As I mentioned in my last post, I find the idea of hiking the Appalachian Trail to be a very romantic, character-building notion. I’m intrigued. In an ideal world of puffy white clouds, rainbows and butterflies (and a world in which I am in great shape, can afford to take six months off work and would actually enjoy walking 2,000 miles through forested mountains with a 50-pound pack) I think I’d like to hike the Appalachian Trail. I felt especially drawn to this idea after reading A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson; it just seems like one of those things that changes your life and unites mind/body/spirit and all that crap.
So feeling adventurous, idealistic and energized, I decided to embark on a walk of my own this past Sunday. However, I decided early on that this would not be a solo walk because 1.) No matter how nice it is to be in nature, it’s much less boring if you have someone with you. It’s nice to get spiritual and one with nature and all that, but it’s so much nicer when there’s someone besides squirrels to get spiritual with and 2.) Because of my less than ideal sense of direction a walk in the woods can very quickly turn into lost in the woods for me. So I invited my brother along and he happily accepted.
So we were up bright and early in the morning packed a nice lunch which consisted of: Pig ribs, a peanut butter-honey sandwich, four granola bars, two boiled eggs, two pieces of bread, a bag of peanuts and, best of all, no water. Once we realized we’d forgotten the water we decided we’d just pick a few bottles up when we stopped at 7-Eleven for our morning coffee. No road trip is complete for me without a convenience store stop. But that’s a story for another day. Anyway, we went to 7-Eleven and it was very clear as soon as we pulled into the parking lot that we’d arrived in the South. No more environmentally friendly Japanese cars or guys wearing pink shirts and plaid shorts; we’d arrived in the land of pickup trucks and baseball caps and I loved it. So we paid for our coffee ($2.11 for two coffees! Why does anyone ever get to-go coffee at Starbucks????) and as expected, forgot the water. But we didn’t realize we’d forgotten the water until too late. This tidbit will figure prominently in my story. Anyway, I was feeling great about life as the highway got emptier and emptier and the scenery got more and more impressive: Rolling hills turning into rolling, heavily vegetated mountains, dairy farms, traditional barns, old-time houses, roadside fruit and jam vendors, old Baptist churches and slightly dilapidated churches of vague denomination (think names like Christ Church of the Word and the like). I was in country roads heaven.
We passed the tiny town of Sperryville, a coffee store, a few antique and hand-blown glass shops and then arrived at our destination: A make-shift parking lot and the inconspicuous trailhead for the Buck Ridge/Buck Hollow trail off of Route 211. My brother and I were ready for adventure. Little did I know that adventure would include a steep three-mile uphill. For some reason, I hadn’t connected the fact that we were going up a mountain with the fact that we’d actually have to walk up the mountain. But it was great. I’m not a particularly religious person (except when I’m on a plane and am so terrified of turbulence that I spend hours on end praying), but when I’m hiking, I feel really good. I don’t know if this is what you’d call spirituality, but I feel very peaceful. There’s just something so soothing about being surrounded by so much green, shaded by so many trees, to feel so small compared to something so big and to hear so little beyond birds chirping and animals scurrying over dry leaves. We ran into people every once in a while (enough to know we’d be rescued in an emergency). but it was sporadic enough to feel like we had this one little piece of the world to ourselves, at least for a little while. When we were about three-fourths to the top we climbed a large boulder with decent views of the mountains and rested for a little bit. The views weren’t spectacular, but they were definitely nice enough to make you feel good about life.
So there we were, breathing in fresh mountain air, walking past meandering streams, crackling creeks, babbling brooks, mossy rocks, ancient ferns, majestic trees (insert any cliché nature-y phrase you please) feeling a little bit like we were in some magical Bambi-like land when we realized we were thirsty. Well, I should say I realized I was thirsty. My brother, who is in much better shape than me, seemed to be doing alright. We’d long ago realized we’d forgotten to buy water, but we figured that we’d survive a few hours without it. But let me tell you, for someone with legs like this…
….walking three miles uphill can get tiring. So all those meandering streams, crackling creeks and babbling brooks suddenly started looking really, really enticing. I kept casting sideways glances at every water source we passed, imagining how amazing it would feel to take a big gulp of fresh mountain water. And even if I tried to avoid looking at water, I could still hear it, so there was no getting away from the fact that it was there, all around me. I don’t care much for water, but when you are really, really thirsty, there is nothing better than drinking water compulsively, to your heart’s content, like a water-crazed lunatic. So as you can see, at that moment, I really, really wanted to drink that water. But with all this really sad brain-eating amoeba stuff happening, I figured I should wait until I got to town…but there were so many endless streams and they all looked so good! So I voiced my thoughts to my brother who knows a little bit about plants (making him a water sanitation expert in my mind) and our conversation went something like this:
Me: I’m so thirsty and this water looks so good.
Brother: Do it. The rocks clean the water.
Me: But do you think it has brain eating amoebas?
Brother: No, it’s too far north for them. Where do you think the water we drink comes from?
Me: Are you sure? I really don’t want to get brain eating amoebas.
Brother: I’m sure it’s too cold for them.
Me: Brain eating amoebas like warm water?
Brother: Yeah. If you’re thirsty, just drink some.
And then my brother drank some from his cupped hand so I followed suit. And it was delicious. Well, it tasted like regular water, but when you have just climbed three miles and are not in the best of shape, all water tastes amazing. So we happily drank mountain stream water. As my brother said, we looked like two happy monkeys, squatted on the stream’s edge, scooping water in our hands and drinking away.
Then, about an hour later on the way home we had this conversation:
Me: Man, I really hope we don’t get brain eating amoebas.
Brother: Wait, what are brain-eating amoebas?
Me: What do you mean what are brain eating amoebas? You told me it was OK to drink the water.
Brother: Wait what? There’s such a thing as brain-eating amoebas?
Me: Yes: They eat people’s brains. It’s been on the news.
Brother: What? That’s terrifying. Tell me more about it!
Me: Did you not listen to anything I said when I asked you about brain-eating amoebas?
Brother: You never said brain-eating amoebas.
Me: I probably said the words “brain-eating-amoebas” at least 10 times.
Brother: No, you just said amoebas.
Anyway, no one was going to win this conversation, so we just decided to agree to disagree. I sometimes really wonder if men have some kind of selective hearing problem. I definitely DID say brain-eating amoebas. I could care less about regular amoebas.
Anyway, after I wrote this post I spent an hour reading about brain-eating amoebas and fully terrified myself. A 12-year-old child in Central Virginia died from the amoeba in August. It has a 95% fatality rate. Once symptoms develop, you generally only have five to seven days before you die. I scared myself so much that I got into an airplane-esque state of panic, texting my brother and sister frantically about my concerns (they didn’t seem at all concerned) and eventually had to go to bed early because I was too scared to finish my post or do anything else.
But after sleeping on it, I’m feeling a little better. Brain-eating amoebas generally hang out in warm, still waters, usually lakes or ponds, and we drank out of a cool, moving stream. And you can only really get it if you snort water through your nose. I’m pretty sure I didn’t snort any water. I guess if I’m going to keep forgetting my water bottle, I should invest in one of those Bill Gates LifeStraws. I don’t know that I fully trust a $1 straw to save my life but apparently it’s been effective all over the world. But I’d probably forget that too.
But the hike was wonderful aside from the amoeba business. I feel fully inspired take advantage of autumn and go on as many hikes as possible. I’m looking forward to all the fall festivals, Oktoberfests, apple orchards and small mountain towns in my future. If anyone is ever interested in going on a hike or doing some fall foliage exploration, let me know!