One aspect of the AT which continues to both fascinate and strengthen me is the uncertainty of what may occur on the trail on any given day. When Earl dropped Banzai and me back at the Three Ridges Overlook, a lone hiker was crossing the road headed north. He and Banzai exchanged greetings. It would be later in the morning before I introduced myself to Brass Rat. It would be even later in the afternoon before I realized how significant my meeting the MIT grad would be. He helped make the last eight miles of my 18.8 mile day pleasantly endurable, when I had little left in the tank.
The morning had begun with a bit of a downer when Cyclops confirmed what he had said last night. He is leaving the trail to return to Orlando. Better Man tried his best to get him to change his mind, but Cyclops had already booked a flight out of Lynchburg. The two who had hiked many miles together said their goodbyes after breakfast at the Dutch Haus B & B. So as Better Man and Smothers returned to the trail, Cyclops was getting a lift to the airport from Ranger and Julie. I too wished him well on his return to the “regular world.”
Before returning Banzai and me to our AT point on the Blue Ridge Parkway, he dropped our other passenger, ridge runner Regina, at Reeds Gap. When I started today’s hike, I used precaution by hiking slowly. I’m still pampering the Achilles for a few more days. With my slower pace pre-planned, I told Banzai and the hiker I would later learn was Brass Rat to go ahead. The strong, young man quickly disappeared into the distance. I never saw Banzai again throughout the day.
About seven miles into the hike, I heard the sound of poles on rocks behind me. A short while later I was overtaken by a day hiker, Brad, who was on his way to an overlook with his wife Libby and friend Tracy. Tracy’s black lab Dobie had also made the trek. Brad asked about my hike, so I told him about Don. He said that Libby’s father had also died from ALS. When we reached the overlook, which afforded beautiful views of ski slopes, I paused for a long break to visit with the three and enjoy the view. I also took Dobie’s pic as I let them know how much Don loved dogs.
As I hiked on up the trail, I met a few southbound weekenders and section hikers. Pony Stride and Preacher Man were the only two I engaged in conversation. Feeling somewhat undernourished and dehydrated, I rested often. During one such break I was caught by Brass Rat, who I had leapfrogged with all day but never really talked with much. That changed when I took a break in the mid-afternoon. After we both stated that we were feeling somewhat depleted, we hiked in tandem for the remainder of the day. I know that I hiked faster and with more enthusiasm than I otherwise would have. My new friend also happened to be my brother’s age. We shared a lot over the course of a few hours. I was especially interested in his trail name. He explained that it was based on the MIT class ring.
So all the way to Rockfish Gap we maintained a steady comfortable pace and conversation. Other than a rest stop at Paul C. Wolfe Shelter, we just walked and talked. Since Brass Rat had pre-arranged for a shuttle back to his car near Buena Vista, he offered me a ride to a motel in Waynesboro. When we arrived at Rockfish Gap, we only had to wait about ten minutes before the shuttler drove up. I was most appreciative for the lift.
Even though I only met the section hiker Brass Rat today, I felt like I had known him longer. Time tends too move slowly on the AT. As I said goodbye, he promised to read my web page and follow me the rest of the way. Section hiking requires a great commitment. I sincerely believe that my friend Brass Rat will one day get it all done. Thus a day that could have left me feeling a little down was transformed into another positive experience. Thank you my friend for making today another memorable one on my journey north along the Appalachian Trail.