Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The 1 ½ weeks from April 7 – 18, 1997 were very intense times on the Appalachian Trail for me. I met many more thru-hikers with some funny names: BDC – Bacon Double Cheeseburger, Grizz, Love-To-Hike, Tippy Canoe, Ichabod Wayward Traveler [the infamous Traveling Jack who has hiked more miles on the AT that anyone in history], Crash, Jake, Bomber, Beavis, Shaggy Goose, Movin’ On Up, Scooter, Wild Bore, Pyro, and Skywalker. I experienced extremely cold temperatures and snow and extremely long hiking days. And I witnessed a human experience that I described in my journal as “the worst I had ever seen...

Old Crow and I hiked together, on and off, for a six week stretch in March and April of 1997. Old Crow gave himself his trail name for a couple of reasons: 1) Old Crow was his drink of choice, a Kentucky bourbon whiskey, and 2) it was the very thing that motivated him to hike. I found out later that this thru-hiker was actually running from something that had taken over his life. Brad H. from Raleigh, North Carolina had clearly experienced a different life than Brad G. Old Crow had stories about drinking, partying, and fraternity stunts, and he delivered the stories with a wit and humor that made me laugh. After a very cold night (single digits) in the Overmountain Shelter on April 9th (an old horse barn), Old Crow wanted a break from the harsh conditions of the trail, and I thought that I deserved a break, too. He called some friends in a nearby town, Boone, NC, that picked us up at the nearest road crossing. I wrote, “a free place to stay that is warm, what more can you ask for” and thought that it would be an uneventful side trip – I was wrong. “4.11.97 Last night was close to being the worst night [so far]. I got very few hours of sleep because of the party [downstairs], and I saw a bunch of college students at their worst. Crow got really messed up…” For most of the early morning (3 to 4am), I was awakened by Crow and his drunken friends coming in the room and making a lot of noise. I assisted his friend in setting Crow’s sleeping bag out and taking his boots off – he passed out and urinated on himself. “Then I realized how bad it really was…This was the lowest and he had been there before…I knew then that this is why Brad was on the AT – to change this part of his life.” Crow told me later that he had been sober for a month before that night – the first month of hiking. The pull toward his addition was too great. I insisted to be taken back to the trail by someone sober and, at that point, I didn’t know if I’d see Crow again. There are so many things to pull a potential thru-hiker off of the trail – the past catching up with you is one that I hadn’t considered until now.

I hiked on through Southern Virginia and into some of the best relationships of my entire trip. Many thru-hikers were pushing 20+ mile days at this point in the trail. One month down and I was in the best shape of my life, so I decided to attempt “The Marathon.” into Damascus, Virginia. From Iron Mountain Shelter, it is 26.3 miles to town and Damascus fever (the longing for good food and good company) had me convinced that I could pull it off. It was a very tough day that I don’t remember much about…I arrived in Damascus at 6:30pm and got word that my Dad had been there. Come to find out, Dad drove to Damascus to deliver my next maildrop instead of shipping it, and I missed him by a few hours. I came into town and thru-hikers, hostel keepers, townspeople, and restaurateurs all asked, “Are you Optimist? Opti, did you see your Dad?.” I was so sad that we had missed each other. I met Scooter and Wild Bore during my first night in Damascus – I was headed to the pizza joint and ran into these two mid-twenties guys, graduates from Dartmouth. After we shook hands, Scooter immediately asked, “So you are Opti Phil 4:13? ‘I can do all things through Christ’ guy?” I was profoundly amazed that someone was actually reading my shelter entries. Each shelter contained a register, usually a spiral bound notebook, that was used by hikers to communicate with each other. Entries usually contained information on the nearest spring, the resident skunk, encouragement to friends, words of protection, etc. The register was something that no thru-hiker passed up, and although it may sound silly, we looked forward to reading through each register and connecting with the trail community. Since I was given a trail name with meaning and purpose, each of my register entries were slanted toward the positive and optimistic and signed “Optimist, Phil. 4:13.” I would occasionally write out the passage at the end of my entries as well. I thought that, if even just a small way, I could lift people up in a hard time and give a nugget of wisdom from Paul’s letter to the Philippians with each entry. I had apparently succeeded, and Scooter and Wild Bore would become fast friends. More on their story later.

Snow put a twist on hiking in the Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area, “4.18.97 Definitely say the AWESOME power of God today! Last night, Two Winds, Bomber, Bob (weekender) and I were in the loft of the Thomas Knob Shelter, and it was a good thing because there was a few inches of snow on the first floor. We got about 3 to 6 inches of snow last night, and it was cold (teens). I didn’t get a very good nights sleep because the snow was coming through the roof, and it dusted everything. I woke up many times last night and was cold some of this morning…I passed Bomber and broke trail [for] eight miles – the drifts were sometimes knee deep! I kept moving and stayed warm…Two Winds stayed at the shelter and Bomber and I moved on – a good thing too because it was colder [up on the mountain]. I was getting tired f Two Winds again, anyway…I have been singing a lot on the trail…it defiantly helps pass the time. So does my Walkman – I listened to National Public Radio today and the miles became less noticeable. I listed to the [mix] tapes also, but that drains the batteries quickly…Today’s walk was nothing short of INTENSE! It was the worst weather I have seen – snow + wind (gusts up to 40 – 50 mph) + cold (20 – 30 degrees) + wind chill (-20 degrees). Scrambling over the rocks and not being able to find the trail were the worst parts [the white blazes that marked the trail were covered by snow or blended it to the background, and I was off trail for a while]. It was a nice change of pace, but I am ready for spring…

497.7 miles down, 39 days

It's time for the toddler beds! Just as Mama and Daddy were settling in to the couch with a bowl of ice cream last night, we heard a thud on the floor...and a blood-curdling scream! Abigail crawled/flipped/jumped out of her crib and was lying on floor and screaming. It seemed to have profoundly scared her for a time, but we couldn't find any injuries to her little body. Of course, it shook Mama and Daddy up, too - so we pulled their mattresses out of their cribs and placed them on the floor. The girls slept okay last night, and we haven't seen any lasting effects in Abigail from the fall ! Praise The Lord! For the record, Abigail, this is the second time in your life! The 2-year old birthday is coming up soon - gift idea: bungee cords and a stunt net.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Of course there are Easter pictures! Life has been busy since Easter weekend, but I'll attempt to catch everyone up in a series of posts, pictures (see flickr), and videos over the next week or so.
On the Wednesday before Easter Sunday, the girls "performed" in their first Easter program at Mother's Day Out. "If Your Happy And You Know It" is one of the girls favorite songs; however, all Abigail could do is a couple of hand motions and her swaying dance, and Sydney was dazed half of the time and cried half of the time. At times, they both looked as if they were enjoying the spotlight, but the jury is still out on both of them for an acting or singing career. The teachers at MDO had an Easter Egg Hunt set up for each age group, and I am happy to say both Sydney and Abigail mastered the art of hunting. They filled their baskets up in minutes - so heavy that they could barely keep them from dragging on the ground! We counted a combined 50 eggs! I'll put a video together of the hunt - we couldn't be more proud.
We also participated in the hunt at church on the Saturday before Easter Sunday - for approximately 7 minutes. It was cold! The "Dogwood Winter" blanketed much of the southeast in early April and killed many unsuspecting plants. Question: if a late frost wilts the plants and pollen-producing growth on the trees, will a warm up in the true Spring and Summer bring even more allergies!?! We bundled the girls up in their winter coats (thanks again, Rootie!) for the church Easter Egg hunt, but they did not care anything about eggs. They both ran around with the other kids and passed up the eggs! Mama and Daddy did not want the candy in the house anyway!
As you can see from the pictures, Sydney and Abigail looked like princesses in their dresses and were very sweet to each other during picture time...holding hands, hugs, and kisses! So sweet. We were blessed on Sunday morning by our experience at church - it is amazing how God works through the testimony of others to show his grace and love. Lunch at Great Grandma and Grandpa's created more photo opportunities (see flickr).

Friday, April 06, 2007

Twenty-eighth day and 341.3 miles down. I experienced the Great Smoky Mountains National Park during the last week of March and enjoyed the budding dogwoods and wildflowers of spring. I had anticipated the Smokies since leaving home because it had always been one of my favorite destinations for family trips and overnight backpacking jaunts. Little did I know at the time, the week in the Smokies would be an early turning point in my hike. I quickly learned to “hike my own hike” and not be concerned with the schedule of others.

The AT crosses Fontana Dam at 480 ft. above sea level and gains thousands of feet of elevation to the highest place on the trail, Clingman’s Dome (6643 ft.) – and I hiked those 31 miles in 2 days! Because of the push to meet my family, I continued through the park without many of my new thru-hiker friends. Although I made new friends and acquaintances, I felt that the posse from the Blueberry Patch was my true expedition partners at the time. We had traveled through so much territory together already and had experienced the wonders of the trail, and it wasn’t easy going my own way. I met Two Winds, Turtle, Slowwalker, Crazy-Two Feet, and Grey Squirrel in the park, but I thought 'I do not have as much in common with these people as I do Cruise, Whisper, Two Gulp, Old Crow, and Phluff.' What did I truly have in common with anyone on the trail? Virtually nothing but our current circumstances! It was a shift in my mindset that made the difference – I was ready to be on my own and free from the drama of the big group once and for all. The only problem was Two Winds – he did not see my new found wisdom the same way. He wanted to talk about anything and everything, “3.24.97 Blah, blah, blah…Two Winds came into the shelter later tonight and hasn’t stopped talking since….Blah, blah, blah…no silence in the shelter tonight, and Two Winds said that he has a tendency to snore. Not the greatest for my first night in the Smokies.” and “3.25.97 Blah, blah, blah…Yep, you guessed it – Two Winds is getting started with the stories. His story: is 24 and has been off of the trail for 10 days – he has been in Knoxville for court. As he was driving somewhere in Knox County he was pulled over (a few months ago) for speeding and unfortunately had marijuana in his car. They fined him and he is now back on the trail…When he saw me reading my Bible, it prompted him to tell me about his relationship with the Lord. He is on the right track, and I hope that I can help him and everyone else find The Way.” He is a character that would be a part of my hike for many miles.

Right around this time, the spiritual component of my hike was showing itself, “3.23.07 …Did my first 20+ day today, and I am hurting pretty bad. I hiked with Cruise most of the afternoon today, which was good. We got to know each other a little bit better. We had a little bit of a change of pace this morning (a Sunday), and I read from the Bible. There were about five or six that listened to me read some scriptures that dealt with hope, comfort, and rejoicing. ‘I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.’ No wonder I am an Optimist.” I became more willing to discuss the Bible and the life of Jesus with anyone, and my relationships from here to Maine were seasoned with Good News.

The Easter visit in Gatlinburg with the family was physically rejuvenating; however, I found myself yearning to make more miles on the day off. Once I was on the trail again, I expressed the emotional toll in my journal, “3.30.97 Today was one of my toughest days emotionally and mentally. After the time off, I was really eager to get back on the trail because I was getting too soft and comfortable. The depression kicked in today mainly because I didn’t have much motivation. Usually I am trying to catch up to someone or get to the place where everyone is staying the night, but today the only motivation was to get to the shelter – in out of the rain – which I did successfully…I questioned, today more than ever, why I am out here. I enjoy myself almost all of the time, but after being in Gatlinburg for 36 hours, I saw what I was missing…

Monday, April 02, 2007

The excitement never ceases around our house....or wherever we are. The pictures are from our playtime at a local park on Thursday evening. Sydney is posing just above the imprint of her body in the mulch below - yes, she tumbled off the platform, and, no, she didn't break anything. Both Sydney and Abigail were crawling up and down the stairs on the other side of the play gym, which has the slide. Sydney wanted to explore the other side of the gym and crawled backwards down the steps and off of theplatform. A mouthful of mulch and a few minutes of crying were worth the skydive!

As I mentioned in a previous post, the girls are 'stretching out' and are able to reach door knobs and, occasionally, open doors. For the first time on Friday, Sydney locked a door. It happened to be the door out to the garage and Rebekah and Abigail happened to be on the other side. To load the car, we take one munchin at a time and leave the other to her own devices in the house. Each of the girls will usually stand in the kitchen and wait, but Friday morning, Sydney decided to play with the door handle and accidentally lock the handle. Rebekah had her cell phone but no keys. All available extra keys were an hour or more away, so your friendly locksmith 'Hajijibaba' was summoned to pop the door open! The drama lasted for over an hour and no one was injured, praise the Lord! Backup plans are now in place so that we don't have a similar situations in the future.