Appalachian Trail  Mile 469.2; Damascus, VA

Monday, June 5, 2017 (Day 33)

I am buried in my sleeping bag. Head covered both to send the message that I don’t wish to be spoken to (it is late, nearly midnight), and to be in relative darkness. I am cowboy camping on the porch of The Broken-Fiddle Hostel in Damascus, VA. I am able to cowboy camp here and shower for a small donation, which definitely beats paying $25 for a bunk. The porch is popular, however, and well lit. Sound sleep is not a certainty–not until very late at least. That’s fine. I have become a rather adaptable human. I can pretty much sleep anywhere. Also, I have honestly enjoyed the company of the more locally based hikers who also took rest on the porch or on a recliner or in the yard. Many of them had frequented the Virginia Creeper Trail, some living on it for years at a time.

The Appalachian Trail leads right through Damascus. Where I am now is technically just off trail. When I arrived I confirmed that I could sleep at the hostel for $5 or less, dropped my pack, and walked the mile to Food City to resupply. I took the Virginia Creeper Trail for part of the walk. Cyclists whizzed past me without warning. I cut up a side trail to my left that led to the grocery store parking lot.

My resupply strategy continually changed as I paced the aisles and mulled over the mileage to, and offerings of the coming towns– as well as the strategies of other hikers I spoke to. There’s not much in some of these towns. I settled on Bland, VA. It is 120 miles out and has a proper grocery store. In half that distance there is a town with a Wal-Mart. Three days, however, seems to soon. Also, the more I avoid towns the more time and money I will save. That’s the plan at least.

When I left the store the rain had come. Not in pulses this time, but overflowing continuous buckets of rain. Oh no. I was not prepared. I would be terribly soaked if I walked back in this, cumbersome bags of groceries in hand.

I saw a lady who was waiting for her husband to pull up the car. “You don’t happen to be heading in this direction?”, I asked, motioning to my left. No. They were going the other way. Just then, the grocery store chef exited the store. Having overheard the coversation, he offered me a ride. We hurried in to his old soft-top Camero.  “Tea-time is over”, he said as he poured the remainder of his Arizona Iced Tea out the door. “Now it’s time to fool the police”. He cracked open a beer and poured it into the empty tea can, spilling on his pants in the process. He took a sip, and we were off. He pulled up as close to the hostel as he could manage. I thanked him kindly and ran for my spot on the porch, groceries in hand.

My new friend, Glenwood from Maine, offered me beer (in a solo cup as mandated by Damascus law), and fresh basil from the local farmers market. He was curious about my resupply strategy, and well, trail strategies in general. We spoke as I repackaged my food.

I made myself a sandwich with avacado, mushrooms, lettuce, tomato, and tofu. I socialized a bit more with the waves of people that came and left the porch. My eyes grew heavy. I had had enough. I buried myself in my bag.

Appalachian Trail Mile 457.4; Queens Knob Shelter

Sunday, June 4, 2017 (Day 32)

I had a late start. I made my coffee a double, and went on my way.

While collecting from a spring 50 yards east of the trail I heard some rustling. I glanced up in time to see what I believe was a large hawk take off into the sky, prey in talons. It was beautiful.

I was running very low on food and energy. At a gap I spoke to two hikers who were hitching in to town to avoid the coming thunderstorm. “We are really excited about it” they said in regards to the storm. It took me a moment to register their sarcasm. Thunderstorms, though often wet, are in fact exciting.

Since they were heading in to town they offered me food and, as a byproduct: new found motivation. The trail provides.

Just after the gap I passed through beautiful pastures, then over a fence and back to the woods. Going from pasture to forest so abruptly made me realize, that though beautiful, deforestation had to occur. I thought of the impact of the dairy and meat industries on our forests.

Hearing about the storm made me consider my camping options for the night. There was a shelter roughly 20 miles from where I last slept.  My guide says the following about said shelter: “Pass by the decrepit Queens Knob Shelter, which is not maintained as a proper Appalachian Trail Shelter. The lean-to should only be used in case of emergency, and even then it would be best to push on to Abingdon Gap Shelter to the North.”

I was intrigued.

At around 5 pm it began raining, then let up again. At around a quarter to eight I arrived at the shelter. It was small and vacant. It looked fine to me. There was just enough room for one. Two, if you didn’t mind getting a cozy. A little shelter in the woods to myself in a rainstorm sounded just fine to me. Though there was still daylight to be had, I decided to call it a night.

 

Appalachian Trail Mile 381.8 

Monday, May 31, 2017 (Day 28)

The day began with a surprising encounter. I followed a bend in the trail that brought me face to face with someone I knew from the PCT.

While in Northern California last year, the string connecting my tent poles had snapped broken as I hurriedly attempted to pitch it in the wee hours of the morning. I  had awoken to drops on my face–the first rain in months. I resigned to wrapping myself beneath the rainfly for cover. After the sky brightened I went to fetch water from a nearby spring before packing up. I met him there, collecting water. The subject of the rain and my tent arose and he offered to help me fix it. He assisted me in tying the strings back together. We chatted briefly. I was doing 25 miles a day at that point. He was not. I never saw him again…until I turn the corner of the AT a year later and there he is, heading South. I could not believe it. The trail is so strange and powerful and all-knowing. It has its own way of speaking to you, you just have to listen. The world is simultaneously large and small, especially if you reach far to its corners and move with the wind. We exchanged contact information. I hope we stay in touch.

I entered the Roan Highlands in the Cherokee-Pisgah National Forest. How glorious, these Highlands! Roan Mountain itself  was a difficult climb, steep and long. The views were not terribly rewarding. The fragrance of the pines near the top, however, was magnificent. According to a US Forest Service bulletin: “The dark cool Red spruce and Fraser fir communities found on Roan Mountain are among the rarest ecosystems in the world. These relic forests survive because of the cold, wet conditions found on high elevation peaks like Roan Mountain. These forests support many unique species including the federally endangered Carolina Flying Squirrel and Spruce-fir Moss Spider, as well as remarkable bird species like the Southern Appalachian Saw-whet owl.”

After descending Roan Mountain, the trail crosses a road and leads to the top of three different balds. All grassy and beautiful and rolling with stunning 360 degree views. “Roan Mountain boasts one of the largest expansions of grassy and shrub balds on earth. The grass balds found here are relics of the last Ice Age. In the past these openings have been maintained through grazing by natural herbivores (elk, bison, deer, etc.) and by livestock. In recent years they have been kept open using both grazing and mowing.”

I saw two brides while ascending the first bald. They were taking wedding portraits. The first bride was with her groom and two dogs. The second bride was further up the mountain. She had on a long flowing gown and a sparkly head band. She had removed her shoes to better position herself on the rock that extended over a remarkable view. I stopped and stood beside her. She faced the camera, I faced the rolling hills that extended far into the distance. I thought of how different our lives must be. I thought to say “congratulations”, but hesitated, and then it would have been unnatural. As I continued on the  photographer smiled and said “the things we’ll do for a wedding portrait”. You mean, climb a mountain? , I thought.

Maybe we weren’t so different after all. We were both driven out here by love.

Appalachian Trail Mile 437.1

Saturday, June 3, 2017 (Day 31)

I noticed that coffee had in fact been made and partially consumed last night. The donation box had been left ajar. I deposited what dollars and cents I had with a written note of gratitude, tidied up, and headed back to the trail at around 7:45 AM.

The trail followed the Laurel Fork River passed a waterfall. It soon left the river to begin a long ascent. On the other side of the mountain I came Watauga Lake. Many other people came to the lake as well, as it was a warm Saturday. People sunbathed and socialized and swam. A giant rubber-ducky inner tube floated near shore, making the lake take on an aspect of a giant communal bathtub. I felt as if I was passing through a place of parallel existence. There was a sad amount of littering. I did not linger.

I passed many butterflies. Wings closed, they appeared as delicate off-white leaves. They scattered as I passed, revealing their pale blue-hued wing tops. One separated from the group and lead me up the trail for a bit. The flight pattern was sporatic, as if motor skills were impaired. I cannot fly myself, however, so who am I to judge. I enjoyed the company.

The sun set a bright orange and hot pink through the trees to the west. A gentle pink and pastel blue painted the rolling mountains to the east.

Appalachian Trail Mile 477.3

Tuesday, June 6, 2017 (Day 34)

It was past 7 pm before I headed out of town. I sat at a coffee shop utilizing the wifi and watching the flow of hikers that came in and out. The ones I knew and had a repor with joined me at my table and we chatted a bit. I enjoyed the town and it’s people.

I finally set out for what was to be a night hike.

The Appalachian Trail and the Virginia Creeper Trail (a local trail that runs through Damascus) merge for a brief period.

According to the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation: “The Virginia Carolina Railway which is now the Virginia Creeper Trail was originally built to haul timber cut from what is now Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. It is estimated that between 1907 and 1930 approximately 15 million board feet of lumber were removed in a typical year. In 1912 National Lumber Magazine reported that Washington County, Virginia produced more lumber than any county in the United States and more than the entire state of Pennsylvania. The forest, unlike mineral resources, is renewable. As the once clear-cut forest regenerated into a mature woodland, it’s recreation potential was recognized. The rail-bed which was the means of removing huge amounts of wealth from the forest is now returning ecotourism dollars to the region. The economy of Damascus was severely hurt when several factories closed during the 1960s. Tourism related business based on the popularity of the Virginia Creeper Trail, have played an important role in the towns economic recovery. Today the 17-mile portion of the Mount Rogers Recreation Area are jointly owned by the towns of Abingdon and Damascus. The US Forest Service manages the balance of trail between Damascus and the North Carolina state line.”

I did not plan to go far. Every time I passed a campsite, however, it either didn’t feel quite right, or was occupied.

Once I reached the Creeper Trail trailhead I smelled many campfires. At one point I heard a female voice say in the darkness “You thru-hiking? You need a place to camp? You can camp with me if you want.” I kindly told her that I planned to head on, just got a bit turned around in the dark was all. I had the feeling she might be living on the trail. Maybe she was lonely.

I continued on. The trail began to climb–switchback after switchback along a ridgeline. No place to camp in sight. Finally I came to a spot flat enough to camp. After only 7 miles it was nearing midnight. At least I was back on the trail. I was happy to call it a night.

Appalachian Trail Mile 513.2

Thursday, June 8, 2017 (Day 36)

Today was glorious! I passed through many stony corridors of green and pink. The rhodedendrons are in bloom. It was like walking through little secret passageways to another world. Each time there was a bend in the trail and the walls of foliage fell away, stunning views of rolling mountains and clear sky extended far into the distance like soft waves of green and blue.

I spotted some ponies and colts! The ponies within Grayson Highlands State Park and the adjoining Mount Rogers Recreational Area are managed by the Wilbur Ridge Pony Association. The Forest Service began buying land for the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area in the late 1960s. Land managers soon discovered that when left unattended, the open high country re-seeds and begins to fill with trees and shrubs. That’s where the ponies come in. The ponies graze the high country and keep the land open for scenic and recreational ises. The ponies are hardy enough to survive the harsh winter. Each year the ponies are rounded up and checked to ensure good health. Ponies are sold, when needed, to manage herd size.

As I entered Jefferson National Forest, I learned the history of the landscape. The first pioneers to the area found much of the land thick with virgin forests, except for the “bald” areas on top of White Top and Elk Garden. Soon the commercial value of tumber was recognized, and thus logging began. With all the open areas available after logging, farmers soon moved in.  The lands were used for grazing livestock.  The farmers used fire to maintain the land for grazing. Farmers grazing cattle in the region used the mountainous area as a place to gather, weigh, and sell their cattle. They had quickly learned that the cattle weighed less after walking down the mountain. The animals brought the best price with their “high country” weight. Over time, this high country exchange became known as “The Scales”.

A little bit of rain came in the afternoon as I was gathering water just off trail. It did not last. I hiked into the night and came to a campsite hugged by a stream, thickly lined by bushes of rhododendrons. I could see the light of the moon. I did not expect it to rain in the night. I believe I was visited by a mouse. I seem to encounter them most often when I am camping immediately beside water.

Appalachian Trail Mile 493.1

Wednesday, June 7, 2017 (Day 35)

The clouds looked heavy today. I passed a clearing with views on the side of White Top Mountain. In the distance I could clearly see each ray of light that was not absorbed in the grey of the horizon. It was beautiful.

My feet are not satisfyingly sore. I did not travel far. Word on the trail is that ponies graze the Grayson Highlands. I hope to see them tomorrow.

I am now .10 of a mile shy of a parking lot and meadow and pasture. I can hear the cows. Their mooimg is loud, almost angry. There are people below, near the parking lot. They are chatting. They are nearly as loud as the cows. I am cowboy camping, but have selected a spot where I can easily set up my tent, should the rain come in the night.

Appalachian Trail Mile 538.3

Friday, June 9, 2017 (Day 37)

Today I passed pastures and cows and large streams.

I learned that streams are often classified as being freestone or limestone. Freestone streams have a bottom composed of round stones that move during floods, while limestone streams have bottoms of solid rock ledges. Most of Virginia’s streams are a combination of the two.

I came to the Mount Rogers National Recrational Area headquarters and visitor center. They had closed hours ago. The bathrooms were locked, vending machines were not accessible, there were no electrical outlets. There was a phone mounted to a wall, however, along with a lists of numbers for lodging and pizza delivery. I tried calling out to California. No luck. Must be for local numbers only.

I crossed the road and started to climb the next mountain in line. The sun was setting. I stopped at a campsite and made some coffee. I could still see the road clearly. The moon was clearer, still. I hiked until nearly 3 am before squeezing myself in to the flat spot of a viewpoint free of the dense brush of the surrounding ridgeline.

It will make for a beautiful sunrise.

Appalachian Trail Mile 544.0; Atkins, VA

Saturday, June 10, 2017 (Day 38)

I rose and left the viewpoint by 8 am. I was certainly occupying the space by camping there, and didn’t want to deter any other hikers from enjoying it due to my presence. Shrouded in sleepiness,  I stopped at the shelter just under 2 miles out and made myself some coffee.

I was just packing up when a hiker I had met in Damascus stopped in. We decided to get (yes, more) coffee at the gas station that was coming up in 5 miles, in the small town of Atkins, VA. We spoke of identification of wild foods, hiking paces, and pack weight as we hiked.

Soon we came to an old school house built in the 1800s. Other hikers, and trail magic provided by the local church were inside. There were clear plastic boxes of sodas and fruit and crackers and on the wall were odd lists if 19th century school ground punishments that could be purchased for $1.

Now there where four of us that pressed on to Atkins as a group. We ate together at a Mexican food restaurant attached to an Exxon gas station. It was my first dining experience of the trail. It was very good. Then there was the sitting in front of the neighboring gas station. The sitting led to a more extended sitting…and chatting, and repackaging of overly packaged goods. The hiker company was lovely, yet very present and very distracting. Soon it was 10 pm and I had done nothing but sit and chat. The rest of the hiker crowd had cleared out. I stayed the night. I got caught in the “vortex” as hikers often refer to it, in the most unlikey of places. A truck stop in Atkins, VA.

 Appalachian Trail Mile 557.6

Sunday, June 11, 2017 (Day 39)

The departure from Atkins was slow-going. By 4pm, however, I was on my way.

There were many pastures and many cows. The sky was so clear and the lightning bugs many. I could see the moon and stars; brilliantly back-lit cut-outs from the night sky. At one point, following the trail through tall golden grasses, I glanced up to see at least 40 glowing eyes. No more than ten feet from the trail, 20 pairs of cow eyes–widened in obvious fear–had their gaze fixed to my headlamp. Their stocky bodies appeared especially large in the moonlight. I could sense their fear. I was a bit nervous, as well. I did not know what a frightened cow might be capable of. As I slowly followed the trail, which led to an arms reach from the nearest cow, they backed away quickly. They began to run, all of them as a group. Their hooves beat the ground in loud thuds. I could feel the vibrations as they moved, eyes aglow. It was a terrifically entertaining  spectacle.

I night hiked for a bit longer. I did not really have a choice in the matter. There were not many places to camp, and there were signs requesting that hikers stick to the trail as it wound through the privately owned pastures. The cows had done their businesses all up and down the trail, and all of the water sources in the area were not very suitable for drinking. I came to a site at the end of a pasture on the other side of a foot bridge. The site was very full, and the stream unappealing. It was just before a climb. I continued on. Just over 2 miles later, I reached the top . It was flat, and about 50 ft into the woods was the perfect place to lay my head for the night. I was happy.

It feels so nice to be back on the trail.

Appalachian Trail Mile 581.0

Monday, June 12, 2017 (Day 40)

I am sleeping atop a bed of dead leaves tonight. Many things live in these leaves. I can hear tiny bits of movement all around me.

My goal was to make it to Laurel Creek. It is a large creek with a foot bridge and many places to camp. Enroute, my headlamp grew dim and I allowed myself to scan the area for potential sites; there were not many. I decided that I could stop at the next relatively flat space. A bed of leaves is not favorable, but it was flat and clear of plant life.

I had my lunch at a pond this afternoon. I gathered water from the spring that feeds it. The pond creatures are different and intriguing. One was quite vocal. I am not sure what it was. It sounded as I imagine the singing offspring of a frog and a duck might sound.  Many of them sang together. The song grew louder and more peculiar with time. I enjoyed listening the pond life. The climb to get there was a challenge.

This region is relatively dry. I did not leave the pond with much water. I was looking to collect from three different sources over a span of just over 8 miles–all dry. I have been somewhat selective. If I don’t feel like it is greatest source, I might decide to delay collection until I came to the next. I am learning that there may not always be a “next”. I eventually collected water at Hunting Camp Creek. The creek was pleasant, and there was a nice place to sit. It was dusk. I watched the many fireflies, and a little worm that looked so impressively like a stick.

I crose paths with multiple deer today. One was a lone fawn. I startled it and it went running off alongside the trail, tripping over its own inexperienced limbs as he hurried. It was quite charming. The other deer was older. It was apprehensive, but not afraid.

Appalachian Trail a mile 623.8

Wednesday, June 14, 2017 (Day 42)

As I packed up this morning I noticed that I was sharing my tent with many spiders. I guided out to safety the one that I could. The others, unfortunately got rolled up in my tent. I was late to rise already, I did not have the time to fuss with them. At least that is what I told myself. I think in reality I am still conditioned to be slightly fearful of arachnids that exceeded a certain size threshold; at least to the point of not wanting to grab them with my hands.

Though I did not need to, I walked the .5 mile west of the trail on VA 606 to Trent’s Grocery. I was curious. It was your run of the mill gas station and deli near a lumber yard. I got a hot coffee and chatted with a hiker and the employees. They were very friendly. They talked of the large crowds of hikers that came through. They were not a fan of the party crowd that would buy large packs of beer and drink not far from the store. They asked if I had heard of the “24 Challenge”. This is when a hiker attempts to drink 24 beers and hike 24 miles within 24 hours; unfortunately, I had. They said there was a fairly large group a couple of days ahead. A fellow hiker mentioned that there was a well hydrated group stumbling behind us as well.

I made it back to the trail and stopped by a stream 5 miles out. With an 11 am start, I would most certainly be night hiking.

As I passed the Wapiti Shelter, a lady called out to me. She wanted to know if I had water. She suggested I collected water there, as it was a dry and rocky climb that I was approaching. She said she had just come from that direction. I heeded her warning and filled up. As I continued, I did pass a stream that was flowing well, but further up, despite the recent rains, all the springs were dry.

I reached a view point at the top of the climb just as the sun was setting. It was stunning. The clouds in the distance suggested rain.

Oh boy, did it rain. Just after 9 pm it came down in torrents. I hesitated to remove my pack and put on my rain gear. In that brief moments hesitation, it became too late–I was drenched. It started raining harder. My pants were plastered to my legs and the beam of my headlamp was fractured in the heavy rain. My visibility was greatly impaired. Removing my glasses helped, but not enough to see the listed campsite just two miles out that I must have passed. After about 20 minutes the rain stopped. I was already soaking wet, I decided that I may as well keep going to make it worth it. At least it was warm.

I stopped at a forest service road crossing to change out if my wet clothes, drink some coffee, and rally up some self-motivation. The clouds dissapated and revealed the shining starlight. The fireflies danced. I heard an animal in the distance. Its yells were loud and painful, like it was in a fight or suffering attack. It sounded large and unfamiliar. I glanced at my trekking poles; they give me a sense of security.

Sugar Run Road was only two miles away. There would surely be a flat place to sleep, and it was only 11 miles or so to Pearisburg from there. It was a steep and rocky descent. I moved slowly to ensure solid footing; at times opting for roots and rocks rather than trekking poles to stable myself. When I arrived I could see a campsite just after the road. There were two tents and a hammock there. I did not wish to start another climb so late. I trusted that the rain would not come, and I liked the idea of sleeping beneath the stars free of tree cover. I positioned myself as far from the center of the road as possible, and propped my trekking poles up forming a large “x” behind my head. I did this to deter any running over of my body by an unsuspecting vehicle. The chances were slim, but it made me feel better none the less. I gazed at the stars peacefully, and drifted in to sleep.

Appalachian Trail Mile 603.0

Tuesday, June 13, 2017 (Day 41)

Drops of water fall from the sky. I am not sure if it is residual rain from the trees, or if it is actively raining. It is nearly 11 pm. I don’t want to set up my tent. I think it may be raining. Darn it. I’ll set it up.

…there was rain this morning. Loud snaps and whirls of thunder, and sharp yet faint flashes of lightning. I thought of Bland, VA. A land so near and full of beds and showers. I hurried on. I passed the tent of someone who chose to take cover. I passed a dead snake on the trail.

I then passed some men standing by some pick-up trucks. They told me to be cautious, as construction was under way in the area. They also told me that there was a brand new little shop that opened up right alongside the trail. How lovely!

I sat inside the little shop and took cover from the rain and ate a sandwich while charging my things and chatting with another hiker.
It was mid-afternoon when I continued on. The trail followed the road and along a freeway overpass. I followed the blazes and arrows made of stones to find my way. Where the trail reentered the woods there were many tents and hammocks and the surrounding area was littered with wrappers and empty soda cans. I wondered if the occupants were hikers, or people that lived there.

I had to collect water from a side trail near a shelter. It was the only drinkable water for about 10 miles. It was a mile round trip for collection, and was very steep in parts. Shortly after getting back on the trail I was passed by a hiker carrying nothing but trekking poles and a large fanny-pack. He said he was thru-hiking and that he was going about 30 miles a day. He had a friend with a van assisting him. His friend met him at road crossings, and inside the van were two beds–one of which he slept in each night. He mentioned that if I saw him at the crossing in five miles, that he had some trail magic. This was motivating. I came to the road crossing not long before sun down. Two hikers whose company I very much enjoy were there, sitting in foldable chairs drinking soda and snacking on chocolates. I joined the group and we all sat and chatted for a bit.

It was nearing 9 pm when I began hiking again. I wanted to at least make it passed the next shelter. I made it about one mile passed the shelter and chose to call it a night.

Appalachian Trail Mile 635.4; Pearisburg, VA

Thursday, June 15, 3017 (Day 43)

I rose early and made it in to town by the afternoon. It was just under a mile walk from where the trail meets Cross Avenue to get in to Pearisburg, VA. As I walked down the hill and watched the town come into view, I was charmed.

There is something very special about this mountain town.

I resupplied at Food Lion, and found my way to Angel’s Rest Hostel. I was able to pay for a day pass that included laundry and shower and kitchen and internet use for $5. The pass was good until 10 pm. The staff was extremely kind, as well as the other hikers that had posted up there.

It rained heavily in the early evening and then cleared up again. As it neared the 10 o’clock hour, hikers and staff alike began to jest. They said that I was not really going to hike out, offering me beverages of inebriation. I kindly declined.

At around 11 pm, I hiked out. I trusted my instincts to lead me back to the trail head. I had taken a wrong turn when originally arriving in town, so I did not have a clear-cut route back in mind. Also, the unfamiliar becomes even less familiar under the cover of night.

I was very pleased with myself. I made it back smoothly, confidence growing with each landmark I was able to recall.

The trail was wet and smooth and steep leading to the Pearis Cemetary. I fell twice.

When I came to the parking area, I decided that I did not care to move further; at least I had made it back on trail. I positioned my mat on the gravel just off of VA Route 100, and slept.

Appalachian Trail Mile 635.4

Friday, June 16, 2017 (Day 44)

I passed by the cemetary trail junction and began to cross a bridge over New River along US Route 46. I hesitated. I had rushed in to and back out of town in a hurry. I enjoyed Pearisburg, and it housed many resources that I would not have access to for over 150 miles (namely, a libray). I decided to do one of my least favorite things in existence: back-track. Thankfully, I had not travelled far…less than a mile.

I walked down VA Route 100 with plans of spending time in the library. I was not sure precisely where the library was, but I was not concerned. After waliking a short distance I began sticking out my thumb. It was not long before a sweet elderly couple picked me up and dropped me off at the library steps.

I spent much time there writing and reviewing photos and planning upcoming stretches of trail. As I was leaving, a lady in a pick-up truck offered me a ride and told me of a community picnic held by the Christ Episcopal Church. She mentioned that they even let hikers stay the night in the church basement. She dropped me off at the Pizza Hut where I ate unlimited salad and utilized even more wifi. I considered her invitation. Any opportunity to integrate in to the community is valuable.

I walked down to the little church. I received a very warm greeting. The picnic was just wrapping up, and they apologized for not having food left. I told them that I was mainly there to socialize, and to inquire about a place to sleep for the night. They told me I was very welcome. I was shown inside, dropped my pack, then came back out to sit on the benches and chat. I was told of how the church does its best to be involved with the community. They hold the picnics annually, and maintain a community garden where people of the town are able to come pick whatever they would like, free of charge. It was not long before everyone headed home. I was told to help myself to whatever I would like in the refrigerator, and to make myself comfortable. With that, I was left to my own devices.

I took a moment to walk the surrounding area of town. I took note of the murals and their themes.

One side of the church basement had shelves of toys and books and mats and a short wooden table. It was a place for Sunday School for children. The other half had a full kitchen and a bathroom and a small office and what appeared to be space for meetings.

I could not believe I had all this space and comfort for the night. I was touched by their kindness and hospitality. I unfolded a cushion and flipped through a book on Christian symbolism before drifting in to sleep.