Here I am in Shenandoah National Park writing from Big Meadow Lodge where I seem to have taken up residence for the day. After hiking 4 miles to get here from my campsite last night, I have had breakfast and now lunch, reading the newspaper and written a few letters. I'd like to think that the only reason for my laziness is the heat, which is high mind you, but I can hardly say 'no' to coffee and beer ( not at the same time, at least not this time...), two things I don't carry with me on the trail.
The last section of trail has been absolutely wonderful but quite different. The terrain and landscape are different, of course, but that isn't the biggest change. I'm sure it won't be spoiling the surprise for anyone, but I am now hiking alone. Mzungu has gone home to be with a friend for the birth of her baby; Lobo is ahead due to my being delayed in Front Royal, VA (more about this later); and Djangle has had to take a medical leave of the trail-nothing serious mind you. It has been wonderful to be entirely alone in my planning (see the F.R. adventure) and to have the trail almost entirely to myself- to lose myself in thought or be absorbed by nature all around. It has put a serious dent in my motivation to hike longer days, but I didn't come out here just to run home again. I'm sure that by the time I finish I'll not be ready for it to be done even then.
On to my most recent adventure: This past Saturday I walked my shortest day at .3 miles to the road to Front Royal. As I got to the trailhead 3 hikers got out of a taxi across the street. As they were paying the cabbie, I put out a thumb and immediately caught a ride with a kind young lady headed into work. Score one for me! I spent most of the day reading the newspaper and The Hobbit (an amazing adventure story that has left me inspired anew as to the nature of my journey) and drinking coffee downtown. As I wrapped up my affairs in town, I decided to go to the library to update this very blog. But I never got there.
Shortly before I was to arrive a couple of folks in a car stopped me in the middle of crossing a street: "are you thru-hiking?". Shortly I learned that Zombie had thruhiked last year, Southbound as well. He and Kelly, who was driving, were out for the day hiking (with the intention of picking up a thru-hiker to take home and take care of I was soon to learn). Then began a series of events in unbelievable kindness:
I was treated to a beer or three at a local biker bar. Then with a grin they asked if I needed a shower... and laundry... and dinner... and a cozy bed in which to sleep. Soon we were on our way to a BBQ dinne, complete with fried okra and a free beer and desert from the manager, himself amazed at what I'm doing and Zombie had done. A shower and clean (cotton!) clothes were next. Then a party, the likes of which I haven't been to since Freshman year of college.
I tell you that I've never played flip-cup, but caught on rather quickly despite the more than adequate beer in my system already (7 at this point if you're keeping track). Beer pong was played and cupcakes were nearly sat upon. With the night nearly at a close I took up my usual wallflower position at the local club before we went home and called it a night. I was to sleep in a bed never before slept in by anybody else.
The next morning, after a wonderful breakfast of pancakes, bacon and more coffee I was invited to service with these two and we went as if old friends. My new friends then treated me to a Mexican lunch before finally we said our goodbyes. The past 24 hours had been nothing short of the stuff dreams are made of, especially for the weary and worn (and smelly and hungry) hiker.
Kelt and Zombie, wherever you ar I give you my heartfelt thanks. I cannot recall ever having met people more willing to care for another simply to make the day of a stranger. I can hardly type these words without an immeasurably huge smile on my lips. Thank you. Thank you!
I believe that's quite enough for now as my thumbs grow weary and the mid-afternoon draws on with only 4 miles under my soles today and many more to go before I string my hammock. Then again, why not take my time?
I miss you all and hope all is well in each of your lives.