Friday, July 30, 2010

the Hiker

Wednesday morning my husband, myself and our friends, who were visiting from out west, were getting ready for a day of shopping and looking around Asheville, NC. There was a knock at the door. It was a woman, a very slight woman, in a t-shirt, shorts, and hiking boots, carrying ski poles, and a little back pack. The woman asked my husband and I for water.


My husband went to get her some bottled water to take with her and I got her a glass of ice water. I sat down to talk to her and she told me she had been hiking, by herself, when her water filtering device had gotten clogged with some very muddy water and she had been unable to get it cleaned out and functioning properly. She hadn't had any water since the evening before. It was about 10 AM and was already 85 degrees and very, very humid. 

We visited a while. She shared with me that if she finished this section, she would have hiked the entire Appalachian Trail** - 2,174 miles, from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. She said she was a teacher from Virginia and this was her eighth summer to hike the Appalachian Trail.

After several minutes she made an admission. That morning she had seen a sign for my neighbors' store, which caters to hikers, and decided to try to find it so she could buy water. Not long after leaving the Trail to find the store, she realized, "I just want to go home!"

When we learned she wanted to get off the trail and go home, we decided to give her a ride to her car.*  She objected saying she would pay for a ride at our neighbors' store, she saw an add saying they offered shuttle service. And besides, she said, "I've on the trail for five days, and haven't stopped for a proper shower." Well of course we said take one here. Her eyes lit up, her mouth dropped open, and she nodded.

She said she had to go back down the road to get her pack. It had seemed so heavy she couldn't stand to carry it. She'd dropped it, kicked it into the grass and weeds where no one could see it and walked on. She said she stopped at our house because she felt she had already gone the 3/4 mile as per the sign for the store, and so she was afraid she'd missed it somehow. I thought, a 'meant to be' event. Life is full of them.

My husband gave her a ride to get the pack. She took her shower and when she emerged from the bathroom, she had the biggest smile I've ever seen on a woman. She said, "That was the best shower of my life!"

We understood she needed to go to Asheville, and since that was our chosen destination for the day we volunteered to take her there. But, we wanted to treat our friends to (another) local restaurant featuring 'down home' cooking, so we told our hiker we'd be making a side trip, to Hot Springs, NC for lunch at a diner. She said great, if she could buy our lunch. Agreed!

As we talked to her more it turned out her car wasn't in Asheville, but in the small town of Waynesville, NC. By this time we'd all decided she was our project for the day. We took her all the way to her car. It poured down rain about three times, we made a detour in a small town and got lost, but found our way back and delivered her to her car. We made sure the car started; then it was hugs bye and well wishing.

This left us quite a bit less time for antique shopping but none of us really cared. It felt good to help someone else. She was amazed by the kindness of strangers, and we were surprised at ourselves! It was a chance to live our Christianity, as my husband and I and our friends are all Christians.

While we were driving she told us her sister had dropped her off, and cried as she left. I had the feeling through the entire ordeal that she was meant to get off that trail when she did. And apparently we were meant to help her.

We haven't heard from her, although she has our email address, so I'm truly hoping she found all well at home. I'm pretty sure her family was happy she was home. I wonder if she will ever finish her hike, and I pray she doesn't ever try it alone again!
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* Our hiker explained to us she was a section hiker. A section hiker will usually park the car near the beginning, or end of the chosen section. After finishing the section, or to get to the start of a section, there are places, like our neighbor, who provide rides for a price. There are publications with this information.

** http://www.appalachiantrail.com/

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