Josh Lindamood is struggling with blisters and rash on his back, causing him pain beneath his backpack “every step of the way” on the Appalachian Trail.
He finally had to take off a couple of days from his six-month journey to rest and recover, but with an awareness that he’s behind on his goal to reach Mount Katahdin, Maine, by early October.
"I really can’t afford to take a few days off,” says the 27-year-old landscaper known as “Hardtack.” “But I’m very much at peace where I am on the trail. And that’s definitely the Lord, because I should be freaking out.”
Lindamood is representing Holston Conference as a United Methodist chaplain to the thousands of others who began the historic trek through 14 states of rugged territory. He departed April 4 from Springer Mountain, Ga., and has logged about 1,500 miles since.
A lot has happened since that first frigid day, when an icy rain pelted the leaves and a group of supporters, including his preacher-dad, joined him for the first few miles of his journey. Lindamood got engaged in July to the woman who is responsible for many of his “food drops.” He’s seen 18 black bears and three timber rattlesnakes and worn out five pairs of boots.
He’s also changed a lot personally, say both his fiancé, Jen Blake, and his mother, Carol Lindamood.
“He’s more confident and comfortable in his own setting,” says Blake, who met her future husband exactly one year before the day of his proposal, both at a Civil-War reenactment. “There’s a tremendous sense of peace and calm when you’re with him. And he’s definitely dropped a lot of weight [20 to 30 pounds].”
“He’s listening to God more and I know he’s experiencing God more,” says his mother, the wife of Rev. Rick Lindamood, pastor at West End United Methodist Church in Wytheville, Va. “He wasn’t real vocal about that before, and as a parent you want your child to share his faith. He’s changed a lot in how he does that.”
OFFER THEM CHRIST
The rash may be infected now, says the chaplain, and he can’t figure out what caused it. It might have been the rain.
“There was a spell when it rained every day for six days, and I was completely soaked through,” he says. “I was used to getting wet, but this went on so long that I couldn’t dry things out. The only thing dry was my sleeping bag.”
The discomfort forced him to get off the trail near Green Lake, N.Y. He was frustrated because he needed to keep moving and had stayed healthy up to that point.
“For two days I wondered, ‘Why is this little bitty rash slowing me down?’” he says.
His answer came when he encountered a couple of hikers who needed his help. One he met as he was resting and tending to his own pain.
“He came out and told me about something going on in his life,” the chaplain says. Lindamood was able to respond with prayer. “It clicked right then, that’s the reason I was supposed to take the day off.”
Later, Lindamood came across a hiker who was dehydrated and light-headed. The chaplain hiked with him until they could find paramedics.
“We went two miles in six hours. We were crawling,” he says. “But I had a tremendous sense of peace of this is where I should be.”
Experiences like these are the reason why Holston wanted to put a chaplain on the trail in the first place, to “thru-hike” it from one end to the other, according to the pastors who selected, trained, commissioned, and raised money to support the young chaplain. Lindamood is the first but he won’t be the last.
“A thru-hiker can do things a non-thru-hiker can’t do,” says the Rev. Alan Ashworth, a pastor based in Bastian, Va., and founder of the Appalachian Trail Outreach Ministry (A.T.O.M.) “Our goal is to reach out to thru-hikers round the clock, to ‘offer them Christ’ the whole of the Appalachian Trail’s 2,185 miles.”
WEAR AND TEAR
By the time Lindamood reached High Point, N.Y., on Aug. 21, he had to call his parents. He needed to see a doctor for the rash that was now spreading to his shoulders.
His mentor, Craig Hensley, youth pastor at First United Methodist Church of Pulaski, Va., assessed the situation on the chaplain’s Facebook page:
“This is a somewhat ironic picture of what this chaplaincy is all about,” he wrote. “Hardtack is continually ministering to others with blisters. These blisters and rashes are not from the rain and the battering of the trail … but from the wear and tear of life: Blisters worn on the souls of those whom he encounters.”
There have been more good days than bad, Lindamood says. His best day (mileage-wise) was at Crabtree Falls, Va., when he covered 33 miles:
“I have no doubt I’ll finish, I’m just not sure how. I’m weighing my options.”
On Oct. 15, says Ashworth, Baxter State Park in Maine will close for the winter. Mount Katahdin could close whenever bad weather threatens.
When it’s all over, Josh Lindamood will have many stories to tell about how he shared the love of Jesus over thousands of miles. About the breathless sunrises and sunsets. About the rattlesnake he nearly trampled.
In the meantime, the days on the calendar are ticking away.
“Sometimes I get nervous for him,” says Blake, who works as a nurse and waits for his return to Lynchburg, Va. “But I know he’s exactly where he’s supposed to be, doing exactly what he’s supposed to do.”
Follow Josh Lindamood’s progress on his Facebook page, “Appalachian Trail Chaplain.”
To support his journey and the Appalachian Trail Outreach Ministry, write a check to “Holston Conference” with “A.T. Chaplain” on the memo line. Mail to: A.T.O.M., P.O. Box 203, Bastian, VA 24313.