It was day thirty-nine of my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2014, and I was on my way to Chestnut Knob Shelter, 20 miles north of Atkins, Virginia. The last 4.5 miles to the shelter involved quite a climb (2,100 feet of elevation change) along Chestnut Ridge. Before beginning the last leg of the day, I decided to take off my pack, eat a granola bar, and enjoy a nice swallow of mountain water. I sat beside a gravel road (USFS 222) allowing my feet to rest before demanding they carry me up the hillside.
I heard the truck before I saw it. The driver rolled down the passenger-side window and he stopped the vehicle. He asked me if I was thru-hiking. I told him I was meeting a friend at the top of the ridge, remembering the warning in many thru-hiker books to beware of locals asking if you’re were hiking alone. He then asked me if I had seen any other trucks on this road. I said that I hadn’t but that I had only arrived five minutes before he pulled up.
He went on to tell me that he was out driving around trying to find his son. His son had left the house in a rush and the dad did not where his son was going. The man was greatly concerned because his wife had left the home recently and now his son was having major troubles with his girlfriend. He wished me luck on my hike and I expressed my hope that he would safely find his son. As he drove off, I quickly prayed for both the dad and the son.
Just a few minutes after he left, a truck traveling in the opposite direction came flying up the gravel road. The young driver zoomed right past me without looking to the left or right. Shortly afterward, dad returned in his truck. As he sped by, he gave me a thumbs-up. I loaded up and began my climb, hoping that the son would stop and allow his dad to talk to him. Part of my time climbing the hill involved asking God to intervene and bring peace to the family.
This is one of those stories that doesn’t have a known, final chapter or a written ending of reconciliation. I never saw the man again, but I sure prayed for him and his son. I recorded the encounter in my journal and each time I reflect on this entry, I remember this concerned father and his son trying to escape the stress of his day. It reminds me of the need to seek reconciliation and the love that surrounds us even in the darkness of anxiety and disappointment. It also reminds me of God’s relentless pursuit of his children even when we are driving as fast as possible in the wrong direction, filled with angst and discouragement. There are times when we all need to stop and allow the Father to comfort us.