Day #109-Good thing I remember how to hike in the rain; Miles hiked: 19.3

I woke up this morning to both the sound of alpacas bleating and roosters crowing. There was one more all too familiar sound: rain drops on my tent. I suppose the string of dry days couldn’t last forever. Off into the wet and wild world I wandered!

Not much to report other than wet feet and chaffing and being cold. However, I did finally manage to catch up to the boys.

After a few more soggy miles, we got rescued once again by Valerie, Tony, and Mariette of the Pine Grove congregation. They whisked us away to a taco dinner, showers, laundry, and warm beds.

We really couldn’t ask for more and are constantly humbled by the kindness of these people. For the non-believing friends that I’m hiking with, this is the best witness the ministry could offer.

Trail angels, keep up the good work!

Day #108-All of God’s creatures say amen; Miles hiked: 24.1

Today I interacted with almost every creature I can think of!

It was another solo day, so I was glad that the Lord let his creatures keep me company.

At the bottom of a beautiful grassy ridge, I saw my 5th black bear of the trip. I came down to a stream to get water, but he had beat me to it. We looked at each other, and then he bolted up a tree. I rest assured him I wasn’t going to hunt him and went on my way.

A few deer and chipmunks and squirrels later, I passed a less common AT species: cows. The trail went right through several pastures!After crossing I-81 for what I believe is the last time, I arrived at my destination for the day: the Long Neck Lair.

The LNL is an alpaca farm right of the interstate that lets hikers camp with the fuzzy guys for 10 bucks. I had a great time helping the owners of the farm feed their baby alpacas. What a treat for the end of a long day!Oh, and although I didn’t grab a pic, I got more UMC trail magic today! Valerie and little Joseph of Alan’s congregation brought me lunch right to the trail. Thank you very much!!

Day #107-Solo travel once again; Miles hiked: 22.0

Alan walked the first 7 miles of my hike with my today. I appreciated both his company and the chance to learn more about Bland County from a local.Alan is a trail maintainer-part of a small army who take care of this path I’m walking on. He even put up this sign (way up on a ridge, mind you).Because I took the better part of two days off for the wedding, I’ve fallen behind my hiking buddies. I’ll catch up to them soon enough, but I’m solo for now. I miss my friends, but time alone also gives me time to reflect as I’m nearing 3/4 done with the trail.

I did meet two non-hikers today: hunters. Good thing I brought a blaze orange hat back with me from Knoxville. I don’t really want to be hunted…I have a shelter high on Chestnut Knob all to myself tonight with the wind eerily howling. While it is a bit creepy, I enjoyed a wonderful sunset too.

Day #106-On the road again; Miles hiked: 8.9

My mom and I pulled out of the garage in Knoxville at 4:45 am this morning. A little over three hours later, I had the special treat of sitting at Alan and Mary Ashworth’s breakfast table.

For those of you who have enjoyed this same privilege, you know it’s wonderful! For those of you who haven’t yet, these people make their own apple butter, maple syrup, jelly, molasses, and more! Between the food and the company, it was a wonderful blessing to me!

I didn’t capture any pictures today, but I got the chance to speak at both Pine Grove and New Hope UMC-the very places where this whole ministry started. Mrs. Anderson, I also cranked out a few hymns on their piano!

During the afternoon I got to slackpack a few miles of trail in Bland County before a great dinner and special viewing of one of my favorite movies: October Sky.

Although my eyes are tired, it was a wonderful day to be a trail chaplain.

Day #105-A perfectly good reason to zero; Miles hiked: 0.0

Thanks to the selfless transportation efforts of Double Dip, I had the privilege of attending a good friend’s wedding today in Cleveland, TN.

We all joke that we are simply “going around the lunch table” with weddings of high school friends.

Today it was Rachel and Kyle’s turn!Thanks to my mom’s selfless transportation efforts, it’s back to the trail for me tomorrow!

Day #104-Birthday hike; Miles hiked: 17.6

Today has been a very festive day on the AT. We kicked off my birthday with sleeping in until a whopping 7am. For the college student I was 6 months ago, that’s bright and early. However, for the thru hiker I am now that was a very special treat!The next festivity was 8 miles of incredibly flat trail that led to a nearby eatery: Trent’s Grocery. I enjoyed a cheeseburger and we all quickly downed a half gallon of chocolate milk. This afternoon was a sweet time to visit with Double Dip. For those who don’t know the backstory, Double Dip and her dad trained me in the ways of this life that I’m living and instilled a love for the trail and its community many years before I ever even discovered the chaplaincy.Thank you Double Dip for slugging out the miles AND driving me home to Knoxville tonight. You’re the best!

Day #103-Best friends and even better sports; Miles hiked: 19.6

Even though my birthday is tomorrow, the on-trail celebration started today. My first present? Alan and Mary Ashworth hand delivering my best friend Double Dip to hike with me for the next few days. She was an amazing sport through a longish day. Thanks Emily!

The boys were also great sports and helped pack out the fixings for a cookout.

After hauling it up to Angel’s Rest, we enjoyed a day of relatively easy terrain and a beautiful ridge that is quickly growing golden with the colors of fall.The cookout was a success!

Day #102-Oh the things that entertain thru hikers; Miles hiked: 20.9

Today started with a delicious breakfast with the Pearisburg UMC men’s prayer group. My companions and I truly appreciate the hospitality and I especially enjoy getting to meet members of the conference that has sent me on this pilgrimage.

Right after breakfast it was off to the trail to shake things up. Per my request, we did our slackpack headed northbound instead of southbound. Why, you ask? To both trick and bless all of my friends!

On the way out of town, I picked up some Gatorade and fresh fruit to pass out to the 8 or so hikers I knew were behind me. However, they only received their treats after BamBam, Ollie, and I convinced them all they were headed the wrong direction on the trail. What fun!We also passed a unique treat on trail-an apple orchard. All three of us were sure to stuff our faces with nature’s candy.On our northbound hike, we invited all the hikers behind us to a small feast at Pastor Brian’s house. I even got a surprise birthday cake from the Queen of Dairy (also known as DQ).I couldn’t be happier to be home in Holston!

Day #101-Welcome to Holston; Miles hiked: 28.6

I made an AT bucket list in Harpers Ferry to keep things exciting as I finished the trail. In addition to tasks like hiking in a Halloween costume and taking a zero day on trail, my list includes hiking a 30 mile day. Today was a solid attempt!

BamBam and I set out well before dawn and caught a great sunrise from the ridge.By mid morning, we passed one of the oldest and the largest oak tree on the AT: Keffer Oak. This thing is absolutely massive!We didn’t actually hit the big 3-0 because something far better than miles occurred! Pastor Brian of Pearisburg UMC answered my call and offered a trailside rescue to me and my friends!

Even though it was late, we got whisked away and taken to eat Mexican and sleep inside! The best news yet? We get to slackpack (hike without full backpacks) tomorrow. My friends and I are floored by the generosity of his church and family. What a wonderful welcome into Holston Conference!

Day #100-Sharp teeth and milestones; Miles hiked: 16.4

Today, the boys and I left Four Pines Hostel and headed up to the third and final feature of Virginia’s “Triple Crown,” Dragon’s Tooth. It’s a huge stone monolith that looks like well, a dragon’s tooth. Check out the size of this thing compared to me!The majority of my day was spent hoping and praying I didn’t step on a yellow jacket nest. It’s their most aggressive time of year right now and I’ve passed three in the middle of the trail so far. Thankfully, so far so good with spotting the cloud of bees and going around their home.

In addition to befriending a new thru hiker, Pocket, this afternoon brought a huge milestone-mile 1500!!!

I know that every day on trail is forward progress, but this one has a special significance as it means I have just over a quarter of the trail left.My heart is nowhere near ready to quit, but my legs are looking forward to Springer a bit more. We’ll be there soon enough!

BamBam and I decided to celebrate 1500 by stopping short of our goal today in hopes of a big day tomorrow.