Part 4 was written in July 2017. I guess I’m a bit overdue. After two years of adjusting to being married, raising three step-children, and bringing Mossy home, I’m inspired to write again. I’m surprised how much of my journey on the Appalachian Trail is still fresh in my mind. So please forgive my delay in completing this story. Travel back to the woods with me…
2016 was a dry year on the trail. Because many natural water sources were dried up, trail angels would leave gallon jugs of water where the AT would cross a road. Any time I passed a fellow hiker, we would swap water source updates and advice. “Carry four liters for this next stretch, the water source ahead is not flowing.” Others would say, “The only place to get water is at the gas station, a half of a mile off the trail, when you cross the highway. They have a hose outside for hikers.” Typically, I would carry two liters of water, which weighs about five pounds. Carrying an extra five pounds uphill was torture! This increased my 30 pound backpack to 35 pounds!
Between carrying extra water and increasing lower back pain, I was reconsidering if I had what it took to continue on the trail. I knew I wasn’t ready to go home to questions of “How are you doing? How is Mossy?” I could barely talk to God, let alone dear friends and family. I knew I couldn’t hide my pain from them, and just the mere presence of a friend would break open a flood of tears and grief.
While camping out in a private cabin left unlocked for hikers, I shared my concerns with an old naturopath named Walk More. He was 70 years old, and headed north to finish the trail! As Walk More set up his hammock, he started telling me about all the aches and pains he had when sleeping flat in a tent. Once he switched to a hammock, the pain went away AND he would wake up with rejuvenated legs! The slight elevation of his feet increased blood circulation in his legs while sleeping.
I was convinced enough to give it a try. Thankfully, I had purchased my tent at REI and it had only been used a few nights. I decided to take them up on their policy of fully refunding used equipment up to a year after purchase. Killington, Vermont would be a good place to stay while I exchanged gear.
As I studied my maps and the Thru Hiker Companion, I discovered a few overnight options. The Inn at Long Trail, just 0.9 miles off the trail offered discounted rooms for walk-up hikers. I could reserve a room for $130 or I could take the risk and hope one was available when I arrived. If so, I would only pay $40. The penny pincher and risk taker in me said, “ok, I’ll hike fast!” Stepping in to the Inn was like curling up in a warm blanket on a cold day. The lobby was a large, cozy living room with a glowing fire. A sunlit enclosed porch was filled with thriving green plants, rustic wood furniture, and antique toys. I was greeted by Rosemary McGrath, one of the owners, who happily let me know a small room was available and that breakfast would be included.
Shortly after I cleaned up, a phone call came through from respite program where Mossy was temporarily being cared for. This program, designed to provide respite for up to two weeks, was the best that DCF could come up with after having two months to plan for his arrival! The staff were rough around the edges and burned out. Mossy was struggling. The woman on the other end of the line relayed details of a melt-down and let me know that my phone calls were the trigger. From now on, calls would be scheduled and monitored. I was incensed! The answer to helping a grieving, scared child adjust to an institutional setting is NOT to cut off communication with the one person in the world he is attached to! In the mountains, cell phone service was hit or miss. There was no way I could be sure to have service at noon every day!
After I hung up the phone I screamed angry sobs into my pillow. I wept uncontrolled tears of grief. Thoughts of Mossy feeling alone and scared tormented my mind. At the time, I couldn’t acknowledge God’s faithfulness to provide for us both. However, as I look back on this painful moment, I see the Lord’s kindness in the timing. What a blessing to have cell phone service, a private room, ample tissues, and a soft bed to weep on.
Overwhelmed and exhausted, I wrote in my journal this short plea: “Lord, fill me up with your truth and your love. Calm my anxious mind.”
The next day was an answer to that prayer.
Breakfast was incredible: a spinach and cheese omelette, toast, grilled potatoes, large slices of ham, fresh fruit, and real coffee with half-n-half (not the instant coffee and powdered creamer I was drinking on the trail).
REI had offered to overnight my new hammock for free and it arrived around lunch time. While hanging out in the living room, I met a fellow hiker, Brass Rat (50-something), who was returning to the Inn, where his car was parked. We chatted about his time at MIT, his son’s boy scout adventures, and my childhood experience in the engineering world of missile testing in the Marshall Islands. He offered to drive me into town so I could ship my tent back to REI. I nick-named him “Brass Knuckles” because I kept forgetting Brass Rat (Some reference to MIT)! We had a good laugh at his new name!
While setting up my new hammock in the woods across from the Inn, I met John, another 50-something-year-old section hiker. As I opened up about my reason for coming back to the trail, he shared that his eleven year old nephew also has Autism. John shared that his brother, a Samford graduate lawyer, has finally accepted that his son may not follow in his footsteps. At the same time, he struggles to admit that they need help. A small seed of joy took root in my heart as I was able to share my experience and give some tips on how John could come alongside his brother.
That evening, Brass Knuckles, John, another hiker (named MagLev) and I met at McGrath’s Irish Pub to share a bottle of red wine, Irish soda bread, and Guiness beef stew! Such food is incredible any time, but it’s like a feast for a king when you are backpacking! After a couple of hours of good food, good conversation, and much laughter, I pulled myself away from the “big brothers” God had sent me. Walking out into the blackness, I crossed the highway and walked into the dark woods to spend my first night in a hammock. A little anxious about this new form of shelter, I prayed that no animals would bite me in the booty while sleeping! Have I ever mentioned I have an overactive imagination when it comes to fear?!?!
I woke up alive, with all of my body parts in tact, and deeply rested! I LOVED the new hammock! After packing up, and a cup of coffee at the Inn, John, Brass Knuckles, and MagLev sent me off with “hammocking” tips, warm wishes, and gratitude for the Autism tips.
I’ll close this part with my journal entry the next day.
September 22, 1:30 PM. 10 miles so far.
I started at 7:30 am and the first two miles down Killington Peak were very technical and difficult. It looked more like a storm ravaged mountainside than a trail – exposed roots, downed trees, rocks, and brush. It’s kind of how I felt most of the morning – angry, sad, calling the staff at The Village every name I could think of. At noon, I had cell phone service and called for my newly “scheduled” phone call. No one answered! Not for 20 minutes! That just added fuel to the flames!!!!
30 minutes later, I felt so convicted… “turn the other cheek”… “bless those who curse you…” Oh God, teach me to love and be gentle with those who piss me off, while still advocating for Mossy’s needs.
God is faithful. He blesses me even when I’m spewing hate. As I walked along the trail, I smelled the sweet smell of apples. I looked down and there were tiny apples all over the ground! I ate four and gathered some for later.”
The LORD works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.Psalm 103:6-14