Date- March 10, 2019
Location- Side of highway
Distance Traveled Today- 20.3 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 917.9 miles
Pain level- zero
Spirits/Morale- worn out
Wildlife encounters- roadkill
Days without shower- 2
Days without laundry- 10
CatFox Status- grumpy
Crossed the 900 mile mark today! But not before a very strange night…
I was somewhere in between sleep and consciousness a little after 11 pm last night when I was startled into an awakened state. Out of nowhere, the song “Broken Halos” – by Chris Stapleton, started blaring near my hammock. I sat up and looked out… there was the silhouette of a person standing about 10 feet from my hammock and about 5 feet from Schweppes’ tent. The cherry of a lit cigarette glowed bright for a moment, and in my haze of half sleep I thought it might be Critter taking a smoke break. Then my senses came to me. I realized there was no way in hell a fellow hiker would come over and just start blaring music next to two sleeping people (who were a healthy distance away in the first place). The individual was still just standing there, and it looked like he was holding something large in his hand. In that moment I had an overwhelming surge of dread wash over me. Why in the hell would a random person stand so close to where two other random people are obviously trying to sleep… start blaring a song whose seemingly innocent and beautiful lyrics could also be the ironically sinister background noise to a brutal murder. Seriously, look up the lyrics to that song…
The song has been playing while I observed this individual standing there for more than 20 seconds. When the wave of dread hit me and then receded (due to a minor adrenaline surge) – I spoke out, “What are you doing?” A startled, “Huh!” rang out from the person (a male voice). At that moment a very apparently half asleep Schweppes spoke out from his tent inquiringly, “Critter?” The man then replied, “Huh, what?” in a voice that was not Critters. This startled sleepy Schweppes as he yelled out (still sounding confused and barely awake), “Who are you!?” The man replied in a voice that was oblivious and impaired by something, “I’m Willie.” Schweppes then asked him what he was doing, and he responded, “Just trying to stay out of trouble…”
Broken Halos continued to play throughout the entire exchange. When the man started to move, I realized what had looked like a large object in his hand, was actually a bicycle he was pushing. “What’re y’all doin?” he asked as he slowly pushed the bike across the rest of the pavilion and past my hammock. “Just camping out,” I replied. He didn’t say another word, but left the music playing. He pushed the bike all the way into the bathrooms about 30 ft away and shut the door. He’d gone into the ones that didn’t even work. He was in there about ten minutes before coming out and riding his bike down the empty road. Crazy!
When I finally awoke around 7am, I peeked out of my hammock to see a white pit bull and a gray pit bull standing next to Critter’s tent. The second I called out to Schweppes that there were pit bulls next to the pavilion, they turned and ran off the library property. This spot was obviously a hot bed for transients: us, inebriated bicyclists, and stray dogs.
The road walk today was miserable. Hot, humid, and sunny to start out. It didn’t help that we hadn’t started hiking until 9 am.
Thankfully, around 5 miles into the day’s walk, we passed by a church that was about to begin worship. The 6’10 pastor, Brother Will, invited us in to cool off inside their common room and promised to feed us after he was done with the service. Brother Will was the largest human being I have seen in recent memory. A real Andre the giant type, approaching or surpassing 400 pounds – but he carried it well. Despite his hulking presence, Will was one of the warmest, kindest, most soft spoken individuals I’ve ever met.
While the service was still taking place inside the small church, Brother Tom came out early to make us pork chop sandwiches in the common room kitchen. Tom is a retired Marine Corps vet in his 60s. He’d lost everything to Hurricane Michael and was now living and helping out at the church.
After the service let out and everyone had left, Brother Will and Brother Tom sat in the common room with us and talked for about an hour. We covered a lot of subjects, but the one that stood out was Will losing his first wife to a spider bite some years back. A brown recluse spider had bit her on the neck while she was cleaning. The doctors had gotten the superficial infection under control, but it ended up attacking her spine at the base of her head. It put her into a coma… of which she soon succumbed.
I couldn’t believe the story he’d told us. This was the kind of thing you thought didn’t happen in this day and age – in this country. Death by spider bite in rural America. It felt like something out of a Faulkner novel.
Brother Will had experienced his own streak of misfortune on top of the loss of his first wife, but I’ll save that story for a later date. No matter what story (or piece of information) Will shared with us, he would always finish it in his soft spoken, thick southern drawl with, “I can’t really fuss about it… (**insert positive silver lining to offset the tragedy of the story**)…”
We all parted ways with a hug after more than 2 hours at the church. The rest of the 15 mile road walk passed by slow, hot, and uneventful.
We had a hard time finding a place to camp on the side of the highway. In the end we had to stealth camp on a stretch of private property near some power lines.
It’s miserably hot tonight – 70 degrees at nearly midnight. Humidity is through the roof and there’s no breeze. I’m just lying here sweating, unable to sleep. I hate to say it, but I can’t wait to finish this hike and be on to cooler pastures…