Have you ever dreamed about something and, then, when it finally happened, it was far more wonderful than you could every have imagined? Is it possible that reality was better than dreams? Well that very thing happened to me in April.
It had been a long time since I left the Appalachian Trail back in November after my disappointment. My November trip had been planned from a long time and did not go as I had intended with much of it being out of my control. Beginning as I sat in the hostel at Neel’s Gap, waiting for a ride back to Kentucky, I dreamed and walked the next section of the Appalachian Trail in my head at least a million times.
Everyone around me can tell you that I had a hard time dealing with the non-completion of the first attempt, and I was determined that I would complete the next attempt come mouse, bear, or high water. I studied and prepared by watching YouTube videos of other hikers’ experiences. Every book and guide to the southern Virginia section I could find I poured through over and over again. Hiking systems and equipment that did not fare so well in other hikes were replaced including the purchase of a new Z-Packs Duplex cuben fiber tent in hopes of reducing weight and making for a faster trip.
In mid-January, I looked at my calendar and chose the third week of April as my start date, and I hoped that the weather would cooperate. I squared away all of my equipment, completed all of the tasks that needed to be finished at the office, and hit the road early on the morning of April 15. Weather was still a great concern, as the section that I was walking had experienced a late spring snowstorm and had about three inches of snow on the ground the week before I was set to go. I hoped for better weather and no rain, but most of all no snow.
Mom and Dad picked me up at the house, and we rolled out of Jackson about 6:01 a.m. in a foggy, overcast morning. The weather looked rough as we started but by the time we crossed the hill from Kentucky into Virginia all the gloom had lifted. The closer we got to the trail town of Damascus,the better the weather and got by the time we arrived the sun broke through the clouds.
The three-hour trip seemed to fly by, and we stopped at Abingdon, Virginia for some pancakes at Cracker Barrel (because Mom had to make sure I had a good meal before going into the woods). From there, it was a short half-hour ride to Damascus.
We arrived in the sleepy little trail community at 10:10. My parents dropped me off at the Damascus sign that welcomes hikers, and I walked through the park and down Main
Street. I turned off Main Street (which is the AT) to the Damascus Post Office to get my Appalachian Trail Passport stamped and then on to the SunDog Outfitter where Mom and Dad had gone to wait to see me off. I purchased an extra pair of Darn Tough socks and said my goodbyes.
From Damascus, the Appalachian Trail heads out of town and parallels Highway 58 for a short distance before making a sharp left-hand turn across the Jeb Stuart Highway and into the woods. At 10:55, I hugged my parents and set off due east down the trail headed into the woods smiling and thinking of my wife and kids at home.
Just as I reached the road crossing, a white vehicle pulled slowly up beside me with two people inside who were smiling but looked as if they were near tears. I waved goodbye to Mom and Dad and told them I loved them as they pulled away. I crossed the road, climbed the stairs, and started an adventure that I cannot describe fully, but I will try in the next few posts to show you where I was blessed to walk in perfect weather and in God’s great beauty.