CHAPTER SIXTEEN

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

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

Yep. It is urine.

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

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

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

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

Sunshine assures, “Oh, we absolutely will.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, they may soon be dry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ok.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, I can eat something. 

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

“Wilderness Wipes,” I offer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stalker C says, “What an amazing woman.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stalker C shivers, “Surrender.”

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

“Exactly.”

“I can sleep with the lights on.”

“Me too.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Good night,” I muffle.

1:30AM-ish

I see light through my buff.

And I hear something. 

Don’t move.

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

Like, a mouse. Or a rat!

I wait. I listen.

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

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

Listen.

Still listening.

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

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

Whatever it is, is it going to get us?

US! I remember. Stalker C is still sleeping. 

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

My heart pounds.

The fear takes over.

I sit straight up, buff still over my eyes.

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

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

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER 12

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

Psalm 98: 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We four rest and gaze at the fast water.   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Someone says, “Let’s take pictures.” 

I push myself up to a standing position. Ouch.

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

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

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

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

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

We read a sign that says:

FALLS CAN KILL

STAY ON THE TRAIL

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

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

“Oh, a chipmunk, 5 points!”

We build up Tap Room points again.

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

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

Sunshine answers, “.7 miles.”

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

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

Stalker C mumbles, “The trail lies.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes!” The group says.

I read,

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

We consider the topic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They indeed say their farewells and continue their hike.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh great, serial killers. Just what we need.

Sunshine Rat says, “Should we be?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER TEN

Do you not know? Have you not heard?

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

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

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

increases the power of the weak.

Isaiah 40:28-29

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

Alone time and contemplation in silence could do me good.

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

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

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

“Hi,” they say.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We nod. No one wants to walk further.

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

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

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

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

9?!  9 is 43 campsites away from 52.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It is a bear box,” SunFloJo answers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I observe, “He never complains.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We all agree. It was brutal.

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

SunFloJo and I exchange looks.

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

“Oh my,” I chuckle.

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

It feels good to rest and laugh.

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

SHOWER

$1.25 for

5.25 minutes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SunFloJo asks, “Whatcha thinking?”

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

“Yes, lighten your pack. Good idea.”

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

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

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

“Ok. Yay, girl!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

I fall asleep praying.

JUNE 2, 2016

TIME UNKNOWN

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

%^&!@!  Ineffective moth balls!

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

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

Slithery thing, please go away.

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

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER EIGHT

Be strong and courageous.

Do not be afraid or terrified…

the Lord your God goes with you:

he will never leave you nor forsake you.

Deuteronomy 31: 6

Right foot. Left foot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We continue back in stride.

Jingle, jingle. Step. Jingle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We giggle at the maybe part.

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

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

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

“It’s a process,” she says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is so beautiful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Watch your step,” I caution.

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

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

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

The Steam Team says a collective, “Aww.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A unanimous “Yes” ensues.

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

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

We take turns answering.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.

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

“What specifically is going on?” She asks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunshine asks, “What is your trail name.” 

He wipes his brow and says, “Endurance.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or are we a little lost? 

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

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

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