It was a beautiful day in the Blue Ridge Mountains on Saturday morning as I finished my workout. Over 4 hours with my bike on Skyline Drive, followed by a 30-minute run on a short segment of the Appalachian Trail.
As I reached the trailhead where my car was parked I said hello to a grizzled looking backpacker sitting on the guard rail. An older guy, probably late 60s, with a long grey beard, a frayed and torn technical T-shirt, beat-up boots and a scuffed and worn backpack.
"How you doing? I said.
"Not too bad, not too bad," he answered with a distinctive southern drawl. "What's the best way to get down to Waynesboro from here? Do you follow that road?" he said, pointing up Skyline Drive.
"No, that goes into the National Park. You want to go down there and follow route 250 down the hill into town. Are you thru-hiking?"
I knew what the answer was. I see hikers coming through Virginia every year during these months, heading up the trail, following their quest to trod the trail from Georgia to Maine.
"Sure am. They call me Birdman. What's your name?"
"I'm Ken. Tell you what -- I'm parked over there, come on over and I'll give you a lift."
"You sure? That'd be awful nice of you."
We walked over to my truck, where he admired my bike, and we talked a little about his trip up the trail. He'd started in early March, so he'd been hiking over three months, averaging around 10 to 13 miles a day. He was from Tennessee, had retired a couple of years ago, and his wife had died five years before. He had all the time he needed for his adventure, and more to follow. He talked about wanting to ride a bike down the Blue Ridge Parkway, maybe, when he got done with this trip.
He loved the trail, he told me. It was hard work every day, but he loved being out in the woods, just walking, moving north every day. "There's a lot of them out there that were faster than me, but they just didn't want to keep going when it got tough. It's hard when you get rained on and have bad weather, but you just got to keep on going. I hope to keep going the whole way."
I dropped my new friend off at the Waynesboro post office so he could pick up a mail drop and started my drive home. At his rate, he'd be nearing the end of his journey in September, about the same time that I finish my Ironman journey.
Without knowing it, he'd given me some good advice -- "...you just have to keep on going." I hope I remember that on those days when I don't want to get up early and get on the bike, go for a run, or head to the pool. Get up. Keep going. The end of the trail will arrive, and more adventures will follow.
Good luck, Birdman -- hope we both have a memorable September!