It was not the dog who gave the podcast interview. It was Chipmunk. Oops!
Williamsburg) at TN 91, about 21 trail miles south of Damascus. I drove her there, hugged her goodbye and she started up the trail, pausing to look at the wide open pasture. I headed to a quiet place with Wifi to do the day’s blogpost. It was lengthier than usual and the process by which I upload photos just wasn’t working well. The hour I usually spend uploading and editing photos, writing the blog and posting it
…turned into a 4 hour ordeal. Early on, I decided that I had plenty of time while I waited for Chipmunk to hike her planned 10 miles so there was no need to let the situation at hand
Once the blog was finished, I returned a call to Gmom in Jersey. While talking to her, I realized that I needed Diesel so I pulled into the service station and filled up. When I checked the time, I told her I’d have to call her back if I had a signal at the gap where I was planning to get Chipmunk from. (Sorry, Gmom, I haven’t had a cell signal since. I’ll be in touch soon.) I pulled up the coordinates for McQueen Gap on evil, vengeful Rosie the GPS and pointed the truck down the road. As soon as she put me on a gravel road, I doubted her but there was a street sign there that said “McQueen Gap Road”…a good sign, right? I started driving up the gravel forest service road which grew pretty narrow at points, had a few minor washout gulches that I maneuvered around. Most of the way up the mountain, there was a good sized drop down the cliff on my left and sketchy rocks and fallen trees on my right. It was a little scary but I had decided to be a strong presence for Chipmunk while her dad was away. I even got an early start and should have arrived at the gap 30 minutes ahead of the 3pm target time we had discussed.
At some point, good ole evil vengeful Rosie decided I was “off road”and told me to make a left onto a non-existent road. I chose not to dive down the cliff side … a good choice, I thought. I continued driving figuring that she’d re-align with the GPS satellites and figure out I was still on the same road as the gap. After quite some time, she announced, “make a u-turn”. Are you kidding me?? I haven’t even seen a turnout in miles! Hmm. I’ll just continue on up this mountain, I thought and I’m sure I’ll see some evidence of the Appalachian Trail soon. Again vengeful evil Rosie pleaded, “make a u-turn”. Soon, I realized that I was no longer headed up … I was headed down the mountain. I debated whether to stop and get out and walk around but … it was raining. I’ve had enough of rain. I decided that the trailhead must still be ahead so I continued on.
Evil vengeful Rosie then announced, “re-routing” and after a few minutes, she said “make a u-turn”. I’d had enough! I punched evil vengeful Rosie in the face and she dislodged herself from the windshield, laid on the floor and continued to say, “Make a u-turn”, now out of my
reach. I was headed down the mountain and just ahead I noticed there was a down tree jutting out over the roadway. As I got closer, I decided to slow down and judge if it would clear the camper roofline. I put my foot on the brake, pressed down and suddenly, my foot lunged to the floorboard with absolutely no resistance and ye olde po’ white trash truck camper picked up a little speed on the downhill. Although my father has been dead for over 20 years, I heard his voice in my head hollering, “Pump the Brakes! Pump the Brakes!” I
started pumping the brakes and heard a whooshing noise from the floor area. Soon, the pedal “came up” and had some resistance.
chose not to risk going over the cliffside; the road was especially narrow just where the tree was overhanging.
CRUNCH! I heard the tree punch the camper and I could do nothing to stop it. It was a horrible feeling.
My heart sank fearing the worst. But, in the moment, I had to focus on two things: pumping the brakes to keep my speed down on the descent AND getting to
Chipmunk at the gap. I pumped furiously and managed to keep moving ahead but slower.
When I got to a flat spot and stopped, I took a deep breath. I pulled up the google maps on my phone and entered the gps coordinates for the gap and then put the truck in low gear before I started again. It told me to continue down the mountain and to make a left onto Government Road. Damn, Rosie! You didn’t even have me on the right road, after all!
When I got to the paved road at the bottom, I followed the Google Maps Navigation onto Government Road. I decided not to stop and look at the camper damage … probably best that I didn’t, eh?? I continued up Government Road and drove slowly, ever pumping the brakes with each downhill twist and turn. Suddenly, there was a red truck headed towards me and luckily, a turnout just off the roadway. Technically, it was on the red truck’s
side but I darted into it … pumped my leg like crazy and came to a stop. I jumped out and stood in the roadway, waving for the driver to stop. It was the first vehicle I had seen on the mountain roads. The fellow rolled the passenger side window down and I blurted out: “My brakes just gave out … I mean I can pump them and make it work but it’s scary on these roads. Plus, I have to get to McQueen Gap to pick up a hiker and I can’t find the place. Do you know where McQueen Gap is?” He was very kind but kind of had that “who is this crazy lady?” look on his face. He parked his truck, got out and said, “your truck probably just needs brake fluid.” He popped the hood, looked in the brake fluid pod and said, “No, that’s full.” He said, “Why don’t you turn around and follow me down the hill? I think I know where the gap is you’re talking about.” I thanked him and then said, “Wait. I can’t turn
this around on this small section of road. Will you do it?” He took the keys, turned it around and put it in park. I said, “Listen, I wouldn’t normally ask this but is there any chance you
will go up to McQueen Gap and get my daughter? I’d pay you for your trouble.” He looked a bit concerned and then said, “I’ll go get her. What’s her name?” I told him and then said,
“I’ll meet you at the bottom of this road? Near the mobile homes?” He said “OK” and drove off.
Of course I was scared to death to send a stranger to get my daughter. I can’t tell you exactly what made me trust him except that he reminded me a lot of Papa Chip. He was quiet but exuded honesty and kindness. PLUS, he didn’t stop me with some evil plot in mind. I stopped him. In other words, I strongly doubted he was a mountain mad man with evil plans to hurt my child. He was a local family man who truly understood the bad situation I was in. I slowly made my way down the mountain, pumping the brake pedal until my thigh felt like it was going to cramp. I parked the truck on the side of the road, got out and checked my phone for a signal. I was surprised that I had one and I quickly searched the Blue Blaze Café on Google and wrote the phone # down. If anything went wrong, I planned to call my new friend, Valerie, who just seems to be a rock. She commands any situation with calm and smarts and humor.
Shortly, a white car drove up and a lady said, is it your daughter that my husband is going up the mountain to get? I said, ”Yes” and she said, “I’m going up there because there’s no way
some young girl is going to want to get in the truck with a strange man.” Good point. She drove up the mountain road and as she left, my phone whistled, indicating a message. I couldn’t believe it. It was Chipmunk. She, too, had a signal and texted: “Did you send a man in a red truck to pick me up?” SWEEEEET! She thought to text and ask before getting into the vehicle with a stranger! My years of parenting and harping “don’t ride with strangers” was finally paying off! I texted back, “Yes. Ride with him down the mountain to me.” Soon, both vehicles returned and Chipmunk climbed out and thanked him for
the ride. I thanked both Darren and Missy Akers for their help and before I could leave, Darren said, “My son, Darren Lee, can take a look at the brakes for you. Probably just an adjustment.”
distance to their house and pulled into their driveway.
Their son, Darren Lee, immediately crawled under the truck while Darren’s wife led me over to her inlaws home next door and we all sat on the porch. Darren and Darren Lee maneuvered their bodies around the camper’s “stabil-lift” frame and went to work on the brakes. After 20 minutes or so, there was thunder, lightning and a burst of rain. Darren’s mom, May, invited us into the house and Chipmunk and I came into the living room with them. While the guys worked, we all got to know one another.
After a while, the guys came in and said they had one side done and that they would do the other side when the rain let up. We all chatted for a while. Soon, I heard May ask her husband if he had finished his drink. She explained that he had a colonoscopy planned for the next day. That he had some bleeding when he “went” so they wanted to check it out; make sure it wasn’t serious. I told him that my mom had a few of them and that they were really “no big deal” according to her. The rain let up and the guys returned to the underside of my truck while we chatted and Chipmunk continued playing with their two Chihuahuas.
After a bit, Darren came up to the house and asked if I had another set of keys for the truck. Apparently, they had started the truck and put up the electric windows when the rain started … which I was glad they did. But, he left the keys in the ignition and accidentally locked them in the truck. He also told me the bad news that the left rear brake hub was
busted. Yes, busted. Hmm. I dismissed that as “overload” for my brain and decided to focus on getting the keys out of the locked cab. Luckily, the back door of the camper was unlocked and there was a small pass thru window between the truck and camper. Unfortunately, I had never trained my dog to fetch! No problem, I asked Chipmunk if she could squeeze thru. She tried but it just wasn’t going to happen. Instead, she took her old hiking pole and tried to maneuver it to hit the door lock. Her arms just weren’t long enough. We did a quick measurement and decided that Darren had the longest arms so he went into the camper and stuck the pole through the pass thru window but as he crouched down to do it, he realized he couldn’t see what he was doing; couldn’t get his head low enough to see the driver’s door panel. Then he said he might be able to snag the keys out of the ignition with the pole. But, again, he couldn’t see thru the pass thru with his arm and half his shoulder blocking his sight. No problem, Missy (his wife) and I stood at the passenger’s side window yelling out how close he was and which was to turn the hiking pole, etc. A few times, he snagged the keys but risked dropping them to the floor. Missy guided him to snagging the right part of the keys and he pulled them out, carefully easing them back through the pass thru window. YEAH! Problem Solved!
With keys in hand and one working rear brake, we decided that I’d drive into Damascus. Missy insisted that she and Darren Lee would drive his truck just ahead of me in the rain so that if my brakes failed completely, their truck would stop me. WHAAAAATTTTT? I said, “No way … I don’t want to hit your truck!” She said,“It’s ok, we’re fully insured.” I was stunned. This is taking southern hospitality to a whole different level! I tried to refuse but Missy would have no part of it. So, off we went, driving slowly down the rain soaked …but paved …country roads back to Damascus. They stopped at a gas station just outside of town because Darren Lee needed diesel. I parked and walked into the store with Missy. She attempted to pay for his fuel purchase but I insisted that I wanted to pay. I pulled out my credit card and the attendant told me cash only. Hmm. I only had $25 cash on me and Missy said that he had only planned to get $15 anyway. I paid the $25 and she told Darren Lee to put $25 in to his tank. I felt good that I could at least re-pay their kindness, even if it were only a small gesture.
stuffed one of his work rags into the gap (my new favorite souvenir from meeting the nicest family!) and I found an old towel to fill in the remaining space. The
good news is that although it was raining, it was only getting wet on Papa Chip’s vacant side of the bed. I miss him but I’ll bet he’s sure glad not to have to deal with this right now.
I decided to drive slowly to Mojoe’s Trailside Coffee House for coffee and free wifi. As I pulled slowly
into the parking lot, I noticed people waving at us.
It was Darren (of Paramount Fit Foods) and Valerie.
I almost couldn’t believe my eyes. What are the chances that we’d stumble onto each other? Apparently, pretty good. In the last few days, every single person I’ve needed help from has just quietly appeared in front of me. It’s
almost been a religious experience. I walked up to them in the rain … yes, rain … it’s been raining every single day of Damascus Trail Days! She said, join us for breakfast. She introduced us to fellows from “The Thru-Project” (www.thru-at.com) and we all went to a
different local restaurant. Valerie hopped into my truck … even after hearing about the brake issue … I LOVE HER! SHE’S SO ADVENTUROUS! We drove the short distance while Chipmunk walked with the guys (apparently, she’s only comfortable walking with a bunch of bearded men now!). We ate breakfast and learned that the Thru-Project guys are cooking amazing meals during their thru hike and “Creating a photo-narrative book that captures a thru-hike of the entire 2,181-mile Appalachian Trail”. Wow! What a great idea! And now, their meals are
going to feature Paramount Fit Foods jerky/fruit/nut combo packs! SWEEEET! Chipmunk loves their food packs and I can’t help but talk to the other hikers about it when I run into them. Never again will I eat grocery store jerky!
After breakfast, we all went to Valerie and Darren’s home. Chipmunk took a shower, Chocolate Chip lounged and checked out the dog door to their back yard, Valerie and I enjoyed exchanging parenting stories (I told her the male PMS prank I played on my then
third grader son, Captain Oblivious … a prank that definitely levels the playing
field). After hanging out until after 1pm, I decided I’d better get serious about my
responsibilities. I headed into town to post my blog and look for a garage that was recommended to me. Valerie told me to come by the Blue Blaze tonight for dinner and then plan on parking in her driveway tonight. Nice. Oh, yeah … and we decided that ALL OF US
are going to hike “El Camino”! (heads up, Papa Chip: We’re going on a hike with Val and Darren! Details to follow). Val also said that they’d run Chipmunk up to McQueen Gap tomorrow morning so that she could hike into Damascus tomorrow. Again … our trail
family amazes me with their kindness and hospitality.
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)