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Scenery, food keep miles flowing

Editor's Note: This is the fourth in a series of reports from George and Theodosia Kountz, an Inverness couple hiking the Appalachian Trail. This report describes their experiences from June 15, when they left Hampton, Tenn., to July 20, when they reached Montebello, Va. Having completed nearly 800 of the trail's 2,000 miles since April 20, they left Virginia by bus for Maine on Tuesday to begin their hike back to Montebello.

The Appalachian Trail goes right down the main street of this town.

Damascus is known as the friendliest town on the trail. Every May, it hosts Appalachian Trail Days. Everything is close, which makes shopping, eating, and washing clothes easy.

We stayed at the Place, a hostel run by the Methodist Church. The donation is $2, and everyone pitches in to keep things clean. A hiker nicknamed "Walking Tree" mowed the lawn, and "Hans Solo" cleaned bathrooms. This half of our couple, the "Bandanas," swept.

A highlight for me was a big cherry tree right outside the Place. I couldn't eat enough cherries.

Thinking back . . . the worst day of the hike for Theodosia was the day we went over Roan Mountain in Tennessee. Elevation, 6,285 feet _ straight up _ in pouring rain. I slipped, fell and slid all day.

There were a few times I thought, "I just can't do this." I did, though.

At the top, we were completely fogged in. There was no view at all.

We continued over Round Bald, but the wind was blowing 30-35 mph and actually knocked me over. I thought this exemplified how life is at times.

The next morning, we awoke to a beautiful, bright day.

We ascended Little Hump and Hump Mountains. These are considered "the Highlands of Roan," the most delightful part of the trail we hiked from Georgia to Tennessee.

George's worst day camewhen we navigated a 5-mile stretch between Applehouse Shelter and Morland Shelter in Tennessee. The shelter between them had been burned by local people upset about land settlements. The terrain was just like a roller coaster _ 15 miles of it! The last several miles to the shelter seemed endless. George called it "the rhododendron maze." The Canadians dubbed it "no man's land."

"We need to talk," George said the next day. "I'm not sure I even want to be out here."

I understood how he felt. This gave us a chance to rethink our trip. We decided that maybe we had been trying to push too hard, and that more than 10 to 12 miles a day wasn't fun.

We had been staying in shelters since the Smokies, which meant we the distance between them was the distance we had to hike.

We knew we would retrieve our tent in Damascus, allowing us more flexibility with our mileage.

I have heard that between Erwin, Tenn., and Damascus, a lot of hikers feel the same way. The miles, day after day, begin to take a toll.

"Why am I doing this?" hikers begin to ask. "Why am I punishing myself with all these mountains and long miles?"

I think a lot of people decide by Damascus whether they will continue. We will, but it will be in a more "kind and gentle fashion."

More hiker names: "Wooden Nickel," "Joy Hiker," "Ramblin' Man," "the Canadians (Pete and Aaron)," "Twinkle Toes," "Mississippi Slowpoke," "Mr. Woodsy."

We went to the post office in Damascus to pick up mail. A message came along with it: Illness - Call Rachel!

My brother had a ruptured appendix and was in an intensive care unit in serious condition.

"Maybe I should get back to Florida," I thought.

But my sister told me I didn't need to come home.

"Tell them to keep on trucking!" was my brother's message.

After being on the trail for another four days, I will be glad to get to a phone so I can see how he is. I think God continues to show me that I need to depend upon Him more.

"Give your burdens to the Lord. He will carry them." _ Psalm 55:22.

June 26: Happy Birthday, Theodosia! Fifty-six years old. George turned 55 on May 12 while we were near Fontana Dam. These will be well remembered. George says now he can qualify as a senior citizen. I guess I have been one for a year.

Trout Dale, Va.: Resupply. Ten weeks, 500 miles; 2.6 miles from the Appalachian Trail.

A man named Isaac gave us a ride into Ray's Grocery & Diner, and we got our next five days' supply of food, then we hit the diner for got a hamburger, french fries, chocolate milk shake, chocolate pie for George, and I got banana pudding.

We ordered a pizza to go, which I carried 4 miles to a shelter. It was worth it, though! Our bodies cry out for this type of food after being on the trail five or more days between towns. Sometimes, when I am hiking a hard stretch, my mind will wander to the above menu.

Good news from home. We talked with my brother who still is in the hospital recovering from his operation. He is improved, but it is going to be some time before he is himself again.

We hit what George calls an "HFT," a hiker friendly trail. It's one that is flat or slightly descending. George notes that they are rare around here.

Update on prettiest spot so far: We thought it was the Highlands of Roan, but coming over Mount Rogers, we came into an area called Rhododendron Gap, which looked like the crags of Scotland.

It was an area of grassy hillsides and valleys, with rocks jutting out all about. The rhododendron was blooming on the hills and rocks,- an incredibly beautiful sight. Wild ponies add to it's uniqueness.

After leaving the gap, we went through a narrow, rocky area called the Wilburn Ridge Trail. This opened out into a magnificent grassland, part of Grayson State Park and it looked very much like Montana: blue, blue sky above a grassland dotted with cows and wild ponies.

"Come walk over me," it beckoned. "Come walk over me."

"He has made everything beautiful in it's time." _ Ecclesiastes 3:11a.

Bland, Va.: Eleven weeks of hiking; 559 miles.

A day in the life of a hiker: We had slept on the porch of the ranger station Mount Rogers and were up early so we could be out before people arrived for work.

We hiked across three mountains in the morning. In the afternoon, the trail wound throughout farmland. The valleys were a patchwork,and the hillsides were covered with wild daisies and black-eyed Susans, and, from time to time, we would hike through a herd of unconcerned cows.

As we came across the last hill before crossing Interstate 81, we saw a motel-restaurant, with "Welcome" written on its roof.

This meant supper. Before we could click our hiking boots together, we were dining on rib-eye steak, mashed potatoes, vegetables, corn bread and two huge glasses of pink lemonade. We said our thanks and left in a light rain.

We hiked under the interstate to a beautiful pasture and to the woods beyond, where we camped for the night. Twelve weeks; 662.6 miles.

Troutville, Va.: 705 miles.

We met "Lucky Laura" back in Georgia. We called her a "trail angel" because of all the kindness she showed to us. We have now dubbed her "the cookie saint of the A.T." I don't know how many dozens of cookies she has mailed to people along the trail. She sent us a box in Hot Springs, N.C. When we arrived, we discovered that they already had been eaten by hungry hikers.

When we arrived in Pearisburg, we learned from hikers at the hostel that we had more cookies at "Woodshole." We also had cookies at the hostel. George called Woodshole and told them to let the other hikers enjoy the cookies because we already had hiked past there.

"Hikers Focus," "Spiderman," "Bachelor Bob" and "Saint" were supposed deliver the cookies at the hostel to us on the trail. That night, we camped off the trail and they missed us. They went on to a shelter.

The next day, we stopped by the shelter and found this note: "Focus ate the cookies. She said they were good." It was signed, "Spiderman and Bachelor Bob."

Another note read: "No I didn't. Bachelor Bob and Spiderman did!" It was signed, "Focus."

The other morning, we passed a shelter, and there was a box of chocolate-covered doughnuts waiting for us. It was signed, "Peace offering from the Mother of Focus to make up for the eating of your cookies.

"Take time to laugh. It is the music of the soul. - Author unknown."

At almost 800 miles, we are getting ready to flip-flop. (The Kountzes will bus to Maine to begin the second half of their hike, traveling south from the northern terminus before cold weather sets in.)

Our children will meet us at Montebello, Va., and we will spend a few days with them and other relatives. On July 23, we will board a bus for Maine, where we will begin our hike back.

May the road rise to meet you,

May the wind be always at your back,

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

The rain fall soft upon your fields,

And until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

_ A Gaelic verse.

Until from up North. George and Theodosia. The Bandanas.