RA Ladies' Maine Event :: The Third Leg of the Journey
Number Six. The sixth state in a 14 state journey with the girls. As we creep upon the halfway mark in this experience, it’s amazing to look back on the six trips we’ve taken (three of which have been on the actual Appalachian Trail) with our little group of sojourners. What started with the boys’ group, morphed into “we can do it too” and then we were on the trail preparing and praying and getting ready for the adventure. Camp Winnataska to Mt Cheaha to the Walls of Jericho on the Tennessee border served as the prepping ground for Roan Highlands weaving back and forth between North Carolina and Tennessee to the Tri-State-Challenge of Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia. All these culminating in our third leg of the journey…Mt Rogers in Virginia.
We set off last Friday for an easier hike than what we experienced on the 52 mile trek last time. 12 miles was our goal. The Elk Garden to Massie’s Gap, with Grayson HIghland wild ponies scattered in between. We were prepared for cold and wet weather, somewhat concerned, but prepared none-the-less.
A six hour journey through Knoxville to pick up our fourth adult at the airport and to fuel up on Chick-fil-A (Happy Birthday, Mr. Cathy!), left us lost in the Virginia Mountains in the middle of a thunderstorm. When a huge bolt of lightning struck right in front of our van, to the safety of a hotel we headed…deciding to set out in the early morning instead of risking camping in lightning. No one complained.
The next morning, we ventured to the Elk Garden. The fog was somewhat daunting and it was chilly, to say the least. As we huffed as hard as possible across the meadow to escape the bone chilling wind and mist, “TURN BACK” was truthfully what several of us wanted to yell. Nevertheless, we persisted and the forest we entered in shortly thereafter provided a sweet refuge from the biting wind.
Like most of our trips, the awe of creation tends to hit us hard within the first 1/2 mile into the trek. The mist lingered on tree branches as ice and caused the trees, not yet budding, to glisten in the early morning. The moss intermingling with the fir trees was breathtaking and fragrant, causing one of the young ladies to proclaim, “It smells like Bath & Body Works out here.” We paused to take in the beautiful scent of creation… so much more aromatic than the manufactured lotions and potions which bring billions into the economy each year.
This trip was definitely different. Not only did we add another young lady to the team (replacing a precious young woman reunited with her family this fall and no longer at RA), we also didn’t require miles upon miles to complete each day to reach our goal. 12 miles is NOTHING compared to the 52 we tackled last time. This reality allowed us to walk slower, rest more often, and take in creation and time together throughout the 30 hours we were actually on trail.
A couple of miles in, we stopped at an amazing meadow with beautiful vistas and rock formations. It was still cold but the fog had lifted allowing the sun to provide much welcomed warmth. A couple of us (ahem) decided that coffee was needed with our lunch and thus the water was boiled, the pour-over commenced, and a lovely and relaxing coffee break was had.
After lunch we laid on the soft grass of the meadow and sunned for a few minutes, talking with the young ladies about school, boys, struggles and highlights. In these times, I’m reminded how important this time is for these women. All the women. Relationship is at the heart of what we do at Restoration Academy…and the RA Maine Event is no different.
Following lunch, we headed towards our goal of finding the amazing Grayson Highlands ponies that make this section of the trail famous. I’ll admit that when we didn’t encounter the ponies for the first four miles, I was beginning to be concerned that we wouldn’t see them!
Sidebar: one of my favorite movies to see during the Alabama Theater’s Summer Moviefest is The Sound of Music. It’s a sing-along that involves the audience-participation throughout the showing. During the opening credits, as the camera pans over the Austrian Alps, we find ourselves searching for Maria, escaped from the abbey and spinning in a meadow. The first person to see her yells “There she is!” throughout the theater and the sing-a-long begins. With that in your mind…imagine “THERE THEY ARE!” yelled across the Grayson Highlands as we first glimpsed some of the ponies.
We stopped at the shelter towards summit of Mt Rogers to spend some time with three of the miniature steeds and refill our water. It was so fun to watch our girls interact and conquer some fears related.
After our Pony adventure, we forged on to our designated camp spot for the evening. A beautiful area tucked just in the trees (for protection from the wind) but open enough to not feel confined. This was one of the only times thus far we haven’t had to race dusk in setting up camp and it was glorious. We set camp, rested, sat and talked. The girls played a game and we just again, enjoyed time together.
Dinner consisted of our standard rice and meat with hot chocolate and apple cider to warm up before night. Nightfall brought amazing stars but also bitter cold.
The next morning arrived cold (we think it was about 20 degrees when we woke) and wet. As we searched for signal to check the weather, breakfast was made and coffee drank. We broke camp when we had a break in the rain and suited up for a wet, cold descent to our final destination.
Encountering a couple more ponies on the way down the mtn, the scenery was fogged over but just as beautiful…like a foggy moor from a Jane Austen novel…if you will allow me to wax poetic.
We made it to our final destination about a hour before our scheduled shuttle was set to arrive. And so we waited in a grove of cedar trees to protect us from the rain with our tent rain flaps rigged over the branches to keep us dry in the 30 degree chill. Cold and wet…but the girls did not complain ONE TIME.
We came off trail and headed straight to the hot chocolate section at the Love’s Truck Stop down the road. Warmth for everyone—something we’d looked forward to during the cold and wet hike home.
Our next stop? Springer Mountain—The Southern Trailhead…and an appropriate halfway point before we head to the portion of the trail above the Mason Dixon Line.