I rolled out of my sleeping bag just as the Society for Camping with Armadillos
was putting on their packs to leave. There goes that hard-core thru-hiker
image. I had a big olÕ bowl of Just Right for breakfast. I purified a couple
of quarts with my Pur pump, having surrendered to iodine after nearly killing
myself with it a week previous, and pulled out of camp, still delighted with my
Super-Ultra-Hard-Core-Light-Spiffy-Comfy Pack. Not longer after I started, I
saw a little brown fuzzy thing sitting in the middle of the trail. Upon closer
inspection I discovered it was a lost and slightly-dazed-looking mole. I poked
at the little guy until he got off the trail, where he was less liable to be
trodden upon by some big, mean, nasty thru-hiker like myself. I took a break
after an hour or so, not because I needed it, but because I really wanted some
M&Ms. Instead on munching on a couple, I instead sat down and ate the entire
one pound bag. In this time I heard a rustling behind me. Turning around, it
was a cute little box turtle. He ignored me, walking around me, then turning
around to face me. He stretching out his little head, showing me his leathery,
fleshy neck, and yawned at me. IÕd hoped to feel a little puff of air hit my
face, but there was none. He turned around and walked away, waving a stubby
little tail at me. Right about this time it occured to me that IÕd been passed
I continued up the steadily rising trail for another hour before emerging at Rockfish Gap. There was a couple of hotels, a gas station, a restaurant and a couple of gas stations. Basically a place for people coming or going to or from the Parkway or Skyline Drive. But the gas station was all I needed right now. I had but $10 in my pocket, which I used to get OJ, chocolate milk and a packaged ham and cheese sandwich. I bought a copy of the "Washington Post" and read about a huge plane crash in New York -- it had exploded and fallen into the ocean on the way to Paris. The author of "Primary Colors" had 'fessed up -- Joe Klein. The Olympic Hoopla was about to commence, as the sports section screamed. I must say, itÕs awfully nice to be far enough north that I can get the Post. It began to rain as I was reading, but there didnÕt seem to be much to do about it, so I just got wet. (IÕd abandoned my raincoat in an effort to drop weight from my pack.) I headed over to the restaurant and spent the last of my money on a hot dog, fries and iced tea. After 5 refills of iced tea, the waitress started to give me nasty looks, and so I left. It had stopped raining, and "Song of Solomon" was begging, from my pack, to be read. So I stretched out in the field out front of the stores and alternated between juggling my juggling balls and reading. I kept on thinking that I should leave, but I had a nagging feeling, as if I was waiting for something, or I had something to do. After an hour, maybe 45 minutes, I suddenly jumped a full inch off of the ground -- which is pretty good, in that I was lying down. I had been surprised.
"Hello. We just thought weÕd come over and talk to you."
IÕd assumed that I was alone in my field. This voice had a slight British accent, which was something IÕd simply not expected to hear up here in the mountains. (British people donÕt hike? I donÕt know, I just didnÕt expect it. DonÕt ask questions.) The voice belonged to an attractive girl who appeared to be in her late teens. She was accompanied by a small boy, just old enough to be toddling around with a hand to hold. He looked at me inquizitively, jabbed a fat index finger at me, and then inserted it into his mouth deftly. I talked to the girl for a bit, who turned out to be 16, and a high school student in the area. The accent was explained away, credited to her New Zealander mother. We talked for ten or fifteen minutes in that field, playing with what turned out to be her little brother and verbally dancing around one another. She invited me to her house to have lunch, and that simply wasnÕt an offer any decent thru-hiker could turn down. So we piled into her older sisterÕs car (she had comendeered it for the day) and drove to her house. She told me that her name was Mana, which surprised me, as that is my familyÕs nickname for my grandmother. I asked her if she was in the habit of picking up strange thru-hikers. She told me that not only had she never done so, nor considered doing so before, but sheÕd just gotten her driverÕs license a few days before, so she was not even able to do so. She asked me if I was in the habit of going home with strange girls, and I confessed to being in the habit of doing just that.
Her house was not far, just a couple of miles down the Blue Ridge Parkway. At one point roads go off in either direction from the Parkway, both parked "Private". IÕd never really considered what might be down there until we turned down one of them. Her house was quite large, with wood floors, high ceilings, and an entire wall of windows that overlooked the park. I was told that her stepfather had built the house. I met her ten-year-old sister, Willow. She looked a little surprised to see me, but that didnÕt put her off from being boldly questioning. Mana set out making some veggie sandwiches for her and myself, toasting some cheese on bread. During this process there was a knock on the door. This was a friend of herÕs, Becky. She looked surprisingly unsurprised to find me there.
After lunch, the three of us ended up going swimming in a nearby lake, after
the babysitter showed up. I just sort of waded about, though Becky got the
nerve to jump from a cliff on the side. Mana was happy doing flips in the
water and laughing at Becky, who was swimming in her dress. Well, she was
swimming in the water, but she was
Swannanoa is a huge mansion up on the mountain in Afton. It was built, many years ago, by a husband and wife. The wife claimed to have had a dream, a dream in which sheÕd seen Christ standing on a hillside. So (naturally), she traveled the world over, in search of that hillside. And so she found it, just half an hour from my house, conveniently located near the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Shenandoah National Park. On that hillside she built this mansion, with beautiful flower gardens, now-towering trees, hedge sculptures, huge lawns and tours for just a few bucks. Parts of the structure and the surrouding lands are now crumbling, though it gives it a Roman-esque quality, in my opinion. Mana showed me around while Becky wandered about in a robe sheÕd put on after swimming. The whole place was very nice.
We managed to get lost on the way home, ending up at, of all things, an ostrich farm! This excited me to no end. IÕm still freaked out by the photo in "Guinness Book of World Records", where the guy has his hand down the ostrichÕs throat, stretching it out. There were a bunch at the farm that ran along with the car as we drove off, bobbing their heads like pigeons. While trying to figure out how to spell "ostrich", I found a neat web page about eating 'em!
We drove back to ManaÕs then, where she decreed that I was to spend the night. She called her mother at work and made it so. (Heck, I figured -- itÕll be something to write about! This is the family excuse for doing anything out of the ordinary. ThereÕs a lot to be said for coming from a family of writers.) I took a shower, something I sorely needed, despite my dip in the lake.
I spent the rest of the evening playing with her little brother, Xavier, and sister, catching up on the news, doing some heavy-duty eating and talking with Becky , Mana and ManaÕs mother. Mana made some funky tomato-sauce rice dish that was pretty good. Mana and Becky and I ende d up staying awake until 3, just talking. Mana finally developed a little sense - glad one of us did - and declared that we were all to go to bed. So I slept on the couch in a sleeping bag, but not without reading a little more of "Song of Solomon". What a day.
Song Stuck in my Head Today: REM, "Texarkana"