It would be an exaggeration to say that Dream got lost, but he did hike a half-hour in the wrong direction. As soon as he realized he hadn't seen a white blaze in a while, he turned around. Somewhere in the process, he wandered into a military camp for troubled youth, saw a phone booth, ignored the "keep out" sign, and called me. Hearing the drill sergeant bark orders to his young troops reminded Dream of his Army days. It also reminded him to get back on the trail and keep marching.
Several months ago, I interviewed artist Andy Lakey, a young man known for his simple and compelling paintings of angels. His work hangs in the homes of movie stars, presidents of the United States, the Vatican, and people like you and me. His compulsion to paint angels (2,000 by the year 2000) came after a near-death experience brought on by a drug overdose. I mention it here because Andy told me that while some critics claim his angels are too simple, too ordinary to warrant the acclaim he has received, others praise his work for exactly the same reasons, noting how the shape of his angels resonates with something deep inside the viewer. Andy feels his work reflects life, that many times angelic acts are performed in simple deeds by ordinary people. Countless experiences on the AT prove his point.
At a point in Maryland, the AT crosses Interstate 70, less than 200 miles from RickRock's home in the Pittsburgh area. On Thursday, June 24, RickRock called his friend Sandy Marincic and mentioned that he and Dream expected to cross I-70 on the morning of Saturday, June 26. That was the news Sandy had been waiting for.
Earlier that month, she had driven from Pittsburgh to Waynesboro, Virginia, to see RickRock. During that visit, she used her car to shuttle a number of other hikers around town to buy supplies. When she explained to one of them that she was not a hiker herself, but just visiting a friend, the hiker said, "Oh, then you're a Trail Angel." She liked the idea. So, early on the morning of Saturday, June 26, she and RickRock's boss, Wondwossen, and his son Jonathan, packed up the car with goodies: a cake Wondwossen's wife had made, assorted fruits and vegetables, plenty of cold cuts, cookies, cupcakes, and every hiker's favorite-orange juice, and drove three hours for the sole purpose of creating a little trail magic.
The arrived at the parking lot near the I-70 footbridge around 10:30 a.m. Just as Sandy was surveying the area to determine where the thru-hikers would be crossing, RickRock and Dream walked out of the woods. Sandy and Wondwossen set up the banquet for our perpetually hungry duo. Not long after that, several other hikers showed up, and then several more, and several more, all of whom enjoyed the feast. One of those hikers was the same man who, back in Waynesboro, had christened Sandy a Trail Angel for having given him a ride.
Just as Dream and RickRock were finishing their meal, two men drove up with a grill, hamburgers, hot dogs, and a cooler full of beverages. They had thru-hiked the previous year and were eager to provide some trail magic for those making the trek this year.
Sandy noticed that in the three hours she and Wondwossen were there, the hikers never stopped eating. Sandy also noticed something else about the hikers. In her letter to me she wrote, "They were all so friendly and so very grateful for the simplest, seemingly smallest thing. A two-mile car ride to the gas station to refill a fuel tank saves them two round-trip walking hours. It takes the driver five minutes. So imagine how fresh, cool food, all you can eat and drink, is like a miracle to them. They were gracious, and pleasant to talk with, and were open to any questions you wanted to ask them. And they were all so very skinny. Rick tried to remind me of someone I had met in Waynesboro and described him as being tall and skinny. I asked if he had a beard-surely that would narrow it down to only 50% of the hikers (the other 50% are short, skinny, and have beards)."
Dream enjoyed the feast and returned to the trail. RickRock stayed behind to visit a while longer. They were to meet that night at a shelter still fifteen miles away. At an average of two miles an hour, that meant a hike of a good seven to eight hours. Eventually, Dream turned off the main trail to the feeder that led to the shelter. Surprisingly, it was empty. He prepared his supper and waited for RickRock. He waited until 10 p.m., an hour after he normally goes to sleep. Still no RickRock.
The next morning, Dream was still the only one in the shelter. He ate, packed, and hiked back up the feeder trail to the main trail. At the junction of the two, he found a note anchored with a rock. The note was from RickRock. He had met two other friends back at the banquet and visited until 6 p.m. Fortunately, the moon was nearly full that night, because the threesome, all from Pennsylvania, wound up walking 26-yes, 26-miles. Along the way, they came to the feeder road that led to the shelter. But by that point all they could talk about was setting foot back on Pennsylvania soil. So they kept walking. Finally, at 5 a.m., they crossed the Maryland border into their home state.
Satisfied that they had made it "home," they turned around and walked back to the campground at PenMar Park in Cascade, Maryland, just two-tenths of a mile from the border. That's where Dream found them at 10 o'clock that morning-sound asleep. The portion of the trail he had just covered was full of rocks and tangled with roots, not an easy trek in daylight, dangerous in the dark.
Filled with a mixture of humor and paternal anxiety, he shook RickRock's shoulder until the younger man opened his eyes. Poor RickRock. There was Dream, shaking his finger and saying, "And the next time you say out all night, young man, you're on detention!"