Day 24 of my Appalachian Trail thru-hike began at 5:45 am and I was on the trail by 7:00. By the end of the day, I had logged in 21 miles. The thing that made the day rather unusual was my hike of solitude. I had a short resupply in Erwin, Tennessee where I interacted with a few hikers at Uncle Johnny’s Hostel, but the rest of the day, on the trail itself, I only encountered one other hiker until I made camp at Curley Maple Gap Shelter. I enjoy being by myself and I found the peaceful solo-hike in the mountains along the border of North Carolina and Tennessee refreshing and energizing.
My one encounter on the trail occurred in the morning coming down a hill into Spivey Gap as I was about to cross over US 19. I was gaining on the young hiker in front of me and I did not want to scare her by coming up too fast from behind. I clicked my trekking poles together and started to quietly whistle. She heard my noise, quickly turned around, and smiled. I returned her smile and gave my hiker greeting, “Great day for a hike!” She agreed and we began to walk together until we reached the road.
When we arrived at US 19, I decided I was going to take a break and have a protein bar. I invited her to join me thinking she would most likely decline, but to my surprise, she sat down beside me alongside the road. We began to chat and I learned that she was a section hiker and that she taught English at Anderson University in Indiana. She was quiet and soft spoken and very sweet natured. We talked a little about life and family. I shared about my wife and kids and grand kids. I mentioned that I was an administrator of a Christian School and was hiking to help raise money for student financial aid.
In just a few minutes of conversation, I could tell that we were kindred spirits. She said that she had a page of scriptures that she read everyday and wanted to know if I would like to hear the passage for the day. I immediately said I would love to hear the Bible passage. She read some encouraging words from the book of Psalms. I read for her some lyrics of a contemporary Christian song by Matt Redman, “Standing on this mountain top, looking just how far we’ve come, knowing that for every step, You were with us….Never once did we ever walk alone…You are faithful, God, You are faithful.” By the time the snack was done, I felt I had made a true friend. I gave her my blog information, wished her well, and headed down the trail toward Erwin.
At the end of the day, I reflected on God’s sovereign hand and the meeting of a Christian hiker to encourage me. All day long I saw no one. For 21.1 miles of trail and over 10 hours of hiking, it is amazing to only see one hiker. And then, to discover that the one person I encounter was a Christ-follower was just a special event. Thinking about the meeting, I wondered how many of the encounters I have during a normal day in the real world are really appointments made by God for me to be a source of encouragement to others.
Steph, my friend from Anderson, commented on my blog several times throughout my adventure to Maine sharing more encouraging words that meant a lot . After returning home to Ohio, we have become Facebook friends. She returns to the Appalachian Trail each year to conquer a section at a time. I find it amazing to consider how impactful a 20-minute talk can be.