I got away from the white blazes that mark the trail. I found out later the trail goes to the left into the woods. I went toward the top to the right. There was wear on the top edges of rocks that were wedged between rounded rocks. That made me think I was on the trail when I wasn’t. Maybe the foot wear on the points and edges of the rock was made by Appalachian Trail hikers, but it was not part of the Appalachian Trail. I soon realized I was off course, but continued going up. Going down is what I should have done. It got more and more difficult. Eventually, I was on a deep ledge where someone had made a camp fire. I couldn’t imagine where they got the wood. There was a very nice clear view of the valley below.
I remember seeing a space between the cliffs. I followed the ledge in that direction. It got narrower. I walked sideways and moved my fingers inside a long crack as I moved toward the opening. Below me were the tops of trees and more rocks. When I walked into the opening between the cliffs I could see the top. The path was clear except for a seven- foot wall in front of me. It was a bolder wedged between the cliffs. Going back was an awful idea to me. There were some crags here and there and with a 40-pound pack on my back and some serious prayer I managed to pull myself up and over that rock.
No sooner had I done that another hiker comes along and bounds over the same rock without needing any help. We talk a moment. He is an Appalachia Trail hiker from Vermont. When I say I haven’t seen a white blaze for awhile he says he was following me, and then agrees we’re off the trail. Soon he heads off in another direction. I look ahead and realize there is more up hill before I get to the top. It is easier, but I’m still going from bolder to bolder.
I would have gone to the top and gotten very lost, but the Spirit moved me to stop and look to the left. Far off in the distance on the other side of the bolder field I saw a hiker for two seconds before he disappeared into the woods. That was the trail. I marked that spot by the trees and moved in that direction. Inside the woods there was a flat spot covered with pine needles. I camped there for the night. There was no water up there. I had some water with me. It would be enough.
My trail name is Jocko. I write my name and a few words in most of the shelter registers, but not so much after I saw a homeless person in Virginia use pages of the shelter register to start a camp fire. When I do write in the register I write the same words: -Jocko- N. bound, and then I write what a Bible writer said, “praise Ja you people.”
The next shelter where I wrote in the register was the Leroy A. Smith Shelter. The guide book said the water source there was reliable. I arrived first and wrote the same words I always do. A few other people got water, and continued hiking. There were no places to tent near the shelter. Four people showed-up. The way they threw down their packs I knew they were there to stay. Three of them were brother and sisters. The fourth was a girl high school friend. The two sisters were twins 10 years older than their friend. The brother was younger than the twins. The four of them were from Indianapolis, Indiana. They hiked South six miles from the town of Wind Gap where they went to a wedding. They planned to hike 220 miles South to Harpers Ferry, and then go home.
During the next four hours of daylight others arrived to stay the night in the shelter. By the time the sun set there were 7 people. While there was daylight the high school girl was reading a book in front of the shelter, lying on her back on a ground cloth with her head propped up. Her three friends took things in and out of their pacts inside the shelter. I could have been a fly on the wall. The others weren’t there yet. The book she was reading was a true story about a particular brothel in the Southwest part of the United States where prostitution is legal. She would read them excerpts from the book. They never replied like she was an embarrassment to them. It seemed she didn’t expect them to reply, because she didn’t stop. One of the facts in the book she said out loud was that almost everyday the people operating the brothel would get telephone calls from the far corners of the United States from people looking for work.
I sat up. I had said hello when they came in, but until I sat up to make my diner I was horizontal looking at the shelter ceiling. When I sat up I saw who they were and when asked said my trail name, Jocko. The high school girl had stopped reading the book and was collecting small twigs to lite a camp fire after dark. She had energy incidental to youth. Her hair was unkempt and curly all around her head. Her spontaneity, naivete, and appearance…Simply put she was beautiful.
The twins had long blond hair well brushed. They weren’t unattractive by any means. Nobody on the trail is ordinary, but they were as close as it comes. If they didn’t have an answer or want to answer they didn’t. When I sat up one sister was doing a tick-check on the other. One was sitting cross legged on the shelter floor with her head bowed down, and she was holding her thick long blond hair on top of her head. The other was kneeling behind her looking at her scalp from her neckline to the top of her head. The other girl had equally long thick blond hair, but they never switched places. As I was swinging around to hang my legs off the edge of the shelter floor I asked if they found any ticks. Neither of them answered. When I said if I was a tick on a leaf and saw them coming I’d definitely make the jump. No comment there either, but other times when I said something terribly ordinary they could reply.