In October of 2012, I headed out from Springer Mountain, GA, with the intent of hiking all of the Appalachian Trial in Georgia. There are 78.5 miles of the Trail in the state, and Springer Mountain is the southern terminus of the trail. Parking about .9 miles from the end, I walked (with friends) south to the end of the trial, which is marked by a brass plaque (I’m REALLY glad I’m not the one who chose the short straw and had to lug that huge chunk of metal up the mountain!), took a few pictures, then headed back down the mountain, north to the state line between Georgia and North Carolina.

As I wrote last Fall, I was sidelined on the fifth day by blisters that started the first day, and by Wednesday were simply crippling. In November, 2012, I went back and checked off another section of the Trail, picking up where I left off. But since then, the final 8+ miles have been nagging at me.

So I decided it was time to put it to rest.

Last Friday, March 22, I rolled out of bed, bot dressed, and drove north two hours to Dick’s Creek Gap. When I arrived around 8:00, it was grey and cold, about 35 degrees. I shouldered a day pack with some water and a little food (and some emergency supplies—once an Eagle Scout, always an Eagle Scout!), and stepped onto the Trail.

I passed a couple of thru-hikers as I made my way north, and saw some folks camped along the Trail, not yet out of their tents. I felt good, was equipped appropriately, and was confident.

About three miles in, I felt a bit of a hot spot on one foot, and stopped to apply a little tape so I would not get a blister (I was wearing relatively new boots, and had not yet been off-road with them.) I motored on.

I reached the marker that points out the state line in a little under four hours, stopping to take a few pictures,Chuck at GA-NC line and chat with a thru-hiker whom I’d passed but caught up when I stopped. “Bones” (his trail name) took the picture for me.

I reshouldered my pack, and headed back to my car. As I headed south, I encountered more and more people; some thru-hiking, some college students from Maryland on spring break, some folks out for just a couple of days. Some of the thru hikers were better prepared than others, I might add.

I did fine until I hit about the 13.5 mile mark of the day, and realized I was getting tired. Confident that I was equipped to spend the night on the Trail if need be, but even more confident in myself (“I’m not built for comfort, I’m not build for speed. I’m built for power and endurance,” I kept saying to myself.)

In retrospect, I did not drink enough (I had plenty of water), nor did I eat enough (I came home with food uneaten); I think I simply was running out of gas. I made the return hike in about the same time as it took me to reach the state line, despite flagging energy and stopping (to rest?) to talk to thru hikers. I reached my car (the ChuckWagon, my 2010 Hyundai Santa Fe), shed the pack and jacket, switched from boots to my Crocks, and headed for home.

I was BEAT. I stopped after about an hour and bought some VitaminWater, and it was all I could do to get out of the ChuckWagon, go in the store, and get back in the ChuckWagon and head back towards home. I pulled in the garage right at 12 hours after I’d left it.

Saturday and Sunday, I was dragging, and everything from my hips to my toes was sore. Here I am 6 days after reaching my goal, and while the soreness has gone, I was aware when on my bike this morning that I am still a little sluggish.

It really did seem like a good idea at the time. While I was in that last section, about the last three miles of the day’s walking, I was really questioning my wisdom. But when I awoke Saturday morning, in my own bed, with my wife, and coffee ready to brew, warm and dry on a cold rainy day, I was glad I’d not spent the night on the Trail.

But here’s the thing; having bagged Georgia, I’m now thinking—seriously—about North Carolina.

It seems like a good idea now . . .

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REMEMBERING BESSIE HAM

March 6, 2013

By the time my family and I moved to Pascagoula in 1995, Bessie Ham was homebound. A legend to several generations in the community, Bessie taught English at “PJ” (Pascagoula Junior High, since renamed Trent Lott Middle School) to hundreds, yea, verily, thousands of students who all carried the highest regard and utmost respect for this lady.

Bessie could not get out, and made only a few excursions from time to time for Doctor visits and the like. Her Women’s Circle (what Presbyterians sometimes call a Bible Study) would meet in her home on rare occasions, as I recall, simply so she could be included.

Bessie’s husband had died years earlier, and she lived in this simple little, concrete-block “Navy house” (so called because when the community grew fast during World War II thanks to the ships needed and built for the Navy) with her son Robert.

Robert can be the subject of a number of other postings in the future, for the record. A great guy, but with some seeming developmental challenges. But Lord, his mind could hold information. OK, another day.

I would stop by and see Bessie from time to time, always calling in advance to make sure it was a good time or day, and always found her mentally alert, in full command of her faculties, but trapped in a body that was worn out and breaking down.

Bessie had been in the hospital for a few days, and been released, but not to her home, to an assisted living facility across the street from the hospital. I learned this as I tried to visit her, so after I left the hospital, I went across the street, found out which room she was in, and headed in that direction.

As I approached her room, I could hear a conversation that was going on in there, recognizing her voice, and easily hearing that of the person who was addressing her. Bessie was a little hard of hearing, you see, so one had to raise one’s voice. . .

As I turned and eased through the door—of the two-bed room, nodding a greeting to the person in the other bed as I moved toward Bessie in the “bed by the window,” I grasped what was going on. The Occupational Terrorists (ah, ‘scuse me, “Therapists”) were working with Bessie. Apparently Robert had been feeding her, and they were working to get her to feed herself. As I saw Bessie, she was in the hospital bed with one rail up, and the tray in front of her, lunch on it. She was slumped over, listing to starboard (the right), with a fork dangling weakly from her right hand, a small bit of creamed spinach about to fall off it. Her eyes were half open.

The conversation I heard went something like this:

Therapist: “Would you like some dessert? I believe we have some sherbet.”

Bessie: “Yes, some sherbet would be nice.”

“What flavor would you like?” The young man listed several flavors, and Bessie made a choice. I don’t recall what she chose, it really does not matter. I stepped up alongside the Therapist as he said, “OK, I’ll go find it, I don’t know where it’s at.”

I cringed and winced.

Bessie, in her early 90’s (she died soon after this at 92), suddenly shook off about 35 years of aging! She sat straight up, her eyes opened wide, and with a strong, firm, and Teacher’s voice, looked at this poor therapist  and said, “Young man, you never, but NEVER, end a sentence with a preposition!”

The guy turned and looked at me, and I simply raised my hands, palms out, and shrugged my shoulders. I saw it coming the minute he said it.

“Yes ma’am,” he said, as he slunk away to find some sherbet.

Bessie stabbed the spinach into her mouth, chewed and swallowed it, and looked at me.

“You know, Chuck, there ARE times when it IS proper to end a sentence with a preposition; ‘What were you thinking OF?’”

“Yes ma’am,” I said, laughing to myself, thinking that this was going to preach one day at her funeral.

And it did. At the graveside, after we’d left the Church with a long string of cars creeping into the cemetery for the interment, the Funeral Director told me that after Bessie’s most famous student, Trent Lott, was elected to the United States Senate, he sent her a speech he had delivered on the floor of the Senate chambers.

Bessie marked it up with a red pencil, and sent it back to him.

What a great lady