Monday, December 3, 2018

Maryland Rocks: Part 14 - The Last Good Meal

We were feeling pretty good about this trip. We survived 'The Roller Coaster', the super cold night, and finally being taken in by a cult group. All we had to do was to hike 8 miles over rock-strewn fields and hills that would seem extreme in Florida, but were nothing compared to what we had experienced. It was 8 miles back into Harper's Ferry, where a warm bed and a good meal, hopefully served with a beer or something better. Paul had cut back on the smoking and was feeling pretty good about the prospects of making it home with some cigarettes left over. All that was left was navigating these huge fields of rocks.

It was as if some giant had come along and kicked some a small mountain to pieces. You could walk for a mile at a time without touching anything but granite.
A funny thing about the Appalachian Trail. It is considered to be one of the better marked trails in the world. I remember reading that you really don't need a map to find your way, but there have been many comments from other backpackers that the trail seems very well marked when you are hiking on what looks like a jeep trail, but get yourself in these large rockbeds in the woods, where you can't even see a trail, and where's the white blazes on the trees then? My thought at the time was there was some guy with a 4 wheeler with a long pole and a paint brush on the end. As long as he could drive his four wheeler, there was going to be a lot of white blazes...or are least that's what it seemed like. We sure spent a lot of time checking our GPS's to make sure we were going the right way...I'm pretty sure you COULD get lost.

We finally made it to the large bridge that spanned the Potomac and entered into Harper's Ferry, and unbelievably, the first business we came across was our hotel! We got lucky with an early check-in and found our friend Andre was in town. We arranged for a meet-up at the Anvil Restaurant and enjoyed an afternoon drink while he brought us up to date on his equipment and his new plan for food for the trip. His mom was helping by sending nutritious, lightweight good stuff. I'm certain that by the time he reached Georgia, he'd be in better shape that I ever was.
Andre took off to get ready for hitting the trail the next day and we set off to explore the town.

I was getting hungry and Paul wanted a fountain coke in the worst way, so we decided to head in the general direction of the convenience store on the edge of town, stopping along the way to check out good places to have dinner. Unfortunately, I could find nothing that would satisfy my brother. The restaurant that really looked good was the Canal House. As we approached the small building, a middle-aged man was heading out and noticed us. "You can't go wrong!", he said. "The grilled cheese is great and the tomato soup is homemade!". Another man came out the front door and said "There you go again, overtipping. How many times have we talked about this?"
Paul turned to me and said, "No, I am not eating grilled cheese and I'm real sure they don't have fountain cokes in a place like this!"
So it was that we hiked down Washington Street until it became almost dark and the realization that the Anvil restaurant was a long way back and we had only just gotten to the 7-11 . By this time I was starving. 
Paul broke into the run and was already at the fountain machine before I got the door open. To be fair, for a 7-11, this place was loaded to the ceiling with stuff to buy and food to eat. I'm sure it was almost always busy. Unfortunately, it was just outside of the  nice part of town and we were now in the section of falling down buildings that weren't getting repaired any time soon. 
 A young woman with long brown hair and no indication that she was a country girl was cheerfully working behind the counter and helping two truck drivers while I drooled over the array of junk food rolling around on little stainless steel cookers on the counter. She saw me looking and I said, "No way you have pepperoni pizza?" She smiled and pointed to a large windowed container on the other counter that had two lonely pieces of pizza just sitting there in the glare of infared lamps.
I heard a wail from the other side of the store as Paul called out "Hey, you need to switch the tanks on the coke!" 
The young woman turned from me for a minute and called out "Yeah, it's been broken all week. Both Coke and Pepsi. We do have Diet though." 
I heard a sound from Paul that was made me think of a moose snorting. I suggested that he get a bottle of Coke and pour it into a cup of ice and he looked back at me as if there is not one person in the world that would ever do such a thing.
In the end, our last wonderful meal in the great town of Harper's Ferry, was sitting on the curb to the side of 7-11, me chewing on day-old pizza, while Paul sipped on a fountain Orange Fanta, and we gazed at a falling apart double-wide house trailer with rusting axles where there should have been wheels. I tried not to think of steaks and margaritas, and all of the other things in life that I hoped to have. Paul looked over from his microwave cheeseburger and said, "Well at least this is better than $8 for grilled cheese and tomato soup!"
Slowly I turned...…

----The End-----

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Maryland Rocks: Part 13 - Goodbye to the Cult Farm

It was really nice at the 12 Tribes Hostel and I'd say the only fly in the ointment, was my midnight journey to the bathroom. One thing pretty cool, for a guy anyway, is when I'm camping I just have to take a few steps out of the tent to the nearest tree. At the hostel, I took one step out the door of our 'cabin', being careful not to wake the others and found a full moon lighting the world up. I had vision of somebody catching me taking a leak in the cow pasture and then the group has a trial where it is decided whether I needed to spend a week in the blocks or a flogging was called for. Instead, I did the long walk to the bathroom building, which was still toasty warm. I almost spent the rest of the night there, but finally decided I needed to get back in my sleeping bag.
In the morning, Paul and I decided to try and find their little market that supposedly had the world's best muffins. Unfortunately, I was following directions from country people "It's over there on the other side of the 'holler'". I should have used Google, and I might have been able to describe the first taste of a organically grown muffin. However, Paul and I did find one of the oddest things on the trip. Not 100 yards away from this old farm, with chickens and cows and farm machinery about, was a little highway that was bumper-to-bumper full of traffic like the worst day on I-4 in Orlando. There were fumes, there was honking, there were BMWs trying to ride down the shoulder of the road. It was surreal that these things that were so different, were right next to each other, and yet, that explained the success of the market. In a town where you couldn't make money selling vegetables, you could make money selling coffee-to-go.
That reminded me...a constant on these backpacking trips to small towns in the mountains..if anyone out there thinks that Dunkin Donuts is on the ropes and can't compete with Starbucks, they have not been to these small towns. There wasn't a single time we passed a Dunkin Donuts that there wasn't a mile long line in the drive throughs.

In the end, breakfast was scrambled eggs and rice in the kitchen of the hostel. In a really nice surprise, the young woman with the 4 kids to feed the night before shepherded us into a giant kitchen and set us down at a countertop and fixed us right up. She even pulled out a secret stash of sea salt and after a good bit of that, I was in heaven...except they don't drink coffee, so I had some kind of tea that had no caffeine. I was okay, because I remembered the pot of coffee that they kept for the hikers in the bathroom area and could get that later.
What was amazing about the kitchen area, was while it was large and country-looking, it had serious industrial hardware in it. It was becoming apparent, that while these folks were living a minimalist lifestyle, they weren't poor.
I kept wondering when the pitch would come to donate some money to the 12 Tribes, and I did have some cash, so the main question on my mind was, how much would I give? As it turns out, we never even had the chance. One of the men loaded us all up in a van, with some of the kids and drove us back to the trailhead. They laughed and waved as we walked into the woods and I was left with the feeling that I couldn't have been more wrong about these nice people. Meanwhile, Paul was grumbling that he could finally have a cigarette and now he was never going to get a fountain coke. He was really bummed out about the lost opportunity to debate the leader and even worse, there had been no evidence that those guys were getting fat at the public trough. All was not lost though. We were hiking back to Harper's Ferry and eventually the same hotel. Perhaps the 'Snowflake' lady was still there with her dog and her Prius and Paul could show her the error of her left-wing politics...yes there was still hope..

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Maryland Rocks: Part 12 - Into The Cult

There seems to be at least one thing that doesn't change as I get on in these years: I try my best to figure out what's going to happen in the future and I get it totally wrong at least some of the time, and this was one of them.

We found ourselves in a country setting. It was full dark and there wasn't much artificial light except what seeped out of the curtains in the various buildings of the compound. First thing, we were shown to the cabin that we would share with two other hikers that were staying the night. For somebody like me, that only a short time ago was looking at my feet in front of a gas station, wondering how I was going to make it through the cold October night in northern Virginia, it was plenty. For regular folk, it was more like one of those sheds you buy from a big dirt lot and they deliver it on a flatbed truck. The only electricity was from an extension cord that was coming through a window that had a blanket filling in the rest of the gap. That one extension cord already had two cellphones charging on it, and what appeared to be a small space heater. Still, even if I was sleeping in my sleeping bag all night, it was better than anything else I could think of. We were told to stow our gear, find the common bathrooms and then meet up at the main house.
The walk to the bathrooms was across a decent-sized cow pasture and I was real careful where I put my feet, as I could hear the cows mooing nearby. The bathroom building was the best thing I'd come across since the convenience store. It had a big common area and was toasty warm. There was a pot of coffee going as well. There was a group of hikers in there, including a guy in his 40's that was telling some stories that were giving Paul a run for his money. The others were younger, and the one that really got the most attention was the girl from Australia. For some strange reason, the young guys were way more interested in her stories about the outback, than the 40 year-old guy's stories about motorcycling around the United States. Paul was looking for an opening, but there wasn't going to be one this night. In the meantime, I was eagerly checking out the showers, including clean towels. Wow, these 12 Tribes guys really knew how to make you feel welcome. We were told by the other hikers that the members abstain from all outside news and only one guy has a cellphone, and it's a fliphone. It's purpose is to let hikers call in to get picked up. They said the members are nice, kind of strict with the kids, and don't believe in things like smoking, drinking, and sugar. I'm sure there were more restrictions, but I had just found one that was a deal-breaker for me: they didn't believe in hot water. I settled for washing my face and checking my armpits for ticks real quick. 

Truthfully, as long as I didn't smell worse than Australian girl, I figured I was okay.
We finally came to the part I was dreading and Paul was anticipating. We were led into the main house and sure enough there was an old man sitting, facing us, at an austere dining room table, with two plates of steaming food waiting our arrival. We were guided to our chairs and told to eat up. For once, I was not thinking much about food. I was looking around and seeing the other room that had 4 young children seated while a young woman in what looked like an old farm dress ran around trying to keep them happy, and just like anybody trying to feed 4 kids, she was busy. My first thought was, even in that frumpy dress, no makeup, and obviously un-dyed hair, she looked pretty good. There was a tall guy in his 30's behind me with a bushy red beard, and he looked capable of keeping me from bolting for the door. The old guy in front of us had those little round John Lennon glasses on, and if anyone was casting for a shopkeeper out west in the 1800's, this guy could get the part without reading a line. He was watching Paul closely and soon I discovered the same thing Paul did. Organic food sounds like heaven compared to what we had been getting, but compared to the hamburger and fries that we had eaten an hour ago, this tasted like gruel. It was beans and rice, but I do not want you to confuse that with some wonderful Mexican dish. This was white beans and white rice, and apparently another thing the 12 Tribes have on there list of things to avoid, is seasoning. I don't usually go for the hot sauce that much, but this plate could have used a whole bottle.
We stirred our forks around our plates, while I vowed to keep my mouth shut and kick Paul if he started any Trump stuff and it turned out these guys wished Obama was still in charge.

Instead, the world slid slightly sideways...the old guy, was apparently wise as he was old and figured out quick that we were not good candidates for donating all of our possessions and going to work on the farm. He found that we were from Florida and began telling us about how the collective works. The farm we were on didn't really make money. They started with a little produce stand, tried a few variations, and suddenly pivoted into "THE" place to stop and get coffee, a pastry, and a sandwich for lunch on the way to the train station. It sounded crazy, but after all of the traffic I had seen lately, I could see how the wealthy could go for some homemade food to eat on the way to work. I just hoped those sandwiches had more taste than what I had in front of me.
He went on to tell us about various businesses that the collective owned, including a power company! I feigned interest, while Paul tried to figure out if he should try to get some of their sandwiches in his machines down in Florida....then, the twist.
The old guy started telling me about some juicing operation they had in Cape Coral, Florida and how they had to figure out how to move these giant machines up north. I told him I spent many years in that area and then we came to the fact that his group had just purchased a Mango farm on Pine Island and he might get transferred there. Suddenly, we were best buddies, as I told him all of the places to check out if he moved there. I told him about the great fishing and the red tide issue. I told him where to eat in Bokeelia, without remembering that he probably didn't eat out often.
Paul sat quietly while I talked too much. Finally, it was bedtime and I left thinking what great people these 12 Tribes folks were, and Paul was grumbling that we should have stayed back at the shelter....


Monday, November 26, 2018

Maryland Rocks: Part 11- Dragged Off By The Cult

Looking at the endless parade of headlights zooming by and the promise of warm food off in the distance, I felt very glad that I had new batteries in my very expensive Petzl headlamp. You could buy something like it for $10 at Walmart, but we had the good stuff and used those headlamps quite a bit. We were going to need them on this part of the journey. The notes in the Guthook app on my phone warned that the busy little two-lane blacktop had no shoulders, so I assumed that meant we might have to walk a bit in the woods...what I did not understand was they meant there were ditches right next to the woods and that was the only place to walk. So, while we were walking with cattails up to my neck, the main thing my headlamp was doing was looking for snakes. I'm not really sure if they had snakes in Virginia, but I was pretty sure if there was even just one in the whole state, I was looking at the best place to find it. It was a rough 45 minute slug through the muck and I was very glad that I was wearing my waterproof boots, although I had no idea if they were snakebite proof...I need to check that next time I make such a purchase. Paul, meanwhile was thinking hard about a cigarette break with a real fountain coke, with crunchy ice, instead of feeling the icy water soaking his socks in his top-of-the-line hiking sandals.
By the time we reached the Gas Station/Convenience store that seemed as busy as any WaWa where I live, we were ready to take on the road crossing. It was probably just as dangerous as the first time we crossed it, but after the long walk in the ditch, the promise of good hot food made any risk worth it.
Soon, we were getting warm inside a store stuffed to the roof with things I would love to eat, the only problem was picking what sounded best. Paul had found the fountain machine and was already asking the lady at the grill if she would change her gloves before working on his hamburger....I decided to hang back a few minutes so, she wouldn't associate the two of us together and sabotage my hamburger as well. There wasn't much chance of that as we were the only two people around wearing backpacks. The other customers in the store looked at us as if we were homeless, and I could understand why. It was pitch black outside, and the temperature was dropping like a rock. People at the gas pumps were wearing light windbreakers and dancing around, trying to keep warm during the process. My guess was, nobody took the forecast seriously and dressed for the previous day's weather. 
A few minutes later, we had our Styrofoam containers in our hands, only to realize that there was nowhere to sit and eat. Thus it was, that I found myself sitting outside on the curb, shivering, and wolfing down my burger and fries. If we had a hat or bowl out in front of us, I'm sure some of the customers coming and going would have dropped coins in it. I chuckled to think if only the lady from a few days before could ask me about white privilege right now. Sure, I had a credit card, and I pretty much knew that I wasn't going to die of exposure tonight, but I wasn't positive about that. There were no Ubers or taxis in this place. At one point, an old beat-up pickup truck stopped a few feet in front of us, and a toothless guy rolled down his window and laughed out, "Hey, you guys want a ride out to the middle of nowhere!?" I replied, "No thanks, we already did our scary stuff tonight."
A few minutes later, a pickup truck full of Mexicans in shirt sleeves pulled up and they all headed into the store, checking their pockets to see if they had any change for us.
I knew that our cult group driver was coming to pick us up, and take us back to their camp and everything was going to be.... actually, I had no idea. Let us just say that I was way out of my comfort zone. The main thing I was really hoping, was that somebody at the gas pumps would take pity and offer me a ride home to sleep on their couch in front of the fireplace, while we watched Netflix and ate popcorn.
Instead, what happened was a raunchy old Suburban pulled up next to us and a grizzly old guy leaned out the window and said, "You, two the ones that need to get picked up?"
Paul said, "Yeah! Let's go", while I slowly realized that I could not think of a good alternative at that moment....

Friday, November 23, 2018

Maryland Rocks: Part 10- The Highway To Hell

In this connected world we live in, it seems that backpacking is a step away from it all, a chance to be alone in the woods, an opportunity to detach yourself from the constant attention-seeking people and computer screens...but it's not really like that. Take for example, the often-used cellphone application "Guthook". It is basically an enhanced map of trails in the USA, and if you are willing to spend some extra money, you get a lot more, like details for finding water and shelters. In addition, backpackers can leave notes in the app, telling you where it's a great place to stay, where somebody saw a bear, etc. People use their trailnames and leave messages like the ones I was looking at right now. We were coming up to the crossing of Route 9 in northern Virginia. By now, you should not be surprised that hikers have to cross highways once in a while, and occasionally, it is useful, especially if there is a convenience store loaded with junkfood near that crossing. In this particular case, the notes were telling me to beware that this road was extremely dangerous and by no means should anybody ever cross it wearing earphones (many solo hikers listen to music, audio books, or podcasts while hiking). I laughed to myself, thinking these guys have been in the woods too long, or they've never been to I-drive in Florida. In Florida, you have a much better chance of getting whacked by a car than any other means of dying, unless you happen to be spending all of your time surfing at New Symrna Inlet with the sharks...even there, your chances of dying in a auto accident on the way home is more likely than a shark finding your femoral artery. we came up on this sleepy two-lane blacktop in the middle of nowhere...I realized they weren't kidding. It was a blind corner that was apparently at the bottom of a long incline. Add to that little bit of difficulty, the masses of important government employees, contractors, lobbyists, and everybody else that was in a hurry to get home from the train station to their McMansion in the country and you had the perfect pedestrian-killer storm.
We stood there easily for 10 minutes in the dying sunlight, hoping for a lull. All we had to do was run full speed for 20 yards with a full pack on and we'd be safely on the other side. I was pulling my pack off when Paul finally saw somebody slowing down for a minute to check a text message on their phone and he ran for it...I saw another almost as good opportunity right after that guy whizzed by, and gave it everything I had...nobody in sight and I almost had my pack up on my shoulder when a truck came flying up about 90 mph, horn blaring nonstop the whole time. I think he shouted some encouragement out to me concerning my hike, but I just waved back in thanks that he let one more hiker live this day...

By the way, my day-gig is making computer dashboards, the kind that put statistics together and help you determine where you are missing opportunities to make money...or where you are losing it...So I find it very interesting when I read charts that are basically risk assessments. People that die while backpacking is one. You know, fell off a cliff, got lost and starved to death, mauled by a bear. We pretty much worry about all of the things that could happen while hiking, but I've never seen a statistic about how many backpackers get hit by cars while crossing the road on a trail. I have a funny feeling that I would have a better chance of sleeping every night with candy bars in my pockets on the trail than I would have crossing Route 9 again.

The good news was, we survived! We made it across and lived to tell about it. I was feeling really good, until Paul got my attention and pointed down the road. There was a convenience store a little less than a mile down the road. Hot food, good bathroom, and for Paul, a real fountain soda, was not even a 15 minute walk away. There was only one was back on the other side of the road...  

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Maryland Rocks: Part 9 - The Dangerous Moonlight

I've written frequently about how excited we are to get regular restaurant food after a few days on the trail, but truthfully, we are way beyond Ramen noodles and what we mostly eat are Mountain House prepared meals. If you boil the right amount of water and follow the directions closely, you get a meal in about 9 minutes that tastes better than you deserve to get for the work involved. It's expensive, about $8 a meal, but Paul and I found that we could get by splitting a larger meal and came up with less mess, and less cost. However, after a few times sharing the packet around other hikers and getting odd looks, we explained we were brothers before mealtime.
So, after a long day of humping our packs uphill and over endless rock fields, it was nice to enjoy a hot meal of freeze-dried beefstew, while watching the sun set over the mountains. It could have been even better, if Paul would have let me order the good stuff that Mountain House offered, but he had to be sure that there was no seasoning in there that would bother his stomach. Thus, instead of having something really interesting to my palate like Chicken Teriyaki or Peppersteak, I was sharing Beefstew, which was almost as good as a bowl of Campbell's vegetable soup without any salt, in other words, totally boring, but filling.

As we sat back in the grassy flat spot that was near a small gravel road that seemed to be for no particular purpose, we considered the cold and the possibility of just pitching our tents right here and getting up early refreshed for the next day. I proposed this as an alternative to marching back into the woods in the dark and hiking uphill until we found somewhere else to camp later on. The cold was getting into my bones and even if I was to lay sleepless all night it would at least be inside my really warm bag.
Then I saw a guy strolling by, walking his large dog. Where he came from and where he went, I have no idea. Paul didn't see him and swore it was a mirage. A few minutes later a truck came barrelling down the gravel track, slowing as it got near us. I was already hearing banjo music in my head, and quickly decided that I'd rather sleep on my feet in the woods than end up squealing like a pig (an unfortunate image that is buried in my movie memories right next to Jaws sequence of snatching the girl from the buoy).
This part of backpacking is the part that is the most difficult to newcomers, or at least to me: walking into the unknown, thinking that things will work out, when you don't really have a good reason to believe it. Our discussion turned to the distance to the next shelter and some kind of alternative. Unfortunately for us, we had something to worry about. The temperature was going to bottom out this evening, according to the forecast, and the forecast was for the town nearby, not the mountain we were on.  Paul and I both had good phone and data reception this trip, so technology was helping. Paul found that there was another road crossing ahead and apparently a free hostel nearby. In addition, this hostel would come pick you up. "A free place to stay, they pick you up and feed you!? That is better than awesome! What's the catch?" Paul replied, it was no big deal, but it was some kind of group that lived kind of like the Amish, except that they were especially kind to backpackers. All they expected in return was that you helped out a bit with the chores around the farm. I put in a quick call to Pam, to have her do some research. She got back to me very fast, saying stay away, it's a trap. They try to bring in lost souls, convert them and then have all of their earthly possessions transferred to the cult group. "Don't drink the Kool-Aid!" she said.

"No way, we are not going there! I'd rather sleep standing up!" I said. Paul started that twinkle in his eye again. He was getting excited about the possibility of having a late night meeting with the head of the cult and explaining to him that Jesus was a terrorist. I was thinking that I might actually be camping alone in the woods. There's no way these guy were going to get me out plowing a field all day while my IRA account was buying a new Mercedes for the cult leader. As much as I resisted, Paul pushed harder and I could see that I had found a fate that was actually worse than sleeping on the side of the road while a creepy old truck crunched by.
Paul called the Compound of the Twelve Tribes and arranged for our pickup. He turned to me and told us we would be in the bunkhouse with some other hikers they had snagged, and a hot dinner would be waiting for us. Paul is actually ecstatic, thinking of an organic meal, where every ingredient had been made from something right there on the farm, while between bites, he would debate some old guy with a long beard and a stovepipe hat. Me? I was thinking of what steps I could take to prevent brainwashing. I called Pam and told her our GPS location just in case "two hikers disappeared without a trace last night" came up on the news.
As we came up to the highway, I had no inkling that the biggest danger we faced in our lives was not from the cult group...

Monday, November 19, 2018

Maryland Rocks: Part 8- The Peaceable Hamburger

If you've never gone backpacking for a few days or more, try to imagine you're doing a 'cleansing' fast. All you can have to eat are things that you would normally pass right by in a grocery store. Then the fast is over, you've lost weight, and are now told that you can eat 'anything you want'. You want it, you know it's going to taste awesome and perhaps the only thing even a little bit better than getting it, is the few minutes right before that food is placed in front of mouth is watering just remembering that feeling...however we had a little problem.

We had driven around the outskirts of Harper's Ferry, looking for something open, that wasn't a McDonald's (although Paul would have been fine with that). I wanted something special and the only thing we found open that fit the bill was 'The Anvil Restaurant'. It was on what appeared to be an old residential street, and looked a lot like it used to be a house. There seemed to be quite a bit of that about, and either the locals loved restoring old buildings that were just short of falling down, or there were some serious government incentives for doing just that. There was a front porch, and one of those sandwich signs out front that proclaimed some special that meant nothing to don't come off the trail after days of eating nothing but freeze-dried beef stew to get a bucket of oysters...nope, I had visions of the biggest burger in the world, stacked with onions and whatever else I could think of. I offered to buy our friend's meal, but she demurred, saying that she was on per diem and soon launched into what she did for a living. It was something for the Sierra club, and she was going door to door to the poor folks around about something some big corporation had done wrong....I started seeing that look in Paul's eye, the one where he thought he could get a priest to admit that God was merely a human construct. He mentioned something about Trump clearing out the swamp and then breathed the curse word, 'Hillary' under his breath and I suddenly saw a matching gleam in her eye. I almost choked as I was getting my first taste of the best Margarita I've had in a few weeks. The two of them are warming up to the kind of showdown Fox News would like to broadcast at the beginning of every day. Suddenly, Paul decides that he needs a quick cigarette outside, probably to call his son and download some really good talk radio debate material, and while that is going on, I'm begging her not to wind my brother up. I could probably just put some toilet paper in my ears and eat my burger in peace, but Ed-the-worrier was starting to calculate just how long the walk back to the hotel would be in the dark if she decided she preferred the company of her dog on the ride home.

She promises to be good, but as soon as Paul is back, she turns to me and requests that I admit my 'white privilege'. I say, 'Sure, as recently as last year's trip to Nicaragua, I realized by just being born the the USA, into a family that had enough money to take food and shelter for granted, we were blessed.' That wasn't exactly what she was looking for, but if she was trolling for Trumpster, she hooked Paul good. Fortunately, our friend Andre showed up, and then we were well into the waitress and food order part of the evening. Strangely enough, Trumpster and Snowflake were on the same page here...Paul wanted to know about the farm the cow was raised on, and to make sure that a pickle never got anywhere near his plate in the preparation process. Our friend nodded approvingly, as she inquired about the organic nature of her humus order. Was it farm-to-table, or was this trucked in from some placed where the GMO status wasn't properly checked? Paul smiled back, smug in his knowledge that he wasn't the only kook in the group. I told our waitress to give me the burger with everything on it that they had in the kitchen, and by god, do not leave any seasoning off those french fries. And by the way, do you guys offer free refills on Margaritas? (They didn't)

The good news was, the Anvil delivered on the promise of really good food and even the picky eaters enjoyed their meal. Paul was diverted from politics to making sure Andre had the right gear from the local outfitter, and our friend was telling us about how she had completed the Pacific Crest Trail in 6 months, walking backwards, with an 80 pound pack...but, she upgraded us as well, telling strangers in the restaurant that we were a couple of through hikers, heading to Georgia, while I did my best to appear rugged and wise.

My dog buddy was truly well-behaved, never asking for handouts while in the restaurant, although I never really saw him sniffing for something somebody could be allergic to. We rode back to the hotel in a almost peaceful silence, me with a dog head in my lap, while Paul and our friend talked about backpacking. She was trying, but Paul really had her outgunned in this regard....I've never seen anybody yet top Paul with a hiking story...the best part of this conversation was, all I had to do was snore...

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Maryland Rocks: Part 7- The Dog and the Great Debate

Sometimes I find myself in the strangest of situations, like this one. It started with a bit of a let-down. We had marched into Harper's Ferry for a shower and a resupply. I had imagined an old town, some two-story 1920's hotel with stairs but no elevator, and a nearby tavern where we'd get beer and fish 'n chips...nope it was nothing like that at all, and truthfully, I had been warned by other hikers. My first inkling that things were less-than was when I saw the sign for a bakery shop as we weaved through the well-dressed tourists in the street. It turned out the sign was just a prop, and none of the storefronts were anything except props. I then found that our hotel, which had been highly recommended by our shuttle driver, was far from us, but close to where she worked...leading me to believe that we were helping a relative of hers out more than we doing ourselves a favor. Our hotel, appeared to be just like every other roadside hotel in the world, a free-standing cookie-cutter building, right next to a busy highway, and nowhere near any kind of restaurant...that is not usually a big deal, unless you're walking...and we had already put in over 14 miles that day and 3 of those miles were just to get to the hotel from town.
So it was, that as we were checking in, and asking about food, we met another guest of the hotel that claimed to be an avid backpacker and was willing to drive us to a good place to eat. Little did I know, that was to be one of the more adventurous parts of the trip.
The first thing I learned about our 40-something new friend was that she had this awesome 'service' dog. His job was to smell her food because she had severe food allergies. I cannot say that I saw any evidence of this dog having superior skills at this, but he did have supreme skills at making friends. He was my backseat buddy in our new friend's Prius, and it appeared that no one ever paid enough attention to him, and I was there to make up for it. I missed having a big dog, and the little purse-dogs we have at home now do little for my desire to have an animal that could save me from a bear, or the mean old lady that lives next door.
There is something about a person that loves animals like I do, that when you meet  a dog like my brother-in-law's....a dog that likes everybody but me. No matter how friendly I am, he growls and barks at me like, "You may have everyone else fooled, but not me!". So, it was really special when our new friend had the exact same breed of dog as my brother-in-laws (a Golden Doodle), and I was his new best friend in the world. I had 80 pounds of dog all over me during the car ride through town and back. And I loved it.
At the same time the dog and I were making friends, Paul was in the front seat and they were having an animated conversation, discovering that they had something in common...politics. By 'in common' I mean he is a well-meaning Trumpster and she is a Sierra-Club, Prius-driving, far left winger as you could get. Although it wasn't long before I began to understand just how much she loved to exaggerate, I believed that she had been to a few rallies. If I had know how dinner was going to go...I might have walked to 7-11 for a slice of pizza instead...

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Maryland Rocks: Part 6- The Harper's Ferry Mystery

It seems like no matter how many times in life we are told to not make decisions based on too little information, we do it anyway. Definitely one of these 'sweeping generalizations' as my college professor called them, was deciding we knew what we needed to know about a person by merely looking at them. For example, could you look at the bald-headed guy named Kelly Slater and know that he is one of the foremost pro surfers in the world? Nope, because we would be looking for some young guy with long bleach-blonde hair. And so it goes on the trail. 
We are looking for skinny young guys with big beards and rough-looking backpacks. Certainly not what I was seeing in front of me right now. In fact, if I could be allowed to make another snap judgement, I was looking at a trio in a delta formation, looking much like a movie poster. In front, an older gentleman with just a hint of gray above his ears, expensive-looking, gilt-framed glasses and somehow looking like he just left his office job even though we were miles deep in the woods of the Appalachian Trail in West Virginia. He was flanked by a young woman of some exotic background, looking hot and fit, and probably with a handgun in easy reach, not that she needed it to take care of anybody that was a problem. On the other side was a nerdy-looking guy that had an ill-fitting pack and clothes that looked a bit oversize. I guessed he was the computer guy in the crew. Somehow I knew that the girl and the nerd would take a bullet for the old guy if necessary, but it was possible that I had been watching too much television. All that was missing was the helicopter sound of Marine One hovering overhead.
What in the world were people like this doing in the mountains? It turns out that I knew way less than I thought about West Virginia. Much like people I have met, when they find I'm from Flori-doh, that start laughing about our vote counting, alligators, and every other stupid thing that makes the news, I had judged West Virginia as being full of nothing but hicks and coal miners...and hick coal miners.

As we made the long 3 mile trek from the trail into Harper's Ferry, I started to realize the truth. We were walking along the river, with the sun coming down into the late part of the day, seeing the bridge off in the distance. I knew a warm bed and a good meal was coming so my spirit was up. What was strange was that we started encountering serious long distance runners. I say serious, because in Florida, I'd run 5 miles in 100 degree heat and call it good. These folks were carrying small packs with water and food, so I'm not sure just how far they were going, but the weather was great for it. Occasionally, a mountain bike would speed by, and I'm not talking about some redneck taking a swig from a whiskey bottle while riding his Walmart special, I'm talking about $2000 bikes and hardcore looking riders that were almost a blur as they passed by. "Hmmmm, they must get some tourists from the city out here.." I said to Paul and Andre. Mostly, I was preserving my voice while Paul and Andre carried on an animated conversation. Paul was explaining his Trumpster views while Andre soaked it all up, much like an alien wanting to learn more about the strange ways of humans.

We finally reached the bridge and the town of many tourists. The best part was that we crossed the bridge almost at sunset and it was probably the view that made me happiest about Harper's Ferry. A few minutes later, we were walking through the old town, which is kind of a St. Augustine-lite. Then we came upon this quaint old train and a large parking lot. "That sounds like fun!" I said, and then found out from a local that this was not a fun train, but a commuter train to Washington DC. Suddenly, things started making sense, the traffic, the people, and the possibilities. I found that DC is a VERY expensive place to live, and West Virginia is the LEAST expensive place, so you might find an old 1880's saltbox house with a Land Rover parked in front of it or a country store with cafĂ© tables outside with important-looking people sipping their lattes.  I heard stories about grand new neighborhoods with large acreage for the rich folk that wanted some room with their gated community. We found a couple of places to eat, and sure enough, they were all pricey.....unfortunately, Paul would have none of that...

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Maryland Rocks: Part 5 - The Roller Coaster

It was a brisk, overcast morning, with a wind that ripped right through your clothes and we were loving it. I had learned to wear layers of light clothes, something that Paul had tipped me off to early on. Your first inclination for weather like this would be to bring the warmest clothes you had in your closet, but besides the weight and bulk considerations, you'd be surprised at how much heat your body generates while hiking up mountains with a backpack. In fact, I carry a 'puffy' jacket nowadays that stuffs into a bag the size of a cellphone, but will keep me warm when we stop for a break. 

This was to be a very interesting day, as we passed through state parks on the way. We were still seeing quite a few of the trail runners passing us in the woods and at one point we came by a very old church with a folding table manned by 3 young people and stacks of goodies on the table in front of them. Paul hurried us by, saying that was stuff for the trail runners that were doing the 50 mile challenge. It wasn't until about an hour later that Andre caught up with us from his late breakfast. He was still slurping on a Gatorade and a bag of chips that he picked up at the table. "Hey did you guys get any thing good from the church table?", he yelled up to us from behind. "I said, "No, that was for the...." and stopped seeing the now-empty bag of chips and watching him drain the bottle of energy drink. Paul said, "Yeah, and now you have to carry that trash until the next garbage can!"
My fingers were clenching and I was counting backwards from ten, telling myself that I didn't really want anything good to eat today anyway. In a few days I would see real food again, if we both lived that long..

It wasn't long before we came to something in the woods that I've never ever seen before: a real campground for backpackers. There was a building with running water, flush toilets, showers, even electricity for Andre to charge up his giant phone that always seemed to be just about dead. Those of you that think sleeping in a tent is the big deal, have never pooped in the woods. They laugh at my giant roll of toilet paper that I carry, but like Scarlet in Gone With the Wind, I will never be without toilet paper again.

While we marveled at this awesome campground that even had a treasured trashcan, a young athletic man walked up with 3 children in tow. It turned out that he was a trail runner and had just finished his run. And...he still had the energy left to watch his kids alone, while they ran all over the campground. All of them were less than 8 years old and did not seem at all shy about running through the woods. There was no sign of his wife about. I seem to remember having trouble taking care of 2 young children alone, and had vowed to never go out in public with them without Pam coming along. Don't get me wrong, I'd gladly take them out alone now that they are in their 30's.

This guy was so full of enthusiasm and life, that I can understand why he didn't warn us about the roller coaster. I mean, we have hiked tough parts of the country, and when we came up to a sign in the woods that warned of the next 13.5 miles of difficult hiking, we initially laughed. "Bah, after Maine, there is nothing in Virginia, Maryland, or West Virginia that can be a big deal." We quit laughing after the first mile. Calling it a roller coaster doesn't make a lot of sense until you see it in person. Usually, trails zigzag back and forth going up mountains, set at some angle that the ATC determines is doable for a reasonable person with a backpack. Whereas this trail slowly went straight up and then back down, throwing in rocks all over the place, just in case the hiker thought that wasn't difficult enough.  Apparently, instead of avoiding this place like the plague, locals treated this as some kind of test. We actually got congratulated for finishing if we had a choice. We were told "not everybody makes it..." I'm glad I heard all of this after the hike, by the way.
I can still remember coming down one of the steep inclines and meeting a backpacker on the way up. We greeted each other with the usual 'morning!' and he followed up with "I'm kicking this mountain's ass!" and I almost believed him...

Friday, November 2, 2018

Maryland Rocks: Part 4- Friend Andre

The trail is a very different place than ordinary life and as I have mentioned before, you quite unexpectedly become friends with people you would never know otherwise. After our last trip, we stayed in touch with Popeye, following his exploits online, as he tried to flip-flop the whole AT in one year. His daughter eventually joined him on the trail and they hiked for a month together. Just imagine a whole month spending all day and night backpacking with one of your kids. You'd know a lot more than you know now for sure.
We contacted Popeye to let him know that we were back out in the woods and were thinking of him. Unfortunately, he had slipped on a log and hurt his back enough to land in a hospital for a long time. I asked him about recovery and he said that they still had him in a walker...and that was something I never thought of, getting incapacitated while hiking. That is something very easy to do, and I was extra careful after getting that news.

Our very first day on the trail, we met a new friend and he hiked with Paul and I for half of the trip. Andre is a young guy, that decided to leave his job that wasn't going where he wanted and headed out on the trail. His goal was to hike from the halfway mark in Pennsylvania to the end in North Georgia and then do the rest next year. He was eager, but green. He had some good and some not-so-good gear. I think he threw away his Walmart tent within the first few days of his hike. We didn't laugh because Paul had once done the same thing. It's difficult to choke down a $300 price tag for a little bitty pup tent, when you can go to Walmart and get a nice comfy 4 person tent for $50....but that is 1 pound versus 12 pounds...that may not matter so much carrying it to the trunk of your car, but carrying it up a mountain is something else entirely.

Andre's presence worked to my advantage. Paul had all day every day to tell Andre about the in's and out's of backpacking and Paul's common call "Right?" would elicit Andre's response  "Right!", while my frog-croak voice was trying to heal. I probably spent more silent time on that hike than in the last 3 years of my life. I started hanging farther back, and pretty soon I could only hear a soft buzzing of Paul's animated conversation ahead and then started seeing animals in the woods. A deer occasionally, giving me that "What, you've never seen a deer in the woods before?" look, and a few squirrels and birds coming back out of hiding. I realized that they were probably sick of hearing about backpacking gear and politics. I did look behind me once in a while, because that is what the stupid person in the back of a single file line never does in horror movies. Yeah, if there was a bear or monster behind me, I was going to at least have enough time to scream as loud a croak as I could manage.

Andre had great stories from his life as well and I started thinking about how brave this guy was to go off alone and try to make this trek. His parents were behind him, although, like me, they probably worried about him. The good news is that these days, you could stay in touch most of the time. He had a website, and was streaming his adventure while his friends back home were cheering him on. He had a little bit of extra weight and was hoping to come to the end of the journey as a fit athlete...probably more like a skinny guy with a big beard is what I was thinking. I did notice that Andre had a knack for making friends, so I figured he would find a trail family that was heading to the same spot and they'd watch out for him.

Paul gave him really good advice about pack weight and nutrition, and Paul is a good person to learn this from. He is the guy that starting filling his pack with stuff from his vending machines and now agonizes over the content of protein bars, making absolutely sure that there are no ingredients that should not be there...from the guy that used to eat Poptarts for breakfast! The thing to know is that Paul had no lofty, organic better intentions. He just found that something in the preservatives was making him sick, and when he starting being very careful what he ate, he felt much better.

That sounds awesome until you go somewhere to eat with Paul and he wants the examine the menu for a while.....for example, "Let's go to McDonald's, I can eat the biscuit there, as long as there is no grease, and they changed gloves before they made it.."
Me? I'd just stay away from McDonald's and not worry about what somebody might do to my food if they started thinking I was too persnickety.

However, Andre appreciated all of this and quickly was learning from Paul about how to be a foodie...

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Maryland Rocks: Part 3 - Runners On The Battlefield

We must have been the luckiest guys in the world...almost. From what the locals told us about the weather in the mountains this summer, we picked the single week when the weather wasn't terrible. In fact, the whole time we were on the hike, the only rain happened while we were laying in our sleeping bags in a shelter. The first night, after the dragstrip closed it's track for the evening, and the snoring/dog barks had become an integral part of my life, it started to rain. Rain on a tin roof is loud, but peaceful and did a lot to mitigate the other noises that I thought were keeping me awake, and then about, I'm sure it was 3:30am, something more happened..
Four people came rushing into the shelter, headlights on full, asking if we minded if they lay down for a minute. I distinctly remember a girl with a folding pad, collapsing in one movement onto the little bit of real estate that I had considered the right amount of distance to keep between me and a stranger. There was a lot of talking, lights in my eyes and movement, but I must have fallen asleep in spite of that, because the next thing I know, she was getting up and they were off back into the rain. I thought, "This is another one of those mysteries I will never figure out, like crop circles, and why Paul is such a picky eater." But, I did find out why, no, not about Paul, but about the short break and back into the rain for the hikers. 

The next day, we got up early, and danced around, trying to get warm, and quite happy that all of our stuff was dry, while the ladies nearby, that had smartly decided a wet tent was preferable to loud snoring guys, stuffed all of their wet gear into their backpacks. We were heading up to see the Washington Monument, which I had pictured as a large peak where you could spot the real monument in Washington, DC off in the distance, but this was a local tower, with a parking lot nearby and loads of tourists, enjoying one of the apparently few days of sunshine lately. The group of about 50 people milling about were all Asian, and the first thing I noticed was that for bus riders, they had some incredible backpacking gear. We were all about the crowd, getting looks as if we were 'pros' at backpacking, or merely homeless people. I was pretty sure that after only one day on the trail and it being so cold, that we didn't smell...yet. was about this time that I began to understand about the 3:30 people in our shelter. I started seeing very fit-looking folks with very small backpacks, jogging by us on the trail, the difference between a semi-truck and a Corvette immediately came to mind. A local explained to me that there was a challenge that weekend: 50 miles on the AT in 24 hours. To help you understand the difference here, we were planning to 70 miles in a week, and I was feeling really good about that. Paul told me that it didn't really mean they were better than us, "They get to eat real food, and sleep in real beds, they don't have what it takes to rough it in the wild!" I watched another 40 something guy go dancing up a hill that had me on all fours. "Yeah, they don't know what hardcore is, do they?", I grimaced and pulled out a smashed up protein bar for lunch.

The Washington Monument wasn't the only tourist item of the day. We came to a Civil War battlefield where large armies had faced each other and just started firing their rifles. Over 6,000 men died there in one day. I was thinking, how could brothers do that to each other? We were in the beautiful woods, far away from politics, the city life, all of it. Then Paul started talking about Trump, and those lousy South Americans that were being paid by the dirty democrats to walk up to the border.....oh yeah, I could see how it happened....

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Maryland Rocks: Part 2- finding the loud

There are some things about backpacking that I could not seem to learn from books, but everybody of those is, beware shelters and campsites that are anywhere near a parking lot. What I mean here is that the campsites are usually spaced somewhere around 8 miles apart on the trail, the idea being, the ATC (the people that maintain the trail), figure you might need a place to sleep soon, and they'd rather you do it in a designated place, rather than creating another spot in the woods. The advantage is, that you will meet other hikers and perhaps not need to set up a tent. There would be an outhouse nearby and usually a good place to hang your food in other to make it difficult for animals to have a feast while you are sleeping.
When the shelter happens to be within a mile of a parking lot, which is usually a place where people can park and go hiking, this puts the shelter within reach of the recreational campers...which usually means 4-5 guys with a cooler of beer, hoping to have a big fire and a good time. 

As it turned out, the states we passed through on this hike thought it was a wonderful idea to have all of their shelters within easy reach of the parking lots and the locals were experiencing their first week of cool weather without rain. So....our very first night was a party, and by party, I mean the people camping near us had a party that lasted all night while everybody else but me was snoring. 

Now, there is snoring that is like a buzzing saw and I can get used to that, but this was more like somebody was strangling a horse, and did I mention there was a dog as well? Yes, our neighbors had a dog that looked like it was as fierce as any pitbull, but was pretty fearful of us and the women that were camping nearby as well. There would be the sound of an acorn dropping on the tin roof of the shelter and the dog would bark for  5 minutes after. It seemed like the snoring stopped while the dog barked. As least I was not worried about animals bothering us. At one point in the night, I had a vision of a bear walking up to the shelter with his paws over his ears, growling at me until I prodded the guy next to me to roll over onto his side.

Not only was there a loud inconsistent snoring and a dog, there was another loud snoring person on the other side, and I kept hoping for a cancellation effect, but it never happened. Instead, things got are probably wondering, what else could there be? We had a bunch of guys drinking around a campfire, Christmas lights strung all around their campsite and every once in a while, I could almost make out part of the conversation, like one word out of five or something. Snoring like I've never heard before in my life, and it was 11:30 at night. I was beginning to think sleep was never going to come, and it was so cold that only my nose was sticking out of my sleeping bag.
It was then that a sound I had noticed before in the background started coming into focus. At first I thought it was somebody way down the mountain riding a motorcycle and racing around the countryside, but it just kept going on and on. Finally, I recognized the pattern in the sound and couldn't believe it. Here I was, far from the loud city noises of home, the trains, the cars, the sirens, and where did I decide to spend my first night? Just up the mountain from the local dragstrip.
Yessir, I started paying more attention to the burnouts, checking how many seconds the engines ran up to 20,000 rpm and wondering if this was just time trials, or were they going to pit two cars against each other. I don't know what time the event was over, because I think I actually slept for a minute or two that night. I can still remember the point where I realized the partiers had gone to sleep and the racetrack had closed down for the evening and all I had to was listen to stereo was good.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Maryland Rocks: Part 1 - The Search for Sleep

A last minute trip with split second timing. Could it be done? This time Paul had me do the planning for a 7 day, 70 mile backpacking trip in the mountains of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Thus, two Perkins brothers decided to head back out to the trail,  since Florida seemed to have decided that summer had been extended to cover the rest of October.
We found a week of time when no hurricane was threatening either Florida or the part of the Appalachian Trail that we wanted to hike and bought last minute tickets to Hagerstown, Maryland.
This was to be an easy hike through the woods of three different states, with a few opportunities to go into nice little towns and resupply.
The Sanford Airport, which was usually our go-to, sleepy town takeoff spot, decided to go hardcore with the Homeland Security screening process and it ended up being almost as bad as the big airport we wanted to avoid.
We ended up leaving on time and had a peaceful flight to a little runway in Maryland, only to find that our shuttle driver was not there. A quick call produced "Oh, you mean you are coming this Friday?". I replied, "No, I mean we are on the ground, at the airport waiting for you right now." She said that she was leaving  right away and would be there in 30 minutes. Paul was already wondering if he should not have given up the planning job to a person that did not have a detail-oriented brain. Our ride finally showed up an hour later and we immediately got lost trying to find the trailhead. She didn't mind, as we were paying by the mile. About $45 later, we were standing in the woods, watching our ride go off in a cloud of dust. Feeling good, we marched into the cold Maryland wilderness. I was dealing with a cold and didn't have much of a voice, but aside from that I was feeling strong. Paul was at his best and was excited about his new gear. His pack was only 22 pounds and full of really healthy food. The trail was nice and easy, and the air felt great after escaping the Florida hot and humid soup. Behind us was 95 degree heat, Red Tide at the beaches, and crowds of grumpy people everywhere. We were leaving behind the rat race, politics, and the news in general.
Adventure lay ahead. The characters of the trail and the opportunity to sleep outside under the stars in the brisk mountain air was exciting. We were experienced backpackers, but nothing in our memory helped us with the very first night on the trail of Maryland......

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Bugged Out In Virginia: Part 13 - In Which We Do The Unthinkable

I have found that we really do need to get out into the world and see things for ourselves. Sometimes the things we are sure of, well they just don't match up with what's out there.
Here we were, riding in a shuttle bus, flying along much faster than I felt good about, on snaking gravel country roads, while our hostess, casually drifted through turns that had me looking in earnest for something like a seatbelt. Paul was in his element, asking her about the logistics of running a campground out in the middle of nowhere. She found a kindred spirit and soon they were going into great detail about the best places to get large supplies of soft drinks for the best price, and what kind of candy bars really appealed to the backpackers that came into her store.
It turned out that she owned a really nice little place, and everybody in her family had a job there. Grandma came up to welcome me as I entered the store, me doing my best not to smell like a homeless person and failing, while she pretended not to notice. The daughter and son were off on different errands and taking orders for the grill in the back of the campground general store. Even while grandma was welcoming me, I was paying more attention to the other campers that were walking away from the counter, with cheeseburgers, fries and milkshakes. I don't think that I salivated enough that grandma could tell, but I'm not sure.

The owner seemed more like someone that would be head of a Cub Scout den than the owner of a campground, and sure enough, when we got the backstory, they left the big city to come run this place, and it looked like she could do it. The big surprise I got later, was the old guy riding around on a tractor, was her husband and she said he was good for doing odd jobs, but there was absolutely no question that she was the entrepreneur in the family. At some point she had Paul go check out some old coke machine that she was trying to fix, and he seemed excited about it, but it turned out it was junk. She had been on ebay looking for a key and doing research, how she had time, I cannot fathom.

It was finally my turn to eat and it was the best tasting food I'd had in a long time. When it was all gone, I sat back and felt glad that I was here instead of out on the trail in the rain. It was then that the bad feeling started in my stomach. Food poisoning was on my mind, although thinking back, it was probably too much, too soon after the hiking. For the next two hours, I hiked the campground in the rain, knowing for sure that if I lay down for a moment, I'd get sick. My exact feeling was that I was postponing the vomiting as far into the future as possible, but by some miracle, I was able to walk it off.
I went back into the store, and the owner said "Hey, there is an extra bunk in your cabin, and we had another hiker come in and he'll stay with you...he said you wouldn't mind." I turned around and there was Popeye!
It rained some more, and by the next day, I was ready for some home cooking and got one of the best breakfasts ever....and our Campground owner was also the cook. I didn't see much of her husband. I'm guessing with that 100 mph wife, the only safe place for a guy that didn't want to work as hard as she did, was out of sight.

We had a good time, hearing more stories from Popeye and meeting some of the other folks in the campground, but it finally became apparent that the rain wasn't going to end. Even Popeye was thinking of something else to do to avoid getting back out in the wet and the bugs. We finally decided that an early plane ticket home wasn't much more than the cost of a hotel room, so we got tickets and came home early. Paul was eager to get back home to tend to his business and I was beginning to wonder who's idea this was anyway...but I knew there would be a next time...

If there is a best thing about all of this, it is the cool people you meet. Charlie (Popeye) stayed in touch via email, telling us of his travels while doing his through hike. His college-age daughter joined him and hiked with him for month, leaving him with memories that will last him forever. Hopefully, we will soon learn if Popeye managed to complete the whole hike in a year as he planned. Me? I'll be happy to just go spend some more time in the woods, when the bugs are gone and the rain is light.