This blog is going to be longer than most, so, heads up now: grab your favorite cup ‘o joe, or salty snack and settle in. Today’s update will cover the excitement of the Damascus Trail Days Festival, an unfortunate and scary tragedy, wonderful reunions with old hiker friends,
hanging out with “Spicy Jesus”, a surprising taste test, Chipmunk’s first podcast and a bunch of great swag!
For starters, Chipmunk, Chocolate Chip and I are now on our own until Papa Chip finishes his cross country bike tour. We miss him but we are managing pretty well (heck, it’s only been 2
days!). On Friday, we kissed him good bye and drove back towards Damascus. We got a later start than we planned because it felt so good to just hang out together as a family. My
oldest daughter, the editor, drove 6 hours to meet us in Williamsburg and had also planned on an earlier start home but we all seemed to find reasons to stay together: the editor asked her Papa to fix her tailgate, Chipmunk asked her sister to help her shop for a swimsuit, etc. etc. We said our final good byes and hit the road around 3:00 pm.
readers.” So, we’ll find out when the online version is published and update our readers then, as well. I received an email afterwards from Womens Adventure’s Editor in Chief, Jennifer Olson, who wrote: “Thanks for setting up the call with Neva today, Tammy! I had fun chatting with her!” You’re welcome! She had fun, too!
We pulled the truck into the big grassy parking lot behind the local library for some "boondocking” and I tried to pick a level spot. I walked Chocolate Chip while Chipmunk
sorted the stuff piled on her bunk and put things away in their cabinets. I tried to send a text message to Papa Chip to let him know we had arrived OK but found that I had no cell signal. I did find a Wifi connection so I sent him an email, hoping that he had Wifi in his hotel room and would see it. We slept really well and woke around 7:30 am. I walked Chocolate Chip
while Chipmunk dressed and then she scooted out of the way while I dressed (I kid you not when I refer to the po white trash camper as “postage stamp” size!) Even without Papa in there, we have to“squish past” one another. But … it works.
out front to the podcast booth. They had asked to interview her and she was happy to accept. I asked if she wanted me to watch and she said, “No, go enjoy your coffee. I’ll come in afterwards.” So, I did. Again, I don’t know much about the
interview but both of the AT thru hikers, “Pox” and “Puss (in boots)” said she was “delightful”. I’ll try to get a link and post it here, in case you’d like to listen to it.
of hiking friends and it was odd to see them all cleaned up, some clean shaven with fresh haircuts, too.
(Chipmunk was glad to see her hiker buddy, Dutch, is also a SturdiWheat Pancake fan!) The town of Damascus comes together every year and truly treats the hikers like they are royalty! There are free haircuts,
free showers, free meals, free gear repair and lots of giveaways. You truly get the sense that the townspeople want you there and the hospitality is REAL.
(https://www.facebook.com/#!/BlueBlazeCafe?fref=ts). I’d been emailing with the owner, Valerie, about not only her menu there but about the Paramount Fit Foods product line they sell (more about that soon). I was introduced to Valerie and I instantly liked her. She was warm, friendly and easy to talk to.
I’ve been in sales almost my entire adult life and it is so nice when you make a genuine connection with someone. She asked if we wanted a bite to eat but we told her we’d only eaten breakfast about an hour ago; that we’d stop back in the afternoon, after the hiker parade. We also ran into “Bubblehead”, who left the trail for a short time to take care of some personal business. Good to see him back and see him looking“trail ready”.
giveaways. She stopped at the Fifty Sense http://www.fiftysense.net/ booth that is an organization promoting active and sensible but fun lifestyles for the over 50 demographic. They are very into hiking, biking, etc. The folks at Fifty Sense welcomed her with big hugs and a survival bracelet and wanted to hear all about her hike. When one of the ladies realized that she was solo hiking, she gave me a big hug and a survival bracelet, too. Thanks!
wandered further down and I saw the Paramount Fit Foods tent and met “Spicy Jesus” (that’s his trail name), a big guy with a big heart who apparently whiles away hours every day reading this crazy blog! Well, I must admit that I was concerned that Chipmunk might not like their mainstay: Jerky. She has tried a few different grocery store jerky brands and one
“homemade” version and consistently has said, “I don’t like that.” When I read about Paramount Fit Foods
(http://www.paramountfitfoods.com/Home_Page.html), I was fascinated that they had a new approach to jerky. For starters, their jerky is not just beef. They have Ostrich, Buffalo, Venison and of course a few different beef jerky. BUT …and here’s the clincher for me … they sell their jerky in a mixed pack together with dried fruit and nuts! It’s brilliant! Everyone knows that fruit helps in the digestion of meat AND makes everything taste better,
too. Pairing of foods is what makes eating exciting. I mean, come on … if you ate plain tortilla chips, you (and your mouth) would be bored. Add Nacho Cheese and it’s a “whole ‘nother ballgame”. Still … I was worried that Chipmunk would try it, be polite but make it clear that she doesn’t do jerky. Darren asked Chipmunk if she’d like to try a sample of the Ostrich jerky. She agreed and dumped all of the Dixie cup sized sample into her mouth at
once. I stood by waiting for her "polite” response. Instead, before she even finished chewing and swallowing, she said in garbled words, “Wow. That’s really good!” I was shocked. Darren smiled and started telling her about the Buffalo/Strawberry combination packs, and asking her what she’d like to try. She said, “all of them”. He ducked into the tent and returned with a gift bag full of the lightweight, vacuum sealed packs that are perfect for hiking, hunting, cycling, etc. It was sooooo nice to find a “real food” option that’s healthy and that Chipmunk likes, really likes. During our bike tour 2 years ago, I grew so tired of the protein/energy
bars; they’re great except after a while they looked more like a mound of dog
food and didn’t feel like real food in my mouth. I’m planning on stealing a few bites of
Chipmunk’s Paramount Fit Foods while she’s on the trail today … Shhhh! Don’t
Unfortunately, soon after the parade started, a gentleman in a car on a side street had a medical incident, possibly a stroke or some other debilitating event. In the midst of it, his foot landed on the gas pedal and his car lunged into the hikers in the parade.
I was unaware of the incident at first because I was at least 2-3 blocks up the main drag. Chocolate Chip
was busy making friends while we waited for the parade to progress. I did notice that there were a few emergency vehicles trying to make their way down a side street but never thought it was related to the parade. Within a few minutes, Pox (of Pox and Puss’podcast) appeared at my side saying, “Chipmunk is OK, she’s just a little shook up.” He explained that a car hit some hikers near her and that he helped her find her way to me. She stepped out from behind him and was shaking and crying. I wrapped my arms around her and asked if she was OK and she said, “I think so. It was really scary. I saw a hiker trapped under one of the wheels.” I hugged her tight and said,“Let’s get out of this crowd.”
Pox came along with us and we went to the only place I knew in town: The Blue Blaze Café. I had only known Valerie, the owner, a short time, but she made me feel relaxed and safe and that’s what we needed in that moment. As we arrived at the café, I remembered that I had Chocolate Chip with me and that I couldn’t possibly take a dog into a restaurant nor could I leave her outside on the crowded sidewalk. I turned to Pox and asked if he would get Chipmunk to Valerie and ask if she could stay there until I could get the dog to our camper and get back to the café. He readily agreed and Chipmunk held his arm as they went in the restaurant. I could see through the window that Valerie got her to a booth and talked
with her; Pox came back out and said he’d stay until I got back. I walked as fast as I could, trying to politely push through the crowd. I rounded the corner at one end of the park where the vendors were and just felt like I couldn’t walk fast enough. As I came up on the
Paramount Fit Foods tent, Spicy Jesus asked, “are you ok?” In the moment, the gravity of how close Chipmunk came to being hurt, hit me. I started to cry and quickly explained what happened. I asked if he anyone had a car that could possibly get me back to the Blue Blaze
quicker, after I dropped Chocolate Chip off. Without hesitation, he said, “my sister, Bonnie, will get you there.”
I was pretty close to the library parking lot where the camper was parked so I ran the last bit of it. I got Chocolate Chip safely up in the camper where she made a beeline for her mom’s bunk. I ran back to the park and hopped into Bonnie’s car. She carefully drove the back way out of the park and headed towards the center of town. We soon learned that several roads were blocked off because of the incident and she got me as close as she could to a street behind the center of town. I thanked her and jumped out and figured I’d ask people along the way how to get to the Blue Blaze. I climbed the embankment next to the railroad tracks and standing there I saw Beatty with Gear Aid … again, one of the few people I knew in town and he offered to show me the way to the Blue Blaze. When I arrived, I found Chipmunk looking very relaxed with a soda and a plate that held “one of the best pieces of pizza I ever ate”, according to her.
She and Pox had been chatting and apparently he did a great job of helping her process what had happened. She gave me a hug and said, “really, I’m O.K.” I was so relieved. Valerie came over and I thanked her for her tag team parenting in a pinch. I asked her if she had any kids and she said 7. SEVEN? Yes, Seven … no wonder she reverberates the “mom’s going to make it all better” gene. She also offered me a beer and although I wanted to be clear headed for the rest of the afternoon, a beer was just what the doctor ordered for my nerves! I sat and drank it and also had a ½ pound burger, which was absolutely yummy.
Within minutes, both Chipmunk and I felt back to normal.
poles. Chipmunk has been using a pair of inexpensive Alpine Design Kids’ hiking poles and they’ve served her
pretty well but recently one of the tips broke off. She asked if they could advise anything and initially they turned to me with product details and I pointed them back to her saying, “she’s the hiker. I’m shadowing her OFF the trail.” She and I explained about her quest and soon Gregg Fisher, the Leki Operations Manager, came up with an idea. He said, “we’d like you to
try our new Leki Aergon Micro Stick.” They’re a foldable pole with minimum packing size, low weight and extremely stable. They have a speed lock system, a comfortable Aergonomic palm grip on top that offers a true variety of gripping options. The pole itself is a special Aluminum Titanium sleeve that protects the “high modular carbon fibers.” The attached info says that “a spring in the lower shaft guarantees maximum tension and automatic rope length compensation.” He also said that they have very durable tips that ought to last her
entire hike. WoW! I was sold on them. I warned them that although Chipmunk will be glad to try them, she’ll be honest in her review of the gear. He said that was fine; that he felt confident she’d like them. But, he also said to contact him if she needs a different kind of pole; he’d make sure she got what she needed. I nodded and thought to myself, Leki sounds like a really good pole choice. They’re not just about making a great product, but also about making a great relationship with the end user. Thanks, Leki! I’ll publish Chipmunk’s gear
hikers. There were backpacks (minimum retail of $200 each!), water filters, state of the art hiking jackets,
Socks … SCADS of SOCKS!, clothing, utensils, snack bars … and the list goes on. The crowd was really excited as it started but we did grow quiet as we observed a moment of silence for the hikers and the driver who were injured in the parade incident. As the drawings drew to an end, one of the first responders arrived with news that all 4 hikers were going to be o.k.; that 2 were being released immediately and the 2 others were expected to be released by Sunday. A huge cheer went up from the crowd and I felt tears come into my eyes. It was indeed a very good end to what could have been a much worse situation. Chipmunk and I hugged.
FYI, 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 some “Trail Magic” to Chipmunk, click on the“Donate” button at the upper left of today’s blog post. 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)