Over the years I have always considered myself to be extremely fortunate to have a number of really good friends. Many of those really good friends are my running buddies. Between 1998 and 2006 a group of these buddies would meet me at the high school where I taught for a 5:30 AM run every Wednesday. A certain camaraderie develops when runners meet before dawn to pound out 8-12 miles before a busy work day. As I’ve gotten older and slowed down considerably, the long Wednesday runs have ended for me. The friendships, fortunately, have not. So at a time when despondency was creeping into my everyday psyche, two of these really goods friends arrived to again pound out miles of a different kind. Today I hiked with enthusiasm, and without a pack, as John Teeples and Jimmy Brooks took an 18.3 mile hike with me on the Appalachian Trail.
I was still a little stunned this morning over the late night arrival of Jimmy. I knew of course that John was coming up to hike with me for three days; however, Jimmy’s arrival was truly a surprise. Actually, it was a shock. The second surprise came at the breakfast table of the Cooper Creek B & B (note the name, my Columbus friends) when Mary placed a bowl by my plate. Staring in disbelief, I asked, “Are those grits?” Jimmy had not only arrived to hike but had brought grits with him. I quickly dubbed Jimmy “Grits” for his time on the trail. Along with the scrambled eggs and cheese, sausage, toast, and coffee, the breakfast has to rank among the top five I’ve enjoyed since the hike began.
After breakfast Cooper drove the three of us back to Bulls Bridge Rd. What made today’s hike a little different was the opportunity to hike without a pack all day. We carried only one, stocking it with food and water. I should say my friends carried one pack. My two buddies insisted on alternating carrying it, so I got to hike packless. With some fairly challenging climbs and high humidity again, it certainly felt good to have the weight off my back.
Throughout much of the day I shared some of the best conversations I’ve engaged in on the hike with John and Jimmy. At one point I found myself talking about Don. Both of my friends listened compassionately as I shared aspects of his life, illness, and death. For me, I guess one could say, it was kind of therapeutic. Regardless, I appreciated their understanding. We also talked about John’s businesses, Jimmy’s practice, our families, running, and of course my hike. It was all good.
The trail today posed a few more challenges than yesterday. There were several water crossings that required some rock hopping, an occasional series of rocks to negotiate, and some mud. My buddies wanted me to hike in front; however, I’m sure both could have easily increased the pace at any time. Not having seen any other thru hikers yesterday, I hoped that John and Jimmy would at least get to meet one of my fellow Maine bound pilgrims. That finally occurred at a stream in the early afternoon. Colin, a hiker I’ve been around many times since early in Virginia, was taking a break by the water. We would see him again throughout the day.
The most challenging part of today’s hike was hiking down St. John’s Ledges. I should say it was a bit of a challenge for me. John and Jimmy had expected something more technical. Near the end of that section we came across two rock climbers. Dave and Lacey had affixed a rope to a tree at the top of a rock face. Dave began the climb up as we watched. I sensed that John would have liked a turn, having done a little rock climbing himself. Unfortunately the hike needed to continue. And so we hiked on toward the Housatonic River.
For much of the final six plus miles the trail parallels the river. At one point my two companions decided a swim was in order. So for the second time in two days John has gone for a swim during my hike. I watched from the bank as John and Jimmy cooled off in the rippling water. After their swim we picked up the pace until a final climb commenced. I needed a short rest before we completed the last mile. Just before we reached CT 4 near Cornwall Bridge, we spotted Cooper walking up the trail to meet us. After a stop for a Mountain Dew, we headed toward the inn.
After cleaning up we ventured into Kent for a little grocery shopping and a meal. Good conversation resumed over supper. Like so many times throughout my hike, someone special has helped to make my day less difficult. With good friends to accompany me on today’s hike, I barely thought about the miles. My buddies, however, have real jobs in the regular world, so tomorrow will be the last day they will hike along with me. As John would say, I know it’s going to be another “magnificent” day on the Appalachian Trail.