I recently received a review on my book, Hike It Forward, that was rather critical of my experiences. The reader noted that I was very quick to see God in the good times – the missed rain storm, the surprise trail blessings, the finding of needed water, etc. – but I was rather silent in sharing God’s presence in the adversities of the hike. I am very disappointed in myself, if this is true. Honestly, I was more aware of God’s faithfulness to me in the midst of difficulties than in the warm, sunny days under the canopy. I thought I would take this post to remember a series of coincidences that revealed God’s sovereignty of provision and protection.
God’s faithfulness began as I left Damascus, Virginia. I was planning to hike out of town with two great young men that I called my Sons of Encouragement (Motown and Archangel), but Motown got very ill in Damascus and needed to stay to recover before moving on. I hiked out alone. I decided to stop just out of town at Subway for a quick breakfast. I got to the restaurant 5 minutes before opening so I sat outside the place to wait for my anticipated egg delight. Another hiker came along willing to wait, so we began the normal thru-hiker introductions and chit-chat. His trail name was Lighterknot and we enjoyed some kindred-spirit time. We ended up eating breakfast together but hiked out of town at different paces. Soon we were out of sight of one another and I doubted that we would see one another again.
I hiked 20.2 miles that day without seeing another thru-hiker and pitched my tent at a campsite near Whitetop Mountain Road. The next day I crossed over Mount Rogers and experienced the wild ponies of Grayson Highlands. It was a hard hiking day with lots of hot sun and without lots of tree cover. After making it through the rugged terrain of Grayson, I decided to set up my chair and have a nice snack at Wise Shelter. It began to sprinkle and then came the downpour. I moved my chair into the shelter and was soon joined by eight other hikers seeking shelter from the storm. Among the refugees from the trail was Lighterknot.
As we all sat in the shelter swapping our trail names and our stories of adventure, the rain danced on the metal roof of the shelter. After about an hour, Lighterknot announced that he was meeting his wife the next day at Fox Creek and they were going to zero day in Marion, Virginia. He would have room in the car for two or three others if anyone wanted a ride. I quickly dismissed the announcement as I had just zeroed in Damascus a few days earlier. The rain delay lasted two hours and then God moved the clouds and filled the sky with the sunshine of His grace.
I folded up my tent, flopped my backpack in place, and headed down the trail. A few hours later I found a stealth campsite and nestled in for a good night’s sleep. All was good until dark-thirty am. I woke up to a very distressed stomach. I did not realize what was going on until I knew I had 20 seconds before I was going to throw up all over myself. I barely had time to unzip my tent, bail out of my sleeping bag, and stick my head outside, before my dinner and half my intestines came flying out of my mouth. That first dreadful experience was followed by a second round. I ended up in a dripping sweat and with the taste of warmed over death in my mouth. I had eaten some dried vegetables before going to bed and even the thought of them now makes me ill.
As I made my way back to bed and got some control of my thinking, I knew I needed to get off the trail. Lighterknot’s invitation came flying back into my mind and I was hoping that the morning and God’s sovereignty would allow me time to walk the four miles down to Fox Creek before Mrs. Lighterknot (Deb) arrived. The morning brought stomach cramps and dizziness. I was up and packed by 7:30. I arrived at Fox Creek at 9:30 feeling nauseous but elated to see Lighterknot and Gizmo sitting on a log waiting for the limo to arrive. I asked if there was still room. A spot was indeed available. God’s hand was evident and my Father was faithful in the midst of adversity.
I made it to Marion. Mr. and Mrs. Lighterknot dropped Gizmo and me off at a cheap but appropriate hotel. My wife, Cathy, who had come to Damascus to see me, was still in North Carolina visiting our daughter and her family. She drove over to Marion, so I had her counsel and special nursing ability to help me through the 48-hour bug. Cathy drove Gizmo and me back to the trailhead at Fox Creek and I was able to continue on the AT knowing that God was truly in charge of the details of my thru-hike.
Photo of Lighterknot: https://lighterknot.wordpress.com/2014/05/