Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path
of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. ~ Proverbs 4:25-26
We’ve got this.
I feel stronger after a little rest and protein. We trek south.
As we walk, SunFloJo asks me, “Why do you think that one guy thinks I’m SteelCut?”
“I think he was saying that he can tell that you’re tough.” I answer, then add, “Which is true.”
“Really.” I see she doesn’t believe me. “Well, we can look up definitions in the online dictionary when we get back to Big Meadow.”
“Hm. I suppose.”
“I think it’s a compliment. SteelCut fits. Could be your new trail name.”
Our path is about two feet wide with gradual downhill then uphill slopes. Eventually the drop over the mountain to our left becomes the drop over the mountain to our right.
Foot traffic meetings increase.
We need a break just as a tall shirtless young man approaches.
“What’s your trail name?” We ask.
He smiles through a developing beard, “Doc.”
“And how come that name?” SunFloJo inquires.
“Because I’m working on my doctorate and decided to take the summer off to clear my head and walk the AT,” He responds. “My friends thought that was a good fit, and I liked it.”
Stalker C occasionally dings her bear bell as we hike. Sometimes the quick path elevation change causes the bell to ring on its own also.
We walk and see another shirtless man, not as tall, sitting on a tree stump. His hair is dark and loosely curled around his head. His skin is a smooth, a deep olive tone. He peels socks from his feet.
“Hi there,” says SunFloJo. I can tell she is in an interview mode.
This guy is reluctant to speak at all until SunFloJo says, “Oh, I see you’re doing a sock change. Smart.”
Yep, that got him. He says, “Yes. Changing socks is one of the best things you can do out here.”
Sunshine Rat says, “Do you have any more tips?”
SunFloJo follows with, “I would love to know how you pack your food.”
“Ok,” He obliges and opens his backpack. “This is my protein. He points to various jerky meats. This is my mini stove. I cook pasta in there from a ready-made bag in the evening.”
“Uh huh. Mm,” SunFloJo listens as if she doesn’t have the same exact things in her bag.
“What’s your trail name?” Stalker C asks.
Great name. I estimate he is a thru-hiker. I ask, “What mile are you on?”
SunFloJo asks, “Do we look like thru-hikers?”
“No,” Hawaii responds quickly.
SunFloJo laughs. “How can you tell? No one ever asks us our trail names.”
Hawaii looks us up and down, “Well, your packs are too heavy for one thing.”
Hey, I have met thru hikers who had as big or bigger packs than us.
A fly or gnat flies in my mouth. I spit it out to the side of the trail without leaning my body or gagging. Wow, I have become one with the wild.
I stop listening to Hawaii’s tips for the most part. I hear him say something about packing toothpaste in a tiny baggie instead of a small tube. He stops in a town about every 4th or 5th day for a rest. He gathers and stuffs items back into his bag and stands up. He’s ready to head north, the opposite direction we are going.
As he takes off in stride, he turns to shout back at us, mainly to Stalker C, “And you don’t need that bear bell!”
SunFloJo, Sunshine Rat and I laugh. Stalker C reaches back to the bell and says to our group, “Oh, yes, I do.”
We walk on. This part of the forest makes me think of the first Disney movie I saw in the theater as a child: Snow White. I visualize the Seven Dwarfs marching along this area.
The trail takes a steep but short dip near a cliff’s edge. We still giggle over our interaction with Hawaii when we see a guy and girl sitting on a log. SunFloJo says, “Sorry if we were a little loud on the approach.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” the guy says. “We just saw a bobcat so a little noise is probably a good thing.”
The girl nods.
I suppose that means bobcats can be aggressive.
“Hey, we’re all meeting up at the Tap Room tonight at Big Meadow if you want to join us,” SunFloJo says. I notice the couple smiles.
Sometimes it’s just nice to be invited.
The girl says, “We’ll keep that in mind. I think the Tap Room is close to where we heard you can get blackberry shakes in Big Meadow. Hikers say they are delicious.”
Wow. Something cold sounds amazing right now. I’ve never had a blackberry shake.
Rounding another part of the trail we see a woman. She’s solo. Her sandy blonde hair is in two braids. She wears a purplish blue skort.
“Are you a thru hiker?”
“Yes, I am,” She proudly stops to chat. “I probably look a little clean because last night I got a shower.”
“Yay, you’re doing it,” Sunshine is impressed. “What is your trail name?”
She shares that she is at mile 1200 and pressing onward. She is doing the trail north to south. She began in Maine and is headed to Georgia.
We are getting close to Bearfence Rock Scramble. I remember the description on the map:
1.2 mile circuit hike to a spectacular 360° view. Short but challenging hike with a rock scramble —do not attempt when rocks are wet. Pets are not allowed on this trail. Only attempt if you have good balance.
I do not have good balance at this point of the trip. Anything could knock me over. Or knock me to my death if I attempt Bearfence Rock Scramble.
We slope down a hill, then back up again. We manage a dip, another incline, then a decline and so forth. This is a roller coaster of a trail.
Turns out we weren’t so close to Bearfence afterall.
We are tired. Sitting on rocks or logs here and there becomes more frequent.
“Hi,” A young tall, bearded guy and an average height dark curly haired guy approach.
They need to catch their breath, and so do we. Their panting looks more graceful than ours, like they’ve been hiking fast for several miles. Rest is a mere formality for them.
My marriage potential radar lights up on behalf of my Steam Team friends.
“I’m Tank,” says the tall one.
“And I’m Frodo,” says the other. Oh, look! He has a ring around his neck like Lord of the Rings. He even looks like Elijah Woods with his big blue eyes.
Frodo affirms the story of his name, “A girl early on the trail said I look like Frodo. Then some Cracker Jack box had this ring inside of it. I was like ‘perfect’. So, I found this cord to tie it around my neck.”
Sunshine eyes Tank, but fatigue brings her down—literally. She and Stalker C sit on rocks near our conversation but are not completely in the conversation.
Not to worry. SunFloJo and I have matchmaking responsibilities covered.
I ask, “And how did you get the name Tank?”
He proudly says, “Cause at the beginning of the trail people were amazed by how quickly I climbed up hills like a tank.”
SunFloJo asks, “So you started in Georgia?”
They nod and say, “Yes.”
“When are you hoping to finish?”
“By October. We were making good time, but I had to go home for a few weeks because of a leg injury,” Tank says.
“And I went with him,” Frodo says.
I ask, “So were you friends before the trail?”
Frodo smiles, “No. That’s the funny thing. You meet up with people at the beginning of the AT season and you just never know who you will click with. We clicked, and we didn’t want to lose the teamwork that was kind of natural to us. We are in this to the end.”
“That is awesome,” I say. I glance at exhausted Stalker C and Sunshine Rat. This really should be you two chatting over here.
SunFloJo extends our invite, “We are going to be at The Tap Room tonight at Big Meadow Campground if you want to come join us. They have some yummy appetizers and drinks.”
Frodo’s face lights up a bit. He’s the more social one, I think. He says, “That’s where we plan to camp tonight.” He smiles, “Maybe we’ll see you there.”
“Great,” I say.
Tank and Frodo exchange see-you-laters with us and head north.
We hike toward Lewis Mountain where our car is, but everyone else seems to be walking in the direction of Big Meadow.
We continue south for a while and then take a break to sit on logs facing one another. I say, “Girls, you kinda held back back there.”
Sunshine Rat smirks. Her knowing look, green buff that surrounds her head, and matching backpack make my heart smile. We are all dirt covered and sweat glistened.
Stalker C forms her cheeks a bit like Shirley Temple when she says, “Oh you two had us covered. You didn’t need us back there. We could rest up while you two did the talking.”
SunFloJo turns to me, “’Cause I’m the grandma and you’re the mom type.”
I smile, “That’s right.”
We stand up. Our muscles may snap. Soreness runs deep.
Soon we make it to the BearFace Scramble extra trail entrance.
And by soon, I mean it took forever. We wondered several times if we were still on the correct course.
I quietly hope no one wants to do the 360-degree view with tricky footing. There is no way I can safely crawl around the most dangerous of rocks in this area especially with a backpack.
A young college man emerges from a side trail, “Hi, he says.”
I curse the size of his itty-bitty water supply on his back. That’s it. Nothing else. And he looks so…clean.
Sunshine Rat asks because of his t-shirt, “Are you from JMU?”
We saw James Madison University on our drive.
He continues, “My mom is down here doing a section hike. I’m going to do BearFace and then go meet her later.”
SunFlo offers, “Well if you want to take her to the Tap Room at Big Meadow tonight, that’s where the party will be. We’re going to be there and we’re inviting everyone we meet to join us.”
I sense a snicker from the Stalker C who is sitting on a rock.
SunFloJo, er or SteelCut if she accepts that new name, learns more about him. It is fun to see her social skills in action.
This candidate is studying economics. He’s not 100% sure which career field he wants, but he has time to figure that out since he is a sophomore.
In response to the invite he says, “Sounds fun. I’ll keep that in mind.” He flashes a perfect smile and heads up the rocks that form a staircase leading to BearFace.
I turn to the girls, “Does anyone want to do BearFace?”
Stalker C says, “Definitely not.”
We later learn that people do BearFace without big packs. Sounds like a good day trip only to me. I suppose we could have left our packs on the AT and walked up, but the extra path is over a mile. No one has extra miles left in their legs.
The hike continues.
Stalker C pauses to pee while we turn our heads. Funny, she does not even take the backpack off this time.
We’re girls just doing what we must do. That takes talent and skill, Stalker C!
No one seems disappointed about not doing BearFace. I am so glad. I don’t want to be the reason anyone misses anything.
We trek onward. Rocks become plentiful as we climb higher on the trail. There are big rocks, sometimes wobbly under foot. My poles are part of my body at this point.
We, the poles and I, do the best we can.
Man, I’m tired. I sense total body shut down threatening my ability to finish.
The younger girls sense the end is near and surge ahead of us. It is weird to not hear, see, or catch up to them anymore.
SunFloJo could totally keep up with the girls. But when she notices that I lag, she walks back to me and talks me through.
I can no longer speak or respond.
Pole step, one foot, pole, the other foot, repeat. That’s where I am, all my focus is on poles and feet.
Sweat is an extra layer of clothes, heavy. Flies drive me nuts.
I see sunlight through the trees. Is there hope? The path appears to end.
Is that the end? Could it be?!
Would you rather listen to the story? Check out this chapter at the Surrender On The Trail PODCAST.