The past weekend was the anniversary of my trek to tail days so when Lori and I were on the road I convinced her to drive three plus three hours out of our way to make a triumphal return to Damascus VA, the Jerusalem of thru hikers. The road was not paved with palm branches but after 7 hours on the road my GMC Sierra felt like I was on the back of an Ass.
After a night in the pet friendly hotel where Belle mistook the carpet for grass I bounded into the collection of tents, vendors and dirty thru hikers. Heart beating, eyes darting, the smells of kettle corn, hotdogs and frozen yogurt filled my nostrils.
“Gotta get to the year book tent, gotta see my picture with the class of ’15.”
Flipping through the pages. “THERE’S EASY ROCK, there’s Scout, oh look Ascot and Sasparilla.”
Gotta get to the p’s, I thought. huh, there’s Phantom. Well there’s A Phantom, not THEE Phantom. Where was my picture? It was taken the year before, proudly displaying my name card, excited to see me in living color some day…
“Where am I, Lori” Pathetic as the day in Kindergarten when some big kid popped my sister’s balloon and I cried and she just walked away. Lori will find it, she finds everything like she has some sort of uterine tracking device. Keys, credit cards, now she will find my picture. It had to be there.
The wind slipped out of my sails that now flapped annoyingly at the disjointed breeze. through the book she looked. “there’s Happy Warrior, Oh my gosh, there’s Square Peg.” I echoed over her shoulder and in her ear.
“Where am I? Forgotten again? I’m Phantom- what was that guy- he was just here? He’s a phantom. I hiked, I was here, honest I was.”
We walked around a bit, thought about waiting for the hiker parade when we all get together and walk down main street while the townies shower us with water guns but it all seemed unimportant. So Belle and Lori got in one side of the truck, I in the other and drove away.
“Well, its really a lot like last year.”
“What’da ya mean?”
“Getting to Trails Days is better than being at Trail Days” I said.
So with that, I’ve included my funniest story ever from the book I wrot on how I ended up last year at trail days:
I Am Blessed-Trail Days 2015
Today I found myself in Pearisburg. Like so many trail towns, Pearisburg is a small town with a well-established downtown that has more abandoned buildings than businesses; beautiful buildings that are evidence of a once thriving economy based on manufacturing. Today that manufacturing had moved on – and left Pearisburg in its wake. As I walked into town that morning I had a curious new attitude. I felt blessed. I have been blessed all of my life with good health, good family, and good friends. Rarely have I allowed myself to feel blessed. Rarely have I allowed myself the benefit of my blessings. Today was different. I woke up feeling blessed.
I called Lori and, in choked up fashion, told her that we are blessed. “I’m blessed, Lori, I’m blessed – can’t explain it, we’ll talk later.” I didn’t tell her about going to Trail Days. It may have caused her to worry more and I really didn’t know how the day was going to end. All I knew was that I was blessed. Two guys and a girl came out of a building near the center of town.
“Hey do you know where the restaurant is?” I asked.
“No,” came the terse reply which should have been a clue to me but remember, I was blessed.
“What I really need is a ride to Damascus,” I continued.
“We’re going to Whyattesville, that’s near Abington,” the second guy responded,
“We could take you there for forty bucks.”
“How about twenty,” I bargained.
“How ‘bout twenty, a pack of Marlboro Reds and a can of Skoal,” came the quick counter.
Now, I didn’t know how much a pack of Reds or a can of Skoal cost but it sounded good to me. I got in the backseat of the old Chevy with the leader sitting next to me and his brother and the girl sat up front. As we drove away I felt the need to fill the silence of the road with nervous chatter.
“So what’s in Whyattesville?” I asked inquisitively.
“Well, I have to pick up my wife; she’s getting out of jail today.”
“Jail? Did he just say jail? You know, the pokey, the slammer, the big house? Did he say jail?” Normally visions of an abducted hiker and dismemberment would have flooded my consciousness. But remember, I was blessed. Here’s the weird thing. I was not concerned in the least. He was eating a can of mini hot dogs out of a can at 9:30 in the morning; I was driving with three strangers in a car and a road that was completely unfamiliar and, oh yea, I was driving to the county jail. But I wasn’t worried. I was blessed.
I have to admit though, when he threw the empty can out the window without even a second thought, I did lose my breath for a brief moment. “You’re that guy,” I thought to myself, “I always wanted to meet you. You’re that guy who has been littering my roads.” He may as well have kicked a dog when he threw that can out of the window. I wondered if he could throw me out with just as little thought.
We drove on. I couldn’t help myself, “So what was she in for?” Despite knowing that you are never supposed to ask a guy, or in this case a gal, what they are in for, curiosity got the better of me. I had to ask. “I wrote some bad checks,” the litterer said as he looked at me with a mixture of embarrassment and just a twinge of guilt.
“Wait,” I thought, “ you wrote the checks and she is doing the time. Why? Could it be that you have priors and if you were to go to jail it would be for some serious time? And if you have priors, what are they?” I wondered. As I started to wonder if he really has kicked a dog, he turned and stated, “Don’t worry man, we’re not going to do anything funny.” “Oh my gosh, he’s reading my mind. He really has kicked a dog!”
So I got out my phone and plugged Whyattesville in the GPS. Turned out it was nowhere near Abington – it was over an hour away from it. When I exclaimed my dismay, the two brothers started to accuse each other of the geographical blunder. I started to haggle with them for twenty dollars more if they would drive me the extra hour. The driver really wanted to help me out but had to get his mother’s car home when she got out of work. He also really needed the twenty dollars but had a pressure washing job waiting for him later in the day.
When we got to the jail, the wife apparently had a late departure time. The girl in the front seat told me that she and the driver just got married. “Great,” I thought, “you just got married and you are spending your honeymoon picking up your sister-in-law at the county jail.” She started to quietly taunt the prisoners as they were doing some landscaping outside the fence. “Yea, boys, work hard,” she whispered. “Please don’t upset the inmates,” I thought.
Eventually it was decided to take me to the local truck stop where I would try to get a ride down I81 to Damascus. I was not feeling overly optimistic about getting a ride based on my earlier hitchhiking record but again I did something different. I trusted God. Like my grandson said, “I’m first.”
While the husband waited for his wife at the jail, the newlyweds took me to the truck stop. Honestly, I was slightly relieved not to be there when his wife emerged. I didn’t picture a pleasant reunion. I think she would be just a little upset knowing that she just spent a week in jail for something her husband did.
At the truck stop, I had other concerns. I needed a ride. I stood near the truckers’ entrance and starting asking drivers for a ride. “No, I can’t take passengers, company policy, you need an owner operator,” came the repeated responses. Finally one trucker asked me where I was headed.
“Down I 81.”
“You got to get an owner/operator”
“Then why did you ask me where Damascus was?” I asked indignantly.
“That’s like the guy who waved at me the other day when I was hitchhiking. It did nothing for me.”
The trucker shrunk away surprised by my irritation. I realized I needed a new tactic before I got kicked out of the truck stop. I reached a new low when I moved in front of the men’s room and started soliciting for a ride. Men dried their hands and looked nervously over their shoulders as they walked away from me shaking their heads no. I noticed one traveler who wore a retired Navy ball cap.
“Hey Ship Mate!” I called out and he turned with a big smile.
“Look, I know that was a total manipulation on my part but I’m hiking the Appalachian Trail and I’m trying to get to Damascus,” I quickly stated.
“Down Me 81,” I replied, again wondering if the conversation was going anywhere and wondering the same about me.
We looked at an atlas in the store and when it was agreed that Damascus was indeed on the way – this fine Trail Angel agreed to drop me along the highway. I bought Tom a cup of coffee and we were back on the road. While in-route, we shared sea stories. He was a retired Senior Chief with twenty-six years and I was a retired Captain with twenty years. He retired in 1992; the year I entered the military so our careers spanned over forty-six years of history and almost all of the ranks. Tom agreed to get off the highway and drop me off in town. He even gave me his number and told me to call him after Trail Days and possibly he could pick me up because he was returning north on Sunday. By the time he left me off, I had made a friend. I really was blessed.
The next day he returned, picked me up and took me all the way back to Pearisburg.” See what I mean? God’s got this.