, “Open the red bag.” 

“Oos and ahhs” overcome the vehicle as they dig into the snack contents. 

JoAnn says, “Pass me the peanut butter pretzels!” She eats half of one side of the pretzel bite with peanut butter then tosses the other pretzel bread only side into a cup. She is the healthiest and most fit 60-year-old I’ve ever known.

We begin flipping through the conversation starter books. Rachel says, “Pick a page number between 1 and 150.”

JoAnn picks 54. Rachel reads, “If you could select someone to be commemorated on a stamp, who would you pick?”

“Hmmm.  I have to think about that one,” JoAnn says.  “There’s so many great people to choose from.”

“Court?” Rachel asks.

“100.”

“Ok. If you could spend time with anyone famous who would you like to meet and why?”

Courtney thinks, then says, “Probably Oprah and Gayle. That would be fun.” She adds, “When my mom asked why I want to go on this hike I told her I didn’t want to miss a chance to hang out with the Oprah and Gayle’s in my life. You two up front are like that to me with all your wisdom.”

JoAnn and I roar with giggles and in unison say, “Who gets to be Oprah and who gets to be Gayle?”  I don’t think we ever decide. I add, “I am honored.”

“Glenna?” Rachel asks.

“52.”

“If you could hang out with a president past or present who would you pick?”

“Mmm. That’s tough. One time I was at Mt. Vernon and felt all hot and bothered over George Washington. The jawline, the deep thoughts. It got me.”

We laugh.

“History is tough, though. There’s so much icky stuff that we don’t know or that I’m learning about the more I read,” I say not wanting to commit to one president.

We nod in agreement.

“Oh, the journey envelopes!” I point those out to the gals. There is a different envelope for each day of the trip.

“Do you gals want to open the ‘Beginning the Journey’ envelope from Deb?”

Everyone agrees we do. Inside the first envelope I read out loud:

“Beginning the Trip:

Off to see the Wizard. What an incredible journey! Dorothy (and Toto), the Scarecrow, the Lion and Tin Man. The Wizard of Oz is so many stories combined. One of adventure, trust, friendship, adversity and resiliency, not to mention finding one’s way in unfamiliar territory.

It is tempting to assign each of you a character. But as in life, we are never all one thing or another. We are never fully courageous or completely lacking discernment.  We are comprised of all these characteristics in varying degrees at different times.”

Passengers look at one another. Eyebrows raise and “oos” are heard regarding that deep thought.

“So, as you follow the yellow brick Appalachian Trail, remember each of you has great courage, are wise, show tremendous compassion and have great capacity for insight and awareness to find within yourself.

Be cautious of the Wicked Witch. And May the Munchkins be with you!”

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

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

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

CHAPTER ONE

Welcome to

SURRENDER ON THE TRAIL

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

Psalm 11:1

CHAPTER ONE


MAY 13, 2016

9:00AM

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

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

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

Never. Not once. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FLASHBACK:  APRIL 5, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

I ask, “What’s your gig tonight?”

“A compass reading class over at REI.”

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

“Tell me more,” I smile.

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

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

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

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

“The whole AT goes from Maine to Georgia.”

“Wow-“ How in the world?

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

Is there anything JoAnn can’t handle? Seriously.

“Who is going with you?”

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

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

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

But…the thought of going sounds amazing. 

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

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

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

FLASH FORWARD:  MAY 03, 2016

7:00AM

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

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

“I’m listening.”

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Chicken Salad Vacation

Two of my favorite self-care options are “time with a friend” or “time away”.

Time away can be almost anything out of the ordinary. A vacation would be nice, but since that is not an option right now, I manage to find even small amounts of time and declare them to be vacation minutes.

Oxygen in. Oxygen out.

So naturally when my friend Deb invited me to stand in line for the Grand Opening of the Chicken Salad Chick restaurant in Oakley, Ohio, I was lured in by a double win potential. Time with a friend and the first 100 people in line would win FREE chicken salad for a year.

Ummmm…out-food guaranteed monthly? Yes, please.

I set my alarm for 4am. I made a checklist of equipment needed: folding chairs, Cudl duds, triple clothing layers, boots, hat, gloves, a scarf, and a book to read. I downloaded the Chicken Salad Chick App and read the Grand Opening rules.

The temperature was 20 degrees as I pulled into the parking lot to find my friend taking a selfie next to the “first in line” sign. She became famous for the next several hours! People were in awe of the line leader. “What time did YOU get here?” people asked her many times.

My face froze into a smile. We set up camp and settled into the cold darkness. I visualized that the parking lot was a beach just ahead of my toes.

We giggled a bunch when we learned the first three of four people in line were named Deb! What are the chances?

3 Debs

We saw the kindness of strangers help one another with various challenges. Extra blanket? Extra chair? Information and legendary tales of how this works? These were no problem for complete strangers to handle in the dark before dawn.

The Chicken Salad Chick employees, photographer, and Chamber of Commerce arrived as daylight approached. The wise employees brought us toe warmers. The line grew.

I watched my Deb of the three Debs manage a conference call as if she was not freezing. I busted out laughing at the contrast of her serious work and the fact that we were waiting in line for a chance at free food.

When the dark sky turned winter white, I felt a ping of sadness. The fun was nearly over.

After the official store ribbon cutting, we scanned our free chicken code proudly as Miss First In Line #1 and Good Friend #2.

We sat with the new friends we made in line and already have a favorite Chicken Salad Chick employee. Shout out to Tamika!

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Then we headed to work. Back to reality. It was a good tiny vacation!

May peace find you this holiday season–perhaps in a most unexpected way.

Love,

Glenna

Ecclesiastes 2:24 There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil….

* This post is dedicated to Dr. Phil of Marysville, OH because Deb and I (or Ethel and Lucy as he sometimes calls us) think you’d get a kick out of the story!

* And extra love to my Hubby who I simply told after leaving the house “I may have a fun story to tell you later”. I was so frustrated with home life the night before Chicken Salad Chick bliss. Then he sees me on Deb’s Facebook and types, “Who is that lady with my (his) hat and gloves?!” He can be a pretty funny guy.

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