When I first got to Erwin I planned to get serious about my swollen calf muscle. I didn’t stay in a hostel, but in a nearby motor lodge where they had an ice machine. I sat in the bath tub for hours with a pant leg full of ice. I wore my rain pants with a draw string on the cuff drawn and the leg filled with ice. When the ice melted I got more.
Also, I did what most thru-hikers do when they get to a rest and resupply point. I ate many greasy hamburgers and tacos, washed my clothes, and cleaned up. Optimistically, I bought more food for the next seven to 10 days of hiking. My attempt to get the swelling down was not working although I wouldn’t admit that to myself. I was going to hike-on no matter what, or that is what I thought at the time.
One early morning I was in the lobby and struck up a conversation with a well dressed couple who said they were just about to leave for a religious event in nearby Johnson City. It lasted all day and they said if I wanted to go they would give me a ride. I was dressed in the only clothes I had which were hiker clothes, not to mention my full beard. I quickly thought over their invitation and how I was very bored in the motel, spending way too much money, etc, etc. I asked them if it was OK for me to go like this, motioning with one hand to the clothes I was wearing. He said it was. Then he said they were about to leave and could I be ready in a few minutes. I said certainly, and in less than five minutes was back in the lobby with a bag of trail mix food for lunch, a liter of water, and wearing a bright blue nylon wind breaker which I had for cold moments on the trail.
When we got to Johnson City we went to the city’s civic center where the meeting was. The two people I was with told me where to stand until the doors were opened. He was “doing the sound” so he went right inside with her. I was the only one there dressed as a hiker. Everyone else was dressed up like they were. Once inside I sat by myself on the main floor with my bum leg. I didn’t see any point in hiking up into the seats that were all around the main floor. While I was seated there waiting for it to begin he came over to me and said where they were siting, and that he would get me a ride back to the motor lodge when it was over. He had a friend there who went right by the motor lodge on his way home. He said he and his wife were going to stay awhile longer. He also said another friend was a doctor on duty for the day and that if I wanted him to take a look at my leg at the lunch break he would. I hadn’t seen a doctor and said I would appreciate hearing what he thinks. I asked if it would cost anything and he said it wouldn’t.
I wasn’t very religious, but I was certain there was more going on in the world than modern science. I didn’t know what it was. The Appalachian Trail is a spiritual experience. I thought that was because I was away from all the pavement, concrete, glass, and steel. My hike didn’t include people. Some days only one or two people passed me, and in the shelters at the end of the day there was usually some people there, sometimes none. I hiked alone and that might have had something to do with feeling I was a small part of something much bigger.
At lunch time the person I got a ride with took me to a place under the seats where the doctor was. He looked at my swollen leg and poked around until it hurt. He then said it would only get worse if I continued hiking, and that it needed at least six weeks rest.
I went back to my seat to eat lunch. My hike was over. Originally I planned to go all the way to Maine. When people on the trail asked me how far I was going I’d always say with confidence, ”as far as time allows.” I though that would be sometime in October which is when the Forest Service closes Mount Katahdin 2000 miles to the north. I was discouraged when I finally realized it was over. I’d gone 340 miles. I’d be back to hike the rest of it in five sections but all I could think about then was how it was over. By the days end my attitude changed. I wasn’t so concerned about my measly little problem. It’s what I did about it that mattered. One of the talks was about being a citizen of God’s new world.