July 29, 2014
The day after our visit with Appalachian Trail hiker, Spectrum, we planned to visit a local attraction, Backbone Rock, on our way home. So we tidied up the cabin, loaded our things into the car, and headed out.
We did not get 50 feet before I noticed a hiker coming up the trail. I turned to Tessa and said, "I have to stop and ask him if he's walking the AT, and if so, what his trail name is. I promise, it will only take a minute." Imagine my surprise when he told us that his name was Chef John Wayne. Tessa knew then and there that it was not going to take a minute.
I could hardly contain my excitement. "The Chef John Wayne?" (Really? As if someone else had hijacked his identity on the trail.) "We know all about you."
He, momentarily, looked skeptical, which quickly turned to what I believe was somewhat impressed that his fame had spread all the way to Hoot Owl Holler. (That really is what the locals call our little neck of the woods, by the way.) I may or may not have read a bit into his expression. It all happened so fast.
It did not take long for me to get to the part about Spectrum's visit the day before. And before we knew it, I was turning the car around to open the cabin back up so that Chef John Wayne could take a shower, wash his clothes, eat some food, and share a few tales of his own.
Chef John Wayne's visit was much different than Spectrum's though (and for the record, I enjoyed both immensely). Of course, since they both were hiking the trail, many of their stories shared similarities. His were just a lot more contemplative and philosophical in nature. Chef JW is an observer of all things and very much in tune with the finer details and nuances of his experiences on the trail. He has the spirit and eye of an artist.
Even now I am having a hard time writing a list of facts about him, even though I know I asked him a lot of the same questions that I had asked Spectrum. It seems more appropriate to tell his story with broad strokes as I feel he has chosen to live his life.
He did not just tell us about his experiences, he attempted to share them with us in a tangible way through his photos--his art. And we took the time to fully glean from the experience by pulling out our field guide in hopes of identifying a moth he had photographed.
And in a comfortable exchange, he asked about Tessa's poetry hanging on the wall and her photographs. He requested that we play the song, "Live Like That," after noticing the autographed picture of the Sidewalk Prophets. He asked and he listened, and then he asked some more and he listened some more.
And we did the same.
He struggled to call Florida his home, as if in doing so, he was limiting his options. I understood that. He is a free spirit refusing to land--just yet.
He prepared for this hike by hiking the coast of Florida: wise.
He was attempting to learn how to play guitar while on the hike. Fellow hiker, Bach--who gave him his trail name--was teaching him: willing.
His brother is a missionary in China: prayed for.
His family was following his travels: loved.
He got his boots at a thrift store, already broken in: blessed.
Someone gave him his walking sticks: provided for.
He did, in fact, carry spices in his pack: interesting.
It was he who sprayed his fellow hikers with bear mace--totally on accident: forgiven.
Chef JW also took us up on the offer to drive him to the next Appalachian Trail entrance. Certain that at least one of his friends was now ahead of him, he had some catching up to do. I made sandwiches for him--and for Spectrum, just in case, and loaded him up with the few provisions we had left. And then we took a few photos.
The ride to the trail provided us even more time to get to know one another. Tessa and Kenzie agreed that they were not disappointed at all that we missed our trip to Backbone Bridge. Meeting Chef John Wayne was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
So he checked his map, and we marveled at how little one needs to hike in the wilderness.
And we took a few more photos. And then we prayed.
For God to speak through His creation.
And then we said good bye to our new friend.
But it was not final. A week later when I returned to the cabin, I opened our guest book; and it was just like Chef John Wayne had come back for a visit.