With our online work done and our cabinets re-stocked with groceries, we plugged the meetup location into our GPS and headed in that direction. At first we didn’t catch sight of it; it’s merely a spot in the road. On the 2nd pass by, we saw white blazes on a few trees along the side of the road but there was no easy parking area. There was one dip down area off the side of the road but it was quite muddy and the idea of pushing the truck and camper out of a muddy ditch wasn’t appealing. We drove further up the road and found an old tavern that was out of business and we pulled into the gravel and grass parking lot.
We locked up the camper and took Chocolate Chip with us and walked back to the meet up spot. As we walked along, I noted that there was no “Hiker Crossing” sign in either direction. In fact, although the Appalachian Trail has been around over 50 years and this crossing likely has been here for at least 10 years … there was no sign to warn motorists and protect the hikers. Cars and trucks whizzed by us as we walked on the 12 or so inches of gravel shoulder. Ironically, there were several other signs in the area: a “Pisgah National Forest” sign, a “90% of
Forest Fires are caused by Careless People sign” and signs warning of wildlife crossing the road. I just shook my
head and walked on, noting that it’s not the first road crossing where I’ve seen this situation. I couldn't help but wonder if someone took a proactive approach to getting hiker crossing signs posted, instead of the traditional American way, which is "how many hikers have to be hit to justify a sign?" ... could we save hikers' lives?
Papa Chip pulled out the AT guide map sheets and figured that the AT probably ran behind the old tavern where we parked. We ventured back and found a forest road that headed up to a clearing behind the tavern. As soon as we reached the clearing, we spotted a white blaze and a few bear proof trash cans. A-ha! We’ll intercept her here. Papa Chip and I went back to the truck, made up a couple sandwiches, brought camp chairs and books back up to the clearing and settled in for our wait.
We noticed a couple of sealed bags of trail mix sitting on the ground where the hikers would pass through the clearing and re-enter the trail. It wasn’t the typical Trail Magic, where kind strangers and former AT hikers set up a table of goodies and roll coolers of cold drinks up and stay for the day. It likely was something a hiker had decided he or she didn’t like or just didn’t want to carry any more. Without a doubt, there would be a hiker passing through who wanted or needed it.
I opened my third book in the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” series and swatted away the small black flies that were hovering around me. Papa Chip started exploring the forest area around us, with Chocolate Chip in tow. Soon, a hiking couple we met at Tanyard Gap emerged from the woods with their dog, Lily. We pointed out the Trail Mix and they started to thank us; we told them it wasn’t us, was probably an earlier hiker. They looked at each other
and she said in a low voice, “lunch”. Having talked to them at Tanyard Gap, I was aware that they were on a tight budget and were brain storming cheap ways to get back home after the trail since flying home wasn’t an option. I’m glad what they needed at that moment, materialized in their path. At the risk of being redundant, sometimes you just have to put out to the universe what you need.
Around 2pm, Chipmunk came down the trail after spotting us from a higher switchback. She called for her dog and Chocolate Chip was quick to run up the trail and greet her mom. We asked if she was hungry and she obviously said yes. We walked the short stretch of forest road back to the camper where I prepared her a sandwich and Papa Chip helped her peel her boots off. Along the way, she told us that again her feet were sore. She had hiked about 9 miles already and I thought she was going to suggest taking the rest of the day off. Instead she said she’d like to try using her hiking sandals for a while and let her boots air out dangling off the back of her pack.
She changed into clean dry hiking socks, ate her sandwich and told us that she was startled by a particularly quiet hiker. She said she usually hears most hikers as they approach but that he was within feet of her before she realized it. Then she said she wondered if she was singing out loud the crazy song that had been stuck in her head most of that day. By the way, Chipmunk sent a Twitter message to @edsheeran, one of her favorite singers, asking him to come sing to her on the AT so she could get the stupid songs out of her head for a while. She hasn't heard anything back from him.
By 2:40, Chipmunk was back out on the trail with a plan to stay at the Little Laurel Shelter for the night. We reminded her to send her SPOT “ok” message upon arrival and a text message if she had a signal. She kissed us good bye and disappeared into the woods again. Papa Chip and I then looked ahead at the AT Guide sheets and saw that if she chose to keep up the 13-15 miles per day pace, she would need to meet us at Devil Fork Gap the next day. She has two shelters along the way where she can stay if she can’t make the full distance due to fatigue, illness or injury. We hope she makes it to Devil Fork because it’s been widely publicized that the nasty Norovirus is believed to be spread to fellow hikers during their shelter stays, according to the Appalachian
Trail Conservancy website. She has been using her hand sanitizer often and although it’s not convenient (there are
no sinks or faucets along the trail), she has been washing her hands more often using her pack water and sheets of “soap”.
When she does come in to Devil Fork Gap, she will have hiked 308.9 miles of the Appalachian Trail. She has about 2 weeks of hiking left before the huge Trail Days fest in Damascus, VA running May 17-19. Arriving at Damascus is considered a milestone and is at MM 466.9 on the AT. Although every day of hiking the AT is an accomplishment in itself, her next big hurdle is arriving at Harpers Ferry, VA which is considered the halfway point of the trail. It is at MM 1018.3 on the AT. Hikers typically stop in to the Appalachian Trail headquarters there, sign the registry and have their picture taken. Friends have asked when and where we can meet up and I’d like to say we know where she’ll be but we truly don’t know much further than the next day. I’m finding I like handling life just 1 or 2 days at a time.
As I was posting this blog online, we discovered a Facebook message from Whisper, who left the trail with a serious sprained ankle and a fracture. She's been staying with Family in North Carolina but managed to make her way into Hot Springs, NC today to meet up with her trail friends. Whisper, all of us Chips hope you are having a good time and we hope that you heal well enough to re-join us on the trail. Give our best to Radar, Runaway and Beaver ... We miss all of you!
Check out “Chipmunk’s Pics” tab (on www.ridethenation.org) for a better look at what she sees while out on the trail. On youtube.com, her username is OpenlyMountainGoat if you want to check out any amateur video of her hike; we just started that account and will be adding more video soon.
We are trying to build support and maybe even get some sponsors to help in the expenses of Chipmunk’s quest to become the youngest solo thru hiker to complete the Appalachian Trail. We could use your help. If you enjoy reading the story of our adventure, and you’d like to send a donation, you can do so via the “donate”button at the top right side of this blog and we’ll be glad to treat Chipmunk to something special with the “trail magic” you send. Feel free to forward our website link (or email updates) to your family, friends, co-workers, etc, (www.ridethenation.org). Chipmunk maintains a twitter account: @openlymtngoat where a common hashtag is #GoChipmunk and she can receive personal messages directly to her email: firstname.lastname@example.org. She or we (email@example.com) will try to answer any questions you may have about her hike and this family adventure.
Thanks again for all your support,
Mama Chip, Papa Chip, Chipmunk and her dog, Chocolate Chip
(Tammy, Jay, Neva and Coco)