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Not Your Average Vacation

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When I try to explain what I do every summer most people interject,

“Oh, so you go hiking.”

Well, yes and no. I should specify. Hiking is merely walking from point A to point B where the two points are distanced so that it requires some physical exertion to walk the distance. One could hike to the grocery store. What I do is called BACKPACKING which is about as hard core as it sounds. Imagine walking around for eight hours with a thirty pound protuberance on your back. Now imagine that it is really hot and every insect in Virginia is after your blood. It ain’t easy. So what, might you ask, would possess one to do such a thing?

Certain days on the trail I ask myself that question constantly. Especially when the temperature is searing and it seems that every insect in Virginia wants my blood. Other days, especially when the weather is nice, there’s no where I’d rather be.

When it comes to mountains in America, most point west. The Rockies do have large open stretches with views unobstructed by haze. The Appalachians are frequently referred to as a great green tunnel because 99% of the trails that run through it are covered in vegetation. This is actually a god thing for two reasons. First, it means I don’t have to worry about sunburns which is a blessing when you’re already carrying 30 pounds and every extra ounce feels like straw that might break your back. Second, the foliage makes vistas are a rare and special treat. Out west they are so common that there is noting special about a view. Like Christmas every day.

Speaking of Christ, it happened one oddly cool June morning that I ran across a man who called himself “Freebird.” Freebird was a self proclaimed holy man with a long beard that made him look like Tom Hanks in the movie “Castaway” and that’s after three years on the island.

“Mornin”, I said.

“Good morning child of God.”

I simply looked at him and moved on. About a half an hour later I ran into one of Freebird’s “disciples” who called himself “Victory Light.” I knew he was a eccentric by the fact that he was clean shaven which is something you never see out there. He asked me if I had seen an old man with a big beard.

“Yes,” I told him “he’s about a mile down the trail.”

“Hey, that’s Freebird!”

“Yes, I believe that was him.”

“Yes sir. He’s a true disciple of Jesus Christ. He once preached to a man on the side of the road and he gave Freebird twenty whole dollars. Now if that ain’t the work of the Lord…”

“I’d love to but you see I need to get down to Montebello before the sun goes down and I, ummm, die. Good day.”

The inexperienced think that if they run into anyone on the trial it will be a pack of hillbillies. The truth is much stranger and it seems to be the only place where I can find people stranger than me. A few hours later I reached Spyock Summit, a rocky outcrop who’s panoramic vista was used as a sentry post during the Civil War. The view was beautiful and the day was clear so I could see for miles. It had taken me about five days to get to where I was from my starting point in Rockfish Gap VA. I could see when I had been, more or less, for the past two days and where I was about to go for the next few. And then it dawned on me. Lots of vacations are relaxing. That’s fine. I love getting up, going to the beach and then taking a long nap as much as the next person. But here was something that offered me a sense of accomplishment and that’s something you don’t get from your average vacation.





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