Its quiet right now.  It is Tuesday morning.  Everyone is sleeping in their bunks.  Everyone is quiet, warm, and safe.

Yesterday was a hard, hard day.  We knew that there was a storm coming on Sunday night. We hiked as far as our legs would safely carry us, and called to make a reservation to stay here at the Nantahala Outdoor Center.  They had two, four-man bunkhouses available so we snagged them both.  We hoped to be able to wake early enough to pack up and make it to NOC before the storm really hit, but it moved across the state a little faster than it had been forecasted.  We even thought that we would be able to pack up dry tents if we woke up early enough, but it started raining early.  

Rain, in and of itself, will be a constant as we hike the trail.  There is a saying that goes. “No rain, no pain, no Maine.”  We will have days that we are wet, we’ve already had some of those days.  Yesterday was different though.  It did not stop raining until we were OFF the mountain.  We hiked twelve miles, taking only one twenty minute break to eat some trail mix for lunch.  We hiked all of those miles in just over 6 hours.  If the mountain had been flat, maybe not too bad, but the last six miles were almost completely down hill, over holders, trees, roots, and rocks.  The rain was so heavy that the trail became a river bed for miles.  We slipped a couple of times, Ryan fell.  My heart stopped for a moment, until that I knew that he was OK.  We were both thankful that he managed to land on a rare but soft patch of earth.

I asked myself over and over, “WHY ARE WE OUT HERE!?!?!?!”  It was not one of my better days emotionally, mentally, or physically.  It was grueling.  I wanted so badly for the downhill to flatten out… but it seemed as if it would NEVER end.  I cried, though who would have known with the rain falling on my face faster than my tears.  Ryan was so encouraging… and it was worth it to go through all of that, when last night before drifting to sleep he said, “Thank you for not giving up.  You are strong.”

OK… back to the trail.  About two miles before reaching the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC), I received a phone call.  I don’t normally answer my phone when I am in the middle of a thunderstorm, walking downhill… but I was in need of an excuse to stop for just a moment, so I answered.  I listened to the woman as she announced who she was and affirmed to her that I was Jeri Lynn Owen.  Then she told me something that gave me the ability to get through the next two miles.  Ava and Zoey were chosen by lottery to attend Strong Foundations Charter School next year!  To fully explain what homeschooling five children, (including two ESL students, and one that had never had a single day of schooling until she was nearly 8 1/2), is really like would take hours.  Ryan and I both knew that some changes would have to be made next year, but there were few options available to Ava, who will start middle school in the fall,  It was either this school, or knowing that God would give us the strength and capability to teach all of them well, and help Taylor prepare for college.  When we hung up the phone yesterday, I sobbed.  I know that the girls are going to receive so much more than I can give them at this amazing little school, and without having to shoulder that burden, I will have more time to help Taylor.  All of the sudden my pack felt a little lighter, and before we knew it, we were off the mountain. 

We checked in.  I sat by the front desk area for a while, waiting for Ryan to return from guiding the kids to the rooms, and dropping their packs.  While I was alone, I enjoyed a crisp and cold Diet Coke. MMM!!!  By the time Ryan returned, fresh towels had arrived at the front desk.  So we gathered up my pack and the towels and headed across the street for some boxes.  

Every time we pick up boxes, people are completely stunned.  LOL!  I asked for the box that was from the Roberts Family.  We made it up the hill (UP THE HILL) to our rooms, and tore into the box.  Shower stuff galore, and HOMEMADE Carmel corn!!!  What???  YUM!

We have been reunited with some of our trail friends here.  And as we were getting ready to head to the shower house, we ran into the Grahams.   We decided that we would have dinner together, and catch up.  So, after showers, which were glorious, were complete… we headed down to the restaurant.  

As I was getting ready to enter… I heard a cheerful “Ribbons” from down the way.  I turned, and what do you know?  It was 60 Sense and Ground Control, our Arby’s trail angels from the day before!  They offered to drive me to town to get groceries.  I let them know that we had food for days in boxes at the desk that we were going to collect and carry up.  They offered to give me a hand by driving those boxes up to our rooms.  I cannot convey just how awesome this offer really was!  Thank you so much dear trail angel friends of ours!!!

I joined the gang for dinner, after taking care of the boxes.  The food was so good… especially since it was HOT!  We all enjoyed great conversation.  And as we were getting ready to pay our bill, our waitress told us that the check had been taken care of by an anonymous trail angel.  What?  Seriously?  Again, tears streamed down my face.  This journey has been so hard at times, and it seems that just when I am ready to be done with this whole crazy thing, something amazing happens that is so extraordinary, that I can do nothing but be humbled, knowing that God truly is ordering our steps… even the ones on a rocky and muddy ledge.  There is purpose to it all if we will allow ourselves to be taught. 

As horrible as yesterday was, as beautiful as someone picking up the tab for our dinner was, nothing beats the fact that we are still together this morning.  Praise God!

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