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The Appalachian Thru-Hiker

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November 17, 2019

Mile 900: Goats, ticks, birdsongs, and a case of mistaken prostitution


It’s five a.m. and I have my tent door halfway open to get a feel for the temperature and weather, the folded flap giving me a glimpse through the trees at the waning gibbous moon. The birds have just begun their song, contrasted greatly from the previous evening when their frantic melody continued throughout the night in warning of the impending song. Today is Gershwin; Last night was possibly the Ramones. Both have their time and place.

The trip has never been so in tune as it has this week.

Earlier this week resupplying in Waynesboro I was fortunate enough to be offered facilities by a local resident — with a goat farm! Instead of rushing around town all day I did most of my resupply at a country store just down the street, amusing the three caretakers as I looped through each of the four aisles a dozen times each. With laundry and shower even easier, I had a truly relaxing “zero” day with lots of time for reading and writing.

Even better, my Cessna flying, fly-fishing host managed her goat farm before and after her day job in the medical field, so I was able to watch and then assist with their food and water. Goats eat a lot, and while they love hay, they’ll settle for an iPhone.

There was also lots of great conversation, much very relevant to the book I’m writing out here. Not because my book was the topic, but rather because these are issues that all with curiosity of the mind and freeness of spirit tend to mull over.

The week before Waynesboro I was rereading a book called “The Seasons on Henry’s Farm,” by Terra Brockman, which goes week by week through the activities necessary to operate a sustainable farm where several hundred varieties of vegetables are grown. As I read, I wished I could jump through the pages and help get the garlic planted in time, feeling the soil between my fingers as I poked each clove into the ground.

In Waynesboro, in a way, I got to do so, even if for 20 minutes. To read is to acquire knowledge, but to do is to truly learn. A book could tell me about goat farms, but I’m not trying to learn how to raise goats; I am trying to learn about the many aspects of life that go largely unknown to most people.

In a way, we are a world that has forgotten how to read maps because of newly acquired GPS, but in far more broader terms. This change cannot be blamed on technology. While many people would be at a loss as to how to grow a vegetable if the grocer suddenly shut down, even more would be at a loss as to how to fix their laptop.

My mind wanders today, but my point is that my stop in Waynesboro was far more valuable than staying in a Motel 6. In such a case, how would I know I was in Waynesboro, and not Hot Springs or High Point or Gastonia?

Back in my early 20s when I was studying for a couple dozen IT certification exams, they had these things called brain dumps. After taking the exam, someone would write down as many of the questions as they could remember, and lists would be compiled so future test-takers would know what to study. Today’s post will be a kind of brain dump, because so much happens every day, and it’s hard for my iPhone keyboard to keep up.

On Saturday I got my first tick. On Sunday I got my second! But I’m a quick learner, and I nabbed the second bugger before he had a chance to cling on. Ticks 1, Kevin 1, with lots of time left on the clock.

I have such a long list of posts I wish to finish, primarily in three categories. First there’s the insulin/diabetes side of things. This is an everyday battle which has undergone many changes since I first started needing insulin in mid-April. Second, there’s the panic disorder/agoraphobia side of things, which I know many are interested in, and which is a very real part of my experience no matter how much I try to ignore it. Finally, I really want to share my experiences at each and every stop I make at a town or hostile. It is sometimes possible for me to share the beauty along the trail through photographs, but it is often in these stopping points where the real adventure or humor lies and only words can express.

For example, there’s the Greasy Creek Friendly north of Erwin, TN, that had an interesting neighbor in its residential location. This neighbor across the street was convinced, upon seeing the steady stream of hikers into this hostel located in a private home, had convinced himself the hostel owner must be a prostitute and resorted to tactics such as mowing his lawn at 3 am or putting up signs on his scary looking fence that the hostel had been shut down. The joke goes that the hostel was called the Greasy Creek Friendly instead of the Greasy Creek Hostel because the real “hostile” was across the street. ┬áThe trail certainly has its rumor-mill, but my time there at least confirmed at least some of this, and upon seeing the “hostile’s” property, high fence and signs, I almost decided I had taken a wrong turn and doubled back. So glad I did not!

Such stories are endless and it’s hard to keep up!

Then there are the bears. So many thru-hikers told me before I left that they went 2,200 miles without seeing a bear. What is their secret? Do I smell like honey? I saw two the day I hiked into Waynesboro alone. They’re generally harmless as long as they’re not fed or otherwise handed food up on a silver platter by humans, but that Netflix drama that came out just before my hike about how the animals finally realized the were a lot bigger and badder than us humans stays in the back of my mind…

Someone asked for another bear story, so I’m working on that. Too long for this post, but it’s coming!

About 20 or 30 miles south of Pearisburg, VA I reached a campsite at about 6:30 or so. The intervals between streams and springs had begun to grow longer and longer as summer neared and we moved into Virginia.

What I really wish I could put into words is how it feels to have your whole life strapped to your back. On the trail, it’s a normal backpacking trip, but many towns are so hospitable that you get to feel like a drifter straight out of a Steinbeck novel.

I felt this most recently in Troutville, VA. Troutville is only two trail miles past Daleville, VA, where I stayed at a hiker Howard Johnson. Resupply day was a bit of a mishap as I hiked 15-20 miles back and forth around the towns of Daleville, Troutville, and Amsterdam, having trouble getting all my prescriptions filled across two different pharmacies. By the end of it all I didn’t have it in me to hike on, and another night at the HoJo was both the wrong direction (trail south) and more importantly not in the budget, so I headed over to the free camping set up for hikers and cyclists in the town park.

When I got there… It really was a town park… With a playground and a dozen or so kids, families, etc. To truly understand how hiker-friendly a town is to offer this, you need to see what a band of hikers looks like coming out of the woods. I’m not saying hikers are bad, or dangerous… But you usually can smell us coming, we tend to be hairy and overgrown and dressed for practicality rather than aesthetics. Friendly as we are, I can picture not a few small children running from the jungle gym in tears…

In any case, not only was I left quite to my own devices in the quiet corner of the park where I camped, but the woman running the grocer across the street told me I could hop on over to the fire station to do some laundry and get a free shower.

The most freeing part of having your whole life on your back is that you can change plans at any time and everywhere is home. If it starts pouring you can hike on, or you can find the next flat spot of earth and you’re home for the night. If it stops raining, you’re not forced to stay else waste your deposit. Simply pack up and go. Snd Starbucks is everywhere do long as you have a log and some fuel left in your canister.

You will have to pardon me for a moment; one part of a large group of section hikers has just caught me in a treasure hunt (the group’s job today is for each to get a photograph with a thru-hiker). You never know what will be next on the trail, and it’s fantastic.

Where will I end up tonight? It’s exciting not to know. There’s yet
another camp store in 20 miles, but I’ve barely put a dent in yesterday’s score. If I make it that far, maybe I will find an ice cream sandwich.

Til next time…

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