“Don’s Brother PALS in Site A17 Love to see you” read the sign tied to a tree on the trail. It’s common for AT thru hikers to leave messages for those that may be hiking behind them. It was the first, however, that had been left for me. With both excitement and nervousness I walked up the short trail leading to the campsite. When a camper came into view, I heard a dog bark. A lady who appeared in the doorway asked, “Are you Don’s Brother?” “Yes, I am,” I replied.
The lady introduced herself as Chris. As Chris calmed Lucky, a gentleman with a broad smile on his face walked out of the camper. I shook Bob Anderson’s hand and then gave him an emotional hug. I don’t remember the ALS patient ever stop smiling during my visit. Even though his speech has diminished radically, Bob still walks and enjoys camping with his wife and dog. We took several pictures and discussed Don a little. Within a minute Lucky was also my friend. I imagined how much my brother would have loved petting the former pound puppy. Wishing I could stay longer, I explained that I needed to move on to reach my destination for the day.
Before seeing my sign and meeting Bob, Chris, and Lucky, I fully expected that the highlight of the day would be two bear sightings. As Jim (Mr. Gizmo) Wilson drove me back up Skyline Drive to Blackrock Gap, twice we stopped to observe bears. The first, a yearling, stood in the middle of the highway. Only after we crept very close did he move to the side of the road. The second was an older bear who paid no attention to us when Jim came to a stop so that I could take a picture. He nonchalantly kept grazing even as we drove away.
When I did begin hiking I thought that another bear would certainly appear since fresh scat littered the trail. No bear, however, came forward to claim the deposits. With what was supposed to be another big mileage day, I started the hike at a quick pace. With continued gentle terrain, all went well early. The views also returned. Atop Loft Mountain I dropped my pack to sit on a rock and just relax for awhile. Then after the visit with the Anderson’s, I walked down the Frazier Discovery Trail to the Loft Mountain Wayside, one of several that offer short order foods in the Shenandoah’s.
Even though the blue blazed trail required an additional .6 mile hilly hike each way, the burger was well worth it. Also at the wayside were Quicksilver and Peach, Pacemaker and Runner-up, and Tugboat and Life-raft. I hadn’t seen Tugboat since we shared the bunkhouse at the Troutdale Baptist Church Hostel. I ate a long leisurely lunch which I think may have been my downfall. I hiked sluggishly for the remainder of the afternoon. Because of my lack of energy, I decided to stop short at the Pinefield Hut with a 13.9 mile day.
When I arrived at the shelter several others were already there. I had met Christian and Annalena, a brother and sister from Germany, earlier on the afternoon. Christian is an exchange student at Virginia Tech. Two section hikers from France, Maz and Chef, were brewing up some tea. Tugboat and Life-raft stopped for a short nap before moving on up the trail. A little later Quicksilver and Peach also arrived. Pinefield Hut looks like a pretty nice shelter. There should be room for everyone.
Rain is also in the forecast for tonight, so others may arrive before dark.
As I’ve said before, every morning when I awake I have no idea what will unexpectedly occur on the trail. Today I had the honor and privilege to meet Bob and Chris Anderson and Lucky. Bob’s smile will remain with me throughout my hike. As I walked away from Bob, I thought about my brother. Don had a beautiful smile too. And today I think he was also smiling as his brother continued walking north on the Appalachian Trail.