On Friday morning, May 28, Dick called from Pearisburg, Virgina, a small town west of Blacksburg and Roanoke. He has walked 610 miles of the trail and his feet feel better than when he started. He has lost 10 more pounds, for a total of 30. He told me he's so skinny I wouldn't recognize him. Somehow I doubt that. He did get to see this website while in Damascus. He was impressed with all the work Mike Southern has done in setting it up, grateful for the record I'm making of his journey, and touched by the outpouring of support and encouragement he has received from people who have so willingly shared their memories of hikes past, plans of hikes to come, and in some cases, even their pictures. What he failed to mention, but what I learned through email from friends of Rick Rocks is that Dick is now known simply as "Dream."
There was a time when the idea of having pizza delivered to your home was an oddity. Now all a person needs is money, a telephone, and an address.
There must be a lot of wisdom in the ago-old advice, "Take a load off." Since starting the trail on April 7, Dick has shipped home 17 pounds of assorted items. Add that to the 30 pounds he has lost, and his feet have been relieved of having to carry 47 pounds. No wonder they feel better! That's from the good-news department. From the bad-news department, I think I now weigh more than Dick.
Still, 30 pounds is a lot to lose in 2 months. Ah, but I can see the advertisement now. The Appalachian Dream Diet: Simply strap 60 pounds to your back and walk 500 miles up and down a mountain range. Weight loss of at least 20 pounds guaranteed. So it came as no surprise when Dick asked me to ship him food that was high in both calories and fat. You might think that would be a simple task. But understand, my life has been one big battle of the bulge, most of the time a losing battle. In the grocery store, my eye is trained for the "low fat" and "no fat" labels. I automatically cringe when labels indicate fat grams in double digits. Unfortunately, cringing hasn't stopped me from picking up a pint of Ben & Jerry's now and then, but that's another story. Anyway, I went to the grocery store that afternoon and bought the ingredients for high-fat gorp. Forget the mini chocolate chips and the dry roasted nuts. I grabbed three jumbo bags of M&Ms, a giant size canister of cocktail peanutsˇthe kind that glisten from all the oil, and two canisters of plump raisins. Then, for good measure, I emptied the display of Snickers at the check-out counter. From there, I went to the health food store and picked up two dozen assorted high-protein power bars. I figure it all balances that wayÍlike having french fries with a Diet Coke.
There's a balance of sorts along the trail too. Dick said that as strenuous as the trail was in Georgia, it's relatively easy in Virginia. At least the grades aren't as steep. But what has made Dick an instant fan of my home state is the Partnership Shelter near the town of Sugar Grove. After putting in their best day yet, 24.8 miles, an exhausted Dick and Rick Rocks arrived at the Partnership Shelter to find a facility with hot and cold water, showers, and a telephone. I don't know if what happened next was the result of a stroke of genius on someone's part, or a flyer that read "Call for Free Delivery," but before long the local pizza shop was doing a booming business at the shelter.
In addition to pizza, there are other highlights along the trail in the Blacksburg Ranger District. According to the map provided by the Appalachian Mountain Conference, there's Dismal Falls--a cascading waterfall on a trout stream, Angels Restˇan outstanding overlook on Pearis Mountain above New River, and Mountain Lake Wildernessˇan area with side trails to bogs and stands of large, old hemlocks and spruce. The Appalachian Trail itself is marked with 2x6 inch, white-painted blazes. Major side trails are blazed with blue. While I don't want Dick to miss any of the sights, including those on the blue-blazed trails, I also don't want him to get lost.
Though I am concerned about Dick's getting lost, he's the serious worrier in the family. His philosophy is to assume the worst. Then, if the worst doesn't happen, he'll feel relieved. I, on the other hand, assume the best. But I sense that each of us is undergoing a transition. When I came home from work on Friday, there was a box on the front porch. Among the items Dick had shipped home were his flashlight, his first aid kit, his prescription sunglasses, and his maps. I've never bitten my fingernails. I might start now.
Did I mention the hallucinations? Three miles outside Pearisburg, Dick was walking along the trail, keeping a steady pace, deep in some serious daydreaming. As he rounded a bend, he came face to face with a black animal the size of a pony! He froze. Then in a heartbeat, he recognized that what he had assumed was a bear was a billie goat with a ewe close behind him. Dick was headed north; the goats were headed south. The AT is not a two-lane road. Dick and the billie goat eyed each other. Neither moved. Two minutes felt like two years. Then oh so slowly, Dick pulled out his camera and clicked. Apparently, the goats realized Dick was no threat. They, and Dick, took a few steps to the side and passed each other. Crisis averted. If all goes well, you'll see the picture in a week or so.
Later that day, we arrived in Custer State Park, where we hopped in an open Jeep and headed out to see the wild bison. After passing through spectacular scenery right out of "Dances with Wolves," we saw a herd of bison in the valley below us. We drove down and slowly approached the herd. Our driver warned us not to make any sudden movements, and definitely not to get out of the Jeep. Bison are unpredictable and can be dangerous. No problem. I wasn't looking for troubleˇjust great pictures. I got them, tooˇa protective mother and her baby, a mammoth male with a massive head, crescent horns, huge humped shoulders, shaggy scruffy fur.
Fortunately, I have a good memory. When we arrived back in Connecticut I shipped my film to Mystic and waited. Just a few days later, their signature yellow envelope arrived. But inside, instead of photographs, was a credit memo and a note explaining that there were no imagesˇnoneˇon the film I had sent to them. I had loaded the camera incorrectly. People back in on the prairie could hear me groan!
At the time, I did nothing. But the following year, Dick and I planned a vacation in Montana's Glacier National Park. Before leaving, I called Mystic Color Lab. I told the representative who answered the phone that I had the camera and a roll of film in front of me and asked that she walk me through the loading process. I explained why. Not only did she give me step-by-step instructions, she sent me three rolls of film--free. I'm happy to say the pictures on that trip came out just fine. Still, I bought a bunch of disposable cameras for Dick to take on the trail. We'll get back to South Dakota one of these days. In fact, I'm going in two weeks for a family reunion. But I don't think Dick will be hiking the AT again any time soon. But he has been talking about the trail that runs along the Pacific Coast...
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Rand McNally Road Atlas of the USA
Thich Nhat Hanh
The Long Road Turns to Joy: A walking guide to meditation
Walking the Appalachian Trail