Deidra Johnson Dryden excelled as a student and as an athlete at Shaw High School in Columbus, GA in the mid 1980’s. From the first time I saw Deidra run, her competitive nature was evident. Now three decades later, she serves as an administrator, mathematics instructor, and coach at Southern Virginia University. She also still competes at various distances including the marathon. Deidra and her dentist husband Brent are raising five children in a beautiful home in small town, America. This morning I had the privilege of being driven back to the trail by Deidra. The conversation quickly turned to running as she wound her way back up the mountain.
Before hitting the trail I took a few minutes to meet and talk with Spirit, a lady who is driving a small RV up the roads along the trail to support hikers. Taking a break inside were Shaman (the girl) and Steady, an older fellow that I had not met before. I departed, telling both that they would probably pass me in a few minutes since I planned to hike slowly today. Neither did, but Shaman caught me just as I was about to leave Big Rocky Row after a short break. She sat atop a rock taking in the view as I headed back up the trail.
With an already hot day developing at 8:30, the climb from the James River up to Little Rocky Row followed by Big Rocky Row presented a challenge. I stopped often for water and Gatorade. After the two Rocky Rows the trail leveled comfortably for a little over two miles. During the level stretch I came up on Sleeping Beauty with whom I hiked until the Punchbowl Shelter. Sleeping Beauty, with his fiery red beard and bandana to match, set a pace that seemed just right for me today. I continue to find it interesting how trail names are often not gender specific. SB had been hiking sporadically with Etch-a-Sketch, a twenty-something young lady. As the three of us hiked together I discovered that SB had left Springer one day after me and that E-a-S had begun her hike one day after Sleeping Beauty. Today, however, was the first that I had seen either of them.
The final climb of my hiking day had me going up Bluff Mountain. From the beginning of today’s hike I had ascended over 2700 feet. Thankfully, much of the climb involved switchbacks. At the summit of Bluff a monument has been erected to Ottie Cline Powell. According to the inscription, little Ottie’s body had been found at the spot in 1891, after he had wandered away from his school some seven miles away. The poor little guy was not quite five. I continue to be fascinated by the various types of monuments along the trail.
Sleeping Beauty continued to lead me up the trail from Bluff Mountain toward the road where I would end today’s walk. Both he and Etch-a-Sketch took the side trail to the Punchbowl Shelter to have lunch and re-fill their water supply. I said goodbye and headed on toward the Blue Ridge Parkway mile marker 51.7, only .3 of a mile away. When I arrived at the road, Ken was already waiting for my ride back to Buena Vista. Since it was only 1:00 I had ample time to ice my Achilles, do laundry, and rest. So as I thought about the 10.8 mile day, I reminded myself that once again all is good on the Appalachian Trail.