EDITOR'S NOTE: Darton College student Ashton Pace of Albany is on a 2,181-mile journey to hike the Appalachian Trail. This is Pace's second installment on his "Trek of a Lifetime," which is nearing the one-third mark. Pace is submitting periodic updates on his trip.
In my last update, I had just arrived in Franklin, N.C., which was 107 miles into the trip. There has been so much that has happened since then.
I am now in Pearisburg, Va., which is at the 626-mile mark. Soon after Franklin, I was given a trail name (a nick name that other thru hikers give you, which becomes your name while you are on the trail). My trail name is "Still Water."
I was given this name by Chuck, and felt honored when he gave it to me, because getting your trail name is sort of like finally being initiated into a club.
As I stated in the last article, Chuck and I were going to stick together through the Smoky Mountains. Getting through the Smokys was a big goal of mine when this trip began. The Smokys definitely lived up to my expectations.
While in this stretch, we got pounded with bad weather. It was everything from thunderstorms to knee-deep snow and consistent temperatures in the low teens. There were times when we would wake up in the morning to everything we owned being frozen.
One particular morning, I literally had to punch through the sleeves of my rain jacket to put it on and was not able to tie my shoes due to the laces being frozen. Although all this may sound miserable (and it was at the time), it is something that I am glad to say I that I have been through once -- but hopefully never again.
I felt truly blessed that God allowed me the ability to make it out of the Smokys. After the Smokys, Chuck and I separated, but we have continued to keep in touch.
Since leaving Chuck, God has put me in contact with so many awesome people. For a while after Chuck and I separated, I changed between hiking alone and hiking with new people every few days. However, in Erwin, Tenn., I started hiking with the same guys that I am with now.
Of the three guys, two of them are named Dave. One Dave is from Chicago and the other is from Atlanta. On the trail though, Dave from Chicago goes by the trail name "Niners" and Atlanta Dave's trail name is "Catmandu." The third guy that was with us went by the name, "John the Beer Hunter," but he had to get off the trail for a little while so that he could go home and do his taxes.
All of these guys have been an absolute blast to get to know.
There have been a few things that have not changed since Franklin. Two of those are that my feet still hurt every day and that every conversation seems to always somehow lead back to food.
My cravings have started to grow. I still continuously want Moe's, but I also catch myself thinking about House of China II and eating Sunday lunch at "Dear's" (my Grandmother).
Although, they are not as good as the places from home, I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to eat at many of the local restaurants in the towns that I go through. For instance, in Damascus, Va., which is a small town with maybe 1,000 people and zero traffic lights, I was able to eat in a local restaurant named "Quincy's." It was unbelievably delicious and so much fun.
It is basically the only restaurant in town, and on the night of the NCAA Final Four they had a live band and the whole town plus about 10 hikers were there. We were up late watching the games, but the whole time we were there we were eating good food and getting to know the local people. It was great to hang with them and they treated us like we were just another one of the locals.
While I was in Damascus, I really felt like it was a place I could live someday. The only thing that I did not like about it was that it was still pretty cold in April, and I am not a fan of cold weather.
Something else that I would like to address in this article is the unbelievable gratitude I have for the prayers that people have said for me -- not necessarily of me even accomplishing the trail, but just that the trail will continue to be a way for me to strengthen my relationship with God.
The reason I say it like that is because, even though I have fought it, I have started to realize that I am not in control, no matter how much I believe I am.
I would also like to say thanks to some friends (basically, family). First off, there is Haley Fulford (friend I graduated high school with) who drove a lengthy way to come and see me. It was great to spend time with such a good friend!
Also I would like to thank the Darden family for coming by while they were in the area to take me out to an unbelievable lunch.
Both of those times, will be memories that I look back on and remember whenever I do finish because it was awesome just to see some familiar faces.
Until next time, godspeed.