Sunday, September 24, 2023

Tuscarora Trail: A Pilgrimage

Amos considering a rocky route

The Tuscarora Trail, which travels 250 miles from Hogback Overlook in Shenandoah National Park to Blue Mountain, Pennsylvania near Carlisle, is not a trail for the faint of heart. Honestly, I underestimated this trail's ruggedness. We didn't merely follow blazes and gaze idly at treetops over long trailside lunches. Heh, I would have been fine with that. But rough terrain compounded with weather-related challenges made for a physically and mentally demanding journey. Those of you may remember from my first post about the Tuscarora Trail, I stated that I was seeking a trail that was logistically agreeable, one that "would allow me to sink into the trail state of mind." I can't say that it was logistically easy, and I don't know that I did any sinking in. Rather, I was seized, and I surrendered. Every day was all encompassing, requiring my complete and total awareness and attention. However, these days, that is an intention of my long-distance hikes, to cultivate presence and to feel what it is to be fully alive moment to moment. Without the challenges, perhaps I may not have.

A southern Appalachian Mountain view

But I'll wax philosophical with you at the end of this post, let's get down to the Tuscarora Trail, the wonders and obstacles, that this journey entailed. Beginning in the southern Appalachians, I climbed the trail's tallest mountains. Though much to my delight, I began with a descent that provided far-reaching views of mountains in the distance. I passed numerous day-hikers out for a stroll. What I didn't know is that I wouldn't see hikers again until around Dry Gap, West Virginia and that'd be it save for one person I met camping at Big Mountain Shelter.

 And within short order . . . I was off the beaten path. Rather than people, I shared trail with plants of rich coves, such as Canada violet, pedicularis, and waterleaf, each of these plants medicinal and/or edible. Canada violet's blossoms taste of wintergreen. Pedicularis, also known not-so-attractively as lousewort, is one of my go-to herbs for upper body muscular aches and pains. Waterleaf is a versatile wild green, delicious when prepared with creamy pasta. I also apparently shared this path with very active yellow jackets, and after disturbing a nest, was stung roughly a dozen times. Some of these stings would eventually redden and swell to the circumference of softballs. I'd later learn from a local that these aggressive stinging buzzers are more likely to strike during times of drought. Drought - another discovery that would soon prove to be an obstacle. My first evening, where the guidebook had warned that I may find a creek too high to ford, I encountered nothing but bone-dry rocks. And so began my ever-constant search for water.  

Canada violet (Viola canadensis)

Lousewort (Pedicularis canadensis)

Virginia waterleaf (Hydrophyllum canadense)

Most days down south, I spent considerable time pouring over maps and strategizing where that next water source may be. This was particularly important given Amos. Temps hovered around the high eighties. Amos doesn't fare well in the heat. He's prone to just sitting down and stopping. And given this possibility, I had to make sure I had full water reserves no matter where we were on the trail. My pack was enormous. I've never prided myself on being ultra-light. In addition to typical gear, I like to carry such luxuries as a book, a tablet, several changes of clean underwear, and a selection of semi-real food that requires cooking. Amos, well he's even less ultralight. I tried giving him dehydrated food back on the Mid State Trail and he just stopped eating. So, each day he gets two cups of dry kibble, an 8 oz container of wet Rachel Ray and 3.5 oz of Caeser wet food. On average I carried 5 to 6 days of food at a time. Each day I learned to load up with 6 to 7 liters of water, each liter 2 lbs. I've avoided doing the math, but I'd estimate my pack typically weighed in around fifty pounds.

My monstrous backpack, with a backpack. That second backpack is Amos', which I carried when he developed sore spots from his cooling vest, and when the heat was just too much to ask more of him.

But even amidst the weight, stings, staying hydrated and regaining my trail legs, I marveled at the very different landscape I'd arrived in. The trail through Virginia and West Viriginia was at times rocky, often lined with scree, sometimes verging on sandy. Dirt was dry and dusty and coated everything. But oh, the glory of the Tupelo (aka Black Gum) trees with vertical snaking trunks, so many dressed in red for autumn. These red leaves frequently littered the trail and I felt as if I were walking a hiker's red carpet through the woods. Sassafras, too, was in abundance. This medicinal tree with roots renowned for use in old time root beer, are also warming and blood cleansing when simmered as a tea. I adored crushing sassafras leaves while hiking and breathing deep their lemony aroma. Oaks and pines were, of course, constant companions. 

Scarlet Tupelo leaves (Nyssa sylvatica)

Sassafras leaves (Sassafras albidum) - the only tree I know of that bears three different leaves all on the same tree, one that is entire, one shaped like a mitten, and another a T-Rex foot

It was down south that I met two fragrant plants for the first time. Firstly, the very prevalent Shiso, aka beefsteak plant. In my neck of the woods, the omnipresent non-native invasive plant is garlic mustard. However, garlic mustard was hardly on the scene, replaced instead by this mint family member, with the most unusual licorice-mint-basil scent. A little research revealed that this plant is a common herb used in Asian cuisine. I suddenly remembered a friend and student who had served me shiso ice cream not long before leaving for this trek. This was the plant! And it was everywhere! I crushed and nibbled and added a bit here and there to cheddar sandwiches. It would persist all the way into Pennsylvania, where it would eventually join forces with garlic mustard. The other new-to-me plant was a daintier mint: American dittany. I often tucked a sprig of this fragrant woods-loving wildflower in a pack strap near my chest. Its refreshing scent assisted me up the mountains and, at least psychologically, cooled my sweat drenched limbs. 

Shiso, aka beefsteak plant (Perilla frustescens)

American dittany, aka stone mint (Cunila origanoides)

As I hiked onward temps rose. Road walks were brutal, the most notable being that into the town of Tom's Brook. Amos developed oozy raw spots on his chest and underarms from wearing his damp cooling vest all day long. Needless to say, I ditched that pup-wear. Day after day I donned the same sweat drenched clothing. In our first so many miles together, I didn't always trust this trail like I have others. I found myself wondering what new obstacle might be around the bend. Yellow jackets, hundreds of microscopic ticks, another dry creek. But in the end, like all other trails, serendipity happened. The trail provides. But here, is where people stepped onto my path. Every person I interacted with was kind and helpful. From residents along the road that passed along bottled water to business owners that allowed us to step into air conditioning momentarily to fill up our water or those who neverminded Amos walking the aisles with me as I picked up a few supplies. Post office workers, landscapers, a deputy, hotel managers, grill cooks and passerby. It is not uncommon for folks to ask me what kind of unsavory people I meet while hiking. Do I carry protection? is a common question. Folks, the truth is that most people are good. The trail will continually reinforce this reality. Thank you, kind strangers. 

With Star Left

With Krista along the Tuscarora Trail

There were dear friends who showed up for me like Krista, whom I've been friends with since college. We were big Rusted Root fans and even after college, these remained our adventures together. But, when they stopped touring and adulting took over, somehow ten years had passed. That didn't matter. Krista happily welcomed me into her cabin that just so happened to sit on a side trail less than a mile from the Tuscarora Trail. There in the lap of luxury, Amos and I waited out the near 100-degree temps. Krista hung with us on the last evening, where I stayed up way past my hiker bedtime with laughter, stories, and more laughter. She arose early the next morning, hiking ten miles with me (more than I did that day) out and back on the Tuscarora Trail. When I realized I'd forgotten Amos' water bowl at her cabin, she delivered it to me on trail. When it comes to real friends, it matters not the time nor distance passed. Thank you, Krista. Let's not wait for Rusted Root to get back together! 

And Star Left, which I know y'all know well by now has been as dedicated to this journey as myself. I don't know that this hike would have been possible without her assistance. She met me nearly every weekend, delivering me supplies, lightening my load, helping me plan miles, assisting with water drops, caring for Amos, bestowing cold drinks and pizza, and most importantly, bringing friendship and support. I looked forward to her drop-in's, miles hiked together, and camps in the eve. The time we spent together on this trail was a highlight. So much gratitude to you, Star Left!

I encourage each and every one of you, to reach out to a friend, even if it's been years and catch up. Friends are invaluable and as adults we can sometimes fail to prioritize these relationships.

A mossy carpet ride along the Tuscarora Trail

It was somewhere around the halfway point, while dancing back and forth across the Virginia and West Virginia line that the trail got easier. There were level, sometimes mossy paths instead of just enormous ridges to climb. Those ridges that I did climb were less daunting, perhaps my body was falling into step. Views abounded and periodically it rained, and creeks started flowing. I always found shelter, walking only one day in the rain into Hancock, where I found the relief of a trailside motel with a nearby grill. Temps remained hot and humid, but at least the terrain seemed more forgiving and my body more capable. Leaving Hancock, we even walked the gravel-lined C&O canal path, which seemed a paradise, complete with water spigots along the way. 

Crossing the Pennsylvania state line

We crossed the Pennsylvania state line, and Amos and I picked up the pace. The temps cooled considerably, with daytime temps in the seventies and nighttime temps in the mid-forties to fifties. Springs trickled! Creeks gurgled! We followed country lanes past idyllic farmhouses, old cabins, and Amish farms with buggies parked in the drive and clothes hung on lines fifty feet long. Paw paw trees greeted us as did precious plants like mountain mint, wild anise, and black cohosh. Paw paws produce the largest native North American fruits, about the size of a very large potato, with a custardy filling that tastes of mango and bananas. Mountain mint is an exceptionally fragrant and flavorful native mint. Wild anise is a member of the carrot family with delicious anise flavored roots and leaves. Black cohosh provides a potent remedy for hormone-related imbalances. The Scarlet-leaved tupelo lessened, replaced by yellowing black birch. Grassy level forest roads, such as those near to Cowan's Gap State Park, lulled us into a dreamlike state, where I felt that we could walk for all the rest of our days. 

A roadside scene

Paw paw (Asimina triloba)

Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum muticum)

Black Cohosh gone to seed (Cimicifuga racemosa)

But with Pennsylvania also came the rocks. I expected rocks, sure, I have hiked a lot of miles in this state. There is a reason why folks call it Rockslyvania. Still, I was taken by surprise by the severity. The guidebook, with the exception of the Florence Jones Reinman Preserve, gave little indication that we'd be teetering on boulders, precariously tiptoeing across rocky mountain spines, and tearing through barbwire-like blackberry bramble. Amos bore tiny pricks on his belly and my calves and thighs still bear the marks. I suppose we'd also been lulled into a false sense of security given the easier miles we'd been hiking as of late. Pennsylvania, indeed, offered up the hardest miles of the whole trail and not just for me, but Amos. I don't know that I would have chosen to bring Amos along for this portion of the trek had I known. It was nerve wracking assisting him through these rock jumbles. At one point, we both almost tumbled off a five-foot ledge. I wondered if the Tuscarora were competing with the Appalachian Trail's Mahoosuc Notch. When wet, these rocks are like a slip and slide. When lucky, I was saved with a bear hug around a large tree, other times I just landed in a clatter. The pictures do no justice. I was humbled.

Rocky trail

More rocky trail

But it was also from these rocky ridges along the Tuscarora and Blue Mountains that we were afforded the best views. There were countless. Flat Rock vista and the view from Charlie Irvin Shelter take the prize, but there were so many nameless surprise expanses of valley and ripples of mountains that were suddenly revealed. . . usually when I was sweating and cursing and tossing gear that had fallen off my pack ahead of me on trail- a water bottle, an essential bag of Cheetos - to retrieve once I'd traversed more rocky trail to reach it. Then I'd stop and breathe, sometimes laugh at myself, and both Amos and I would gaze in wonder at the land spread before us, a green ocean with blue mountain islands and wispy clouds. 

One of many stunning views, I believe this was from Charlie Irvin Shelter

Through all these rocks I was, at times, reminded in subtler ways of the beauty that surrounded me, of the landscape's invitation to be a part. Heart-shaped basswood leaves fluttering before my face. Surprisingly sweet hawthorn berries perfectly at arm's reach. Crunchy rock tripe lichen and crisp autumn leaves. Rock cap ferns bearing brown button-like sori (spore-producing bodies). Craggy black birch trees that longed for touch. Even rocks that seemed to say welcome, not many pass through here, watch your step. 

Hawthorn berries (Leonurus cardiaca) - a gentle but effective cardiovascular tonic

Rock cap fern (Polypodium virginianum) bearing spore-producing sori on undersides of fronds.

Although our last so many days on the trail were some of the most challenging, I also knew our time was dwindling. I did my best to savor it. We took a rain day, spending two nights and one day inside our tent in Fowler Hollow Shelter. This shelter has been through the ages, evidenced by the names/dates etched into its walls built of sturdy logs and plaster. The oldest one I could read with certainty said 1963. The floor was dirt and clearly many a porcupine had made a meal of its attached bench, but what grace to have a roof over our head for such a rainy 36 hours. Very near to the end, we hoofed it to Colonel Denning Campground and met Bruce and Sue of Texas, who shared their fire roasted ears of corn and a great big salad. Thank you, Bruce and Sue - this felt like an end of trail celebration! In our last days, Amos howled at waddling porcupines and scared a bear down the ridge. The screech owls we'd heard nightly down south were now barred owls, and coyotes cried in the valley. On our last day, at lunch, we enjoyed a sweet swinging bench near a private residence that allows hikers to pass through. A water pump and hiker register completed it. Thank you, gracious property owners. 

A lovely swinging bench on private property near to a trail register and water pump, hikers are given permission by property owners to pass through.

Our last few miles were remarkably easy. We cruised through corridors of spicebush and honeysuckle bejeweled in red ripe fruits. The trail was void of rocks and level. Amos led the way, seeming to know that if he just kept moving, today we'd reach the end. And thankfully, when we reached the Appalachian Trail, after snapping a host of poor selfies, a couple strolled up, gracious enough to take a picture of a very excited hiker and a very tired coonhound. But we weren't quite done yet. Given that the Tuscarora Trail terminates at the AT, we'd have to follow this old friend a couple of miles to a roadside parking lot for pickup.

A hayfield along the Appalachian Trail

What a glorious way to reach trail's end! We soared along the relatively easy Appalachian Trail, white blazes passing in a blur. I tried to recall if any of this seemed familiar, but you know, in 2000 miles you hike through a whole lot of woods. The day now coming to a close, the sun cast angled rays through the treetops. Suddenly, we were thrust from woods into an expansive farm field. We followed our path, a ribbon of mowed grass, between golden haybales that seemed purposely placed for aesthetic appeal. Nearly to the day, 15 years ago, I'd stood atop Mount Katahdin in Maine, summiting the final mountain on the AT. It would have been a dream to still be hiking long distance trails so many years later. And sure enough I was, my coonhound by my side.

At the northern terminus of the Tuscarora Trail!

That evening Amos and I sat in the parking lot and watched the golden light fade to deep blue. Stars peeked out in the night sky. Crickets chirped in unison. We snuggled close on a sleeping pad and Amos maybe wondered why I'd chosen such a strange campsite. But I thought it a perfect way to close our time on the trail. And of course, who else but Star Left swooped in, driving three hours after work to southern PA to pick us up! Veggie pizza in hand.

I was asked recently how I would categorize long-distance hiking. Is it a recreation, a sport, a vacation? I had to think about it. At first, I answered, a lifestyle. Many of us who long-distance hike have constructed our lives purposely in a way that will allow or support our continuing journeys. However, after giving it more thought, it clicked. For me, a long-distance hike is a pilgrimage. There are numerous definitions of pilgrimage, but in general a pilgrimage can be defined as a journey with intention, to discover understanding and meaning through experience, to visit sacred places that are intrinsically aligned with spirit. I am not a religious person, but this is absolutely why I hike these long trails. To return to Self, that self which is connected with all of the living world. To experience a remembering. To strip away the superfluous, and to be reminded of that which matters most in my day to day. To offer devotion and gratitude to that which sustains me and gives me life. And the Tuscarora Trail, indeed, provided the path do so.

Thank you to the Potomac Appalachian Mountain Club and supporting trail organizations for overseeing, maintaining, and securing the Tuscarora Trail. Journeys like mine would not be possible without this footpath through the wilderness. Your maps and guidebooks were excellent, as was signage and blazing. Much thanks to the kind folks in the Tuscarora Trail community, who when learning of my hike, reached out to offer assistance, insight, and support. Much love to the townspeople I met along the way - your welcoming nature really shines! So much gratitude to dear friends that lifted my spirits and helped this hiker and pooch get down the trail. A special thanks to Star Left for being a trail angel extraordinaire and my #1 support person on this hike. Thank you to Mom and Dad for your support from home on the ranch - Mom, you had a big job tending that garden! And of course to my love, Scott, for always being just a phone call away even when in Europe. 

Amos, my incredible trail companion and canine love

Lastly, a great big thank you to Amos, for being my companion on this hike and others. Strengthening our bond and creating memories with you that will last a lifetime was also an integral part of this journey. This was not just my hike, but yours, and every day we worked as a team. Despite our language barrier, we have only come to better understand each other, reading subtle and not-so-subtle cues, better with every adventure. Were it not for you, my pack might be lighter and the miles more predictable, but my hikes would be lonesome and not half the fun.

Thank you, Tuscarora Trail. Thank you, wild earth. Thank you for this body, for the will to do things hard things, and the ability to soften and adapt.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Tuscarora Trail: Crossing the Mason Dixon!

Pennsylvania state line!

It feels mighty fine to have crossed the Pennsylvania state line. The marker may have been humble, but soon as we did, both Amos and I got some more pep in our step. Just like that, Amos got his trail legs! I swear it’s as if he knows he’s on home turf and at this point, if he just keeps walkin’ he’s bound to reach home.

Amos walkin' the C&O 

But first, we had the pleasure of walking down the C&O canal path. This was a hiker’s dream, especially when loaded to the seams with food for the upcoming week, and water. Yeah, I know there’s water spigots along the C&O, but we wouldn’t be here for long and this hiker no longer trusts any upcoming water sources. So as we walked down this path admiring the flowering wingstem and white snakeroot, which I deem the official plant of this trail – I spooned cole slaw from a Ziploc bag from the Potomac River Grill, later I would enjoy leftover pasta alfredo with roasted broccoli spears at the picturesque Hardy County Park. I highly recommend this convenient restaurant located in Hancock, Maryland along the trail. I also appreciated the Hancock Motel. If I weren’t hiking, I might have felt different – there was leftover soap in the shower and a used coffee filter in the courtesy coffee maker and well, I don’t know what was in the freezer – but the sheets were clean and very welcoming after coming off a road-walk and braving the bridge crossing over the Potomac River with a pooch in the pouring rain.

Wingstem (Verbesina alternifolia)

Once in Pennsylvania, I was greeted by country roads and a corridor of paw paw trees. However, I was disappointed to find no fruits. I do believe the trees were too shaded beneath the forest canopy to produce fruit, either that or a local knows the bounty of this stretch of trail and already picked 'em clean. Climbing up the mountain, I was delighted to find patches of mountain mint – by far the most refreshing aroma and flavor imaginable on a hot day, I crushed and nibbled as I walked– mingled with wands of black cohosh gone to seed.

Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum)

Black Cohosh gone to seed (Cimicifuga racemosa)

Each and every day the views in Pennsylvania have been astounding. But goodness, I had to pay for those views on the Tuscarora Mountain obstacle course. The guidebook said “the tread varies from rocky to good.” Rocky is an understatement, and that is coming from someone who is a Pennsylvania native and has thru-hiked the Pennsylvania Mid State Trail, which I do believe must be the rockiest long trail there is. Teetering with a full pack, Amos and I navigated this rocky spine on a sun-drenched day with little tree cover and I just hoped I wouldn’t be abandoning my pack, slinging him over my shoulders, and dashing down the nearest side trail for rescue. But alas, he navigated it better than myself. I suppose the Mid State was good training for this swamp walkin’ coonhound. When we weren’t playing see-saw with boulders, we rolled up and down slender trail laced with barbwire-like blackberry vines. The northern end of this ridge walk was, comparatively, a walk in the park, with wider leafy trail. We practically skipped! Nonetheless, by the time I descended my legs looked like stray cats had used me for a scratching post.

Amos appreciates every view

Believe me, the photos don't do it justice!

Along this route I was saddened to find here and there heaps of invasive mile-a-minute vine (the North’s kudzu) strangling vegetation and trees playing host to spotted lantern flies. However, there were also wide spreads of milkweed and starry campion speckling the trail, both of which were a delight to see. 

Starry Campion (Silene stellata)

Sweet fern (Comptonia peregrina) - one of my favorite teas

Also, the return of black birch and black cherry in full attendance, now dominant trees rather than tupelo and sassafras, has warmed my heart (although I love those trees too). Fragrant sweet fern periodically now waves from the edge of the trail. These botanical companions, sure reminders that I am on a Pennsylvania ridge, walking Pennsylvania woods.

Moutain House Restaurant

Another fine establishment along this trail is the Mountain House Restaurant. My goodness, to be walking trail, emerge onto a powerline with a spectacle of a view and then walk through a hole in the shrubbery to an establishment with cold soda and fried food . . . I felt like I’d just walked through the closet to Narnia. They have a lovely back porch that makes a hiker feel right at home, with electrical outlets too, and even Amos thought this was a fine place (Amos doesn’t do civilization well) when I ordered up a burger just for him. This is his third one on the trail, mind you. I figure the burgers are powering the trail legs.

Lovin' these wide grassy paths!

And now the temps are cool, so much that I’ve actually started wearing the thermal top I carried all these miles and although there are bursts of boulders and rocky reels, there have also been great long stretches of wide earthen forest road. Some have been grassy, others gravelly and leaf strewn. But I’ll take it. Perhaps it is my age (although I’m not that old yet), but I every time I walk one of these stretches, I think, I could walk this the whole way. But really, I think I could. Anyone know a trail out there that is just easy forest road walking? But it must have shelters like the Tuscarora. These shelters are the lap of luxury – each one uniquely designed, clean, and complete with a picnic table. In fact, I sit at one such lean-to as I write this post!

Burd Run Shelter

Flintstone seats at Big Mountain Shelter

One more week to go. I am going to savor it. Thank you to all the trail maintainers and trail supporting folks that make the Tuscarora Trail the trail that it is!

White Snakeroot (Eupatorium rugosum) 

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

The Tuscarora Trail: Expect the Unexpected

Just a girl and her dog on the Tuscarora Trail

It's been eleven days on since my father delivered Amos and I to the southern terminus of the 250- mile Tuscarora Trail. Since then, I've been stung by yellow jackets a dozen times, scraped off hundreds of ticks, traversed more dry creek beds than I care to count, hauled 14 pounds of water daily, met one local deputy, showered twice, and counted my many blessings.

This trail has been no walk in the park, not that I expected it be. No trail worth its merit ever is. But I do, after hiking thousands of miles, begin a new hike with a certain confidence. An expectation that I've experienced a lot on the trail and have a good idea of what challenges may lie ahead. However, there was a while here that I wondered if this trail might just chew me up and spit me out.

Within the first two hours I accidentally stirred up a yellow jacket ground nest that sent me flailing and shrieking down the trail, Amos following close behind. I did not outrun them, rather trailed them along for a half mile. They were in my shirt, up my shorts, behind my backpack. Amos escaped unscathed. That evening I was met with a bone-dry creek and allowing Amos to drink all he wished of our reserves, found myself rationing to the point of dehydration. Given my state, I'd liken the second's day's climb up our first big mountain to that of my climb up the much more massive AT Approach Trail along Amicalola Falls. I felt like a total newb.

It went something like this: hike 50 feet, collapse and topple over from the weight of my pack, hike 50 more feet, collapse and brace myself on a tree, hike 50 feet, collapse and let Amos drag me another couple. Water is all important folks. Thankfully I had acquired water at a canoe company by the river but was still playing catch up and loaded up with seven liters, the weight was immense. Little had I known how severe Northern Virginia's drought was until I faced dry spring after dry creek, not to mention the ungodly low Shenandoah River which reached only up to its first tic mark on its depth measurement. 

I also hadn't a clue that lone star ticks had made their way this far north. Scott and I have encountered these in Florida once the weather reached above eighty degrees. However, never, and I mean never, had I found them through the southern mountains. I was no sooner nursing to my yellow jacket stings, several of which had expanded into scarlet circles five inches in diameter, than I discovered an army of nymph ticks spreading out across my body. From what I understand, nymph lone star ticks do not transmit disease, but each li'l bite, of which there were countless, does confer an itchy red dot. And so the trail had wounded me in yet one more unforeseen way. My body looks like it's been through a battle.

Amos would later suffer his own wounds. I had done my best to consider how to keep him cool during the hot days (temps in high eighties) by using a cooling vest. This is essentially like a wet suit - drench the vest, wring it out, and zip it around his torso. However, this vest coupled with the rubbing of his harness resulted in swollen nipples and an irritated oozy armpit. One evening, a half mile from camp, he simply sat down and refused to budge. It wasn't until I saw what had happened and removed his gear, using now only a collar, that he resumed our course. I felt terrible, but I'm sure he felt worse. 

Amidst all this there was also a ten-mile road walk reroute on Route 11 and a visit from local law enforcement when Amos and I threw in the towel and set up camp at a church that I hoped would look kindly on us. Thankfully the law enforcement was kind as could be and when they heard our plight, allowed us to remain the night. 

One of our first views from a high mountain perch

And so, despite all these struggles, there have been so many unexpected gestures of kindness, so many moments of brilliant in-your-face beauty and subtle splendor, so many moments when I thought we were goners and we were saved by a running creek, a campsite, a dear friend. And so now that I've addressed the lows, I want to address all the good that we have been graced with on this trail.

Firstly, to have the joy of my father, at age 77 still delivering me to the trailhead and still rooting me on. He's got a trip to Saskatchewan coming up in a couple weeks for an elk and wild boar hunt but that didn't stop him from cruising five hours south with me and seeing me off!

House the Cat and Bot at the start of the Tuscarora Trail

Nextly, the kind locals that line this trail. I love where I live, but goodness, the generosity and welcoming nature of the south makes northeasterners look like a bunch of suspicious scowlers (myself sometimes included). The people of Tom's Brook were so welcoming to this sweaty hiker and nervous pup (Amos really doesn't like towns. . . of any size) Niki in the post office tended to me on her lunch break, let me drop my gear there to walk around town, and fill my seven liters of water, that is after Emily had personally texted me to let me know my maildrop had arrived. Then there were the friendly locals in the gas station and Dollar General who welcomed Amos, made small talk and wished me well. Residents and business owners along the road offered cold bottles of water. There was father and son Stacey and Jeff, in particular, who went the distance for Amos. And of course, let's not forget the kindly deputy who apologized for disturbing my night. I may have been physically hurting, but a big-hearted thank you to all of you for your empathy and support. You've got a special town. 

And thank you to the kind folks I have met elsewhere along this trail: Crystal of Gore Grocery, the folks at Down River Canoe Company, the owners of the Motel 6 in Front Royal. Your kindness makes the world better. Kindness perpetuates kindness.

Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense)

There has been the beauty along this trail, from the enormous trees, so big I couldn't begin to wrap my arms around them. Several stood beside the flowing waters of Pond Run where I literally sat and laughed aloud in glee at the cool sparkling water, throwing it all over my body, Amos lapping it up heartily and I filling my water bottles. There have been leaf-lined paths, one moment red with tupelo leaves and the next golden with those of black birch. There have been the vistas - so many views from which I almost felt my body take flight with the birds overhead, out over the layers of blue mountains in the distance.

Yet another vista

Leafy trail - it feels like autumn has already landed here

There have been the long missed, familiar plants of southern Appalachia: wild yam, pedicularis, wild hydrangea, and blooms that harken of spring like Canada violet. I discovered plants wholly new to me such as fragrant and flavorful Shiso, hyssop-leaf thoroughwort, yellow crownbeard, field goldenrod, and refreshing stone mint. 
Canada Violet (Viola canadense)

Shiso, aka Beefsteak Plant (Perilla frutescens)

Field Goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis)

Hyssop-leafThoroughwort (Eupatorium hyssopifolium)

I have quenched my thirst with the juicy fruits of autumn olive, crushed leaves and nibbled berries of fragrant spicebush, and chewed the twigs of black birch to quell my pains. Screech owls and whippoorwills join me most evenings at camp, and does with their fawns periodically bound across my path. Tiny turtles have offered up their presence, reminding me that their footsteps are a whole lot smaller than mine, and Carolina wrens have come to say hello from their perches on slender branches on towering ridgelines. 

Delicious autumn olive fruits (Elaeagnus umbellatum)

Turtle - anyone know what kind?

These moments of unexpected beauty, the grace of nature and reminder that I, too, am a part of this world and not just that of man is my drive to continue hiking this trail and surely more in the future.

With Star Left and Amos

But this particular human I wanted to save for last to close out this entry. Star Left - I know those of you who have been reading my blog for some years or those who read my most recent book, Love and the Long Path, know of Star Left. As I mentioned in my last post, I met Star Left while thru-hiking the Finger Lakes Trail and we have stayed in touch ever since. She came out to join and assist us on the Long Path and also dropped in with some trail magic on the Florida Trail. She also recently attended my Plant and Place Connection Series. This dear friend came to my rescue this past weekend. As I mentioned she's been sectioning the Great Eastern Trail, and it just so happens that her sections are lining up pretty well with my path on the Tuscarora Trail. So, she drove my car down this weekend to knock off some miles and bring some much-needed assistance to Amos and I. There isn't room enough in this post to list the ways that she brought both aid and joy to our miles these last few days. She slackpacked me, hung out with Amos on a day that was too hot for him to hike, found us an awesome place to camp for two nights at Hawk Campground (highly recommend - few amenities but quiet, clean, and free), dropped me water caches, helped me in planning miles, and delivered me my supplies for the upcoming week. We hiked part of Saturday together and then spent two nights camped together with lots of laughter and pizza from nearby Kerrs Grocery. 

And now she's delivered me to another dear friend, Krista who has a house right beside the Tuscarora. Krista and I have been friends since college but haven't seen each other in over a decade. That mattered not. When I reached out, she offered up her sanctuary as respite from the heat. Temps down here are presently nearing 100 degrees, which is seriously unpleasant for me but way too hot for Amos.

So, just to be clear, I may solo hike much of the time, but I am by no means a solo hiker. A long hike takes a village. And I wouldn't want it any other way. For this support, too, is unexpected and such a gift to receive. Goes to show that the unexpected can come in many forms. 

Hopefully I can get another post out soon - service has been slim but seems to be improving! Thank you all for following along on my journey!