>> December 19, 2007
Written by HeMan & DeTour - April 2002
Life is riddled with adversity through events that are meant to teach us and at the same time allow us to grow stronger in that when it strikes again we know how to face it. One of the most incredible facets that we have gained from our three years in the Peace Corps was how to handle adversity and how to control the rush of emotions that overwhelm us when events stray form the norm. Adverse events always seem to take place when least expected and out here on the trail the risk is increased and may strike at the most trying times. How we face these adverse events depends on the severity of the problem and how remote we may be at that time. Learning to gain knowledge and experience from these events helps us in continuing our journey without interruption and added stress.
Over the course of the past seventy-two days on the trail we have had to face certain situations that have arisen unexpectedly. Some have made us laugh, others have made us panic, while a few have made us furious and outraged. But, none have made us weaker in that thoughts of leaving the trail have not entered our minds. We have learned some very valuable lessons here in the field, ones that will stay with us for the remainder of our lives. Here are a few of the events that have taken place.
On April 9th we descended into the valley of Erwin, TN for a night at the Nolichucky Hostel. We were tired, wet, hungry and ready for a rest upon finding the hostel located only 60 feet from the AT. We had previously sent ourselves a box of re-supply food to the hostel so as not to spend money at the local grocery store for supplies. The owner at the hostel accepts packages for hikers and holds them until they arrive. Well, our package had not shown up so we were forced to buy food from the owner and the local grocery store. We had asked the owner to forward our package to Damascus and we would give him the six dollars for postage. He agreed and I proceeded to shop for our food in his store. I asked him for several things that were not on the shelves and he said that he might have some in the back. Now what I am about to speculate is not proven, it’s merely speculation, but a damn good one at that. I think and rumor has it that the owner, a trembling drunk have you, opens people’s packages and sells the items to other thru-hikers. Well, some of the items that he went into the back room for were very similar to the type meals that we had in our box. Needless to say, we did not receive our package in Damascus and when I called the owner to confront him, he quickly hung up the phone. I might also mention that I gave our fuel bottle to him to fill up and within 2 minutes he returned with the bottle. It was that night that we realized he did not fill up the bottle but he did manage to charge us two dollars. I know that what I lost in this overnight stay at the hostel is very little in monetary value but it’s the principle of the matter. Lessons learned...how to cook two meals a day in the woods for five days on three ounces of fuel and not to trust a trembling sweet talker.
Unfortunately we were faced with the same event in Atkins, VA when we arrived at the Village Motel. We had a food re-supply box sent here as well and that too was stolen from us. This time we are not sure who opened the package and took the items inside but we did have what evidence we found printed and turned it over to the criminal investigators. Whoever it was, opened our package, took a few food items, a pair of pants and a monocular and left the rest in a hiker box. Hiker boxes are boxes full of items other hikers get rid of for weight or whatever purposes and are free for the taking. Luckily we retrieved enough of our food from the hiker box that we were able to continue to the next town. We understand that the chances of finding the thief is very slim but again it’s the principle of the matter. What goes around comes around and if it was a thru-hiker then they might get what they deserve, not from myself or the law, but through bad karma like tripping and breaking a leg with Kathadin in sight. Lesson learned...send all packages to Post Offices where they check ID.
Our next adverse event took place near Angel’s rest outside of Pearisburg, VA on May 2nd. We left Woods Hole Hostel around 12 noon with dark skies and strong winds on our way into Pearisburg, VA for a night in town. We were 10.5 miles out and figured it would take close to four hours to get there. We first had to climb about 1,000 feet to reach the ridge then walk the ridgeline before a steep descent into town. Upon starting the climb we heard a crack of thunder several times off in the distance but, straight above us everything looked good and so we believed we might be spared and continued on. As everything around us started getting darker and the wind ripped through we knew we would get hit by the storm but we just could not gauge when and how hard it would come. We decided to stop and put on our rain jackets and as soon as we did we felt our first drop of rain followed by a bolt of lightening and a crash of thunder. Within seconds the storm was right over us bending trees to the ground and dumping a solid sheet of rain. Not one second later came another bolt of lightening and the loudest crack of thunder imaginable and before we had a chance to consult our options, we were under the thickest rhododendron bush we could find. It was then that the skies really opened up dropping pea-sized balls of hail that seemed to find every hole in our cover and pelt us in the head. There was nothing we could do mainly because in the woods on top of the mountain there is basically nowhere to hide. More frightening I guess was what was running through our heads. Just two weeks ago we passed a live Oak tree that had been split down the middle by a bolt of lightening. It was so powerful that 25 to 50 pound splinters were thrown 50 yards from the tree and were easily 5 feet in the ground. After waiting nearly an hour for the storm to pass we gathered our thoughts and restored our senses and decided to move on.
The skies cleared and we knew that we needed to get going and get off the mountain. Right then the trail took a sharp turn right and went straight up to the top of the ridge, the least desirable place to be in a severe storm. We had about a three-mile ridge walk before the descent so we turned on the after burners and got moving. About 2 miles into the ridge walk the skies cleared, the winds stopped and everything fell silent and became very eerie. Tia turned to me and explained that in her days of life guarding before storms hit the skies usually clear, almost allowing everyone a chance to seek cover. I refused to believe her, knowing I shouldn’t but it just seemed that it was over. Just then a bolt of lightening hit right behind us and the rains again fell in sheets. The wind picked up speed and more hail started to fall, this time they were the size of golf balls. As the wind threw hail at us in a sideways direction, bolts of lightening struck followed by crashing thunder. This time we knew we were in trouble as there was no where to hide and no where to go but continue on in hopes of reaching the descent and getting off the mountain before we were electrocuted or beat to death by the sideways falling hail.
Finally we reached the descent where the trail would bring us down off the mountain into the realm of safety or so we thought. With the torrential rains came a steep descent of mud where Tia continuously fell but miraculously made it to the bottom narrowly escaping injury. Upon making it to the bottom we took off running towards town in hopes of reaching the Post Office before it closed so that we could snack on Mom’s brownies. Everything worked out as we said our thanks for surviving storms of tornados and hail that reeked havoc on the east coast. Lessons learned...seek cover and stay off ridges in storms of this magnitude.
The last story that we will share is one that made our hearts sink to our stomachs but in the end made us all cry with laughter. Now that we are in Virginia the trail is starting to get a little easier as we are sometimes walking along flat ridges and lowlands. We are crossing from ridge to ridge very often and the only way to do so is by crossing through fields or pastures on private lands. When crossing through these pastures we must share the trail with the landowners’ livestock, which are mainly cattle with the occasional aggressive bull. Well, just a few days back we were crossing through a field as the trail wound its way on the edge of the pasture next to a wooded lot. We continued on our way just as we heard a horrifying crash through the woods. I stopped and turned to Tia who was 20 yards behind and we both looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders in bewilderment. The crashing became louder as it grew closer and Tia turned with an expression on her face as though she had seen a ghost and yelled, “Bears, Bears! Oh, my gosh Bears!” I froze solid as my legs shook uncontrollably and knew from the sound they were headed right for us. I began to take off my back pack in hopes of making myself appear bigger than I was and it was then that I saw the rather large black objects emerge from the forest and come to a halt. Before I had time to say my prayers I realized what we were up against. It was then that Tia turned to me and said, “Oh, they’re not bears, they’re cows! Big black cows!” Upon further inspection we saw 3 black cows standing at the edge of the woods starring us down like a blade of grass. We gathered ourselves and continued laughing at our reaction to such an event. Lesson learned...make sure Tia has her glasses on when she yells bear. Note: Tia did spot a bear cub (glasses were on) outside of Damascus VA but the cub took off before we could get a closer look.
I wish we could go on with our stories but they will have to wait until there is more time. As you may know, we have many of them to share, both of overcoming adversity and of adventures of our daily life. All of these events have taught us something new and very important about how to conduct ourselves out here. We have not altered our journey in search of a thief that we may never find, nor have we stopped hiking every time it rains. We have though, looked twice when we think we hear a bear. But nevertheless, we are stronger both mentally and physically and we are prepared for whatever we may face on our pilgrimage.
Picture 1: DeTour filtering water
Picture 2: Digging through a mail drop in Hot Springs, NC looking for something good to eat.
Picture 3: 25 to 50lb splinters from a bolt of lightning. Now you know why you should hide from thunder and lightning!