ODYSSEY 2021 ‘Bama to Baxter- Hike On! Flashback to 2000 James River footbridge

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Sunday–October 8, 2000
Trail Day–138/89
Trail Mile–2094/1398
Location–Trailside,(soon-to-be relocation) near bluff across Bill Foot Memorial Bridge, James River, Virginia

Another night in the bunkhouse last.  This is the first time I’ve slept in the same place two nights in a row since leaving Monson months ago–sure living up to the “Nomad” part of my trail name!

I’m up before dawn to attend sunrise service at the chapel here at the Folk Life Center.  The chapel is right on the crest of the hill, which should make for a glorious sunrise.  The morning dawns cold and clear, with frost over the vehicles and on the grass.  I head to the Center for coffee, then on to the chapel.  The service consists of testimonials to, recollection of, and blessings sent out for dearly departed intrepids.  It proves to be both enjoyable and inspirational, and the sunrise is certainly one to remember.

Back to the college and the general membership meeting.  Meetings such as this tend to be dry, but this group keeps it interesting.  New officers are elected and other business is conducted.  I’m able to get together with Dick Anderson and Will Richard from the SIA/IAT who have come down from Maine.  Then it’s back to the book-signing table for another day at it.  Folks file by steady all day and by evening I’ve only four books left.  Earl Crazy One Shaffer comes to the table and we have a most enjoyable, uninterrupted chat.  Thanks, Earl.  What a joy seeing you again!

So it’s time now to get ready for real–for my presentation before the full membership body this evening.  I am very tired, confused and weary after such a whirlwind weekend.  I hope I can get up, keep my enthusiasm and maintain my concentration for the entire hour, for you see I use no slides, no prompt cards, relying totally on words to form the pictures.  Dutch Treat has set two of my ditties to music and I am most excited about hearing him perform these musical creations tonight.

My goodness, the performance goes remarkably well!  I forget and falter on a few lines as I recite a couple of my ditties, but no one seems to notice. Dutch Treat wows the audience, holding their rapt attention.  To have this talented virtuoso on stage with me–a man who’s performed with Peter, Paul and Mary, and with John Denver, is a truly humbling experience.  Concern was expressed earlier by a number of folks that the Gathering would be breaking up and people would be heading home, but all my dear friends are here, and we all have a great time.  After my presentation, well-wishers file by, giving me more hugs and filling me with their remarkable energy.  This has truly been one of the most amazing weekends in my memory, perhaps in my life, and I will cherish it and keep it to me forever.

It’s such a joy when greeting old friends and such a sad time when it is time to depart–more hugs, more good-byes, and more tears.

I get a ride back to the James River with Smith Old Ridge Runner Edwards and his wife, Jan.  In all the excitement I have forgotten that I need provisions for at least two days on the trail, and I’ve only a candy bar in my pack.  Jan saves the day by making me sandwiches and putting together a bag of other nourishing goodies for me to pack along.  We’re soon at the James River, right next the new hiker bridge.  The bridge superstructure is up and the decking is down the full 625 feet across, but the approach steps are not yet in place.  “Keep Out” ribbons and signs cover the bridge, being most prominently displayed, but I had made my mind up already Friday morning after finding out that the relocated trail work has been done on the south side–I’d already made up my mind that I would cross the bridge.  I had met trail maintainers from the Natural Bridge Trail Club working the trail above the north side relocation last Thursday, and they had given me directions on how to hike that section down to the new Bill Foot Memorial Bridge.  So here we are, two o’clock in the morning, in the full moonlight.  Old Ridge Runner boosts me up and onto the main structure.  I thank him and whisper my good-byes, then turn and cross–the moon casting long and eerie shadows as the old Nomad becomes the first thru-hiker to cross the Bill Foot Memorial Bridge.

…Once in awhile you’ll find a friend
Where the memories meet and the rainbows end,…

[Jim Walkin Jim Stoltz]

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