Sunday, May 25, 2008

Glimpses of Grandeur

Yesterday we found out that Papaw Owen, my dad's dad, passed away. 96-and-a-half years old, WWII vet, married to Mamaw for almost 70 years. It is sad, but it's also overwhelmingly comforting to imagine him, sitting down with dad, hands folded in conversation, laughter creasing around their eyes in reunion. I can hear him saying "Jeff, what happened in that truck?"

The veil between creation and eternity gets increasingly scarce in nature. Mostly the hiking is hard, but there are moments of transcendence, where colors seem to be more vivid and the smells of spring are slowly more common to us than exhaust and clorox. We woke up yesterday overlooking Pearisburg and the New River. It felt like heaven.

Returning home today to be with family - will be coming back to the trail in a few days.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Pearisburg - mile 623 and counting

Hello! Brahma and Sweet P. here in Pearisburg, VA. We are at the Courthouse Cafe. I'm having a ridiculous egg, cheese and tomato bagel with a piping hot mug of coffee. Coffee is the one thing that I can't get enough of when we come to town. Well, not the one thing. One among many. Many of the others being: hot water, clean floors, surfaces on which to lay things (like tables, counters, beds) and cotton sheets.

We swung by the post office first thing - got another sweet care package from JJ and Don. You guys rock! What did you do? Hit up the hispanic section? I love Sponcho! or whatever those cookies are, and all the other goodies. Thank you!! Here is something else you can send us (since you asked :). Nido. It's whole powdered milk and we can't find it anywhere in these little rural towns b/c there's not enough of an ethnic population - but you will find it in your neck of the woods easy. It comes in a container that looks like baby formula.
Post Office
Waynesboro, VA 22980
Hold for AT Thru-hiker

We also got a card and some love from Dustan's parents - thanks Ron and Dawn! And Mamaw Owen, thanks for the letter! We are so sad that Papaw is struggling with his health and we are thinking and praying for you both constantly. It was great to hear from you and hopefully I can write soon.

The day before yesterday we came thru Bland and stopped at Trent's Grocery where we got some more greasy spoon food which included - much to Amy's chagrin - lots of pork. Then we paid actual money for the grossest shower I've ever seen. I felt it needed to be blasted by the fire department. But I showered. We also paid (real dollars) to camp in the field behind Trent's with other hikers, 2 horses and lots of tarp-covered campers that belong to hunters when the season is open. There was a tanning bed in the barn where the horses slept and a bottle of chocolate milk sitting by the showerhouse that predates Jesus. It was altogether ich. Like pouring $15 down the drain. On the way back to the trail I fed my bag of baby carrots to the horses and one of them bit the fire out of my thumb. We left Trent's and hiked 23 miles until we came to Pearisburg!

The 23-miler was our longest day so far. Only a few miles more and it woulda been a marathon! This morning our feet were so swollen but they have gone down now. Last night I thought of you Marth. A mouse ran up the outside of our tent (on the mesh part) with its little tail and wiggly body and it was really freaky - and I even like mice. You would have had cardiac arrest.

We are getting ready to check in to a motel and LET A MACHINE DO OUR LAUNDRY. It's about time. Then we'll be hitting up Food Lion, Rite Aid, and pretty much every food establishment in between. Hopefully I'll be back to add pictures to this post and the last one.

Love, Brahma Bull and Sweet Potato

Friday, May 16, 2008

Hello from - where are we again?

Hey all! So we are in....hang on...Troutdale, VA. We've managed to bypass the rain pretty successfully ever since leaving stormy Damascus. Right now we're at Jerry's Kitchen where the coffee is served in a huge white mug and the cream flows from a tiny silver pitcher. The weird part is that the New Kids On the Block have apparently reunited and are performing on the Today Show. So that's what is happening in the real world?? Great, now I'm going to have "The Right Stuff" in my head all day. We are going back to the wilderness soon.

The past few days have brought us through the Grayson Highlands, and we're glad to be done! This area has a lot of memories for us. In January a couple years back Dust and I took a winter trip in this section that ended in us calling Dad to come get us. This past January Dustan and Justin spent the coldest night of the year up here. So we were a little anxious about making it thru this section. It's full of rocks, balds and wild ponies. No, I don't think the horse in the last post was wild but these ponies pretty much are. They are overseen by a group of pony lovers, but otherwise they roam free. I wish I had time to post pics, but I will do that later. These ponies are sandy blonde, splotchy red, old and craggly, young and tiny (yeah - we saw about 6 babies!) and we even got to pet a few of them. Apparently over the years the ponies have become accustomed to salt on the hikers' hands so they will just meander over to you and start licking your hand. I loved it. The whole time I sang "My Little Po-NY!" And I took so many pictures I thought Dustan was going to leave me there.

Yesterday as we hiked, Dust and I discussed what it would be like to be a vegetarian. We run into lots of them out here on the trail and so it's something we've both had on the brain. We've always said that we could give up meat pretty easily compared to sugar or dairy or something. So anyway, I told him that during some of my free thinking time (i.e. hiking) I thought it would be cool to write a book called The Day the World Stopped Eating Meat - a sort of fictional hypothesis of the outcomes on our society if we all became veggieheads. So we were talking about how the world can't live on meat efficiently, and how you'd have to get really creative with dinner, etc. and then - we came to a road crossing and someone had taped a business card next to the blaze that said "2.7 miles - Best Burger on the Trail." We ended up in this little greasy spoon called Jerry's Kitchen and ate the best burger in the world. Bacon cheeseburger, to be specific. The timing was pretty ironic, but boy I'm glad we're here!

We ended up staying the night (the rainy night, which always feels great when you time it right) in a small hostel connected to a little church and it was awesome. We hand-scrubbed our hiking clothes and hung them out to dry, took a shower, played Connect Four and met a really neat guy named Brian, a former lawyer from Chicago who is riding his bike from Yorktown to Oregon on the TransAmerica Trail. We drilled him. (Check his blog here). It was so refreshing to meet someone other than a hiker so we asked the poor guy a bazillion questions. In the end, all of us agreed that during the short time we've been "out in the wild" we've been amazed at the kindness of other people. Lately some pretty hairy stories have been circulating concerning violence on the AT, but when you experience the genuine hospitality of others - Keith at Goose Creek Cabins in Georgia, Curtis at Standing Bear Farm, Bob and Pat Peoples at Kincora Hostel, Jerry here in Troutdale, even Carolyn in her pickup who let us throw our packs in the back and toted us here - it reminds you that not all people are shady characters. Brian said it well - it's like an antitdote for all those other stories you hear.

Soon I will mail the memory stick that's full home to sis and she can upload tons of pictures. Til then, we are back on the trail (skipping Trail Days this year) and will be plodding our way through VA. The Homeplace is listed as a great place to eat Jo - so we will be in touch as we near the area. And Bethany - I'll keep you posted on Shenandoahs. We have had no cell service since we left home. So can someone who reads this blog call my mom and tell her I miss her, the Mill Creek Girls, Trail and Bridge? Because she doesn't have internet connection back there in the boonies. :)

Send mail if you want to:
Dustan and Betsy Balkcom
Post Office
Pearisburg, VA 24134
Please hold for AT thru-hiker

One more cup of coffee, then back to the trail. It's 14 miles today to Partnership Shelter.

Love, Brahma Bull and Sweet Potato

Monday, May 12, 2008

Postponing the inevitable...

So we got to Damascus yesterday after church, waved off by our families, and we looked at the ominous sky and the exposed underside of leaves whipping in the wind and we decided to get some ice cream. Then we went to the Hikers Inn and got a room. Then a ham and cheese sub....

Today we are leaving. No, really - we are. Right now I'm at the Damascus Library uploading some pics for you and then we'll hit Dairy King one more time for some eggs and coffee and then we'll head north, no matter how rainy it is. Here are some moments from our time at home:

Amryn Reese (Reece?) Esteppe. I really know how to spell my niece's name. What a superstar she is. It was great hanging out with family.

Mom's house. Sweet tea, lounging on the front porch, reuniting with our animals. Trail is doing great. She barely noticed us when she saw us again, that's how much she is loving living at Hidden Valley with the Mill Creek girls (mom's puppies).

Good ol' Bridger. He still loves to drink out of the sink.
And the Cave. This is where Dustan found himself a lot. We missed Dad being there.

Here's a few pics from the trail:

Our nasty feet. This is Dustan's blisters and just my dirty toes.

Then there was the day we found the glorious waterfall. Jones Falls.

The climb up Roan Mountain. Extremely hard and no good view at the top. So my feelings were...

Hump Mountain on the other hand was an amazing bald. Here's Dustan's backpack beside a kairn. Am I spelling that right?

And there were horses up there.

Ok, my session will end in 4 minutes so I have to make this snappy. Wish I had more time to tell some stories and put up more pictures. Just want to thank everyone who came to Outback to see us on Wednesday night - what a treat! Especially to Sarah and Toni - they drove a long way to see me. I love you guys!

Ok, on to the Grayson Highlands. We might be back for Trail Days if we pop out in Marion and Jeremy Weaver kidnaps us, but only maybe. :)

Peace out from Brahma and Sweet P.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Coming Home

I wish I had the time and the high-speed internet connection to post loads of pictures from Roan Mountain to Kincora Hostel to a waterfall we found one hot day to Watauga Dam, but I don't - I guess that will wait til another trail town with a public library. Until now, here's one of me with Ryland and Amryn. Home has been wonderful. Mom picked us up in Damascus on Wednesday and we'll be back on the trail tomorrow.

The lushness of the season here is gorgeous. The trees are full and the green fields sprawl out to edges tucked in deep shade. Ask me if spring is better out on the trail or in civilization. Um - civilization. Where front porches and iced tea and sudsy warm water abounds. No but really, we're pumped to get back on the trail.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Important News Bulletin from Sweet Potato and Bull

The hikers left me a voicemail to get the word out that they will be entering Damascus tomorrow (Wednesday, May 7). They've hiked over 400 miles and are ready to rest their weary soles at Outback Steakhouse. So, if you're interested on seeing them in the flesh, show up at the Exit 7 Outback Steakhouse at 5pm on Wednesday.
Everyone Welcome!!