Today, March 16, the seventh day of my journey along the American Discovery Trail, is the first time I’ve had Internet access in four days. When I last posted on March 12, I was at a cafe in Milton, Delaware; now I’m at a Dunkin Donuts in Denton, Maryland. The past four days have been full.
On the 12th, I headed westward from Milton toward Redden State Forest. En route, a woman pulled over to inquire where I was going. The American Discovery Trail is little known and lightly traveled. Many people along the ADT remain unaware of its existence. The woman introduced herself as Stephanie Schrock and kindly invited me to spend the night at her home, where she operates a kennel that raises champion show dogs. It was too early in the day for me to stop, but I gladly used her bathroom, refilled my water bottle, and accepted her gift of fruit — a real treat on a backpacking trip. Her granddaughter, Heather Shrock, accompanied me down the road for the next couple of miles. Heather is a junior in high school who aspires to go to New York to study acting. She is currently taking a course in environmental science, and had achieved a grade of 100% on a test that day. When I was in high school, this topic was not even offered — how I wish it had been!
After Heather returned home, I continued onward another mile or so into Redden State Forest, where I camped for the night. Initially, the forest seemed very peaceful. I listened to the sighing of wind in pines, the chorusing of spring peepers, and the harsh trills of gray tree frogs — amphibian mating season is in full swing in Delaware. But in the morning, I awakened to the noise of traffic on a busy highway nearby. There was frost on the underside of my tent fly, and I snuggled in my sleeping bag a bit longer than I had intended, waiting for the rising sun to warm the air.
Readers who saw my last post may remember my comment on the amount of trash lining the roadways. A board member, checking in by phone, told me about the Trashtag Challenge, currently trending on social media after a Reddit user suggested litter cleanup as a valuable way for bored teens to put their time and energy to good use. Well, I had just been complaining about litter…so I felt I had to accept the challenge! I walked around the campground, picking up “microtrash” — twist ties, pieces of food wrappers, pull tops from cans, etc. — as well as cigarette butts and other assorted junk.
I hoisted my pack and continued westward toward Bridgeville, Delaware. I had connected by phone with the Weabers, who offered to host me. The Weaber family ministers to ADT hikers, providing a free room, meals, and shuttle service in an area with few options for lodging or camping. Chrissy Weaber works in Denton, Maryland, the next town along the ADT to the west, and her husband Lee works east of Bridgeville, so they arrange between the two of them to drop off hikers before they head to their jobs, then pick them up again at the end of the day. Lee picked me up as I approached Bridgeville. When I arrived at their home — which three generations of their family currently share — I noticed a plaque hanging on the kitchen wall: “Live in such a way that those who know you but don’t know God will come to know God because they know you.” Living their faith is at the core of the Weabers’ lives. Chrissy explained to me that, according to her understanding, all she owns really belongs to God, so she shares what she has freely with those she meets.
The land on which the Weabers’ home is built was part of a large farm started by Chrissy’s great-grandfather, who came to the U.S. from Italy. The farm, which grows fruits and vegetables, is still operated by members of Chrissy’s extended family. So far, I have stayed in the Weabers’ home three nights, walking the trail farther westward each day but returning to their warm hospitality in the evening. Chrissy even invited me to join a women’s fellowship evening at the Denton Wayside Church, where I enjoyed a delicious potluck dinner — my favorite dish was colcannon, an Irish specialty consisting of bacon, cabbage and onions fried in the bacon grease, with creamed potatoes holding everything together — in honor of Saint Patrick’s Day.
Lee Weaber and I shared a conversation about the often-cited passage in Genesis in which God gives humans dominion over the Earth. Whatever our spiritual beliefs, it’s clear that humans are currently exercising dominion over nature, often in highly destructive ways. There has been much discussion recently about the true meaning of the word “dominion” in the Bible, with many coming to believe that a better translation is “stewardship” — indicating that we humans should nurture and care for the Earth, which is inherently good and deserving of our respect and awe. Lee strongly agrees with this perspective. But sadly, Lee reported that curbside recycling has been discontinued in their area because people persistently threw non-recyclable refuse into their bins.
I’ve spent the past two days hiking along rural roads, eventually crossing from Delaware into Maryland on a dirt byway so lightly traveled that there was not even a sign to mark the state boundary. The terrain has been completely flat — quite a change from the mountains of northern Maine! — with fields covered in corn stubble, vibrantly green winter wheat, and long chicken barns (this is where some of the Perdue chicken in our grocery stores originates).
Today, March 16, I’ll explore Denton, Maryland on foot, then, after one final night with the Weabers, will head on tomorrow to Tuckahoe State Forest. After that, there will be two nights between Tuckahoe and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge with no designated campsites, motels, or any potential hosts of whom I’m currently aware. I will need to find places to “stealth camp” or seek camping/lodging from people I meet along the way. This will be a new adventure for me. Maine offers campers broad access to private land, but the situation is far different in this more heavily populated region. Much of the open land is “posted,” with signs banning any form of trespass. I hope that the saying popular among Appalachian Trail hikers will prove true: “the trail provides.”
A request: I’d like to ask my readers to send positive thoughts/energy/prayers with regard to my knees. Walking on hard roads has stressed my knee ligaments, which were scarred from horseback riding when I was younger. A good massage therapist stretched the ligaments out, and my knees have been fine on Maine’s rugged mountain climbs, but road walking has proven to be another story. My knees do seem to be getting used to the new walking surface, and once I get to the C & O Canal towpath west of Washington I’ll be back on a softer trail. Of course, physical issues like this are to be expected on long-distance hikes. The important thing is to keep going…one step at a time.